Monday, December 29, 2008
A calf walked home, as good calves should;
But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail as all calves do.
Since then three hundred years have fled,
And, I infer, the calf is dead.
But still he left behind his trail,
And thereby hangs my moral tale.
The trail was taken up next day
By a lone dog that passed that way;
And then a wise bell-wether sheep
Pursued the trail o'er vale and steep,
And drew the flock behind him, too,
As good bell-wethers always do.
And from that day, o'er hill and glade,
Through those old woods a path was made.
And many men wound in and out,
And dodged, and turned, and bent about
And uttered words of righteous wrath
Because 'twas such a crooked path.
But still they followed—do not laugh—
The first migrations of that calf,
And through this winding wood-way stalked,
Because he wobbled when he walked.
This forest path became a lane,
That bent, and turned, and turned again;
This crooked lane became a road,
Where many a poor horse with his load
Toiled on beneath the burning sun,
And traveled some three miles in one.
And thus a century and a half
They trod the footsteps of that calf.
The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The road became a village street;
And this, before men were aware,
A city's crowded thoroughfare;
And soon the central street was this
Of a renowned metropolis;
And men two centuries and a half
Trod in the footsteps of that calf.
Each day a hundred thousand rout
Followed the zigzag calf about;
And o'er his crooked journey went
The traffic of a continent.
A hundred thousand men were led
By one calf near three centuries dead.
They followed still his crooked way,
And lost one hundred years a day;
For thus such reverence is lent
To well-established precedent.
A moral lesson this might teach,
Were I ordained and called to preach;
For men are prone to go it blind
Along the calf-paths of the mind,
And work away from sun to sun
To do what other men have done.
They follow in the beaten track,
And out and in, and forth and back,
And still their devious course pursue,
To keep the path that others do.
They keep the path a sacred groove,
Along which all their lives they move.
But how the wise old wood-gods laugh,
Who saw the first primeval calf!
Ah! Many things this tale might teach—
But I am not ordained to preach.
—Sam Walter Foss
Sunday, October 26, 2008
This coming November 4, less than two weeks away, I fully intend to cast my vote for Barack Obama as president of the United States.
This doesn't sit too well with a lot of the people around me, particularly those back home and in my family.
The most mentioned issue, of course, is abortion, mostly in the vein of "how can you vote for a baby killer?" I regularly get anti-Obama emails from my aunt, the most recent of which included yet another youtube video. It's a video that compares McCain and Obama's stances on abortion. It's nothing new - I've been emailed a few such videos.
So, the question remains - how can I vote for someone who ruthlessly murders the fetuses so prominently displayed in said video?
My answer is twofold. Firstly, I will say that I don't totally agree with Obama on abortion. He is a bit far left of me. But abortion is not my issue, for a few reasons. I believe that unless you are running for office, you will never 100% agree with a candidate. And even then you will probably have to make some compromises to pander to your base. There are many other reasons that I am voting for Obama, and abortion is one issue that I disagree with among many that I agree with.
Secondly, I am personally conflicted about what laws should be made around abortion. Personally, I think abortions are a terrible thing, and should never be necessary. But one of the reasons I am more liberal that I was raised to be is that I am vehemently against legislating Christian morals. That's what the Church of England did, it's what the Pharisees did, and it's what the Religious Right is trying to do. The first eventually resulted in the country we now call the United States.
The second is what Jesus spent a good part of his ministry railing against.THE GOOD PART
In fact, the very end of the above-mentioned video is why I decided to write this note. It used the imagery from the Passion of the Christ of Jesus drawing a line in the sand, presumably to invoke battle imagery - "This is the line, cross it and be with us or stay there and prepare for war" kind of thinking. The use of this particular imagery (from the biblical passage in Luke 8) struck me for two reasons.
First, Jesus was doing anything but when he was drawing that line (or whatever he was doing in the sand, we don't actually know). He was defending an adulterer, of all things, from the Pharisees! I would assume that to many of the Religious Right, their ideal America would involve outlawing adultery. But here we have Jesus, telling the Pharisees (who did just that) that it's not their place to judge. The famous "let him who is sinless cast the first stone" passage. And then, when he had the chance, did he condemn her? No - in fact, the Bible says, "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin." He put the responsibility for her actions right back where they belong - on her, not on the law. If Jesus were in politics today, I can't help but think he would get pounded for "promoting adultery" and "endorsing infidelity" for his stance.
Second, the Religious Right often uses the abortion issue to try to corner people like me - the "how can you vote for a baby killer" question. Strangely, right there in the black and white of scripture, was this:
They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
The Pharisees were trying to pick something that Jesus couldn't possibly object to - she was an Adulterer, for goodness' sake! - and get him on their side. They were taking a single issue and setting it up in black and white, trying to corner him into either condemning or commending her actions.
Jesus' response is a good summary of how I can vote for Obama. I don't want to misappropriate Jesus for my cause. I don't know what Jesus would do about abortion if he were running for president, although I tend to agree with Huckabee. But it helps elucidate my position. I don't think it's the place of the government to go legislating religion - as my other notes have said at length. Change on issues like abortion and gay marriage doesn't come from the outside by the government - it comes from the inside, on a personal level. That's what the church does. The government simply can't, and trying to force the church's job onto the government's shoulders is just asking for trouble.
Friday, August 1, 2008
But I did just recently finish Mere Christianity, one of the books on the long list of books to read. Next up I think is Waking the Dead, although I don't know if I'll be in the right place to read it, but I suppose I'll check it out anyway.
Cause see, here's the problem.
So I came into college, and like most of the rest of the world, realized that I have no freaking clue why I believe what I supposedly believed. I don't know how my experience compares to others, but I basically was play-acting up until that point, which made me pretty good at appearing Christian, but it didn't make me one any more than we can resurrect Hamlet from the dead by putting on a play.
So I looked at what I supposedly believed in, and realized I had all kinds of problems with it. Mostly related to me being fiercely and primarily logical.
And over the past couple years, I've mostly dealt with the problems I had. I've realized that the Focus on the Family brand of Christianity that I was raised in is most definitely not for me, but (most importantly) that's okay. It may be okay for some people - and those people just tend to frustrate me, but that's beside the point - but I needed something else.
Now I'm at the point where I have pretty much built something, a framework, or at least a vague idea of a faith that I could believe in, that I don't think is heretical. There's not a lot of solid points yet, because I haven't really done anything with it. But most likely, it wouldn't involve young-earth creationism, would be terrified of legislating morality, would realize that we aren't a Christian nation, and would have its feet firmly planted on this earth.
But now what?
Mere Christianity was a great book, and there were a lot of things I liked about it. Surprisingly enough, I enjoyed (and I think benefited from) the second half more than the first, which surprised me. When he prefaced it by saying basically that these are Christian issues, I thought since that's not where I am, they wouldn't apply. But what it ended up doing is either confirming my restructuring, validating what I had come up with, or making me slightly uncomfortable and pointing out possible problems with my framework. And it made me think.
The first half was mostly (as far as I remember, it was a while ago) semi-logically ramping up to a reason for God existing. As I had been told previously, it was more of a literary, sociological-type argument, which wasn't terribly gripping to me, and definitely didn't make me a convert on the spot. Sorry, all.
And that's where the problem is - I have this framework that I could probably work with, and plenty of knowledge of how it's supposed to work from my eighteen years of play-acting, but am sitting here without a reason.
Is there a reason for that? A reason for not finding a reason? I don't know. One of the things that I've wondered when pondering this, and something that came up a lot reading Lewis, was pride. In fact, Lewis says the following:
"The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility. You may remember, when I was talking about sexual morality, I warned you that the centre of Christian morals did not lie there. Well, now we have come to the centre. According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind."
Well, I was going to separate the Mere Christianity insights into a different note, but I'm leading into them, so I might as well go into it now. I'm going to kind of go backwards, because it works best that way.
The chapter "Nice People or New Men" had a lot of things that caught my eye. To start the context, I'll just quote him:
"There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name: some of them are clergymen. There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so."
Of the two categories, I would obviously fit better into the latter. Later in the chapter, he elaborates on the vast array of Christians there are, and the vast array of backgrounds from which people come to Christianity. And I spotted myself. Right in the middle of the chapter, he says:
"Now quite plainly, natural gifts carry with them a similar danger [to being rich and finding happiness through wealth]. If you have sound nerves and intelligence and health and popularity and a good upbringing, you are likely to be quite satisfied with your character as it is. 'Why drag God into it?' you may ask. A certain level of good conduct comes fairly easy to you . You are not one of those wretched creatures who is always being tripped up by sex, or dipsomania, or nervousness, or bad temper. Everyone says you are a nice chap and (between ourselves) you agree with them. You are quite likely to believe that all this niceness is your own doing: and you may easily not feel the need for any better kind of goodness."
I'm not bragging or being all self-righteous and crap (that's not the kind of pride I'm worried about) - I love the parenthetical "between ourselves" that Lewis added - but after looking up dipsomania (turns out I'm not an alcoholic), that's pretty much where I am. Which, as it turns out, isn't exactly the best of circumstances. On the next page he writes:
"There is either a warning or an encouragement here for every one of us. If you are a nice person -- if virtue comes easily to you -- beware! Much is expected from those to whom much is given. If you mistake for your own merits what are really God's gifts to you through nature, and if you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel: and all those gifts will only make your fall more terrible, your corruption more complicated, your bad example more disastrous. The Devil was an archangel once; his natural gifts were as far above yours as yours are above those of a chimpanzee."
And this is where we find the rub. Because one thing I've never liked about the whole Christianity thing is the distinct lack of personal achievement, as I see it. Everything is from God, nothing is us, we have to be eternally grateful to him, we're nothing. I know that's a pretty pessimistic and negative view of it, but I'm an engineer. I'm an ENTP. I find my worth in what I do, what I produce, the things that I create. That's what I strive for, that's what I enjoy. Also, I see my supposed saintly behavior as simply the best way to get along with people. Heaven knows that I've been doing it for years now, and it's been pretty successful in making my life happy and generally good.
This is where I see my pride, where Lewis pokes me a bit. Or a lot. Because I don't want to attribute everything I am, everything I've done to God. I've done a lot of it myself, dangit. And so I'm at a bit of an impasse - I don't have a good enough reason to make that leap, to sacrifice my accomplishments and pride and attribute it to some greater being that I've never seen, heard, touched, or felt, physically or otherwise.
And I'm not sure how far I have to go - I know that some people (such as the aforementioned Focus on the Family types) tend to attribute EVERYTHING to God. I got an A on a test? Thanks, God. I manage to somehow survive the harrowing drive to and from work every day, just like thousands upon thousands of others, Christian and non-Christian alike? God must be protecting me.
Obviously, that annoys me. I hope it's just an extreme, opposite of attributing everything to ourselves, and isn't how it's actually supposed to work. Because I need a reason to live, to do things, and if it's not even my doing, why do it?
So that's my hang-up. I don't want to give up myself, my pride, without a good reason. He sums up the difficulty well in a previous chapter:
"The terrible thing, the almost impossible thing, is to hand over your whole self -- all your wishes and lamentations -- to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is remain what we call 'ourselves', to keep personal happiness as our great aim in life, and yet at the same time be 'good'. We are all trying to let our mind and heart go their own way -- centred on money or pleasure or ambition -- and hoping, in spite of this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exaclty what Christ warned us you could not do."
There was a lot more after that, but I won't just go quote the whole book. That little section reminded me of the parable of the young ruler, a story I had always just looked at and thought about how giving away all your money wasn't a great idea. But that's not the point of the parable, I realized. Money isn't my vice - it's not my centre, like it was for the young ruler. My vice is ambition - I shudder much more at the thought of giving up all of my accomplishment, my inventiveness, my engineeringness, than I do at giving up money. That was a new thought for me.
Lewis had a few words of encouragement even for me though. For one, he followed up the above-quoted description of myself (the dipsomania one) with this:
"Often people who have all these natural kinds of goodness cannot be brought to recognize their need for Christ at all until, one day, the natural goodness lets them down and their self-satisfaction is shattered. In other words, it is hard for those who are 'rich' in this sense to enter the Kingdom."
Okay, not the most encouraging passage, but to me it says that there may indeed be a point where I see a reason. Sure, it may be painful, but it'll be a reason. Cause I'm don't like this limbo place I'm in right now.
And a more wholly positive remark that I saw myself in was a few chapters back, as follows:
"When a young man who has been going to church in a routine way honestly realizes that he does not believe in Christianity and stops going - provided he does it for honesty's sake and not just to annoy his parents - the spirit of Christ is probably nearer to him than it ever was before."
I honestly see myself in that position - I'm not doing this whole thing to just rebel or be annoying or because it's the hip thing to do. I think that I honestly am questioning all this because I need to.
After all that, where am I left? Still pretty much in limbo. Because I could just throw my arms up and be a Christian full-on, but why? I'm pretty content with where I am, and where I'm headed. I don't see any sore lack of fulfillment in my life, or a big hole. And yeah, I know, that's what Lewis said I'd say. But remember, I can't just take Lewis' word as gospel. If I did, I would have to take Stephen Hawking and Tom Robbins and all the other atheist writers out there as gospel, too, which obviously wouldn't get me very far. I have to have a reason, so I can explain myself to the rest of the world.
And as of yet, I don't.
So I'm holding. Waiting for a collapse of my self-image, for my world to come crashing down on me? Maybe. In any case, that turning point hasn't come yet. I keep filling in holes in my framework, my ideas, my understanding, but nothing conclusive.
I don't write these things because I want advice. The reason I write them is partially to keep those who are wondering where I am informed, and partially to force myself to dump what I'm thinking on a page, because I have to think about it that way. I doubt that a one-off comment on my note will have much of an effect on me in the long run, and I won't be offended in the least if you don't comment. If you want to chat with me, do so. I'm on IM and Facebook pretty often, and will be back at school pretty soon. I don't mean any offense or to be bristly, I'm just saving you some effort.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
"Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is the quite different question - how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not."
The only thing I want to say is that while 75% of America does claim to be Christian, that number has been in decline, and it seems to me that most of them do little more than go to church on Sunday anyway. In any event, I still think it's relevant.
Thursday, July 3, 2008
Thank you for today, and that we could have a good time [at work, at school, around the house].
I pray that you would help us to get good sleep tonight, so we can be ready for tomorrow, and that we can have a good time tomorrow [at work, at school, around the house].
I pray for [whoever is sick/away/needs prayer], that you would bless them and [help them get better/keep them safe/be with them].
Also I pray for [some event in the near future], that you would help that to go well, and that things will come together for that.
And I pray that you would help us to be like [insert biblical figure from the reading tonight], and that we could learn from [whatever said biblical figure did] and [do whatever they did].
And thank you for sending your son to die for us.
In the name of your son,
Now, to start out, I apologize if putting all that, in that manner, in a Facebook note offends anyone. But I came to the conclusion that it's no worse than the reason I'm writing this note.
So for the first time in a while since I've been home, I was part of the devotion time at my house. And once again, what's up above is what happened. Slight variations, my dad's included more fancy words, my little brother's less, my Mom's more concern for others. But the same basic formula.
That's what prayer was to me for 18 years. And I know I do a lot of complaining and such in these notes, so I'll try to restrain myself. Or at least spin it in a positive light.
So I was sitting there, half-listening to the same thing I heard repeatedly for the majority of my childhood, and I thought about how I was going to do this thing when it was my turn.
First of all, "Dear God"? Really? That's for letters. And last I checked, prayer was "talking to God." None of this letter stuff. And I thought about it, and whether I'm talking to my principal, my girlfriend, or my brother, I'll start with "Hey." It'll have different tones, but it'll be there. So "Hey, God". That works better.
And today? Tonight? Tomorrow? All this immediate, "me" stuff. God may care about what happens to me and all. Maybe it's just my self-sufficient nature, but I don't want to have to ask God specifically every day to help me have a good day and a good sleep. I'm already getting crappy sleep because I'm staying up writing this note. That's my fault, I'll deal with it. So none of this day-to-day stuff for me.
Praying for others? I can do that. Especially when I can't actually do anything for them myself. We'll keep that on the list. I still don't like the generic, blanket statements, but that's okay.
So what's that leave me...if I were actually talking to God, I'd thank him for my job and such, because I'm pretty lucky/blessed to have them. So we'll do that.
Okay, my turn.
Thanks for my job with Kinetic, cause it's a good job, and it makes things a lot easier.
And for the Falcon job, cause that's really cool, and has worked out really well.
And I pray for Becky, that you would keep her safe in India. I know she's having a great time, and so thanks for your hand in that.
Also, thanks that Elise has found a great guy, and that that's worked out well. And thanks that they get to come back to SPU, and I pray that you'd help Grant with finances and such, so that he can come, cause that'd be great.
Friday, May 9, 2008
Monday, April 21, 2008
'This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.'
You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men."
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
That's something I've noticed, and it kind of came to light in a discussion at college group the other night.
It sounds counterintuitive - we hate rules, we want to do what we want, not what anyone tells us to. But when I look at the old testament, and the new testament, and what the majority (or at least the vocal minority) of American Christians today have set up as Christianity, that's what I see.
God didn't want rules. Initially, he had one - don't touch the tree. That was it. But then Humans had to go and screw everything up. Throughout the Old Testament, we had all these rules and stuff, and despite all the Isrealites' whining, it worked pretty well - they had all these sacrifices and stuff, and they, on the whole, got along with God when all was said and done.
And then God was all like, "Okay, these rules are annoying, and not really what I want. I'm going to send Jesus down to fulfill the law so we don't have all these obnoxious rules. The humans will figure it out, and be much happier. They'll see."
So Christ came down, fulfilled the law, told the Pharisees and Sadducees that all their ideas were the worst idea since Noah let the mosquitoes live on the Ark, and told the people what God was *really* about - loving your neighbor, helping others, letting God's love shine through you. It was great.
So what about Christianity today? Well, the way I see it, a large part of Christianity has done what is to be expected - put rules in place, because rules are comfortable. We have all these rules and guidelines and expectations about what it takes to be a Christian, a good Christian. It makes it easier to count people in or out, put them in a box.
Where this really manifests itself is in salvation - Evangelical Christianity seems obsessed with the sinner's prayer, assigning it as the rule for when you're saved. It's comfortable, it's easy, it's human. Say the right words, and you get into heaven.
But I don't think that's how God intended it. Finding God, following God, seeking God, is a journey. Being on that Journey is what being a Christian should be. Paving the road and adding a gate at some arbitrary point that divides the Christians from the non-Christians doesn't make sense.
It makes it easy to have assurance of salvation, but it doesn't work. At least it didn't for me. So I think that we need to stop being so focused on the rules, as uncomfortable as that may be, and jump into a journey.
I don't know where I'll end up, or what I even think about Heaven and Hell. But I'm beginning a journey, and that's good enough for me. It's the best I can do, because I can't just say some prayer and not mean it. That just doesn't work for me.
So I'm permanently seeking.
If this doesn't make total sense, it's because I'm about to fall asleep. Perhaps I'll read it over after my nap.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
And it's 8:22am, I'm working at the polling place in Northgate with nothing to do because we get about five people an hour, and I only help the disabled voters with the AVU, of which we've had a grand total of 0.
Plus, I forgot my copy of Brothers Karamazov at school, so I can't read that until I go down to the library during lunch and pick a copy up.
So...some clarifications, thanks, and responses, in general. I'll start with a general overview, and then some individual responses.
The first response is that I would love to go to Gwinn or coffee (or better, tea) with any of you guys, or stop by for a chat sometime, and I'll do my best to do so - talking to people is how I figure things out, alongside writing things out, so if I don't get back to you soon, be sure to hunt me down, because I really do want to talk to you guys.
In general...some clarifications as to what my feelings are, what I'm thinking, and what the general tone of the note was, or should have been, after some more thinking. Some of my note was stream-of-consiousness style, which is unfiltered and may be more extreme than what I actually settle on after thinking about it, so I may have seemed angrier or more distressed than I was. Basically, I'm very type-B, so I don't get too stressed out or angry about much of anything.
As far as being a bad Christian, I didn't mean to imply that I was terribly distressed about it and think I'm a horrible person that's going to hell. It was just a statement that if I'm going to be a Christian, I actually have to start putting some effort into it, which I haven't. It was looking forward to improvement, not looking back at failure. So don't worry about me in that respect - as far as I'm concerned, I've only been a Christian nominally for the past 19 years, so I can only improve - lukewarm Christians are the worst, says God. The fact that I actually care and am giving my faith serious consideration is an improvement.
Also, the "box" isn't as big a deal as I may have made it out to be. It's certainly not going to prevent me from doing anything that I want to, like being a Christian. I'm also not really angry at anyone in particular, mostly just frustrated by it. And I certainly DON'T think that I have to conform to the package to call myself a Christian. As I have said before, if that was the case, I couldn't be a Christian. It's just kind of annoying and frustrating, but I can deal with it.
The reference to various atrocities by the church throughout history wasn't to rip on the church, or discredit Christianity, or anything like that. Mostly, I wanted to point out the dangers of the church being over-involved in the government - it's always led to bad things, and I don't like the idea that America should be a Christian country, because it's not, and shouldn't be. There are a lot of Christians here, but there are also a lot of non-Christians. Our country was founded on religious freedom, and codifying Christian morals into law just doesn't make sense to me. Another thing that I wanted to point out is that just because the loudest Christians say something, doesn't mean it is critical to the faith.
And about Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll. As I said, I went there for the first time in a long time. I'm not saying that I agree with everything he says, or even everything Mars Hill believes (in fact I know I don't), but I do agree with him for the most part on the subject of how men should treat women.
I know there was a whole hullabaloo last year about Driscoll being a chauvinist and all. I admit, I haven't actually seen that sermon, I plan to do so and get back to you on that. But here's my position, from what I have heard, and what I think. From what I've heard, he was grossly misrepresented. Just because he detests feminists (who also drive me nuts, by the way), doesn't mean he detests females. In fact, the primary concern of mine (and I'm pretty sure Driscoll's) is that we as men need to respect women, put them before ourselves. It's not about patronizing them, it's about loving and respecting them. If you as a woman have a problem with that, I'm sorry, I'm going to annoy you.
But to be clear - I'm not declaring myself a Mars Hillian, or hanging on every word that comes from Driscoll's mouth. It's just that in this specific case, his views lined up with mine, and it got me thinking. That's all.
A little more generally, I don't have a grudge against anyone specific. I am extremely grateful to my parents for raising me like they did - I can't imagine where I would be if they didn't raise me in a Christian home, instilling the morals and education in me that they did. Just because I don't agree with them on some things doesn't mean I'm dismissing them. I am frustrated with Focus on the Family, and the various other Christian organizations, but moreso at the environment that they have created. I don't think they're terrible people, or that they're really stupid. What they're doing works for them, but it doesn't for me - I think Christianity is big enough for the both of us, when the things that are different are the fringes, the package, that isn't important to salvation.
So basically, a summary of what I want to say to everyone...I am probably not as angry as I seem. None of this is going to keep me from being who I want to be, be that a Christian, a democrat, or what have you. And I still am not entirely sure where I land - I just know that a lot of what I believe is Christian, and a lot of the problems I have with Christianity are not with issues that are critical to the faith. Christianity is one of the things that I'm trying to reconcile in my life with what I believe, so we'll see where that leads me.
And to those who are concerned about me, I know you guys love me and care about me which is why you respond. So don't be offended by this, but I don't need a sermon at this point. I've had plenty of sermons in my life, I know the Christian line. I would love to have a chat with all of you - don't get me wrong. But it would be just that - a chat, a discussion, an exchange. At this point, I'm not looking for a mentor. I need to make this decision for myself, and I'm still nowhere near settled in a path to need a mentor at this point. I don't need to, or plan to, agree with you guys on everything, and that's just fine with me. I'd love to answer your questions, and hear what you guys have to say, and discuss things with you, and go back and forth, bounce things off. I love you guys, and look forward to our chats - my schedule is on my Facebook :)
Note: The original note included some further individual responses to the original Facebook note, if you want to check them out.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Writing time: A good hour and a half
Reading time: About 10 minutes, give or take
Okay, so this note is about a lot. It's about the following:
I don't know how to fit it all into a title, so for now, it's blank, and it might stay that way.
As a sort of introduction after writing this note, I'll give you a little heads-up. This is mostly about what I've decided, with some ranting. Now, the ranting is actually important to me, and I think you should read it too, because it will help you understand why I'm where I'm at. But I've marked the rant sections off, so if you just want to read about what happened tonight, you can do that. Cheers.
I don't know where to start, so I suppose I'll start at the beginning. Sort of.
So today, I was planning to go to Quest at 11:00, but my body decided that it would rather sleep. So then I was talking to August at lunch, and she mentioned that she was going to Mars Hill, and the subject (dating) sounded like it would be interesting and a fun one, so I decided to come along.
And it was fun...and then it was like bam, things are happening in my head and yes this is exactly where I am and wait a minute why am I having so many problems with Christianity and then oh yeah that's why and then dangit that makes me angry oh yeah there's a sermon going on...man, that really connects with me like 100% and he's talking about me except for the "Christian" part that I'm unsure of...now why am I unsure of that again? Oh yeah, because too many Christians are stupid and obnoxious and fundamentalist and focus on the family and frick what do I do with this...
And so on. For an hour and a half. Call it a God thing, I'll probably do that when I've figured out my life. But being there called into stark contrast why I:
a) Am so freaking annoyed and disconnected with Christianity
b) Don't want to throw it out completely.
Firstly, you should watch this sermon. Because it is awesome, and 100% true and what you need to hear. (edit: okay, changed the link to actually point to the right sermon...it's up now, btw)
Now, what I got out of it isn't why you should watch it. You should watch it because it's true, and too many women have an incredibly wrong idea of what men should be like, and how they as women should be treated by men, and too many men have a horribly skewed and wrong idea of what women should be, and how they should treat them. But that's the subject of another note.
The reason that it meant so much to me is this. As he was sermoning (I can make up that word, I'm a PK), it was resonating with me. I was hearing every word he said about everything, and it fit in exactly with what I thought, and what I was passionate about, and what made me so mad about males in relationships screwing up women, and women not holding males to the standard that we need to be held to, and everything. Everything he said fit in exactly to what I aspire to be as a man and a husband in the future. Except for the part about being a Christian, because I'm not sure where I am in that. And I cringed a bit when he said not to date non-Christians, because everything else he was describing was what I wanted in a relationship, what I wanted in a wife. If women that I were interested in followed that rule, I may miss out.
And so I thought, why? If this is where I'm at, if it fits so well, why can't I be a Christian? If the things that are coming out of this guy's mouth as the model of a good, healthy, Christian relationship are exactly what I strive for, why shouldn't I just be a Christian? And I thought about morals in general, and I had known for a while that I think the Christian moral system is by far the best way to live overall. Regardless of where I end up, I know that I want to raise my kids in the Christian moral system, because that's how I was raised, and I am eternally grateful to my parents for raising me that way. So what's the problem?
Christians. Now, I know when I say that, many of you are going to think of the quote (like I did) at the beginning of a DC Talk song, that goes like this:
"One of the greatest sources of atheism is Christians--people who acknowledge Jesus with their mouths and deny him by their lifestyles."
Now, that's not my problem. The hypocrisy does drive people away, and is a problem for sure, but it's not my problem. My problem is the idea that Christianity comes with a package. I was taught in 8th grade (I went to a Christian school) that my worldview should be defined - not even just shaped, but defined, created, even - by my religion. That means 7-day creation, that means gays are the scourge of the earth, that means Harry Potter is the work of the devil. It means that George Bush is the best thing to happen to this country in a long time just because he's a Christian, Democrats are evil because they don't believe that this is a Christian country and as such abortion and homosexuality and other such non-Christian things should be entirely illegal, and everything I do has to come directly from God and my love for Jesus, and if not, it's frivolous, if not worse.
Now, some of that is extreme, and exaggerated. But I won't apologize for it, because that's the box I get put in when I say I'm a Christian. In America, Focus on the Family, the Religious Right, the Conservative Christian movement has defined Christianity for us.
I don't fit in that box.
I would die.
Which is why I have such a problem with calling myself a Christian. Because with that comes the assumption that I believe all the rest of that. Which I don't.
So where does that leave me? I'm pretty sure Christianity is the moral system that I adhere to and believe in. And I kind of think that's the main function of a religion. Sociopolitically and in matters of science, I'm not a Christian. Not a Christian as far as America, and perhaps my family, hometown, and church, are concerned anyway.
But I think that's okay. Because I don't believe that being a Christian really means that you have to accept the whole package. And you know why? Because over the years, the package has changed. Three, four centuries ago, the package included believing that the universe rotated around the earth and that the Bible belonged in only Latin. But the core has stayed the same. The Christianity that I think I adhere to is that core, and not the package.
And just to make sure that my contention is fully known - I've heard random things about how history is a conspiracy to make Christanity look bad, and the church didn't really prosecute Galielo and such.
But I'm pretty sure that William Tyndale was burned at the stake because he translated the Bible into English. Christians hold it up as a story of martyrdom and heroism. But it's never mentioned that the church killed him. THAT WAS THE PACKAGE. In 1535, the package included burning people who translated the Bible into English. No Christian today would agree with that. If they did, they would be shunned and ridiculed. So if today the package is Young-earth Creationism, and being a Republican, who says that I have to adhere to that? It's the ones that didn't adhere to it - say, William Tyndale - that are often hailed as heroes, for righting the Church that had gone horribly wrong.
Oh, by the way, another thing - people will argue that that wasn't the church, but the government. That because the Church and the government were one and the same, it was corrupted, and therefore not really the Church.
And yet these same people want to legislate morality. They want to make sure that Christian moral code gets codified into American legal code. They insist that this is a Christian country, founded on Christian ideals, and it should stay that way. Well I've got news - power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Religion and government don't mix. This has been proved over and over and over again throughout history! Whenever Christianity gets its way, and takes over the goverment, BAD THINGS HAPPEN. Inquisitions, Crusades, persecution. America CAME INTO BEING BECAUSE THE GOVERMENT WAS CHRISTIAN. The pilgrims left because the goverment defined a religion.
So why, in heaven's name, are we trying to create that again? Why are we trying to get our country to be a Christian nation? That's what our founding fathers were trying to avoid! It's the job of the church to define people's religion, and it is lazy, irresponsible, and dangerous shoving that responsibility onto the government.
So...where does that leave me? Well, I think this is kind of where it leaves me. I'm not sure about any of them, but it's where I think I'm headed.
Why? Well, here's what I'm sure of:
That's what they come out of. Now, I'm a bad Christian. I play heathen, and skip church occasionally. I hardly ever read my Bible. I don't pray, except for other people. I don't go to Group, or Chapel. I don't have a relationship with God, or Jesus, and have never felt the presence of the Holy Spirit.
But I think that God put me where I needed to be tonight. Working through my friends, my sleeping through Quest, he made sure I ended up where I needed to be.
Now, I don't feel that way. And it feels weird to say that, it feels like a cop-out, like I'm a Christian that just uses God to explain everything, and cares only about loving Jesus and couldn't care less about the rest of the world. And that annoys me.
But it makes sense. Facts:
1. If I'm supposed to be a Christian, God would probably try his best to get me there.
2. I haven't been to Mars Hill since at least spring quarter last year
3. I had no intention to go to Mars Hill tonight, and was in fact planning to go to Quest at 11:00
4. The sermon happened to be related to something I am particularly passionate about*
5. I have been thinking about this stuff a lot lately.
That all seems to me that God made sure that I was there tonight. But only logically, only because it makes sense.
So, I think I'm a Christian. At the core. But not a normal Christian. I don't know what to do with that, because I'm a bad Christian, and fixing that involves a lot of things that annoy me about Christianity and Christians. So we'll see how it works out. And I'm hardly settled. But I'm headed in a direction. And that's good.
*By the way, Mark did an awful lot of saying exactly what I say and stuff that I really, really, really care about a lot when I say it. In fact, men not being men and women being okay with it is one of the two occasions in my whole life that I have used a profanity, because I am so passionate about it.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
("Where I currently am in my search for what I believe about God, Jesus, Christianity, and life in general", pronounced "Wick-cam-swib-bag-jick-lig")
Perhaps a little explanation is in order. But first, some introduction. And if you're wondering how I got this far, and you really have a lot of time, read my previous posts about my journey thus far.
But in brief, I'm in college. As a direct result thereof, I have been looking at me, my life, my beliefs, and basically everything.
I've had a lot of discussions with a lot of people with a lot of different beliefs, and not a lot of sleep. And I've read some, experienced a lot. Most importantly, I've looked at life from a perspective other than the Family Life, very conservative, George-Bush-is-the-best-thing-to-happen-to-this-country-since-sliced-bread kind of worldview that I was raised in, and it's been a very eye-opening experience.
Oh, by the way, this is going to be a long note. Printed out, it would be more than two full pages, single-spaced, 10pt font. This is my disclaimer. I apologize, but that's how I write, and I've promised to keep it short, but it's never worked. I write sort of stream-of-consciousness, but it's a stream of condensed, debated, discussed, and processed consciousness. This is mainly for myself, because when I have to write or tell others what I'm thinking, I have to process it too. It also serves as a kind of update for a few friends, especially some of those with whom I've had discussions on the subject, who are curious as to where I am in my quest. And since you're on Facebook, you probably are looking for a good way to waste time anyway. But if not, that's entirely fine. I won't be offended or sad if you don't read or comment on my note. Honestly, I won't - as I said, it's mostly for myself processing. That said, I can continue. Come with if you like, but seriously, no pressure, cause I hate guilt trips, even if they're not really guilt trips.
Now, about my intro. In all the discussions, all the observation, but not so much the sleep, it's all kind of boiled down to a few points that are really the root of why I am not content with where I am, and certainly not where I was two years ago. So, this note will serve as a mental, spiritual, philosophical, metaphysical waypoint. A "Where I currently am in my search for what I believe about God, Jesus, Christianity, and life in general", if you will.
This note is about the two basic reasons that I am questioning things. My first contention is in the title: If I had been born in India, I would have been on my way to hell if I had done nothing else different for my first 18 years. Okay, obviously, I would have to do some things different, but the core of what I did, which is accept my family's theology/worldview as undoubtedly the way to go.
Let me tell you a little story, about me in an alternate reality, from the Christian worldview.
In this alternate reality, I am born (as the average person) in India. I'm a good Hindu, go to church/mass/large-gathering-of-believers regularly, meditate as is expected. I go through the motions of being a Hindu so that I can avoid being a newt in my next life. I die a Hindu, hoping to re-emerge as a human in a better social position, possibly a cow, or maybe, just maybe, reach Nirvana (or whatever it is - I guess Nirvana is Bhuddism). Instead, I end up in Hell, burning for eternity, simply because I didn't question how I was raised. Not just question whether I thought that Vishnu had green or blue skin, or whether I wanted to vote for Hanji Kujima or Gaali Bussimon in the upcoming elections. Question whether the very basics of how I was raised were even correct, whether everything that I've been taught was right or not. That kind of questioning.
Now, that story sounds ridiculous to me, and probably most of the people reading this note. But if you just replace Hinduism with Christianity, that's the story of my life up to college, to some extent midway through high school, if I had continued on the track I was on. That's a little disconcerting to me.*
The only reason that the Hindu scenario seems so ridiculous is that we are in the Western world, which is composed of mainly a) Christian-based worldviews or b) Rationalist, atheisitc-type worldviews, neither of which are very friendly to Hinduism. If we were in India, it would sound perfectly normal, and to deviate from it would be unheard of and perhaps dangerous. Now the situation isn't quite as extreme for Christianity in the US, but in my home, and my hometown, rejecting the faith that I was raised with, or even really seriously questioning it, is pretty taboo, and would make life very uncomfortable and stressful as far as can tell. But that is exactly what I would need to do if I were a Hindu. So that's what I'm doing.
My parents, of course, want me to end up a Christian. Which is possibly going to be the end result, albeit not quite of the same variety. But I can't guarantee that, because If I did, I would end up in Hell in the Hindu scenario. If anyone can come up with a good reason that I shouldn't do this, I'd love to hear it. But until then, I'm forging on.
My second problem is myself. I am extremely logical, to a fault. My emotions have very little control of my life and what I do on a daily basis. I feel like a little history is in order, and I'll do my best to keep it short, but we all know what that means.
I haven't had a lot of overt tragedy in my life. I've been blessed/lucky/fortunate for the most part. The only people that have died that have been close to me at all were my dad's father when I was pretty young, my dad's grandparents (I didn't know my mom's) when I was older, and a kid in my high school. The first two I knew but only saw once a year or so, and the third I didn't know very well. My life has been pretty stable, so I haven't known a lot of emotional turmoil.
There, that wasn't too much history. That was actually pretty good. So I haven't had too many compelling reasons to be emotional in my life. But in my discussions, most significantly Kristen, I realized that up until college, I didn't emotionally invest in people very much at all. I had friends, plenty of them, but I didn't really connect with them on any significant level. They were people that I would laugh with, study with, watch movies with. Not people that I would confide in with anything, or call up when I was going through a hard time, or was, say, questioning my faith.
This level of disconnect didn't just stop at my friends either. Even my parents, my youth minister, or just about anyone in my small town were part of the disconnect. If anyone was a friend in the sense that I now realize exists, it would be my brother, and even him I barely discussed things with. I guess it's kind of an instinctual defense mechanism, not wanting things to be uncomfortable, or perhaps not deeming it worth it to put in the time and effort required to form and maintain the friendships. I don't know whether my logical nature is a result or a cause, or a little of both. But the truth is, that's how it ended up. And I am now a very logical being, who is trying to figure out how to do this emotional thing.
My emotions, however, still have very little influence on my decisions. This whole investing in people thing led to, and allowed, what is undoubtedly and truly the single most emotional event of my life, but it was still brought about mostly by logical reasoning. In fact, my emotions were mostly opposing my logic, and they most definitely were not happy after the fact. I'll probably write another note in investing in people, since the detail is not relevant to this note. Suffice to say that my emotions, while I am now more aware of them, still have little influence in my decisions.
I am also an engineer at heart. Deep at heart. Like, the very core of my being kind of heart. I simply must know how things work, and how things got here, and why things are the way they are, especially for things where a) I care about them and b) Where they come from impacts my life. My faith is no different. I know how I got to where I am today, but it's by following a script. And last I checked, George Clooney didn't get rich robbing a casino by simply reading through Ocean's Eleven. I'm not okay with that. Take the script away, and I have no clue why I am where I am. Ocean's Eleven may be feasible, and it's based on real places, real methods. But that doesn't mean I (or George Clooney) could do it. Similarly, my Christianity I was raised with is based on its fair share of facts and evidence - my logical nature made sure of that. But could I have gotten there without having another option?** This is kind of the summary of my second contention. By the time I began to think about questioning where I was, I was already firmly in a Christian home, community, and church. It would have been extremely uncomfortable and stressful and generally bad news if I had seriously questioned things at that point. So I can't say that I am a Christian of my own volition, because I'm not. I have reasons and evidence, yes, but people have reasons and evidence for being Hindus, Mormons, and Evolutionists*** too, and according to the worldview I was raised in, they're screwed, not to mention wrong.
So I don't have a good reason for how I got to be a Christian - I can't explain why I am one past "that's what I was raised as, and I didn't see any reasons to switch that were worth the turmoil and terrible discomfort it would have caused." That's not good enough for me. If I was a Hindu, I would have had to have been approached by a missionary, listened to what he said, had some incredibly, irrevocably good reasons to believe what he said, and followed him. I would have an excellent reason for why I believed, and it wouldn't have been because he had a good powerpoint, or because he made me feel good inside.
That's one of the problems for me - the reason a lot of people become Christians is becuase they feel empty, or lonely, or they are hurting, or something else emotional. A good way to illustrate this is actually the reason that I got around to writing this note. I saw one of those facebook flyers put out by some Christian self-help site, and read the article. It said things like:
"I felt empty. Later in high school the emptiness grew and my curiosity grew to find something, anything to satisfy me. First I turned to petty things, like stealing cigarettes from my abusive uncle. But that wasn't strong enough to distract me from life and fill that emptiness. I wouldn't give up that easily...It was simply something to fill up the emptiness I felt in my life. When I was sad, when I had a bad day, I could simply go into my room, shut the doors, and feel better again."
This has never been the reason for me doing anything, except maybe sleeping or being grouchy. And believe it or not, say I'm in denial or I am filling the mysterious and vague "emptiness" with other things, but I don't feel particularly empty. And remember, that's a feeling. Those don't hold a lot of sway in my decisions. They are, as I said, vague and indefinite. If I'm going to base my whole life on something, it's going to be something solid, something that makes sense, something that I can explain. Note some wishy-washy, mishety-mush vague "emptiness." And that's why I'm on this quest. I currently don't have a good reason to be a Christian. My only reasons would be that it's comfortable, or that it's how I was raised. As I said, I have reasons, but none of them are close to good enough for my satisfaction, and they definitely didn't lead me there - they were after-the-fact to support where I already was.
Progress isn't made by explaining where we already are. I just made a random connection to my UScholars class, where we're talking about Bacon (Francis Bacon, not the meat), and it makes a good way to end this note (whew!). So here's a story to finish it up:
Basically, Bacon was fed up with everyone simply rehashing and explaining Plato and Aristotle, who were terribly wrong about most of what they said about science, but were regarded at the time as unquestionable and pure fact. Bacon said that we needed to get back to observation, not cloud our minds with what we've been taught, with what we "know", because what they "knew" back then was based on entirely ridiculous and faulty sources (unless you want to insist that planets orbit in circles simply because they are circles, and it is in their nature to move in circles).
My situation is a lot like Bacon's, I just realized. I am not okay with simply building off of, or explaining, what I already "know" as far as my beliefs go. I need to go back to observation, go back to the basics, and build from there, or I won't be satisfied, and therefore won't truly believe it. Bacon started the scientific revolution, and basically made it possible for us to live in the world we live in today. Hopefully my quest will have positive, if not history-changing, results as well.
Footnotes! (Because they were too long and would have just made things more confusing and interrupted my train of thought):
*Now don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking my upbringing. This isn't a rebellion against the chains that I was bound with as a child. I am very pleased with the person that I am today, and am incredibly grateful for how my family raised me. When it comes down to it, I don't think I would change anything major about how I was raised. But now I'm not there anymore. My family has done their job, and now what I believe is up to me.
**And this is where the analogy ends. I hate it when people use analogies and try to over-apply them, so I'm not. I'm not trying to prove anything by my analogy, or convince you of anything at all. It's a tool to illustrate and explain what I'm saying. See my other notes for why this is an issue for me.
***By the way, I'm not discounting evolution. This remark is mainly from the perspective of the worldview I was raised in.