Saturday, February 16, 2013
Sunday, February 12, 2012
It must have been Middle School when I first realized my parents did not always have the answers, that they were not always right. It was then that I first discovered that I too was human, a small and seemingly insignificant speck. It was during these years that I actively began to question the basic “truths” of life, those big questions relating to God, the afterlife, purpose. All those questions that we have asked each other and ourselves since the beginning of remembered history and will be asking ad infinitum. There's a reason we keep asking them.
In the end it was this search that allowed me to say that I believe in the Christian religion not because of my culture or my parents, though they certainly played a part, but because I myself am a volitional being, capable of choices. The details of this first journey are largely unimportant to me now. The essence of the answer was something like: within complexity, design; within God, love. These two separate paths came together as evidence for a belief I could accept. Undoubtedly the greatest asset of such belief is the sense of foundation it provides, a firm place on which to view what increasingly seems a fluid and complex reality.
In what I hope is growth, I have since moved on to my second journey. Having been gaining momentum for several years, it now seems to operate with a force that at times feel like hurricane winds. At its root this journey revolves around a surprisingly complex question: How ought I to live as a Christian?
By this question I do not mean, how ought I to live as a (Baptist/Evangelical/Anglican, etc)? The longer I live the more I seem to grow dissatisfied and pessimistic with myself and the church, tied to tradition. My pastor laments that only 5,000 missionaries are currently serving abroad. He of course only counted those from his own denomination. He laments of a world that is increasingly depraved, and although I find myself nodding I’m not quite sure what he means. Drinking is of course a sin. Swearing as well. Dancing is certainly suspect. Surely Eric Liddell had it right. Worship after all is not something that plays out in life but only something done in church as we sing of God with the vague and uncertain metaphors of positive theology. I dress a certain way on Sunday and use a plethora of stock phrases when it comes to prayer. Oh, how I enjoy those things which make me feel better, not that I judge others for their depravity. I may act out the judgment, but I would never say it. Even if I did say something it was surely only for their sake, so they could know I disapproved.
Another problem seems to be apathy. As much I say and I’m sure desire at times to “live for Christ,” this tagline is so often reduced to actions which in my mind which are disproportionately weighted to their effectiveness. I can feel good about myself for the week if I attended Sunday School in addition to church—and of course incredibly guilty if I have somehow missed out on what must be an essential element of the Christian life. I can feel good if I occasionally throw a bill in the offering plate. I can feel good if I read my obligatory chapter of the Bible before going to bed or watch a heartfelt drama of a poor family in Africa so I can empathize with their suffering. I like feeling good. And yet, I suspect none of these are the truest marks of a good and faithful servant.
It is for these reasons that I am drawn to works that question the comfortable life I try to lead, that question that which is so entrenched it has become part of ourselves:
Cause my Jesus bled and died
He spent His time with thieves and the least of these
He loved the poor and accosted the comfortable
So which one do you want to be?
Cause my Jesus would never be accepted in my church
The blood and dirt on His feet would stain the carpet
But He reaches for the hurting and despised the proud
I think He'd prefer Beale St. to the stained glass crowd
And I know that He can hear me if I cry out loud
John Lynch (on the New Testament gamble):
“What if I tell them who they are?” What if I take away any element of fear in condemnation, judgment or rejection”?
“What if I tell them I love them, will always love them? That I love them right now, no matter what they’ve done, as much as I love my only Son? That there’s nothing they can do to make my love go away”?
“What if I tell them there are no lists? What if I tell them I don’t keep a log of past offenses, of how little they pray, how often they’ve let me down, made promises that they don’t keep?”
“What if I tell them they are righteous, with my righteousness, right now”?
“What if I tell them they can stop beating themselves up? That they can stop being so formal, stiff and jumpy around me?”
“What if I tell them I’m crazy about them? What if I tell them, even if they run to the ends of the earth and do the most horrible, unthinkable things, that when they come back, I’d receive them with tears and a party”?
“What if I tell them that I am their Savior, they’re going to heaven no matter what--it’s a done deal?
“What if I tell them they have a new nature--saints, not saved sinners who should now ‘buck up and be better’ if they were any kind of Christians, after all He’s done for you!”
“What if I tell them that I actually live in them now? That I’ve put my love, power, and nature inside of them, at their disposal?”
“What if I tell them that they don’t have to put on a mask? That it is OK to be who they are at this moment, with all their junk. That they don’t need to Pretend about how close we are, how much they pray or don’t, how much Bible they read or don’t?”
“What if they knew they don’t have to look over their shoulder for fear if things get to good, the other shoe’s gonna drop?”
“What if they knew I will never, ever use the word “punish” in relation to them?”
“What if they knew that when they mess up, I will never 'get back at them'?”
“What if they were convinced that bad circumstances aren’t my way of evening the score for taking advantage of me?”
“What if they knew the basis of our friendship isn’t how little they sin, but how much they let me love them?”
“What if I tell them they can hurt my heart, but that I never hurt theirs?”
“What if I tell them I like U2’s music too?”
“What if I tell them I never really liked the Christmas hand bell deal with the white gloves?”
“What if I tell them they can open their eyes when they pray and still go to heaven?”
“What if I tell them there is no secret agenda, no trapdoor?”
“What if I tell them it isn’t about their self-effort, but about allowing me to live my life through them?”
Here are the things I didn't like about the churches I went to. First: I felt like people were trying to sell me Jesus. I was a salesman for a while, and we were taught that you are supposed to point out all the benefits of a product when you are selling it. That is how I felt about some of the preachers I heard speak. They were always pointing out the benefits of Christian faith. That rubbed me wrong. It's not that there aren't benefits, there are, but did they have to talk about spirituality like it's a vacuum cleaner. I never felt like Jesus was a product. I wanted Him to be a person. Not only that, but they were always pointing out how great the specific church was. The bulletin read like a brochure for Amway. They were always saying how life-changing some conference was going to be. Life-changing? What does that mean? It sounded very suspicious. I wish they would just tell it to me straight rather than trying to sell me on everything. I felt like I got bombarded with all week and then went to church and got even more.
And yet another thing about the churches I went to: They seemed to be parrots for the Republican Party. Do we have to tow the party line on every single issue? Are the Republicans that perfect? I just felt like, in order to be a part of the family, I had to think George W. Bush was Jesus. And I didn't. I didn't think that Jesus really agreed with a lot of the policies of the Republican Party or for that matter the Democratic Party. I felt like Jesus was a religious figure, not a political figure. I heard my pastor say once, when there were only a few of us standing around, that he hated Bill Clinton. I can understand not liking Clinton's policies, but I want my spirituality to rid me of hate, not give me reason for it. I couldn't deal with that. That is one of the main reasons I walked away. I felt like, by going to this particular church, I was a pawn for the Republicans. Meanwhile, the Republicans did not give a crap about the causes of Christ.
Only one more thing that bugged me, then I will shut up about it. War metaphor. The churches I attended would embrace war metaphor. They would talk about how we are in a battle, and I agreed with them, only they wouldn't clarify that we were battling poverty and hate and injustice and pride and the powers of darkness. They left us thinking that our war was against liberals and homosexuals. Their teaching would have me believe I was the good person in the world and the liberals were the bad people in the world. Jesus taught that we are all bad and He is good, and He wants to rescue us because there is a war going on and we are hostages in that war. The truth is we are supposed to love the hippies, the liberals, and even the Democrats, and that God wants us to think of them as more important than ourselves. Anything short of this is not true to the teachings of Jesus.
Back to me:
I don't know what it means to live as a Christian. I am almost certain I will not find the answer through responses like: follow God's leading in your heart, live as an ambassador for Christ, etc. While they may be true, they ignore the entire practical level on which life is actually lived.
Perhaps the question is too complex. Perhaps I simply should be asking: How ought I to live? Should I write a blog about how homosexuals are destroying America or actually get to know one? Would evangelism be more effective if I gave out more tracts with pithy covers or invited my unsaved friends out for a beer? Can I actually open my eyes during prayer and still go to heaven? Can I have long hair and ride a motorcycle and still be a Christian? I don’t know where the end will lead, for I am yet in the midst of the journey. I am pretty sure though it will not, at least for me, lead to a motorcycle. I do not have the answers yet. I’m only asking the questions.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Monday, November 28, 2011
Friday, June 10, 2011
My apologies for the four month delay. Well, not really. I'll post when I feel like it.
I’d like to share some recent thoughts that come to me when stopping at red lights. Did you ever notice when the light turns green, the car in front always starts a half second or so sooner than the car behind it? This is of course a natural course of events, but it got me thinking…
In my mind I imagine a long and straight dark road stretching to infinity. On the side of the road there is nothing but dirt, gravel, and the occasional tuft of a bush struggling to survive. At the beginning of this road there are two cars. The one in front a black sedan. The one in the back a sort of mauve coupe, an adjective which I only use to sound more sophisticated than I actually am.
The black car is twenty feet or so in front of the mauve. Although they both accelerate at the same speed, (let’s say two feet per second per second) the black car in front will start a half-second sooner. Thus, although they were originally only twenty feet apart, by the end of the first second that distance will have become slightly over twenty-one. By the end of the second second (a funny phrase if there ever was one) that distance would be nearly twenty-four feet.
In my mind, which for some reason is always from the perspective of the second driver, the car in front is slowly getting further and further away. (although “farther” is more grammatically correct, I use the other option purposefully) While at first it is close enough to make out details, in just a short time it will become a speck on the horizon. In time, even that speck will be lost. I find this unbelievably sad. After all, they both had the same acceleration and starting point, one just had the unfortunate quirk of starting only a half-second after.
I hope when you, my twos of readers, come to your next stoplight you recall this story of the mauve car as the car in front gains distance. On that day may you find the experience equally depressing, even if neither of us are sure exactly why.
Monday, February 21, 2011
"I'd like to be a hunter, sir. You know. Hold a harpoon? Fire a crossbow? I wouldn't mind just reloading for the other hunters until I get the hang of it."
"Don't be silly. You couldn't do that while out in the center of the field, being bait!"
"I wasn't talking about doing that while being bait. I'd rather do it instead of being bait. Sir."
"But nobody else has yer special gift, son."
"I don't think it's all that great . . ."
"Why, sure it is! In all my years hunting dragons, I've never met someone who attracts them like you do. You've got a gift."
"The gift of smelling delicious to dragons? Sir, I never asked for this."
"Just 'cause a gift is unexpected doesn't mean it ain't a gift."
"A knife to the back can be unexpected. That doesn't make it a gift either. Sir."
Alas, of the credit of this rather amusing work goes not to myself but to Brandon Sanderson, a somewhat new and rather brilliant writer. This is an excerpt of an attempt to create a short story based solely on dialogue. The complete story can be seen at:
Monday, November 15, 2010
The reader exists in a nexus with the writer of fiction. Several theories have been proposed to explain the nature of this nexus. Samuel Coleridge was the first to use the phrase “suspension of disbelief.” The reader temporarily suspends his judgment regarding fantastical or non-realistic elements in order for pleasure or some other non-physical capital. The reader accepts that a wardrobe can really transport children to an alternate world and accepts that ghosts truly can appear to show someone the true meaning of Christmas.
In a radio interview Guillermo Del Toro was asked concerning the difference between directing a film and writing a book. Del Toro replied that there was an inherent difference between the forms. Whereas in film the events will always happen at the same pace and in the same way, a book allows the reader to become a co-director. He follows the guideline provided by the author and in his mind creates the world following the guidelines of his own imagination.
This is similar to the idea of “sub-creation” put forward by J.R.R. Tolkien in his article "On Fairy-Stories." This idea accepts that the writer becomes like a god as he creates the new and the reader as well who forms the same world again in his own mind. The reader chooses to believe the work based on its inner-consistency. Although certain elements may differ from the “primary world,” in the “secondary world” of literature the reader can accept them as true. Of course, the form is not universally appreciated. Tolkien writes,
“Fantasy, of course, starts out with an advantage: arresting strangeness. But that advantage has been turned against it, and has contributed to its disrepute. Many people dislike being “arrested.” They dislike any meddling with the Primary World, or such small glimpses of it as are familiar to them. They, therefore, stupidly and even maliciously confound Fantasy with Dreaming, in which there is no Art; and with mental disorders, in which there is not even control: with delusion and hallucination.”
Still others find a hard time restricting judgment, based on standards of the primary world. This is often seen among fundamentalist Christians who disregard such works as Harry Potter as inherently Satanic merely through its use of magic. This is not to say that the reader should not judge the work based on standards, even moral ones. Instead, there ought to be some amount of charity on the part of the reader who can accept a new world without bringing false standards of mistaken piety, accepting a story on its own definitions, its own merits. They may even find themselves drawn in to something beyond themselves.
In the same article Tolkien mentions that good fantasy (or even science fiction) is hard to create. He writes:
Fantasy has also an essential drawback: it is difficult to achieve. . . “the inner consistency of reality” is more difficult to produce, the more unlike are the images and the rearrangements of primary material to the actual arrangements of the Primary World. It is easier to produce this kind of “reality” with more “sober” material. Fantasy thus, too often, remains undeveloped; it is and has been used frivolously, or only half-seriously, or merely for decoration: it remains merely “fanciful.”
This statement, however, seems to be flawed, even wrong if I wanted to be more forceful. To adopt the language from the first theory, suspension of disbelief is required when the reader encounters something he realizes in inconsistent with the primary world. Works are not judged only by their internal consistency, but also on how well they fit in with the primary world where they are expected to.
Historical fiction often grapples with this problem. No matter how internally consistent the story may be, certain elements are supposed to correspond to the primary world. This is why it requires a great deal of research in order to produce a novel, which though it may be fiction, accurately reflects the world in which it is portrayed. Undoubtedly, certain mistakes will easily be missed by the general reader who cannot spot the discrepancies. The same text, however, when read by one experience in knowledge of the era could easily spot the discrepancies. The more familiar the reader is with the supposed context of the story, the easier the discrepancies are seen.
Tolkien’s statement errs because it mixes these two problems: internal-consistency on the one hand and consistency between the primary and secondary world on the other. Discrepancies found in historical fiction often have nothing to do with the first problem. Yes, spittoons may not have been used in sixteenth century England, but this does not mean the work is internally inconsistent. The writer of any fiction thus grapples with twin beasts.
The same struggle is often seen in science fiction. In a story that takes place in the near-future, authors find themselves struggling to produce a believable secondary world. Actions by various nations are often seen as patently ridiculous by many readers because they differ with how the reader views the world. Again, this does not fail the test of internal consistency, but, it does fail the second test. It fails to match elements in the secondary world which ought to be consistent with the primary world.Like the scholar of sixteenth-century England reading a book on Queen Elizabeth, inconsistencies between the primary and secondary world are evident based on the amount of knowledge the reader supposes he has of the context. Here is found the great irony of the suspension of disbelief. In general, it is actually easier to suspend judgment as the story becomes more fantastical in nature, more divorced from reality. The further divorced from the reader’s knowledge or experience, the easier the tale becomes to write. Suddenly, the reader stops looking for connections between the primary and secondary world, and instead only focuses, even if merely at a subconscious level, on just the internal consistency of the work. By divorcing the story from reality, the writer encounters only one hobgoblin where before there was two. And, as any adventurer who had made his way through the blood forests of Grishnaw would know, fighting one hobgoblin alone is always easier than facing two.