Archive for December, 2005

With Whom Can I Speak?

Posted by on Saturday, 31 December, 2005

I have read and heard more arguments than I can remember that ought to convince any Christian that the Bible is true. Likewise, there is no shortage of arguments powerful enough to convince any atheist that the Bible is nonsense. How about something for those in between?

In my narrative a few posts back, when I mentioned that I could not remember much of what was going through my head one sleepless night, I actually felt that it would be impolite to repeat the one thing that I vividly remember. Namely, “I wish that post-modernism would go [engage in extra-marital sexual relations with] itself.”

Now the term post-modernism seems to mean different things to different people in different circumstances (the irony of which I applaud), so I was unable to come up with a precise definition. What I have taken it to mean in the contexts I usually hear it is the idea that there is no absolute truth, morals and values are relative to culture and circumstances, everyone has their own version of reality, etc.

I believe in absolute truth. I believe that there is a way that things are and a way that things are not. A lot of Evangelical Christians talk about post-modernism as if it were the antithesis of Christianity – the attitude of “the world.” It occurred to me that this is not so. The opposite of Christianity, or more generally, theism, would obviously be atheism. Atheists do believe in absolute truth; they believe that there is absolutely no god in the universe.

The thing that gets me is the bit about relative cultural values and perception of reality. It just makes too much sense to be dismissed out of hand, much as I would like to. I want there to be absolute truth, but this post-modernism will not go away. Hence the rudeness.

I feel like I have been stuck for a very long time in my spiritual journey at place where most people never even go. I’ve never been particularly interested in the testimony of people who where raised Christian, because, while I have great admiration and respect for many such people, I simply do not feel that someone who has never had to deal with the repercussions of abandoning what they have believed for their whole life is in much of a position to help me. I have read a great deal by people who have converted to Christianity, and yet none of them seem to address the questions I have. They all seem to have somehow skipped over, or at least hurried through, the point where I am.

Having accepted the existence of a higher power, why should I believe that the Bible has anything to do with it? At the time I first believed in God, I lived in a house containing two different translations of the Bible and a third of only the New Testament. That’s rather convenient, in a house of four non-believers. But was it really “divinely” convenient? In reading the Bible, it should really come as no surprise if much of it seems to resonate with what I already believe, considering that our culture was originally based largely on this book. I just find it all too easy to see how the whole thing could have been made up, especially considering that in the absence of divine knowledge, people will make things up. Just look at, say… every culture in the world.

So why am I still here? Well, it could be true. I want SOMETHING to be true.

The apostle Paul (who changed his name from Saul) claimed that he was converted when he heard the voice of Jesus calling from Heaven, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 26.14). [A “goad” being a pointed stick used to prod and guide animals.] I personally could walk away from all of this with a lot more confidence if only I never hit anything when I kick.

Yet still, I am filled with doubt. So I ask, with whom can I speak? I already know what they have to say. Christians will try to convince me that it is all true, and I have been listening to those arguments for some time now. I am already quite familiar with a non-believer’s viewpoint as well.

Walk The Line

Posted by on Wednesday, 14 December, 2005

I saw the movie Walk the Line a couple of weeks ago. I really did not know much of anything about Johnny Cash. (Wait, you ask, weren’t you quoting him a little while back? …Well, maybe. Sort of.) Anyway, a friend of mine was explaining to someone that they went in with low expectations and were pleasantly surprised. I countered that I went in thinking it was going to be the best movie that I had seen in a long time, and I was still pleasantly surprised. It was simply excellent.

I would certainly not claim that the details of my life remotely resemble those of Mr. Cash, but I definitely saw a lot of the same themes. So perhaps you will not get as much out of it as I did, but this movie could not have come at a more appropriate point in my life. I guess you could say that I feel like I too am walking a line.

Also, see if you can track down the video for “Hurt” online. It will make you cry.

Garageband Karaoke

Posted by on Tuesday, 13 December, 2005

There is a certain song that I have been thinking of a lot lately. Last week I set about trying to transcribe the lyrics in a way that would make sense, as the song can be a little tough to follow. I was thinking about posting them here, but it occurred to me that the lyrics themselves really don’t convey the mood of the song. I then got a crazy idea in my head, and spent the next three days picking the song apart and recreating it in Garageband, and another day and a half realizing how badly I am at singing. But if you’re up for it, I give you:
Ladies and Gentlemen, We are Floating in Space
If you like it at all, do yourself a favor and get the real version, because no one likes listening to karaoke.

Getting There

Posted by on Thursday, 8 December, 2005

[1/9/08 Note: after originally composing this post, I decided it would serve better as a comment on this post. Now it’s here again.]

I have been wanting to address some of the comments that I’ve gotten, because I really do no think that we are all on the same page here.

Let me tell you why I hate flying. I am 6’2. I do not fit in an airplane seat. I once had to literally sit at an angle in my seat because the length of my leg from hip to knee was greater than the distance between the back of my seat and the one in front of me. That is obviously an extreme example, but the best airplanes are not much better. I have a problem with my calves being constantly sore, and I prefer to stretch my legs out whenever I am seated, which is obviously impossible on an airplane. On some airplanes, I even have to duck to avoid hitting my head on the television monitors when walking down the aisle.
Furthermore, I can not do anything when I am on an airplane. I always take things to read, often a journal to write in, and my laptop, but when I am actually on the airplane, I find it impossible to focus. All I can do is watch some movie that I most likely would not have chosen myself, try to get some kind of restless sleep, or just sit there for hours and hours.

In the past year, I have had a seven hour layover in a foreign country, I have lost a personal item in travel, I have been delayed by striking ground workers, missed a flight, been searched twice at the same airport because the first guy did not stamp my ticket, had to pay an obscene amount of money to spring my car from airport parking, changed my ticket to a different airport at the last minute, and had my favorite pen leak all over my pants pocket.*

So, if I hate flying so much, you ask, why on earth do I keep doing it? Why do I not just sit at home and surf the internet, or whatever else I enjoy so much? I get on airplanes so that I can see my mother one last time, or go to her memorial service. I do it to spend time with what’s left of my family at Thanksgiving, or Christmas.

There is a certain type of Hollywood movie that is always trying to convince us that the journey is more important than the destination; that you need to take charge of your life, and do what is right for YOU. The corporations are also telling us to indulge ourselves, or that you need to invest in you, because YOU”RE WORTH IT. It’s easy to forget that Hollywood is in the business of making things up, and that corporations are in the business of selling us things that we don’t need.

So it’s not always about enjoying the ride. Sometimes the destination really is more important than the journey.

*[Within a month of writing this, due to heavy storms, I spent 25 hours in George Bush International Airport in Houston and made it my New Year’s Resolution not to fly anywhere in the next year. Which I did not keep, by the way.]

Now (Part II)

Posted by on Saturday, 3 December, 2005

(Go to Part I)

That was it. I was done. I went home and lay on the floor, out of a sheer lack of anything better to do. My church group was going to be having a Thanksgiving potluck that night. I did not want to go. Could I really do that? Just not go? Don’t call anyone, or say anything, but just don’t show up? Not tonight, not ever again? Sure I could. Why not?

What then should I do now? Just go to school, study electrical engineering? I think I stopped caring about that the day after I got here. I did not want to do anything. I did not want to move. “Go for a walk,” said a voice in my head. Whatever. Stupid voices. “You’ll feel better, I promise.” I did not want to go for a walk. I did not even want to get up off the floor. “You’ll feel better, I promise.” Forget it. “I promise.” Awfully authoritative for an inner monologue. “I promise.” Fine. Fine, I’ll do it.

I went for a walk. I wandered through Prospect Park, a place that holds many memories from many different stages of my life. Leaving the park, a right turn would have taken me home. A left turn would have lead in the direction of the house where I grew up. I went left. I had heard at one point that a crazy rich lady had been doing a nonstop series of outlandish remodels. When I got there, the house was an unnatural shade of green, and the enclosed porch had been un-enclosed. That was all I could tell from the front of the house. The yard, however, was totally unrecognizable.

I walked back to where I am staying now, down side streets. I passed quaint houses, people working in their yards or putting up holiday decorations. There were leaves strewn all over the ground, as if Fall actually occurred in Southern California.

What can I say, I felt better, just as promised. I went to the Thanksgiving gathering at my church.

But one walk does not the world change. There was still the darkness, there was still the doubt. I was still unsure of where I would be spending the next Sunday.

Tuesday night I could not sleep at all. I do not remember much of what was going through my head, but suffice it to say that it is usually not pleasant thoughts that keep me awake at night.

You can pick up free newspapers in the student center at my school. I never have, because newspapers just do not interest me. I arrived at school early Wednesday morning, and I wandered through the student center, as it is more or less on the way to my class. I passed by the newspaper rack and a headline in USA Today caught my attention. It happened to be something about the FCC changing regulations, which interested me because I have actually done a paper and a couple of speeches on somewhat related topics. I picked up the paper and had time to read it before my first class.

I have a half an hour break in between classes. Occasionally I would get a muffin or something else to eat, or maybe check my email. Most days I just end up sitting in the hallway waiting for the previous class to let out. Intending to do just that, I walked all the way to the door of that building, still carrying the newspaper. But I changed my mind and turned around. I decided instead to just sit on one of the nearby benches and read my paper.

Two guys approached me as I was sitting there. They did not know me, but I immediately recognized them as staff from Campus Crusade for Christ. Apparently, I gave them a look that spooked them a bit, as I have been known to do. All it meant was, “I know exactly who you are and what you are going to say, and it’s nothing I haven’t heard before.” Undaunted, they asked if they could have seven to ten minutes of my time to share the “Four Spiritual Laws.”

I have definitely heard of the Four Spiritual Laws. I am also sure that I must have read them or heard them at some point, and even if I had not, I could not imagine that it would be substantially different to the kind of things that I did read and hear. But no one has ever actually “shared” them with me, and I had time to kill, so I agreed.

They sat down, and one of them went through a booklet with me. As I suspected, it was nothing new to me, and as they asked questions, I gave them the answers I thought they wanted to hear. I think the inconsistency between my answers and my attitude may have confused them. Then, quite uncharacteristic for me in these situations, I decided to be truly honest. I told them that I had been going to church for two and a half years, and that I was currently 11 months of the way through a “Bible in a Year” program. “I can sit here all day and and give you the ‘right’ answers. That doesn’t mean I believe it.” And then we were off and running. I ended up being rather substantially late for my next class, but that did not bother me.

I do not want to read too much into this, of course. This is America, after all. There are people out evangelizing every single day. There may very well be people evangelizing even on that campus every single day. These particular guys probably do this weekly, if not more often. I just happened to be the one they picked that particular day.

Yet, I think about how I only happened to be there at all because I broke my routine that day. I just happened to pick up that newspaper, which I have never done before. Even so, I very nearly went about my day in the usual fashion, but suddenly changed my mind at the last minute to sit outside instead of inside in the hallway. Even if there are people evangelizing every day at my school, I have been there for over a year and it had not happened to me. Not until today, after I essentially dared God to do something to stop me from leaving. I find that interesting. I find that very interesting.

In other timely coincidences, that very evening, the Round Earth Society was hosting a screening of “The God Who Wasn’t There,” a documentary made by a proclaimed “Fundamentalist-Christian-turned-atheist.” It was definitely worth seeing. As you might expect, there was an awful lot of gratuitous mockery of Christians and their beliefs, but it did raise some valid questions.

I am tired of pretending, tired of going through the motions, tired of hiding. I am not afraid of questions. So how about it then? Am I ready NOW?

For even the youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;


Now (Part I)

Posted by on Thursday, 1 December, 2005

When I was a child, the general consensus seemed to be that if you heard voices in your head, then you were crazy. A bit later in life, I would hear jokes like, “It’s ok if voices talk to you, just as long as you don’t talk back.” These days, it is perfectly acceptable to talk about the “inner monologue.”

I heard voices in my head. I talked back. At one point, I even gave them names. Now that may be pushing the boundaries a bit. I had a solitary, mindless sort of job. I spent more time talking with the voices in my head than I did with real people. Even that might not be so bad, but sometimes I would get confused as to which of these characters was the one that was supposed to interact with the outside world. I might occasionally suggest to people that I was made of straw, and could feel no pain…

Fortunately, I eventually came to my senses and realized that that was not a healthy way to live. My point in mentioning all this is that I do not trust the voices in my head.

Christians talk to God. It’s just what they do. Even a lot of non-Christians talk to God from time to time. Sometimes people will claim that God talks to them. Of this, people are skeptical. I was skeptical. I am skeptical. I’m a Christian, but God doesn’t speak to me.
There was this one time, almost two years ago now, when I thought maybe He was. But as I said, I am skeptical. I don’t trust the voices in my head. So I asked for proof, Bible verses to look up. Three came to me, the second of which was John 6:20, which says, in bold red letters, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” WOW. Ok, well, that would have been pretty convincing… unfortunately the first verse was Genesis 13:39, which doesn’t exist. The third came something like, “Sorry, I meant Genesis 13:~~” I don’t remember the number now, but it also didn’t exist. Sorry God, but I think You could do better.

I have been searching, seeking, stumbling for years now. I forever feel like there is something here, but I just can’t grasp it. I remember at some point last year, it came to me that if I really, really knew the truth, that would mean that I would have to do something, and I wasn’t ready to do something. I was afraid to really ask, to really look, because I was afraid of what the consequences would mean. And so I stayed in the dark.

Fast forward. A couple weeks ago, I was tired. I’ve been tired a lot lately. On this particular day I stood out on my balcony and asked, “How long Lord? Am I ready YET?”
“Not yet,” came an answer in my head, “But soon.” Which is a nice thought, but I do remain skeptical of those voices in my head.

In church last Sunday, the sermon was about people who talk the talk and act the act, but do not truly know Jesus. I did not feel that it was directed straight toward me, as people sometimes say, but it was certainly about me. I do not know Jesus. I have “talked” to him on exactly one occasion, when I was directed what to say to invite him into my life. I do talk to God, though, everyday. Several times somedays. Some might say that that’s the same thing, of course, talking to God or talking to Jesus. I wouldn’t. It matters little though. Somedays, I feel like God is just thinking, “Oh… it’s you again.” The other days I feel like I’m just stringing empty words together, like the hypocrites do.

Also in that sermon was the idea that God won’t let anyone who is truly saved ever walk away. I didn’t have this exact thought fully formed in my head, but my whole attitude as I left church that day was, “I bet He’ll let me walk away, watch.” WATCH.