Archive for category Reflection

Blog Like Each Post is Your Last

Posted by on Thursday, 20 June, 2013

I never specifically decided to stop blogging, I just lost interest. After this post, it is hard to say when or if I will ever post again, so…

I have been aware for some time that I seem to feel that I deserve absolutely everything that happens to me, good or bad. Consequently, I tend to be extremely ungrateful when people do nice things for me, but on the other hand, I am not very indignant when bad things happen either. I have discussed how few times I have lost my temper in my adult life. In trying to analyze why that happens at all, I eventually concluded that I get angry when I feel that I am not getting the respect that I deserve. Which was an anticlimactic revelation; isn’t that why everyone loses their temper? Yet it does not happen to me very often, because most of the time I simply do not feel that I deserve much respect anyway. In fact, the times when I really get hot seem to not be specifically about me at all, I become incensed over the idea that the person would treat ANYONE that way.

Ultimately though, I have been puzzled by my own attitude for some time, as it implies a certain justice/balance/karma to the universe that I do not subscribe to intellectually. Do I also feel that everyone else deserves everything that happens to them? Not particularly, but them I am quite narcissistic and can not say that I spend much time thinking about other people, especially in those terms.

It was only recently that I dug even further into myself and realized that, if I get exactly what I deserve, yet I want more than I have, then the only way that I know to acquire it is through deceit and trickery.  To try and advance above my station, as it were. Though the details are hazy with the fog of time, I recall a moment many years ago, long before I ever even considered setting foot into a church. In a dark place emotionally, I had, not so much a plan, but a thought, a desire, a whim; to reinvent myself. To fool the Universe itself into giving me… something more than what I had.

 

And it didn’t work.

Origins

Posted by on Saturday, 29 October, 2011

For some reason, today I was thinking about my old Bible study group and how we never really discussed anything important. We talked about the Bible, obviously, but there was some kind of unspoken agreement never to mention anything controversial, and not to talk about anything personal. It simply wasn’t done.

At first, I did not care. I was only there to learn about the Bible anyway. But somehow, I lost sight of that. I started to see that group as “my people”, except that I was definitely NOT one of “their” people. That was where it all went wrong. How exactly did that happen?

I remember very early on, I heard someone on Christian radio talking about how Christians have a tendency to spend all their time amongst other Christians instead of sharing the Gospel or whatever among non-believers. I thought that was absurd. I had a particular agenda that involved spending a lot of time at church, but I certainly was not going to forsake my friends for THOSE people.

But then, I did not have to. As it happened, around that same time, all of my close friends moved out of state for one reason or another. With my family already spread around the world, it was not long before I too was spending all my time among Christians. Except that I was not myself a believer. I went from not caring that there was no depth in my Bible group to desiring for it to remain so, because I had secrets to hide. Even though it has been several years since I decided that I could not live like that anymore, that deception is something that I still struggle with when I find myself among Christians to this day.

Follow-Up

Posted by on Tuesday, 4 October, 2011

I happened across this article yesterday. You can read it or not. The gist of it is that some Harvard guys did a survey where they asked people their religious beliefs and then gave them a quiz of trick questions. The example given was:

“A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”

The “intuitive” answer of “10 cents” is incorrect. However, they found that intuitive people were one and a half times more likely to believe in God compared with reflective people who thought about it and came up with the correct answer. [Speaking of intuitive verses reflective, I for one tripped all over what exactly they meant by “one and a half times more likely.”]

When I read the question, my immediate thought was, “10 cents”, then I quickly reconsidered and realized that that was incorrect, but I did not want to bother actually working out the correct answer . Which is a fascinatingly accurate analogy for my own belief in God.

Year Eight

Posted by on Thursday, 30 June, 2011

These annual reflections seem like quite a farce at this point, but it seems that I have somehow managed to retain a couple of regular readers. Also, my previous post reminded me of something that I was thinking about a long time ago but I never got around to posting. So let’s do this.

Someone once told me rather bluntly to simply “get over whatever it is that you’re mad at God about.” This was probably a couple of years ago now, yet it has stuck with me, not as a useful piece of advice, but rather as an indication of a total lack of understanding of my situation.

Mad at God? I remembered in that moment that I had already once admitted to being mad at God, and one thing I have learned about dealing with conservatives is that it is important to not take back anything that you have said lest you be labeled a “flip-flopper” and they will never respect you.* So there was no denying that I was mad at God.

The question then becomes: what does it mean for me to be mad at God? For someone who has a “relationship” with God, I can see how it would be quite simple. It would be like if you had two friends that had a fight and and now they are not speaking to each other. One of them needs to make the effort to apologize and take it from there. (Obviously if we accept such a scenario, then God being infallible and all, the fault is entirely mine.) But what if I am not mad at someone that you know? What if I told you instead that I was mad at my grandfather? (My mother’s father, and I am not, by the way.) However, if I were… he is dead now and whatever the issue, no reconciliation is possible. Or indeed, what if I had some reason to be mad at my father’s father? Well, he died long before I was born. He is not even a “real person” in my head, more of vague person-shaped idea.

What if I were mad at a legendary figure? Someone who either never existed at all, or is so surrounded in mythology as to be essentially fictional? Santa Claus. King Arthur. Odysseus. What would it even mean to be mad at one of these?

So then, what if God were not real? What if all that I have attributed to Him over for the last eight years was but a mishmash of hopeful naïveté and confirmation bias? To be mad at this is to be mad at an abstract concept. One might as well claim to be mad at “love”, or mad at “peace”.

This is where I stand.

 

 

*I am fully aware that this is a downright insulting over-simplification, but I could write a whole separate post on what I actually mean by this. I do not feel like doing that now, so maybe you could just pretend to understand what I am getting at here and we can move it along.

Year Seven: Weightless

Posted by on Wednesday, 30 June, 2010

My Year Six post was an explanation of why men go to church. (Hint: it is for the same reason that they do anything else.) I intended to follow up it with thoughts on why women are attracted to the church. It is shame that I never got around to it, because I can not remember now what I was going to say.

Anyway, I was trying to find a scientific term for failing to achieve escape velocity to use as a title. “Weightless” was the best I could come up with; the moment when you have stopped going up, but have not yet started going back down.

The number of church/mission related functions I have attended in the past few months is truly unsettling. I spent a lot of years in the church, so maybe it is not a surprise if I still go to an occasional event or two… but nine? (One of which was a six week class, so technically: fourteen.) That seems like quite a lot for someone who is supposedly over this whole church thing. Some will say that that is proof of God trying to get my attention. I do not think so. I went to church for such a long time that now, basically all of my friends that see on a regular basis these days are Christians. Obviously Christians are going to want to do Christian-y things. I see it merely as proof that I have nothing better to do.

The thought of fully returning to the Church lifestyle is actually sickening to me. The frustration, the intellectual dishonesty, the pretending to be something that I am not… I did that for six years. Six. Years. I do not want to do that dance again.

Year 6A: The Long Overdue Report

Posted by on Monday, 29 June, 2009

Years One, Two, Three, Four, Five

I once stated the goal of answering the question, “Why do otherwise rational and intelligent people believe this absurd story?” I realize that there may be others following this blog who have wondered the same, but who likely have not put quite the amount of time and energy into “studying” the Christian life that I have. As such, I felt that some sort of report on my findings was in order.

I grew up with the stereotype that women were the religious ones and husbands only grudgingly went to church when their wives forced them. I presume that I must have acquired this view from Hollywood, and as a matter of fact, just last week I saw an example of this stereotype being reinforced in the movie Gran Torino. You can perhaps imagine my confusion upon learning that Christian doctrine dictates that the man is commanded to be the spiritual head of household, and that couples within the church seem to conform to that model (at least in outward appearance.)

While the aforementioned stereotype is not totally accurate, neither is it entirely without merit. I have heard at least four grown men deliver their testimony (the story of how they came to Jesus) in front of the church, and all of them began going to church in order to please their wife. Furthermore, I can not remember a grown man providing any other reason for coming to Christ. This leads me to suspect that at least on some level, all men within the church are merely putting on an overly elaborate, and quite likely subconscious, charade for the benefit of their wives.

This obviously does not account for the numerous single men within the church. I have even known a few divorced men whose ex-wives were the ones not interested in following God. The best I can say here is to not underestimate the power of the status quo. It was difficult for me to initially admit to my family that I had begun going to church, and my family does not even care about such things. It was difficult for me to officially stop going to church because even after just a few years, I felt that I had too much invested to walk away empty handed. I can hardly blame someone who has a whole lifetime involvement, plus actual family pressure, for not wanting to even consider alternatives.

While I was initially shocked to find that intelligent, scientifically-minded people would actually be active church participants, it eventually became clear to me that, by and large, men do not casually discuss theology and the things of God unless they are arranged a meeting with the expressed purpose of doing so. I find that the most intelligent discuss other interests such as technology and cell phones, more than you can possibly imagine.

To be continued.

[As this has been quite obviously backdated, I am forced admit that I started it on time but have been reluctant to come back to it, and I felt it best to just post what I had so far.]

So Far

Posted by on Thursday, 12 February, 2009

You say
You want
Diamonds on a ring of gold
Your story to remain untold
Your love not to grow cold
All the promises we break
From the cradle to the grave
When all
I want
Is you
–U2

It began with five words.

So, courtship. You may wonder, like I did, what the heck that means. A few months ago I was party to a conversation about courtship where it was described as “dating with purpose.” That purpose, of course, being marriage. (Isn’t that always the purpose of dating, you ask? Tragically… it most certainly is not.) Six years ago, all I knew was that “courtship” meant that I was not allowed to ask out a certain delightful young lady without first consulting her father. That conversation went about as well as you might expect.
“Do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?”
“Uh… no…”
That was sure over quick. But this courtship thing had me intrigued. Maybe it was because when I met this girl I had recently come out of a breakup. I did not need any convincing that the practice of dating has an enormous capacity for confusion, for deceit, and for pain. A number of my married friends have mentioned how horrible they think dating is and how relieved they are that it is over. Single people seem to just except it as a necessary means to an end. But what if you could skip all that? What if it could be over before it begins? Sign me up for THAT. How hard could this “Christian” thing be?

So I started reading the Bible. By this point, I had already accepted the existence God, because the whole situation was so ridiculous that I was convinced that there just had to be a higher power that was screwing with me. I started going to churches and was invited to join a Bible study group. I had grown up believing that Christians were simply not very bright people who just believed the nonsense that their parents had taught them. It had never once occurred to me that an intelligent person who had not been raised in a Christian environment would actually convert to Christianity. But I found that there was far more depth to it all than I ever could have imagined. And I met actual intelligent, thinking people who still believed in all this. I started a website to record my thoughts and experiences, which later became a blog. The Pastor at one of the churches that I visited gave a convincing argument about the necessity of publicly accepting Christ, and I was one of the ones who went forward. I started seeing and hearing references to baptism all around, so I did that too. I stopped playing my music, because it was ever so depressing, and I was caught up in the idea that life does not have to be so bad.

That girl was long gone now, but that was okay. I was still learning, and I figured that if this was really meant to happen, then God would bring us back together when I was ready. Wouldn’t that make for an amazing story? Besides, I knew where she had gone: Cal Poly Pomona.

If you go to church long enough, you get involved in the lifestyle, you learn all the lingo, and no one even thinks to ask if you are really a believer. Of course I did not want to advertise that I was still a “seeker”, and I certainly did not want anyone to know that I was really doing all this because of a girl. I figured that one day, I would get it all sorted out, and once I had arrived at a happy ending, I could finally tell the whole story. Then I met another girl. I was not looking to meet anyone, and certainly had no interest in dating, because I already had my plan all set. But I had to admit that she was ever so intriguing.

I transferred to Cal Poly Pomona myself. In the very first week, I saw that girl who had started it all. She was holding hands with another guy. At least, I thought that it was her. I did not get a real clear look… and I had kind of forgotten what she looked like? Even so, I died a little that day. But I also thought of it as a warning to not let that other girl get away. So we dated. It was more good than bad. I was able to be more honest with her than I had been with anyone since I started going to church. I finally was not afraid to share my struggles about God with someone. But what about courtship? What about that happy ending to my amazing story? I had set that aside, but I had not let it go. I remember one day, I fasted and prayed like they tell you to do, I went for a long walk and asked God if it was really right for me to be with this girl or if that other one, who I may or may not have seen, who had reached almost legendary status in my mind, was really still out there somewhere. Two days later my girlfriend ended the relationship.

Then my life proceeded to burn to the ground. My mother died, then my grandfather. My grandmother would later follow. I hated my school and had completely lost interest in my major. In spite of all my talk and all my time in various ministries, I still did not actually believe in the Bible. I was putting on a charade to everyone I met. All I cared about anymore was that girl, not that first one, I mean the real girl, the one that I had never appreciated and never fully committed to when I had the chance. Our relationship had unofficially rekindled for awhile, but she had long since made it clear that that could not continue. I started to get violent and destructive around my house. I spent a lot of time just lying on the floor.

Eventually, I reached a point where I absolutely could not go on any longer. Yet, somehow, it occurred to me that for all the time and effort I had spent studying Christianity and learning about Jesus, I had never tried to actually trust Jesus. When I finally reached the bitter end, I cried out to Jesus… and I kept walking. Things did change. Life did not exactly get better, in fact, for a while it became significantly more dramatic. But I had a strange peace about it. I started going to two more Bible studies. (Making it three a week.) I blogged up a storm in those days (at least compared to my usual output), finally clearing out a lot of the baggage that I had been carrying for years. For the first time, I fully confronted my feelings about that original girl, who started this whole journey. I was somewhat surprised to discover that there was not anything there. There had NEVER been anything real there. I described at the time that I felt like I had been carrying around a piece of baggage for years, only to look inside and find it completely empty. Moving on from my real love was not so easy, but I finally was able to do so. I finally was able to admit that there were other women in my life that I could see myself in a relationship with. There was one in particular that I honestly felt as though God was DARING me to ask out. So ask her out I did. She was not interested.

What the Hell, God? What the bloody Hell? Alright, so I had made the wrong choice there. But at least I was back in the game right? But no, I was not. I realized that I was still selling my dreams short. Five words: “We don’t date we court.” I have no interest in casual dating. I want an honest, permanent relationship.

It became clear to me that it was my desire to get married that interfered with my honest search for God. My father once asked me what made me “want to believe” in Christianity. I do not recall now what answer I gave him. However, “wanting” to believe was never really the issue. I simply needed it to be true in order to accomplish my goal, and therefore, the fact that deep down I did not actually believe it could never be acknowledged. I also began to feel very strongly that several passages in the New Testament actually discourage Christians from marriage, indicating that marriage and family interfere with one’s obligations to spread the Gospel.

So, in order to achieve (my understanding of) a “Godly” marriage that I had sought for so long, I first had to pursue God. In order to pursue God, I first had to give up my desire for marriage. I turned this over and around for some time before finally, in a sudden fit of maturity, I declared, “Well fine! How about if I just don’t do either then!”

And to this day, I haven’t.

The final straw came when my grandmother died. I was still in a Bible study at the time, and as with my mother and grandfather, there was always someone who asked if they knew the Lord. I always tried to dodge that question as best I could, partly because I simply did not know the answer, but mainly because deep in my heart, I honestly do not believe that it makes any difference. That being the case, and that point being the fundamental basis of Christianity, then nothing else about my church involvement means anything at all.

There has always been a great emptiness in my life. Christians sometimes refer to it as a “God-shaped hole.” At various stages in my life, I tried to fill it with alcohol, with love relationships, with music, with MORE alcohol, with education, and finally, with God. And I have to say (and I think that any long time reader of my blog would have to agree) that my search for God has left me every bit as empty and despairing as any of the others.

I’m not saying that I do not believe in God, and I am not going to go on record saying that the Bible definitely is not true, because I can not be sure of that. There certainly is a lot of truth to be found in it, but one would expect that in such an extensive body of work. I would imagine that there is also a great deal of truth to be found in the collected works of Shakespeare, but that does not mean that the stories themselves are true, even if many are based on actual historic figures. Still, there are many things that I can not explain. A great many things really. In the past, it was easy to say that bizarre circumstances were the work of God, because that is what all of the people around me would say. Maybe they really were, I do not know. All I know is that I have long since grown tired of hearing the name “Jesus,” when I have never experienced that relationship of which others speak. These Christians, they tell such wonderful stories… but ultimately, I do not believe that there are real answers to be found here. I just pretended that I did in order to get to what to I really wanted.

I began formulating this post because I was asking myself, “Why are you still here?” I do not really go to church anymore, but I still work in ministry. I still occasionally have conversations about God and I probably too readily give my interpretation of Bible passages while conveniently leaving out the fact that I do not actually consider the Bible to be authoritative. Why am I here? Going back now I realize that from those five words to the “God-shaped hole”, all of this, all of it, has been simply because I did not want to be alone.

And how has that worked out for you?

Not. So. Well.

Year Four

Posted by on Friday, 29 June, 2007

Since I’m oh so fond of linking, perhaps this would be a good time to review: years I, II, III.

My, that was considerably more depressing than I had expected. Apparently I’ve been going backwards this whole time. At least this year was more interesting than last. By far.

Yesterday a friend and I were wandering through the local farmers market when we passed a fellow standing on a footstool, Bible in hand, shouting to people that they were going to Hell if they did not repent. I instinctively labeled this man as a nutcase. But wait, is this not what I too believe?

As a matter of fact, it is not. I do not believe in Hell. Nor do I believe in Heaven. I do not believe in an afterlife at all. I do not believe that my mother has gone to another place… she is just gone, never to be seen again by me or anyone else.

That being the case, the consequences of sin and the matter of a savior remain merely academic questions. Therein lies the difficulty.

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins…

If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.
— 1 Cor 16, 17, 19

Year Three

Posted by on Friday, 30 June, 2006

I wanted to write about something else this week, but hey, look what day it is. Another year already? What a spectcular waste of time that was.

I used to think that there would be some dramatic moment of revelation, some significant event that would change everything. I tried to force it a few times; tried to assign undue significance to minor things and declare that henceforth everything would be different. It never “took.” Time rolls on, and change happens at its own pace. People come and go. Seasons come and go. But there is no great revelation coming. Whatever else might be said, it’s clear that the God I’ve been looking for for three years isn’t looking for me.

God isn’t who I thought He was.
Love isn’t what I thought it was.
Electrical Engineering definately isn’t what I thought it would be.

But where would I go? Who else has the words of life?

If I was to be completely honest, I would have to admit that my life couldn’t possibly be any easier. Yet I remain miserable. And I always have been. There have been moments of happiness, days, seasons perhaps. But I have never had lasting joy. It’s not about circumstances; there’s actually something wrong with me. I once thought that God could fix that, but not anymore. I’m working on accepting the idea that happiness just isn’t in the cards for me.

So three years then. Should I make a cake or something? How about a song:

i want to…
i want to be someone else or i’ll explode
floating upon the surface for the birds
the birds
the birds

you want me?
well f~ing well come and find me
i’ll be waiting
with a gun and a pack of sandwiches
and nothing
nothing
nothing

nothing

you want me?
well come on and break the door down
you want me?
f~king come on and break the door down
i’m ready
i’m ready
i’m ready

i’m ready

–Radiohead

Year Two

Posted by on Wednesday, 29 June, 2005

That was quite a ride… can we do it again?