Fat Middle-Aged Wannabe

This is an occasional blog exploring spiritual matters.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Don't talk to strangers - NOT

I found this lovely quote on CNN today, concerning the 11-year-old cub scout who was lost in the woods of Utah for 4 days: "...Brennan was taught ... not to talk to strangers, so "when an ATV or horse came by [searching for him] he got off the trail ... when they left, he got back on the trail."

When I was a kid, I was taught that people are good. If you are lost, go up to the nearest adult and tell them you are lost. If you need help, ask an adult. It really didn't matter which adult - it was simply assumed by my parents that most people were good, and that we were all part and parcel of a larger society with which we interacted.

That view seems so out of vogue these days. As the father of two daughters, I am accutely away of how over-protective most parents have become of their children. When I was a child I was walking to and from school on my own for sure by third grade, and probably earlier. When as parents we (my wife and I) began letting our daughters find their own way home from school in fourth grade (about 6 blocks through a residential neighborhood) virtually all of the other parents with whom we interacted thought we were crazy. "What if somebody snatches them?" they would ask. Well, here's the deal. I would rather run the risk of my daughter being snatched than raise a daughter who is inherently fearful of her fellow human beings. Life is full of risk. My daughters are far more likely to die in an auto accident with me driving than to be murdered by a kidnapper, but I'm not going to stop driving them around, either. And while most people recognize the problem with not driving because of the risk, few seem to recognize the problem with teaching there children that "strangers" are fundamentally bad. Well, here's an obvious drawback: it just might get your kid killed, as it very nearly did with Brennen. More fundamentally (for me) Christ taught us to love others. That's hard to do when you are busy teaching your children to fear them.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Days Abroad

Here's something you don't see every Day. Some friends of ours (the Days) have decided to sell all of their possessions and spend a year travelling around the world with their 4 children. Crazy? I think so. But what a way to spend your life!

Sunday, June 12, 2005

How God "Found" Me

I just love the Holy Spirit! Not 12 hours after I finished a post called "How I "Found" God," God got in touch with me to remind me that in fact is was the other way around - God found me. The three readings today (Exodus, Romans, and Matthew) each dealt with how the Israelites (and the early Christians and the Apostles) did not choose God, God choose them. My pastor preached on this topic to great effect - being a Lutheran pastor this is a subject which is very near and dear to his heart. So as I sat in church today listening to the sermon, I reflected on all the ways that God reached out to me.

There is my wife. After 18 years of marriage I still can't believe my amazing good luck that she chose me. There are the friends that I have made who modelled just the sort of Christian life that made sense to me. There were the books by liberal theologians that my parents kept giving to me - eventually I started reading them. The was the growing feeling which I could not discount that my religion needed to move beyond my own head, that I needed to become involved more with others. There are the flashes of joy that I receive some days in church when I feel like I belong. There are all the ways in which all of the members of my church have reached out to me and pulled me into their community. When I am brutally honest with myself, I have to admit that I am one of the most selfish people that I know, but somehow the Holy Spirit just keeps reaching out to me and forcing me to go beyond myself. Of course I resist - too frequently and too successfully - but nonetheless I believe that I am not a total loss, and for this I thank Holy Spirit. I suppose that the proper way to think about this is not that "God found me." I am pretty sure that God always new where I was, and was calling out to me. It's just that somehow as I get older, through no effort of my own, I seem to be able to hear God a little more clearly.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

How I "found" God

I haven't been posting because I haven't felt like I had the time. However, I find that I post long responses on other peoples blogs that probably best belong here (athough here they will probably never be read. Oh well). This topic was inspired by the Progressive Protestant. I have been reading Gordan Kaufman's "In Face of Mystery" and have been finding some amazing things, like this (in Chapter 3): Speaking of the origin of religions, Kaufman writes "No one understood herself or himself to be creating or constructing a (religion), it is only from our modern vantage point, looking back (...) at the many great and diverse cultural and religious traditions which have appeared in the course of human history, that we can see how much of this must have been a product of human imaginitive creativity in the face of the great mysteries of life" (italics mine). Given the title of the book, this must be one of the more important observations in the book. I am still kind of reeling from the impact of this.

This is a major "Aha!" for me. It is something I have known for decades, but have never precisely put my finger on. I remember sitting in Easter service at a (Catholic) church in El Paso, TX when I was 16 years old, watching the mass and thinking to myself "If some alien were to come down and see this, they would be amazed at the bizarre superstitions and rituals that play such a prominent role in the life of this species." What dawned on me that day was nothing other than the fact that we had "made all this up," although I have never expressed it in those words until now. That mass was the last time I set foot in a church for many years. My problem was not really with the notion of "God" (in a very general sense); it was with the notion that some people thought (and most of them were to be found in churches) that we could somehow pin down God; that we could get our arms around God; describe what God wanted and didn't want; what God was and God wasn't. For many years I thought that this was what church was all about, and I wanted no part of it.

Over the years, some things began to change my mind. I married a woman who was the daughter of a Lutheran Pastor. She seemed normal enough.

In my first year of graduate school (in physics) I had an acquintance over to our house (on Easter - is that weird or what?) to watch "Jesus Christ, Superstar." That was his idea. Somehow that movie reached me, especially the character of Judas Iscariot. Of course, I was vulnerable - I had had the album when I was young (right after it came out), and I knew all the words to the songs, as did he, so we were singing along at the top of our lungs. Also, we consumed a substantial quantity of beer. Still, certain things made sense to me watching that movie that have continued to make sense to me ever since. The problem with Judas in JCS is that he thinks that he really understands what is going on. He believes that he sees the big picture; that he is capable of seeing the big picture. Mary Magdeline, on the other hand, is absolutely clear on the fact that she does not understand. That she cannot understand. Even Jesus' character in that movie can't see all that there is to see, or understand all that there is to understand. It is precisely this uncertainty that gives them access to God. It is the understanding that at the core of human existance lies a mystery that we cannot penetrate. This was a revelation to me, and from that time I have prayed on a regular basis (like talking to God all the time in my head) and thought quite a bit about God. (That acquaintance has been since that night one of my best friends - we are meeting his family in New Mexico for a week at the end of July. I can't wait!)

Still, I wanted nothing to do with church. Around the time that our children were born my wife began going to church. She of course wanted me to join her but I was adamant: I had no problem with God, but organized religion was still something that I wanted nothing to do with. However, over the years, watching her and (eventually) my children's lives in the church, I began to realize that church was not all about defining God. What it was all about was community. About the fact that whatever God is, it is more accessible in the interaction between people than in almost any other way. There is a beautiful line in Richard Linklater's film "Before Sunrise" where Julie Delpy's character says something like "I don't know what God is, or if there is a God, but if there is, he is not in you or in me but in this space here between us." I joined my wife's church about a year ago, and I thank God every single day that I lived long enough to get to this point, and to enjoy this blessing.

Still, there were questions. When I recite the creed, I have to admit to myself that I believe very little of it. Or, more precisely, that I have defined most of it to mean something quite different than what the Council of Nicea probably had in mind. I admitted this to the pastor of my church before becoming a member, and to his eternal credit he was totally cool about it. He told me that we are all at different points on our faith journey, and that anyone who was seeking God in good faith was welcome in his church. There's God. Right there. Still, how is one to reconcile the fact that one is basically twisting and bending the received understanding of God to fit ones own requirements? What kind of religion is that?

Enter certain theologians like Teihard de Chardin, John Shelby Spong (maybe not exactly a theologian...), Michael Morwood, and now Gordan Kaufman. In particular (today) Gordan Kaufman. What kind of religion that is is the same as every other kind of religion. The process that I go through in trying to understand God is no different than what everyone has done basically since the dawn of time. My understanding of God is the "product of human imaginitive creativity in the face of the great mysteries of life" just like everybody elses, whether or not they acknowledge it.

To all the fundamentalists out there: no, this does NOT mean that I get to just make up God. The explanation of this I leave to others - read the books. To the rest of you, you know what I mean. I find this incredibly liberating; from the guilt of not being able to swallow the "received revelation;" from the perceived need to love God or love knowledge, but not both. Still, this is a scary revelation. More on that when I find some more time.