Emergence

Emergence
Gabriel turns Two: Happy Birthday Sweet Boy

Thursday, October 19, 2006

People Who Think Too Much Annoy Other People

Apparently some people don't think much about the meaning of life, or whether conscience is a social construct designed to provide tribal cohesion for survival, or a divine piece of our gray matter installed (or evolved) by God to help us atune to Truth, God and the American Way. Gosh, that the last part really snuck in -- turns out I've been partially brain washed like all good Americans, but back to the point. Some girls and boys go through childhood and never ponder, at two in the morning, "Do I exist, or am I merely a figment of my imagination?" I was not one those kids lucky enough to pass my childhood in blissful ignorance of the big, serious, pretty much unanswerable questions. Instead, I was the one askng stuff like, "What is a soul?"" from the time I exited the womb. Or very shortly therafter.

I seem to be one those existential, spiritually driven-yet-conflicted people who annoy others who were previously content to picnic next to the soccer field, chatting up the latest exercise equipment, their child's brilliant science project or abysmal homework habits, or a recent morsel of neghborhood gossip, like whether Jimmy and Anne have an open relationship and if anyone else saw Jessy Sue's breasts looking unnaturally perky at the Thomson's barbeque. Okay, I have a problem judging people who don't think about "the important things," and I'm a hypocrit too, because I watch Desperate Housewives. If that didn't lump me in with the best of them, here's a more embarrassing confession, when I look at belly, which, after three pregnancies looks like a cross between an elephant's ear and a map of Arkansas, I sometimes ponder getting some work done. Someday when I can afford it, of course. The difference between me and the people who don't think about "the important things" is illustrated in my very next thought process: "How can I justify a tummy tuck when people are starving in Africa?" I stroke my chin and almost start to hum as I dig fo a decent rationalization, a morally appropriate justification for plastic surgery in the face of world starvation. When I can't think of anything besides the Loreal slogan, "because you're worth it," I fil the whole concept in my mental "draft folder." Sometimes you need space from a project before inspiration hits.

So you see, I'm not better than anyone because I think about deep stuff alot; actually I'm betting someday it'll be classified as a syndrome, called Chronic Spiritual Preoccupation Disorder, or something.

But since I'm wired this way, it makes it harder to write off God. God is everwhere, even in the trees and flowers which seem to boldly proclaim both the colorful and viscious games of evolution and the Divine Song of Creation. God is everywhere, and still God plays hard to get. Really hard to get. The Israelites believed if saw God face to face you would die, almost like getting to close to the sun. I get that; the sun gives light and life, but get to close, and your toast. A few times I've felt God's presence like electricity, like pure, awesome energy, and I can say how straightup God face to face might be overload for these measely human bodies. But like Moses, I long to be close to God, to see God for who God really IS.

Or do I? The Isrealites also believe God wanted them to commit genocide because they were special and God wanted them to have a nice place to call home. And then there's the time the Old Testament pegs God as just itching to do in his OWN people and start over. I mean that's how I often feel about a painting that isn't turning out nicely, but I sure wouldn't take that approach with my kids! Talk about time to call the Department of Social Services.

Many Christians buy the violence and rage ascribed to God as an accurate portrayal of Almighty Yahweh, so holy that he cannot tolerate sin. Yet even before Jesus died for our sins, his most revolutionary quality was the love and acceptance he showed for blatantly imperfect people. And he mentioned that it's nothing special to love the people who preen your ego and reciprocate your kindness; being like God means loving your enemies too. So I wonder how to reconcile the immature and violent behavior attributed to God in the Old Testament with a God who is most holy because he loves even those who don't love him back.

In the gospels, Jesus says, if human beings, sucky as we are, know how to give good gifts to our children, would God give us a stone instead of bread? Or a snake instead of a veggie lasagna? Jesus says we have Creator who cares even for sparrows when they fall. A Christ who suffered and died, rather than exact revenge on his betrayers, who told his friends, "those who live by the sword will die by the sword." Does this fit with a God who wipes out his kids cause they're acting all adolescent on his ass? Or a God who destroys cultures and people groups because they're mistakenly worshipping wooden dolls? God is not without mercy in the Old Testament. Many times God is described as compassionate, patient, long-suffering and faithful. But isn't that the worst, when you think you can trust someone, and then boom, you screw up and now they want to kill you?

Many evangelicals use this three choice argument to tell people about Jesus: He was either Lord, Liar or Lunatic. Here's one for God the Father: Either he's gotten better with time (we can all hope to age like wine, right?) He's a capricious, sometimes loving, sometimes violent being who cycles through the stages of an abusive relationship with his people. Or the Old Testament got God wrong somewhere; there was a breakdown of communication, and we're misinterpreting God. The fourth option is that like me, God hates multiple choice questions and prefers to come up with her own answer, which is currently a secret. Please God, I promise, I won't tell. Of course, I'd probably tell, at least if I knew it wouldn't tick God off enough to send me Beyond before my time.

17 comments:

Doubting Thomas said...

Thank you so much for putting into words something I've always believed with a high degree of conviction. I've had quite a few experiences of running into folks who are more concerned with judging others on God's "behalf" which seems inconsistent with the idea that God is omnipotent - why would God need humans' help to ensure God's just will is done? Why not focus on God's love and provision and remember that we live on a small rock in a pretty big, inhospitable universe?

Jesus Freak said...

The Lord liveth
And blessed be the Rock
And may the God of my salvation be exalted

I think you people need to get prodigal, return to the fold, and allow God's Word to be your guide. You guys think too much - just trust your local preacher at a Bible-based church.

Please understand this was written in love, the love of Jesus Christ, so you can repent of your selective unbelief. My prayer group and I will be praying for you!

doubting thomas said...

Dear Freak,

I respect your beliefs and appreciate your well-intentioned admonishment to "get prodigal," however I am concerned that your blind trust in the institution of Christian fundamentalism will also blind you to the true manifestation of God's love in our actual world. Your comments represent a school of thought that has led the U.S. into a mentality and practice of spending billions on a military hell-bent on destroying innocent peoples' lives around the globe, while at the same time nickel-and-diming the meek and downtrodden among us.

So, I return the favor, in a spirit of love, that you "return to the fold" and allow the Holy Spirit of God's Grace-ful heart to be YOUR guide.

Blessings,

Thomas

Jesus Freak said...

Dear Thomas,

Just so you know, I don't trust anything the world has to offer but I trust in the Lord and God's Word. I believe the Bible was God-breathed and inspired, and if we are being obedient to God, we listen to His holy Word and seek His dominion over our lives. Our ways are wrong and sinful, and God's offer of salvation in none other than Jesus Christ is our only hope for eternity - and that's a long time, brother - and to be reconciled to God. Maybe you've never had a chance to say the sinner's prayer? Let me know if you want me to lead you through it!

In Christ's love,

Reginald

alicia said...

One thing you can almost always count on from fundamentalist thinkers is passive aggression. Good work, Reginald. You've convinced us all on our terms that your ways (or, excuse me--GOD's ways) are right and all of our ruminating has lead us astray.

Or not.

I was, for most of my life, the exact sort of person who would hop onto a homepage or open online diary (since no blogs existed at the time) and begin an argument for fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible--even with people who had no interest in the conversation or what I had to say about it.

You're one step better than I was in that you've chosen the blog of someone who cares about these things.

But you're no better than I was in how you've approached the issue.

If you want to convince thinkers that their brains are faulty--that the way they seem to have been wired from birth is an atrocity against the LORD--you're in the wrong place. And you're saying the wrong things.

Convince me with arguments. Paul argued plenty, gave reasons, didn't tell people to blindly follow whoever was around. That's biblical. How are we even supposed to KNOW who's Bible-believing and who's not unless we use those evil brains we've all been cursed with?

And if you're not going to do that, if you haven't thought about it enough or don't want to bother with it, or if GOD HIMSELF (because God must be a him, eh?) hasn't downloaded the information directly into your brain or your CD-rom Bible, then don't bother praying for anyone's soul. I, for one, could use prayer, but nothing is worse than for one Christian to say to another, unsolicited, "I'm going to pray for your soul"...and that's what you're doing. You're praying for our souls.

Which brings us back to the passive aggression.

If you want to say "I condescend to let you hear my wisdom," then say THAT, Reginald, don't say you'll be praying for my soul. That's passive aggression, and it reeks of fear.

(Though I suspect my efforts will be useless, it's made me feel a bit better to express myself. And that's all I'm asking for.)

alicia.

alicia said...

Oh, and since linguistics (and psychology) have always interested me, here are some phrases in which you demonize people who are simply expressing their ideas in a public forum:

"you people"

"You guys think too much"

"so you can repent"

"Just so you know" (hostility? the overpowering need to set the record straight despite previous resistance to the ideas? the need to get ahead, to prove oneself superior to? why should we have to "know"?)

"Our ways are wrong and sinful" (with the implication that by knowing this, the writer has escaped its consequences)

"and that's a long time, brother" (indirect threat of hell with a reminder of how painful it will be)

"Maybe you've never had a chance...?" (implied "I have; I know better than you)

"if you want me to lead you" (obvious need to be in control, assumption of superiority)

I'll understand if this falls under the category of "You guys think too much." But consider, before responding, that even if by some miraculous chance you didn't MEAN to sound like a condescending...whatever, condescention and hostility are very easy to read into what you've written. And it's the writer's (your) responsibility to communicate his/her message clearly to the audience. So if you meant to exude love and forgiveness, you've failed.

In my comments, I meant to exude consternation, annoyance and open sarcasm as well as passable intelligence. Just so you know.

Doubting Thomas said...

Dear Alicia,

Thanks for weighing in on this thread. I understand where you're coming from - I too considered myself a fundamentalist when I first came to know God, and have since had many experiences and insights, as well as whispers and groans from the Spirit, that have brought me to where I am today, namely a Christ-follower who loves God but has a lot of questions, some of which may never be answered.
A lot of things Reginald had to say are predictable, frustrating, and exacerbating. My guess is that he [I am assuming he's using his real name and gender] has never questioned his beliefs or those of the church community he belongs to, at least in the way you and I would. My observation has been that in these sorts of communities, the only questions that are allowed are ones that lead to an answer that is "backed up" by a given scripture reference, tweaked to whatever interpretation serves the agenda of the "askee" (usually an assistant or head pastor, or someone in leadership).
In no way am I defending Reginald for his abrasive comments that have hurtful consequences; however, I would like to posit that he deserves compassion because he is partially a victim of a self-perpetuating system called fundamentalism. I believe it is up to people like you and me to demonstrate that it is possible to have a heart for God while also validating that we have the ability to think critically about anything, including spiritual matters.

To Reginald:
I would like to challenge you to primarily see a God of love and grace, a God who cherishes the beauty of creation, and minimally a God of judgment and anger.

Sincerely,
Thomas

Jesus Freak said...

Dear Thomas and Alicia,

Thanks for "figuring me out" [I was like, whoa there! when I read your posts] - this is what I was talking about when I said that you guys think too much. I mean, if you take God and God's word out of the conversation and just start making stuff up, then you're really spinning your wheels and you're the same as someone who doesn't believe in God in the first place. The main question is, who are you going to trust and where are you going to put your trust? In your own thoughts and feelings or some manmade idea, or The One omnipotent God of the Universe, Jehovah, who was embodied in Jesus and even submitted to death so we could have a hope of life?

Yes, I am upset, that you two talk about wanting to know God, and it even sounds like you were both on the right track until something went wrong and you abandoned the formula for success. But you'll be accountable for your choices, and me for mine too. I guess when all's said and done at the end of the day, you have to serve God how you feel led, but I hope that you can once again trust and love God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and not get so caught up in picky things.

God bless you,

Reginald

Deep_Well said...

I prefer the fifth option: God just had to figure out how she was going to deal with her monthly bouts of PMS, just like the rest of us.

Deep_Well said...

Well, my previous comment was meant for QuirkyGrace, who I know will get a kick out of it.
But, as for the conversation at hand, I must only state that I very much appreciate what you have all had to say. Having come out of a fundamentalist background where I prayed for the souls of those who did not believe in a literal 6 day creation or a pre-trib. rapture, I can fully understand Reginald's passion. A comment was made about how Thomas and Alicia were "on the right track until something went wrong and you abandoned the formula for success." I believe that life is not all about success and failure, instead it is all about the process. I don't think God gives a rip about a formula for success or a specific destination that we must all arive at. I think God is concerned about how we get to whereever we end up and what we learn about ourselves, others, and His/Her character along the way. As for me, I want to learn more about love and grace and if I can succeed only in that one ambition, I will consider my life a success because that is the embodiment of Jesus Christ himself.
After reading the book, "Blue Like Jazz", my understanding of how to love and show grace to others has been radically transformed. Instead of thinking we have it all figured out and that we need to pray for others to figure out all that God has revealed to us, wouldn't it be more loving to just walk with each other along the journey of figuring out life, love, and God and trust that God will bring all those who are truly seeking the truth into the light?

Jemila Monroe said...

God having PMS...oooh, scary thought! hehehe :)

I like your definition of success. Read Blue Like Jazz...his journey was cool, but he still seemed to end up in a fairly evangelical cookie cutter place, so I enjoyed the journey but felt a little dissonance in some places, like I had come to anticipate being able to follow him farther than in good conscience I could. I do like his idea of a Christian confessional though :)

Jesus Freak said...

Howdy,

Let's not forget that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. God loves us, sure, more than we'll ever know this side of heaven, but it's OK to be afraid of how powerful God is. I mean, have you ever stood outside in a thunderstorm before? The amount of energy - rain, wind, hail, lightning - and that's a tiny piece of God's strength. That's the kind of fear I'm talking about, the kind that drives you to want to serve God and know God because you know that without Him, you are absolutely gonna' be thrown around and thrashed in the world.

So when you talk about your own belief or thoughts about God, you should want to have some humility and acceptance for who God is because God is the one in charge, not us, no matter how smart we think we are.

I guess I'm in the minority here, but I can't understand how you folks would want to cause trouble for yourselves worrying about tiny details and doubting God's Word. I mean, I bust my backside workin' all week long, and when I go to church on Sunday that's MY day to worship God and listen to his Word manifested in the message He's given our preacher. I can't imagine sitting there thinking about ways what he's saying is wrong and can I argue with him about picky little points.

Can someone please help me understand how a person who chooses to love and want to get to know God then questions everything about Him, when He's already given us everything we need to know and gives us our daily bread?

In Christ's Love,

Reginald

alicia said...

Thomas,

Of course you're right about having compassion, and I gratefully noticed the compassion in your response from the beginning. Because it IS tough being a "former fundamentalist", as you must know--being not-quite-christian enough and not-quite-secular is a tough spot from both sides--and your posts have shown that you're still able to reach out of that spot with a concern that lacks condemnation.

I waver.

By that I mean, I tend to alternate between wanting to gently instruct and have a debate...and this time, I went with debate. Mainly because I like them and because I felt that the situation could warrant it--and that no one would be permanently damaged. "Iron sharpens iron" has always seemed to me to refer mostly to minds, and debate has been a constant companion in my attempt to sharpen mine. : )

Of course, that's a risk, but I'm hoping that I was right in my estimate that no lasting damage was done.

Reginald,

That's the thing. Debate has been a constant companion in my attempt to sharpen my mind--and not just to sharpen my mind, but to deepen my relationships with others and (even) with God. You indicate that we think too much. I can admit that it's probably true: if there is a happy "amount of thinking" medium in life, then I'm sure I've overshot my limit. In fact, I probably sped past it before the age of accountability. I was born a thinker.
I was born thinking. I was born interpreting. I was born questioning. This is how I was "knit together in my mother's womb."
That is to say that if there are choices in life (which I believe there are, not being a Calvinist), this is not one of the ones I've been offered.
And I don't believe that my inclination to question is a result of the Fall.
I don't see in the Scripture any point where Jesus tells people that they should simply stop thinking about their faith, where they should let their traditional interpretations of how things ARE and what God MEANT, stand. In fact, what I see is the opposite. I see God challenging assumptions. I see God remaking the rules. I see the fundamental aspects of God as infinite compassion, infinite understanding, infinite faithfulness and playfullness. God is scary, but I see the fear of God as belonging really to the fear of what God represents to us (rather than because God is intrinsically scary)--which is, in part, a challenge to our lives and how we live them, to our world and how we interact with it, and to ourselves and who we think we are. I see God as Other, as non-static, as changing, because what we need is change.
Not that God is not always faithful and always truth. But that our perceptions of faithfulness and truth need to change periodically in order to allow us to see new ways in which God is being faithful and true. If we don't change, I think we're abdicating some of the responsibilities we're given as Christ-followers.
This is what really irks me about having someone pray for my soul: responsibility. I can take responsibility for myself. In fact, I can take responsibility for other people. I can take responsibility for things that are, frankly, none of my business. I have no problem with taking responsibility for what's going on with me and God; I don't need assistance in that arena. I'm not saying I don't need help. But I am saying that this is not the kind of help that I need--that is, I don't need someone standing over me, trying to lift me up onto the right path again. I need someone who is able to come alongside, a paraclete, a holy spirit. I do not need to be pulled upward onto the next plateau. I need companionship.
The point of my linguistic breakdown was to show this: that the first post in which you addressed the author of this blog and doubting thomas was one that included the assumption that they each needed help out of a pit. And that this position is a dominant-submissive one that does not reflect the love of Christ.
If there is a way to remain fundamentalist and yet be able to walk alongside, to relinquish the attempt to dominate, I would like to find it. But so far all I've seen are examples of mutual exclusivity. Perhaps you're right that fundamentalism is the right path, and that we can only hope and pray that we prodigals will climb back up onto it sometime in the future. But I will only get back up if I can find a way to take the lessons I've learned here on the flat land with me. I will not leave my empathy, my ability to connect and be incarnate, behind. In some ways they have removed me from the traditions espoused by the American evangelical church. But I think that they have taken my path closer to Christ.
And I love and trust God MORE than I did before, Reginald. More.
To answer your question: yes, I have been out in a thunderstorm, and I agree that it's a powerful experience that leaves a person in awe of what God could do if only God wanted to. I used to see God consistently in the freight train that ran through campus at my school--not in a weird, non-Scripture-based way, but in a "wow, the train is so powerful close up and God is so much bigger"--like a visceral reaction to the power available to a powerful God.
What I'm learning now is that God, though God can control the thunderstorm and the trains, chooses, somehow, miraculously, to come in the whispering breeze. (Even in the Old Testament.)
Here's the other answer to your other question: no one that I know chooses to question. Questions choose us.

shalom,
alicia.

Doubting Thomas said...

Alicia,

Wow - thanks for sharing that powerful, introspective piece. You've really brought the discussion to a whole new level.

Hello Reginald - please read well and carefully what Alicia has written, prayerfully and without knee-jerk bias, because I believe she speaks eloquently for all those who love God and also believe that God has given them a gift of intellectual acumen.

Cheers and blessings,

Thomas

Jemila Monroe said...

Alicia, I think you pretty much summed my experience and deepest, most profound faith in these words:

"I was born thinking. I was born interpreting. I was born questioning. This is how I was "knit together in my mother's womb."
That is to say that if there are choices in life (which I believe there are, not being a Calvinist), this is not one of the ones I've been offered.
And I don't believe that my inclination to question is a result of the Fall.
I don't see in the Scripture any point where Jesus tells people that they should simply stop thinking about their faith, where they should let their traditional interpretations of how things ARE and what God MEANT, stand. In fact, what I see is the opposite. I see God challenging assumptions. I see God remaking the rules. I see the fundamental aspects of God as infinite compassion, infinite understanding, infinite faithfulness and playfullness."

Jesus Freak said...

Hi Alicia,

Thanks for checking in again. Sounds like you had some kind of change of heart, at least comparing these parts of two of your posts:

"In my comments, I meant to exude consternation, annoyance and open sarcasm as well as passable intelligence. Just so you know."

and then

"If there is a way to remain fundamentalist and yet be able to walk alongside, to relinquish the attempt to dominate, I would like to find it. But so far all I've seen are examples of mutual exclusivity. Perhaps you're right that fundamentalism is the right path, and that we can only hope and pray that we prodigals will climb back up onto it sometime in the future. But I will only get back up if I can find a way to take the lessons I've learned here on the flat land with me. I will not leave my empathy, my ability to connect and be incarnate, behind. In some ways they have removed me from the traditions espoused by the American evangelical church. But I think that they have taken my path closer to Christ.
And I love and trust God MORE than I did before, Reginald. More."

I believe you. I guess it comes down to different strokes for different folks, even when it comes to us born-again Christians. I live in a small town, and we don't get too many outsiders here, so it's a new thing for me to see a
Christian asking the kinds of questions you and doubting Thomas and quirkygrace are asking. They say I live in a red state, so maybe there are other Christians in the blue states that think like you. I never thought of it that way before - seemed to me if you voted democrat, you had to be a liberal atheist. Thanks for helping me see it in a new way.

Sincerely,

Reginald

alicia said...

Sigh.

Well, I have a response (of course), but I'm afraid that it's probably longer than a comments thread should be asked to sustain. So this is what I did--what I thought I would never do: I started a blog.

Don't tell my (other) friends.

I'm going to post my response, long as it may be, at this new blog, which will be called the grand inquisiwhat? (because who thinks about Boethius anymore? and alicia was already taken). I'm not sure how these things work, quite, but I'll post it there today and then wait for comments.

Sorry, Jem, if you liked this thread being contained on your blog--but you did just say that you wanted me to write, let you know what I'm up to? Tit for tat, I suppose: Come read my blog! Haha.

If, somehow, you don't find your way over, then I'll say here that I've enjoyed the debate/conversation, and you've all earned my respect. You're welcome to weigh in on "my blog" anytime.

alicia.

ps--I can't believe I have a blog.