Tuesday, September 05, 2017

The Boy Turns 16

My youngest was born 16 years ago today.  I am out of practice with writing blog entries and I find my thoughts are running into one another.  Do I start by talking about how proud I am of him?  How I enjoy our time together?  Should I talk about his many and varied accomplishments?  How do I make this entry fit the love I feel for my son?

I am not sure, so this may be an exercise in Freewriting.

Jake was in a play this year where he played an older gentleman who learned he had a terminal illness.  He ends the play with a heartfelt monologue about living.  Though I knew he was playing a character, I was still affected by watching my son talk about the meaning of life... in the face of death. I also noted that Jake really does "get" life so much better than I did at his age.

I got to hear my son sing for the first time this year.  Last fall, I was in a play with Jake's choir teacher.  She was doing the musical direction for a different play Jake was in and told me that he was doing really well with his solo. Solo? I did not even know Jake could sing.  If he ever takes up poker, he will clean house because he rarely lets people know what cards he is holding. He sung so well in his play that his sister and I kept looking at each other in surprise and awe.

Jake grew dill in the garden this year.  He grew a few other things too, but the dill sticks out to me because he found lots of uses for it and tried his hand at pickling vegetables.

I did not realize Jake and I had started a tradition.  We had binge watched all of the previous Marvel/Netflix series together.  We began each one by picking up a round of Chinese food to gorge ourselves on as we worked through the first three or four episodes.  I was at work when "The Defenders" dropped and I got a text from Jake - "Don't forget to bring home Chinese!"

Jake started High School two weeks ago.  I know from having already been through this with his sister that the years will sweep past us hastily.  I only have two more years with "children" under my roof.

I am not sure where Jake's future will take him.  He has a sharp mind, a contemplative temperament, and a gracious nature.  He tends to do well at anything he sets his mind to, so I suspect the hardest part of his future will be in the choosing.  I have every confidence he will choose well.

Happy Birthday Jake!  Enjoy your high school years, enjoy your friends and family, and just keep enjoying life!




Friday, June 30, 2017

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Facebook Faith # 57 - Less of Me...

A friend of mine on Facebook posted, "What Would Actually Make You Happy?" He is a religious man, so many of the responses were of a religious nature.

One of the responses made my heart heavy. A gentleman replied:
"Less of me..."
It was painful to read because I know that is exactly how I would have answered that question throughout most of the time I was a believer. In conservative Evangelical theology, you are seen as bringing nothing to the table, everything is about what God does. The only thing preventing God from doing his best for you and in you is you. With such a view of one's relationship to the divine, self-disparaging comments become the norm.

Growing up, sermons from the pulpit, bible studies, and song lyrics constantly drove home the message that I was, inherently, the problem. These lines were typical of the Christian bands I listened to as a believer:
"I know how I ought to be. Alive to You and dead to me."
" More of Jesus, less of me."
" I am nothing! So I lay down and cry for mercy."
I recently moved my entire music collection over to a USB drive for my car. Even still, most of my music collection is Christian Rock. I tried listening to some old songs as I drove around town. Though I could still enjoy the music, the lyrics tended to be so... depressing, that I just had to turn it off. It was just weird listening to a good tune where the lyrics repeated how awful everyone is.

The above meme was posted by another believing friend of mine. I sigh when I read things like that.

You are not the villain. Happiness will not come from there being less of you.

The answers will not be found in tearing down "you".

What I have discovered since leaving the life of faith a few years back is that happiness and peace develop as I am becoming my best self.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Before You Speak

Before you speak, Persian, know that in Sparta everyone, even a king's messenger, is responsible for the words of their voice. Now...what message do you bring?

King Leonidas said these words to the Persian messenger at the beginning of 300. He was reminding the messenger that if he was bringing threats, he had better choose his words carefully.

When I was a believer, I thought of myself like the Persian - the King's messenger. If someone did not like what I was saying, they had problems with God, not me. I would say things similar to what I read on a believer's blog today:
...they are arguing with the wrong person. They shouldn’t be upset and arguing with me; they should be upset and argue with God. He said it. I’m just repeating what He said. I base my beliefs on the Crucified and Risen Lord.
This is a common sentiment expressed by believers.

I was reminded of another version of this redirecting of responsibility during a Facebook conversation today.  One gentleman argued:
Sorry, I can't agree with Sam Harris. To depend on the "self" to create "conditions of human flourishing" is more dangerous than even his description of religion. What I believe human flourishing is quite different from my neighbor and even light years away from someone in the far east or Africa. Also if it up to the "self" then no one has the right to judge or criticize my renditions.
I run into this argument frequently among believers ... if we don't have a god to declare something right or wrong.... then nothing can really be right or wrong. I responded:
Or everyone does, and we all have to justify, weigh, and examine our renditions. In such a case, everyone becomes responsible and has a voice, and no one gets to disengage from their responsibilities by proclaiming "I didn't say that, god did... if you don't like it, take it up with god!"
It was empowering, and a little scary, when I first left my faith to realize that I was responsible. My opinions, my actions, my choices.... and their consequences... were all on me. Leaving faith caused me to put all my ideas under a microscope... because I could no longer attribute them to anyone but myself. 

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Evangelical Notions About Women

Recently, it came to light that Vice President Mike Pence would not have dinner alone with a woman who was not his wife.  This sounded odd to many Americans but, having been raised in a conservative Evangelical culture, it was completely familiar to me.

Growing up, our community had a lot of thoughts and opinions about the interactions between men and women.  Unmarried people were to be guarded and circumspect when it came to time spent with members of the opposite sex.  This was talked about and preached about.... a lot. As a young person trying to remain "pure", my goal of following the right path when it came to women bordered on obsessive.  An inordinate amount of my thought life was devoted to "not placing anything before my eyes that would cause me to sin before the Lord".

Looking back, I cringe at how damaging this outlook was.  It hobbled me relationally.  I viewed half the population of our planet as "an occasion to sin".  I considered my own biology and sexuality an enemy.  There were times when I actually resented women for... existing.

We may, as a Western culture, look down on some Middle Eastern societies that drape their women in varied levels of physical covering- but many religious cultures in America entertain similar notions. The values that led Mike Pence to his conclusions about how to relate to the opposite sex, objectify and relegate women to a lower tier status as surely as any burka.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Thanks Google Translate!

I have a new student from China (I teach 2nd grade). He has been with me for 2 weeks. His only English words seem to be - no, yes, what, and I don't know. He is pretty energetic and happy, but today after lunch he was obviously working at holding back tears. I tried to figure out what was wrong, but asking seemed to frustrate him more.

Then I remembered Google Translate. I pulled out my phone and downloaded the app. I set it to Chinese.

I pressed the button. "Are you sad?" I said.

A moment later it spoke back in Chinese. His eyes widened. I showed him the button to press on my phone. He spoke into it, and a moment later it said "Yes, I am sad."

"Why are you sad?" I asked. My phone translated.

"I lost my gloves during lunch," my phone said aloud after he spoke to it.

I asked what color they were. He pressed the button and spoke.

"Black."

I announced to the class that we were missing his gloves. My lunch monitor said that after everyone left the table, she saw gloves and put them in our lunch basket. She ran over to it and held up the gloves. My Chinese student lit up and smiled.

For the next 10 minutes, my student and I talked through my phone. We found out each other's favorite colors, how to say good morning, and what our opinions were on snow.

Thanks Google!

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Function of Apologetics

I have few evangelical Christians in my life or on my Facebook page anymore.  However, the other day one of them made a comment regarding Yahweh, Hillary Clinton, and abortion. Hillary was bad because of her pro-choice position.  I commented on his page that, Yahweh does not serve as a good moral contrast, citing Deuteronomy 21 where Yahweh instructs his followers to stone their children if they are stubborn and rebellious.

Another friend interjected that I was taking that verse out of context (no one ever complains about context when the pleasant stuff is quoted). She provided a link to an article that explained why that verse didn't really say what it seemed to say. I responded:

As I read through that article, it does little to alleviate the severity of that scripture. For me, at the end of the day, there is no context where I am going to watch the stoning of a child and walk away with an explanation that would justify it to me.

I suspect that when a Christian reads a similar scripture in the Koran, an apologetic explanation would carry no further for them either. They would read it and find it horrific, regardless of explanations their Muslim friend might offer them.

I live in the heart of Mormondom. My evangelical friends have dozens of critiques of Mormon scriptures and history – and Mormons have an answer for every one of them (e.g. http://en.fairmormon.org/Joseph_Smith/Polygamy). Do those answers work? For the Mormon, yes… but not for the evangelical.

The function of apologetics is not to change the mind of the unbeliever- it is to quiet the mind of the believer. No matter the religious stripe, a believer will readily accept an explanation that holds zero water for someone outside the faith. Why? Because the believer is already 95% convinced. They just need the assurance that somewhere out there, the question has been asked and answered. With that assurance in mind, they can proceed along the path – calm and content.

It was the same for me back when I was a believer. The shift came when I began to apply the same standards of judgment to my own religion as well as to others. If something was unacceptable for another religion, then it had to be unacceptable for mine. No longer would I use one set of rules for my beliefs and a different set for the belief of the other. Goal posts did not get to change location depending on whose side was being defended.

I encourage everyone to use the same measure for your faith that you do for others. If you are giving your faith a pass, give that same pass to other faiths. If you have a criticism of another faith, use that same scale for your own.

Rather than engaging my thoughts on the article, she replied, "You are an apostate so I expect that from you."

This exchange was a reminder of why I rarely engage these kinds of exchanges anymore. Outside the evangelical sphere I am a father, teacher, friend, husband, actor, singer, writer, etc. Inside the evangelical sphere there is no need to look any further than apostate.

Her shared article served its purpose. It did nothing to change the mind of this unbeliever, but it soothed her believing mind and halted any possible questions right there.

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