What I Learned This Year

Here are some things I’ve learned this year in school:

  • I am capable of a lot of work when I put my mind to it, but I also recognize my finitude. I have sometimes taken on too much to the detriment of my family. This will require that I plan my time better in adopting a consistent sleep schedule and study plan. My family deserves better than I gave them this year.
  • I had an inkling of this, but it got fleshed more out in my research of Gordon Kaufman’s theological method: all theology is constructed, from beginning to end. It does not exist “out there” to be discovered and exegeted but emerges out of a thinker’s use of sources. This means that one is responsible for what one says; one cannot just blame something on God.
  • Because of what I discovered with Kaufman, I am giving Christianity not another try, but a different try. I will be actively engaged in the process, not just uncritically accepting certain things. In a sense, Christianity exists “outside” the person because it is a social phenomenon. However, Christianity does not exist above and beyond the individual, because it is always embodied and expressed by individual persons. It shows up socially, too, social or political movements. I’m still working out what this even means.
  • I’ve come to realize more and more that I cannot universalize my personal experience and call myself a responsible person. I don’t call what I do “common sense,” “the way things are,” etc. I own what I do, say, and believe to the point that I recognize I have to demonstrate to others how I’ve come to some of my conclusions. I can’t take for granted that people share certain elements of experience with me to come to the same conclusions. And so this gives me room to hear other people’s stories and how they’ve constructed meaning on their journeys and not dismiss them out of hand; those are their experiences, as important to them as mine are to me. True dialogue can occur after each person recognizes this in the other, once we accept that we are not the same, and then attempt to find shared spaces or possibly create them.
  • There’s a world full of religions (one could just as easily say cultures since “religion” and “culture” intersect so seamlessly sometimes) that have worked for peoples to organize their societies. It’s interesting to learn how diverse understandings of religion arbitrate the relationship between church and state, individual and group, secular and sacred, what actually constitutes “religion,” male and female, or beyond binaries in more recent thought.
  • The word “religion” means something obvious to everyone else besides religious studies scholars. Ninian Smart outlined seven elements that most religions of the world have at least some of: doctrine, ethics, narratives/myths, ritual, experience, material culture, and institutions (here is a picture showing the interrelations of six of those dimensions, minus material culture). Some religions will denigrate others for not emphasizing what they emphasize. Some emphasize ritual and minimize ethics and doctrine, while others do the complete opposite. Both wonder at each other as a foreign, exotic “Other,” which is nonetheless wrong. Religion can also be defined in other ways: functionally, essentially, descriptively, and normatively.
  • There are lots of smart people in the world. I no longer feel the impulse to be the smartest in the class or see myself in competition with others to do better. I’ve adopted a more cooperative attitude that feels better. When I treat my classmates as fellow scholars or collaborators rather than as competition, we all benefit. I don’t glean nearly as much as when I share with others and they with me in a dynamic relationship. I just do my best and hope for the best.
  • Facebook and other internet activities waste a lot of my time. So does Netflix. Not to say these aren’t wonderful things in limited quantities, but they kind of contribute to me being a more passive than active person, making my brain feel kind of mushy after indulging for too long.
  • After reading an article by Richard Godbeer (his writing is as cool as his last name sounds), I encountered the idea that discourses of sex are always present in every sex act. One never “just has sex”; one is playing a script, like it fulfills a biological need or emotional desire, acts as a means to bond with a lover, a duty to fulfill, a peak experience with another involved, etc. He was drawing his ideas from Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality in three volumes, some of which I’d like to read this summer. The class I was in, Sexuality and American Religion, has actually given me some ideas of possible minors I’d like to pursue alongside the major of religious studies, like gender or sexuality studies and their presence in religions.

That is all I can think of for now. If I think of other things, I’ll edit this post and add them. Ask questions or comment if you want.

What’s Faith For?

In conversations with some close family and a close friend, I have heard mentioned the necessity and importance of faith in approaching god. When I have proposed that god is utterly absent from my experience, and then stated that it’s rather hard to base my life off of something or live in submission to someone for which there is not more than dubious evidence (in my experience and studies), they assert that faith is required. Why is it required? What makes god special in this instance that faith is required and not direct relationship?

When my car is broken, I don’t take it to someone who doesn’t for sure know how to work on cars, or has faith to fix it but no credentials; I take it to ASE certified mechanics. When I make a decision to attend a school, I consult counsel: career counselors, professors, friends, students. I do have inner monologue, but I attribute that to self-talk, not prayer/consultation with some entity who at best communicates to me through my own thoughts. Faith just seems an utterly weak position when there are more concrete options to consider. In every decision I come to, no, I do not make it with bird’s eye objectivity. But neither does the person who consults his or her god. They are just as embedded in their context as I am. I fail to understand how the element of faith adds to or diminishes vitality, wisdom, or direction in my life. Yes there are times where I make decisions without all the evidence at my disposal. Who doesn’t? I don’t call that faith. I call that life. We walk about in the dark, because that’s what life is. We don’t have all the information at hand. We don’t always make the best choices. We are human beings. If god spoke through much less convoluted means, I would grant faith more credence. However, as the word is presented to me, it is used as something differentiated from the faculties of reason and experience, a move I feel very uncomfortable with.

Here’s something of my experience with faith. There was a used van for sale. I asked the seller what was wrong with it besides the mileage. He said there was nothing wrong with the vehicle except its mileage. So I trusted him on that, not knowing the man, and foolishly, not taking it for a test drive. I trusted this man whom I did not know. What I got was a faulty electrical system, a right-at-the-end-of-its-life transmission, a near dead battery. That’s what I got for faith.

I’ve learned my lesson. A wiser person would have asked more questions than I did, ran it for a test drive, and taken it to a mechanic to check it out because we don’t take peoples’ word for things. We have to confirm things. We don’t accept colleges’ and universities’ claims to being reliable institutions; we run them through the gauntlet of accreditation. Continually. Where’s god’s accreditation process? Where’s his test drive? Why do people accept what the bible says with sometimes the level of trust that I had in the sleezy van salesman? Why does that seem to be the only area where we don’t bring our intellectual muscle to bear?

Another, more personal example. Growing up in a time and place where the distance between puberty and marriage continues to widen, I shared the experience of many Christian men in trying to maintain sexual purity in the modern age. The same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead was available to me to give life to my mortal body. In Christ’s absence, he left his Spirit to guide me into all truth and righteousness. So when there was temptation to look at pornography or do anything else, God would not let me be tempted beyond what I could bear. Sometimes I would/could resist. The temptation’d be there, but I’d be abstinent for months. Other times no. I guess I thought the power of god would show up more powerfully than it did, calming the raging sea of my hormones. I expected the grandeur of what is present in the biblical account. Where was this power? Was there more to this thing than words on a page?

I think the way in which the word “faith” is used today is far different than how it was used in the bible. Faith was used in places like Hebrews 11 as “trust” based on the past acts of god in history. The Israelites had their Exodus. The earliest Christians had Jesus’ direct life to appeal to. What happens, though, when I’m a Westerner, gentile, around 1900 years removed from the latest supposed revelation, and have no experience of this god whatsoever? Do I trust the murky historical and literary evidence at hand, ignoring or playing gymnastics with all the critical issues that exist? Do I downplay my own reason and experience in light of Christian tradition? I don’t see how that makes sense. I hold out hope for some reason, that if god exists, god will reveal something to me that would excite me to exhibit trust. Otherwise, the god of the bible is just another salesman with a used van, a degree mill with no accreditation.

Though some of my writing may come off as if I am static in my position or unwilling to change, it’s just a place I’m in at the moment. I desire fellowship and counsel in this lonely place. What has the God of the Bible done in your life that prompts you to trust him? What feeds your daily faith in him? If you have dealt with the critical difficulties surrounding using the Bible as a source of faith and theology, what are some ways you have done so? I’m at a place where I don’t trust Jesus, the Bible, or the God handed down. I’d like to, but I don’t. If you have help to offer, I’m all ears. Mind you, I will ask a lot of questions, but not because I’m combative. It’s just, after certain experiences, I can “never see with virgin eyes again” (Missy Higgins lyric; and, no, I’m not calling people who haven’t had my experiences “virgins”; never mind what I mean because now I don’t know what I mean lol).

Why Do You Attend Church Services?


This poll is simple. I want to see what reasons people have for attending church services. There are no right or wrong answers. You can select as many answers as you wish. Eventually (after taking some research and stats courses) I’d like to do a massive survey on why people attend church in America. It could be eventually become a longitudinal study. Who knows?

O Father, Where Art Thou?

[Before I start on my series of arguments for and against the existence of God, I thought I'd start generating some content here that I've written about in my journals, and now feel I can share with others. Plus I found I will need to do far more reading on the topics than originally thought, so I'll keep all three of you posted.]

One of the biggest experiences I’ve had in Christianity is God’s absence. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” While one can do this for a very long time, it puts the work on our shoulders for God to show up. It says that I have to do all the work. Reasons for him not showing up might be me not seeking hard enough, failing to have the right motives, having sin in my life, etc. These are all our responsibility. Why not a little reciprocation in this relationship? Maybe that’s too human an expectation in a divine-human relationship, but come on. Why doesn’t he “draw near” as in actually keep appearing in history, rather than consigning himself to occasional appearances a VERY long time ago, knowing full well that history gets muddied so easily?

Using an example from I forget where, if I hear my young child crying in the woods for 19 days and don’t reveal myself, I’d probably be considered a terrible parent. I mean, granted that it’s not a Vulcan rite of passage, I’d let my son know where he could find his family so he’d have security. No birthday cards, no letters, no phone calls, no tweets from the guy. Just words written back yonder. Even a violent revelation would at least show his person. I guess, to me, relationships take work, and there doesn’t seem to be much work going on on the other end. I’m finally asking him to go to counseling with me and he won’t give an answer. Even a “no” would be better than silence. Maybe I make too much out of these biblical metaphors- God’s people being God’s bride, sons, children. I cry out with Jesus, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Many people of God whisper, “How long, O, Lord, until your coming?” Sure, I guess God is considered sovereign, and so he gets to do what he wants. Why doesn’t he show up every once in awhile, though? He’s the king, right? He just feels like a deadbeat dad to me.

How about every 10 years, no every generation, he gives a state of the cosmos address like the American president does every year? This would let us all know how far we’ve deviated from him and clear up unnecessary diversity of opinion. Maybe rather than let his kids do all his talking for him, he could talk for himself. What are his purposes in staying hidden? Does it simply indicate his non-existence? Is he afraid of rejection? Would he get too annoyed with the questions?

Jesus told his disciples that it was good he went away so that his Spirit would be with everyone, that he would guide them into all truth. If this is so, why do we have so many voices for God which conflict with one another? No one can with full finality say, “Yah that guy or gal is speaking for God,” because we simply don’t know. We can say God’s revealed himself fully in Jesus Christ or the Bible or some revelation, but when it gets down to it, that makes things very sticky. Interpretation is involved in all things. A little time has elapsed since Jesus’ first came to the block. Much history has occurred, many languages have come and gone, many new and quite workable ideas have come since then. I mean, he’s been gone at sea so long, is it just time to say he’s dead and move on? It’s not like he has a captain sending him off to various parts of the universe against his will, so where is he? He’s omnipotent and omnipresent, right?

I don’t want to have to wrestle crumbs from the dogs (have my experience of God be mediated through history, literature, people, psychological experience, contrived worship settings). I want to eat at the table (unmediated experience, like Abraham, Jacob, Moses). Except he’s not at the table, in the room, in the house, on the block. He went to prepare a place for his people. How long does that take? The universe took six days. Does that just mean this will finally be the best of all possible worlds? Could he at least be a good carpenter and give us updates on our mansions? I don’t want the mansion, though. I just want to hear his voice, to know that he gives a rip. I’m like the kid with rich parents: I don’t want all the stuff they give just so they won’t have to hang out with me.

If anyone has any thoughts related to this, or you’d just like to say “hello,” leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.