Monday, August 25, 2008

Manly devotions

I am reading "Jesus in the Margins" by Rick McKinley. It is a fairly easy read. I am enjoying it, looking to see if there is some new insight in there.

One thing he talked about was the story from Jeremiah where the people make broken cisterns to hold water rather than relying on God. From there McKinley talks about some of the broken cisterns we have. For a person whose heart has been moved to the decision to put Christ as the foundation upon all the rest of life flows, one would think that there would be no broken cisterns. But there are. For me, especially in the past couple months it was "Why haven't you been spending time in prayer/meditation?" and then I nag myself "If your God is really as important as you claim he is, why is there no time in your day for him?" Ouch.

That isn't entirely true. In some ways everything I do has a spiritual element. I am constantly giving thanks, not because I am so great, but probably to compensate for the lack of actual time being spent.

I read this all to J, about the distractions that we happily fill up our time with, computers, TV sets and entertainment or busyness. He, as usual disagrees. He tells me he has never gotten anything from devotion time.

(Sound of brakes screeching to a halt) What? How can you spend time seeking God and come away feeling like the time was wasted?

Then he cites people who spend time in devotion and it doesn't seem to make any difference as to their ability to live out the Lord's teaching.

And of course with my liberal education I am thinkin "WAAAAAAIIIIIT a minute!" Are we even referring to the same thing and in a leptosecond I realize, no, probably not.

So let's define what we are talking about. I am talking about time spent meditatively in prayer. It might be reading the bible as well, seeing how the Lord will speak to you through his word.

Further out, like a poseur or wannabe of some sort, like a meat or milk substitute, like carob for chocolate or saccharin for sugar are the books called "devotions". I realize in the course of our conversation that while these books are apparently useful for some people, to me they are unnerving, useless. They offer light platitudes of things that I can't believe people don't already know. They offer them in bite sized pieces, one per day, that may or may not have anything to do with anything in ones life. I realize instantly: this is what J thinks is a devotion time. These are what I have tried in vain to find some use or meaning. I have grow to a point of holding little more than contempt for these "devotions".

Suddenly I understand why he considers meditative time to be close to worthless. Neither he nor I need bite sized pieces of gospelfood. But we do need to not give up that time spent listening, meditating and praying.

Before this conversation, I never realized that I had any feeling here nor there about these "devotion" books, only that like vitamins, maybe I was supposed to read them, however, the books I was reading made me think more, reflect more, seek more and pray more than the platitudes of a devotional.

It isn't important what I think about these books, but it reminds me of a bigger thing. J detests the singing in churches by and large. As we have talked about it, I understand why. The lyrics are very feminine in a way. "I want to know you, I want to hear your voice, I want to touch you, I want to feel you..." I have to admit, I can't sing this song. It has no value to me, at times it just grates. Now I hear these lyrics and I can tell J is tuning out without even looking at him. He does feel more at home with hymns, but will sing anything as long as it doesn't sound ridiculous to him. I gave up a long time ago figuring out whether the lyrics were ridiculous, feeling like I should just not be critical. However, I do understand his point of view.

I think for a guy, church is a place largely reflecting the touch of women. It is very hard to find a place as a guy. There is a mens group that meets on weekday AMs at our church, which is a strange time since most men are at work. I understand his frustration. At one point he belonged to a great group of men, and then the studies started being watching a DVD. I understood when he expressed "How is that fellowship?"

So when I asked him about devotions, I could just imagine him trying to read one of those day by day devotions and have him think that this is the way time with God is done. A rigid definition. No wonder he rejects it, I have my own difficulty with it.

And yet as followers of Christ it is our job to not stop there.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Meeting missionaries

I met B and C just before or around the time that J and I were about to marry. They were leaving to Afghanistan with their newborn daughter. That was approximately 6 years ago.

I have been trying to keep in touch with them for the past 6 years, not letting go of them because I feared for them, admired the courage and wondered just how does one do that for so many years in a country that seems as dangerous as Afghanistan. They are home on home leave with C pregnant and 2 weeks away from her due date. It was hard not to contrast the enthusiastic young couple I met when I first met them with the people I met this afternoon with their kids.

I liked C because she reminded me of some of my friends, young, intelligent, not superficial, realistic and bold in a mature way, but still enthusiastic, easy to smile and laugh. I saw qualities in her that I admired.

Today when I met with them, I was just I guess, surprised at the couple I met. They looked much older, though they are younger than I. They seemed tireless, but reserving their energy. They seemed serious. They listened well, questioned carefully. Talked about daily life and looking for bombs under their car before going places.

I saw B first, and probably because in Afghanistan females simply don't talk to males they don't know, he looked visibly uncomfortable with my introducing myself and extending my hand for a handshake. He went to find C.

It all made me consider how hard their job and life must be, and wonder about the changes that I saw in them.

I asked probably too many questions, not wanting to pry and saying "If it isn't private..." because I wanted to hear, but I didn't want to make them uncomfortable or unwittingly ask something too private.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Inquiry is what got me here

I heard a report on NPR about a camp for kids that was an alternative to Christian camps all over the place this summer. I thought that was interesting. The camp was called "Camp Inquiry". I was confused, since when is inquiry the opposite if faith?

I listened to the testimonies of kids who proclaimed God as not existing, as being as valid as believing in fairies and basically in their youthful wisdom (ahem) declaring belief in God a rather disdainful, delusional path to take. I know when I was their age, I was pretty much in the same place. I almost killed myself on account of it.

The thing that struck me though was the name of the camp. It is as though Camp Inquiry is the only place where kids are asking the hard questions. And Camp Inquiry, being decidedly outside of religion, sounded like it was the alternative to church camps. This is taken from the Center for Inquiry's website.

Through education, research, publishing, and social services, it seeks to present affirmative alternatives based on scientific naturalism. The Center is also interested in providing rational ethical alternatives to the reigning paranormal and religious systems of belief, and in developing communities where like-minded individuals can meet and share experiences.

So, one can inquire, but the inquiry has to remain in the realm of what can be proven by humans. Which kind of purports that humans are the ultimate, what we don't know doesn't exist, or what we can't prove doesn't exist. I heard a person say once, in talking about cosmology that if our science doesn't allow for the humanly unknowable, our science is very limited, and while not useless, substantially lacking.

So I suggest that Camp Inquiry is faith based as equally as a Christian camp is, only the faith is in humanity. To me, this thought is depressing, disturbing and wanting.

It also makes me appreciate faith based camps more as being more open minded.

Inquiry is an absolute part of any real choice or decision that isn't going to retract itself shortly thereafter. I actually was excited and thought "I want my kids to go to camp Inquiry!" when the show started, but then I realized it was not a true sort of inquiry, but one limited to what can be proved by science. This belief is called alternately "Naturalism" or "Materialism", and they are based on humans. Too bad Camp Inquiry wasn't true to its name.

It is isn't a place of true inquiry. Camp Inquiry inquires really in only the direction of secular humanism. They teach you about evolution and why creationism is dumb, and they give you a safe place from all those Christians. At first I thought I would send my kid there, until I saw this. That and the radio interview really espoused a negative attitude against faith. I don't really think it is inquiry they are after, they are after getting away from religion. They believe instead, in humans.

Because honestly, since no one knows if there is a god, it all takes faith of one sort or another. Since evolutionists cannot recreate the theory they hold about the beginning of life (you know, the proteins in the primordial pool), it takes a level of faith to believe that their theory is true. Natural selection is different than this idea of life coming from nonlife. So is evolution.

So the question ends up as who are you going to put your cards with? A God that is better than we could ever be, or humanity as it is.

I am sorry if I sound dogmatic. I was once one of the kids at Camp Inquiry, I read Camus, went to parties and tried it all once. I was a secular seeker. And none of it made me very happy. All my inquiry in that direction just lead me to a "Is that all there is?" place.

I think the change in direction (going toward God rather than actively escaping him) actually opened my mind rather than allowing the culture and media at large determine what to think of Christianity (after I became Christian, a friend sent me a mixed tape with the song "Christianity is Stupid, give up!"), my "inquiry" made me see that even if none of it was true, my life quality would be infinitely better pursuing the direction of God.

And it is. So I suppose that in the way some people feel it is bad to raise your kids within your faith, it seems equally as unkind to raise your kids without the option of a faith. Camp Inquiry, at best is this limited inquiry masquerading as "enlightenment" and at worst a way to leave no option for a kid to make sense of the world and give them a reason to hope when hope is gone.