Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Christian I am not - Part 3

Ron Wyatt and Wyatt Archaeological Research Inc

If I told you that I have discovered:

What would you say? My guess is that unless you are beyond gullible you would immediately call shenanigans. But let’s say I insist that I’m being serious and that I really did discover all of these things. Well I would hope that at this point you would be asking me to prove my claims. So then, I offer you the following proofs:

  1. My word in the form of a sworn statement
  2. Some photos of the environment where I made these discoveries (showing things like rock formations that may or may not prove anything)
  3. A few blurry photos of the items I claim to have found (that don’t clearly show anything)

Would you believe me?

I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t! After all I have just made some absolutely extraordinary claims and I failed to provide the extraordinary evidence required to prove it beyond the shadow of a doubt. You would then (correctly) assume that I made the whole thing up. After all, anyone in his/her right mind would be suspicious of such wild claims. Or would they?

See, here’s the thing – someone actually came along and told the world that he has discovered:

Noah’s Ark
  • The Ark of the Covenant (with the sword of Goliath next to it and the blood of Christ sprinkled on the lid)
  • The actual site of the crucifixion (Hint: It was right above the chamber holding the Ark of the Covenant)
  • Sodom and Gomorrah (what’s left of it)
  • The site of the Red Sea crossing
  • The real Mt Sinai
(Not to mention the fact that he also claimed to have figured out exactly how the pyramids were built. See for yourself at )

Even more amazing than all these claims is the fact Christians worldwide threw out every bit of critical thinking they had and wholeheartedly embraced these claims as totally true. This, even though the only evidence this Holy Indiana Jones (Ron Wyatt) provided was:

  1. His word that he really did find these things (since for a lot of these he was the only one to actually see it)
  2. Some landscape photo’s featuring far away mountains and rocks – one rock formation was vaguely boat shaped so obviously it was Noah’s Ark!
  3. A few bad photographs of the alleged artifacts

I would hardly call that convincing evidence, but that didn’t stop untold numbers of Christians to fall for this story hook line and sinker. The claims of Ron Wyatt have since been shown to be fraudulent – not by some Atheistic Conspiracy of Lies (inc) dedicated to hiding the truth about God, but by evangelical, Bible literalist Christians - people who actually wanted it to be true - who simply dug a little deeper. You can read a good article about that here and see a full index of investigations done here. Here are some of the highlights:

When news agencies paid him a lot of money to take a camera crew to these discoveries he could never show it to them – but that didn’t stop him from asking for more money.

His son later admitted that the coins and chariot wheels that proved the Red Sea crossing were planted by them.

As for his photographic evidence of his findings, well you be the judge:

There is Noah's Ark in the background. Right?

Here is a picture of the Ark of the Covenant - but I shouldn't have to tell you that, I mean it's really obvious from the picture right?

(All of his pictures can be seen here)

When considering all this evidence it's hard to believe that anyone could believe these claims and yet, I used to be one of the people who believed it. I did not know who Ron Wyatt was until very recently yet I have known about his "discoveries" since childhood. Even though I never saw any of these pictures or knew much about the story behind the discovery, I believed it because pastors that I believed in and trusted told me these discoveries were made from the pulpit. This is exactly why I am including Ron Wyatt and the W.A.R in the "The Christian I am not" series. As I have often explained in this series, this is not about me throwing rocks at people I don't agree with for whatever reason. Rather this is about people/groups who - under the banner of Christianity - do incredible damage to Christianity. From these people I feel the need to distance myself, to go on record as being against lest I (by my silence) be thought of as one of them. W.A.R Inc most certainly fits this description. Even with Ron Wyatt long dead, even though all of these claims have been thoroughly debunked, they are still being shared as truth from pulpits, internet discussion boards and via emails. And people are still falling for it.

In a way I can't really blame them - after all we don't expect our fellow Christians to be this deceitful. To be fair, the vast majority of people who spread this disinformation are doing so in the sincere belief that it is the truth. It is for this reason that anyone who knows the truth needs to stand up and expose the deceit.

Honestly, what does it say about the Christian faith if we are this willing to believe claims that (as I tried to demonstrate in the beginning of this post) if they concerned anything else we would have immediately thought them to be fraudulent! This goes beyond wanting to believe in the Bible, it creates the impression that we have serious doubts regarding the veracity of the Bible and therefore have a need to believe in the Bible. Is our faith really so weak that we would let go of all critical thinking and grasp at any straw just to attempt to vindicate our faith? If it is, then we are in big trouble. Maybe we should first work on our (apparently fragile) faith, maybe then we can be free from this horrible need to be proven right. Until then the scam artists will continue to prey on us at will. Until then the people at Wyatt Archeological Research Inc and the Wyatt museum will continue to fleece the faithful.

In the meantime, I for one plan on opposing these wolves in sheep clothing wherever I find them.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

L.A.E: The Cruelty of the gods

I never indented for the Life After Eden idea to be more than one post. As I said before, I realize that all “proofs” of God and the spiritual are subjective and there is no absolute objective proof to be had. Yet in recent weeks I realized something else that might (again, subjectively speaking) show that there is more to this world than what we can weigh and measure. Whether or not this is proof of the existence of God I am not wise enough to say however. Theologians often make an argument from the existence of beauty, but personally I think a better argument can be made from the existence of cruelty.

After spending a reasonable amount of time in this world, one soon realizes that it is not all sunsets and rainbows. At some point we all learn that this world has teeth and it is looking for ways to devour us. It’s not just that things go wrong either, it’s the way in which they go wrong. Sometimes things go wrong in such a specific way that it almost seems planned that way, especially when things don’t simply go wrong but they go wrong in the worse possible manner. In times like these it’s tempting to think that there might be someone or something out there who takes sadistic joy out of watching us squirm. Sometimes it seems this someone or something takes great pains and goes to unimaginable lengths to be cruel to us.

Then again, maybe you have never felt this way. Yet I am clearly not the only one or the first one to feel this way. From my admittedly sketchy knowledge of anthropology it would seem that from the moment mankind became aware of the numinous they were convinced that it was out to get them. It would seem that throughout human history people have been convinced that there was something out there that was making their lives hard and so they had to do things and kill things in order to keep it happy in order to keep it from ruining their lives. This also seems to be a running theme in all ancient myths, in fact at times it is almost as if the various pantheons of gods and goddesses were invented for the sole reason of explaining the seeming intelligent behind the cruelty of life. The gods may have been beautiful, powerful and wise but you did not want them noticing you for they were equally capricious and cruel. From the myths it seems that every time they became involved things tended to go horribly wrong for all concerned. Being a judge in a music contest between gods could land you donkey ears and judging a beauty contest between goddesses could lead to the destruction of your city – it was just a no win for you if the gods happened to be aware of your existence.

The idea of someone out there being responsible for your misery was not just found amongst the pagans either, you can find plenty of that in the Judeo-Christian faith as well. Take the book of psalms for instance, you can paraphrase a substantial amount of them as:

“Why God why?? I’ve done all I can to please you and yet I am miserable – while those who are wicked live utterly charmed lives. Why do I have to suffer like this? Why God why?”

Then of course, there was Job… Lets face it, there is a reason why we even have sayings like: “If you want God to laugh, tell Him your plans.”

I have to admit, I know what these people – both pagans and psalmists – feel like. I’m not one to wonder why things go wrong, I accept that this is an imperfect world and that things don’t always work the way we want them to. I don’t waste time with stupid questions like “Why do bad things happen to good people?” The answer to that should be obvious – bad things happen to all people its just that we only call them “bad things” when they happen to “good people”. When they happen to “bad people” we call them “justice”. However recent events in my own life have made me wonder why things go wrong in the horrible way that they do. As I explained in previous post, I had some health problems and had to go for surgery. Now this was surgery to my thyroid and I dreaded it because the removal of my thyroid would mean I would have to go on medication for the rest of my life and suffer all the unhappy consequences of not having a thyroid gland anymore. However my life was in danger and I accepted that whatever needed to be done had to be done. Then, things took a turn for the better – they only removed half of my thyroid, I needed no medication and the surgery went perfectly and I didn’t suffer any damage to my vocal cords (or any of the other inherent risks to thyroid surgery). I have to say I felt pretty good, I had an incredible sense of forward momentum – something important that needed to be done had been done now (very successfully) and now it was time to take care of the rest of my life. Two weeks later I returned to the hospital for a follow-up and since no one had called me (as they told me they would if they found any cancer) I happily assumed that this was the end of it, I would have my stitches out and be on my way. That’s when I found out it was in fact cancerous, I did need more surgery, I was going to lose my entire thyroid and I may still have a long road ahead of me. Suffice it to say I don’t feel like I have that much forward momentum anymore. It’s not because things went wrong. It’s because things went right before they went wrong again that makes this seem, well, cruel.

So then, what are we to do with this notion that things do not simply go wrong but they seem do so in a way that suggest a malicious intelligence behind it? Well there could be more than one explanation for it.

  • It could be mere coincidence, just statistical probability and the law of large numbers working together with natural laws (like entropy) to create what seems to be malicious intent in situations that in reality have none. Maybe this whole “something is out to get me” mindset is an outdated part of the human condition that we need to move beyond. Maybe we just need to accept that it’s nothing personal, its just life in an imperfect world.
  • Maybe these things just seem like cruelty. Maybe we are looking at these things the way a toddler looks at the rules and discipline of a good parent. Maybe we just think they are cruel because we are unable to see the big picture. Although I have to admit this makes me think of a scene in Evan Almighty where Evan (after losing his job and family and with the whole world ridiculing him) looks up at the heavens and says to God: “I know, whatever you do, you do because you love me. Do me a favor, love me less.”
  • Maybe the world really does have teeth. Maybe our primitive forebears were right, maybe there really is something out there that is horrible and cruel and seeks nothing but our harm and our ruin. Maybe Peter really meant it when he talked about the Devil walking around “like a roaring lion, seeking someone he may devour”

Now, which of these is right I cannot say and I do not fancy myself wise enough to hazard a guess. I may never be. They may all be right in some way, they may even all be wrong. There might yet be another, truer, reason that I cannot grasp yet. All I know is that from time to time, there truly seems to be more to the cruelty of life than mere coincidence. The teeth of the world may not exactly be a proof for the existence of God, but I can’t help but feel it does somehow point to the existence of something beyond the world of our senses.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Beware of the dog: The mystery of manhood

This may be the information age, but nevertheless it seems men today are haunted by more really hard questions than at any other time. Questions like: What kind of world am I leaving for my children? How much did I drink last night? Is “sweet” an insult or a compliment? Am I making enough money? At what age should I start having my prostate checked? Should I throw this out or eat it? Am I turning into my father? Why do women love assholes? Celine Dion, really? Why does she always want to know what I am thinking about? Where is the remote? Could I survive in prison, you know, theoretically? Is technology making me redundant? Does my life have any meaning? Would I rather be stuck on a deserted island with Bear Grylls or Jessica Alba? Am I fooling anyone? Why do all women think they’re fat? Can this thing go any faster? What would happen to my family if I died today? Does chicken count as a vegetable?

Certainly all of these are valid questions and certainly they are but a sampling of the issues that face men today, but there is one question that haunts the men of the 21st century like no other: Where are all the real men?

It’s a question asked with alarming frequency and for such a simple sounding question it’s a remarkably hard one to answer. Maybe because it’s really a two part question: 1) What is a real man? and 2) where are they? See, once you answer part 1, part 2 should be really easy. Except it seems everyone has a really hard time with part 1…

It’s really the kind of question that is part of the background noise of every man’s heart, but every now and again, it jumps out from the shadows and assaults you. For me this happened a while ago when a friend (freshly returned from a girl’s weekend out where this was a topic of discussion) sprung it on me. OK, maybe “sprung it on me” sounds a little harsh, but “how would you define a real man?” really is one of those questions that always feel more sprung than asked. It was in that moment that I came to the shocking realization that I honestly didn’t have an answer ready. I mean we all use the term “real man” all the time, but what does that actually mean? Is there even just one definition or will the answers differ by culture and age group? So I decided to start asking around and sprung the dread question on my own unsuspecting friends. Well suffice it to say that the answers I got were varied and interesting, but clearly they were guessing as much as I was. Actually I noticed something rather interesting – all answers (well from those who took the question seriously anyway) appeared to fall in one of three categories. The interesting part is that when discussing the meaning of mankind being created in the Image of God, theologians use the exact same categories – Substantive, Relational and Functional.

Firstly (and most popular) is the substantive view – the idea that a real man is defined by something that is a part of him, some ability or characteristic that makes a man a real man. Typically these would be things like backbone, strength, passion, courage, a cool head under pressure, integrity, honour, driving skills, an awesome mullet, being responsible, things like that. In his book To Own a Dragon, (which I strongly recommend by the way) Don Miller gives his very simple definition of a real man – a person with a penis. Now me, I have always preferred the simple answers but I’m going to ask for a little more than Don’s definition here. Its not that I think he is utterly wrong, in fact I agree that he has identified a rather important component there, it’s just that if that were the only qualification we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

Secondly there is the relational view – the idea that a real man is defined by his relationships. In this view a man is a real man when he is a good father, a good husband, respected in his work, church and community. Here the idea is that it is not so much something about yourself that makes you a real man but rather that it is the way you relate to others that define you. The (Christian) guys who hold this view will often point to Jesus as a perfect example in that His greatness lay in His willingness to lay down His life for others.

Lastly there is the functional view – that a man is defined by something he does. People who hold this view would say that a real man is a leader, someone who is in charge, who can subdue the earth, wrestle bears, tame the wilderness etc. I actually got this response rather often, that a real man is someone who can walk into any situation and take charge of it and make everything that is wrong right again.

Now these three categories (and their myriad combinations) are good and well, but they didn’t really give me the answer to the question – they just gave me more options. They may be completely right, but I didn’t feel like they were. So then, after much meditating, here is the answer I came up with. Whether it is the right answer I cannot say, all I can say with any certainty is that this is my answer to the question.

I think that a “real” man is a man who is greater than his biology. Let me explain. I think the reason you never seem to hear anyone debate what a “real woman” is supposed to be is due to the fact that (and please, I’m not trying to stereotype or generalize too much here but bear with me) to a large extent, women are helped by their biology to be women. With men it’s kind of the opposite. Our biology doesn’t make us more noble, it makes us less. On a purely biological, instinctual level, a man actually resembles a dog more than anything else.

Think about it. (Remember, I’m talking about the male of the species in terms of his most basic, primal self here.) Men are aggressive, violent and yet will run away when they feel the situation becoming too threatening. Men will hump anything – (again, on the most primal level) sexually there is no such thing as “off limits”. Men love to do nothing, eat more than they need to and prefer to do what feels good in the moment without a thought for the future. Responsibility and fidelity are foreign concepts, the only thing that comes naturally is irresponsibility – as evidenced by the ease with which some men can leave their families behind for a pretty new young thing. Also, when in groups, men submit to the will of the pack – and this tends to bring out the worst in them. Not to mention the fact that men love to chase cars and eat disgusting things…

Men are also bettered by the same things as dogs. For one thing, there is discipline – a system of order with rewards for good behavior and punishment for bad behavior gets dogs to behave and it certainly seems to work for men in the form of society. If you want proof, just look at men in places outside of normal society – jails and gangs for instance – and you will notice that their behavior is far closer to that of the dog. Of course, society and its discipline isn’t really what it used to be and therefore there seems to be a return to the dog side for men. There is of course another good influence – a caring relationship. There is a big difference in behavior between a beloved pet dog and a feral stray dog and for the same reason there seems to be a marked difference in behavior between single, unattached men and those in loving family relationships. Being in the care of a superior species seems to make all the difference in the world as statistically instances of drug abuse, violence, criminal activity and other dog-like behavior is far higher among single men than among married men. Of course this isn’t always the case either as the influence is not always good. In the same way that some owners bring out the worst in their dogs, some women bring out the worst in men.

Thing is though, men are not dogs. We are not simple slaves to our biology and environment the way dogs are. We don’t get to just shrug and say “Oh well, the penis is mightier than the brain, what can we do?” because there is something greater, something higher in us and we can choose that over our baser instincts. For all our faults, we are capable of so much greatness – incredible acts of self-sacrifice, bravery, love, compassion, goodness and honor. It’s not just that we can be more than dogs, it’s that we can be SO MUCH more than dogs. Seems the real problem is that a man is torn between two opposing natures – a dog-like nature on the one side and a God-like nature on the other. So then, my definition of a real man is a man who consistently chooses his God-like nature over his dog-like nature. Someone who again and again will choose courage over cowardice, restraint over indulgence, calm over aggression, kindness over cruelty. A man who will stand and fight when every fiber in him wants to get out, who will sacrifice when everything in him wants to be selfish, who is not mindlessly aggressive and yet doesn’t go to the other extreme and becomes passive. As I said, a man who is greater than his biology.

In this definition, all three views seem to come together. It is substantive on the one hand because we are talking about something in a man, something that is a part of him - mainly self control and good character - and it should be part of a man in order to be real. If it has to be constantly forced and reinforced externally, what value does it have after all? If a man only acts well because he has a woman in his life or because he fears punishment, can we really think of him as a real man? After all, remove the control and we are back to dog-like behavior. Therefore it needs to be substantive. However this doesn’t just naturally become part of a man, it has to be taught and instilled, so it is relational too. A man is not born with a natural inclination to choose God-like behavior, he has to be shown how. Family, community and above all good male role models and father figures are essential if you want a man to become a real man. To a large extent, this explains the current problem – the world is suffering from an epidemic of fatherlessness and most of the male role models tend to model dog-like behavior more than anything else. Truly, this just shows how powerful and important the relational aspect really is! At the same time, it needs to be functional as well. Being a real man is something a man needs to do, needs to choose, needs to consistently choose to be, every waking hour of his life. One can’t be abusive half the time and kind the other and expect to be thought of as a real man.

Now these are just my opinions and it is based on nothing more than my own thoughts and observations. Feel free to disagree, but please give me your opinion then because this is something worth discussing. The question regarding what a real man is is a question worth spending some time on, especially for a Christian, the question of what a real man is way bigger than a discussion about gender. There is a great mystery here which we are bound to miss if we ignore it. Think about it, God – who has to be so far beyond our concepts of male and female – chose to represent Himself as male, as a Father. Therefore, if we don’t understand what that really means, we miss out on something vital that God is communicating to us. What this tells me about God is that just like a real man, God is someone who has a lot of power and chooses to use it for creation instead of destruction, someone who doesn’t have to love but yet chooses to love, who isn’t biologically bound to care but wants to and chooses to care anyway. I think this reveals a lot about God to us.

But whether you believe that this has anything to do with God or not, the question of what a real man is still matters greatly. It is pretty obvious that there is something very wrong with the men of the world and the entire world is suffering for it. We have an entire generation of young men who don’t see a problem with slipping rohypnol into a girls drink. The immense number of family violence, rapes, child molestation and assaults aren’t being perpetrated by aliens and it doesn’t just happen among “other people”. No matter who you are, no matter where you come from men who look just like you with a background like yours are perpetrating these horrors. Now I’m not na├»ve enough to think that simply having discussions about manhood will magically fix all this, but we have to start somewhere. Something about manhood has been lost and it needs to be reclaimed or the situation will only get worse. Maybe talking about it is a start. In any case it beats doing nothing and complaining.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Being Mortal

I recently got hit by a blinding flash of the obvious (my eyes still hurt). Turns out that real life is nothing like the movies. (Bet your eyes are hurting now too!) See in the movies, when someone is confronted by the realization that his life might end, it always leads to some very interesting behavior (not to mention good cinema!) in that person. They take up extreme sports, they finally stand up to their mean boss, they finally realize the love of their life has been right in front of them the entire time (only now it may be too late to do anything about it - oh no!). All of these things make interesting movies and sure it seems like it’s realistic. These seem to be the things you think you will do if you find out you may be dying. But its not. At least it wasn’t for me.

Now first of all, let me scale back the drama factor a little. I don't want to make it sound like I was diagnosed with some dreadful terminal illness. No, in my case, a piece of my thyroid had started to enlarge to the point where it was threatening to close off my arteries, effectively giving me a stroke. Also because of the size and location of the swelling there were certain risks with the surgery I needed. And, while it did end up being cancer, according to the doctor, if you have to choose a type of cancer to get, you want the type I got - it grows slowly, its spreads very slowly and at this point it looks like nothing else got infected. Like I said, not terribly dramatic news, but it’s hardly what anyone expects to hear at age 30. Really, I was planning to leave the whole “facing my own mortality” thing for at least another decade or two. But alas, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry and so there I was, forced to face my own mortality years ahead of schedule. All in all it was a surprisingly pleasant experience!

Now luckily, I left my emo/goth phase behind many, many moons ago. So mercifully no time was spent visualizing my funeral or wondering if anyone would really miss me or what song would play at my funeral or anything as melodramatically juvenile as all that. In fact, I’ll be honest with you, I wasn’t really planning on dying at all! I'm still not! Don’t believe me? Check my 5 year plan, its right there in black and white: “Don’t die”. In fact, those two words comprise the entirety of my 5 year plan. (To be honest that’s my entire 10 year plan as well…)

Still, even though I have no plans to actually die, it’s never easy to hear that there is a chance (even a remote one) that you may not see your 31st birthday. It’s the kind of thing that makes you take a good hard look at your life. But here is where real life deviated from the movie version for me – instead of being horribly disappointed at my life I found myself rather pleasantly surprised by it!

First of all, I have no crippling regrets. Sure, if I could do it all again there are things I would do differently, but that is really a moot point, isn't it? No one gets to do it over again, this life is all we get and I like to think that I have done the best I could with what I had. Well, most of the time. I believe that there are two broad categories in life, things that happen to you and things that happen because of you. Of the two you really only have a say in the latter, the former you just have to deal with as best you can. And I have. I have made a great many mistakes, there are a lot of things that in hindsight could have been handled better but then again, that’s why they call it “hindsight”. I have learned from my mistakes, I have dealt with my tragedies and I have taken responsibility for my own life and my own actions. I have made decisions, I have suffered consequences and my only hope is that I have gained at least some wisdom from it. I realized that whoever said “we regret more the things we didn’t do than the things we did” clearly needed to get out more since my biggest regrets are most certainly NOT the things I didn't do. Having said that, I have no crushing regrets that weigh me down, I have learned from my mistakes. I have done my best not to keep any grudges and so I have forgiven myself and others and I have always tried to keep moving forward and I blame no one - not fate, not God, not myself, not anyone. When things happen to you, they happen to you. I try not to harbor any illusions about myself, my mistakes were mostly honest ones and I would rather keep them than try to erase them as they made me what I am. In the words of the poet, “Give me reason but don't give me choice. 'Cause I'll just make the same mistake again.” No point in lying to myself (or to you), even if I could go back, things wouldn't turn out that different - I am what I am. While I still do a lot of stupid things I like to believe that at least they aren’t as spectacularly stupid as they used to be.

I’m glad I ate well, I’m glad I tasted the good beer and the fine wines and the proper whiskey, I am happy to say that I indulged in the good things of this world. I take it all as a blessing from the Creator and I am grateful for it all. The world is so amazing and I have spent my years enjoying it as much as I could and I don't regret a moment of it. Chances are that if it was delicious I have tried to taste it, if it was beautiful I have tried to see it, if it was comfortable I have tried reclining in it and if it was interesting I have tried to understand it. I also certainly don’t regret a moment of rest or sleep, one of life's great and underrated blessings. Sure, they say “sleep when you’re dead” but that may be complete and utter bullshit!! For all we know you may never sleep again after dying! All of this may not have made me the world's most productive or industrious person, but I sure had a lot of fun and I certainly regret none of it!

Secondly, I have no unexpressed love. Everyone who matters to me knows it, I have made no secret of it. If you matter to me, you know it. While love, relationship and family may be areas of my life featuring some rather spectacular disasters I am happy to be able to say that I have not closed off my heart because of it. I have never stopped loving people. (Even though I’m not always sure I actually like people. ) While the food and the fun and the beer and the beauty of this life has been great, I have found that nothing matters like people. It is the people in my life who have made living it worth the while. Everything else was just icing. My friends mean the world to me and if they don’t know that they really haven’t been paying attention.

Best thing of all was when I looked inside myself I didn’t find fear. Especially not of death. Don’t get me wrong, I would hate to go now. Words could not express how much dying now would have annoyed me! But I’m not afraid. In death I hope to find a God who is as great, as loving, as kind and as forgiving as I had dared to hope and more. I hope to not find the immature, sometimes petty and cruel God of my fundamentalist Christian brothers and sisters. Rather I hope that the God I meet would understand why I chose asking the hard questions over swallowing the easy answers, why I needed to understand and why it was sometimes hard for me to simply believe. May He be Great enough to overshadow and forgive my many doubts, questions, flaws and failings. Also, I really hope we got that part about it being OK to eat pork now right because I have had a LOT of pork in my life! I mean seriously, like at least twice my own bodyweight! If the Torah dietary rules are actually still in effect I am in SUCH trouble!

Now jokes aside, all of this talk of dying may seem unnecessarily morbid, but it’s not, far from it. I think we have a very human tendency to forget that our time on this planet is finite, one time only affair. It is so easy to forget that for a brief, bright moment in time you get to walk this world. In this brief sliver of eternity you have the immense privilege of giving it your best (and only) shot. Now personally, I think forgetting this for large amounts of time is probably healthy, but so is remembering it every now and again. It took some bad news from the doctor for me to realize this, but really that shouldn’t have been the case. After all, who amongst us wakes up with an absolute guarantee that they will return to bed that night safe and alive? Our time here may end at any time, any time at all and there is little to nothing we can do about that. Death is one of those things that fall in the “happens to you” category, you don’t really get to have a say in the matter. So once in a while, why not take a moment and consider your mortality? It may not be as depressing as you think, in fact you may find yourself pleasantly surprised!

Of course it doesn't mean I just patted myself on the back for doing so swell in life, it also gave me a chance to reflect on areas that need improvement and believe me, I have found quite a few. I was honest before, I really am happy with my life and the way it turned out in many respects, but I don’t think I can stay happy with it if I leave it as it is. There is still so much left undone, so much to learn, so much growing to do. So much growing up to do. As I said in my previous post, I started to recognize that there are some serious deficiencies in my existence and these need to be worked on, especially the way have have started becoming disconnected from family and community. That is certainly something I plan on changing. However, I don’t mean this in a movie style “oh I just realized my own mortality, now all of a sudden I must do everything different” kind of way. That kind of change is both unrealistic and unsustainable. Besides, this isn't a movie, it's my life. Real change takes time. At least now I have a direction in mind. It may not make good cinema, but I'm looking forward to seeing it nonetheless!

(Click to enlarge. From:

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Mystery of Community

I have always been fascinated with the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. As a child I used to love the stories of the Jewish traditions and festivals but it wasn’t long before I realized that stories about “the Jews” and their traditions seemed to change regularly – it seemed that the “tradition” always managed to fit whatever point the pastor happened to be making. Recently, my interest in the matter was rekindled by the works of Rob Bell and this time I decided to do my own research and ordered myself a ton of books on the subject. So far I’ve read some fascinating books and I have also started watching some of the Jewish religious broadcasts on TV and I have to tell you, I’m learning a lot! However, in the midst of all this learning, there has also been a rather sad realization. I started to see that there is something important out there, something amazing, something beautiful and worst of all, something I have no part in. Family. Community.
See in Jewish thought the two are not really that separate. In the Hebrew, the word mishpahah means “family”, but it doesn’t simply refer to parents and children, it is a whole social unit that includes grandparents, uncles, aunts and even remote cousins. Furthermore each mishpahah sees itself as part of a single worldwide Jewish family. Honestly, it was the last thing I expected to find. For some reason I thought it would be something else, something different, something more ... I don’t know, more spiritual? Yet the more I look, the more I find that it is central to pretty much everything. To God, it seems, togetherness/family/community isn’t an important thing, it is the important thing. Once you start looking you see it everywhere.
You can start for instance by looking at God – what is the Trinity other than the most perfect and harmonious family unit? What is the first thing we find God doing? Creating people (after creating a home for them) so that He could spend time with them. Most of the Old Testament is just the story of God, having a relationship with different people. Look at the Ten Commandments – God doesn’t command you to honour Him, instead He commands people to honour their parents!
When Jesus comes to Earth, what does He do? He surrounds Himself with people! Also in this matter, where the disciples come from is important. The area in Galilee where almost all the disciples came from wasn’t a rich area or a famous one, it wasn’t a great centre of learning or culture. However they did have two things in that area that must have mattered to God because that is where he went to find the people he would build his Church with – a love of the Scripture and close-knit family units.
In fact, these close-knit family units play an integral part in the teachings of Jesus. Back then in Galilee, a family would live in something called an insula. Here the entire clan – the whole mishpahah lived together in combined living units around an open courtyard. Whenever Jesus used the word “household” this is what he was referring to. This is what He referred to when he said: “In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you”. See when the disciples heard this, they didn’t picture heaven as we do – each one in his own special mansion. No to them, heaven was living as a family together with Jesus in the same house, the house of His Father. When a boy of the family got engaged, he first spent time adding room for him and his bride-to-be on this insula – the house of his father. Then when it was ready and the father approved of the work his son had done, only then the son could go out and pick up his waiting bride, have a wedding and bring her home. Sound familiar?
And so it goes. Now, every time I read the Bible I can’t help but see that it is written in terms of family/community. Even at the end of days when the people are separated into the sheep and the goats we find that they aren’t separated on grounds of correct dogma or right belief system, amount of souls won or personal holiness. The final criteria for Jesus boils down to how well did you take care of your fellow human beings when they needed you?
Only it seems that this community message has gotten a little diluted through the years. Communion went from being a social meal round the table, where everyone talked and remembered Jesus while sharing a common cup and loaf of bread to something sanitized where we all get our little bit of communion to go “enjoy” privately. In fact most of our faith has all become a private thing – just me and God, no one else allowed in. But this was not always the case. Every aspect of the faith used to be a community affair. Everyone read the Scripture together, everyone from young to old got a chance to read out loud, everyone discussed it together – there was no private interpretation of the Bible. Prayer was done communally and it wasn’t always this me-and-my-needs thing either. In fact some Rabbi’s taught that a prayer that cannot be offered on behalf of all Israel is not a prayer worth praying at all. It is still a rule among devout Jews that a man must regularly pray together with a full quorum (at least 10) of other men. I once heard a young Jewish doctor tell of how he sometimes doesn’t feel like going out to the synagogue early in the morning for the prayers, instead tempted to take some “me-time” to replenish himself, but then he always chooses to go and he says that this is because this community prayer does exactly that – it replenishes him, more than an extra hour of sleep would. Community was everything to the early church – just look at the images Paul uses, a household, a building, a body. How much of that is still true of believers today? Many of us still use the Christian family vocabulary (brother, sister) but do we still mean it?
So I think we might have a problem. Correction, I can’t really speak for “us” so I shouldn’t even be using the word “we” – that’s part of the problem, I don’t have an “us” to speak for. Really, all I can say is that I think I have a problem. See there is this incredible mystery that seems to be at the heart of all that is important, this mystery of family, community, togetherness, being a part of something greater than yourself that makes you more than just an individual, makes you part of a greatness you cannot have by yourself. Problem is that I have no connection to this mystery. Like so many in this information age, I am connected but I am alone. I have friends in the UK, the USA and the UAE but I don’t know anyone in my own street. To be honest, I have no friends in the same suburb as me, no one within walking distance I can call on. I have family, but I see them about once a year. Maybe. I recently realized just how disconnected I have become when I filled in a form at the hospital and had trouble thinking of two numbers to put down as my “in case of emergency” contacts. No one in my family even knew I was going in for surgery. Somehow, I have managed to become incredibly disconnected from the world around me, but it was not always this way. While I was growing up, every day, every meal was family time. We always sat around the table, we ate together, we talked together, we would listen to the radio news together and my dad would quiz me on random things to see how well I understood them. I was an only child so even back then I was alone a lot of the time, but those times kept me connected. Later, when I went off to study I lived in a residence complex with a bunch of other guys and that was probably the most connected I have ever been. I was rarely alone, we were always hanging out, going out together, talking, visiting room to room, studying, living and eating together. It was an amazing time. But I guess after my parents died, things started changing.
Aloneness is like a disease. Its not loneliness, loneliness drives you to find others. Aloneness is different from singleness, I don’t think there is anything wrong with being single. Rather, aloneness is the opposite of togetherness, it is being disconnected from all around you, being separate from everything. I used to see that as strength, something to be proud of, but I’m starting to have second thoughts. I used to pride myself on being a One in a world full of Two’s but I’m starting to think that is not really something I should be proud of. I am part of nothing, I belong to nothing, I am building nothing, I am supporting nothing. This is not right. Not right at all.
See what I’m starting to realize is that community isn’t about losing your individuality, it’s not about becoming part of a “hive-mind”. I’m starting to think that instead it means living outward, giving out (not giving up) everything that makes you unique and special to benefit those around you. Maybe you are only really become fully human through your relationships with other humans – or as the Zulu’s say: umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, a person is a person through (other) persons.
Now realizing this is all good and well, but that still leaves me with the problem of what to do about it. I have been so happily alone for so long that I’m not really sure how to be a part of a community anymore. How do you start to connect when you have been so disconnected for so long? Reaching out to people feels foreign to me now, depending on others feels wrong somehow, having others depend on me feels frightening. Honestly, I don’t really know where to go from here.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Why believing in brickmaking doesn't equal hating builders

Talking about creation and evolution tends to bring out the worst in some people. For some reason it brings out worse things in my fellow Christians it seems. Its weird you know, it almost never happens that an atheist would make fun of my faith or try to demean me – although granted, those people are out there. As a Christian who believes that evolution is a scientific fact I have found heaps of scorn and ridicule from other Christians though. In fact, I am currently shunned (yes, shunned) by a former member of my cell group for my views on the subject. I have to tell you, this debate has drained me because no matter what, we seem to be going over the same old ground over and over again and this is going nowhere.

It is as if there is this beautiful house with a sign next to it that reads “This fabulous home was erected by Bob”. I look at this and say: “Isn’t this marvelous? Just think how much work and planning had to go into getting this house to its current state! Foundations had to be dug, obstacles had to be removed and that was just to start the thing! Then they had to get cement and bricks, wires, pipes and support beams – do you know how much work goes into making just each of those components? Then it had to all be brought together here and put together exactly right just so we could have this beautiful house. I think Bob is a great builder!”

At this point my creationist brothers and sisters tend to intrude into my moment of awe and say: “What is wrong with you? The sign mentions none of that! How dare you suggest there was a “process” used by Bob? The sign clearly states that Bob “erected” this house, you just don’t want to believe the sign because you hate Bob! You probably don’t even think Bob exists, do you?!”

And so it goes. I have found that no matter what I say, no matter what scientific evidence and proof I point to, they will always simply try to wrestle the issue down to God vs Atheism. According to them, people who accept evolution also must hate God, hate the Bible and want to get rid of God and the Bible so they can live evil, lust-filled lives. Also people who accept evolution accept genocide, abortion, lawlessness etc – because of course they reject God and everything about Him. As in all things regarding this debate the facts do not faze them. Scientists are all part of a giant New World Order conspiracy to destroy faith in God – regardless of the fact that 70% of evolution accepting scientists are also religious. Certainly, many have used evolution to argue against the existence of God, but the one does not logically lead to the other. Certainly it has not for me.

Also, I do not believe that this means I have a lower opinion of God, quite the opposite in fact. Look what Charles Darwin wrote in the conclusion to Origins of Species:

“Authors of the highest eminence seem to be fully satisfied with the view that each species has been independently created. To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator, that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes, like those determining the birth and death of the individual. When I view all beings not as special creations, but as the lineal descendants of some few beings which lived long before the first bed of the Silurian system was deposited, they seem to me to become ennobled.” (Interesting side note – noticed how he mentions belief in a Creator? Mmmm…)

I very much agree with his sentiment there. I think the amount of time, energy, difficulty and trouble that it took to make me via evolutionary means makes me far more special and worthwhile than I would have been had we just been poofed into existence by magic.

However I have found that it is pointless to try and explain this anymore. No matter what I say, to these Christians I have forever turned my back on God and the Bible (because I want to live a life of sin obviously!). I guess you call these things “irreconcilable differences”. I cannot ignore facts and evidence just to make my theology work – personally I would rather adjust my theology to fit with reality. I believe in a Creator and I accept evolution. I see no conflict here. I do not claim to have it all figured out, nor do I claim to understand it all, but I learn more everyday and plan on continuing to do so. So far I have found it completely possible to believe in God and accept what Science has taught me.