Thursday, May 05, 2005

God

Every indie rocker knows the drill. You fall in love with a band that nobody else has heard of. Their music speaks to you as if the lead singer was your Siamese soul-twin, separated before birth sometime in the ether. You go to every one of their shows and the audience is small enough that you soon begin to recognize all the other fans. You gaze fondly at them under your greasy bangs, knowing that they, too, must be kindred spirits, having also somehow discovered this artistic elixir in the chaotic universe of rhythmic pablum.

Like any love, yours is composed of passionate and tumultuous contradictions. You're torn between an evangelical lust, a fervor driving you to press burned CDs into the hands of anyone (that is, everyone) whose lives might also be changed by the music - and also a burning Othello-like possessiveness . For, as your band's popularity grows - as they sign to a major label - as you begin hearing them on the radio - you begin to realize that your identity as #1 fan is being compromised by all these brazen, ungrateful newcomers. They call themselves fans even though they don't have all the lyrics to all the songs memorized. In fact, some of them think the songs mean totally different things to what they actually mean! Concerts that used to cost you $5 now cost $50. And when you shell out the cash to go, you no longer feel like you're in a living room with 20 of your closest friends that you haven't met yet. Instead, you feel like you're in a gigantic Roman coliseum with a bunch of dangerous strangers pumping their fists for the next animal to be ripped bloodily apart. And when you say, "I'm a fan of X," people smile vacantly and pay no heed, because after all, who isn't?

I think religion is a little bit like that.

Let me explain.

For the longest time - before my afternoon in Dumbarton Oaks - I never understood why my friend Blair didn't like to talk openly about her Christianity with me. All she'd say was, "I can't tell you anything except to find some quiet and ask the question with an open heart and an open mind. Don't try to argue, just listen."

But now I understand her defensiveness. There's a certain class of people - which includes most of the people I interact with as a 20-something in DC - for whom the mention of a spiritual path is pretty much akin to confessing a fervent, enduring belief in Santa Claus. You can chat about your threesome relationships or your hot handcuffed sex last night or your journeys to S&M masquerade balls or your exploits as an amateur stripper all you want, and your friend will pat you on the back approvingly. But bring up a belief in God - not just a vague cultural penchant for attending church in search of a fleeting warm fuzzy but a hope that a belief in God will ultimately influence every part of your life - and they become visibly uncomfortable. You can see the play of emotions across the face: "Is she serious? Wow, I never thought she was a God freak. I thought she was sensible. I wonder if I'm going to offend her. She's probably pretty sensitive about a wacky belief like that. Better change the subject."

Then, for a little while, until they manage to forget your embarassing revelation, they treat you with the excruciating care that you might give a recently released psychiatric inmate. Sure, she seems normal. But she believes in something beyond the material world! For all I know, she might fall down to the ground frothing at the mouth any second!

It's rather annoying. But in a strange way, I find the absolute lack of any kind of institutional support of faith in my life to be rather comforting. I was raised without religion; most of my important peer groups were rabidly secular and enjoyed mocking Christianity (a birthday present I got once: a King James Bible with a hole cut out of the pages in the middle to fit a bag of weed inside.) For most of my life, I was certainly one of the snooty Santa-smirkers.

And yet, despite the inauspiciously rocky soil, I found God. And I know that the faith is mine, mine, mine, and it is real. There wasn't any cultural or peer pressure - quite the opposite. And so, when I read books about spirituality, or meet the rare person my age who also has real faith (of whatever denomination or lack thereof) I gaze at them with those same welcoming indie-rock eyes.

If I grew up in a religious family, going to church all the time - if all of my peers expected me to have a certain belief system - if faith came to seem like a guilt-laden obligation rather than a wondrous and unexpected emancipation - how would I ever figure out if I actually loved it, or if I just thought I liked it because all the radios were playing it?

I feel very grateful about that.

25 Comments:

Blogger Sarah Smile said...

Preach it, Sister!

8:53 AM  
Anonymous Paulo said...

Hey, thanks for this. Not being an indie rocker myself I wouldn't have thought of the metaphor, but it's apt and eloquent.

10:44 AM  
Blogger zzzzzoe said...

I'd never describe myself as an indie rocker, but I've known quite a few in my day ;)

11:19 AM  
Blogger lightning said...

Seeds planted in good soil develop good roots and produce good fruit. Good job sorting out the rocks.

9:32 PM  
Blogger G Dawney said...

First, I found you site through Valancy Jane's.

Second- Oh my goodness!You brought tears to my eyes. You explained it perfectly!

I haven't been able to express the right words to how I feel about explaining my Christianity to people who have no sense of what it means--how deep it goes, how it affects every nook and cranny of my life. This is PERFECT!!!

I'd like to do a cut paste onto my own little blog, if you don't mind, with much credit given!

Thanks!

8:47 AM  
Blogger zzzzzoe said...

Thanks G Dawney...and please, go for it! I'm glad my words seemed to have touched people...

12:02 PM  
Blogger Stoobie said...

I agree with you as well. I would, however, like to paint a picture for the other side of the argument to get some more discussion happening.
Imagine you are driving fast down a road and at the top of a crest there is a road sign that says "Slow down, hairpin corner over crest". You would be pretty grateful that the sign is there. you wouldnt hassle out the sign and say to it "I'll do what I want thankyou, how dare you tell me to slow down".
Evangelism, should be like this. Out of your love of the other person, not wanting to see them go to hell, you are holding up a sign (so to speak) to people saying that they need to turn to God or something bad will happen. However, people often see what you are doing as loading on the guilt to make people turn to God. It is a shame it can be taken that way. I think the way people go about telling others of the Good News of Jesus can be less than helpful sometimes.
On what you said earlier in the post, it is really sad that society will accept pretty much any behaviour except Christianity. We are the only minority that isnt treated like one. I think part of it is that people are happy in their rich countries having everything they want. Why would they need God? They have everything they want. They dont even want to think about the subject, much less have a conversation with someone on a topic they have avoided their whole life.

7:04 PM  
Blogger mjalex said...

I find the hairpin curve analogy lacking, but maybe that's because I have everything I could ever want and avoid conversations about faith. To be truly "Christian" is to love everyone, is it not? Not just people who believe the same arbitrary details.

Trying to scare/entice people with an intangible consequence is not the best way to help rational people. The good news, in my mind, is that you don't have to focus on death to believe in god. Not that I do, of course, but I'm open to the possibility. The only message on a sign that could possibly "save" me is: Look at what's around you! Isn't it amazing?

Oh, why do I bother? Sorry Zoe; that was a nice post, but I get defensive about my atheism in the face of christian evangelism.

9:40 PM  
Blogger zzzzzoe said...

I wasn't actually talking specifically about Christianity in my post, although I'm glad it seemed to speak to Christians. I'd say that my primary spiritual road is through yoga, although I recently went to a Sufi retreat that was very powerful and I've always been attracted to the attitude towards God that I found in the poems of Rumi and Hafiz. And I also find the Buddhist approach towards meditation to be very helpful. There's a lot of beauty in Christianity, but some of the approaches are just a bit alien to my personality. I'm not so sure about the hairpin curve analogy. I guess I have a lot of faith that everyone is going to figure it out at the appropriate time for them - in the next life if not in this one. And I think that, like mjalex, (and me until pretty recently) with people who haven't had experiences that would make them open to religion, the fastest way to turn them off is to put on any pressure or make them feel like you're judging them. And, too, I think that the simple resolution to take care of yourself and healthy takes you an amazingly long way down a spiritual road, and you don't need to have faith in anything except your own happiness for that.

3:58 PM  
Blogger Stoobie said...

Well, to be truly Christian is to be like Christ. The definition of a Christian in the bible is someone who has faith in Christ.
Christ loved the 'lost' and it was out of his love for them that he did what he did. So, it is true that as a Christian you should love people and look out for their needs.
People's most important need according to the bible is to have faith in God. Not just believe that God exists, but that Jesus died for their sins and put their trust in him.
I agree that people's wanting to tell others of the good news can come across as judgemental. That is a real shame. It is supposed to be out of our love to see the person saved that Christians tell them, not to condemn them or make ourselves feel good. It's not because I think I am good that I am a Christian, in fact, it's because I have accepted that I am not good that I am one.
As for your comment Zoe about figuring it out in the next life, the bible says that it will be too late then. That's another reason why there may seem to be pressure there. What happens if you die tomorrow (it's not impossible - sorry to be morbid)? What would you say to God when you stand before him?

8:07 PM  
Blogger mjalex said...

I doubt god would care whether you're fixated on some guy who died 2000 years ago or not. What about all those people born before 1 A.D.? There's not one worthy person in the whole lot? Abraham? Buddha? Jesus' grandfather? Not good enough for you?

The theory that heaven/hell exist is dubious enough, but how can you presume to know exactly how it works? It seems to me that if there is a heaven, it would be incomprehensible to imagine any of the details, bound as we are to our mortal perspective. Of course, it's fun to pass around theories on what happens after we die, so I don't fault you for positing one; just for selecting one as absolute truth.

Whatever, though. Whatever. I'm OK with you thinking whatever you want about why people should be good to each other. My real issue is: Why the focus accepting Jesus? Why not just focus on bettering youself and teaching (the current variety of) moral responsibility?

Stoobie, I'll let you have the last say in this. I don't care to debate that which cannot be proven, but I'd like to learn something about your perspective. Can you respond without relying on a book written by self-identified "not good" people?

8:24 AM  
Blogger zzzzzoe said...

Stoobie's comments are a pretty good example of what turns me off about Christianity - an inability to accept that other viewpoints might be valid. Jainist philosophy (a third branch of thought in India alongside Hinduism and Buddhism) has a particularly nice concept called "Anekantavada" or loosely translated "many viewpoints." The basic idea is that there is this absolute truth which exists which we are all too limited to see fully, so we each have our own limited perspective on the absolute. Those different perspectives might seem irreconcilable, but it's just because you're not looking from a high enough vantage point. Many other religions such as Islam and Buddhism acknowledge Jesus as a prophet of God - along with many other prophets and holy representatives throughout history, of which some (especially the women) are forgotten. For some people, Jesus and his teachings are particularly resonant; some people are more suited to a different spiritual path and follow that instead. And I just don't think that this world is a cruel joke, with only one particular way to access the truth, and if you somehow don't happen to get informed about that particular path, you're totally fucked and will go to hell. It doesn't seem like a very internally consistent religious philosophy.

9:41 AM  
Blogger Jm said...

I've beem a christian for twenty one years. Since I was nine years old. I've grown up in the church, and my dad is a Pastor. I want to tell people of the unconditional love and freedom Ive found In knowing Jesus personally, not because i want them "saved", but because I want them to find the freedom to be themselves, to be who He created them to be.

I'm struggling with the Church at the moment, and am thinking of leaving it. Not because I don't love or trust God, but because I find all the religious stuff has started getting in the way of following the One who I've known for so many years.

I've struggled most of my life with lot's of things, but always in the background has been God. I'm starting to realise that my trust in Him is independant of my upbringing,it may have encouraged me to start looking, but it doesn't sustain my journey with Him.

Being a Christian is about putting your trust in God, and having a relationship with Him that is open, where you can scream, cry, rejice get angry with Him as david and many of the prophets did.

God wants people to love him willingly, not under coercion. Most of all, I think He wants honest followers, not of a set of rules, but of a person. Im not a Christian because I believe a set of theological treaties or Doctrine about the nature of God, I'm a Christian because God has broken through into my life and revealed Himself to me in Jesus.Im more certain of Him than the person standing next to me, but that doesn't make me arrogant. It makes me grateful.

5:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad someone talks sense. Listen to God and where he's taking you rather than religious expectation.

6:31 PM  
Blogger Stoobie said...

I think we can often mistake our feelings of God with our feelings of people who call themselves his people. I have found my experience of church hard at times as well. I think the important thing to know, as previously stated by jm is that your relationship with God is the one that matters far more than the one with other people. the trouble is that you can be turned off God by what his people do. That's a real shame.
To answer mjalex's question, why Jesus? The bible say that he is God's son. When he died on the cross he took the punishment for sins for all time (before and after Christ), so that in him we are able to have a relationship with God. Without a way of removing sin, we are stuck out of relationship with God. He is perfectly just and so punishes sin. If he swept sins under the carpet, he wouldnt be just.
In regards to the bible. I beleive that God wrote the bible. He used people to write the actual words but he decided what would be put in. So i guess you could say that the book is written by the flawless creator of the universe who chose to use 'not good' people to achieve his purposes.
As for Zoe's comment on not finding out, the bible also says that God will judge people according to what they know. In deep dark Africa people may not know, but Romans chapter 1 vs 18 - 23 says "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles."
Obviously they dont know the specifics but what they do know, how they respond will be the way God judges them.
The message of Christianity is not of condemnation but hope. That God has provided a way for our sins to be paid for.
2 Peter 3 says "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."
God wants everyone to turn to him, but there are many who will not and that grieves God.
Sorry this comment was really long. I wanted to explain myself properly.
Up for more discussion? :)

7:41 PM  
Blogger mjalex said...

So...Zoe: the point of your original post seems to indicate that you're adverse to discussing it, but if you'd like to shift this thread from "Why Christ is the Best," could you please elaborate on what caused your recent shift to theism? Or not. I'm going to go outside and start a debate with some LaRouchies. Anyone got a spare megaphone?

1:26 PM  
Blogger zzzzzoe said...

I'm actually planning a couple more posts on this in the future, mjalex ... I'm not averse to discussing it at all, just have noticed that it often has adverse results. I think the most helpful comment I ever got was from my friend Blair - a very close friend from high school who'd always been a spiritual seeker and eventually turned into quite a fervent Christian. I was having a conversation with her back when I was a total skeptic and said something like, "I'm sort of jealous of your faith because it seems to give you so much happiness and strength. But this whole religion thing just seems so illogical. You're smart, so you must have dealt with all the same issues I'm struggling with. Can't you just please convince me that God exists?" And she said, "Nope, it doesn't work like that. You're not going to get any answers if you ask questions to which you already know the answers - they're not really questions. Arguing doesn't get you anywhere. The only thing I can tell you is to sit somewhere and be alone and ask your questions with a truly open heart, with absolutely no expectations about what the answer's going to be. And if you do that, you *will* eventually get an answer." It was the best advice I ever got although it took me a year or two to realize - her words were sort of like a time delay bomb. But I started doing a lot more yoga, and I had a couple of experiences that sort of jarred my ego, and one day I was meditating in Dumbarton Oaks and I basically encountered grace. It's interesting - I think spirituality is a practice just like having physical workouts is a practice, or learning how to write essays is a practice, or learning how to think logically about math, or learning to have mature relationships. And it's as different from those other things as they are from each other - and also as similar. The danger is thinking that you can directly use all those same logical skills from doing math or writing essays. It's not like those skills do you much good when you're salsa dancing...

7:13 AM  
Blogger Stoobie said...

Mmmm Salsa dancing. That's fun.
I agree. You cant change people's minds with well(or possibly not so well) formed arguments. I feel it is my responsibility to tell people of the reason for the hope that I have, appropriately (no megaphones here).
However, It is up to them to make up their own mind and for me to respect that decision.

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