Apologetics, and making disciples.

A reply to a comment that I made several years ago on UnkleE’s blog popped up in my email the other day, concerning a debate about the existence of God and the argument that rejecting god is an act of faith in itself. I wrote;

“… I was always exaspected (sic) by the argument that the position I was taking was one of faith or belief in itself. Someone had invented an imaginary idea and I thought that they were delusional. If I came to visit you in Sydney and said ‘look, I’ve brought my gold and sparky unicorn with me, here she is’, You would say ‘Eva, there is no unicorn there but would you like a coffee and a scone?’ And we would have a nice afternoon. Your denial of my pet would not constitute a whole belief system on your part- it would just be a simple ‘no it’s not’.

Now I felt this before I officially identified as a Christian, and I still firmly believe it. I don’t think that not believing in God is a belief system. Not believing in something is just that… the absence of something.

But I guess this essentially sums up my feeling for most apologetics arguments. I just don’t find them very persuasive. Has anyone ever been argued into faith? Maybe this suits some personality types. Not me though. For me faith was and is a matter of personal experience. It’s not about logic, or reason, it’s a heart movement; both unpredictable and god-led.

So, where does this leave me in regards to the Great Commission? Making disciples of all nations?

Well, it leaves me in a pretty ordinary position, really, if it actually means arguing with people until they see your point of view. Because that always works so well, doesn’t it? People love being told that you don’t agree with them, and that you should take on their world view.

Maybe though it’s not about debate and countering arguments. Maybe it’s about putting our faith into action. How we live rather than what we say.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’There is no commandment greater than these.

And I think that one of the best places to practice loving your neighbor as yourself is in a high school. My GOD teenagers test you. And now, just to add some interest to my year, we have…holocaust deniers.

I actually can’t think of another world view that I find more reprehensible that holocaust denial. As my readers would know, I’m particularly passionate about teaching teenagers about the holocaust. I avoided the topic for years myself, refusing to even read the details about what happened, in an effort to shield my own heart. But eventually I realised that I needed to fully interact with the stories and the evidence of the holocaust in order to be able to teach it in a way that comes even close to doing it justice.

So I got into the topic deeply. Too deeply, I guess. It’s often one of the things that keeps me awake at night. And I feel the pressure of really, really making 15-16 year old understand it; how poisonous the beliefs were behind it, how eagerly a people took on its tenants and how utterly and totally the world must be alert to the mindsets that caused it to grow in the first place.

And I always teach holocaust denial as part of the unit, because those people are so fucking clever, with their seemingly rational arguments and their flash websites. I can see why a kid with a chip on his shoulder and an internet connection could believe all the toxicity.

This year, for the first time, I teach students who profess to be holocaust deniers.

And I have to love them. Because they are confused kids who need someone to hate because their lives aren’t that great. And after one told me that the Jews have exaggerated it all to get attention, was I temped to tell him that his name is pretty much as Jewish as you can get? Yes I was but I didn’t. And when the 16 year old who is taller than me and often under the influence of drugs yelled out in my class while I was teaching that 6 million Jews didn’t die, that it was a holohoax and that he was a fascist, I treated him calmly and with respect because first. that is my job and secondly, if I had made fun of him or sent him out of the class then what would he have remembered? And what would the class have remembered?

(What I actually did was offer him the floor to state his arguments. As I said, I teach the deniers arguments anyway so I asked him  if he would like to present them rather than me. He declined, but the offer was genuine. I would have rebutted them thoroughly mind you)

Last week one of my students sat down to have a chat with me. There are a lot of kids with a lot of different issues at my school, and it’s not uncommon to make someone breakfast because they have slept in their car, or that someone will come to school stoned after pulling 6 cones to start the day. And if that’s what your life is like? Well you’re not going to arrive at 9 am with a sharpened pencil and a mind ready to study the Schlieffen Plan. So sometimes a chat to start the day is the way to go. And this was one of those occasions.

Anyway, we were talking and he asked me what else I would do if I wasn’t a teacher. I said that I’d probably like to be a chaplain. And of course we ended up on the familiar ‘you don’t seem like a Christian’ page, so I gave a little 30 second version of things. And he asked about a street preacher that spouts fire and brimstone in town, and whether I thought he (the student) was going to hell , and what did I think about and drugs and gays and all that complex stuff and why did I believe?? And I told him that I don’t have any choice but to believe, because that is how my heart is calibrated now. And it makes me happy. And it’s just all about loving people.

Later on, he came back in and asked if he could write down a song that he wanted me to listen to, because it was about what we had been discussing, and he thought about it a lot. And then he asked if he could google it for me. And then it turned into him wanting to listen to it with me. He really wanted me to hear it. And I’m so glad that I did.

(Language warning. Seriously)

 

Read the lyrics here.

So I sat there, with a young man who uses too many drugs, who is trying to make sense of the world. And there’s me who is also just trying to make sense of the world and not always doing a great job, watching this amazing song that brought tears to my eyes because this hip-hop artist is rapping a lament that could be a psalm, and is about hope and disappointment and pleading for some certainty or just something to hang on to. And haven’t we all been there, crying out for help or just something to save us from a hopeless choice or the idea that we are going to end up abandoning not just God but life itself as well.

After we had watched it, he turned to me and asked ‘I know what he is talking about. I want to believe in god but I just don’t know and I don’t see any proof but I think that there is something.  I bet you feel like that sometimes too?’ and I replied ‘Absolutely. The Bible is full of questions and searching. I think God would totally be on board with that song’.

As he left the classroom, he said ‘Don’t worry too much about (his close friend who is one of the deniers). I don’t think he really understands what he’s talking about and how bad it is. I think he just wants to shock people. He likes you though’.

So, me and making disciples? Not so much. Making people feel that they are important and valuable people and that they are listened to? Trying to emulate a loving God who manifests unconditional acceptance and will show up day after day no matter how unlikable we are? Trying to take a grain of that, and make it happen in my own life?

That I can try to do. I can’t make disciples in the sense of using apologetics as a tool for winning a debate. But I can try to love people that my ego doesn’t always want to love and I can just keep coming back, realizing that I may not always know what’s going on, but sometimes my actions may be just a little stitch in a big tapestry that one day, I might be able to understand.

What we mean when we think about God

As far as I understand it, the idea of God being an old man with a beard who smites people either because of his own capriciousness or at the request of others, is held by two belief extremes; the atheists who think that all Christian see the Bible as being literally true, and the fundamentalists who actually do see the Bible as being literally true (please see note below). Both of these conceptions are damagingly limited. I know that when I was an atheist, I certainly assumed that any belief in God involved a ‘him’ to start with, with human characteristics. Because of course we would have to label something as transcendent and ephemeral as the life force of the Universe in those terms. We humans are not very good at getting our head around things unless we can label them and put them in a box, are we?

I think that how we each define God probably says a lot about how we see our faith, too. My own view of God has changed hugely over the last decade or so. And now I’m probably most comfortable than I’ve ever been with my conception of God; that of, ‘I don’t really know exactly…’.

There’s a quote which I can’t remember exactly (please let me know if you do) which says something along the line of the people of the old days were smart enough to understand that the Old Testament was allegory and myth and story, but today we seem to have gone backwards and we have groups who believe that it is literally true. Sounds like is could be Spong. Or Rohr. But it’s not how the OT was intended to be read.

I think the reality of God, the he/she/it is too tricky for us to get our head around, so we have to tell stories and invent out own parameters to understand it truly. So using a female pronoun is just as valid as a male pronoun, because it’s all a construction anyway. ‘A force that emits love’ probably isn’t catchy enough to get converts. My favourite phrase is Ruach Elohim which is more the spirit, or the breath, of God. I think it’s beautiful.

But there are probably as many conceptions of the universal life force that is ‘God’ as there are minds on the planet.

What do you think of when you think about God?

Note; In the comment section, Ruth asked an important clarifying question that brought to light a problem with how that sentence could be interpreted. My usage of the word THE (the atheists, the fundamentalists) was meant to imply that not ALL people within those groups think that way. If I’d meant ‘all’, I would have said ‘atheists’ without the qualifying ‘the’. But I can completely see how it could be read in the other way, and thank Ruth for bringing it to my attention.

Blast from the Past…

I know that the ‘Was she even ever an atheist’ conversation is long behind us and noone wants to waste their time discussing it any more but this week I reconnected with a man that I dated during the 90s. A series of serendipitous circumstances led to his finding me on Facebook ( he saw photos of me and the family in a house for sale and decided to see what I’m up to these days). It was an amicable break up and it was great to chat. During the conversation I thought I should mention my faith, because our joint atheism was something that was important to us back in the day…

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Does not compute? I totally understand what he means!

So, he married a Christian, and I’ve become one. Oh how the mighty have fallen 😉

Everyday Lucky.

Forgive me some self indulgence, but there’s nothing like spending a few days sick in bed to make you grateful for all the wonderful things that surround you. I get sick very very seldom, and getting hit by a nasty bug last week (Dr- you can’t go to work for a week. Me- Oh my GOD they are going to be crabby with me!. Dr- No they won’t. People find shingles repulsive. They’re not going to want to be around you) made me realise just how much I rely on my good health and my ability to do all the things for all the people, all the time.

But now I’m up and have makeup on for the first time since Saturday I’m just feeling full of love and gratitude (kind of like a drunk guy with all the ‘I love you man’s) and want to take a moment to reflect on all the things that are amazing about my life. This year has been tough with Jasper’s surgery and all, but as we have always said, since the day he was born, it could be so much worse. 

Now there’s none of that #soblessed crap here. Many of these things stem from the pure chance that I was born in a developed country. I’m so happy to be an Australian, with all the freedom that offers. Living in Australia provides medical care and education and welfare for those who need it and so many other things that we take for granted but other countries only aspire too. And of course, the opportunity to vote in two months in an attempt to elect a government that truly cares about the needy and vulnerable in society is a right that we should never over look.

I have an amazing husband. Who is good with money. And who is patient. And who is a great father. And doesn’t criticise whatever plan I’ve just come up with…

Children who are just the most amazing little people I’ve ever met, and who I wake up excited to see every morning (which usually happens immediately as often there is one sleeping nose to nose with me).

A job I adore. Teaching has to be one of the best careers anyone could choose. I’m constantly glad that the ‘oh god, I guess I’d better be a teacher’ decision 20 years ago panned out so well. And the fact that my hours mean that I have a chance to volunteer in the community too- many people just cant do that because there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Beautiful and supportive extended family. I’m so lucky to have a sister who is my best friend, parents who are still alive and I see most days and even a 95 year old grandmother.

I live in a beautiful part of the world, in a cosy and creative home. I mean, look at what I wake up to every morning…

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Enough money to feel and clothe my children. Enough to give to others in need. Enough to mean that for most of the time, I don’t have to spend time thinking about how to make ends meet. So many in the world do not get this luxury.

Good health. Pretty much all of the time. This is something that none of us should take for granted. I should probably eat less sugar but…nah.

Great friends. Who make me smile and who make me think. And who are fucking hilarious.

A place in my life where I’m really happy. Some people ‘find themselves’ earlier than others, but some people never do, so I’m calling early 40s not a bad time to go ‘I’m happy with who I am’. There is of course room for improvement, but this doesn’t come from a desperate need to ‘find myself’. Spiritually, and in so many other ways, I’ve found my place, and now I can just focus on the fact that  all you need is love (well and food and shelter and an equitable welfare system and clean air…)

There are things that I dislike about the world, of course. Injustice, hatred, just a lack of love and acceptance. But I’ll try and have an impact where I can and trust that other people will do the same. That’s all any of us can do.

I think it’s good to reflect on all the things that we have to be thankful for. For most of us I suspect, this list is a lot longer than our gripes. What else would go on your list?

 

 

Rohr and an online test. What’s not to love?

Recently, Richard Rohr’s daily email series has been about Enneagrams. Now I’d always been under the impression  that they were some Scientology type science fiction thing, and had ignored them completely, but discovering that Richard Rohr was a proponent made me think that there might be something more to them than I’d realised. Because as we know I’m a crazy Rohr fangirl and he could sell me Amway. Or Kale. Or Homeopathic remedies…

So, knowing how much I love a good online quiz, I headed over over to Enneagram Test and discovered that I’m a type 9 and OH MY GOD I AM SO MUCH A NINE!!

I’ve been waiting all week with baited breath for this email to come, seriously. I didn’t want to read other peoples take on type 9, I wanted to read his take.

Now I’ll just say that while the Forer Effect is true in some cases, my intensive case study (of me reading all the other types describes in this week’s emails and comparing them to myself) has led me to believe that this is pretty spot on.

I’ll cut and paste, just in case anyone else is a 9 and wants to read up. And be my New Best Friend, clearly.

Let me know what number you get!

And I’ve found this book which obviously I will now buy, even though I pledged to buy no books this year. Although kindle is okay (by my own totally arbitrary rules) so I’ll see if I can find a copy on Amazon.

NINEs once knew that reality was all about love, all connected, operative, and effective. They knew a kind of optimism and motivation that all could be worked out and fixed because God is Love. Love changes everything; love resolves everything. Russ Hudson emphasizes that the core of the NINE is about being itself. The primal knowing of the NINE is that “I am. I am a manifestation of God. . . . I feel that divine Presence and how that divine Presence is producing this life. It’s all some unfathomable huge unity right now. . . . I feel so harmoniously related to everything that exists. We’re all manifesting out of this Oneness, this divine Presence. . . . This is what NINEs are here to teach and remind the rest of us.”
(I’m going to say ‘Yes’ for me but I’m sure everyone else would too).
Hudson explains that the NINE’s passion or root sin–sloth–emerges from the loss of this oneness. The NINE feels, “I don’t exist, I don’t matter, I’m nothing, I’m not real. I’m peripheral. I’m disconnected from everything. I’m a little insignificant nothing. (All egos feel that on some level.)”  Sloth in NINEs is really the lack of focused energy. NINEs don’t put out any energy that lets you get a handle on them. It’s the attitude of checking out, because at the center of the gut triad, NINEs feel life is just too much. NINEs seldom take initiative in relationships or in projects. They need a fire lit under them. They need to connect with an institution or structure or have someone like a spouse or a child depending on them. Otherwise they’ll just float and get pulled in all different directions because they don’t know what their priorities really are.
(Absolutely 100% me)
NINEs are naturally humble. They allow themselves to be overlooked. They like to stay in the background and cultivate the self-image of not being anything special. They consider themselves simple and uncomplicated and present themselves accordingly.
(Yep)
NINEs are peacemakers. They avoid conflicts. Their gift of accepting others without prejudice makes people feel understood and accepted. NINEs can be unbiased arbitrators because they can see and appreciate the positive aspects of both sides. Their sense of fairness may make them committed fighters for peace and justice. They express harsh truths so calmly and matter-of-factly that it’s easy for others to hear these truths. In the presence of a NINE many people find it easy to come to rest themselves. NINEs somehow harmonize the energy in a room.
(Not deliberately, but I certainly have come to take on this role as my life has progressed. I’m essentially the arbitrator is most instances and can count on two hands the number of actual arguments I’ve had in my life. Keeping the peace is usually my number one priority)
The life task of NINEs consists in discovering and developing their feelings of self-worth and their own inner focus and drive. They find their way to real love when they have found their way back to their own center. Then the virtue of the NINE emerges which is, surprisingly, decisive action. At first NINEs waiver and hesitate, putting off everything. But when they reach a decision, it happens in a moment of absolute clarity. They know in a flash what’s involved, and they will do it, often quite well–and look anything but lazy or slothful.
(Well that’s something I can work towards…)

The Debrief.

A debrief? Well,  I’m not exactly going to rehash this weeks palaver. We were all there. It was tedious enough for those involved; it must have been bemusing for those following along at home, to say the least. The post that launched 1000 comments, and who knows how many spin off posts.

You know, I’m sure, that I was accused of deceit and lying and other unpleasant things. And posts were made on the basis of that, even though several of these bloggers had never read my blog before. Drive by commenters, they are called. All the opinions, none of the context.

And then we had other claims; that I’d never been an atheist (oh my god at least once a month for the first two years of blogging I talked about the fact that I was!) that people were only supporting me because of the fact that I have (admittedly fabulous) breasts, that I was trying to evangelise to the Monty Python demographic (don’t even know), that I must have suffered a psychological trauma that pushed me into the arms of faith. That the fact that I was writing from beside my child’s hospital bed was the obvious key to my conversion. That I was purely a made up persona (I can’t even…).

But what threw me the most was the fact that the little group of biting, acerbic, pseudo intellectuals that spoke so dismissively of me and my life in other comment sections…used to be me.

See, when I was a committee member of the Australian Skeptics in my state (those of you who know my sir name are welcome to google that. Because, lies and everything…), we used to meet for monthly dinners and discuss just how ridiculous people of faith (and of course other topics) were. We would roll our eyes and decry anything that we couldn’t prove with the scientific method. Of course we never plumbed the depths of nastiness that the internet supplies (I’m a mod at Reddit; I know how it goes), but we were scathing and dismissive. Because we were right, and they were wrong. Because we had knowledge, and they had superstition.

So being in the scathing and dismissive and ‘right’ group is familiar to me. But this time, I wasn’t in it. In fact, I was the subject.

It made me take a step back, believe me.

And all the fears that I’d had about how people would perceive me if I became a Christian, came true. Right in front of my eyes over a period of two days.

I was being mocked.

I was being laughed at.

People said I had a psychological problem.

People posited that I was suffering from a trauma

People decided I was delusional.

People decided that I was desperately trying to belong.

All the things that I’d been so scared of when I first felt the pull of Christianity. People were actually saying them. About me.

I haven’t used the tag ‘atheism’ in my blog posts for years, because I wanted to keep a low profile (which may be why my detractors have done such a spectacularly bad job at actually finding the 40 or so posts where I’ve mentioned my own atheism). I was nervous about being made fun of, you see. But here it was, in spades.

And of course the stereotypes were all there. The ones I used to promulgate. Christians want to make everyone else a Christian. Christians are prudes. Christians are all evangelical. The stereotypes flew thick and fast. Almost amusingly. Considering I was being lambasted for promulgating the myth of the ‘angry atheist’, this group of 4 or 5 commenters were not doing a great job of proving the assertion wrong.

But you know what? In all of this, I never once thought ‘Fuck I’ve made a mistake’.

It would be easier to join the acerbic eye-rolling group. On the internet and in society. Much easier. As I said, most people I know are non-believers, from the ‘don’t care’ variety, to the ‘sharing atheist memes on FB every day’ ilk. It would be no issue at all to rejoin. I have, at heart, a biting and acerbic sense of humour.  It’s my default.

And this is the first time my decision has really been challenged, in my own mind. Shit, people really don’t like Christians. Right in front of me. Evidence. These commenters were not even zoning on one or two main problems, as the original complainant had done. They were having a go at everything.

But you know what? I realised that I am utterly happy with my decision to become a Christian. It has been an astounding, eye opening and incredible experience. And I’m thrilled that it’s happened.

My fears about what might happen if I became a Christian came true, but I now realise that they never mattered at all. They can think I’m stupid. They can think I’m having a crisis. It’s OK. I don’t love it, of course. I’d rather people didn’t criticise me. But it means so much less to me than I ever thought it would. I’m positively zen about the whole thing.

I’m not trying to convince people here. I’m telling my own story. From my perspective, with my own prejudices and limitations and faults.

And I could be utterly and entirely wrong.

I’ve never claimed to have all of the answers.

I’m a Christian. I’m also a Universalist, a left winger, a gay-marriage advocate, a Monty Python fan, I swear, drink, am a feminist and like Wicca and Buddhism. I have a sharp tongue that I’m not always proud of and I’m pushed every day to be a better person. By my kids, by my self, by God.

It’s my story. I can be what I want. As can you. I have found my place, and I hope that everyone else can do the same.

As I’ve said before,

that’s good enough for me now.

Hopefully this will be the last time I talk about being an atheist.

Because I think that I need to move on from that.

About two weeks ago, I decided that I need to stop defining myself as ‘someone who used to be an atheist’. I felt that, in some way, it stopped me fully identifying with Christianity, and gave me an escape clause to avoid fully investing myself. Using my history, or thought patterns, or whatever, as an excuse for not necessarily embracing everything about the faith. And being known as ‘the one who used to be an atheist’ is also a handy way to keep myself a little apart from other people too and maybe it does alter the way people perceive me, and how seriously they take me as a Christian? I decided that I would separate myself from that part of my life and not use it, as I have done here mainly but also in other areas, as a way to define myself.

So obviously three days after I made that decision, I was asked to tell my conversion story at church. So essentially anyone who didn’t know I was an atheist at church now does. Ha.  I’m assuming that there is some sort of divine timing link between these two things but hey, it could be an absolute coincidence.

Here is my little talk. It’s very different writing something to be spoken as opposed to something to be read. I have put off actually writing a concise version of my story because it just seemed too hard, but being given a two day lead time and a 5 minute limit meant that I couldn’t be too particular or finicky; I just had to get something down on paper eventually. Anyway, I’m not unhappy with it; anything it lacks in nuance was made up for by laughs so lets call that a win.

Occasionally I’ll see someone that I haven’t seen for 5 or 10 years, and, during the catch up, I might mention that I’m a Christian now. After the person has laughed nervously and assumed that I’m joking, they will inevitably say ‘oh my God’ (and then they will apologise for saying oh my god) How did that happen?? And I don’t really know what to say except ‘God happened’.

The story of how I became a Christian doesn’t involve a sudden Road to Damascus revelation. And it doesn’t involve getting saved from a life of debauchery or anything interesting like that. It just involves a small quiet persistent voice that wouldn’t leave me alone or give up on me.

See, I was an atheist. And not a nice, breezy atheist who doesn’t believe in God but it completely happy for those who do, like my husband. I was an angry opinionated atheist, and I really didn’t like religion. Especially Christians. The God Delusion was my bible, and I was about as intolerant and fundamentalist as you can get. This started early; in Grade 3 my best friend and I staged a revolt and refused to attend Scripture, where a nice elderly volunteer woman got us to colour in pictures of Jesus every week. We sat outside and felt superior and enlightened. And I’m sorry to say that that is a pattern that continued for the next 30 or so years.

I can’t exactly remember how things started to change, but I do know that, over time, something began to happen. Everything in my life was going along nicely, but something certainly shifted. I started to wonder ‘what if?’  What if there is something more than what we see around us. What if we are more than just our body? Could all the beliefs that I have built my life on, been wrong? Probably not, but what if?

So I decided to buy a Bible. The only familiarity I had with the Bible was from the bits that are quoted in the Life of Brian and I didn’t even know where to find one. I finally did, in Ellison Hawker. It was pink fake snakeskin, which would not have been my first choice, but I smuggled it home in a brown paper bag.

Now I’d love to say that I opened it to some significant passage and the heavens opened and it all became clear to me, but that didn’t happen. I think I read a bit of it, was quite bored by what I found, then put it on the shelf. I remember thinking ‘Well that’s the end of that then. That’s not for me. I tried though.

But that wasn’t the end of it, of course. I know now that God spent the next few years slowly working on me, breaking down my judgements and preconceptions and stereotypes. I found myself moving from atheism to a kind of hopeful agnosticism; I didn’t know if there was a God or not but I was doing my best to find out. What I needed, in order to believe, I told God, was a divine revelation. Some kind of vision or Jesus moment that would leave me in no doubt. Then I’d become a Christian. I tried to boss God around a fair bit at that stage. It didn’t work, surprisingly enough.

5 years ago I decided to step things up a bit. I would go to church. Now those of you who have grown up in the church may find that being stressed about buying a Bible or attending a church a bit silly, but you need to understand that I knew no Christians. My family were and are all solid atheists and I didn’t have any Christian friends. I had absolutely no idea where to go. I knew that the Uniting Church had female ministers and was big on social justice and didn’t think they spoke in tongues, so here I came.

My conversion experience was long and convoluted; it went forwards and it went back ward and involved much more swearing and throwing things that is probably appropriate to talk about here. I fought God really hard. I continued to put all sorts of demands and expectations on the way things should be, and the way God should help me to believe. I made it very difficult and for a long time I refused to believe things unless I understood them and could explain them neatly with a flow chart. But God waited patiently for me; every time I packed my bible and my books away in a box and swore that this was all ridiculous and just wasn’t going to work, I’d sulkily get them out again a week later, grumbling about how I didn’t know why I was bothering, and how it was a complete waste of time, God would smile at me and said ‘but you’re doing it, aren’t you?’

It was when I realised that I needed to move beyond knowing about God, and concentrate instead on actually knowing God that things really began to change. I still don’t know how prayer works. And I still don’t understand why there is so much suffering in the world. And I still probably don’t agree with the perspectives that most well-known Christian apologists have on these topics. But while these were once reasons to keep me away from belief, I now know that not having all the answers is completely alright. It’s not a weapon to disprove faith. I’m fairly sure that I’m not going to have much clarity on those issues during this life time. I don’t really need to. What I do need to do is read the words of Jesus and love unconditionally and sit with the knowledge that mystery and unknowing are just part of the fact that, at the moment, we see through a glass, darkly.

And that’s good enough for me now.

The Kindness Conundrum

For me, becoming a Christian has been a lesson in humility. Or 8000 lessons. The continual realignment of my preconceptions, and the breaking down of stereotypes, and the realisation that I hold strongly onto this ridiculous intellectual superiority which has been proven time and time again to be based on nothing but my own ego. (This week’s lesson; I’ve always ignored Eugene Peterson because ‘Ugh, The Message, I don’t need to read that Bible for Dummies version*. And then in the last week I’ve had to read some of his books and they are amazing. Absolutely in sync with where I am right now and totally relevant. Because of course that would be the case).

So, Random Acts of Kindness. A ‘selfless act, performed by a person…to be kind’. There are some pointers here (if you’re a curmudgeonly bastard who can’t think of any nice things to do for others). I’ve tended to think that an act done on purpose, an intentional decision to go out and do nice things for people, is somehow inherently worth less than a natural and intuitive act that just stems from the fact that you are a giving person who spreads kindness because it’s in your heart. As if making the conscious decision to Be A Nice Person today somehow trivializes your actions.

Never mind the fact that massive amounts of evidence point to the fact that, if you want to make changes in  your life, you need to be intentional about them. The more you act intentionally, the more the act will flow naturally until it seamlessly becomes part of the pattern of your life. I know all this. But in my ridiculous brain, acts that were kind and premeditated were somehow less worthy that those that were kind and natural.

Anyhoo, I’ve been the recipient of a few lovely acts recently. Not huge, life changing things, but enough to touch me. Yesterday, for instance, I needed to leave work early to take Jasper to a doctor’s appointment (I haven’t mentioned Jasper recently, but he is confined to a wheelchair now and I’m teaching him at home because his pain levels are too high. He will be having surgery in Melbourne on April 12th).  I needed someone to take a Grade 9 History class, and one of my colleagues volunteered. He and I get on fine; he’s fairly taciturn and I’m going to use ‘curmudgeonly’  twice in one post but we have a good working relationship. (He’s the ‘You really don’t seem like a Christian’ guy and he find my support of the Greens laughable). So, he offered to take my class from 10.15, which I thought was just lovely. I sent out a general email asking all the staff so there was no pressure on him at all, he just wanted to help. And then, at about 10.05, he came down to where I was teaching and told me to head off early, because it was raining and the road conditions were bad. Which I just find amazingly thoughtful. Isn’t that a lovely thing to do for someone?

And I realised that it doesn’t matter if he deliberately thought last week, ‘Eva is having a really tough time right now; I’ll find some way to help her if I can’, or if he just saw my email and though ‘Meh, I’m free when she needs help, why not’. It doesn’t matter if it was intentional or incidental  or if he had any ulterior motives for doing it.The impact that it had on my heart is what is important and I’ve realised that the context within which a kind act occurs means little to me. It’s the act itself that has meaning, and the fact that it’s a little glimmer of kindness that didn’t have to happen, but it did.

Scott Adams said, “Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end.”  No matter the motivation behind an act of kindness, it creates ripples. And it may not be our destiny to know where they are going to go, or what they become. We can only start those ripples when ever the opportunity arises.

 

 

*Even though we know I do, right?

Plans and such.

(I’m calling it; that is the worst post name I’ve ever come up with. By miles)

This week, I began my second year of studying to become an aged-care chaplain. It will take a while; I can only fit in a certain amount of study between work and the boys, and although I am not type-A in any way shape or form, I am a mature aged student, and you know how we like to do all the reading and ask all the questions and get the best mark that we possibly can.

All of the volunteer work that I’ve done in the last 15 years or so has been in aged-care facilities , so when I decided that I wanted my next career to be ‘something church-y’, it made sense to look towards chaplaincy. Who knows, I may be simply dreadful at it and fail miserably, but I intend to find out either way.

(On the topic of aged-care, my Grandmother turns 95 today. Her father was at the Gallipoli landing and my children get to spend time with her regularly. That’s an amazing connection with history right there)

There’s one unit that I’m studying that I’m really excited about. It’s called ‘Introduction to Formation for Ministry’ and it looks to me like The Perfect Subject. From what I can tell, it’s concerned with how different people have grown in their Christian identity (by studying biographies, etc) and then connecting this to an understanding of how we ourselves can grow in our own faith, life and in serving others. The lecturer specifically said ‘This isn’t going to be about navel-gazing; it’s about growing in Christ’, but I’m pretty certain I can make it all about me without anyone noticing *.

My excitement about this subject contrasts nicely with another one that I enrolled in. On reading that the major assignment would be (to paraphrase) ‘a case study of a specific congregation or organisation, focussing particularly on understandings of leadership, the way the leadership team(s) function, decision-making processes and the model of governance’, and would rely on interviews, discussions and recommendations for change, I withdrew in about 3 seconds flat. I’ll concentrate on my nice little spiritual formation unit for now, thank you very much; one that avoids talking to actual people too much.

Yes, I realise that there might be a slight disconnect between an avoidance of that, and wanting to become a chaplain. But I’m fairly sure that this is something I’m being called to do, so we will see. My sister has asked me if I can sit down with her and answer lots of questions that she has about Christianity and faith in general. She is worried though that she might ask ‘really stupid, or just offensive questions’. I pointed out to her that that was pretty much the position I was ten years ago and I can’t really imagine anything that she could say that would offend me, but hey, she can be quite direct, so who knows?

I’ll report back on how I go. Maybe I’ll be able to get my first WON A SOUL FOR JESUS bumper sticker. It’s on my bucket list, after all.

 

 

 

*I’m joking, seriously.

All the opinions, all the time.

People roll their eyes when the ‘Christian voice’ is heard in the media on morality, or family issues, or what ever is dominating the news cycle on that particular day. The media loves to portray certain viewpoints and have no problem making sweeping generalizations; but of course groups like the Australian Christian Lobby don’t do their brothers and sisters any favours by claiming to speak for all of us. But people do love to have their bias confirmed, and I guess that does it for them. Apparently Christians are a homogeneous group and there is little to no dissent about big, or little issues.

Oh please.

There are some things that I think I have a particular perspective on, given my move from atheism to Christianity. I don’t think that this perspective is the be all and end all of course, given that certain other qualifiers have to be attached to anything that I claim to have an insight into (introverted, a bit pessimistic, intuitively cynical, a little mocking on occasion).

But I can say that I have noticed a real difference in the way that people treat me regarding my opinions about things these days. And by ‘things’, I mean the ones that they expect ‘Christians’ to have a particularly strong viewpoint on (abortion, euthanasia, pornography, Llama farming practices). There are a few steps involved here.

They assume that I am going to have an opinion, or take a stand. (This is something you would feel strongly about, surely?)

And then they assume (again) that they know what my opinion about that would be. (You would be against that, right?)

NO I DON’T AND NO, I WOULDN’T.

There are a couple of issues here. Firstly, I don’t feel the need to have an opinion about everything. It’s not that I don’t care about, for example, abortion or euthanasia, but I genuinely don’t have an opinion. I can see that they are nuanced and complex areas and it’s not an area I feel equipped to delve into. Do I have feelings about the issue? Sure. But I have feelings on lots of things that are just ridiculous and emotional and are better off left unexplored (I frequently want to pull my kids out of school and teach them at home, for example. This would be a shockingly bad move for many many reasons).

People find that hard to understand. You don’t have to have a dog in every fight, seriously. You don’t have to have an opinions on every single bloody thing and from what I can tell, others find it especially hard to get their head around this when you’re a Christian.

Sometimes, I just don’t care.

Sometimes, it’s so big and complex and I don’t want the responsibility of making a decisions.

Sometimes, I just don’t feel the need to share my thoughts with others.

I think that it is assumed by many that the Bible is a concise little rule book that has a clear and easily referenced solution to every quandary that will crop up during life.

Well, it doesn’t. Except it does, I suppose. There’s ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself ‘. So we have to love God, and others, deeply and passionately. Does this mean dictating what they can do with their life? Does this mean making decisions on behalf of them? What does Loving Others actually involve?

We need to look at the world through a framework of Jesus’ love. But that can go in many different directions. I personally don’t see how, within that framework, there can be a lot of disagreement on how to treat asylum seekers, but that’s because it’s one issue that I do have all the opinions on. And we are all going to be different in which battle we choose to fight.

But we also need to remember that loving others also means treading carefully with our opinions.