Friday, December 30, 2011

Jogging with my buddy

I've had a full holiday season as well as a very busy life as of late, which in large measure explains my relative silence in the blogging world. I haven't been exercising as much as I'd like either, though I've managed to make a bit of progress in my jogging. As it turns out, our puppy is actually a fairly good running buddy. Now that she's a couple of months older, she has greatly increased stamina and speed. She now pulls me along much of the time, though she's only 20 pounds.

On Christmas Eve, the weather was quite mild in Memphis, so I took a break from cleaning and baking to go on a run with Snoopy in the park. With her ceaseless energy and enthusiasm for running, she convinced me to run a little over an hour. Never before would I have the nerve to run more than a 5K! Her quick pace also encouraged me to pick up my speed a bit, so I currently run a mile in 10:30. That was her Christmas gift to me, and I'm very appreciative. My body responded well and seemed to want to run, even longer. It was a strange experience! I'm not sure if running longer distances makes it easier to run, but I've had an easier time since then beginning my runs. My only problem is that my right knee continues to bother me some. My knee brace and shoes help, but I'm afraid my knee isn't going to let me run longer distances. It's mildly irritated right now. And the last thing I want is to damage a joint and wind up with surgery.

Anyway, that's my jogging update. And puppy update. Someday I'll need to post a puppy update on all the messes she's made and objects she's chewed! Sometimes I feel like we've adopted a 2-year-old child. But I've grown quite attached despite all that.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Letter to Dad

Dear Dad,

5 years seems like a long time not to see you. Memories aren't as clear as they were, and more of our past conversations seem to be lost in the midst of new memories taking their place. I still miss you greatly and think of you daily. I like to think that there's alot you'd be happy to see in the lives of your children and grandchildren. Today, though, as I remember your last day on earth, spent preaching to inmates in a Missouri prison, I wonder what you'd think of my spiritual struggle of the past 3 years. You are the one family member who I know asked many of the same questions as me and read a great deal yourself on many of these topics. Even now, sitting on your bookshelves in your office at home I see half a shelf dedicated to the question of whether there is a God. And not all the books are from the believing side, such as Bertrand Russell's book, "Why I Am Not a Christian."


I'd like to ask you why you continued your whole life in the commitment to God and Christianity within the churches of Christ. Despite the absence of your dad, your poverty in childhood, the cancer and heart attack that took you way too soon, you dedicated yourself to a life of serving God and others. What answers did you come to about suffering in the world, about eternal hell for so many, about confusing, inconsistent, and unsupported Biblical passages? Why did you decide that there is a God who is good and personally intervenes in our lives?


My guess, from comments I remember you making over the years would be something like the following: I know you admired the type of woman your mom is, who worked hard to keep her family together and sacrificed greatly for it. You probably decided that her strong faith in God is what caused her to endure abuse and poverty without self pity and live with hope and determination. I imagine you found that an example worthy of imitation. I also remember you telling me a story about finding bags of groceries on your doorstep, right when you needed it. I know you also got advice from a mentor at church to attend college to be a preacher, which led you out of a life of factory work at Ford's or Borden's and into your eventual vocation as a principal. I imagine you felt God at work during these times, though you may never have understood where he was during the difficult periods. From a talk we had while you were receiving cancer treatment, I know you wondered why you got sick while your older, alcoholic brother who has greatly mistreated his body remains cancer free. You spent your days focused on others, while he does not. However, I also know you remained grateful for your life and you refused to pray for God to heal you. You figured he'd keep you around for the right amount of time. I wonder if now you would say there is no more need for you on this earth. I, personally, would beg to differ. I don't know how much Biblical studies or scientific evidence played a role in your religious beliefs and faith. I'm sure to some extent they must have. However, I believe that our personal experience also plays a major role in understanding spiritual matters. In order to function in the world, we have to find a way to make sense of our experiences. I think religion offers a way to make sense of this world and to give us guidelines or rituals for navigating through it. I think you experienced the Christian worldview as offering hope for a better future in the afterlife, given this world's unfairness and suffering, and I think you believed your Christian lifestyle spread more goodness and mitigated more suffering for yourself and others than if you had embraced non belief.


In response, I would say that I certainly was blessed by your life and the example you provided. I and my character are better for it. I had a positive experience with Christianity growing up and watched you live what you taught me. I learned from you that Christianity can work beautifully and lead to a life of caring for others, in deep and sacrificial ways. That's the rub for me, really. After the studying I've done thus far, my conclusions don't support the Christian faith that I've experienced as a positive force in life. I don't see support for a great deal of the doctrines and historical underpinnings for Christianity, though living the Christian life and being connected to a Christian community has largely been a blessing to me. I'm feeling somewhat stuck about this. I may never reach a conclusion, though I would certainly like to do so. This world with its relentless and needless suffering and confusion over the nature of God isn't the way I'd imagine it would be with a loving, omnipotent God in control. On the other hand, there's a great number of transcendent experiences to explain as well as a great deal of goodness and love for a meaningless and moral neutral universe.


I wish we could be having this conversation in your living room after everyone else has gone to bed, as we use to do. I'll just have to imagine you sitting there patiently in your recliner, and see where that takes me.


Love,

Your Ever Wondering Daughter

Monday, October 31, 2011

These Shoes Are Made for Running





I finally got a pair of decent running shoes, thanks to the mud bath my prior shoes endured during the Warrior Dash. Turns out I overpronate, so I bought shoes with reasonable support. I went with the Asics GT 2160 (pictured on the right) and immediately took them out for a test 5k. I really put them to the test by running on a paved trail, though I still wore the knee brace on my right knee. That was yesterday. Today, I am pleased to say that my knees feel great. The better quality shoes seem to make a difference for me. I wish they could also magically improve my ability to get into a comfortable rhythm when I begin to run each time. I took two weeks off running owing to illness in my family that swept through all of us to varying degrees. So, it took me a bit longer to adjust to the run yesterday. Usually, I am fine after 5 minutes, but it took a mile before I didn't feel miserable. For some reason, my eyes were watery, I found it hard to swallow, and breathing was uncomfortable. Once my body adjusted to the trauma of running, I was fine *grin.* Now that I've spent much more money on shoes than I normally would, I suppose cognitive dissonance will ensure that I continue to run! Now I need to decide which 5K race to enter next. Goals always help me stay motivated.


( I decided to keep the photo of the shoe large to reflect the size of my overly large feet. It doesn't help that you are suppose to buy running shoes a half size larger than you normally do. For the first time in my life, I am wearing a size 10! And I'm not even tall.)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Worth

Do you think every human being has intrinsic worth? If so, why? If not, what do you think determines value? And do you believe every human being has equal worth? Does belief or disbelief in God necessarily determine the answer to this question?

In a group counseling class I teach, one student played the Katy Perry song, "Firework" and illustrated how she would use it to generate discussion about self worth in a group with teens. Here are the lyrics:

Do you ever feel like a plastic bag,
drifting through the wind
wanting to start again?

Do you ever feel,
feel so paper thin
like a house of cards,
one blow from caving in?

Do you ever feel already buried deep?
6 feet under screams but no one seems to hear a thing
Do you know that there's still a chance for you
'Cause there's a spark in you

You just gotta ignite, the light, and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July

'Cause baby you're a firework
Come on, show 'em what you're worth
Make 'em go "Oh, oh, oh"
As you shoot across the sky-y-y

Baby, you're a firework
Come on, let your colors burst
Make 'em go "Oh, oh, oh"
You're gonna leave 'em all in awe, awe, awe

You don't have to feel like a waste of space
You're original, cannot be replaced
If you only knew what the future holds
After a hurricane comes a rainbow

Maybe your reason why all the doors are closed
So you could open one that leads you to the perfect road
Like a lightning bolt, your heart will glow
And when it's time, you'll know

You just gotta ignite, the light, and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July

'Cause baby you're a firework
Come on, show 'em what you're worth
Make 'em go "Oh, oh, oh"
As you shoot across the sky-y-y

Baby, you're a firework
Come on, let your colors burst
Make 'em go "Oh, Oh, Oh"
You're gonna leave 'em all in awe, awe, awe

Boom, boom, boom
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon
It's always been inside of you, you, you
And now it's time to let it through-ough-ough

'Cause baby you're a firework
Come on, show 'em what you're worth
Make 'em go "Oh, Oh, Oh"
As you shoot across the sky-y-y

Baby, you're a firework
Come on, let your colors burst
Make 'em go "Oh, Oh, Oh"
You're gonna leave 'em all in awe, awe, awe

Boom, boom, boom
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon
Boom, boom, boom
Even brighter than the moon, moon, moon

Does this song have the ring of truth about it? Or does it give kids false hope and set up grandiose expectations, building their self esteem on nothing but empty promises? And if a self-doubting teen who had been dealt a pretty harsh hand in life asked you why she should believe anything this song had to say, what would you tell her? And how does this relate to what you believe gives you value?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

I Survived the Warrior Dash



My husband and I survived our first Warrior Dash this past Saturday! We attended it with two of his friends from work. It was a perfect day for racing: 72 degrees and sunny. After spending the night at my mom's home, we drove an hour north to the race site. There were people everywhere. Everyone I encountered was friendly, encouraging, and relaxed. Mostly people just seemed intent on making fun memories with friends. A large portion of people were in costume, which made the atmosphere festive and lighthearted. As we jogged, we heard others along the path talking or joking with each other. As a hat tip to my friends in the blogosphere who inspired me to start jogging and attend the Warrior Dash, I wore a Yoda tee shirt, given that you all know me as DoOrDoNot. My husband wore a tee shirt with Darth Vader so that we could have a Star Wars theme between the two of us.







The pace of my 5K was quite slow! I wasn't intent on setting a personal best time. The four of us decided to stay with each other and complete the obstacles together for the experience of it. My husband and I walked most of it as he had injuries as well as an asthma flare up. The terrain was quite hilly, so even if I had jogged, I wouldn't have run the same pace as my last 5K. Had their been no obstacles, it would have proven to be a relaxing trek through the woods on lovely fall day.








However, there were 12 obstacles that we encountered once we had completed a mile of the course. Mostly, they weren't difficult and proved to be what made the run such a fun adventure. One of the men in our group wished there had been even more. We took water proof cameras with us, and snapped photos all along the way. It was more a sight seeing adventure than an actual race for us!

As long as heights weren't involved, I was A-OK. I enjoyed the over/unders and took DagoodS' advice and rolled when I encountered the nets we were to crawl across. It was quicker, especially because the people in front of me weighed down the nets, allowing me to roll on an incline. Although I don't enjoy sliding down fire poles, it wasn't difficult to complete that particular obstacle. I maintained my balance walking along planks which were set at angles.





The barricades and netting that were suppose to keep us firmly on the ground doing a belly crawl, allowed me enough room that I should have just stooped and run but I started out crawling on hands and knees then sped up to use my hands and feet. I'm sure I looked graceful :) I actually enjoyed running across the staggered steps set up on poles but I was concerned about losing my balance, so instead of just leaping from one to the other without pause, I regained my balance briefly before leaping to the next step. They wobbled and I didn't trust myself to land in the middle of each step where they were stable. I though I might be nervous about jumping the flames, but by the time I got to them, they seemed fairly tame compared to the other obstacles. They were higher than I expected, but I remained unsinged!

My least favorite activities involved heights. I'm not a fan of those. The cargo net wall was not difficult at all for me, thankfully. And the wall with narrow toe holds which we climbed with a rope wasn't terribly difficult. However, I panicked at the top of one obstacle which was a wall with a sheer surface that was placed at an angle, requiring that we walk up the "hill" at a 45 degree angle while holding on with a rope. I had difficulty figuring out how to get over the top to the other side. My husband kindly held my first foot as I threw it over to give me support and help me feel more confident about releasing my hold on the rope. Another wall also sent me into a bit of a panic at the top. After easily climbing steps to the top, I had to straddle an over sized ledge and swing my legs over till they reached a stair that was several feet down. Again my husband helped hold the first leg I brought over as I had trouble reaching the first stair. Then I had to hold on and let myself side down the sheer, angled wall the rest of the way down. I was worried about splinters, but none found me.










(I was still smiling because I hadn't yet tried to climb over any walls. )



The mud pit, which was the final obstacle, had one set of barbed wire about 18 inches off the surface. I think it was shallow enough to walk over the wire instead of slogging through the mud. However, the crowd at the pit was quite insistent that everyone get thoroughly soaked, so I acquiesced and sunk into the mud up to my chest and went through. My husband was more dramatic and rolled into the mud lengthwise.




After the race, we subjected ourselves to the (literally) breathtakingly cold water sprayed by firefighters from their hoses to get somewhat cleaned off. After changing into dry clothes, we ate the turkey legs and chicken sandwiches. We all had quite an appetite after our adventure. I would have enjoyed spending more time than we did just listening to the music and people watching. It was entertaining and challenging enough without being too difficult. I highly recommend the Warrior Dash. It's definitely an event to be enjoyed with friends.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Weekend of Firsts


This weekend I experienced two firsts: purchasing a puppy and racing in my first
5K. Perhaps it was not the best weekend to buy a puppy. Last night, we listened to whining and barking a good bit as we are crating her til she is house trained. At the 5K today, my oldest wanted to leave a few times to go check on his new pet. Though I'm really a cat person, even I am really enjoying our latest addition. She's a beagle/terrier mix, so she's small enough that I am comfortable with her. She's affectionate, smart, and reasonably interested in obeying. She's already trained us to hang out more in our kitchen area as we're not letting her in any other room of the house til we know she's fully house trained. I have learned that raising puppies and running in 5K races have a couple of things in common: they require lots of energy and determination. You may feel like giving in or giving up, but it's worth it to hang in there.

I have a really positive first 5K experience. I attended a race that also had a 1 mile fun run as well as activities for the children and a cookout. The boys enjoyed the moon bounce, slide, cotton candy, and ice cream. My husband and I joined our boys in the fun run following my race. My oldest enjoyed racing, though he walked most of it. He surged ahead at the end and beat my youngest by about 20 seconds. This is probably why my youngest said the race was too long and "dumb." And he's my athletic son who usually loves races.

I was amused that I was actually a bit nervous before the race. It's not as if I was trying to win anything. I suppose any competitive event where I am being observed by others is bound to create a little anxiety. At the beginning of the race, I wished I wasn't running alone, but I soon set my pace and maintained my usual rhythm, which helped calm my nerves. It was obvious that I was pushing myself a bit harder, as my thigh muscles nearly felt numb by the end of the race. There were two women who kept at about my pace, so I used them as motivation to push myself a bit. I thought it would be a small victory to pass them both, but I only managed to pass one. Ultimately, I ran the race in 34:35. I finished 11 out of 26 for my age group (the nearly over-the-hill category). I won't win any gold medals, but I am pleased to have actually completed a 5K! Especially considering that earlier this summer, I could barely jog a mile without slowing to a walk and laboring to catch my breath. Next on my lists of firsts: The Warrior Dash.

Monday, September 19, 2011

You Might Be an Atheist Because You Have a Defective Father

I just read a lecture given by Paul C. Vitz that summarizes his book entitled, "Faith of the Fatherless." He looked at the biographies of several prominent 19th and 20th century atheists, notably Freud, Marx, and O'Hair. Apparently in his book, he compares these biographies with those of several notable theists and finds significant differences in their fathers. From this anecdotal evidence he constructs his "defective father hypothesis":

...once a child is disappointed in and looses his or her respect for the earthly father, then belief in a heavenly father becomes impossible.

In his case studies, he noted that the atheists either have fathers who died early in the atheist's life, intentionally abandoned the family, or were weak or abusive. Vitz himself became an atheist during college, though he eventually became a Christian again later. He noted that, as in his case, individuals may also become an atheist for "superficial reasons", such as personal convenience or a desire to conform to the culture or professional environment. He rejects the assertion that atheism is born out of rationalism.

As a psychologist, I'm always interested in the development of belief systems and family background is always one area I inquire about. It would be surprising if family environment didn't play a role in most aspects of our development. Of course, Vitz didn't conduct a rigorous experiment from which we can make bold claims about causation. However, he offers interesting anecdotes that offer insight into important influences on some atheists. He appears to reject the idea that atheism may be born out of a reasoned critique of religion. This is where I question him. Are the only causes a selfish desire to either get ahead or avoid moral constraints or deep psychological anguish inflicted by a defective father?

What is your family background and what influences has it had on your religious beliefs or lack thereof? What other factors are involved in shaping these beliefs?

As far as my family background, I'll mention my dad's experience before my own. My dad was the 3rd of 5 siblings. He had a lovely mom and an abusive and psychotic dad. The oldest 2 children experienced abuse and witnessed their mom being beaten. My grandfather was removed from the home when my dad was 3 years old, so he was spared the brunt of the trauma. The oldest child, a boy, was mentored by hypocritical men in his church who made a mockery out of their Christian beliefs. He functioned as a surrogate parent to his 3 younger siblings and made them respect their mom and attend church with her, though he became an atheist, of the angry, I'll-do-what-I-please variety. He's lived as a functional alchoholic his entire life, living in reaction to everyone. The other 4 siblings have maintained their Christian beliefs. My dad was lucky enough to get positive mentors from his church who encouraged him to attend college, despite his poverty and family background. My dad became a leader in his church, served others in the community, and helped heal many lives. There's no doubt that the "defective father theory" works to describe my dad and his siblings.

As far as I'm concerned, one might expect me not to have the problems hanging on to my Christian beliefs, given the upbringing I had. Christianity was modeled in a positive way by my parents who practiced it sincerely and devoutly. Christianity felt comfortable and protective, not like a burden of morally repressive rules. The defective father theory doesn't work for me, nor do the superficial reasons. It's to my benefit, professionally and socially to remain orthodox within my faith community. I have no desire to be morally unrestrained either. Though my initial questioning did come from intense revulsion to the doctrine of hell and cognitive dissonance in understanding it in the context of belief in a loving God, subsequent study did nothing but undermine my belief system.

Of course, the validity of our beliefs aren't determined by the reasons we hold them, but it's instructive to understand how we arrive at our conclusions.

Warrior Dash Here I Come!

The Warrior Dash in St. Louis is only a month away. Race day is Oct. 15. I have decided to take a chance and race with my husband and his three friends. My husband thinks this is a great idea. We'll see! I'm going to race in a traditional 5K on Oct 2 as a test run. I don't think my first 5K experience should be the Warrior Dash! I just learned that a friend from elementary school will be competing in the Warrior Dash as well. It would be an added bonus to see her again. My step-brother and his wife just completed the Tennessee Warrior Dash yesterday and declared it "awesome". Of course, they've been running for years so it wasn't overly challenging for them.

I find that running continues to become easier for me and that I can run longer than 5K. I suppose this means that I really could increase my speed instead of increasing the distance. I think I'm concerned that I'll run out of steam if I speed up much. Maybe I'll work on letting that fear go next run. My main concern continues to be my knees. They are much improved now that I only jog on dirt. I haven't bought new shoes yet as we've been dealing with extra expenses. However, I think I need to go on a buy some soon if I'm going to continue jogging. I've also read that wrapping my knees may help. Any ideas about that? There are a variety of wraps as well as recommendations for putting ice as well as heat on my knees. I don't want to do the exact opposite of what I need!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Confirmation Bias Exposed

I've been slowly working through Michael Shermer's book, The Believing Brain. It's a fascinating read, particularly for anyone with minimal interest in the neuropsychology of belief development. I'll probably write several posts highlighting interesting points from his book. Today I want to share one study he described on confirmation bias, which is our tendency to look for evidence which confirms our preexisting beliefs and ignore disconfirming evidence. We do this all the time. It's useful in detecting frequent patterns, allowing us to act quickly and decisively. Unfortunately, it sometimes leads to unjustified beliefs: just ask the mischievous kid who gets accused of every act of shenanigans the teacher learns about. There are times when that kid is actually minding his own business and working on his assignments!

One interesting study of die hard Republicans and Democrats showed the neurological activity behind confirmation bias:

"during the run-up to the 2004 presidential election, while undergoing a brain scan, thirty men-half self-described "strong" Republicans and half "strong" Democrats-were tasked with assessing statements by both Georg W. Bush and John Kerry in which the candidates clearly contradicted themselves. Not surprisingly, in their assessments of the candidates, Republican subjects were as critical of Kerry as Democratic subjects were of Bush, yet both let their own preferred candidate off the evaluative hook. Of course. But what was especially revealing were the neuroimaging results: the part of the brain most associated with reasoning-the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex-was quiescent. Most active were the orbital frontal cortex, which is involved in the processing of emotions, and the anterior cingulate cortex-our old friend the ACC, which is so active in patternicity processing and conflict resolution. Interestingly, once subjects had arrived at a conclusion that made them emotionally comfortable, their ventral striatum-a part of the brain associated with reward-became active.

In other words, instead of rationally evaluating a candidate's positions on this or that issue, or analyzing the planks of each candidates' platform, we have an emotional reaction to conflicting data. We rationalize away the parts that do not fit our preconceived beliefs about a candidate, then receive a reward in the form of a neurochemical hit, probably dopamine."

This helps explain how we can look at the same facts as someone else or as our self from one year ago, and reach vastly different conclusions.

When have you realized that your rational argument for something was actually confirmation bias at work?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Anatomy 101

The comments on my last post brought up the frequent misunderstanding that the Genesis account of Eve being created out of Adam's rib explains why men have one fewer ribs than women (which they don't). Even with information readily available on the internet and, hopefully, in basic anatomy classes, the myth persists than men have fewer ribs than women. I thought you might be amused to read this linkfrom yahoo.com where the question about the number of ribs is posed and comments are given by readers.

I also found an interesting article at this site
which suggests a possible source for the Adam and Eve story. There certainly are some interesting similarities between the biblical account and the Mesopotamian myth. I'll quote a section here:

"The image of God fashioning Eve out of Adam's rib may have originated in an ancient legend from Mesopotamia *. After the god Enki ate eight plants belonging to the goddess Ninhursag, she cursed him so that eight parts of his body became diseased. When he was nearly dead, the gods persuaded Ninhursag to help him, and she created eight healing goddesses. The goddess who cured Enki's rib was Ninti, whose name meant "lady of the rib" or "lady of life." In Hebrew mythology, Adam names the woman created from his rib Hawwah, which means "life." The Mesopotamian story probably influenced the Hebrew one, which became the basis for one biblical version of Eve's creation."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"Are You The Tooth Fairy?"

Recently, at D'Ma and DagoodS' blogs, there has been discussion of how open to be with others about deconversion or altered religious beliefs. We all make decisions each day about how transparent to be with others. Do we share how we really feel about the dinner our spouse made? Do we admit when we're hurt by some one's comment? Constantly we're weighing the cost/benefit ratio. We ask ourselves what will be gained by telling the truth. We wonder if anyone will be hurt. We ask ourselves if we can handle the repercussions.

Last week, my husband and I faced these questions when our 7-year-old insisted on knowing if we were the tooth fairy. Back at Christmas he began intense questioning about Santa and came very close to adamantly declaring that mom and dad were Santa. At the time, we were able to turn the questions back to him and deflect the matter. This time around, he was not to be easily assuaged. We had previously determined that we would tell him the truth whenever he had clearly reasoned things out and wanted to know the truth, asking us directly. We didn't want him to question his own reasoning abilities. We didn't want to continue long after it quit being a way to infuse magical moments into early childhood when pretend is a powerful way to understand and enjoy the world. Developmentally, my son is just not there anymore. He was using the scientific method to determine whether we were the tooth fairy. Though he is still young, he has outgrown the ability to suspend reality in order to hold onto his belief in Santa. We tested his emotional readiness to hear the news, hoping he might not really want to hear it. We did this by reminding him that the exciting mystery of not knowing exactly what the tooth fairy was like would be gone if we answered his questions. Though he chose not to find out the night the tooth fairy was to come, the next afternoon he let my husband know he was ready for the answer. Though he was saddened to learn that we played the role of the imaginary creatures, he readily agreed to keep quiet for the sake of his younger brother. He was quite proud of his ability to pretend along with the grown ups. Some times really are better than others for being open and honest.

This topic of sharing the truth came up in Sunday school class today when discussing our understanding of God and what we should share of that with others. Our teacher noted that he wouldn't share with college students struggling with their faith what he has learned from recent scientific scholarship about the impossibility of humanity descending from just 2 individuals (thus no literal Adam and Eve). Because this topic is important to me, I sent him an email. Here is a portion of it:

"Also, I was interested in your Adam/Eve comment and your tendency to keep some biblical scholarship to yourself to prevent ruining others' faith. That is a difficult topic and I do sympathize with the desire to protect peoples' faith. However, there is also a way in which we're setting people up to lose their faith by basing it on a misinformed understanding of scripture which mounting evidence in the sciences can easily refute. The more educated the believers are, the more likely their faith is to fall when they have no other framework for understanding the Bible than a literalistic one that can't withstand the scrutiny of biblical criticism, ANE studies, biochemistry, geology, astronomy, etc. Over time, people will become more informed. As you mentioned, there is already a shift in beliefs based on current understandings of our world. I don't know what the answer is, but people do need to get more educated. For myself, I find it increasingly difficult to attend a church which seems to ignore large swaths of academic literature across a variety of disciplines. The fact that we can't admit in class that we accept the scientific consensus that homo sapiens didn't originate from 2 humans really bothers me. I have to hide many of beliefs at church and pretend to be who I was many years ago. I save my theological questions for those few I have found at church and online who are not only educated about the relevant issues but open to considering them from a broader framework. I'm not really expecting anything from you by writing this, I just feel strongly about these issues and feel like you're someone who can tolerate hearing what I'm saying and perhaps be somewhat sympathetic to it. I would never say anything like this in class!"

Telling the truth is a bit like walking a tightrope. Telling it the right way, in the right time, to the right people is an impressive act to watch. Telling it the wrong way can be disastrous! What do you think? What have your experiences been?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Impermanence

Today I've been thinking about impermanence. Today my youngest son started kindergarten. No more toddlers or preschoolers in the home. No more little ones at home to shadow me through the school day. I was a bit nostalgic this morning, reminiscing to my boys about the day the oldest one began kindergarten. Tonight in yoga we were asked to be aware of impermanence throughout our practice as we moved in and out of positions. Every breath, every stretch, every muscle pain, fleeting and temporary. Though some moments seem to last too long, like headstand poses, or for my oldest son, a school day, which lasted "a million years," others fly by when we want to hold on them, like my youngest wanting to hold my hand or kiss me "100 times" before letting me leave him at school. It's such a challenge to breathe through the unpleasant moments, reminding myself that they won't last forever while enjoying the pleasant ones without trying to make them stretch out past their healthy lifespans. My own faith journey has been one of accepting impermanence. Former beliefs exchanged for new ones which may be replaced a year from now. We are not wired to accept impermanence, at least not as adults, which is ironic given the impermanence in which we are steeped. It's a constant challenge for me to rest easy in an awareness of impermanence. What about you? Are there areas where you embrace impermanence?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

As The Worldview Turns

At the last book club meeting I attended, we reviewed the book, "There Is A God" by Anthony Flew. At one point in the discussion, we began to discuss worldview. I described how my Christian worldview no longer fits well with either the data before me or my personal experience. However, the atheist worldview doesn't fit very nicely and neatly either. A friend made an analogy that describes my current state well. It's like recognizing that both quantum physics and Newtonian physics furthers our understanding of the world, despite their conflicting ways of describing the universe, but restlessly looking for some unified theory of everything that integrates all our knowledge and makes the best sense of the world. I really don't have an expectation of developing a satisfyingly complete narrative for the life of the universe, but that won't stop me from continuing to search.

We are wrapped in a worldview by our parents at birth. Typically we understand the world through it, but sometimes it becomes so difficult to do so that we actually stop to examine our worldview rather than examining everything else through it. It can be a perplexing, confusing, and disorienting experience. Our brains hardly know what to do without a way to create narrative out of our experiences. As Michael Shermer has stated, our brains are wired to believe.

I realize that a worldview is exactly what I am seeking. No framework will explain everything, but some will make better sense than others. How to decide? Is it which one explains the most? Or is it which one can explain some vital question? Or should the criteria be more pragmatic, such as which one gives me better quality of life (whatever that exactly means)? How have you decided which world view to adopt? How well does it fit?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Jogging Meditation: Awareness

Friday evenings have become my time for jogging and meditation. I enjoyed another 5K run tonight while listening to a podcast by Tara Brach, a leading Buddhist teacher. Last time I posted on jogging, I wrote about my fear of pain being the primary obstacle to jogging. Tonight I practiced a mindful awareness of my bodily sensations instead of fearing or avoiding them.

Though it may seem counterintuitive, especially to an avoidant type like myself, the simple act of acknowledging what is and naming it reduces its power over us and often causes an immediate change. Instead of being overwhelmed with unpleasant sensation, I become a detached observer noticing specific sensations. And once I notice them, it often allows me to make small changes that bring relief.

Tonight I spent the last mile observing and naming my sensations: My right knee hurts, my stomach is in a knot, my head is hot, my breathing is shallow, my spine is compressed. In each case, I found that I could ease my suffering. I realized for the first time that I was turning my right foot out a bit, causing knee pain, so I turned it in. When I ran more erect, the knot in my stomach uncoiled and the pressure on my spine was relieved. When I focused on my breathing, it deepened and my head felt less hot. This was an important practice that reminded me experiencially of the value of awareness and investigation of what is rather than avoiding what is unpleasant.

These Friday night jogs at the park have become a spiritually renewing discipline for me, giving me a reflective space to evaluate how I am living my values and to practice them with greater intention.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Four-Fold Franciscan Blessing

I saw this at Beck's Experimental Theology blog and thought it worth sharing:

May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.

May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.

May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really can make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God's grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Jogging meditation

In my efforts to be healthier, I've engaged in a variety of exercises: jogging, yoga, biking, kickboxing, zumba, and strength training. By far, the most challenging has been jogging. My body rebels: my knees ache, my lungs burn, my breath is shallow, my legs feel like lead.

I seem an unlikely candidate to run a 5K race. I was not born to run. I am slow. I am nonathletic. In fact, my only B in college came from a PE class! However, when motivated to achieve a goal I become resolute. I typically rise to challenges. My pride pushes me through difficult challenges, just so I can say, "I did it." Long term, though, what will keep me jogging is enjoying and desiring it. And surprisingly, I am beginning to do just that.

The key for me seems to be my frame of mind. When I begin to jog, my mind frantically yells, "You can't do this, you'll feel miserable in just a few minutes. You better walk instead." I fear the feeling of being unable to go on. Of being miserable. One day I decided to talk back to my mind in a modified Deepak Chopra sort of way. I said "I am capable of more than I have tried or dared to dream. Be open to jogging 3 miles." That simple thought allowed me to calm down and jog without so much fear of what might face me a few minutes down the trail. I also had another thought thought while jogging. "I'm going to be open to what I might learn while jogging." My jog through the park has become a time of awareness of and connection with myself and with the world around me. I have begun listening to lectures on yoga and Buddhism while jogging. This has given me the opportunity to ponder and practice some valuable concepts on my run. I have become more appreciative of my body by contemplating the way every cell works to allow me to
run. My feeling and expression of gratitude allows me to work with rather than against my body. I jog to see what my body wants to do on the trail. Towards the end of my run last night, I wanted to slow and walk, but my momentum and quick heart beat propelled me on and I realized it was actually easier to continue jogging.

Jogging at the park is still not easy for me but it is becoming a time of spiritual growth and renewal, a pause in a busy work week which allows me to reconnect with myself and my values. Friday night I sat on a bench by a pond after jogging, appreciating the breeze on my sweaty face and relaxing into the calm summer evening that was fading into night. I was content in that moment as well as pleased to have finally jogged 5k for the first time. I don't think it will be the last.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Healthier Habits

Right now I’m on my way home from a trip to St. Louis, a preplanned time to visit with family and let the boys experience Six Flags for the first time. Last week we made an unplanned visit up to St. Louis to attend the funeral of my brother-in-law, the husband of my husband’s sister. His wasn't in the best of health, though we weren’t expecting the heart attack that led to his death. His passing has made me more reflective about my own lifestyle and inherited propensities for illness. Heart disease and cancer both run in my family and I’ve already had two precancerous spots removed from my skin. This past year I’ve allowed increased work and increased blogging(!)to interfere with pretty good eating and exercise habits.

In addition to my brother-in-law’s death, I’ve been inspired by D’Ma’s post on the couch-to-5K program she’s begun. While I’m taking on the 5K challenge myself, I’m also returning to the activities I really enjoy the most: yoga and biking. I’ve also resumed strength training. My body is most fit when I incorporate a variety of exercises. I’ve joined my husband in entering calories into MyFitnessPal (there’s an app for that!). The great (and dreadful) thing about it is the ability to add friends who can see whether you’ve entered your caloric intake and exercise into the program. Accountability is terrific and intimidating. I’m not only interested in reducing calories, I also want to choose foods that will decrease my risk of cancer and heart disease. MyFitnessPal provides a summary of the nutritional content of the food I enter, so that assists me in food selection. I’ve used other programs, but I’ve found this one to be the easiest and most useful.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Return of Harold Camping

In the last week or so I've gotten quite interested in Harold Camping and his apocalyptic predictions. So much so that I listened to the majority of the Open Forum broadcast on Family Radio Monday night where he held a press conference. I wanted to hear his explanation of his failed Judgement Day prophesy. As many predicted, he offered a spiritualized interpretation of the apparent non-event on May 21st. Over the weekend, he realized that the Judgement Day was not to be accompanied by physical signs. Instead, God has ended the time where those outside Christ can be saved. Judgement has come upon them. However, he continues to insist that Oct 21 of this year will be the end of the world, in a real, literal sense. Camping downplayed former comments where he denied that May 21 would be an entirely spiritual event, emphasizing that understanding the Bible is very difficult and is a "slow and tedious" process, where he must revise his understanding as God opens his "spiritual eyes". This comment was not lost on a journalist, who wondered how Camping could be so certain that Oct 21 would be a literal event. This comment was entirely lost on Camping.

He is resolute in his core message and feels no responsibility toward those who spent money on getting the Judgement Day message out. He stated emphatically that he never told people to spend their money, quit their jobs, or drop out of school. Those decisions were between "them and God." He also denied culpability for one woman's attempted murder of her children following his failed prediction. He expressed relief that she didn't succeed, but called such an action a "stupid thing" that is not of God's will.

Throughout the question and answer period, he answered questions with long, often irrelevant Bible stories or sermonettes on topics ranging from evolution to the spiritual leadership of men. He was in his element at these times, speaking with the authority of an elder to his children, managing to sound authoritative and reassuring while also referring frequently to his fallibility as a human, noting that he is "not a genius", but a "humble teacher" while God is the real CEO of Family Radio. I couldn't help but feel he was trying to shift some of blame onto God. However, he did credit God with allowing him to purchase a large lexicon set many years ago which helped him understand Greek. This is largely how God taught him the message of Judgement. He also described praying, hoping, and begging for his eyes to be opened as other ways he came to knowledge.

Camping is right about a couple of things. First, the Bible is difficult to understand. And second, we should be willing to revise our understanding with further study. Unfortunately, what Camping has done is merely reinterpreted events to fit his original prediction. I think most of us view his spiritualizing of the Judgement Day with suspicion. This should cause us to reflect on times when we have done the same. Sometimes we spiritualize healing or other forms of deliverance. When is this legitimate and when is this rationalization? And is there a way to tell the difference?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Got Belief?

At my book club on Sunday, a question arose that has certainly reared its head many a time for me:

Why is belief a necessary component of Christianity? Of salvation?

Why this mental affirmation of the death and resurrection of Christ for our salvation?

Why even Christ's command to love God?

Yes, belief in these things may well motivate us greatly to love others, be forgiving, be willing to obey the commands of God and Christ and certainly have been motivating to me. But, is that the only reason for the command to believe? What if we do these things without belief? Why is belief necessary, particularly, when it is so hard, if not practically impossible for some?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Finding Our Way in Our Own Way

My husband and I continue on our respective and divergent paths as we seek to understand God and our relationship to Him. My husband's path is leading him through turmoil, despair, and feelings of rejection, while I journey on in relative calm, like a curious child, stopping at whatever point of interest I find. He doesn't doubt the validity of Christianity as I do, he questions whether he is beloved or rejected by God. He has openly expressed his pain and his questions to numerous others, especially those in leadership at our church. He's met over lunch with ministers, elders, and friends. It's no secret that he's struggling with his faith. I, on the other hand, began my questioning in private, reading books and blogs and speaking to no one. When I did share my questions with others, it was tentatively and with only a few trusted friends. Never did I approach the leadership of my church. I didn't want attention drawn to myself nor did I want to open myself up to judgment or criticism.

My husband, on the other hand, has never hesitated to bare his soul. In his "living out loud" style, he has felt the need for his public life to honestly reflect his struggles, so he believed it necessary to step down from teaching on occasion in Bible class and to step down from his role in leadership in the education program at church where he was helping to develop curriculum. He recently attended an elder's meeting and informed them of his intentions and the reasoning behind it. Thankfully, they responded in a positive way, mainly with hugs and prayer. This put a little attention on me in that a few people have asked him how I am doing. Though he hasn't shared details, he has let them know I am asking my own questions. No one has uttered words of condemnation or anxiously sought to bring us around to their way of thinking. I've greatly appreciated the responses. However, my husband has found some of the leaders reluctant to follow up or pursue his concerns in depth, which has caused some resentment for him.

I've been surprised at how comfortable I've been with additional people becoming aware of our current state of being. It makes me wonder whether I'm underestimating my family's ability to handle a greater awareness of my evolving beliefs. Over Easter, my husband's mom could tell that he was down in spirit about something and asked us about his mood repeatedly until he told her in a very general way about where he is spiritually. She was supportive and concerned and later left a voicemail for me expressing her care for us. However, I let my guardedness and discomfort over addressing it with her keep me from calling back to talk directly with her. I wimped out.

My husband has found a minister at another congregation who seems comfortable walking along this path with him and they are planning to study weekly together. My husband has enjoyed visiting this church recently. When he visits there, he has none of the accompanying resentment he has felt at our current church. In fact, he's resumed attending on Wednesday nights with the boys now that he's found this new congregation. Mercifully, he hasn't insisted that I join along.

I'm happy for my husband to find a place he enjoys instead of dreads. However, I am reluctant to invest energy into meeting a new set of people and connecting to a new church with a new set of ministries when I am questioning the fundamental basis for it all. I don't really want to change congregations, and my husband hasn't asked to do so. I love many aspects of our congregation. If I did make a switch, I'd rather it be after my thoughts settled and I actually had a better sense of my beliefs. It would also be awkward to enter a new church with this new role of "doubter." We are accustomed to being a couple who is counted on to be involved and committed to the mission and ministries of the church. We would not be in a very enviable role as Mrs. Doubter and Mr. Faith Crisis! Sadly, I must admit that my ego rebels a bit over occupying this lowly state. I don't want to be viewed as any one's project or fall in the "to be saved or rescued" category. I don't particularly feel a need to be rescued or saved. However, I do like the idea of having no expectations on me for being or believing in a particular way!

My husband and I each have our unique spiritual path that we choose individually, and yet, our way clearly shape the path of the other, making it even more difficult to predict what lies ahead.

And that's how are paths are meandering about these days.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Sunday

We spent our Easter with my husband's family in the mountains of Arkansas. An incredibly beautiful spot in the world. We spent the holiday doing what we always do, eating a delicious meal with family and coloring and hiding eggs. In the churches of Christ, Easter is not observed as a religious holiday, interestingly. There is a concern over elevating one day over another, so in many of the congregations, no one mentions the resurrection on Easter Sunday, except perhaps during comments made before taking communion. I have long thought that was a shame.

On Sunday, I wished to be at a church that celebrated it in the more traditional way. Even though I have my doubts about the historicity of the event, I continue to be drawn to the image of resurrection with the hope, the transformation of suffering, and grace I connect to it. I also would have loved a quiet morning of reflection siting on a rock at his grandparent's farm, contemplating the surrounding mountains with tips hidden in fog. Instead, we attended his grandparent's church.

Everyone was friendly and the boys enjoyed their class, but the sermon left me irritated and deflated. It was a reminder of why many of us have such difficulty maintaining faith when we come from such constricted religious traditions. My current church is a breath of fresh air comparitively. The minister spoke on Galatians 1, where we are exhorted by Paul to reject any gospel preached to us other than what he already preached. I wondered what precisely was meant by gospel and how the original readers or we are to know that what Paul preached was the true gospel. The preacher cautioned against those who study excessively and come up with new gospels. He said to test everything against the Bible, even his own words. I did appreciate the humility in that statement. However, he went on to say that he could direct us to passages of the Bible to teach us the truth without interjecting any of his own interpretation. Though I grew up hearing such comments regularly, I now am surprised that anyone thinks that reading doesn't involve the process of interpretation. How else do we make meaning of words on the page? However, it is a comforting sort of belief, to think you can know with absolute certainty what God wants and who He is.

How did you experience Easter?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Pondering the Trinity

The latest book reviewed at my book club was "Exploring Reality: The Intertwining of Science and Religion" by John Polkinghorne. It was an ambitious overview of a variety of topics where science and religion both inform the discussion, such as the nature of reality, human agency, divine action, human nature, the historical Jesus, the Trinity, time, evil, diversity of religions, bioethics, and eschatology. As you might imagine, Polkinghorne merely scratches the surface of each of these topics. However, it's valuable as an overview from someone who has both a background in physics and theology. At our bookclub, we only discussed a few of the chapters, but one chapter we spent a fair amount of time on was "Divine Reality: The Trinity."

As an Anglican priest, Polkinghorne affirms the doctrine of the Trinity. He compares the strangeness of the doctrine of the Trinity with that of quantum reality, noting that "the everyday habits of thought may also require some revision when one engages in the task of seeking to understand divine reality."

Later he states, "Just as the physicists had to struggle with the duality of wave and particle because that was the task that nature had imposed upon them, so the theologians have had to struggle with trinitarian insight because the encounter with the one divine reality is inexorably shaped in a way that demands triadic understanding. It forces upon us thinking stranger than we could have thought. The process begins in the pages of the New Testament, as its writers are driven to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ and the work of the Spirit in their hearts, though they know also that the God of Israel is 'the Lord alone' (Deuteronomy 6:4)."

The doctrine of the Trinity is indeed strange. We struggle to find apt metaphor because there is no equivalent way of being here on earth. On the one hand, traditional Christian belief regards polytheism as heresy, so Christianity rejects the idea of three Gods. On the other hand, modalism is also to be rejected as heresy (the belief that the three persons of the trinity are three ways of approaching God.) I was raised to understand the Trinity using the metaphor of the egg: yolk, white, and shell. What they each correspond to I have no idea.

Is the concept of the trinity so difficult to grasp because it is beyond human imagination and description? Or is it an incoherent idea which developed from melding the monotheism inherited from Judaism with the elevation of Jesus as divine by the early Christian community?

Polkinghorne believes that the distinct relationships between Persons in the Trinity are essential to the idea of God being love. Can there be love without an object to love? Does love only make sense in the context of relationship? In speaking of the Trinity, he writes "The concept of what one might even dare to call a 'divine society' casts light on that fundamental Christian assertion that 'God is love' (I John 4:16). A strongly monistic picture of deity would seem to imply a static understanding of the role of divine love in the intrinsic divine nature, along the lines of the unrelentingly narcissistic self-regard of the God of Aristotle."

How do you understand the Trinity? What metaphors have you heard and found helpful or dismissed as inadequate? Do you accept or reject the concept of the Trinity?

I'm attracted to the idea of the divine society and find that morality and concepts like love make much more sense in that context. However, I can't escape the utter befuddlement I experience in making sense of the doctrine of the Trinity and am curious about the history of the development of it.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Upcoming Discussion on "Gospels as Histories"

DagoodS will be creating a post to provide a forum for discussion on the first lecture from the iTunes University class "Gospels as Histories." While posting at LikeAChild's blog, DagoodS, D'Ma, and I thought it would be interesting to listen to some of the same lectures regarding historical influences on Christianity and then discuss them together. I encourage anyone who's interested to download the lecture and then stop by DagoodS blog. The post will likely be up on Monday. The lectures are FREE and quite well done.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Making Sense of How We View Ourselves and Others

Here I will conclude my posts on the philosophy of Michael Polanyi. I am very interested in the meaning we construct from our existence and how this impacts our understanding of and value we place on others. I am fairly pragmatic, so I am quite interested in how our world view impacts the way we treat ourselves and others. I not only want to know if it is true, but how it works. At work, I ask questions about world view and its effects on a daily basis in counseling sessions. For example, clients who come to see me who have extensive abuse histories often tell me they view life as quite harsh and have a limited capacity to trust and develop reciprocal relationships with others. They may treat others as objects to be used and seek to gratify themselves to the detriment of others. After all, they have experienced life as a dog-eat-dog world. Other clients react against abuse histories and make a point of seeking justice for themselves and others around them in an effort to rectify an unjust world. It is clear that humans are uniquely gifted at meaning making. It makes all the difference in how we live our lives. As Victor Frankl has told us, making meaning in the face of suffering allows us to survive and even thrive when we might otherwise give up in despair.

Polanyi fought the meaning made of our world and personhood within the reductionistic and nihilistic framework of 20th century western philosophy. He developed his philosophy during the World War II era while watching his world collapse under tyranny, war, and annihilation. In regard to reality and personhood, Polanyi wrote:

What is most tangible has the least meaning, and it is perverse then to identify the tangible with the real. For to regard a meaningless substratum as the ultimate reality of all things must lead to the conclusion that all things are meaningless. We can avoid this conclusion only if we acknowledge instead that the deepest reality is possessed by higher things that are least tangible...It is this sort of mechanical reductionism that is the heart of the matter...It is this that is the origin of the whole system of scientific obscurantism under which we are suffering today. This is the cause of our corruption of the conception of man, reducing him either to an insentient automaton or to a bundle of appetites. This is why science denies us the possibility of acknowledging personal responsibility. This is why science can be invoked so easily in support of totalitarian violence, why science has become the greatest source of dangerous fallacies today.

About Polanyi, Drusilla Scott wrote:

We all in some degree start from our conclusions, as Polanyi said he did. Bertrand Russell started from the conclusion that the rules and methods of the laboratory rule out persons, and was stoically prepared to be ruled out in theory, though in fact he went on illegitimately being there...Polanyi starts from the other end, from knowing persons and never doubting their entire reality, finding them decidedly more real than atoms. He looked full in the Gorgon face of this 'Science' whose rules of knowledge turn man to matter, and found it to be a false mask, for the real face of science is discovery, and discoveries are made by persons, not by rules. And the reality that persons know is, like persons, recognised as real because it can be known but never fully known; it draws and leads us by having always more to reveal, unforeseeable but in character.

History and personal experience inform us that it is not in the best interest of humanity to live out of a purely reductionistic, mechanistic worldview. When we don't view ourselves and others as having intrinsic worth, we use, objectify, and annihilate. In the field of psychology, we adamently assert to our clients that they are worthy, they are special, they are deserving of respect, and we express these values as self-evident. These values probably have root in the humanistic theories which replaced the mechanistic behaviorism from earlier in the 20th century. We've found that the mental health of clients doesn't fare well in the face of nihilistic philosophy. Maybe that in itself is an indication that it is fatally flawed. But what of humanistic philosophy that is not grounded in anything deeper than itself? Are there any fatal flaws there? What about the narcisism that appears to pervade our culture? Is it intellectually honest to value all life equally 'just because'? Is there really instrinsic worth? Where does it come from? Is this an indication that there is something transcendent which gives worth and meaning? Or is this unnecessary? Does the fact that our emotional wellbeing seems dependent on experiencing a sense of value and worth reflect a truth about our inherent value? What do you think?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How We Know What We Know

Life has slowed a tad from break-neck speed so I thought I'd take a few minutes to compose a post. I've missed being on this blog and have missed talking with everyone who comments here. I hope you will find your way back here again! I use to stay up til 1 am composing posts, but lately I haven't finished my work til that time and I'm just too exhausted to stay up any later.

In my last post I wrote about the book The Common Sense of Michael Polanyi. One concept he explored was that of tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge is a way of "knowing more than we can say." It is an unconscious way of knowing that is often difficult to verbally express. We experience this when we learn to ride a bike. After a bit of practice, we just get it. We do without thinking. This is how experts operate. They create their art, sing their opera, perform the surgery, and bake the pie without deliberately thinking through every step. They adjust accordingly throughout their work without conscious awareness of doing so. If you've ever tried to get your grandma to write down a recipe for a dish she's made a hundred times, you know how difficult it is to get all the measurements quantified. The best you get is an approximation.

Polanyi believed that scientists relied on this tacit knowledge in the discovery process. The hunch, the intuition, the passion and curiosity are what drive the engine of science as opposed to the passionless, neat and orderly scientific method. He also believed that tacit knowledge plays a key role in our understanding of spiritual and religious matters.

Of Christian worship Polanyi stated, “(it) sustains, as it were an eternal, never to be consummated hunch, a heuristic vision which is accepted for the sake of its unresolvable tension. It is like an obsession with a problem known to be insoluable, which yet follows, against reason, unswervingly, the heuristic command: “Look at the unknown!”

Polanyi viewed “religious knowing” as a skill developed “by being brought up in a religion which is meaningful to the people we trust who are practicing it, just as we learn language, just as in science we learn by dwelling in a tradition, trusting it and sensing the meaning in it, so that we become able to go beyond it. By dwelling in the forms and rituals of one religion we can thus learn meanings which reach a more universal truth.”

This concept of tacit knowledge resonated with me and gave form to what I have been experiencing. My attraction to it may be partly due to the fact that I am an intuitive personality, and have leaned on my intuition in my work and personal life. For those more sensing types who learn about the world more through the material world around them, this discussion may make them squeamish. Certainly feel free to say so.

What I have found through my spiritual struggles is that though the facts of historical Christianity have been called into question for me, I haven't been left with a sense that the pursuit of spiritual matters is pointless. In fact, a part of me experiences a sense of renewal, a freedom to seek and "go beyond" my religious upbringing and to center on "a more universal truth" instead of "dwelling in the forms and rituals of one religion." However, I find that I am content to continue to let my children "dwell" in the tradition of our religion as it provides a framework to understand spiritual matters which they can then test, evaluate, and perhaps move beyond, in the sense of concerning themselves with the deeper meanings that may transcend religion.

There have been times when I've devalued my tacit knowledge and sought validation through facts and hard evidence. However, reading Polanyi has confirmed that hard evidence isn't the only means we have of knowing, nor is it necessarily the best. The fact that concepts like meaning and purpose and love and beauty matter to me and that I desire and seek depth and transcendence suggests that maybe I know more than I can tell about spiritual matters. Maybe religion is our best effort at explicitly stating that which can only be experienced as a "never to be consummated hunch."

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Common Sense (of Michael Polanyi)

The book club I attend recently reviewed "Everyman Revived: The Common Sense of Michael Polanyi" by Drusilla Scott. Polanyi was a brilliant Hungarian scientist and philosopher who lived from 1891 to 1976. Early in his career, he moved to Germany to do research, but resigned in protest when Hitler's policies forced the dismissal of Jewish colleagues. He then moved to Manchester, England where he accepted the Chair of Physical Chemistry. This dark period of human history deeply impacted Polanyi, and he found his interests shifting from scientific research to philosophy. He determined to understand "the causes of this destruction and descent into violence" experienced in Europe during the first part of the 20th century. "He embarked on a long search for understanding of 'how we know', and in his book Personal Knowledge he worked to free our minds from distorting assumptions about the impersonality and certainty of scientific knowledge, and the belief that anything outside this framework is unreal. These assumptions devalue man's moral values, spiritual powers, affections, responsibilities and judgments. Yet, as we see in modern terrorism and fanaticism, the power of moral ideals remains, but it is power let loose from moral control, denatured and deadly."

The title page of the book has this quote from Polanyi: "In our search for a reasonable world view, we should turn in the first place to common sense." This quote reflects the predicament of a reflective and grounded man who lived during a period where there was a remarkable lack of common sense. A time when people behaved in despicable ways toward fellow human beings with disturbing ease. Polanyi experienced a world unhinged from its moral groundings and he did what any intellectual would do, he sought to understand it.

Before discussing the specifics of Polanyi's beliefs, I wanted to briefly introduce him to give a context for understanding his philosophy. I also highlighted him because I admire the intelligence, insight, and boldness of this man who stood against the zeitgeist of his time and offered alternatives.

I'll spend my next posts highlighting some of his major contributions to the study of epistemology and discuss some implications for religion. I'll also discuss the impact of his philosophy on my worldview.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Update

It's been awhile since I've posted. Life has kept me away from blogging. I've spent a great deal of time preparing to open my private practice, which I will officially do this Wednesday. There is still much to be done, but I wanted to take a few minutes to give a little update on my spiritual journey.

My husband and I are talking more about our spiritual concerns in an open way. This has been a lovely thing. We can finally be a support for each other in this area. When I first began my blog, it was very hard for him to read it and we certainly weren't discussing it!

I am increasingly at peace. I have books unread that I will still read, but I don't feel the need to keep up the frenetic pace that I was maintaining. I am talking to more people about where I am, and have felt comfortable speaking up in Bible class and being candid with my book club about where I am.

I continue to have serious doubts about Christianity as THE TRUTH and yet, I still find myself drawn to the spiritual. I have found it necessary to make the decision to stop attending church on Sunday night and I generally find reasons not to attend on Wednesdays. However, I am more comfortable again engaging my children in spiritual activities at home, such as prayer and discussion. My husband and I have also talked about reinstituting our "family fun night" where we teach some higher principle using an object lesson and fun activities. I am not motivated by a sense of duty, rather, I feel energized again about directing these activities and doing more explicit teaching to my children. I had avoided it, feeling dread about teaching something I wasn't sure I believed. Of course, I am still not clear about everything I believe, but I do think my values are becoming clearer and I can teach them mostly from a Christian framework, but I also feel free to use other frameworks as well. I feel a sort of freedom to move and to question, but also a freedom to be rooted in what I value.

Our book club just reviewed a book I found quite helpful and I look forward to bringing up several points from it in the coming days. Hopefully, I'll get a bit of a break in the work load again soon.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Review of The Resurrection of Jesus

In an earlier post, I discussed my personal reaction to reading "The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and NT Wright in Dialogue." Now I will finally summarize their positions:

Wright's argument summarized:
"1. The striking and consistent Christian alterations of the Jewish belief in resurrection rule out the possibility that the belief in Jesus' resurrection was generated spontaneously from within its Jewish context; rather, the early Christians ascribe the origin of this belief to the facts of Jesus' empty tomb and postmortem appearances.
2. Neither the empty tomb nor the postmortem appearances are individually sufficient to explain the origin of the disciples' belief in Jesus' resurrection.
3. However, the empty tomb and postmortem appearances are jointly sufficient to explain the origin of belief in Jesus' resurrection.
4. The meaning of the term resurrection in its Jewish context was such that belief in Jesus' could not have emerged unless it were known that his body had disappeared and that he had been discovered to be alive once more.
5. Rival explanations of the origin of the belief in Jesus' resurrection do not possess comparable explanatory power.
6. Therefore, it is historically highly probable that Jesus' tomb was indeed found empty and that the disciples did indeed encounter him alive and well after his death.
7. The empty tomb and postmortem appearance of Jesus are best explained by the hypothesis that Jesus was raised bodily from the dead." p. 170

Crossan's view summarized:
Crossan agrees with points 1 and 2 above. However, he disagrees with point 3. He grants the empty tomb's discovery and risen apparitions but believes that was not enough to lead the apostles to the conclusion that Jesus was resurrected. He believes these events lead, at most, to the belief in Jesus being exalted to heaven. Crossan maintains that the resurrection faith came about due to a 3-fold combination of the empty tomb, postmortem appearances, and "Jesus' own proclamation that the kingdom of God was not just imminently future but already present, a proclamation that was not only individual vision but corporate program as his companions entered that kingdom by living as he did and thereby experiencing for themselves the power of its presence." Crossan thinks the apostles were compelled to make sense of both Jesus's kingdom teaching as well as the ongoing experiences of His continuing presence with them. This led to the radical belief that Jesus was resurrected bodily. The apostles believed that the general resurrection had begun with Jesus' own resurrection. The general resurrection was part of the "eschatological transformation of the world," or in other words, "God's Great Clean-Up of cosmic violence and injustice." The kingdom of God had arrived with power and would transform this world from one of injustice and violence to one of justice and peace.

In the end, Crossan is agnostic regarding Jesus' bodily resurrection, and believes the question of whether to view the resurrection literally or figuratively to be irrelevant to the Christian faith. He considers himself to be a Christian, though he views Jesus' resurrection as metaphorical. He is concerned with the meaning of the resurrection and how it compels us to live today. Crossan writes, "It means that God's Great Clean-Up of a world grown old in evil and impurity, injustice and violence has already begun and that it involves a period of human time from start to finish rather than an all-encompassing instant of divine time. It means this above all else: God's Great Clean-Up has begun (a first miracle!) and we are called to participate in it (a second miracle!)."

My view:
What I appreciated about both Wright and Crossan was that neither were content to let the resurrection be about future heavenly salvation of Christians. They were concerned that the resurrection has meaning about transforming the earth now through Christ's kingdom. One of the disasters in Christianity has been an exclusive focus on saving souls from hell. The result at times has been an increase in injustice and violence on earth, while saving souls at any cost. It has also decreased motivation to bring about peace and justice on earth, for the earth becomes a brief rest stop on our trip to eternity. The destination is all that matters. Who cares what the rest stop is like if you never make it to your destination?

It's another matter entirely whether the resurrection can have meaning metaphorically without the literal historical event to give it meaning. I suppose so, if one takes Jesus to be a prophet who taught spiritual truths about the kingdom of God being within us, transforming the world through our lives. The resurrection then becomes a way of understanding these teachings. However, I think Christianity loses it's exclusivity as The Way to God through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Crossan and Wright might both believe the kingdom of God is here, but they disagree on how and why one can come to participate in it.

Crossan continues to believe in the divine, though his studies no longer allow him to conceptualize the divine in orthodox Christian teachings. That is currently where I stand. I am attracted to Crossan's view, as it acknowledges limits in the historical data regarding the resurrection, while acknowledging a need and desire to transcend living for oneself to living for something beyond us, and for the world at large. However, I am aware that I can be criticized for not taking enough on faith as well as for taking too much on faith. I have criticized myself for doing both!

What do you think about Wright and Crossan's views? Is historical evidence what compels you to believe or disbelieve the resurrection? Is it personal experience with the divine? Can they both be valid ways of knowing? How do you know which form of knowing to use when these ways conflict?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Carseat Theology: Technology and God

My oldest son, age 7, and I often have interesting discussions about God and religion while driving. On Friday, as we were driving home from his chess club, he called out from the back seat, "I wish God would speak to us today, but I know He's very busy with so many people dying," "What's He busy doing?" I asked. "Getting heaven ready for all those people" my son replied.

We then began a chat about what my son wanted to talk to God about. And what I learned is this: he's looking for high tech solutions to more efficiently save mankind. He believes we could use an update from God about how to add more people to the church. Apparently, VBS, mission trips, and door knocking are "so yesterday," as he's begun saying. Technology is tricky. On the one hand, people embrace it as a way to share their faith to a broader audience, by using the Internet, for example. On the other hand, the Internet allows us access to a wide range of resources and viewpoints we never might have considered before, challenging our faith. There are so many aspects of technology we could contemplate. What do you think? Does technology help or hinder Christianity? Or is it a wash?

I'll leave you with my son's high tech solution:

"If God could speak to you today, what would you like Him to say?"

"I would like Him to tell us more about how to build the church. Like, he could tell me to invent a box for people to go in where a robot dunks them in the water (baptism). They could sign a form to go in the box. And if they don't have time to go to the box, they could sign a form and the box would just appear in their life and they could get dunked."

"Why would they be too busy to go to the box?"

"Well, in the future, everyone will be fat, like on that movie (WALL-E), so they'll be at the gym alot."

I don't know, would this increase the number of Christians? Sounds a bit scary to me :) However, it would be efficient and the robots would certainly appeal to many young boys!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hiddenness of God

Recently, my husband and I have been talking about the hiddenness of God. I alluded to it in my recent post on the resurrection, where I discussed my frustration over the ambiguous evidence regarding Jesus's resurrection. Did or didn't God perform the miracle of resurrection, the defeat of death, the sign of a general resurrection to come? My husband has struggled with the hiddenness of God in a different way. To him, it feels like a personal rejection. He says he feels like his prayers don't go higher than the ceiling. God seems to be ignoring him. He gave me permission to write this post, and wrote a summary of his thoughts for me to post:

Ayn Rand restated the “Law of Non-Contradition” from logic in her book, "Atlas Shrugged" in this way: “Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.”

I cannot reject the fact that there is a God, but I cannot help but accept the fact that He has rejected me.

If God is the perfect model of what a father should be, how can I feel as if He has abandoned me for the last two years? Which of my premises is false?
1.) God is the perfect father.
2.) I am His son.
3.) I am rejected and ignored.
4.) A perfect father cares for, protects and has a relationship with his children.

I know that I cannot be seeing the whole picture. I accept that my perception has to be skewed, but I just cannot see my situation any other way. I am resolved to continue attending church and behaving as a “good Christian” should because I want my children to have the opportunity to have a relationship with God even though I feel He doesn’t want one with me.


How would you answer my husband's question about his premises? If you have had this experience, what conclusion did you reach?

Friday, February 4, 2011

God and the Superbowl

In honor of the Superbowl, check out this episode from the perpetually witty Mr. Diety series. It explains God's stance on answering the prayers of athletes and fans.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Resurrection: Win, Lose, or Draw

The resurrection of Jesus appears to be the cornerstone of Christianity. It seems that one has to make some sense of it in order to make sense of Christianity. I've just completed the book, "The Resurrection of Jesus: John Dominic Crossan and NT Wright in Dialogue", which provides a transcript of a debate between Wright and Crossan on the resurrection as well as a series of essays by scholars evaluating the positions of Wright and Crossan. This is certainly not the first I've read on this topic. What I've come away with is this: it's a draw. Ultimately, belief or non belief in the resurrection rests more on one's worldview and a desire to believe or not, than it does in overwhelming evidence for either side. I think each side makes valid points. Crossan states that the the most logical position to take in face of the evidence is one of agnosticism toward the resurrection. However, I realize the Bible never promises hard evidence, rather, it points to God requiring belief and faith.

I realize the problems inherent in reaching a conclusion based on what we think God ought to do, but I confess it's difficult for me not to give more weight to disbelieving the resurrection for this reason: it seems that if God is using the resurrection of Christ to save all humanity, it should be practically a self evident truth that we all have access to, particularly if knowing that truth is what leads to salvation (in a broad sense of the word). Instead, we must rely on ancient texts, largely by non eyewitnesses, which have been redacted over time. For those not willing to accept what has been handed down to us by our tradition, we are left wading through a great deal scholarly work, which is not all in agreement. Should it be this hard? I find myself in sympathy with mystics or those who advocate an experiential knowledge of Christ, like the Mormons who pray to ask God if the book of Mormon is true. (Which I did during a study with them once: no confirmation given to me.) This way of knowing potentially gives everyone access to the truth. However, mystics, as far as I can tell, are not all in agreement.

I've given my emotional reaction to the book in an effort to disclose the lens through which I read the book, but in another post I'll discuss the stances of Wright and Crossan and summarize the strengths of their respective positions.

What is your stance on the resurrection and what has influenced your position? What do you think of my emotional objection to the lack of clear evidence?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Suffering

Mark at Christian Doubt, linked to an article on George John Romanes, a gifted scientist during the 19th century, whose scientific beliefs led to a prolonged period of questioning his faith and God. He suffered declining health, so his friend, Canon Scott-Holland, including this exhortation within a letter of sympathy to his friend:


It is a tremendous moment when first one is called upon to join the great army of those who suffer.

That vast world of love and pain opens suddenly to admit us one by one within its fortress.

We are afraid to enter into the land, yet you will, I know, feel how high is the call. It is as a trumpet speaking to us, that cries aloud—‘It is your turn—endure.’ Play your part. As they endured before you, so now, close up the ranks—be patient and strong as they were. Since Christ, this world of pain is no accident untoward or sinister, but a lawful department of life, with experiences, interests, adventures, hopes, delights, secrets of its own. These are all thrown open to us as we pass within the gates—things that we could never learn or know or see, so long as we were well.

God help you to walk through this world now opened to you as through a kingdom, regal, royal, and wide and glorious. My warmest sympathies to your wife.


These words are not necessarily easy ones to hear while in the midst of deep suffering. In fact, we may recoil in protest and anger that any one should have the audacity to encourage us to "play our part" during our suffering. There are some forms of suffering I pray I never have to endure, despite what "hopes, delights, and secrets" I may gain through the experience. However, I cannot help but be aware that there often are valuable gifts and depths of wisdom that the sufferer earns should she choose to endure and stand through the experience. In fact, they may not be gained any other way. As I try to make develop a worldview consistent with my knowledge and experiences, I ponder the role of suffering in the world. Does it make more sense that there is suffering, though often much of value to be gained through it if a benevolent God is ruler over creation, or if we were given birth in a quantum vacuum, which has no awareness of our existence? What do you think?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Happy Birthday KJV

Today is the 400th anniversary of the King James Version. My husband informed me that there will be a celebration at a local grad school today, which he may attend.

I find it interesting that it has influenced our English language to such a great extent.
This article lists some of the many phrases now in common circulation that come to us from the Bible, most of which are from the KJV. Here are a few of them:
Woe is me

Wolf in sheep's clothing

Writing is on the wall

You reap what you sow

All things must pass

All things to all men

Am I my brother's keeper?

An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth

As old as Methuselah

As old as the hills

As white as snow

As you sow so shall you reap

Ashes to ashes dust to dust

At his wits end

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Casting Hell into the Lake of Fire?

This post is much harder to write than I thought. I've started and stopped. Thrown out drafts and avoided composing new ones. I don't feel I've arrived at a definite answer to my questions about hell, so I don't have firm conclusions, just tentative ideas.

I appreciate all the comments on the last post I wrote on hell. Reflecting on them has been helpful in shaping how I think about this topic. I've also reflected on a few posts found here here and here by HeIsSailing on his rejection of hell, which I highly recommend. I have ordered 2 books on the history of hell, which I will certainly discuss here when I finish them.

Based on comments several of you left on the last post as well as conversations I've had with friends at church, it's clear we handle the concept of eternal punishment very differently. For some of us, we have been plagued and tormented. For the majority, though, it's been just one of many doctrines they accept without a great deal of discomfort. Several have asked why. One of my friends noted that most just don't take their faith that seriously. I would concur. I also think that we tend to protect ourselves from unpleasantness. Our minds have terrific defense mechanisms that prevent us from "tragic news" overload. Another friend of mine noted that she couldn't handle considering every terrible outcome that could occur. And that is true of most, if not all of us. We grow desensitized to reports of shootings, we justify murders or find ways to hold victims responsible, because we'd like to think we can control our fate and prevent terrible things from happening to us. We flat out deny allegations of sexual misconduct in churches. I'm certainly an example of what happens when those defense mechanisms don't work, when one faces head on the terror that is before you. I was miserable and terrified. Of course, there came a point when I finally chose to take advantage of some defense mechanisms, and for most of my adulthood, I've done my best to just not think about hell. After my trip to Hungary, I was simply emotionally worn out. As a consequence, I stopped being quite as evangelistic. I didn't feel quite the drive. Also, in evangelizing, you are forced to confront your belief that people are unsaved. That became increasingly uncomfortable. Of course, I felt guilt for my lackadaisical ways, but I tried to rationalize my behavior. I tried to tell myself I was "leading by example." I opened my mind to the possibility that there might be other Christians saved besides those in the church of Christ. I tried to convince myself of a final fair outcome by woodenly repeating "God will do what is right." At some point I stopped considering being re baptized. I now realize why. It was because I wasn't sure I wanted to repeat a ritual in which I was accepting a God that mercilessly sent the majority of people to hell. Did I really believe that such a God existed? Of course, all my worries of hell and doubts about God finally broke through my defenses, and here I am. Examining and evaluating them at the risk of hell itself. Through this process, I have lost most, (though not all) of my fear. For two years I have been questioning God in a way that before would have left me certain of my doom. I think this has desensitized me in large part to the fear. I haven't been avoiding hell through perfect Christian behavior, prayer, or continual evangelizing. In coming close to hell, really evaluating the doctrine and examining my beliefs and feelings about it as well as those of others, it's starting to lose its grip on me. I think I'm starting to see that it's nothing to fear.

In this evaluation process of mine, I realize part of my difficulty with hell is that it has put my religious beliefs in conflict with my moral beliefs about justice and love, my conscience, and my emotional responses to others. For my entire childhood, I assumed that my heart was out of line with my religious beliefs. Being angry or horrified that most of the world was going to hell was wrong because whatever God decrees is somehow right and holy, even if it makes no earthly sense. I am now beginning to turn the tables on this problem. Why can't it be that my doctrine is out of line with my heart? Maybe it feels unjust and unloving, because sending almost all humanity to hell, for all eternity, when they did not believe the right things and did not behave in the right way for 100 or fewer years, is not just or loving. I use to discount my emotions where understanding God is concerned, believing only the Bible should guide my beliefs. However, the truth is that emotions are an important information source and help guide our behavior and relationships with others. Our sense of compassion motivates us to care for others, our anger helps us defend ourselves, our fear causes us to flee danger, and our worry causes us to be cautious and make prudent plans. I have even been cautious in the past about using my conscience and moral beliefs to pass judgement on beliefs about God and the Bible. After all, my conscience can be "seared as with a hot iron" rendering it useless. And my moral nature is fallen, so how can I trust my revulsion at the genocide described in the Bible or in God sending the Hindu from 200 AD to hell for not believing in Jesus? "God's ways are not our ways." Maybe that's true, but in a different way. Maybe God's ways are not our ways because there is no hell. Maybe it's a figment of human imagination that God finds revolting. Maybe He wishes we'd listen to the consciences he gave us. Several of you voiced similar beliefs in your comments on the last blog post. I appreciate your collective input as it has opened me up to valuing more than just my intellect in resolving the dilemma of the doctrine of hell. That being said, I still plan to do more reading on the topic!:)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

How Hell Tormented My Childhood

This sounds like an uplifting post, doesn't it? *Grin* I have put off writing about hell, because it is such an emotionally complicated topic and because, I fear, it will only serve to highlight my neurotic tendencies! However, it's clear that I need to work through my beliefs and emotional reactions on this topic. As noted in a recent post by DagoodS, it's often hard to let go of ideas that have influenced us so strongly. Though my study of hell has largely led me to believe that it is a concept humanity developed over time in a variety of contexts, I still have lingering worries about the possibility of its existence. And this serves to impact both my and others' ability to question and reevaluate their faith. At the same time, I don't want to reject aspects of Christianity just because I don't like them. What if the truth is, in fact, a bitter pill to swallow? Pretending it doesn't exist won't make it go away. Denial doesn't work as a long term strategy. In future posts, that will become clear in my case. That being said, I am hoping, through my writing, to more fully understand and integrate my studies, personal experiences, and emotional reactions on the topic of hell to come to a conclusion about its nature and existence. This is my first post in this effort. I'll begin by giving the context in which I first heard about hell and the way I responded to it as a child and adolescent.

As a child, I was a worrier. In first grade I worried that I would fail if I didn't make straight A's. In third grade I worried about selling enough girl scout cookies. Nothing was too trivial for me to obsess about. I was serious about doing everything right, even perfectly, if it was possible. So it comes as no surprise that this carried over into my religion.

For me, Christianity was about believing and doing the right things to go to heaven and avoid everlasting punishment. This was partly due to my personality but mostly due to the denomination in which I was raised (church of Christ). Hell was an ever present worry for me throughout my childhood. And not just worry really. More like a gnawing fear that I was able to suppress better some times more than others. By 6th grade, I stressed out enough that I developed ulcers. It was during that time period that I began my persistent discussions with my parents about hell. At one point they asked me if I wanted to go talk to a therapist to help me not be so anxious. That only made me feel as if I was deficient in some way, so through tears I promised myself and them that I would get better if they would not take me to a therapist. I had been baptized in fifth grade to save me from the fires of hell, but that did not serve to quell my fears. Did I carry out my baptism correctly, or was God displeased in some way? My church taught that we were saved through baptism, but we also had to live in obedience to God. Therefore, I couldn't rest easy in my salvation.

I talked with both my dad and my preacher about whether or not I should get rebaptized just to make sure my baptism was acceptable to God. What if I really didn't understand what I was doing at the time? What if I wasn't fully immersed? What about my sinful attitude during my baptism? I remember being irritated that a "frequent flyer" came forward to repent the Sunday I also came forward to be baptized. How vain to want the moment for myself! Anyway, I didn't want any of those things to send me to hell because they rendered my baptism invalid in some way.


I had additional reasons to doubt my salvation as well. What if, during bedtime prayers, I forgot to ask for forgiveness for rolling my eyes at my mom and then mysteriously died in the night? Would I go to heaven or hell? Although my worries from childhood seem simplistic and naive, they weren't far from those expressed in church by adults. I remember Bible class discussions where church members discussed whether or not one would go to hell if there was any unrepented sin. It just didn't seem possible to repent continually while also going about my daily tasks, but I did try my best.

Of course, I didn't just worry about myself. I didn't want anyone to burn in hell forever. This made me evangelistic, despite my extreme introversion. I went on every campaign and door knocking activity our church initiated. In Jr. high and high school I conducted Bible studies with adults in their home. I started a Bible study group at my school. When my family visited my grandma up in Detroit during the summers, I would talk with my cousins about God and salvation, which prompted one to be baptized after one visit. These efforts weren't easy and I berated myself often for not being more open and bold about my faith. I felt horribly self-conscious but I also felt horribly guilty for keeping the saving truth from those destined for hell. It was especially overwhelming because in my world view, almost everyone was destined for hell. (Narrow is the way that leads to life and few there be who find it.) My church taught that only Christians who followed the Bible as my denomination did were acceptable to God. This meant that over 99% of the world was going to hell. Not an easy concept to live with. I couldn't remain content to evangelize in my country. I had to move on to the world. Especially countries where people had less access to The Truth. I determined to do mission work. I finally got the opportunity for two summers during college when I visited Hungary with a mission team. I remember being very overwhelmed with the lost state of humanity as the plane touched down the first time I landed there. It was an impossible task. Why would God create humanity only to send almost every single one of us to hell for all eternity? Yes, he sent his son to die for us but why make it so hard for us to know this and accept this gift of salvation through baptism? Why make the salvation of others dependent on the mission efforts of the few saved individuals, who mainly happened to live in America during the 19th and 20th centuries (those from the church of Christ denomination)? These are the questions I began to ponder in Hungary, when the burden of hell became to great for me to bear any longer. I'll explore my response to these questions more in another post.