Thursday, June 7, 2012

(John) 17 is the loneliest number

I'm savoring what I anticipate will be the last few mornings I can spend reading and writing about things not related to nursing or pathophysiology.  

My new summer reading....
Well, maybe not savoring. I believe that my insistence on alternating between The God Delusion and Burge's commentary on John is serving some purpose besides my own self-mortification. But some days, it seems like that belief is exactly the kind of unfounded "faith" that preoccupies/confounds Dawkins.

I don't know if the problem I'm having with Burge has to do with the shift from the first twelve chapters of John -- which describe things that people actually could have seen Jesus do -- to the final eight -- in which Jesus gives lengthy speeches and prayers that seem unlikely to have been recalled and recorded word for word -- or whether Dawkins is getting his way, at least in part, and I'm reading with a more skeptical bent these days, or whether the claims Burge makes in his analysis of these chapters would have been difficult for me to deal with under any circumstances.

I started reading the Gospel of John precisely because it includes that material that is most challenging for me: lots of talk of Jesus being the single way to God. I'm increasingly tempted to read that claim in context: Jesus was the way to God for His listeners in the Ancient Near East, when the alternative paths to God were all dead ends.

It's very, very hard for me to understand Jesus as the single way to God, period, for all time, if by that we mean that you have to intellectually assent to the idea that Jesus is God and died for your sins in order to be saved.

It seems unfair to me. Clearly, if that's the case, some people are at an extra advantage, growing up in a society that endorses that belief, compared to others who either grow up in a society that believes in a different kind of God, or who grow up in an environment in which God is a non-issue, or whose experience of Jesus and God is mediated by representatives who present both in such a way that neither are convincing. I don't believe in God and Christ as they are represented by a lot of Christians I've encountered.

I'm not saying that those Christians are wrong; I think I just don't understand the God they believe in, that there's some kind of breakdown between what they see when they look at that articulation of God, and what I see.

But: if their representation of God was the only one offered to me, I'd be an atheist too. Not because I am willful (I don't think), or because I don't want correction (though, really, who does?) -- but because I can't force myself to believe in a God who plays favorites and then to call that God good.

At the same time, I'm aware that it is possible that God does play favorites, and that that reality is somehow resolved with His goodness in a way that my mind is unable to understand. I can only trust that, if this is the case, God will forgive me for choosing to believe in His goodness over His willingness to smite those who are different from me.

But I am aware that, to many Christians, even messing around with the idea that Christ's claim to be the way, truth and life not be read as literal and exclusive and universal means that I may not actually be a Christian. And that makes me anxious and sad, because my faith, such as it is, is actually quite important to me.

And in those moments, while I don't find Dawkins convincing, I do understand, deeply, why someone would, or would want to. It would be a relief to stop fearing and trembling over my faith. It does seem like this is all frustrating, difficult, and abstract. And it feels very lonely, because no matter where I go or who I find there, I'm always out of step.

Reading John 17, where Jesus discusses how the church's sense of community, its love for one another, will be held up as evidence of His reality and of the reality of God, I realize that I haven't even experienced, or been part of making, a community like that. And that, when I am completely honest, I haven't actually seen a community like that in any of the churches I've encountered.

It's a problem, one I'm unsure how to go about addressing. But I'm not sure where to start, because I don't know if the problem is just me, and I'm the only one who finds this so hard, or if there is a problem with the church I'm trying to attend, and I either need to try to change it from within or find an entirely new church.

Monday, June 4, 2012

vacation thoughts

So, I haven't posted in the past few days, because I was here:

When I went on my honeymoon (three and a half years ago!), my husband and I got roped into one of those timeshare presentations. Next to the part where Z threatened to black out from hypoglycemic shock if they didn't release us to go get our promised free buffet, my favorite part of the presentation was a video that stressed the importance of vacations in re-establishing relationships with family members and learning more about the people you love.

Evidently, no one takes their five month old along on these timeshare vacations. If I hadn't know it already, I guess I could have learned that my son enjoys waking up at four am, while my husband prefers to sleep until eleven.

But we had a terrific time. I don't ever actually forget that my husband is amazing and funny and smart; we go on vacations rarely enough that it would be a waste to wait til we got to the seashore to remember this about him.

Other things I did while on vacation that will hopefully occupy the next few entries in this blog:

1. panic about my mortality and/or potential spinal cord injury,
2. manage, in a limited, imperfect way, to parent through these anxiety attacks,
3. reflect on the respective roles of prayer and of immediate and concrete actions in managing this anxiety,
4. finish Dynamics of Faith (!),
5. re-consider how to properly view the contents and symbols of my faith, specifically the cross and the Bible, and whether or not this means I can stop thinking Jews and Muslims are wrong,
6. take many walks;
7. pray, such as one can pray in a house full of godparents, in-laws, dogs and babies

I'm probably going to be re-reading Dynamics of Faith, but on my mind right now, and probably next up for this blog, is the idea that faith requires a community of faith -- and how do I find such a community in a cultural moment in which Christianity seems largely to have lost the capacity for self-criticism that Tillich believes is essential to it? Where do I find a Christian community that views the Bible as a way to access God rather than as the content of its faith?

If I can find that community, I may not have to have any more conversations about what the Bible says about being gay, or about whether the Genesis story is or is not compatible with what we know now to be true about the material world.

That would be a relief. My suspicion, thinking about what's occupied my mind and spiritual life lately, is that I may have become less than ultimately concerned with God -- that to some extent, my faith is, and has always been, vaguely idolatrous, and that I may need to reconsider my relationship to the specific elements and symbols of Christianity in order to better access a God who transcends Christianity, who transcends the Bible itself.