Faith: Before and After
July 19, 2010

I gave a talk at my faith community today, summarizing how my faith has changed. Here’s a summary of that summary. Hopefully you’ll get the picture.

It starts with the simple message I gave people when evangelizing: “It’s so simple. All you need is Jesus. Just choose to follow Jesus.” And when we would get them interested in the simplicity of the message, we’d then say…well, all it takes to start following Jesus is to accept him as your personal Lord and Savior. And to do that you need to say a prayer, and so on.

So someone would say the prayer, become a Christian, and get involved in a church, because every Christian has to go to church…Oh yeah, that’s another guideline we forgot to mention before you said the prayer. And then with the attendance of church comes certain stipulations, and with those stipulations come others, and so on, until we end up with something like this:

My Faith Before

“What should my life be about?”
(abbreviated version)

1. Choose to follow Jesus
2. Choose to accept Jesus as Personal Lord and Savior
3. Sinner’s Prayer
4. Baptism
5. Confession of sins
6. Public Confession of belief, which includes (but not necessarily limited to) the following…
7. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
8. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
9. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
10. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
11. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again.
12. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
13. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
14. I believe in the Holy Spirit,
15. the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints,
16. the forgiveness of sins,
17. the resurrection of the body,
18. and life everlasting.
19. Read your Bible
20. Pray a lot
21. Go to church (the right one)
22. Evangelize
23. Put a Jesus fish on your car.
24. Don’t Smoke
25. Don’t Drink
26. Don’t Chew
27. Don’t go with boys or girls that do
28. Don’t cuss
29. Don’t be Democrat (abortion, communism, anti-God)
30. Don’t be Republican (don’t care for the poor, arrogant, narrow-minded)
31. Don’t be Gay
32. Don’t be friends with gays (encouraging sin)
33. No secular music
34. No materialism (unless it’s organic, fair-trade, or makes Christians look cool)
35. No tattoos (unless they make Christians look cool, which promotes the gospel)
36. No questioning the anointed, appointed leaders
37. No questioning the wisdom of saints of old
38. No questioning this list, which may grow or change with or without notice…
39. Etc…

I tried to adhere to this list since the times I grew up evangelizing others.

And here’s the thing. I would have said that “Christianity is not a religion; it’s a relationship.” And that my Christianity is not a dull religion that’s nothing more than rules and rituals. Because we knew that that was an opposition people had to becoming Christian. But the fact is that, even though the general idea revolved around a “relationship with Jesus,” we had plenty of rules, some unspoken and some very outspoken, for describing what that relationship should be like.

So at some point–maybe it was more of a process than a “point”–I threw away the list. All of it.

“Yeah, but you’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater,” some might say. Well, yes. I had to. Because the baby was dead. We had drowned it. It was no longer recognizable. I had to start with a new baby, a tub, new water, a new house, everything. A blank canvas.

A blank canvas is like an ocean. Wide and deep and full of freedom and possibility. But it can also be very lonely, isolated, and empty feeling. So I was tempted to make my own list again. I needed to establish boundaries to tell me where to go and where not to go. It started to say things like, “Those people should do this…or should not do this.” And I realized that my list was no better than the old one.

And eventually I realized that my faith was too precious and personal and ever-evolving to boil down to any list to assert on myself or others. It was more like a work of art (with no guarantees of quality, by the way). And this is what I came up with the other night:

My Faith After (for Now)

My Faith Now*

I won’t explain. It is what it is. I am also trying to appreciate the fact that others’ faith is like this too. Each of us have our own expression of life, and it will help us all if we try to value each others’ individuality of faith.

But anyway, my wife just wrote something on her blog, GirlReupholstered, that so clearly and concisely gets at the heart of it:

I have seen a lot of people try to be what others think they should be or what is the most acceptable.  It’s easier to be what someone else wants you to be b/c you know, more than likely, you will be accepted. Also, it’s easier to be told who to be instead of searching yourself to find out who you truly are.

Maybe this has been a struggle for me b/c I was brought up in Christian culture where there are very distinct ideas on how you were created or how you should live. It has always been a very suffocating experience for me which caused a lot of anger, frustration and depression. It’s been since I have left the traditional institution of Christianity have I been able to truly experience freedom to be who I believe God has created me to be. Which is sorta ironic, don’t you think?

[ *Note: The artwork I used here is an image of a beautiful painting by Ren Crawford, found here. I just slapped words on top of it. Ren, your art touched me deeply. Please don’t sue me. 🙂 ]

Does Science Show Agnostics are Right?
March 19, 2010

According to this article in The Province, one of the world’s foremost neuroscientists soon will discuss with top theologians how the brain simply cannot comprehend the existence God.

  • “We will never be able to answer the existence of God,” said Georg Northoff, research director of Mind, Brain Imaging, and Neuroethics at the University of Ottawa’s Institute of Mental Health Research this week. … “There is a limit because of the way the brain functions…” and that’s the price we pay for consciousness.
  • “I would never deny the feelings (of the faithful),” said Northoff. “But what I would deny is that the content of his feelings, God in this case, exists independent of him. That is something that is beyond his knowledge.”

The article goes on to mention that…

  • “[E]ven a transcendent sense of holiness … ultimately emanates from a big, wet, physical brain trapped in a hard skull.”
  • “The brain is built to focus entirely on the threats and pleasures of its immediate environment … and can never escape to see the larger picture.”
  • “It cannot see beyond its own life without dying. It cannot even look at itself without ending up in a surreal fractal loop of the mind examining itself, examining itself as it examines itself ad infinitum.”

My take: For ages, common wisdom has declared that science itself may not be able to grasp philosophical details…that’s why we have philosophy. But more and more these days science and philosophy are returning to their pre-modern roles, when the division between them was blurry. That division is once again getting more and more blurry as we realize how many philosophical principles, once off-limits to hard science, can be explained — or at least interrogated — by science.

Whether discussing the origin of the universe or the mechanics of belief, scientific methods of inquiry have been applied and have been found beneficial for our collective wisdom. But still that last bastion of philosophy stands firm, awaiting the crash of scientific inquiry: God.

But the whole point of this is not to say that science can reasonably disprove the existence of God or the precious reality of God for individuals. It just asserts a principle we should all confront ourselves with at least occasionally: We cannot know for sure. Either way.

And this doesn’t stop me from searching. It only reminds me that I will be able to see only so far.