Friday, June 27, 2014
Toward Freedom XXXI
I initially turned to Jesus as an experiment. The only way to find truth is to seek it out and try things. The experiment was going pretty well, I think now, until I, though lack of knowledge and confidence, derailed it. Believing that I was actually talking to God, back then in 1971 and '72, became too hard to hold onto.
What keeps anyone going in life? What kept me going was an idea both hazy and strong. There was more to the world I lived in than what anyone around me admitted to. Even when they went to church and dragged me along with them, the background assumption seemed to be that this was a social good more than something done through personal conviction. I steered clear, for many years, of complete reliance on rationality and answers built up like brick walls.
Still, there are things I don't know, and I still have curiosity. This world uses rationality to build its things, beliefs, ideas, principles, and to figure out how things work. I took the concept in with the air I breathed, and sometimes it was useful; if you want to learn the principles of aerodynamics, for example, you can read books of knowledge. If you want to to build a small flying glider you have to use the principles. If you're in pursuit of beauty, as I was, the book principles are just the start. Can I make it work this way? Or this way? I could experiment.
How does one experiment with God? As I came into more contact with churches after I became a Christian, my belief in having a conversation with God became harder to hold onto. Experience? Teaching?
One of the lessons I learned so strongly that it became part of how I work is that I should blend in. This was the Achilles heel in my relationship with God. Blending in as a Christian means going by the Book as interpreted by a succession of preachers and teachers. They were always going on about self-sacrifice, preaching, proselytizing, reaching out. One showed one's love for God by doing these things. Not knowing any better, but feeling somewhat conflicted, I went along with it, not realizing at the time how well this connected with how I'd been raised.
If I'd have been able to feel it, I would have known that God was very sad. He cares about people, and is hurt when they turn away, but there is little he can do besides wait and then take advantage of cracks in that rational wall when they develop. Cracks must; rationality is much too stiff to accommodate the differential motions and strains of life. No, however. I knew better. Build it strong, build it solid, to hold up under the weight of increasing years.
God waited. When, in 2003, I turned back in his direction it was because I'd reached the end of my road. Rationality provided no motivation to keep living. God arranged a remarkable series of events that pushed me just hard enough to ask for help without going so far to pieces that I gave up entirely. I asked for his help.
I didn't care very much what happened; my life was over, as I couldn't see anything beyond a month or so ahead, so how could it get worse? I was willing to try the absurd. At the time I didn't even hear the echoes of 1971.
The good thing about knowing what doesn't work is that one doesn't need to try it again. I didn't even bother trying to make myself conform to the church's doctrines, and eventually this led to a parting of the ways. Throughout the ensuing 11 years I've been surprised by God's direction.
For one thing, he hasn't shown any sign of wanting to wipe me out or break me by force. The walk is with my hand in his, on a path that gets very strange at times, little by little building trust. After a while, new steps can be made, into even stranger places, trusting that the destination and result will be good.
"He who loses his life for my sake will gain it," Jesus said. This verse is used to support self-sacrifice, abnegation, destructive humility and intentional suffering. Losing a life is easy. You can walk out of a window, you can sit down and wait for things to happen. What keeps people from giving up? There is, I think some kind of pride involved.
God made us, as we are. We have pride in what we're doing, what we've done, who we are. We enjoy things. We feel pain, We get involved in things, and share our ideas, build things. From about year 1 the church has tried to control all of this, because the church grew out of human history that has very often been about control. Freedom is antithetical to control, so the men in charge do what they can to stamp it out and the church follows along. Anyone who wants to find real freedom has a lot of muck to wade through. Most of the muck equates to "If you put yourself into bondage with us, you'll find real freedom." Tell that to the ghosts of Jim Jone' followers.
Religions prey upon those who have been taught that pride is a sin, without anyone ever talking about exactly what pride is. God also teaches that pride is a problem--look at the Pharisees--but he will also teach you what pride is, and what kinds of pride are a problem. Jesus certainly had no trouble respecting himself and his father enough to toss the moneylenders out of the temple.
It's not an easy path, to walk toward truth. There are surprises around every corner.