The Road That Leads to Me

A journey of faith: How I found God (for real)

This is something I wrote a few years ago…it is a self-reflection of sorts that re-counts my personal faith journey. This story makes me fairly vulnerable, but I think that true vulnerability is necessary in order to develop true faith. I hope that someone out there in the blogosphere will read my story and be able to relate…

A young woman is raised in a staunch Christian home. Piety nearly drains from her every pore. Years of Sunday school lessons fill her mind with notions of should and should not. Parental pressures coupled with a false sense of need has led her into a life of ministry. Daily she lives out the manifestations of that which has been built up to her as the only source of an abundant life. She is living out her symbolic complex. In earnest she prays to a God she does not know. Instead, she has spent her life developing a relationship with someone else’s God.

The assumptions surrounding the young woman hinge on her outward indicators of faith. However, the discrepancy between what is and what is supposed is great (Percy). The girl has not adopted faith, but rather an educational package­­­­ – the life, beliefs, and Christian environment created for her. The young woman has unconsciously allowed herself to use the eyes of a system, forfeiting her own by never having opened them. Though her life revolves around a religion, she is nothing but a spectator – never taking personal ownership of the mentality she is immersed in.

For quite some time the girl is quite unaware of her self-handicapped condition. Daily she moves her body through the motions entangled within the Christian lifestyle. Dutifully the young woman attends and serves in the church. Each Sunday she is greeted by warm smiles from familiar faces – people delighted to see one of their own “on the right track.” Perceived by many as an upstanding youth, the young woman’s mind no longer can separate truth about her character from the praise of others. As she is believed to be, so she is.

The image the young girl carries has been a lifelong development. Though initially formed from the beliefs of others, the girl adopts the lifestyle and adjoining mentality assumed of her. Reflexive and pharisaical, her actions direct her thinking. Driven by a humanly engineered model of faith, the girl conforms to the expected outcomes for her life. She strives to be that which she has been told to be.

Spiritual awakening, or the experience through which the individual recognizes their direct need for a deeper more personal faith, is the only means towards the end of recovery. Until the mind is able to separate tradition from belief and duty from desire, true connection with God is unachievable. However, many never recover from their self-victimized state of living. Complacency grips the soul. Historical and familial traditions replace the zealous fire God intends for His followers. Reliant on pastors and high-ranking church officials, contemporary church-goers have traded an intimate relationship with God for a relationship much like that between product and consumer. Unlike the pioneers of modern religion, today’s churchgoers accept another’s vision, rather than seeing through the eyes of their own mind.

Longing for quick fixes to life’s hassles, wanting to please family, and desiring to fill social needs, those attending the modern church sit with inverted eyes and empty hearts. Self has replaced God. Men and women pay lip service to their God in a form of misplaced concreteness. Deceived by their own selfishness, they do not recognize the ever-growing chasm between themselves and the Lord.

The young woman observed those around her – the comfortable faces she’d grown up with. Apathy clouded the room. A young man stood up and began to speak. Though the words came from his mouth, they seemed to flow straight from his heart. Vibrantly his eyes danced across the room, establishing the attention of each individual. His smile extended beyond his face. Scarcely unable to control the very pitch of his voice, he shared his story. The young man had discovered Jesus. Raised in an un-churched home, the young man was left to discover truth by his own power. Seeking out multiple religions and schools of thought, the young man told of the way he came to find a connection with the Lord. The young girl’s heart grew warm within her. Hearing many testimonies like that of the young man, the girl knew that a deeper love relationship with God was possible.

Aware that true satisfaction and abundant joy can only be found through a personal connection with God, the young girl began her pursuit. Walls dropped and blinders fell to the floor. Casting tradition aside, she began to question the doctrines surrounding her faith – testing them to see if they were her own. Her eyes were opened to a sight more beautiful than words can describe. No longer was the girl living vicariously through the faith of someone else. Intimacy with God coupled with amazing joy were discovered on the girl’s voyage towards discovery. God is out there. One need only to look.


A Lesson Learned From Chris Farley

I’ve been reading “The Chris Farley Show,” a biography about the late actor…comedic genius really. I’ve always loved Chris Farley, and was actually watching “Tommy Boy, ” when it was announced that he was found dead. Who can help but laugh when you picture motivational speaker Matt Foley, or the overweight Chippendales dancer? Who doesn’t quote a handful of lines from Tommy Boy on occasion? He was great, and went far too early. However, I never expected to be personally impacted by his life. When I picked up the book, I figured I would simply learn more about his childhood, his career, and read a few funny stories from his life. What has happened is much more significant than getting a laugh from some of the things he did in highschool and college (although that has happened too.)

Most people who followed the actor’s career knew that he had a problem with drugs and alcohol. His problem was actually much more severe than your typical college binge drinking and occasional Hollywood drug use. Farley started drinking in highschool, and started drugs in college, and couldn’t stop doing either. Though he took his work at Olympic Improv, Second City, and SNL seriously, his addictions were controlling his life, and spiraling him downward into a dark place personally. I think many people would surmise that I learned some lesson concerning addiction or moderation from his story. While I did my fair share of drinking/partying in college, I never had a “drinking problem,” and have never touched a drug. What I am struck by is not Farley’s behavior, but the behavior of his close friends and family.

Everyone around Farley knew what he was doing. They could see how out of control he was allowing his life to become. They saw his unhappiness and knew that he did not want to be the “big fat drunk guy.” They walked him home drunk every night, woke him up after he passed out, watched him trip on various drugs, saw him become obsessed with addiction, and sat back and did NOTHING. Quite a few people that contributed to the book stated that they would allow his natural charm and charisma talk them out of confronting him. A brave few would say something like, “So, what’s going on? Why are you drinking so much?” and the second Farley showed disinterest in what they were saying, they backed off and never brought it up again. Now, to be fair, people did start interventions once the problem had gotten extremely serious, and he was beginning to put his life in physical danger. However, I stop and think, would he have died if someone had stepped in earlier? Could it have been prevented if someone had been brave enough to say to him in highschool or in college, “Hey, we need to talk. I’m worried,” and not let him persuade them to stop talking…What if?

So where is the lesson for us? Its twofold really…First, is there someone in your life that has strayed? Maybe they aren’t spiraling out of control from insane amounts of alcohol, mushrooms, cocaine, whatever….but, maybe they have lost their way…lost their faith…given up on a career….stopped going to church…aren’t taking college seriously…allowing something negative to control them….in a relationship that is unhealthy…Are you allowing your like of this person to prevent you from loving them in a dangerous way? My principal used a term called, “courageous conversations.” Who are you allowing to slip just because you are scared of how they will react to your gentle correcting/loving intervention? Is there a “Farley” in your life?

Okay, now wait…before you go “confronting in love,” there are a few principles you need to remember. First, you need to prayerfully and carefully choose your words. Confronting someone in a way that puts them on the defensive typically can and will end up doing more harm than good. Approaching the person needs to be done because you truly care about them, not because you want to condemn them or have some time on your personal soapbox. This leads to principle two…genuine friendship/relationship. There are lots of people I think are doing dumb things. However, I know that it would be completely wrong for me to just go up to every casual acquaintance/casual friend I have and let them know my personal opinions on their life choices. That would be going against principles one and two. You need to have a relationship built on trust and respect before you can effectively confront someone. If that type of relationship is in place, you will also be more likely to approach the confrontation from a place of love and concern, not opinions and judgment.

Secondly, there is a lesson to be learned for all of us. We might be in a “Farley” situation…doing something that is unhealthy, detracting from our walk with God, causing us to lose our way, etc. We need to be open to those people in our lives who may have the courage to confront us, and allow them to speak truth into our life. I can remember a few instances where a close friend pulled me aside, and in a calm and gentle manner, (using the Matthew 18 principle when needed) called me out on stupid things I was doing. Yeah, at the time, it hurt a little. No one likes to hear the truth. No one likes to know that other people recognize the dumb things we are doing….typically because we know we are being dumb, and lack the courage to change..Having someone call us out, only makes it more likely that we will have to change, angering us. However, now, as I look back, I am so grateful to those people, who loved me enough to stop me before I spiraled out of control…who helped me get back on track….who cared enough to not allow me to screw up my life.

So, do you have a Farley in your life that you need to confront in love? Someone you have been watching go astray while you sat idly by….too scared to say anything? Do you love them enough to stop them before they “overdose?” If someone comes to you, or has come, and you’ve shut them out, are you brave enough to change? to listen? Don’t let the things of this world take you before your time. Don’t let them rob you of the happiness you can have. Don’t be a Farley, and stop allowing those you love and care for to be one either. They might end up in a van down by the river, and you wouldn’t want that would you? =)

The Problem of Evil:In Defense of a Theodicy
August 25, 2008, 4:49 am
Filed under: Christianity, philosophy | Tags: , , , , , , ,

God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omni benevolent, and yet evil exists in the world. Is it possible for both premises to be concurrently true? This seeming paradox has plagued the minds of theologians, philosophers, and great thinkers of the times. Multiple responses have been made to the stated problem of evil, including a theodicy developed by John Hick referred to as “soul-making”. Hicks concludes that were evil to be non-existent, a form of higher good could not be achieved. It is to this end he infers, that God as an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good being can justify the presence of evil in the world. However, many find fault in Hicks’s line of reasoning, presuming that the prevention of evil would not preclude ultimate goodness. The question of a solution is irrelevant. For it is not in the answer that we come to appreciate and develop our beliefs of God, but in the search.

In a world without evil and suffering, man could not truly understand good. If man’s true purpose is to grow in their relationship with God, he must undergo moral development. In order for humans to grow spiritually, they must live in an environment in which they are forced to make moral decisions. If God were to prevent evil from occurring, He would concurrently be preventing man from true free will. In a situation in which one does not have freedom to choose to do evil, he can never truly experience good. In this situation, man is under compulsion to do good, since he is prevented from doing otherwise. Therefore, the very notion of a moral and spiritual development of any type requires the presence of evil. In keeping with the notion of the necessity of evil in the world, one must consider the notion that one must feel adverse to evil in order to be a truly good being. How can one seek to avoid evil and fight against it when it has been prevented from existence? The God of the Bible seeks followers who are committed to Him, His cause, and in doing good. This type of follower could not be possible if humans had no conception of that which they were to stand against. Additionally, no human could possibly conceive of God’s greatness if he had nothing to contrast it with. God is worthy of human praise because He is holy and set apart. If humans existed in a world free of evil, God would no longer be set apart, ceasing to be above human nature, stripping Him of deity. It is to our advantage to understand God’s holiness and purposes for our lives. The greatest gift a human could receive is the personal relationship with God. This relationship would not be necessary if we had nothing to stand against. The role of the Christian is to be different. Therefore, it is to the greater good that evil exists. It is in this way that God as an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good being can be justified in allowing evil to exist in the world.

While it is commonly accepted that a world void of all evil would prohibit a true understanding and existence of good, it is arguable that the prevention of some seemingly unjustifiable acts of evil would in no way cause the world to be void of all evil entirely. Many evil acts occur presumably randomly, affecting the innocent. Is it just for innocent lives to be harmed for the sake of moral development? Certainly, one cannot argue that acts of detestable violence and cruelty achieve a greater good. It is true that men must undergo moral development in order to experience life’s greatest happiness. To undergo moral development, evil must exist to allow man to make moral decisions. However, it does not make sense to say that an omni benevolent God would allow innocent lives to be unduly altered due to evil when preventing such acts would in no way cause evil to cease to exist.

The very notion of God implies something of a mystery. God’s ways and thoughts are above our own. It is towards this end that He is God, and we are not. It is ostentatious to say that certain acts of evil can be prevented while still being able to achieve a greater good. To say this would suppose knowledge of God’s plans and ultimate will. How can we as humans attempt to understand the mind of a holy being? It is in fact ridiculous to blame acts of evil on God. God in His goodness created a human race free to choose. Not desiring robotic followers, acting under compulsion, God created man with a free will to choose as he pleases. We as humans are free to follow God or to reject Him. While many people refrain from acts of raw evil, it would stand in the way of God’s plan of free salvation to prevent people from choosing to do so. People make their own choices. While God’s will for those people is not to do evil, it is in His will to give everyone the choice to choose Him or reject Him. It is towards this end, that evil acts are not to be blamed on God, for they do not conflict with His nature. Rather, they can serve as a testament to His nature. He is not a God of force. Instead, He is a God who seeks those who truly seek Him. The choice is ours. He does not make our choices for us. Therefore, it is perfectly rational to hold that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, and that evil exists.

As long as time exists, the argument will exist. God will continue to be the subject of wars, debates, and endless theories. Logic and faith will continue to serve as springboards for responses. However, one must realize that God transcends logic, all human understanding, and the bounds of faith. We must be content with the search. There is no answer, only the questions.

Selfless Good Deeds? Psychological vs. Ethical Egoism

You may have heard it argued that there is no such thing as a selfless good deed. This statement has served as the focal point of numerous books, lectures, and yes, even a Friends Episode (The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS) (I know…I draw from Friends a lot…I digress.) However, there are two main schools of thought on the issue; psychological egoism and ethical egoism.

Psychological egoism proposes that the individual does not choose to be self-interested. Psychological egoists claim that the human is inherently self-interested, and therefore cannot help being as such.

Ethical egoism on the other hand, does not deny that the individual is self-interested, but rather, states that the individual chooses to be as such. Any action, even if seemingly altruistic can be traced to self-interested intentions.

Typically, when presented with the basic description of each position, many find themselves quickly aligning with one side or the other. We identify easily with the notion of self-interest.  In every creature, there is an instinct of and for survival. Therefore the notion of being self-interested is biological. If one doesn’t look out for their own interest, who will? If one wishes to survive, he/she must seek to benefit self, even at the risk of hurting others. Thomas Hobbes even stated that “we would be fools if we didn’t look after ourselves.” Many may also conjure up parallels with social Darwinism and the survival of the fittest.

The ethical egoist may commit a seemingly altruistic act as well, however, the action is ultimately self-interested, in lines with the notion of “what goes around comes around.”

There are several major problems with the theory of psychological egoism. The first is that falsification is not possible. Psychological egoism always looks for selfish motivations and refuses to recognize any other kind. The nature of the theory cannot allow for any other motives. A good theory must allow for the possibility of counter-examples.  The second problem is it does not take motivation into account. Doing something to benefit oneself is not always selfish. It must be taken into account, what it is that the person seeks to gain, rather than just the notion of seeking to gain. Changing language from unselfish to less selfish is incorrect. Lastly, if notions such as true love, and genuine friendship exist, psychological egoism cannot hold true.

Ethical egoism has problems as well. Ethical egoism seems to be self-contradictory. There cannot be a moral theory that says that one’s duty should be something that conflicts with someone else’s duty, so ethical egoism is therefore inconsistent. Few ethical egoists find the above refute of their theory convincing. Ethical egoists don’t agree that we can’t have a moral theory which gives the green light to different concepts of duty. Altruism is inconsistent with egoism.

So where do you fall? Is altruism impossible? Are we hard-wired for self-seeking behavior, even at the expense/inability to perform acts not in our best interest? Do we choose to commit selfish acts or do they run rampant through our brains without any control? Can we live in a world where selfless good deeds are a fairy tale? Do we want to? Perhaps if that is in our best interest….

Lose the Linus
August 12, 2008, 4:27 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

We have so much to learn from children. Kids will play with anyone. My two year old daughter is a true people person. She lights up whenever she sees another child, and is quick to say hello and invite them to play. SHe doesn’t care what clothes they are wearing, or what sandboxes they run in. She isn’t concerned with their social status at their preschool and doesn’t care if she has played with them numerous times before. She just sees a friend. A person. An opportunity. When do people stop using this mindset, and begin treating certain people and events as just not worth their time?

When did people become security blankets? So many people I know use other people as their security blanket. Like Linus, they won’t go anywhere without that one friend, or that one couple, or someone from that social circle. Other “blankets” just aren’t worth getting to know. It doesn’t matter how great new blankets are…all people see is that its something new…something unknown, and something not worth the time or effort to get to know.

I am so driven crazy by people who ask, “Well, who else is coming?” when you invite them to something, or when they wait to respond to something until they know the guest list. At first, you can take this personally, and say to yourself, “Oh, I guess I’m not good enough of a reason to come,” or , “I don’t want to come over to your house unless someone “good” is coming.” Now, I have taken the stance that those people just need to get over themselves. They are scared, and are cheating themselves. You can’t allow yourself to cling to one or two close friends or couples..Its not healthy and doesn’t allow you to grow. You need a variety of people in your life to challenge you…to support you…to make you a better person. You don’t need your best friend around to have a good time.

Let the friend blanket go.

Where have all the twentysomethings gone?

I think there is an all-consuming black hole that opens up the minute traditional youth group kids graduate from high-school. Occasionally, the black hole delays its swallowing of said kid until midway through their freshman year of college, after college group loses its luster. It isn’t your traditional science book black hole….it is actually far more treacherous. It is the hole of apathy.

I swear that I hear Michael Stipe singing when twenty-something previous church kids walk by. “There’s me in the corner. There’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion.” And they do. Once they’re done with the barrage of camps, retreats, and Wednesday night (meat-market/whiffle ball/dancing on your chair to worship songs) church services, they disappear from churches, and do not re-emerge until they reproduce. Apparently God has no place in the lives of single college kids and couples without children.

Why do twentysomethings stop caring about God? There are several excuses commonly given…1)My church doesn’t have a good college group/singles group/young couples group. For me, this excuse doesn’t cut it. My college group was NOT a place where I necessarily fit. It was full of lots of granola type girls, guys who ALWAYS had to have deep theological discussions, and floaters that had extremely small amounts of Bible knowledge. It was very hard to relate, but I went, and I was active. I taught at my college group, and knew that it was important…fellowship is vital to a Christian, especially fellowship with fellow Christians. They understand you in a way non-Christians never will. And, another of my churches didn’t have a young couple’s group, so instead of perpetuating the problem and sitting around whining about it, I started one. You have to make it happen. Don’t use this excuse.

2)I’m so busy. This INFURIATES me. EVERYONE is busy. EVERYONE. We all worked, went to school, and had a social life. And you know what, if you don’t have room for God in your busy life, you have cut out the one thing that actually matters. If you can’t pull your butt out of bed once a week to honor your Savior and meet with other believers, you have your priorities all out of whack. “I’m so tired.” “I really need a day off.” “My Sunday is sort of my day to relax.” Give it a rest….I hope your extra hour of sleep means more to you than a relationship with Jesus.

3) We’re just always out of town. Again, you planned your trips…And, I find it hard to believe that you are gone EVERY single weekend during the summer. There are couples at our church that I literally have not seen since May. I guarantee that they will re-surface the first rainy weekend in September.

I could go on. This is obviously something I feel strongly about. Mostly because it just makes me sad. Of my youth group of 50 or so, only a  dozen or so still attend church on a regular basis. Our new church seems to be plagued with young couples adhering strictly to one of the above excuses for not attending regularly. Even as a pastor’s wife, I will be one of the first to admit that it is not all about church. Its not…Your relationship with Jesus is really the only thing that matters…However, if you are not a part of your church family…if you are not fellowshipping with other believers, experiencing corporate worship, serving in some way…how are you getting fed? How are you developing your walk? I have read my Bible every day for the last eleven years, and if that was all I did, I would one hundred percent stagnate in my relationship with God. My husband and family are Christians..but if they were the only Christians I interacted with…I would never grow, or learn, or get to serve. My faith would not be challenged.

So, I say its time for the twentysomethings to climb out of the black hole of apathy, and face the real reason they aren’t a part of a church body. They don’t care. One of my all time most-convicting verses in the Bible is found in Revelation 2:4-5, “You have forsaken your First Love. Remember the height from which you have fallen.” I want to go up to some people and say, “Don’t you remember the fire you felt?” “Don’t you remember what it is like to be right with Jesus?” “Wasn’t it awesome to have such a solid group of Christian friends to uplift you, support you, and keep you accountable?”

I can’t make my friends and others around me crawl out of their hole. I can’t make them care about God, and I can’t make them fall in love with Jesus again…But I can throw them a rope…I will be there…desperately praying for the black hole to go away.

Throwing away my rock

Shirley MacLaine once said, “Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends.” Who are the strangers in your life? Maybe you’ve been like me…Do you duck back inside your house the second your neighbor comes into view? Do you keep an over-watchful eye on your child at the playground to avoid the cliqueish Mommy banter that you secretly really want to be a part of? I do…My favorite move is the “busy shuffle.” Its the one where I need to seriously concentrate on my cup of coffee in the church lobby, or where I am suddenly extremely interested in the weekly bulletin. I’ve grown weary of my quick exits and all too fleeting glances.

I wrote a few weeks ago about “sitting on a rock.” This refers to the waiting we sometimes do when it comes to developing relationships. We become so self-conscious that we cheat ourselves out of friendships by waiting for people to come to us. The thing is, usually, everyone else is sitting on their rocks too. Someone has to get up first…Is it going to be you?

I recently found out that I’m not the only one that has been sitting around waiting for the masses to discover my “wonderfulness.” I think most people struggle with confidence from time to time. They allow their self-doubt to infiltrate any social setting, preventing them from allowing people into their lives.

I decided to get off of my rock of isolation, and make the first move. I am praying daily for God’s guidance, and for the right people to respond to my gestures and invitations. As I said in my previous post, I won’t have a friendship where I’m the only “giver,” but I am willing to be the set things in give people a chance to get to know me. And, I know that with courage in my heart, I can accomplish anything. Okay, that last line was a quote from my daughter’s Madeline movie, but its true. A few people have responded, and I am praying that something will develop. All I know is, fear doesn’t control me anymore. I realize that if someone chooses not to get to know me, or chooses to avoid social settings, it is THEIR issue, and not mine. I can’t take it personally if they like their rock. You can’t make people like you or get over themselves enough to talk…or to come over..But, the invitation stands…I’m open…Oh, and I have a rock for sale…I don’t need it anymore.