because, god.

Not you, but god.

God does these things.  You don’t.
Don’t ever think you do them.
He does.

Wowwww – how many times have I heard that?

I remember my friend’s 13th birthday party.  All anyone could say was “We are grateful god made you this way, we recognize that god gave you the strength to be the person you are, we are happy that god has chosen this path for you.  God gave you this, god allowed this to happen for you, god opened that door.”
Meanwhile, you have done nothing.  But let god guide you.  While you sat there.  And didn’t make those decisions to be the person you are, to actively choose good over bad, to work hard…

I remember talking to a friend about my “purpose” that I have chosen in life.  I was determined that I had found my “calling”.  “But what if it’s not a ‘calling’ but actually just god telling you to do that?  What if it’s just god’s purpose for you?  Maybe that’s why you’re here and you’re just fulfilling his duty, whether you know it or not.”
Meanwhile, I am just a puppet.  I haven’t been a good person on my own, god has just made me to be that way.  I’ve been seeking out these opportunities because it’s what he wants me to do, not because I myself have chosen that path…

Today, my hometown was shook up over a school stabbing.  One of the kids who was stabbed pulled a fire alarm to evacuate the school.  I was reading the comments and several people said something to the effect of “God used you well.  God will continue to use you well.”  and “god bless, god knows what he’s doing…”
Meanwhile, disregard all credibility to this kid because he had nothing to do with it.  He had no choice.  God used him as a puppet.  No need to remember this kid for his own choices, because god gave him no option and chose for him.

get it.  I swear I do.  I get why people believe god is doing everything and making all of the choices.  But I have a few major problems with the whole concept:
1. Obedience.
2. Omniscience and omnipotence.
3. Credibility.
Let me break it down for you…

 

Obedience
It was made very clear in the Book of Exodus that Moses did not want to listen to god’s direction for him.  He was basically all “Hell no, bro”, so god spoke directly to him and finally compromised by asking Moses to direct while Aaron, Moses’s brother, did all of the talking to the Hebrews.

What’s my point?
Moses had a choice.

Does that mean I have to actively hear god in my head and deny him to know that the choice is mine?  I don’t think that’s the case.  I think if there’s a god directing my life, I would probably know when I was obeying him – or at least feel like something extraordinary guided me.  Something more than adrenaline and pure survivalism.

 

 

Omniscience and Omnipotence
This was actually the first argument a friend of mine made against god.  She’s an atheist or agnostic of some sort who works in a scientific, logic-based field.  She could throw the whole concept out the window on there being a single god guiding all of us merely because, as she said it, “Like there’s really a god paying that much attention to every single person on earth!”

I have to admit, it’s a very compelling argument.

But, god.  God’s omniscience, omnipotent, and we can never expect to understand all of his ways.  (Remember my “catchall” argument from previous entries?)  Yet we were made in his image… but only his image?  I guess Eve didn’t touch the Tree of Knowledge in Genesis, so we weren’t able to understand how god works…  She had tastebuds for the Tree of Life instead.

 

Credibility
This is definitely the part that stings the most.  And the one that is so hard to argue about.  I could say it’s hard to see that a god is making my choices for me, and I could say that it’s hard to wrap my head around the capabilities of god…and any listening Christian or other would sympathize with my incompetence.  But for me to stand up and say “that’s not being fair”, that saying god told that boy to pull the fire alarm or that god is the reason I and my friend have made our good life choices as such is taking away what we have done, well they’d have a real problem with that.

Because god is the reason for everything.

Without the creator, I cannot be, and for me to take advantage of that, to take a stake in the claim, well that’s just absurdly inappropriate.  (Mmmk.  It reminds me of the same attitude that we don’t have to correct the world because god will.  We can just all wait for the second messiah, for god to intervene.  Right…)

 

I’m not saying one way is right over the other, but what I am saying is that I sympathize for anyone who feels like they’re achieving something and then feels crushed because someone else takes the credit away from them.  Maybe the credit does go to a god or gods or aliens or mind-controlling microbes, whatever… but the point of the matter is, we emphasize so much about how we need to make good choices and live our own lives that it seems a little hypocritical to throw into the mix “but, god…he’s why”.

Ya know??

Actually Opening One’s Mind to Religion.

The idea of ever calling myself a certain “religion” type always gave me fear.  I too easily pictured “cults”.  I pictured these organized “cults” and then I remembered all of the negative history in the world that occurs under God’s “will”.  I’ve been trying to understand lately what it really is all about though, these pro- and anti-religious peoples vetting against one another.  I’m trying to see for myself what they’re about rather than spitting out words other people feed to me.

I got two books from the library: Knowing Scripture by R. C. Sproul, a tiny book that discusses what Scripture is really for, how to interpret it, and how people are spoiling it – and also The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.  I thought, “Sproul will be so dry… but Dawkins should be pretty interesting, I think.”  That’s because his book was long and confident-looking.

Well, I have completed both books and I was completely wrong.

Reviews on GoodReads have, for the most part, coincided with my sentiments quite exactly.  Whilst Dawkins seems to give a much more modern and forceful view on religion, he does it in such a righteous, arrogant baby fit that I came to hate it more and more and more with each chapter.  It was also mind-numbing repetitious, dispelling numerous tests and experiments (which were highly interesting, but I don’t think possible to put scientific control on).  One such experiment supposedly proved that praying for an individual didn’t help them get better but, if anything, made them worse.  Well, okay, because they’re at a hospital so obviously ill, you ask them to be in an experiment, and it is likely that the more people who pray for them the sicker they are – and they know it.  Regardless, it was the style that got me the most.

Another thing that deeply disturbed me was the way Dawkins seemed to make so many radical claims, all the while demonstrating his lack of understanding religion.  I used to be like that.  When I tried opening my mind, I became less so.  After finishing some of my latest readings, however, I have gained an entirely new perspective for devout Christians and why they preach the things they preach and act the ways they do.  Dawkins clearly either hasn’t reached this point of understanding, or he denies it or just completely shuts it out.  On any conflicting issue, you have to meet in the middle before you can make a solid assessment.  I hate how he comes in from the flank and doesn’t take a moment to understand the people he is bashing, especially after I just finished the other book.

The other book, Knowing Scripture, helped me understand the “literary” and “literal” tidbits of the Bible.  I believe Sproul is the kind of man who would acknowledge that certain words have been mistranslated.  I really like his approach to how to read Scripture and the way he emphasizes the lessons taken from them as being the most important – which I agree.  Too much of the Bible is outdated, especially in the Old Testament.  Furthermore, I really enjoyed his section about people “tailoring” religion.  He calls them “sensual” Christians.  You can’t pick and choose the rules you think apply.  You have to pick a method of interpreting God’s word, and then you have to constantly apply that method regardless of the outcome.  You can’t by wishy-washy – and I’ve always felt that way about religion.  He calls these kinds of people “sensual” because he sees them as looking for that instant satisfaction of this generation.  He argues that this is the kind of difference that exists between love and lust – one desirable, one like a plague.

Comparing these two books just made me realize how many people might feel the same way about something, but they shut each other down if they don’t get to the same conclusions by walking the same paths.  In the end, what does it matter how you get there?  If you arrive at the same place, how you get there is just what personally defines you and makes you as unique as the mind you used to think yourself there.  I like to think that I have managed to open my mind pretty wide to be accepting and to form my own, non-intrusive opinions.  Sure, they might come off as forceful here time to time, but I’m never actually that way in conversation.

Then again, maybe my views are the reason why I’ve identified as UU the past couple of years.

Avoid Being a Critic.

benin-06

As I struggle to understand the world around me as well as my own emotions and role, I realize how often I judge people in my mind.  You would think that the more I discover about humanity, the more I would come to dislike people who go against the grain of what I think is the right way to live.  On the contrary, it’s been quite the opposite.

I used to be haughty and swing around the opinions I’d been raised on like some kind of righteous sword without even having a cause for why I felt that way.  It was strictly due to my environment.  Moving away from home – and then eventually traveling independently – gave me the priceless ability to view myself from the outside.  And I didn’t like what I was seeing.

It’s too easy to get caught up in the toxic wave of judgment.  Someone says one thing, a few people nod in agreement, no one wants to be “that guy” who stands up and protests.  It’s important to remember people come from different backgrounds, experiences, comfort zones, and beliefs – and all of those things drastically influence their actions and choices.  Even if something seems wrong to you, that person might not be viewing it in the same way.

Let me take a very simple example:
When I was living in Ouidah, Benin in West Africa this time last year, it was perfectly ordinary to walk out onto the street from my compound to swarms of children with outstretched hands.  They would chant “Yovo!  Yovo!’ on account of me being a foreigner with lighter skin.  They would sing “Yovo, yovo, bon soir!  Ca va bien, merci!” without even knowing what they were saying.  They would then tug at my dress and beg for a “cadeau”.  The parents would chuckle and watch.  Yes, these children were taught to racially discriminate and demand money, to disregard personal space, and to taunt.  That’s at least how some people saw it and it angered them.  They’d spit out mean words and curse at the children.  I just smiled and played along, rarely given out any francs.  These kids were raised to believe this is how you treat people, this is how you survive.  And there’s nothing wrong with that because that is how they survive.  That’s how those kids get the coins they need to go to the Internet café.  Some of them probably give the change to their mom, and that’s how they have bread for dinner.  No harm done.

Probably the hardest part in avoiding being a critic, for me at least, has been realizing not everyone is so determined to live righteously.  Some people choose to just live and get by within the common rules.  They don’t strive to find some inner-peace or to travel the world or discover themselves.  They’re content like that.

I used to hate that.  I used to resent that and call it being lazy, selfish, stubborn…but really, it’s a choice.  In fact, I preach so much that morality is just a human-made concept in order to function in an optimal society – that we are really just animals.  So isn’t that perspective more animalistic?  I guess so…I just couldn’t see it before.

I think I always just wanted the best for myself, and then to see the best in others and help them bring it out.  It’s a tough line to walk, but there is a point when your suggestions should stop before intervention.  I see it between me and my peers, the ones who don’t say they’re inspired by my ambition and who continue with the same mundane life they grew up into.  The ones who don’t move or don’t try to make changes.  I’ve got to let them decide for themselves; they’ve already seen the things I have done and how those things have helped me.

So before you’re hasty at judging someone, consider why you’re doing it and why you think you’re better for what you do.  You might find you don’t have a legitimate reason after all.  You might realize you should remain a worst critic to only yourself, and I think you’ll be a better person for it.

Fear and Starting.

One thing that has got me wrapped up a lot in thoughts lately is committing to something, to starting. I write and will continue to write a lot about change, about fear, and about decisions. But what about when you combine change, fear, and decisions into a single moment? What does that become? Well, it may not seem obvious, but doesn’t it just become a new beginning?

Starting over, starting fresh, starting anew – that all sounds fantastic. But starting one thing often means replacing or ending another, if not simply stressing yourself out and spreading yourself too thin. Starting can mean a lot of unknown territory. Therefore, starting involves a lot of change, put into effect by cue of a decision, and constantly provoked by fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of having made that wrong choice. Fear of the consequences of that change.

So “starting” is deeply rooted in fear, no matter how wonderful and ambitious starting something might feel. I think what I fear the most about starting is my inability to endure and the probability (or sometimes inevitable reality) that I will fail. If I’m starting a new crocheting project, failure seems habitual. (If only you realized how many times I’ve forgotten a project, or set it aside and lost count of my stitches, or even left it somewhere for my cats to half-unravel. What’s worse is when I try to knit because, no matter how rectangular my piece should be, it always turns into a 45-45-90 triangle… ineptitude FTW!) If I’m starting a book, failure seems unlikely but not at all dangerous (bookmarks are easily forgotten and books re-shelved). But what if that failure involves other people?

I’m always fearful of starting anything involving another person. And I don’t just mean a friendship or relationship; I mean anything that might come with it an unspoken expectancy of consistency and repetition. I’m terrified of letting people down and being remembered for it. I’m also fearful of starting any kind of group or inspirational movement. It’s a silly fear, because my goal in life is to make a change in the world that will last longer than I will. You have to jump to kick-start such strides. But what if I jump and there was nowhere I could’ve gone? Something I missed? No one to follow me? What if everyone will stand at the top and just laugh at me and not help me back up?

It’s really easy to be frustrated by a friend who can’t pull himself away from the things he has grown to know best. He doesn’t want to abandon his old ring of friends, his family, his hometown, his high school memories. He wants to replay, relive, and continue to stay in the life he has always known. With me becoming such a reckless wanderer over the past year who invites nothing but chaos and unknowns as a way to get through the rough times, I tend to forget that he hasn’t experienced any new personal growth in a while. He doesn’t understand the inspiration in starting a new path.

It’s really hard to see that and then to step back and realize I can’t blame him for not taking that leap. I might not see leaving home or friends or an old relationship as a challenge the way it was two years ago, but I am afraid to speak my mind at times when I know he would stand up for himself. Those times are the latter of which I was speaking, the times that involve other people to start a movement. My friend is eager to get people onboard, to provoke their minds and create his own bandwagon. I, however, am afraid to do that; and it’s what I want to do the most.

That is when I got a fortune cookie that changed me: “Act boldly and unseen forces will come to your aid.”

When I got back from Colorado at the start of November, I sent out a survey to a lot of people whom I knew and didn’t know so well. It was a survey asking for feedback on the movement I wish to begin in my community. It was outlandish in ways and definitely provoking. I had some hateful responses from people who clearly are not personally involved. As much as I wanted to cave and let them defeat me, I remembered why I was doing this for the first place and realized it was not for me but for the people I care about. That’s when I started to let the positive feedback sink in and I realized how much praise I was being given.

“You’re an inspiration to me; your ideas are radical, but if they work this will be life-changing for so many people. Even if it doesn’t work, this will still change our lives by your inspiration.”

I’m not in it for the recognition, but that sentiment was exactly what I needed to make me realize this is why I’m here. I can’t sit back and let these desires burn; I’d burn up from anxiety. Instead, I have to let it catch me on fire and just go running off that cliff. I’ve gotten over my fear of changes in work, friends, and hometown, but now I’m going to get through this too and decide that I’ve got to put my armor down. People might hurt me from time to time, but I’ve got to act like a martyr for my cause before I even have a reason to be acknowledged. Confidence is enough to convince people you are not one to be questioned or taken lightly. And so I act boldly. And those forces have come to my aid from unseen places. The ball is rolling.

And that fortune is still sitting next to my stapler.