Wednesday, September 19, 2007

religion, part two

I guess that last entry was just my religious background, in the form of some disjointed rambling. But I felt I needed to talk about my background before I could really get into where I am right now.

So, as I said in my last post... I believe there is a very big difference between questioning and doubting. I've questioned things before, both intentionally and unintentionally. I've even had moments where I've just fallen away from God and felt far from Him for no real reason I can determine. But in any case- questioning and doubting are not at all equal.

Right now, I am doubting in a way I've never done before.

I feel like I'm very much in the middle of believing and not, and it's a very frightening sensation to realize that you doubt some of the very things in which you've believed most strongly.

I don't know exactly what has brought this on; it's certainly not some big traumatic event in my life, or anything like that. I would guess that it's because I've been in college for about two years now, and while here I've really only gone to church when I've gone home. Christians would probably say that I haven't spent enough time with God, and that's why I've fallen away from him so much. Atheists would probably say I've just had enough distance from the church to realize everything that's wrong with it. I don't know what the truth is, but in any case, everything is different in my head.

I do know that I'm not just disheartened with the church. There will be people in any group who are radical or misguided or just plain bad, and because religion is so closely linked to emotion and values, I think it's a far more common phenomenon.

I think part of what's going on is that I've been thinking a lot about my dad's death lately. It's been over nine years now, which seems like such a long time-- and, really, it is. I'm now teaching kids who are just as old as I was when my dad died. But I'm distanced enough from it now that I think some of my thoughts regarding the whole event are getting a bit more rational. I still get sad and cry on a fairly regular basis, but I'm also realizing that I think part of the reason I clung so tightly to religion after that point was because I fiercely wanted to believe there is a Heaven.

I was eleven years old, and my dad died suddenly. It certainly makes sense.

If I did believe mostly because I wanted to, I didn't even know I was doing it. And again, that might not be the case... but I see it as a possibility that I'd prefer to believe in the hopes of Heaven and seeing my daddy again rather than the near-certainty that he's just gone from my life forever. I mean, I'd still very much prefer that, but I'm seeing that maybe this was an influence to my faith that I didn't even realize.

I wonder, too, if some of the feelings I hold as evidence of my faith are really all in my head, or somehow misinterpreted. Sometimes during hymns or songs at church, I'd get this fantastic goosebumpy feeling- but sometimes I get a similar feeling from a particularly moving piece in band, or from music I'm listening to. I love music-- who's to say that my goosebumps aren't just from the beauty of a room full of people singing together? Or even from the sense of community and unity I feel among those people?

I don't know that I'd ever be able to completely disbelieve in God. It's something that's hard for me to even doubt, because it's so firmly ingrained in my thoughts and feelings and beliefs. Maybe I'm not so much doubting my religion as not fitting in the religion I currently have. Maybe another denomination or religion altogether fits my own beliefs better. But I do think it's possible that I could fall away from religion, or at least organized religion, completely.

To some people, this might not seem difficult, but it's like someone making you doubt gravity, or something you've really, truly, thought to be true for a very, very long time. Even if they're wrong, it can really shake your foundation. It's daunting to even think about completely disbelieving.

What's worse is that most of my friends who know me well and care at all about religion are very much on one end or the other of the religious spectrum-- they either believe strongly in God, or they believe strongly that there is no God.

I don't feel like I can probably talk to them about it, because I don't want anyone trying to convince me. No one would be malicious in their intent, but the Christians (or Jews, I suppose) naturally think that believing in God is what's best for me, and the Atheists think that my life would be better off without religion, I'm sure. And people get so vehement about religion... I don't want to offend anyone, but I also don't want anyone's personal beliefs pushing me. I don't know what direction I want to go with this, but I very much know that I will not let my religious beliefs or lack thereof be anyone's victory. There is no one who I'll blame, and no one who will get credit. This is a me decision, and while talking it out with people might help, I'm not going to let someone's personal quest to 'save' people or someone's personal vendetta with Christianity come down to me. I refuse.

I'm not sure what to do with this doubt. A part of me thinks I should take the opportunity to study the Bible and religion in depth, and really develop my own viewpoint. Or even to go to church for a few weeks, or to different churches, and try to worship my way back into believing or hope that some pastor hits the nail on the head for me. But, honestly, I don't feel like it. Delving into this just makes me think more, and I really don't want to deal with that at the moment. I don't even know if there are any other options for action... I feel like I'm destined to be indecisive for who knows how long, and I may just have to deal with that.

Peace said something yesterday that made me think. He said that he hopes no matter what I end up believing, that I don't lose my faith. I think what he meant was that whether or not I end up believing in God, he hopes I can keep my optimism and hope about life and the world. (Correct me if I'm wrong, Peace.) I guess that's what I'm going to shoot for, for now, because I don't really know what other goal I can make but to follow my heart and figure out what I believe (and I have no idea, at this point, how to really do that).

Religion, part one.

For as long as I can remember, my family has attended a Lutheran church. We've stayed in mostly the same congregation, although at one point our church consolidated with another. I've gone to Vacation Bible School and Sunday School every year and church camp a few times; I've gone through Baptism, First Communion, and Confirmation. I've been in youth group, I've served as a junior leader, and I went to Lutheran Leadership Training School twice. I spent many years in children's choir or youth choir, a short while in handbell choir, and many times have played an instrument or cantored (led the songs) during a service.

My church has provided me with many things, but probably the most important is the feeling of community. Our family's closest friends are another family who has gone to the same church as us since before my birth. We go camping almost every year with another family that used to be in our bible study. We spent so much time with my youth leader's family that their youngest son is best friends with my brother and the middle son and I dated for a few short weeks. I've gone on many short trips and to many activities with my youth group over the years, including a road trip to Atlanta that lasted a week and a half. I joined the church's Watercolor Painting class one summer and talked to people who were old enough to remember stories about my grandfather (who died before I was born). We even have connections to the pastor's family- my little brother dated the pastor's daughter for almost two years, and prior to that I had a crush on the pastor's son (who's now going to become a pastor himself). (Haha, I hope he doesn't read this- that'd be awkward.)

Anyway-- it probably sounds like I'm writing this to brag, but it's actually quite the opposite. I'm just wanting to show that I have a very strong church background, and that all my life I've believed in God and Jesus and all the basic tenets of Christianity.

When I was in high school, I went to LTS- Leadership Training School- at a church camp. It had some leadership activities similar to every other leadership seminar for youth I'd ever been to, but for the most part it was a small group (about 30 kids), and we cared. At most church camps, you have people (it seems like boys, especially) who just don't get into the God stuff. In discussions, they're quiet and won't talk. In worship, they're too embarrassed to sing or dance or get into it at all. In activities, they complain and act too 'cool' to participate... but not at this camp. Everyone who was there really wanted to be there.

At LTS (the first time I went), we were placed in small groups, and mine could not have been more perfect. I have never felt closer to God than I did in this group-- they were smart, they were passionate, and most of all, they made me think. Our group leader, Frank, was hilarious- but he was also excellent at questioning whatever you said. He'd ask, constantly, why you believed something the way you did, or what sort of evidence you had to back it up. He wasn't harsh, but he invited all of us to do what many Christians seem so afraid of- questioning what we're told and what we think we know. Defining their own personal religious beliefs by examining the facts and feelings behind them. No one was wrong, although there were disagreements and challenges to what people had to say. We'd discuss a topic like the church's stance on homosexuality, which some people see as so clear-cut, and we'd pull out our bibles- all different versions- and look at the same verses, and talk about alternate interpretations.

To me, without change, one cannot grow. To me, questioning things and reexamining what I'm sure of and being willing to change is the only way to have a truly dynamic, living faith like is preached about so often. You can't truly believe something just because someone tells you-- or at least I can't. Even if the evidence can't be seen (like evidence of God), I have to experience some sort of evidence to believe something. I fully recognize that I could misinterpret evidence, which would lead me to believe something untrue, but that's why I'm willing to go back and look again at things I think I'm sure of.

Not everyone in my own congregation agrees with me, of course-- many many people confuse 'questioning' with 'doubting.' It bothers me to see so many people who will staunchly defend something they have never or barely looked at themselves. They trust the church scholars to determine their personal values and beliefs for them, and even worse, some of them let those values and beliefs lead them to hate other people. It frustrates me, both because I think it's so wrong, and because I get thrown into that same category by some people just by labeling myself as a Christian.

I'll end this one with a real anecdote (I don't write those enough, considering the name of the blog).

One day my younger brother came home from elementary school and told us a story. At school that day his friend had asked him if he was Christian, and he'd said "No, I'm Lutheran." And the other boy said his mom had told him he couldn't play with kids who weren't Christian.

At the time, we focused on the part of the story where Steve said "I'm not Christian; I'm Lutheran" because, in all honesty, it was funny. It was one of those cute little kid things where they just haven't learned all the ways the world classifies things. Steve didn't realize that Lutheran was a kind of Christian, and that he was actually both. He just knew he was Lutheran, and that wasn't the same word as Christian.

When I think about it now, I still chuckle at that part, but the overall story is so sad. To think that a mother would tell her son to discriminate in his friendships like that! It just kills me that this kid's going to grow up, and at least for awhile, think that non-Christians are inherently bad. This boy's going to grow up with the idea of Christianity as some kind of exclusive club, and I hate it.

I have a lot more I could say about religion, and I want to take the time to go the direction with this post that I originally meant to, but this post is long already, and I need to do some physics homework.

Hopefully I'll get back to this, because there are some crazy religion-related thoughts going on in my head that I need to get out.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

oh, kids.

A few days ago, I was helping a fifth-grader.

Austin: How do I put these (*does air quotes*) in writing?

He knew that air quotes meant sarcasm, and he wanted to use that in his writing. He just didn't realize that air quotes were really air quote marks. Like the punctuation ones.