Thursday, May 7, 2009

I'm back (but I'm mostly just musing about building my house)

This is said just to be safe, just in case anyone actually has been following this blog intensely (which I severely doubt considering how infrequently I posted): I’m back in the states and readjusting, trying to take stock of how I’ve changed and above all trying to keep walking forward. More fundamentally, though, I’ve been thinking about what it even means to say that one has changed. Do we ever experience true, lasting change, or is it possible that we sometimes just experience things without really changing at all? And, if you have changed, how can you tell when those changes are neutral or when they’re to be considered growth or back-tracking? All of these questions either caused me to jump a little too far for comfort from the shore or it’s all the kicking that I’ve been doing in trying to keep my head above that water that stirred these questions to the surface. I have no answers today; it would just be me typing to try and convince myself of ideas I don’t yet believe. I think that I need to has it out with God first before I start trying to placate myself.

You know the man who built his house on sand? I think that as much as that sand can represent how we often put false hope in worldly power and success to save us, it seems to me that we can also try and prop ourselves up on platitudes and half-truths that have the appearance of Godly wisdom, but are usually just a mix between conventional wisdom and our own musings. What about God’s word or genuine prayer or the words of wise saints before us? How often do I let those things influence my perception of any given thing? YES independent thought. But are we really so stupid to deny that being influenced by others in our beliefs is inevitable? Embrace it and be freed by it: we are created to live in relationship to others, their lives are meant to impact ours and ours theirs. This should check our extreme individualism.

More and more I’ve been seeing how there really is a legitimate need for some kind of sacred scripture in our lives. If I don’t turn to the Bible, then I find myself helplessly reaching out for some other source of guidance and wisdom in the form of written words. And I don’t think I’m alone in this, but it seems to be a common theme throughout history. Societies from time immemorial have valued stories and folklore as ways of teaching and preserving wisdom, and many of these societies have gone on to write their stories and codes down as sacred scripture. This is another case in life where it seems that a natural inclination or desire, like two pieces of a puzzle connecting, indicates the existence of something that is meant to bring fulfillment.

This is why, in our concern for the responsible handling of the Bible, Christians should be careful to not demean its sacredness and rightful centrality in the lives of those who wish to love and honor God. Why should we be so scared of Bibliolatry (idolatry of the Bible) that we take away what I think we somehow almost inevitably need? We need concrete examples of how to love and serve God, and maybe even more importantly, illustrations of who God is and how he has acted in concrete ways throughout history. Yes, he’s always acting and yes the Bible’s stories are culturally dated, but when one can see the truth as portrayed in a particular time and social situation, isn’t it eternally edifying, challenging, and revealing? And the fact is that I’m always going to be looking somewhere for this truth; why am I so eager to turn away from looking in the Bible but so eager to turn to Thoreau or Chaucer or Shakespeare? Maybe the reason is more sinister than being wary of Bibliolatry. Maybe I have an oh so subtle (wink) streak of pride that says “I’m ready to move beyond The Bible to something less fundamental.” And with the word “fundamental”, I’ve revealed myself for having fallen into the classic sin intellectualism. All the great authors, poets, and philosophers have much to offer in challenging and shaping one’s worldview and beliefs. But when you get right down to it, isn’t life make or break on the level ofisn’t life make or break on the level of fundamentals, the basics?

The hardest part of truth is that it is often abrasive to us on a very basic level, and our ineptness at living it out in word and deed should be what keeps us humble. It’s when we start trying to nuance our conceptualization of reality to the point that we think we’ve come up with formulas with which to effectively judge people and master situations that truth is most likely to escape us. I know now that I’ve got to watch this tendency in me, even as I do challenge myself by reading Sister Carrie (which I just picked up at the library). Yes, Dreiser, I’ll enter the world you’ve painted, attempting to be a good student. I’ll see the world you see in all its dark tones and sinister intentions. Just please don’t take offense when I hold up what you offer to what I think is a more accurate standard of the real thing (yes, I realize that faith has a role in this, and I’m perfectly okay with that). I want a house built on sand, not asphalt.

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