Archives For February 2013
(The following blog post was written by the very talented Fujisaku Yuka).
“O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” ~ Matthew 14:31
Most people are familiar with the story about Jesus walking on water during storm. He called his disciples to come to him. It was Peter who responded, left the boat and walked on water toward him. However, he soon became scared, doubted and sank.
Faith is such an important theme in New Testament. With faith, there is nothing impossible to be done by believers. Or so they say… But what about unbelievers like me? I am an agnostic, but I love Jesus, which probably makes me an Agnostic Christian. And I want this story about him to have some kind of meaning for me.
In where I Iive, religion is such an important aspect in the society. 99% of the population believes that religion is important and they cannot live without it. The unique thing is this society is a heterogeneous society when it comes to religion. To some, it must be unimaginable that Christians and Moslems can live side by side and call each other brother/sister. But this is truly happening here. While religious violence and extremism are on the rise, the majority of society actually believes in tolerance.
Religion has always been a part of my life. All my childhood, I was raised into believing that all religions are good (and no religion is evil). I don’t even remember how I began to understand the concept of heaven and hell. I’m not sure whether it was my parents, or the Sunday school teacher, or the priest or my school teacher (Yes, I went to a Christian School) who told me that in order to go to heaven, one MUST accept Jesus as God and savior. I believed this for at least 20 years and I probably had no doubt about it.
The funny thing is, when asked about the fate of non-believers, I would answer “I don’t know”. And it wasn’t just me… Almost, every single Christian, whom I know, would give the same agnostic answer “I don’t know” including the pastors. But we really believed that Jesus is the only way and you have to believe in the holy trinity to be saved. And we sort of believed the heaven only belongs to Christians. Well, sort of… Which raised a big question; Where does everyone else go?
We were not Catholics who believe in the existence of Limbo. We were Calvinist, for heaven sakes! Who believe in predestination, which in my opinion, one of the harshest and intolerant theology. In case you don’t know, it says that, whether you go to heaven or hell is determined even before you were born. So, basically, if you are not in the white list, you will go to hell no matter of the amount of good work you have put.
I realized there is something amiss. That even though the church makes it clear Jesus is the only way, we weren’t so sure about it. Deep inside, we knew it’s not true. How can a good god send good people to hell simply for not believing that Jesus is God? It’s an unacceptable notion to think that our non-believer friends would go to hell simply for not believing in Jesus. However, we were too afraid to admit to ourselves that, perhaps, Jesus is not the only way. We were afraid that the consequence would be hell.
Then, I started to redefine the world believing. When Jesus said “Believe in me”, what did he mean? Does it really mean we have to believe that he, Jesus, is God? Or does it mean that we to believe the good things he said? Or what? I have never felt that Jesus made it clear about this.
It took me several years to finally tell myself that Jesus did not demand people to believe him as God. I chose to believe that, if there is God, He/She must be a good god. Otherwise, I am not willing to lick his/her ass. I believe this is the problem with religion. That its god is surrounded with too many ass lickers who will serve anyone who can offer them heaven. They are not concerned about right or wrong, good or bad, just or unjust as long as they can save themselves from eternal torment. It can be the devil himself and they will still worship it as long as it can offer them salvation.
For some, I might be faithless. But I felt that I have more faith than I’ve ever used too. Not the kind of faith like the one I once held, but the faith that I believe in something good. Never before, I could say that Jesus is awesome with such conviction that I have today. And to abandon all my pass belief requires more of a leap of faith than to preserve it. When one grows in a society where religion is of such importance, this is not going to be easy. One will go out of the light into what those around view as the evil darkness.
It is a liberating experience. Without dogma binding me with fear, there is nothing I cannot do. It is almost felt like walking on water. Free without constriction, albeit a bit scary. There is no theological certainty which ensures that I will not sink. That I will not go to hell. But, there is no boat that restricts me from reaching what I want to reach. I just have to believe that I won’t and keep walking to share love to the whole world.
To think about it now, it is funny that my church uses an image of boat with cross on it as its logo, probably as a reference to Noah’s ark. But I realize now that Jesus is not always on the boat. There are times when he is just floating in the sea of uncertainty and in order to reach him you have to jump off the boat. Of course, those who chose to stay in the boat may be just fine. Perhaps, it is much safer that way. But to walk on water is truly an exhilarating experience.
I was recently asked a quite simple question. “What do we need saving from?”
Being that I was raised in a Christian home, graduated from a Christian liberals arts university, and served as a youth pastor for several years, you would think the answer would involve the words sin or damnation. However, the aim of We Occupy Jesus is to focus on the commonalities between atheists and the religious alike. A skeptic would find no threat of hell compelling (nor should they, in my opinion). A growing number of Christians are doubting hell itself anyway. Regardless of your own beliefs in the divine, reason must prevail, i.e., there must be a reason we all need saving, a reason that resonates with all of us, a reason why salvation is indeed an imperative. If we have all been bestowed with the task of convincing our fellow brothers and sisters they are foul, vile creatures in need of a magical Jesus spell to cure their dark nature (given to them by merely existing), I fear the outcome will be bleak.
So, if there is no God, no Devil, no Hell, why should we need saving? Naturally, if there is no punishment or retribution for sins, one may feel there is nothing to fear (besides politicians and Jehovah’s Witnesses). But let us take the notion of salvation back to its core. What is the real meaning? What is basic?
We are human.
To be human means we have potential, usually unrealized. Most of us would say we could be better, live healthier, be kinder, do more than we currently do. Some have resigned themselves to a humanity that falls far short of their abilities. There may be a number of reasons why they have chosen such a lifestyle, but the outcome remains. They may be lead to believe that their choice to live as they do is an exercise of freedom, that their own autonomy and carnal will are to be elevated above any external notion of morality, ethics, or civic duty. In a postmodern world, they are exempt from any metric other than those constructed by their own mind.
A larger lie fed to those in darkness is that their life is contained, set apart from others. Each life affects those around it, and no one is immune from this reality. How differently might the child’s life have been had her father’s apathy not been so blinding? How much grander would your son’s graduation have been if you had only shown up on time? Our lives are a series of stones breaking a watery surface, rippling out into eternity. We fall short of our potential everyday. That should not be cause for guilt, nor for dismissal. It is the reality that speaks to us at every moment of every day. We are capable of more.
But “So what?” you say. We all have things to improve upon, but that’s a far cry from needing saving, right?
This is where the narrative of Jesus comes in. Stripping away the dogma, the theology, the religiosity, we can look past the veil to what the story can mean for us all. What does his story represent? Jesus represents the divine-human overlap, the union of heaven and earth, humanity realized. In him we can clearly see how far we fall short. In that moment of clarity, salvation becomes possible. Matters of his divinity fall to the wayside. We can simply appreciate a life, a story, a passion that overflows its own place in history.
In short, Jesus represents the fullness of our capacity to love and to live fully in our own space and time. A life that exceeds its own boundaries, a life that inspires all those who hear of its name to live for something beyond themselves, such is a life capable of saving others. More radically, such a life saves oneself from itself.
We all need saving from ourselves. Whether such salvation is the work of heaven or earth is beside the point. We all have our part to play, in both our own liberation as well as others’. Still need convincing? I may just come knocking on your door.
Has a song ever changed your life? There are so many. For a moment, try to number them. How many have you heard in your lifetime? How many tunes have you hummed? You may find yourself in the same predicament as Abraham, given the task of numbering the stars. Yet you have your own playlist, most likely comprised of a handful of songs that always seem to prevail over the others. These are the melodies that brought you peace and comfort, rejuvenation and inspiration. But ever so often, a song comes along that changes everything.
I think music is so very powerful because it takes us to places in our mind we are not ready to find in life. We are temporarily transported to another realm. There, true love has conquered. Fears are overcome. Death is romanticized. Pain is removed. New life is found. Other times it represents places in our past we could otherwise never visit again. Long lost friends are found there. Time and space must retreat momentarily. We become their masters.
We can gaze out over the vast and epic sea, oblivious to the worlds unknown that lie beyond. We can sit on the shore, headphones in our ears. We lie and tell ourselves nothing is out there. We see only water both to the east and to the west. Everything is known. The same songs, the same ocean of life. Any musician can tell you, music is another language. It is another world entirely. It is not something that can be simply learned, but discovered gradually. While there are a finite number of songs, there are infinite ways to experience them.
So it goes with God.
Do I mean to reduce God to a song? By no means. I do not even mean to suggest I can know God exists. Yet, imagine that we both sit side by side, feet in the sand. One of us has headphones in, the other simply listens to the roar of the waves crashing against the shoreline. One of us sings a song the other cannot hear.
“There is no song. All I hear is your voice in the midst of the waves,” one says.
“There is only the song,” replies the other. “All I see is a silent sea.”
Who is right? We can never hear all that can be heard. We can never know all there is to know. We can never see all there is to see.
If we proclaim to know with certainty there are no gods watching over us, this does not give us reign over reason, mastery over the elements, status above the faithful. We do, however, look at the vast ocean of life quite differently, with different songs in our head than others.
If we have divine visitation, a revelation that worlds do in fact lie beyond the deep blue horizon, we may look suspiciously at our brother who gawks at such mariner tales. How can they not see what we see? We can feel it in the air.
Each new song should remind us that we are but travelers in a foreign land, that there is more beauty to be found than previously thought. When someone tells you about God, they are singing a song only they can hear. Their song is not God, but the song still plays. Who are we to say their song was never meant to be written? It just may be the tune that saves them.
Or saves you.
But how can a song save us? It just may vanquish the deafening silence of despair, depression, and darkness. It just may remind us that there is always more to life than what we’ve made it out to be. It just may remind us that life is to be experienced, to be discovered, to be sung.
And none of us are wearing matching headphones.
I am an atheist who supports WOJ because I believe there IS common ground held between believers and non-believers rooted in respect for others, support of the separation of church and state, human rights and equality. Little groups of us working here and there can make small differences but when those little groups unite, leaving behind the walls built between belief and non-belief….things are gonna start happening and I want to be there when it does!” -Lisa
Several years ago, I confidently put my pencil down on the desk, my final essay complete. I had proudly finished my Systematic Theology exam before anyone else. It was the last test of my undergrad. It was the culmination, the telos, the thundering crescendo to my magnum opus. As Jesus would have put it…
It was finished.
This moment represented much more than a semester under my belt. It meant so much more than a bachelors degree. It meant even more than the transition to a more lucrative vocation. I had become, for all intents and purposes, a theologian. I had learned the “truths” I had been searching for. I could articulate them with clarity, with zeal, with passion. While I knew I had more to learn over the course my life through continued research and reflection, I had at least conquered those gnawing questions that haunted me for so long.
You see, I grew up a fundamentalist… without even knowing it.
I was a pentecostal in the Church of God (Cleveland, TN). While I still have many friends who I knew and grew up with in that tradition, I no longer count myself among their ranks. Unlike many young persons who simply warmed the pews, I took it all in like a sponge. I mean, before my very eyes people began speaking in unknown tongues, dancing in the aisles, prophesying, and warning of the coming judgment of the Lord. Hell was a real threat, close as a car wreck on the venture back home. Sin was infectious, piercing our flesh with every “worldly” commercial, song, or curse word uttered on the playground. It was truth. It was reality.
And it scared the living sh#t out of me.
As I grew older I carried this fear with me. It wasn’t a paralyzing fear that came to me in nightmares, but it was indisputably with me. It affected my relationships, caused me to judge others and made me feel terrible about myself. I was under the delusion that God was somehow keeping score, counting the impure thoughts I had, just waiting for me to slip up. One unfortunate side-effect was the fact that other people had their own expert opinion on the subject. Pastors, friends, girlfriends, everyone. Basically it broke down like this…
1. Most everyone is going to hell.
2. No one is going to hell.
3. Hell doesn’t exist. Neither does God.
Are you kidding me? Something of such grave importance should be decided, right? I mean, if there really was a hell it should be as evident as a birthmark on every new-born baby’s forehead spelling out “Yes, hell exists.” Manuals for avoiding hell should be found inside every meteor that falls to earth. We should have an audio transcript of God giving us the specifics, available on iTunes. And we’re just supposed to believe it? With no evidence?
In college I was exposed to a whole new world of discussion on the topic. I was able to study the Church Fathers, the various historical theologies that developed over time, even the contemporary scholars who still were striving to bring relevance to the topic. Who would have guessed that there were countless interpretations? Who would have guessed that the matter was not settled by any stretch of the imagination?
I stepped out into the world with new eyes. I had a new peace about God, the world, and the life to come. I knew what I believed. I knew why I believed it. I was on a mission to free others trapped from the same web of fear woven for me. But then something happened. I realized something even more terrifying.
Some had grown accustomed to their cages.
You see, I had set out to find answers. Many others had never looked for answers. They had simply taken the answers as originally given and moved on with their lives. They had no interest in finding clarity. For them the matter was settled. I then became a victim of apologetics. My newfound freedom was suddenly taken from me, replaced with a burden to defend my new convictions. Every sermon sickened me. Every evangelical expression of faith made me roll my eyes. Jesus had been hijacked by a bunch of uneducated hicks who refused to reevaluate their categories of bigotry, racism, social injustice, and of course…
My freedom was tainted. My joy was gone. I was back in the tomb, the boulder immoveable. I wanted nothing to do with Christianity. I had more in common with atheists and agnostics. I found myself in an awkward position, defending my own views against the godless and faithful alike. I had nowhere to go.
I had let truth become a burden. I had become consumed with weeding out misconceptions, narrow-minded philosophies, any ignorant or uninformed articulation. But I came to find something interesting. Even if I were to offer a water-tight case for a theological position, few people cared. It did nothing for them. They were either uninterested in the subject matter (e.g. atheists) or unwilling to reconsider their own views in light of greater scrutiny (e.g. fundamentalists). Truth had become a burden too heavy to carry, a poison in my veins.
I came upon a phenomenon known to many as “The Wall.” There is no real way to describe it, but you know it when it happens. I had hit the wall. I no longer cared for theology, for academia, for debates, for apologetics, for church. Everything was at a stand-still. Now that I think about it, the wall felt a lot like a giant boulder, blocking my exit for that tomb.
I don’t remember the exact day the stone rolled away, but the light is now blinding. I am slowly emerging from the darkness of my cold chamber, but I’m wrapped in the warmth of a new day. A new “truth” is sinking down deep in my bones, a truth that hums and sings and teaches you the words. It is a truth that does not merely preach freedom, but is freedom itself. I’d call this freedom “love” but you may misunderstand. It slows down time, bringing things into focus, silencing the noise of your own ego, your own agendas.
If you’re reading this post, poised to respond with your own interpretation or philosophy, you miss the point. If the implications of others’ beliefs keep you up at night, if they stir your spirit to vanquish those falsities, those demons spouting lies, simply pause and reflect for a moment. Be still. Taste the fruit of your efforts. Are they sweet or bitter? When you put up your own walls to defend your treasures of reason, or heaven, or ideology, what view are you blocking? Are you seeing the big picture?
Imagine laying down your truths at your feet. All of them. Imagine looking out onto the horizon with a peace that whatever the new dawn brings, you are ready. Whatever you leave behind, you no longer require. The walls have fallen. You have finally seen the truth for the first time.
Then, and only then, is it finished.