Friday, February 27, 2009

Afternoon Theology




Two O'clock, and no call. That means the rest of the day is mine. Good. I got a call for the night shift last night- the toughest of the runs in the small school system I sub for. I hate the assignment, but there hasn't been much work lately, and I'll gladly take whatever they toss my way. Shrinking enrollment, and budget cuts caused them to eliminate most of the night jobs some years back. Now each of the night guys services two schools, and splits the shift between the campuses. Half of each school gets cleaned each night, so the rooms are all serviced every other day. It's a terrible system, but it is what it is, and, like I said, I'm glad to just get the work at all. Nonetheless it's just plain hard. I came crawling home last night too tired to even talk, and I'm still pretty low on energy.




I just got back from the corner. Old John was there, and he was talking religion with a fellow I've seen before, but hadn't spoken with. He's a nice enough guy, very religious, and very born again. Carries a Bible with him all the time, and all. We got to talking. It was kind of interesting. I noticed an undercurrent that ran through the discussion, which was an emphasis on all the various people who claim Christianity, but don't (at least in his estimation) really have it. I described myself as a feral believer, and I don't think he was ready for that kind of approach. The point he returned to again and again was that people insist on believing on their own terms, and not on God's terms, and the unspoken assumption was that such folks are not saved. I've picked up a few things from hanging out with this crowd for the last few years, but I had never, until this afternoon, had occasion to run them past anyone outside our own rather eccentric discussion group. But the point that I tried to emphasise is that I am in no position to determine who really has it right and who doesn't. I'm not presumptuous enough to even dare to make that call. The analogy I used, was that the message is broadcast on a wide enough range of frequencies that anyone who is sincerely trying to get their individual tuner adjusted will eventually pick it up on one bandwidth or another. Look at the vast difference between the Eastern Orthodox church, and the Pentecostal. I'm sure not going say that one group gets the music, and the other is just hearing static and noise. Not my call. I think he found my approach a little disconcerting. I hope so anyway. And don't get the wrong idea- I wasn't up for picking a fight, or trying to rattle his cage. The discussion did not devolve into an argument, and I was glad for that. It was way more fun than trying to go a few rounds with the lefty atheist artist. Best of all, Old John seemed to like what I had to say, and that was more important to me than anything. And maybe, too, it represents a little growth on my part. I really didn't want to try to score 'gotcha' points, and I didn't feel any need to win an argument. And growth is like the work thang. It's hard, but I'll take what little of it I can get.




JWM

8 comments:

walt said...

Bob speaks of making an "assault on the Godhead." Some folks have that kind of juice, and ability.

Alternatively, Mexicans have a saying, "Poco a poco." Invest a little every day, and try to compound the interest.

It took me a long time to be willing to take progress, good news, growth, or profit where I could find it, in whatever portion was available, and not wait until I was in line for some sort of BIG PAYOFF. It's kind of humbling, realizing that growth is most likely going to come organically, and that "really fast" growth usually doesn't work out so well.

And it is definitely progress for any of us when a discussion about religion doesn't devolve into debate or argument. That's gotta feel good!

jwm said...

Ah- Walt. I'm glad you brought that up. Last night was, as I mentioned, just plain miserable. As I was working I was turning an idea for a post over in my head, but I forgot it as soon as I was able to just get home and go to bed.
But it was about just that- those sudden bursts of Holy Sprit that so many of the evangelical churches and/or believers seem to emphasise as the definitive experience of faith: The sudden conversion, the ecstasy, an abrubt reversal in attitude, a great overhaul of personality, seeing the light, and all that sort of stuff. I was reminded of our old pal, Ray Ingles, who said he wouldn't mind having some sort of 'Road to Damascus' event that he could use as a definite proof for God's existence. I think a lot of people do. I don't look for, or desire any such thing for myself.
I think back a couple years ago when I was in the hospital with the heart thing. I remember lying there on the bed thinking if such a moment is going to come to me, this would seem to be about as good a time as ever. But it didn't come. At least not in any way that I recognized until it was over and passed.
What I got was quite strange, and I've mentioned it over at Bob's site. I could not look at anything in the hospital without realizing that it was someone's job to invent, design, gather the materials, manufacture, package, ship, use, maintain, and ultimately, dispose of. Everything. The Telephone, the table, the blanket on the bed, right down to the cleaning rags. Someone had to do all of that stuff to invent it, make it, bring it to market, sell it, deliver it... and all of that stuff was, in some manner, shape, or form, connected to the workaday daily life of those people who were keeping me from being a dead guy.
It was the kind of vision I could have made quite a big deal out of, and for a long time afterwords it helped sustain me as I returned to work. Work was, for me, infused with a sense of holiness. All this basic, mundane stuff was what made Western Civilization what it was, and I really wanted to get back in, and participate in the dance. But I came back to the real world shortly afterward. Last night got here, and although I still hold the picture of the holy element inherent in work, and in daily activities, last night was still a tough eight hour grind. Sudden visions may be all well and good, but you can't sustain an ecstasy, and even the most alluring visions fade, and you're left on your own.
The slow, and more subtle changes that I've undergone since discovering OC, and now your blog, Mushrom's, Ricky's, and Robins seem to sink in and settle, and become more an organic part of my worldview. The progress in fits and starts, baby steps, small moments, seem to have better staying power.

JWM

julie said...

"Sudden visions may be all well and good, but you can't sustain an ecstasy, and even the most alluring visions fade, and you're left on your own."

Indeed, indeed. Such passions are too hot not to cool down. It's the subtle changes that usually throw me for a loop, when I notice them. I like the sound of how your discussion went yesterday, though; the good discussions are the ones where you actually manage to turn a little light on in someone's mind, however brief, and they rarely involve raised voices and rancor, at least in my experience.

Who knows - maybe what you said will really stick with that guy, and help him to turn his focus where it can better serve both him and O.

xlbrl said...

I have had that conversation with my elderly but sharp mother a few times. Jesus the gatekeeper. None shall enter but...
She thinks a lot more of me than she fearss Jesus does, apparently.

Now, my friend Juhne is an ex-convict Christian, and another example of the only spectacular means in changing men from the depths of that lifestyle I have ever seen, and seen repeatedly. Juhne is as tolerant of my indecision on Jesus as he is certain of his friend in Jesus.

He is an exmple that we may give a better sermon through our life than our lips.

Robin Starfish said...

I've always had a number of Old Johns in my life, less now though than when I was younger and loved to debate anything and anybody just for fun. Now anyone who knows how to engage in honest conversation, no matter how simple, is like wine to me.

I have one friend who is so religiously fanatic that he started his own 'home church' and has a handful of followers. Somehow, through our wives we became friends in spite of our differences. I get a big kick from listening to his ongoing 17 point thesis of how the 'church went wrong', and he still goes on about me taking him to see No Country for Old Men. It was the first R rated movie he'd ever seen and he's 60. We're oil and water, yet enjoy each others company a lot. So I can't figure out friendships. Mine certainly aren't chosen. I guess if you can pick your friends, someone else must have planted and tended them for a long growing season beforehand. And vice versa.

What this has to do with your post I'm not entirely sure, but your Old John just seems so...familiar. I think if I wandered in for a coffee down at the corner I'd feel very comfortable.

jwm said...

quick note:
Welcome xlbrl, and thanks for stopping by. Check out the rest of the coonosphere, as well.

JWM

mushroom said...

I am sympathetic to those who are pretty narrow in their approach, like Robin's friend. I agree with them that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one comes to the Father except by Him.

It's the "by Him" that is important. It's not by my church, or by my creed, or by my view of how I came to the Father. Believe me -- you do not want to get here the way I did.

I remember hearing a missionary. He was a kid to me, even back then. He'd been raised in church. He said he used to "envy" those who had a dramatic testimony until "the Lord told" him that "the best testimony was a pure life."

You know, I nearly walked up front and slapped him, but it probably wouldn't have done any good. After all, he'd been to Bible School and undoubtedly read through the New Testament including that little story about the Pharisee and the publican. If that didn't keep him from saying something so stupid neither would a public smackdown.

The Lord knows those who are His.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

I love the post and the comments...all were good stuff...stuff to contemplate on.

I think one of the best measuring sticks of spiritual progress is how we handle the mundane, and better yet, how we deal with adversity, including the really bad stuff that we can't avoid.

I sure don't envy anyone who experiences a "road to Damascus" moment, because you are right, John, that ecstasy won't sustain you always, nor can it, since to grow we must all go where we haven't been before. That's why we often call this a journey.

That isn't to say I discount grace, or miracles because I have experienced a few, but those aren't the be/all end/all things we should strive for or seek.

Paul didn't quit learnin' and his journey didn't end after his actual road to Damascus moment.

In fact, things got pretty bad for Paul after that. So no, I definitely don't want that, although I hope I would be up to it if that kind of thing ever happened to me.

Deep down we know when we are making way on the Way, and we won't reach the end until we are dead. The point is the journey, and the journey doesn't even begin until we start earnestly seeking the Truth.