haha...I want you all to know that you will not get your homework done tonight, you will not get that office work done today, and you will surely not have enough time over lunch to read this...I haven't even read it myself...I just typed and let the words flow. And in the spirit of the Pollenator, this has got some length to it! So be warned! Actually, I have to give instructions for this one! I had to break this up into two parts because of its size. So start with this one, then read the next one. It’s that simple! This is from two nights ago...just some thoughts more than what I did or am doing...
So for that other part...
I am currently sitting at a restaurant with the internet again (I paid $9.00 for a hamburger and the 'net). Tonight I head for London, and in a week I'll be in Portugal. Did I mention that I am having the time of my life?! Seriously, I am having a great time, even in the midst of all of my questions and searching for God knows what! Who knows, maybe that is what makes this trip so enjoyable! I've been here in Glasgow, Scotland, for 8 days now, and I have absolutely loved it. More than I can even explain, which freaks me out! This is exactly what I need to be doing!
Much love to all back home, and I'm goin' to try to tackle some e-mails before I head for the bus! (I'll be sleepin' on the 8-hour bus ride tonight, so no couch!)
[original writing from September 3, 2007, below]
I think one can learn more in a given night than in the many years of university lectures combined. I realize somewhat of an importance to systemized forms of higher education, but I wonder exactly what the term “higher” actually refers to. In essence, I think “higher” is used in terms of “further” rather than in terms of “greater.”
I sat down with the couple I have been staying with tonight, and conversation just flowed freely. Interesting enough, we have been staying in an apartment which is not our own for a couple of days! Three couch-surfers in a lad’s apartment who has literally headed for the hills to visit his grandpappy. He left the place to us.
It all started with an innocent conversation with Laura from Quebec, Canada. She asked me if I was a priest, and I explained to her that I work with children. “What do you call that?” “Well, I am a youth minister.” She was not familiar with such a concept and wondered if the concept was only in America. I have began to wonder the same, as I do not see any type of roles in the churches which I have visited in Ireland nor Scotland.
I shared with her what I did...namely that I taught kids the Bible, that I would hang out with them at their games, hang out with them and their families, go out to eat with them, listen to them when they are happy, listen to them when they are sad, answer questions about life, etc.
Trying to make any sense out of what I was saying, she responded, “So you are like a social worker, yeah?” And I tried to definitively step back and answer no, but all of a sudden I realized that I was very much like a social worker. She also asked if I was like a psychologist or psychiatrist, and again, I think I fit both of those roles, too.
And then I had to think about what made me different than a social worker. She said that there were social workers in Quebec, and that is what she compared me, too. And the only difference but an important one at that is that I taught kids about God and the Bible. And that is what set me apart from a government social worker.
Then I made the comment that I do not know if I could do social work because I do not think I would have a reason for doing it. Her face all at once became confused and even sad, and I wondered what I had said!
“You would not know why you would be nice to people?”
“I guess not.” I was only half sure if what I was saying was really what I meant. What I was meaning to say was that the idea or the belief in God gives me a reason for listening to students in their happiness and in their struggles. Frankly, if I did not view each person as being a creation of God, I do not know that I would spend the time and effort to mentor them or work with them.
“Well, because it would make you feel good, no?” She was trying to figure out how I could have made such a comment. Why would I not want to be kind to people? What was within me that could have brought out such a negative or unkind word out of my mouth?! And I began to look even myself. But Laura was so adamantly surprised and opposed to such a thought that her face could not hide her expressions.
So I shared with her how frankly youth ministry is not all fun. I see kids struggle with their identity, I see kids struggle with drinking, I see kids fight the temptation to have sex, I see kids go through the pain of divorce, through the pain and confusion of watching a close friend die, and on and on and on. There are days when you cannot pay me enough to be in youth ministry, that is a fact.
“What does drinking have to do with God?” haha...I am such a product of my Midwest “Don’t smoke, drink, or chew, and don’t go with girls that do!” culture. All of a sudden I am in a culture where drinking is like breathing. Friends go out drinking together. Families have drinks together. Hey, even I have drinks with the locals! So I quickly opted for an adequate answer...
“Well, in terms of self-control. I’m talking about getting drunk. When you lose your ability to control yourself, that is when problems happen. People do things that they regret when they are drunk...” She nodded in complete understanding, but I felt like I needed something even stronger to stand upon. “And plus the fact that it is completely illegal. We cannot drink until we are 21, so it is a matter of moral law, too.” I thought that would suffice...for the moment...
We talked some more. She wondered if my parents were religious, and I told her that I did not like that term, as there are so many connotations that go along with that. I won’t even tell a kid that I am a youth minister or that I work in a church because of the negative viewpoints associated with church. A couple weeks later or a few months down the road they may learn about it, but I absolutely abhor when I am introduced as someone’s youth minister (and even told my kids not to do!). It simply creates an insurmountable barrier.
I told her that my parents did believe in God and that I was raised in a Christian background. She looked within herself, and very matter of factly and even confidently said, “I don’t know, I just never really concern myself with religion. It is not really even a big deal to me, and I know it is supposed to be a big deal...” (and she laughed at how she found absolutely no need to believe in a God as her life was fine without one). And I could not have more sure in my mind that she was more than happy to live her life without a God.
Over the past week, I have been walking along the streets of Glasgow, and I have done more thinking, smiling, contemplating, and reading that I can remember. I think about God. I think about humanity. I think about religion. I think about morals. I think about how everything I just mentioned spills over into the pores of the others. It is all so separate and all so beautifully mixed.
I have been reading a book entitled, “The Log from the Sea of Cortez,” by John Steinbeck. I chose it from a whole myriad of books in two rooms, and I must say that is has been an absolute delight...and an absolute non-delight...to read! About every 30 pages, Steinbeck makes a comment that is absolutely profound or insightful, but at other times I just read filler material, but that is what makes this book so special, I suppose. I find myself reading it every day, even looking forward to the times when I do read, which have been many this past week! With no television and no internet, much learning and thinking take place.
He never outrightly says what is obvious throughout the book, but the whole concept of religion being a felt need arises here and there. I make reference to this, because Laura’s words resonated with what I have been asking. What makes people search for a God? In every tribe or nation, the idea of God or a god or many gods is always evident. Maybe he is a cloud or a Shepherd or a man-god endowed with great sexual traits. But there is always a need for that Being.
A few days ago I was walking down the streets of Glasgow, and I thought, “There is no need for God here.” I had at first had the thought that God is not in Glasgow, but I don’t think that is what I was looking for. Rather, the people do not have a need for God. God is only needed when infants die, when children are innocently murdered, when nothing else can explain the way things are. In a sense, God is a last resort for a desperate people.
But here in Glasgow, I see happy moms pushing their happy kids in beautiful strollers. They chat with the mom next to them, walking down the sidewalks interspersed with warm rays of sunshine. And I think, “They do not have a need for God.” They will raise these kids in a non-affluent but comfortable lifestyle, their kids will learn and play football and travel, and they in turn will raise their kids perhaps just a few blocks away. And no God will ever be needed. After all, they have the supermarket down the street next to the church which has been converted into a bathroom fixture shop (speaking of which, “Honey, would you mind going with me there tomorrow? I saw a beautiful bathtub that would look lovely in our house.” And while changing little Johnny’s diaper, the husband wholeheartedly agrees. After all, come to think of it, he wanted a new bathroom, too). And so they will go to work tomorrow, pick up Johnny from school, go out to eat, and then shop for a vanity and tub. And they will be happy.
And there is no need for God here.
Someone may argue that their are indeed infants that are dying, their are children being shot, and people are not innately happy. So I look at the men who I see hop in and out of the pubs each day. Now in my Midwest mindset, of course, these men are terribly unhappy! How horrible their lives at home must be for them to come and waste away at the hands of Jack Daniels, the only man who will listen but who doesn’t listen at the same time?! They are probably on the verge of divorce, and my God must run in and save them. What am I doing here on the street?! There are souls at stake!
And so I walk in, and I am greeted with the all-too-friendly Scottish accent! A beer is bought for me, and we talk about beautiful beaches, our beautiful wives, and our beautiful children. I leave on a drink or two, and perhaps the man may have had more, but in all actuality, he wanted to have more. He wants to have that buzz not because he is in pain or in the trenches with his wife, but because he actually likes to have that buzz. I might even go so far as to say he enjoys the feeling. And, frankly, the lack of a buzz would seem absurd to him. My life seems absurd to him.
And tomorrow I would come to this same place, and I would find that same man with the same smile forking out a few pounds after work before he goes home to his lovely wife. Oh, wait! There is his lovely wife now! She is buying the drinks tonight!
And there is no need for God here.
You see, God is only for those who need a God. And if you do not need a God, then why have one?! Back to Steinbeck’s writing...as I said before, he only hints at the issue but very powerfully at that. At one point, he writes...
“Think of the fascinated horror, or at best tolerance, with which little girls regard their brothers who have dispensed with the Santa Claus belief; or the fear of the devout young churchman for his university senior who has grown away from depending upon the security of religion” (203).
In context, Steinbeck is writing about people who bring up some notion that is far from the widely-accepted notion of the time. In other words, if I were to say such and such, then I would be so greatly ostracized and ridiculed that it may not even be worth it...except to the validity that what I say is actually true. So with Santa Claus, a little boy grows from believing in Santa Claus to realizing he does not in actuality exist. He was only needed for several years until the boy reached this so-called maturity. Enter the obvious connection to the “devout young churchman.”
So the question which I have been pondering the past several days is, “Why the need for God?” or maybe better put, “Is God only the result of a felt need?” Is God a comfort to us who need comfort? If I go to the hospital 30 times in one year and I have no God, I am liable to hate or reject life, and as Steinbeck writes, “...hope had to be included in the series [of thoughts in life], else the species would have destroyed itself in despair” (147). If my child is stillborn and I have no God, I am liable to reject anything any remotely good. If my son is thrown out of a truck and I have no God, I may very well be afraid the rest of my forsaken life on earth. And so I learn to trust in God.
Maybe the better question is, “Is hope the reason I believe in God?” And I must say that I backed myself into my own corner on this one several days ago. I was explaining to someone why I believe in God, how I see nature pointing to an Intelligent Designer, how I cannot fathom how I could simply return to dust at the end of a life. I explained how I had studied other religions. And I talked about how I had visited the Muslim mosque a couple of times, how I had celebrated Ramadan with a Muslim couple, and how I had extensively talked with this Muhammad about what and why he believed. And frankly, Muslims believe in much the same things as Protestant Christians. They are very moral, they try to do more good than bad, and they do this all out of love for their God Allah. And so I wondered why I was not a Muslim. And I explained to the man I was sharing my faith with, “The Muslims have no assurance of their salvation. That is a funny word, I understand, but when the day is done, a true Muslim does not know if he will be sent to heaven or hell. The final decision rests in Allah’s hands, and the man can only hope that he has done more good than evil, but frankly, he does not know.”
And so based upon that understanding that I had received from Muhammad, I concluded that the Christian religion was by far the best way to go since I knew that I was saved (I should mention here that the man asked me if I knew that I would go to heaven, and I answered yes. Of course, my assurance rests upon the Bible and upon faith, but I was as sure as I could be). In essence, I had hope, and because of this, Christianity was the religion for me.
But then I started thinking...just because Christianity offered hope?! That is why I am a Christian and not a Muslim?! The more I examined my statement, the more I realized that I had created a religion for me. As long as the religion supported me and that I was safe, then I would accept it, even if it was not true! Now granted, allow me to say that I do believe in the validity of Christianity, but to believe it simply because it warranted me the most hope was simply embarrassing and quite concerning. After all, what is hope?
“It was said earlier that hope is a diagnostic human trait, and this simple cortex symptom seems to be a prime factor in our inspection of our universe. For hope implies a change from a present bad condition to a future better one. The slave hopes for freedom, the weary man for rest, the hungry for food. And the feeders of hope, economic and religious, have from these simple strivings of dissatisfaction managed to create a world picture which is very hard to escape. Man grows toward perfection; animals grow toward man; bad grows toward good, and down toward up, until our little mechanism, hope, achieved in ourselves probably to cushion the shock of thought, manages to warp our whole world. Probably when our species developed the trick of memory and with it the counterbalancing projection called ‘the future,’ this shock-absorber, hope, had to be included in the series, else the species would have destroyed itself in despair. For if ever any man were deeply and unconsciously sure that his future would be no better than his past, he might deeply wish to cease to live” (147).
I used to lie on my bed back in the States and wonder what I had to live for. I would sit there, oftentimes on drugs so as to dull the pain and sorrow, but would quickly learn that both would come back. I would hear the basketball bounce 100 yards from my apartment, and I look out on a bright sunshiny day and see little neighborhood kids playing street ball. My street ball. The ball that I used to play. In my former life, I would go out there, shoot some hoops, learn some names, make some jokes, and then find myself sitting in their kitchens talking with their families in the weeks to come. And life would be good.
But then I found myself on my bed, unable to walk, unable to dream any more. At best, I just wanted a single phone call from a friend, but at the first thought, I realized that I had none. I had had friends, and I had had many! Oh the days! I would be the first that someone would call, and I would make stories, I would laugh, and life would be good. I would rise only to change my gauze or down some more drugs to numb the all-too-consuming pain, and I would hear through the walls the sound of those kids in a life all too far away from me.
And so I would “deeply wish to cease to live.” I would think about the most adequate yet strategic way to rid my soul from the earth, the one causing the least amount of pain to anyone else. And I would lie there in bed, tears rolling down my face, wondering why I didn’t have the strength to get up and pack my things to head for some distant lake to drown my cares away, pun all inclusive. There was something greater than me, something that at the very thought of I cringed at. But it was real, and it was heavy. Somewhere I believed in hope. I believed that one day I would walk and one day I would feel the sunshine on my face again and one day these tears would be dry. And I could not bring myself to accomplish the mysteriousness of success which brings only death.
I clung on to Hope, though I knew not where it came from. But, yes, the very thought of my life getting worse, the very thought of me getting on a ship that I knew was to sink in three days, the very thought of Job not ending with him getting his possessions and family back would lead me to despair. I would “deeply wish to cease to live.”
And so I must ask...is hope the reason for belief? If I believe so that I may go to heaven, whatever that heaven may be like, is that reason enough to believe? Or has hope so warped my very own way of thinking? Can I even have rational thought because I have learned to hope?
Perhaps my thoughts deal more with thoughts in general. The more you think, the more you are prone to think, and as any scholar or philosopher knows, thinking about thinking ends up in more questions than answers. Even when you think about the very thought of thinking, you are left to wonder. Scientists will explain it away as synapses emitting electrical charges, but even their ability to explain this leaves one to wonder if it isn’t more than just electricity taking place.
So one may argue that hope does not lead me to God, but God leads me to hope. Steinbeck is obviously Darwinian in his thoughts, and he takes no shame in admitting so. But after I read Steinbeck, I meet happy people on the streets of Glasgow, I meet a Canadian girl who had never even thought of believing in a God since she didn’t need one, I meet a German who sees the good in everyone and the beauty in all religions (after all, aren’t we all trying to be good and leave the earth a better place?), and I meet an Englishman who sees the idea of an afterlife only as “ludicrous” and for the minds of babes (how could we be the focus of a God when we are literally just one galaxy of billions of galaxies out there?!). I see people who need no God.
If their baby dies, maybe they will begin to search for Him, but as long as there are bathtubs to buy and beers to drink, they will smile through life without the least concern of this need.
At home, I was under the impression that “every man has a God-shaped hole in his heart and he will wander through life trying to fill that void with everything else until he finds it.” Even the very terminology is outrightly condescending! “You poor man! You have a hole in your heart! You are wandering aimlessly! You poor wretch! Beer, women, and money will never fill that void! Come to Jesus!” And yet why go to Jesus when you like beer, women, and money? Why would you go to a restaurant if you are not hungry?
Of course, the argument will arise that everyone will indeed become hungry sometime in his life. His proverbial infant will die, he will see innocent children murdered on the streets, and his Darwinian or Simpsonsian thoughts will not be able to support all that he sees and hears. And perhaps it is only at that point when the Christians are supposed to jump in and proclaim the good news of Jesus! Poor wretches, they are, if only for a time. You see, I told you they were poor wretches.
But for now, with sunshine on the streets and hopes of new bathroom fixtures in the air, there is no need for God here.
And so we talked. One Canadian, One German, and one American. We all spoke English, except for the times when an English word was not known, and the other two would converse in German until a suitable word was found.
We talked about humanity in general. As I mentioned earlier, my German friend saw the beauty of all of life. He had spent numerous months traveling in Europe, and in a previous conversation, he had showed me pictures. He had described the Taj Mahal to me. He had painted a very real and gruesome picture of a funeral to me, and I could only respond by saying, “That is crazy.” “No, it is not crazy, my friend. It is different.” And so we would talk even further.
It so turns out that he sees the good of everyone. He asked me what I thought about America fighting in Iraq (a question that arises every time I spend a good deal of time with someone), and I shared my thoughts. We talked about killing people, and he could only ask why these people were this way. “Did you ever stop to think why these people believe this? They did not always believe this.” And in his mind, you could see him watching young Iraq boys playing in the streets with boats and kites. Like most of America, they knew not what the word al Qaida meant. And he clung onto his hope in humanity.
Self-admittingly, he shared that his own pacific views may not solve anything. Before my very eyes, I was watching a young man lose hope or faith in solving problems by talking or learning about each other’s backgrounds. “You see, I belong to al Qaida because...” “Oh, well, I understand that Muslims...” And over a cup of tea and biscuits perhaps, peace would be afforded. At least that is what was taking place in his mind a few years, if not weeks ago. But the cruel truth of reality was starting to win the upward battle.
I shared with him how real the war became when my best friend’s best friend was shot in the head. And he could only respond by saying that the guy that shot him probably did not even want to shoot him, and they could have laughed together, but his upbringing had forced him to behave in such and such a way. And there is beauty in that thought. And there is also hatred, as a mother is now son-less, and I cannot change that.
We talked about when the United States is going to leave the war, and none of us knew. We talked about why we were in the war, and none of us knew. We had our speculations, but after several years, one begins to wonder. Is it really to create a democracy? Is it to help out innocent civilians who have been killed by ruthless leaders? Is it to have access to the world’s largest oil refineries?
I explained in simpleton terms that as a normal American, I understood the reasons for war as such...
1. We were attacked on September 11, 2001, an attack which is only comparable to Pearl Harbor. We have had such attacks like the Oklahoma City Bombing (and to my surprise the German readily threw out the name Timothy McVeigh), but these were all “homegrown” to put it mildly. But for the first time in my life and many of our lives, an outsider had attacked America, and we literally went overnight from confident and secure to fearful and susceptible to another attack.
2. We were told that al Qaida is most likely responsible for this attack. Though we knew not who these people were, we had thousands sign up to join the Army, the Navy, the Marines, because we only had one thought in our minds...
3. Al Qaida must die.
The thoughts were simple, but I think they were somewhat universal. The German responded by commenting on how arbitrary such events are. America went from knowing nothing about al Qaida to wishing them all dead. And as he was speaking, I think he could still hear the noises of Afghan and Iraq children playing in the streets. The American public could only see the hideous face of Saddam Hussein and the unpleasant name of the terrorists al Qaida. And we learned to hate overnight an enemy which we never knew we had. And we wanted to kill. And our songs taught us to feed that hatred. “Hey, Uncle Sam put your name at the top of his list...brought to your courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue.”
I had mentioned several minutes earlier that America seems to have lost its sense of identity, and they were both surprised because when they think of America, they think of patriotic people! And 9/11 brought back a sense of patriotism for awhile...until our double-edged sword of freedom of speech took its toll over the past six years. We now have people wondering when our soldiers are coming home, why over 4,000 of our own men and women have died, why we are still over there, and what the next president will do to bring all of our troops back. And we only ask because we know we will not get any responses, but it makes us feel a little bit better.
And then we talked about what we are fighting for. And I want to know. I met 200 U.S. Marines coming back from Iraq, and I wanted to know if they knew why they were fighting. To an extent, I imagine they only shoot because they are told to shoot. They only fly over to Iraq because their sergeant leader commanded them to. And they tell themselves that they know whey are fighting. Because to fight without a purpose is to fight purposeless. With no hope. If I knew I was fighting for the freedom of Scotland, I would give my life for it. But am I fighting against al Qaida? Am I fighting for the oil? Am I fighting until I find out a reason for why I fight? I love my soldiers, and I will stand behind them. But I wonder if they really do know. And I want them, too. Because my best friend’s best friend just took a bullet through the head, and at the end of the day, this mom still has no son upon the earth. And I hope they fight because they know why.
I wish I knew why.
I told them how I didn’t understand the war completely and how I am always hesitant to watch the news about it anyway, because I never know what is news and what is political propaganda. I told them how I would see children burning American flags on the street, and I wondered if that was true. As any traveler knows, children flock to cameras. And I could very easily give a burning American flag to a group of children and tell them to run down the street and I could record it...as I could very easy tell these children to wave the American flag and cheer and smile at the same time. And I know without a doubt that they would do both...whichever one I asked of them. And so I wonder when I watch the news.
I told my friends that I put trust in my government officials to know more than me, and the German laughed. He says that in his country the opposite is true! To be a government official, you have to be mistrusted by the people! And you cannot read any newspapers or watch any TV, or else you would realize just how much you are being made fun of. I wonder if our legislators watch the evening news. Or The Simpsons. Or 60 Minutes. I wonder what they think. I wonder what they know.
But as I said to give meaning to me believing in them, if I trust or I do not trust, the same result happens. So I trust.
And we talked about how the Germans and the Canadians had moments of silence when the Twin Towers were bombed. And then I told my friends that I was shocked, because if London or Paris were bombed, I do not know that we would have moments of silence for them. I at last saw that America is concerned in the world’s affairs...only as much as the world’s affairs affect America.
If estimates are correct, nearly 30,000 people died of starvation today. But I cannot mention that, or else I may not want to eat my fourth meal tonight. And Taco Bell would not be happy. Besides, their deaths will stay within Africa’s borders. They are not powerful enough to swim the Atlantic Ocean, so I will not worry about them.
Chalupa or Soft Taco?
But then I realized that maybe everyone is the same. My German friend told me that they had moments of silence, because they could feel the waves coming. They had seen someone jump off of the deep end, and he was a very jolly man, so the waves were coming. And sure enough, Germans and Scots are now in Afghanistan and Iraq. You see, when America gets punched, the world gets punched. But when Germany gets punched, America only wonders why the Germans whimper, if America even noticed the punch in the first place.
That was a very important lesson for me to learn.
And it was also important for me to learn that not everyone likes Americans. I had met a girl from Serbia, and she is a delightfully charming young lady, not to mention she leans very much more to the “easy on the eyes” side than to the other. And so we talked. And we joked. And we flirted. And then I asked if I could ever stay on her couch, and she instantly retreated to her crustaceous shell, and I could swear I saw a pair of pinchers come out, as well.
Picking up on the defensive mechanism, I called her out. I knocked on that shell, and she only raised a pincher. “Do you have something against Americans?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Would you like to explain?”
And then she told me about how in 1999 NATO would bomb her backyard for 72 days straight. And she would wake up to bombs, and she was never really sure if she was going to live to see the next day. And I have to be honest, I was a junior in high school, maybe a senior, and I didn’t have a clue that we had bombed Serbia, let alone could remotely identify Serbia on a map.
And here she was not letting me come even close to setting foot in her house. “You will never know how I felt during those days...” No, no, I won’t. And I am not even going to feign that I can. I have never been bombed, and I have never really feared for my life. I began to explain that I was young, that I at 17 years old had no influence...
But she finished my sentences for me. “You had no say in the government. You could do nothing. You were just an American, and you will say that your government was the one that attacked me, not you.”
“Um, yeah, I guess.”
And I learned what it was like to be an American on foreign soil perhaps for the first time. As a bee, so the honey. Well, as the honey, so the bee. And the reality of democracy became clear that night.
And so it goes with all of life, really. Every time I would mention something about America, my German friend was quick to comment about being a German. In order to come to the United States, he has to apply for a visa, and on the application form, there is a question which reads...
“From the years 1933 to 1943, what role did you take in the Holocaust or to America?”
And, so, 65 years removed, one learns what it is like to be a German, as well. My friend could only put, “I was not born yet,” but even the very fact that the question is there has left an imprint upon him.
I told him that I could not speak for my grandfather or for those who have fought in World War II, but I wonder if they still hate Japanese people. I am sure that they were taught to hate them with a violent passion, violent enough to drop bombs on them. And I wonder if there is an “OFF” switch that you flip when the war is over. But I know that there isn’t. But I sure hope for one.
Because if not, I may never be able to visit Iraq. Or Afghanistan. Or Iran. Even when I am old and gray. And I might be the less for it.
We talked about so many things have changed now that Europe is opening up its borders. Whereas Germany and France even ten years ago did not readily associate with each other because of the very clear border, so that is now removed. People move freely back and forth. The European Union has caused economic prosperity (far belittling the once-strong American dollar), and it has caused a mass wave of immigration.
People from the east move to the west. Men are left to search for women, as all of a sudden, the women head west. The Polish have migrated by the hundreds of thousands, with as many as 500,000 living in Ireland alone. I shared how I met Marcel who would make 1.50 Euros/hour in Poland doing the same job that he now makes 9.00 Euros/hour for in Ireland. And I wonder what the future holds for Europe.
We talked about how national pride has been lost because of the borders being opened up.
And we talked about immigration in America. Our borders are still closed, but we have several thousand illegal aliens in the States. And I received the funniest looks, even a bit concerned, as I had just called people the very thing that I call E.T. But it is true. It took me awhile to convince Canada and Germany, but I informed them that these people are indeed illegal aliens. I would never call them aliens, but I would daily call them illegal aliens. The two words are actually just one in America.
We talked about how Mexicans make it across the borders. We talked about how this is becoming an issue for the presidential election. What will the President do to keep illegal aliens out of the country? Laura told me of a time when she flew into Miami airport, and she marveled at the fact that the signs were all in English AND Spanish. She could not believe it.
And then I shared the story which was publicized on the news (go figure) about a Domino’s restaurant in the southwest that had made a menu all in Spanish, and how their was an outcry from the American people. And then I shared the story about my grandpa who does not mind these people coming over to the land of freedom, as long as they learn the English language. And when I asked Grandpa to speak some Native American to me, he did not. And I wondered if he might like to kill me at times.
But in all reality, that is the reality. We Englishmen came over, kicked the Native Americans off of their land, and imposed our English tongues from sea to shining sea. My German friend thinks that America will be more Hispanic than English in our lifetime. It is possible. And barring self-imploding of mind and thought, I find it hard to argue against their desire and passion to come here. After all, I celebrate the same passion and desire with them each time I enjoy a firework on July 4. We were just 231 years quicker to the draw, I suppose. History has a way of repeating itself, I am told. Oh, but how quickly!
And then we talked about the Roman Empire and how it is long gone. And other huge empires have risen and fallen. And America will do the same, but just don’t mention that to any Americans. I mentioned how Rome sort of defeated itself because the very foundations upon which it were built were abandoned after time. The morals, the religion, the pride of Rome were so defined at its beginning. But over time, people have a way of removing the Ten Commandments from schools. People have a way of wanting to acquire more “In God We Trust” papers so that they will not have to trust in God. People have a way of welcoming every nation, religion, and practice into America. And people have a way of overlooking the descriptions of God and a Creator in the very papers which founded us as a country. People have a way of missing Moses on our national monuments. And people have a way of not needing God.
So when America goes to war, who goes to war? Americans do, of course. But what I mean is this...Catholics, Puritans, Christians, Atheists, White Supremacists, Blacks, Asian-Americans, African-Americans, Jews, Judeo-Christians, Baptists, Lutherans, Seventh-Day Adventists, Republicans, Democrats, Right-Wing, Left-Wing, Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Methodists, Agnostics, Whites, Hindus, Native Americans, Spanish-Speaking, English-Speaking, Chinese-Americans, and Buddhists all rally around what? Around America? Am I going to fight Iraq because I am told to fight Iraq by my sergeant? What would my party say? What would my minister say? What would God say? What would Allah say? Could I fight against my own family? Could I fight against my own brother?
And so a nation of freedom after a time becomes a nation that is not really a nation. I think it happened with Rome, and I believe it will happen with America. A nation of tolerance actually becomes a nation intolerant of tolerance. And it self-implodes over time.
And hear me, I am thankful to be an American. But as I shared with my Canadian and German friend, what do I gain over being an American rather than being a Scot or an Irishman? Less beer, of course, but when push comes to shove, I am actually grieved that I am not more thankful for what so many people desperately want. What so many people will spend their lives trying to get. They will ride in semis up and down Interstate 55 so that they can somehow achieve this freedom. They will repeatedly try to cross the border. They will spend their life-savings on building a boat to paddle from Cuba to Florida. And I can only ask myself if it is really worth it.
But I do not want to tell people for fear that I may crush their dreams of what America is thought to be. And I think that would sadden me, too. Sure, you can do whatever you want on our soil. But when the time comes, would you fight for that nation? Would you fight to defend a nation that in all actuality only allows what you so opposed? Would a pro-life fight for a nation that protects a pro-choice? Would a Christian fight for a nation that readily accepts Allah and Buddha? And if he would, is it only because he has found a place where he, too, is accepted?
So what of national pride? What of foundations? Globalization has made them weak. Perhaps we are better for it. But perhaps we are not.
And then I shared with them how I loved to sit and think and talk freely. I loved to be able to walk down the sidewalks of Glasgow and just smile. I loved to not need a house or a car or car payment or an insurance payment. And then I laughed at how the very moment after I enjoyed not having a car payment, I desperately wanted to have a fast and shiny car. And when I enjoyed not having a house to pay off, I would stop by windows and look at houses for sale. Spanish villas on the beach on the southern coast of Spain. And I would love to give the $600,000 that they are asking! Because I would be on a beach in Spain, and I would not have to worry about anything because I would wake up to the ocean! I would only have to worry about debt, roof leaks, new bathroom fixtures that my wife and I want, heating, air-conditioning, rust from the salty ocean, and house payments. But that would be all. And I knew that as soon as I bought that house of freedom, I would yearn to walk along the sidewalks of Glasgow just one more time.
And so we talked about advertisers and how they are the smartest people in the world. They constantly create a feeling of discontentment. It is not necessarily that we need more. As a humanity group, we are far too advanced for that. We do not need another car! We already have three! But what we do need is a newer car, a more shiny car, a faster car. What am I possibly to do with two cell phones?! I do not need another! But what I do need is a phone that will flip sideways, bring television into another facet in my life, and take 200 more pictures than the one I already have. After all, my contract of two years is going to expire in 18 months, so why not get a new one? You see, if humanity has progressed at all, it has learned to not need more (though I myself am not entirely convinced of this statement), though it has not yet learned to not need better.
So everywhere I walk, I see new clothes. “Was 79 Euro! Now only 30!” And so the story goes that a wife buys the dress and expresses joyfully to her husband, “Look at my new dress! I saved 49 Euro!” To which the husband replies, “And where is this 49 Euro that you saved?”
And I see new cars. And faster phones. And cleaner houses. And darker tans. And better haircuts. And smoother skin. And faster shoes. And apartments closer to downtown. And apartments further away from downtown. And bigger burgers. And whiter detergent. I think we are in the “-er” era. As long as an advertiser can add “-er” to something, he has a buyer hooked, because he has created that sense of discontentment.
So I argued with my sister months ago about how advertising has a very real affect upon people. I argued that McDonald’s and Visa and Mastercard and Ford spend literally billions of dollars each year upon advertising. My guess is that it works if not from experience than from what smart, educated, experienced people are doing with their money. They are buying billboards, painting signs, and making commercials that make me desire the “-er.” Of course, to her credit, she argued that when she sees a commercial for a BigMac on television, she does not run out the door and go buy a hamburger at McDonald’s. Point well-taken. But doesn’t one sound good right now?!
And then we talked about Laura and taxes. Her first day on the job was today, and she learned that Canada is one of a few countries that will take out 22% of her income. From talking with her, it appeared that she was going to be rather tight with money as it was, and now to have nearly ¼ more taken out is to add insult to injury. She wished she would have found that out earlier...as in before she started her job. And before she signed for an apartment. I know not what she can or will do.
But I shared how 22% is close to what American taxes are. And she nearly gasped! 22% “I know, quite a lot, right?!” “I pay 49%!” Say what?! Of course, the comparison is not fair, as Canadians receive health insurance and free doctor’s coverage with that (at least in Quebec) on top of nearly free higher education. I spent nearly $60,000 on higher education and several hundreds of dollars to cover my $30,000 in medical expenses, so maybe it all works out in the end, I do not know.
And then we talked about learning. And perhaps this is what all of this dialogue is about. I mentioned that I learned more in one night than in an entire career in higher education, and that is only partly true. I look back upon my college years as some of the best, both in terms of experience but also in learning. Of course, I am greatly troubled that I paid $40/hour to listen to a 50-minute lectures, some of which were less than par at best. I wonder what I could have done with $60,000, but when I think about that, I see myself getting rich and not having any worries, and then I would have nothing to write about, so I am glad that I threw my money to the wind.
But for the first time in my life, I met people who did not see college or university as necessary. When I graduated high school, my only question was, “Which college? It was not, “College?” And at the time, I think I had no other option. Of course, I suppose I could have joined the military or gone to the work-force, but when it comes down it, I really could not have done that. I was part of a greater system that had taught me that college was next in line for someone of my aptitude.
To me, it was: high school, college, work. And oh the bliss when I realized that I could deviate from that path! To go from high school...to college...to college and part-work...to part-work...to part-work and grad school...to part-work...to traveling has been a joy and a success!
For the first time, I met with people who wondered whether they should go to college. The benefits could obviously be many, but the benefits of not going could be many, as well. I guess I do not look back upon my college years with regret, though I do wonder how any 18-year-old can really know what he is doing with his life. Oh, sure, at the time I knew, and I also knew that I understood the world, and I understood God, too. Suffice it to say that a great deal of our parents have degrees that have absolutely zero correlation to their current jobs. Was it a waste of their time to study? I would not argue that. But I would not argue that it was the best use of their time, either...
When asked if I needed a degree for the type of work I was in, I responded with yes, and then had to explain how difficult it can be to work with kids. And adults. And yet I wonder how much I learned from college and how much I learned from experience. And I will never know, as weekly the two were meshed together. But sometimes I wonder just how necessary my particular degree was for me. And that saddens me at times. Though I do not think that I would change it, either. It’s another one of those paradoxes of life.
I could not have planned to have learned so much. And as a professor, I could not have ever planned to teach so much, either. This type of learning...true learning...comes only out of a natural flow of life. You know, when I think about all that I have experienced, I am left to wonder about many things. I know that I am not the first to ask questions, and because of this, I will ask questions. I know that I am not the first to doubt the faith, and because of this, I will doubt the faith. Just today I was reading a book about clouds (it’s true...when you are surrounded by so many books, you pick and choose!). Somehow the author made a connection between cumulous clouds and God, and he wrote about the author of The Cloud of Unknowing (now I see the connection). More or less, “Monk X” as he calls him writes a book about how no matter how hard we try to see or understand God, there will always be this cloud of unknowing. As a thinker and a rational one at that, I stand the least bit amused. But experience is often as good a teacher as reason, and I have found that to be the case. Monk X does not celebrate or belittle the cloud of unknowing, but only states it to be the case. The quicker one realizes this, the better off that person will be.
I again find no peace in such a comment. And at the same time, I find all peace. To think that I can understand God is both silly and absurd. To do so would cease the existence of God. As the created, I can only marvel and do my best to learn about the Creator. How could a puppet ever hope to make a puppet?! Simply ridiculous! Especially with the absence of the String Puller! Or how could a puppet ever hope to even think the same thoughts as the Puppet Maker?! Equally absurd.
So this cloud of unknowing is true, it is real, and it is marvelous. And this cloud of unknowing is tough, it is ugly, and it is unforgiving.
But I must believe that the stars will come out tonight, though I know not the future. I must believe that the sky is still there, even when the clouds hide it. I must believe that the sun will rise in four hours, though I have not seen it nor even know that it still exists for six hours. I believe in these things because I have seen, I have experienced, I have studied, I have recorded, I have read what others have recorded, and it would even seem that because of these things, I might even say I know.
I believe because I have seen, I have experienced, I have studied, I have recorded, I have read what others have recorded, and it would seem that because of these things, I might even say I know.
To those who oppose me, know beforehand that I know the same could words could be said from any Buddhist, any Muslim, any Catholic. I concede.
So after days of questions and battles, I am only left with two things which I will not delve into here. I am left with a man who claims to be the Son of God. And I am left with an account of a people group through the ages. Essentially, I am left with Jesus, and I am left with the Scriptures.
And even more than hope, I believe that the Christian faith hinges upon these two elements. No matter what my faith, I have to do something with this Jesus. He is historical, and He makes bold claims (though I’m sure that others have said down through the ages). He uses stories, He teaches great morals, but He says one thing that at the end of the day, when I rest my head upon a pillow, I am forced to respond to. He says, “I am the Son of God.”
And as much as I would like to offer my own words of wisdom and scholarship, I can only echo C.S. Lewis when he writes that when Jesus says these words, I can only respond to him as a liar (he joins others), lunatic (he is simply out of his mind), or Lord (he is actually who he says he is).
And I must recognize the validity and importance and accuracy of the Scriptures, preserved through the ages. More copies and manuscripts of this book than of any other book in all of history. More than Shakespeare, though we vehemently apply certain works to him, more than Socrates, and how famous he is for his philosophical views, more than Plato, Aristotle, Macbeth, and on and on and on. So I am left with certain firsthand accounts. Various ones, nonetheless, that essentially proclaim the same things. Jesus lived. He died. He rose again. He claimed that He is the Son of God. He says He will come back again.
Before I sleep every night, I must take into account these words, these stories, and this man. And I must do something with them.
Either he is a liar, a lunatic, or Lord.
Even when I hear the sound of children playing basketball, even when I see a couple buying bathroom fixtures, even when I dream of living on the Spanish beach, even when I cannot see through the cloud of unknowing, I still must start and end the day with one question.
Is he a liar, a lunatic, or Lord?
With each answer, some things will become more clear. And with each answer, some things will become more foggy, too. Such is the beautiful, romantic, and frustrating paradox of life.
But as with any path in life, each choice has its consequences. And we must live with them, die with them, and then maybe even live with them again.
2007-09-05 17:02:08 GMT