Saturday, February 27, 2010

Seeing God in new places

A few years ago I started making the shift from a black/white view of the universe when it comes to what is spiritual and what is secular.

For a long time church was spiritual and school was secular. Reading the bible was spiritual and reading fiction was secular. Going to a concert could be either spiritual or secular, depending on the band. But it couldn't be both!

Now those worlds have collided in my mind and I no longer see any difference. Every Sunday I see all kinds of secularism in the traditions and practices of my church. And throughout the week I catch glimpses of God in the most mundane things.

Yesterday I got a chance to see God in my children, because I had spent the previous four days in California for business. Absense indeed made my heart grow fonder for them, and when I returned I had freshly empathetic eyes to examine their exhilarating ride in deciphering how this world works, and what their role will be in it.

Due to my travel and the insane number of hours I worked during the week, I worked from home on Friday and had time to take my 4yo son, Jack, to the mall. It is one of his favorite places and he's been asking to go there for weeks. So off we went!

With a great marriage, three children and a busy job it can be difficult to get a solid chunk of one-on-one time with any of my kids. When it happens, I make it a point to do whatever I can to make it special.

Jack is fun because he has so many traits that don't seem to come from either of his parents. Jamie and I are strong introverts, while our oldest son is the opposite. We like to follow a schedule, and Jack still doesn't recognize that time exists at all. We enjoy eating, and Jack would rather talk and starve. I loved sports as a child, and Jack could live just fine without them.

Jamie and I are curious how this might develop in the areas of artistic ability. She and I have very little of it (read: she has some, I have none) but perhaps Jack will flourish as a right-brained spark of life in a world that seems more and more oriented to we left-brained folk. Because of this possibility, we've tried to give all of our kids early and regular exposure to the arts. We regularly visit museums, have seen mutiple performances of the Houston Symphony, and have invested in art supplies for our home.

One area we haven't dabbled in is photography. We use a simple point-and-shoot camera at home, and have no clue about things like composition or lighting. What we do know, though, is that a great picture really is worth 1,000+ words, but I almost exclusively use words to communicate in my life. Writing and speaking fills up almost all of my communication. What if my son learned to communicate by capturing his perspectives visually? How cool!

So I redeemed the time with my son at the mall and decided to use it as an intro to real photography. A chance to clash the spiritual with the secular and find out how a simple lens could awaken the divine in us. Obviously I couldn't do this on my own, so I recruited some help from a mall photographer that has worked with thousands of people over the past few years. The photographer's task was to do a candid session with Jack and I, using odd framing and the element of surprise to snag a moment in time that was special in its normalcy. Proving to me once again that God is in the details, and that there is no such thing as mundane. Oh that my son can learn this lesson sooner than I have!

Perhaps he will never become a photographer, or an artist at all. But if he does, then just maybe he'll look back on "that day with my dad at the mall" as the event that started it all!

Of course we kept the photographs, on which we are placing so much hope and importance. How did we do?

Link to pictures

Thursday, February 18, 2010

What I'm not sure about

This week I visited some blogs with great conversations on the topic of doubt. It's amazingly polarized among the commenters on those sites. Some people think that skepticism is a good thing, while others feel that a good Christian walk leaves no room for vagueness (sometimes quoting Paul that "faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see").*

And as my dad and I recently discussed, this polarization isn't limited to religion -- there has been quite a lot of drama lately on the topic of global warming. Many people just know it's a sham, regardless of the data. Others know global warming is real and deadly, even if the newest data shows otherwise. The doubters who haven't picked a side are surely out there, but they're so quiet it's easy to assume they don't exist at all.

But we do exist! My name is Michael, and I'm a doubter.

So, not to shock you all into a coma, but here are some things I'm not sure about:

#1 -- I'm not sure God even exists at all

He supposedly did all kinds of miracles and supernatural coolness thousands of years ago, but unfortunately that era passed before videotape technology. And we don't have a single recorded event in modern history where someone irrefutably performed a miracle in God's name.

Supposedly He can heal people even today, but Christian death rates from cancer and heart disease are identical to non-Christians... so if He can save those who pray to him, why isn't He doing it? We all seem to know someone who made an amazing recovery from a serious illness after a time of prayer, but those are anecdotes. The data shows that non-praying people make amazing recoveries just as often.

Since I cannot definitely prove God exists, I must admit there is a shred of uncertainty in my faith. I'm just not sure.

#2 -- If God exists, I'm not sure I'm worshipping the right one

Look at human history and notice how many different gods have been named, praised and defended. There are thousands (millions when you include Hinduism). Is it possible that Christianity has it right? Yes, but the odds aren't overwhelming in our favor.

Even within Christianity, there are so many different perceptions of God. Benevolent father, vengeful deity, distant superpower... some Christians think God is just a big pile of love and others think God intentionally leveled Haiti with an earthquake to punish them for sin. That's a wide, wide range.

Is it possible that I won the lottery and was born into the denomination that got it right about God's true being? Yes, but the odds are overwhelmingly against it.

So I'm not sure that my God is actually the God.

#3 -- I'm not sure what happens after we die

At least in the first two points, even though there's a lack of proof we can still make a case for God based on experiential and circumstantial evidences. On the topic of heaven/hell, though, it's all conjecture. Every religion has a different idea on what happens, and many of them have adherents with an NDE (near-death experience) who shared what the afterlife is like. Amazingly, their NDE usually matches their preconceived idea of heaven or hell.

So I can freely admit I really can't prove if there is an afterlife. And if there is one, what it's like, or if you and I are going there. I'm just not sure

Where to go from here?

As I said at the start of this post, some people just know they are right about things. I don't have a problem with that, even if they change their mind later and know the exact opposite of their earlier stance (trace the life of Saul/Paul in the New Testament). These people are often the productive backbone of many trends and movements, both good and bad. They get things done because they don't get delayed by doubt!

I, on the other hand, always have that voice in the back of my mind that tells me I could be wrong. This is good in a way because it can bring humility and openness to new ideas. But the downside is that I'm sometimes slow to take action, and I can infuriate people who want to pin me down and find out what I know. It's like pinning jello to a wall.

And even though I'm not sure about much, I still have faith.

I believe God does exist.

I believe that Christianity, and my denomination, have hit on some good and accurate portrayals of who God is.

I believe that this life is only one step in an eternal adventure, and that most of us will be blown away with how good this whole universe thing is shaping up.

But I'm not sure.

*Hebrews 11:1, and yes, I realize that Paul isn't confirmed as the author of that letter. But c'mon, have you read it? It's Paul. :)

Monday, February 15, 2010

My spiritual diet

I consider spiritual learning to be almost necessary for my own survival -- the big questions of life are endlessly fascinating to me and I love looking around and using experiences (my own or those of others) to challenge my ideas.

This process is nearly as important to my life as food is to my body. And there's no such thing as total satiety. Do you ever get hungry again after dining at an all-you-can-eat buffet? It might take longer than usual, but sure, you'll always get hungry again. That's the way I am with big questions of faith, the universe and everything, and since I won't ever get "full', I just try to enjoy every meal!

Here's a peek at some of my recent diet:

Joel Osteen -- he's my coffee, good for an occassional pick-me-up but not enough nutrients for me to live on

Richard Beck -- Grilled veggies, because I tend to put them off for a while but when I finally dig in, I remember how good that taste, and how good they are for my health

Dalai Lama -- Indian food (no irony intended), because it's way outside my childhood experience but I love it anyway, and it teaches me how other cultures live on completely different diets to achieve the same health goals

Debby -- Boston Market, where although I've never met the cook, somehow it still tastes like a meal at home

Hackman brothers (here and here) -- Sea salt dark chocolate, two different ingredients that, when combined, remind me that diversity and a clash of flavors can reveal something wondrous

Ken Ham -- Candy corn, it's a revisit to a childhood taste that I end up spitting out while marvelling at how much I must have changed

RedWifey -- Water, one of the few absoutely essential substances. It's a part of me and I see semblances of it everywhere I go.

What have you enjoyed eating lately?