I’ve officially regressed.
Every morning, a breakfast of eggs or toasties, fruit and tea or hot chocolate is set out on the dining table, each evening delicious smells of rice, meat, vegetables and “arapa” wind their way into my recently tidied bedroom and yesterday all my clothes were washed and hung up by the time I’d finished my afternoon nap (gimme a break, I thought a had food poisoning!).Read More
As you probably know by now I recently attended Week 2 of the Alpha Course run by Nicky Gumble at HTB Church in London. This one sentence he said right at the start gets its own entire blog because, well, frankly it just ticked me a little bit. It went along the lines of this:
“Everyone has a space in their heart that requires God… that needs God. People’s lives are empty without God and they try to fill this space with addiction to alcohol, sex and drugs. Human beings were created for God and without the connection with our creator, we feel empty inside.”
To quote my favourite comedian, Ricky Gervais, “I’m sorry, wha-?!”
Here’s a conversation I had with one of the first never-religious people I was ever actually friends with.
Me: “Yeah I was brought a Christian.”
Her: “Oh cool. I was brought up nothing.”
Me: “Nothing? How can you be brought up nothing?”
Her: “I don’t know. I just never really thought about it.”
Me: “And do you want to know? Like, do you feel like you missed out?”
Her: “No, not really. I mean, everyone believes different things and whatever. I’m happy.”
Lying with my head on her knee, I stared at the grass, totally floored. Shouldn’t she be craving something? Feel like there’s something missing in her life? Have some sort of addiction she’s never fully satisfied with? How can she just be content without God? Without anything?
Of course, the more I met secular people the more I realized that this is actually the norm, not the exception. Most people without a religious upbringing genuinely just enjoy living their life. They’re not searching for ‘something missing’ and they’re not drinking alcohol, having sex and doing drugs to fill a hole left by an absence of a relationship with their creator. No, no, humans (including most Christians, just FYI) do these things because it’s fun!
I think it’s more likely that everyone regularly attending church services has a god-shaped hole to be filled. Which explains why they are there. And the other 90% of humanity is not.
You know when you read the first few words of something and know instantly you’re just going to eat up the next few paragraphs?
Light flows our war of mocking words, and yet,
Behold, with tears mine eyes are wet!
I feel a nameless sadness o’er me roll.
Yes, yes, we know that we can jest,
We know, we know that we can smile!
But there’s a something in this breast,
To which thy light words bring no rest,
And thy gay smiles no anodyne.
Give me thy hand, and hush awhile,
And turn those limpid eyes on mine, 10
And let me read there, love! thy inmost soul.
Alas! is even love too weak
To unlock the heart, and let it speak?
Are even lovers powerless to reveal
To one another what indeed they feel?
I knew the mass of men conceal’d
Their thoughts, for fear that if reveal’d
They would by other men be met
With blank indifference, or with blame reproved;
I knew they lived and moved 20
Trick’d in disguises, alien to the rest
Of men, and alien to themselves–and yet
The same heart beats in every human breast!
But we, my love!–doth a like spell benumb
Our hearts, our voices?–must we too be dumb?
Ah! well for us, if even we,
Even for a moment, can get free
Our heart, and have our lips unchain’d;
For that which seals them hath been deep-ordain’d!
Fate, which foresaw 30
How frivolous a baby man would be–
By what distractions he would be possess’d,
How he would pour himself in every strife,
And well-nigh change his own identity–
That it might keep from his capricious play
His genuine self, and force him to obey
Even in his own despite his being’s law,
Bade through the deep recesses of our breast
The unregarded river of our life
Pursue with indiscernible flow its way; 40
And that we should not see
The buried stream, and seem to be
Eddying at large in blind uncertainty,
Though driving on with it eternally.
But often, in the world’s most crowded streets,
But often, in the din of strife,
There rises an unspeakable desire
After the knowledge of our buried life;
A thirst to spend our fire and restless force
In tracking out our true, original course; 50
A longing to inquire
Into the mystery of this heart which beats
So wild, so deep in us–to know
Whence our lives come and where they go.
And many a man in his own breast then delves,
But deep enough, alas! none ever mines.
And we have been on many thousand lines,
And we have shown, on each, spirit and power;
But hardly have we, for one little hour,
Been on our own line, have we been ourselves– 60
Hardly had skill to utter one of all
The nameless feelings that course through our breast,
But they course on for ever unexpress’d.
And long we try in vain to speak and act
Our hidden self, and what we say and do
Is eloquent, is well–but ’tis not true!
And then we will no more be rack’d
With inward striving, and demand
Of all the thousand nothings of the hour
Their stupefying power; 70
Ah yes, and they benumb us at our call!
Yet still, from time to time, vague and forlorn,
From the soul’s subterranean depth upborne
As from an infinitely distant land,
Come airs, and floating echoes, and convey
A melancholy into all our day.
Only–but this is rare–
When a beloved hand is laid in ours,
When, jaded with the rush and glare
Of the interminable hours, 80
Our eyes can in another’s eyes read clear,
When our world-deafen’d ear
Is by the tones of a loved voice caress’d–
A bolt is shot back somewhere in our breast,
And a lost pulse of feeling stirs again.
The eye sinks inward, and the heart lies plain,
And what we mean, we say, and what we would, we know.
A man becomes aware of his life’s flow,
And hears its winding murmur; and he sees
The meadows where it glides, the sun, the breeze. 90
And there arrives a lull in the hot race
Wherein he doth for ever chase
That flying and elusive shadow, rest.
An air of coolness plays upon his face,
And an unwonted calm pervades his breast.
And then he thinks he knows
The hills where his life rose,
And the sea where it goes.
In February this year, sitting across from my ex at a long wooden table in the outside part of a pub in Bayview, Melbourne, I signed divorce papers. I was 26 years old.
Four weeks later in March, I put my 5-year-old business up for sale and sold it to a stay at a home mum in Port Macquarie. At the end of April I submitted my resignation for my part time job in Communications at Melbourne Water. The next month, along with my two (gorgeous, I miss you gals!) flatmates, I found someone to take over the lease for my bedroom in our apartment in Hawthorn. In June, I registered for non-attendance at my Bachelor of Commerce graduation ceremony and got totally screwed over by WeBuyAnyCar.com.au cos no-one wants to buy 6 year old Peugeots. I also wrote a letter to the “Fines and Penalties Section” of the Department of Justice to explain that I was unable to attend Court to defend the $350 worth of fines I owed from allegedly not paying two $2.50 tolls on the M1 because 9 months ago I bought a one way ticket to Europe and in two weeks I just wouldn’t be around anymore. There may or may not be a Sheriff waiting for me at the airport when I eventually go home…
I left Australia four months ago owning a backpack of clothes, four boxes of books and memorabilia stored in the garage of my sisters place (including my 6 inch high heels; we’ve been together every Friday night for the past 18 months, how could I possibly just throw them away??) and a queen sized bed a friend let me set up in their holiday house. If you’ve ever had to buy a good bed on the cheap you’ll understand why I did this. I had a best friend, a British Citizenship, a 3 month Eurail pass and no idea what I was going to do, where I would go or who I would be with when it ran out.
It was The Dream Come True.
When do we ever get a chance to step back and look at life as a huge, blank canvas, waiting for us to paint whatever we want onto it? I’m just about the luckiest girl in the world to have had the opportunity to do this and now, here I am four months later in Bogota, Columbia, wrapped in a 9 year olds’ blue Kung-Fu Panda blanket on the couch of a local family, wide awake at 6am reflecting on the experience. I’ve been avoiding it, I realize. The initial plan was to walk the Camino de Santiago in Spain for a week as a pilgrim, with plenty of time for reading, writing and reflection before heading to South America. Instead I went to Oktoberfest. I did learn how to drink beer without vomiting but it’s hardly a well-rounded ending to what was a life-defining trip.
So, in all the partying, trekking, photo-ing, meeting, laughing, crying, wondering and wandering moments of the past 13 weeks, who am I now? What do I know that I didn’t before? I’m finding this so difficult to write. It’s as though a part of me thinks writing these things down will make them disappear. After a period of having every truth and perception you hold about life turned on it’s head, stomped on and burnt up in flames, discovering beliefs you can hold onto as markers to navigate this world is as magical a thing for me as a butterfly landing on my shoulder. I have wonderful moments just noticing in myself a new sense of security, a desire to learn, a calm in unusual situations, a gratefulness and hopefully also gracefulness – glimmers of slowly flapping butterfly wings from the corner of my eye. If I take a swipe in the hope of catching them, will they fly away?
Only one way to find out, I guess. Here is what I have decided about life…
I Will Chase What I Want In Life Rather Than Security or Status
Ever since discovering, at the age of 23, the job ‘Change Manager’ even existed I’ve had a bit of an ache in my heart that I didn’t do the whole corporate world “Management Consultant with McKinsey” path. I firmly believe that if you want something, you can get it (well, maybe not McKinsey but at least Accenture?) and was staring down the barrel of what would be another 2 years of study, 3 years internships and a lot of arse-kissing just to get to a basic role in one of those companies by the time I was 32. And all women know what that age means. Depressing. But the thought would not leave me alone! It’s like something inside me believed that a role like that was proof of my worth; intelligence, superiority, a right to respect from other people. “Oh I’m a management consultant, I just got back from Hong Kong and heading off to New York next week.” Even just writing this, I’m not gonna lie, I still want it.
Alain de Botton’s book Status Anxiety is by far the best antidote to this general plague of ambition for things that won’t actually make us happy. It wasn’t until I read a book called The Pin Striped Prison on the plane from Melbourne to Dubai though, that I asked myself the specific questions: Do I really want to spend 12 hours a day in an office working on power point presentations about the fluctuations of the wheat market in India? Do I really want to write reports on what changes need to be made in a company rather than actually working to make them myself? But most of all do I really want to work in a large office where someone is expecting me at my desk from 8am – 6pm, regardless of whether I have work to do, a medical appointment or a burning desire to jump off a cliff with a parachute attached to my back?
The answer is no. No, no, no.
To get around this dilemma of ‘what path to take in life’ I asked myself the question; if you knew you were going to miserably fail at it, what would you do anyway?
This question separated for me, my ‘wants’ from ‘passions’. Of course I want to work for a famous company, walk into organizations as the Expert and take home a big steady paycheck. But if I worked for years at a desk over minute details in worthless power point presentations and I didn’t succeed, I would consider all that time to be a waste. My passion on the other hand… my passion is creating. It is forging new paths where others won’t go. It is negotiating the fine dance of relationships to foster synergy a team can throw at a challenge and succeed at. It is waking every day, not because there’s no way a boss will believe my tram was inexplicably late again, but because I am excited to be on the edge of something new and in complete control of my own agenda. Even if I never successfully build a company or publish a bestseller, I’d have enjoyed the ride and could proudly pat myself on the back for giving it go.
This means I’ll never get to say I’m a Management Consultant. And probably for a good part of the next 5 years will be just off broke. It’ll be fine though because then I’ll marry a rich Accountant, move to the suburbs and have babies. Nah, I’m kidding! A Hedge Fund Manager, at least… 😉
And so… I’m going to throw myself at doing what I really want to do; which is write a book and found a million dollar turnover business. Both those thoughts scare me so much I want to crawl under this blanket and use jet lag as an excuse to watch the Billy Madison movie for the fifth time.
Wondering and Wandering Part 2: coming soon.
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Wahhh this is such a long blog!! Had to be done… next ones will be back to bite sized, promise.
See: Response to Alpha Course: Week 2 for the background to this blog.
Evidence Number Two
Jesus was either Bad, Mad or God
I love this… it’s simple and I think it’s fairly true. A guy claiming to be God either: 1) knows it’s not true, and is therefore evilly deceiving people, 2) doesn’t know it’s not true and is therefore mentally deluded or 3) is actually telling the truth.
According to the records, Jesus died a really painful death and probably would’ve seen it coming. Despite the fame (and, according to evangelicals, money) afforded him from his teachings, I’d have to agree it’s a fairly big deal for someone to go through if he was fleecing people. So let’s rule out evil for now.
Below are the 5 reasons Nicky gave for logically believing Jesus was not mentally deluded and some additional thoughts in response (Nicky Gumbel is quoted in italics).
1. Jesus Teachings:
Nicky: “Well, the teachings of Jesus have been widely acknowledged to be the greatest teaching ever to come forth from anyone’s lips. (…examples of how society has advanced…) Here we are 2000 years later and no one has ever improved on the teachings of Jesus. Who’s improved on the teachings of Jesus?”
Well, Paul the Apostle came up with extra stuff that Jesus hadn’t clarified; like whether you should stay married to an unbeliever, pray in tongues in public and how to discipline someone who wasn’t toeing the party line.
Outside of Christianity, there’d be 1.6 billion Muslim people who evidently strongly believe Mohammed improved on the teachings of Jesus. And 376 million people who would think Buddha’s teachings were better than Jesus’ in the first place. Even Scientologists would probably rate L. Ron Hubbards writings above those of Jesus.
‘Widely acknowledged’ here clearly relates only to the Western world. My impression is that people in the Eastern world generally have quite a low opinion of Jesus and his teachings (mostly because he is associated with the capitalistic greed of the Western countries).
Nicky: “So much of the medical care that spread throughout western civilization came from Jesus’ teachings.”
True. Jesus’ teachings in the hands of humans has also accomplished 1000 years of intellectual darkness known as the Middle Ages, 500 years of wars in the Crusades, 350 years of the Spanish Inquisition, burning of ‘witches’ at the stake, the continuation of apartheid and a loss of cultural heritage for many cultures thanks to missionaries who equated “Christian” with “Western”. We could go on.
I used to look at these examples and scoff that those people clearly just misinterpreted the bible and it was never Jesus’ intention for those events to take place. Makes you wonder if we’re doing the same thing with some of our ‘newer’ fundamental beliefs, like no to gay marriage or submission to leadership, today.
3) Actions: Jesus did nice things and was a fun guy.
He also told his followers to leave their family without even saying goodbye. He told some people they were ‘goats’ and deserved to be tortured for eternity. He had a raging fit in the middle of the markets, deliberately taking the time to make a whip and use it to whip people out through a gate. We’d arrest someone who did that today and put them in a mental institution.
The counter-argument to this is that, as God, Jesus is pure in requesting these things and judging people and these are ‘righteous actions’. Well, we’re either going to judge him on today’s moral standards or not. If we’re not, then it means nothing that Jesus was nice and has fun.
4) Jesus’ Character:
Nicky: “Is he evil, is he insane? Look at his character. (reading from the bible) “His enemies could find no fault with him.” His friends lived with him for 3 years, they really knew him. These are the people who, if there was fault with him they would have found it. And they said ‘he is without sin’.”
Hitler’s followers believed he was mentally sound, or at least their actions would suggest so. Every prophet has had followers, or friends if you like, who believed in them 100% and also wrote glowing reports about their guru’s teachings. Jesus had plenty of people disagree with him it’s just that their writings aren’t considered Divinely Inspired. Which is not a coincidence.
There’s no denying Jesus was a basically good guy and had some pretty good teachings, even if they have been abused at the hands of his followers over the past 2000 years. However, this doesn’t make him any different to Muhammed or Buddha or Ra or Bahá’ull’áh.
4) Fulfilling of Prophecies:
Nicky: “Jesus fulfilled 300 prophecies from the Old Testament, stuff that he had no control over, like where he was born and how he died.”
Here’s how this could also work; let’s take the birth one as an example. The Jewish teachers, and therefore, the Jewish congregation, were expecting The Messiah to be born in Bethlehem. There were always a number of suspects walking around claiming to be the Messiah. If these people couldn’t prove they were born in Bethelehem, no-one believed them and therefore they were never written about. It took at least 800 years of false Messiahs to find one that satisfied the ‘unfakeable’ criteria. The rest can be taken care of on purpose, by disciples or in the two generation gap before anyone actually wrote anything down.
The biggest shock for me though on this point was that Jews don’t think Jesus was the Messiah. If he fulfilled 300 of their prophecies, how come they’re not convinced?
5) The Resurrection.
It’s true that The Resurrection is key to Christianity. The above 4 examples don’t make Jesus any greater than other nice-guy kooks running around claiming to be god. If Jesus did actually rise from the dead that’s pretty impressive; he’d then only have to compete with Osiris and Attis of Phrygia (both BC) as the Son of God who healed people, died and rose again after 3 days. The evidence given by Alpha for the resurrection is The Bible and I already gave some additional thoughts as to why there’s room for doubt on those accounts.
It’s easy for Christians to understand how I now view Jesus by answering the question; how do you view the claims of this fairly extensive list of people who also said they were God? If I guess right, you believe them mentally deluded, regardless of whether they were nice people or not.
Why is how I come to choose Option 2; Delusional, like everybody else.
I hesitate over this last section because I don’t like to personally attack people but I’m going to include it because I’m genuinely confused about the oxymoron of the label ‘nice, intelligent pastor’. Nicky Gumbel said towards the end of his talk, “But I can’t help look at all these facts and this evidence and then I believe we have to ask ourselves the question: Did he claim to be God? Yes. Was he evil? I don’t think so, looking at his character and the things he said and did. Was he insane? I don’t think so…. That doesn’t really fit with the evidence. The only third logical possibility is that it’s true!”
If we apply Nicky’s own logic to himself, either he knows the things he’s saying are misrepresentations and he’s evil, he honestly believes them to be truly unequivocal evidence for Jesus as Son of God and he’s irrational or he doesn’t know they’re not true and he’s ignorant.
According to my friends, Nicky’s a seriously nice, humble guy. He’s also written a number of books and done a lot of study on the arguments around Christianity, even attempting a response to Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion”. So I’m going to rule out evil and ignorant and settle on irrational.
Nicky’s conversion story goes like this; he was an anti-Christian lawyer. Two of his close friends became Christians so he decided to read the New Testament. After three full days of straight reading, he got to the end and, in his own words “hadn’t studied all the things we talked about just now but it was basically what I saw and I came to the conclusion, it’s true!”
This is akin to a Muslim saying “I read the entire Qu’ran and at the end of it, just knew it was true.” This isn’t using logical and factual evidence to arrive at a conclusion. Using logical reasoning on factual evidence of a recording of Nicky’s own words, I would deduce that Nicky believes in Jesus not because it makes logical sense, as he asserts, but because for whatever reason it ‘felt right’ at the time. Which is where these sorts of discussions get to with every Christian. They eventually say; “I don’t believe because of logic, I just have faith inside me which I can’t deny.”
That’s fine. But let’s not pretend like there’s logical, factual, undeniable reasons as to why Jesus is the Son of God.
I went to church this week.
Well, not really church. An Alpha course. Week 2 to be precise, at Nicky Gumbel’s church, the home of Alpha, “HTB”. Which stands for… something… HTB-y…
I’m staying in London with Australian friends I knew from Sydney and they invited me along on my second night here. One of my few regrets from my years as a Christian is that I was so centric – never reading or listening to or entertaining ideas from people that contradicted my own. Now that I’m at the other end of the spectrum, I’d hate to commit the same mistake. Plus, I’ll admit I was curious as to what it would be like to be back in that environment after a 2 year hiatus. So I met my friend for a glass (or two) of red wine after work and trotted along.
There’s a whole other blog in the emotions of the experience but I just want to outline what I mentally thought of the ideas presented, in a simple non-comprehensive, non-referenced way, just like Alpha does. Even though Alpha is designed for people to come and ask questions and assist as a base for a search for meaning, most people probably attend it without doing any follow up on what was said. I actually taught the Alpha Course twice when I was a Christian and never did any further reading on the claims. Atheist websites are always so judgemental and rude about it, so I thought I’d put some ‘alternative thoughts’ down for anyone wanting to get a bigger picture.
First of all, one of the best sentences all evening was something Nicky said after confirming Jesus did actually claim to be the Son of God. He said, “How do you test a claim like that? I would suggest you look at evidence.”
Which is a great idea. Because there’s lots of people who’ve claimed to be god or a demi-god or from god or showing the way to god or related to god… there’s a vein of similarity amongst all of them but one glance will tell you they can’t all be 100% right. So assuming that one of them is correct, how could we tell? Nicky’s suggesting evidence so let’s go with that for now…
Evidence Number One
The bible should be believed as an historical account
Comparative textual evidence, aka: the number of writings about an event and the age of the oldest copy of those writings, is given by Alpha as reason to believe in the accuracy of the New Testament. Here’s some reasons the majority of people do not believe it is a reliable historical account:
There are entire books written on whether the bible can be taken at face value or not and, believe me, it’s a dry, black-hole discussion. Regardless of how far evidence for or against Jesus as the Son of God is down the ‘reliability’ ladder, at the end of the day, it’s on the ladder. There is room for doubt about whether the events took place as described and whether Jesus did actually say what he said.
I use to wonder “Well, if it didn’t actually happen like that, why would Christianity have started at all?” Christianity isn’t the only religion to have started and flourished. Religions thrive for all sorts of reasons; if the fact that Christianity exists at all is evidence of its truth, the same will have to be applied to Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Jehovah’s Witnesses etc. To choose Christianity over all the others, there’d need to be something sort of special about it. Which brings us to the next point…
Picture atlases. Remember being 8 years old and cracking the spine of a shiny new picture Atlas? They were always too big for little hands and arms to hold so had to be spread on the floor. There I am, on the rug with my knees tucked up under my chest, opening the cover to the bright colours of kids from all over the world. This one’s Chinese; they have black hair and wear shiny dresses. This one’s from Paris; wearing a beret and holding an artists’ brush. Germans wear braces, Italians eat pasta and Spanish have pet bulls. Ignoring the obvious stereotyping, how thrilling it was to think of a world with pockets of Different Sameness. Where everyone was Different to me but the Same as each other.
I was on a train in Paris a few weeks ago, surrounded by Parisians and, well… everyone looks the Same. Actually, Different obviously, in the way that each individual is different; there’s dark skin opposite my seat and light hair next to me. A sad brown face in hippie clothes by the door watches the businessman in a polo shirt read his newspaper. The lady wearing a head scarf across the aisle quiets her boy toddler wearing mini Converse Shoes and a fake leather jacket. It’s just that these are the same kind of differences you find in people on a train in Australia. And Italy. And Portugal come to think of it. I could have picked up that carriage and put it on a line from Surry Hills to Parramatta and it wouldn’t have been out of place except for the language.
It seems we have lost Different Sameness and instead just have the Same Differences. Admittedly I’ve only travelled Western countries so perhaps it’s a phenomenon affecting just those cities. It was bound to happen, I guess, what with the rise of globalization and the inevitable multiculturalism that it brings but I can’t help just a little bit of me being sad and mourning more of a culture clash experience. When I’ve found it – usually in discussions with a group of locals who have also travelled around a bit – Different Sameness has changed my perspective. In Stockholm, I talked with two American guys for hours in a cafe about how they wished for the lifestyle focussed culture of Europe rather than the pressures of ‘getting ahead’ Americans seem so obsessed with. Sweating it out in a Sauna in Finland, Jouni explained that there are two words for happiness in Finnish – long lasting happiness (sort of like contentment) and short lasting happiness (like just a fleeting feeling). One of my favourite memories is of a Greek explaining in a loud voice and with large gestures why the world owed Greece the EU bailout and why he absolutely refused to sleep with any Germans this Summer because of the austerity measures imposed. We all wear the same clothes and listen to pretty much the same music but fortunately there are some cultural norms the rest of the world hasn’t adopted from America.
I just googled the image for this blog, looking for something with all the children in their traditional dress holding hands around the world. To my shock, the images of the kids holding hands around the world are there but they’re all wearing the same clothes! Now I’m mourning the demise of my picture Atlases too. Hopefully by the time my children are old enough to travel, we would have discovered life on another planet. That way there’ll be some Different Sameness to experience. Makes me wonder what the picture atlas for my grandchildren will look like, aside from 3D, interactive and downloaded directly to their brains. Whose Same Differences will have won?
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