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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

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            Today I am back to the place where I spent the first half of my life, and everything has changed but the carpet and pews and maybe something else, but I can’t put my finger on it because I’ve never been that observant. It’s been a solid seven years since I last walked into this building. The key to it is cold in my hands, and I run my fingers up and down its skeleton as I walk the aisles. The lights are on but it’s dark outside, so the windows don’t show off their color like I remember. Maybe that’s it.

I’m pacing the aisles, and it’s reminding me of how old Mr. Jones used to pace them, hands shaking and tongue shaking as he spewed out what we call our own prayer language. He scared the junk out of me, that man. I laugh thinking about my six-year-old self seeing a wrinkly, wobbly old guy shouting in what sounded like a cross between Spanish and a toddler trying to speak English with a stutter. Boy, he would tell me in a quiet voice when he wasn’t praying, you’re just like your father. Just like your father.

I remember again why I’m here. I continue rubbing the key; it’s still cold.

Funny.

There was a point not too long ago when my father would worry excessively that I was going to hell. It’s not like he told me those words, exactly: “I think you might be going to hell”. And he never once told me to go there. But he would preach to me after he’d finished preaching to the church, asked me if I needed a fourth Bible, and at one point he took me to a Christian bookshop to buy fifty dollars’ worth of books that quoted the Bible every other page.

When the time came for me to leave the house, he called me once a week to ask me about the Sunday sermon at the church I was supposed to be attending. The one we (he) had decided upon, after spending an entire evening reading “What we’re about” pages on every church website in Ohio. I’d roll around in my bed and lift the phone to my ear before I’d register it was him, bright and early Monday morning the one day I got to sleep in, asking me ‘how was church!?’ Truth is, I attended church now and then, but when I didn’t I usually knew what to say to make him think I’d gone. Sundays I usually spent sleeping in, dealing with my pile of procrastination spewed all over my desk, and updating my Netflix queue.

We’re praying for you, he would always say before I hung up. As if he could tell that, despite all my words, I wasn’t sure about this whole God thing those days.

I wasn’t.

I had met a friend named Brian, and we were focusing on our music. University was just a means of pleasing our parents and ensuring some sort of security to fall back on while our music was beginning to take off. I’m in a band, we could say to our elders and childhood friends. Their eyebrows would raise and they would nod, sympathetic. And I’m also studying Architecture and Business. Oh! They would perk up. Isn’t that something? A man of many talents!

We were an acoustic band called Scream Oh! We thought that was a hoot. We wrote songs mostly about girls and about the ironies of life and double-meanings. My favorite song was one about doubting love after a harsh break-up; when I sang “she takes from my hands what can’t be replaced/ the skin from my palms/ exposing real bones that could never love her face”, I knew that I was also talking about the church, about God.

And my father kept calling me.

Once a week, Monday morning. The start of the week for me, the second day of it for him.

The key in my hand is being pressed violently into my skin. I’m squeezing it. The shape of it is in my palm for a brief second, the blood hot red around it. When I look up from my palm I see that there are new flowers in the vases by the altar. Mom must’ve done it, which surprises me. The woman who orders the same coffee every morning and goes to bed at nine forty-five to the minute, has switched out the vases full of red roses for white ones. I walk up to the altar, bend down and take a whiff of them. They smell the same. Like Saturday walks to Flora’s Flower Shop, begging mom for an ice cream or a bag of Pop Rocks since I’ve been good considering I’ve been forced to spend an entire afternoon in some girlie flower shop.

Smelling them makes me nostalgic for the first time since I’ve walked in here. I scrunch my knees up and sit on them, touching both my palms to the prickly carpet. It’s the same. I lay my back and my head flat against it, staring at the white arched ceiling. Before I’m aware of what I’m doing, I’m rolling two rolls to the left, my nose scrunched underneath the bottom of one of the old pews. It smells like dirt and musk and old lady’s perfume and wood and mint leaf and of sweat and sermons and shouting.

And that’s when I remember how Big Red was the best gum already-chewed. Most definitely. If the sermon got a little too long, you’d just plop your head down like you were taking a nap, then as soon as everyone got loud and jumped up screaming Hallelujah Amen Preach it, roll yourself right underneath the tops of the old pews, grab a wad of that pre-chewed stuff and think about how momma won’t find out you’re chewing another person’s spit, ‘cause she’s too busy watching everyone get saved. Juicy Fruit was often underneath those pews, too, but all the sugar had drained out of those pieces. Not Big Red. Big Red tasted like fire and cinnamon and even when it got raw in your mouth, when you would let it sit out for a little bit then put it back in, it would taste brand new again. Like fire, just as strong as the first time.

I’m laughing. My nose is shaking underneath the pew and my gut is shaking against it a little, too. I know I’m obviously bigger than what I used to be, but I didn’t understand it until right now. Why didn’t I crawl under a pew last time I was here?

Last time I was here, I was eighteen and about to travel halfway across the States for school; telling my parents I was going so far for the education, but knowing it was mostly to get away. I went into that building without my family knowing, especially Dad. He might get too sentimental. Make it something I was convinced it wasn’t. It was early, around five a.m. I snuck the key out of mom’s purse on the kitchen counter and made a mad dash down the street. The sky was dusky blue and it was the first time I had been alone in it. The trees leading up to the doors were waiting on the side of the road with their crooked fingers pointed up toward the sky. They would often make me wonder if trees could take some of our places the way rocks were going to, raising their hands to the sky while the rocks cried out.

Walking into the church was like smelling a familiar scent from my past, though I hadn’t yet left it. It was a formal farewell to a place I both loved and loathed the responsibility of. I watched my face change for ten years in that big, finger-printed mirror over there; that is, when I was tall enough to see past the mini table with the tacky fake flowers on display. Momma saved the real flowers for around the altar. I had dreams that I was sliding off the top of that staircase right there, fingernails scratching the carpet to keep me from falling. I had those dreams after I would crawl under the pews and press my tired face into the prickly carpet to take a nap, while phrases like “are you truly saved?” and “you are not perfect, but He is” slipped into those dreams. I had been there not only on Sundays but on days my dad needed to work overtime in his office; his office that was jammed full of what I thought must have been important papers, so important he couldn’t throw any of them away or the whole building might be snatched from us. I knew every tile on the floor in the kitchen, knew where to find the keys to open the snack machine and steal Skittles, knew how the church looked when the sun was just starting to come up and when the sun was just starting to go down.

When we stayed after service, which we usually did, I would sit in the swivel chair in the office and pretend that I was the new pastor. I am sad to inform you, good church people who love Jesus, that my dad has unfortunately died in a suddenly deadly car pile-up. Or, actually, he just wanted to go on an extra-long vacation to Fijis, ‘cause that’s not super sad. In those moments I was married with a wife and kids, bossing my wife to make me coffee (black, like a real man took his coffee) and file something important, telling my kids to be respectful and stop playing on the desk tables. I don’t know if Dad ever saw me in those moments, but if he did you can bet he was overjoyed. He would say it plain and simple: This place is yours if you want it, and I can’t help but hope that you do, son.

I was eight while I was playing those pastor games. Thinking that all it involved was sitting in those swivel chairs and having a pretty wife to file vital things for you, while you were making phone calls with a deep man-voice asking people how they were doing with Jesus these days. Maybe counseling every now and then, letting someone lay on the office couch, pencil on my lip, quoting scripture every time they brought up a problem.

I don’t know when exactly the games stopped. I simply grew up and understood the responsibilities that I could never fully grasp when I was eight, and started planting other dreams. It would start with music lessons, a lyric scribbled on a napkin, visions of performing in a band underneath lights that made my long hair drip sweat; talking to a swarm of girls who thought showing emotions like that was hot.

When I was eight I could sit in a swivel chair like my dad’s and feel what it might be like to lead people to the Lord, to save lost souls, to show them  how to love Jesus. But when I was eighteen I had given up fully, knowing that to execute it was an altogether different concept.

One day I thought about the church and it sent bile shooting up my throat, real, raw-tasting bile. Why was I baptized when I was seven? I didn’t know any better. The church had been a comfort, a safety zone. But it was gone. And it wasn’t real. None of it was real. I read poetry about wanting to believe in God, but not being able to: Why am I blind to sights my brethren see? I wrote songs about doubt. Why was I restrained from life, real life? Restrained from trying drugs or having sex or getting drunk or believing in Buddha or goddesses or Greek mythology? It’s not that I wanted those things, necessarily, but I didn’t want to be told that I could not want them when I wasn’t sure if I did or not. And finally, why did I have to be a bad person simply because I couldn’t believe, really believe?

So the most spontaneous decision of my life came to be—in a rush of adrenaline and boiling blood I spun the globe on the top of my desk, closed my eyes, and crushed my finger into it after a few seconds had passed. Screw the band. Screw the Monday-morning phone calls about going to church and putting me through spells of unnecessary guilt. Screw the lying to my father. Screw the two years left of my major. Screw wanting to travel the world but never doing it. Screw wanting to go after something but never knowing what it should be.

If I opened my eyes and my finger was in the middle of the ocean, well hell, I’d find my way there.

I opened them.

And there it was; my finger over a teardrop. Sri Lanka. I was going to Sri Lanka.

Before I had time to talk myself back into being rational, I was buying a one-way ticket, throwing what I could fit into my dusty suitcase and applying for a fast-track Passport. The next few weeks passed and I dropped out of school. I sold what I could of my furniture, some clothes. I called my parents only when I was in the airport to tell them. It came out robotic, like a recording. I still can’t remember what they said to me, not how they acted or whether or not their voice fluctuated, I was so numb.

That’s what was so funny, huh? That I could close my eyes and let my finger land on such a foreign ground then drop everything and leave, thinking some part of me would be fulfilled by doing so. Thinking I would leave all my doubts and fear of the unknown behind. Thinking if I was surrounded by all things new, maybe I could be new, too.

But it was what was the same that brought me revelation. When I arrived, the ground still held my feet. There was still dirt underneath my toes, and trees were still a greenish color in the summer. Birds still populated the air, and people still knew how to smile or frown or laugh. The air could still get sticky, a breeze could still rush in. I knew nothing of their native languages, but found a good amount of friends who could speak English by my second day. But even then, though I didn’t understand most everybody all around me, though they spoke something that sounded babbling and foreign, I understood what they were trying to say. There was a lady trying to barter for fruit at the market, her two children strewn about her knees and starving. There was a man with his head held high, walking in front of his wife, showing his life off. People needed food like I needed food, and we ate in the same way, with our mouths and eyes and noses. There were eyes full of love, eyes full of rage, eyes that were empty. I was seeking for a world where no man would think himself greater than the other. No man would tell another what to do. Where wealth and food would be shared, where hands would be opened freely; a world conjured up in the crevices of my mind, a place safe and all mine… and I knew, immediately, that I would never fully find it here, or back home, or anywhere. A world conjured up in the crevices of my mind, a place safe and all mine.

Yet I stayed. Weeks, months. Taking up odd-end jobs wherever I could find them. Living on the loans meant for school.

The closest friend I had was a man who spoke English, Saman, but not as well as most. The first man I met who could understand when I asked “Do you speak English, please?”

When I asked him after months of friendship what he believed the meaning of life was, he told me that it was whatever I wanted to believe it was. We were lying on a spray of smooth brown-red rocks, listening to the ocean.

“Life means what you want,” he said.

“What if I don’t know what I want?”

“Life means that.”

“But don’t you ever think there has to be more than you and me?”

“Yes.”

“Then, what is it?”

“What you want it, I think.”

The waves crashed around us still. They were much too far away to touch our toes, yet I had visions of them snatching us by the ankles, leading us out into the open sea where we knew nothing.

In the middle of that sea, what would we believe? That, as our heads bobbed above the surface, we were still the most powerful beings? As our legs and arms grew weary of kicking, there was still hope? I once was taught that Jesus could walk on water. Would I think about that if I was in the middle of it, drowning? If a man were to come to me, stepping on the water as if it were smooth pavement, would I touch his hand, or fear it were an illusion and not even try, confident in my own senses in that moment of panic and sinking fear?

Saman and I continued to talk. I told him about Sunday school and growing up believing in God right there; it was the first time I had talked about what I was running from all the time I had been there. We talked until sundown. We stretched our arms and let the blood enter other parts of our body; on the red rocks we breathed like we hadn’t before.

One week later I found a church buried under lively green trees, in a little cream building. There were no pews. We folded our legs and sang in a language I didn’t know. Yet all around me, I felt that I understood what was happening. A familiar sensation lit up the air, whisking me off to the days of sitting on my knees around my father’s altar, covering my eyes with my hands and asking God to please please show me what he thought about me, what he wanted me to do. Receiving a response that always just said I love you, coming over my body like a runner’s high, like a good night’s rest, like if I wanted to I could fly… a lightness, a simplicity. God? I whispered for the first time in years. But as soon as it came off my lips, it didn’t feel like a question anymore.

One year later I went home. My twenty-three hour layover was in Dubai, and I took the opportunity to scale the Burj Khalifa. Standing atop the observation deck, watching the way the earth curved, I knew I could never go back to not believing in God. Because as I looked out beyond me, to the very horizon and dip of the globe, I found myself saying under my breath: “This is it.” This was the tallest building in the world. This was as far up as we had ever gone, and even if we went any further up from the ground, we would still ever only be under the sky.

All my dreams of escaping the church and God led me to here, the tallest building on the earth, only to realize that not even here could I see everything.

The key is warm in my hands. I roll out from underneath the pew. There’s this verse in my head that’s been playing as if it’s a soundtrack on repeat for the past few weeks since father called: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he’s old, he will not depart from it”. I’m not old yet. Twenty-five years old with memories of this place at ten, still fresh in corners of my brain. Memories of Sri Lanka and going to church with Saman and standing on top of the Burj Khalifa in another corner. Memories of sitting in the basement making music for hours, of thinking that the best in life was to be found only in words I created.

I’ve been back to school. I’ve sat through Business classes with a fresh mind. I’ve been attending a church each week not with feelings of obligation, but because when I wake up Sunday mornings I know there’s no place I’d rather be. I am more confident that life is not about me, not about how I see it, more than I’ve ever been.

I walk up to the white roses again, and smell them. It’s like they’ve lost their color. Maybe I’m more observant than I give myself credit for. They’ve gone from red to white. Clean.

My dad didn’t expect to get a call from me yesterday, I bet. Telling them guess what, I’m coming over there tomorrow, just for a weekend. I’m closer to them now, and much closer than Sri Lanka of course, but still further than they’d like me to be. So they’re of course thrilled that I said I’m coming, though I knew mom would spend the next twenty-four hours dusting in-between the kitchen tiles.

Here I am now, the key warm in my hand. An offer I know still exists. You can work here with me, son. You’re always welcome. The very place I thought I would avoid. The very place that taught me to love God yet taught me to unknowingly hate him and mistrust him, too.

In Sunday school, I was always the star pupil. Answering all the questions before any other kid had a chance to think about them. The star of Bible trivia and Sword Drills and that kid who sang a solo in the Christmas pageant every year, wearing a shepherd’s costume.

But one specific day in Sunday school we shared our prayer requests out loud. Everyone was required to say something, and we went in a circle. Karen asked if we could please pray for her grandma who was very sick. Matty asked if we could pray for his leg which he had broken a week ago, and also his baby sister who was a brat. Finally, it got to me. I had been racking my brain trying to come up with something that needed prayer. Before I was ready, it was my turn, and my body went cold. I don’t need prayer, I had told them. Well, what about someone else that you know? My teacher had suggested. I thought about it, thought hard. Then, I looked up from my palms and said: I don’t know what they need.

Me, star Sword Driller, always the shepherd with the solo in the Christmas plays. Son of the pastor, Bible quizzer.

I wasn’t even aware of what people needed prayer for, or what I needed it for, either.

I continue pacing the aisles. I walk up the few steps to the pulpit, standing upright behind it, shoulders back. I imagine hundreds of faces in front of me, expectant. When I do, a chill goes down my spine so good and so frightening. That scripture in Luke about the Holy Spirit speaking through me jettisons through my mind, and I find myself saying out loud, Yeah, Holy Spirit, you better, or we’re in trouble. I scan the crowd. There’s those elderly ladies in the back, their walkers sitting next to them. Mr. Jones’ wife, Edna, and her best friend Mary. Today they are going to receive healing, I don’t care how old they are. And there, on the right, is Walter Wimbley and his family. Anne, his eldest daughter with an eating disorder, is going to be told how beautiful she is. And it won’t come from human lips that have so long haunted and deceived her, and can never make her feel worthy. It will come from the lips of her father that will skip through her vanity and insecurity and fall into her soul like a seed, sprouting words of true beauty and life. And there, in the middle, underneath the second pew is a child that looks like me. He’s picking the bottom of the pew, tugging at a piece of gum that keeps bouncing back into the air. Son, I’ll tell him. You’ll remember these words that you hear. And even though you’ll have to wander to figure it out for yourself, you’ll know that these words are always an option. And I wish I could tell you this so you would understand, really understand, that these words are true. They’re not mine, so they’re true. But you’ll still have to learn that for yourself, and I can’t help that.

I try to keep my back straight, but it crumples. I fall to my knees on the stage, shaky. I don’t know if my life will keep me here or take me back to Sri Lanka or lead me to another place somewhere like the middle of the ocean, where I think for a moment that maybe I’ll drown.

I crawl back down the steps, on hands and knees, and lie down against the carpet once more. This place will change. The carpet will be taken out, the flowers will die, the pews will rot. One day it will be demolished, turned into dust. Its bones will die. But its body—its real body, the one that must be discovered aside from the carpet and pews and flowers, will continue to live as it has for so long. Stretching its fingers and toes and heartbeat toward every region of the world, every corner of the mind; moved by something grander than this human heart.

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He had a Jesus fish on the back of his car, so people knew he was a believer. In thin letters, the word “Jesus” was squeezed inside the stomach, in case the open-tailed fish itself didn’t give it away. He didn’t think much about why the word “Jesus” was squeezed inside the fish. He just slapped it onto his car after paying fifty cents for it when he saw it at the register, when he went to purchase the “Purpose-Driven Life”. That book was lying open on chapter eight somewhere in the car; a chunk of bent pages holding its place, next to the NIV version of a Bible his grandma had given him one year for Christmas. He had opened it hoping for cash, maybe a nice shirt, but instead it was an NIV version of a Bible he didn’t need, didn’t want. He loved Jesus and all, but he had four Bibles already, stacked on a drawer in his room next to an old movie ticket stub, a wrapped peppermint, and a pair of readers.

He went to church on Sundays and Wednesdays, and always raised his hands. And high. When the preacher asked people to come to the altar, he always came. He would look to his left and right, to make sure somebody was watching his humility, then came forward, eyes shut, fists clenched, Jesus, I need you, Jesus, I want you, Jesus, I love you while images of himself coming forward played in his mind like a scene from a Christian film—but a good one; one that was well-written, and would make someone other than a middle-aged mother cry.

He volunteered for church events, and served BBQ sandwiches to people who smelled like dirty fish, and he smiled at them and asked them about their day and their name and if they were happy with their life and do they know God and do they want to know God and do they know they can know God right now.

Once he saw a man on the street who he could have sworn he served BBQ to once, probably, oh, five months ago now. He walked up to him and smiled, because if he smiled big enough, he would inject it into the man. There was something about a smile that could just make everything better, wasn’t there? He found out the man’s name again, it was Tom, Tom with almost no teeth who smelled the worst of them all, and who almost never smiled back. He asked if Tom remembered him, but Tom did not. He asked Tom if he was right with God, and Tom just grinned and said God wasn’t right with him. He wished he could have spent more time with Tom, but he had to get to Wednesday church, because he wanted to hear God speak to him. He felt like God was trying to tell him something, lately. Maybe something big. Maybe someone would give him a prophetic word, or lay hands on him and tell him he was going to heal bones, and make disease flee. Maybe somebody would tell him that he was going to be a pastor, somewhere big and somewhere a long way from here. Maybe someone would finally give him permission to go on that mission trip. He wished he could have spent more time with Tom, but he had to go, and he told Tom he hoped he knew that he was loved, so, so loved.

That night at Wednesday church the preacher spoke a message about love of the self, and how we ought not to do things to be seen by others.

His heart was pounding. Yes, yes, this was for him. It was for him; it spoke straight to his soul, and everything he was made up of was trembling.

I want to be better, I want to be the best me, I want to succeed, I want to get it right.

He walked to the front, after looking to his left and his right, to fall on his knees, singing something about holiness. All the while thinking:

I am humble, yes I am humble, now I am humble.

But we all know we must let go of the self,

The very word and action and spirit of it,

In order to be free

To hear something more than it.

We know it in our heads; often

It must be renewed in our hearts.

And I, and we, must confess:

That “He” is me!

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Photo credit to AppleTan

This has been on my mind for months, and I have recently been able to talk with others about it. It has continued to stay with me, and now, I’m letting it out [to a certain extent] here.

I see this in my classes.

One student raises their hand to make a point about a text, about an idea. Another student raises their hand to make a point about the text, one entirely contradictory to the first. They are both right.

We are living in a generation, in a society that decides that you say you are right because you see the world your way, and I am also right because I see it my way. Truth is becoming more and more unclear, undefined in every class I take. Perhaps this is not a new concept. But daily, it becomes more relevant to my life and I’m certain many others.

Our generation, at least the one that I see in my own life, I believe, is  growing more open-minded in many ways. Acceptance is beautiful. We are still undoubtedly in lack of open-mindedness often.

But there has to be an ultimate “right” answer in life. Do you not agree?

Let’s say I venture to say that God is truth.

There are many different aspects of God he places into each one of us, I tell you. For example, someone might see God as not only their heavenly father, but as the only father figure in their life. I, being blessed with a great dad, don’t see God as much of an earthly father for me. In that way, the roles God takes on in our lives are a little bit different—but they all connect to the same, basic truth of who God is: merciful, loving, forgiving, a warrior, a jealous God for our souls….

There is variation about who God is, I tell you, but there is also a solid truth that I cannot deny, that we all cannot deny.

There is also variation in the way that you are “allowed” to act as someone who believes in Him. You can read ten different articles on whether or not it’s “okay” to get drunk as a Christian, you can listen to the people who tell you it’s okay, the people who tell you moderation, the people who tell you check your motives, the people who tell you no way, José/insert-your-name-here. You can walk away compromising to a certain extent—you believe what you believe, fine, and I’ll believe what I believe.

Open-mindedness is not the problem. Open-mindedness is what many of us are in need of to erase the judgmental sides of us.

I deal with this all the time. So many times I’ll sit down with friends—Catholic, Baptist, Atheist, Agnostic….and I’ll listen to them, and try to “understand” them, but then my only motive in the conversation will be for me to be “right”. I want to convince them to see the world my way, but for all the wrong reasons. For the sake of my being right. For the sake of not walking away having somebody believe that I am unintelligent, or arrogant.

For when you speak what you believe is truth, and feel so strongly about it, you are likely to be considered arrogant.

In all the art and English classes I’m taking, the idea of truth becomes more and more abstract. We can read a story and have several opinions on it. Now, don’t get me wrong, this is one of the reasons I have a strong love for stories, for words…it is easy for us to take what we want from art, easy for us to twist it to meet our needs. We write essays catered toward the knowledge of how to do just that. Say anything in this paper, as long as you support it.

But as the idea of truth becomes more and more abstract, I frantically begin to understand that there has to be something we agree on. And by we, I mean you and I.

Let’s say you and I read a book, and have differentiating opinions on it. How about we pretend that we are going to read Lord of the Flies, since we are interested in whether or not humans are innately good or evil, and we like stories that involve dead pigs and small children stuck on uninhabited islands. (Plus one for innately evil….)

Let’s say we both pick out different themes of the book, and that you notice symbolism in the book that I haven’t noticed before. I can learn from your point of view, or strengthen mine from it, or both. I can recognize a general truth that we have both come to an understanding of the many themes of this book; I recognize that you have read the book, even if our interpretations are different. I can recognize it because even though I might not completely agree with your saying that humans are innately good according to Golding, you use character names like Piggy and Ralph and Simon, and you talk about plot points that I know, and you mention the importance of the symbolism of the Conch.

But boundaries have to be drawn, a truth has to prevail, if you start off by telling me that this book that you just read is actually the story of a girl who travels down a rabbit hole to inhabit another world, and who runs into strange creatures like a bunny who yells “I’m late, I’m late! For a very important date!”, and who ends up waking up to find that it was all a dream. When I ask you “Wait a minute, are you sure you’re talking about Lord of the Flies?” and you reply, “yes, Lord of the Flies,” something is off. Corrections have to be made when I say, “No, you’re talking about Alice in Wonderland,” and you say, “No, I’m talking about Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. Alice in Wonderland is about a little girl who lives with her father and brother in Alabama and who comes to an understanding of racial injustice and adulthood; oh and there’s also this one character named Boo Radley who everyone is afraid of.”

When I ask how on earth you came to that conclusion, you could say that you’ve read the book by closing your eyes and setting it on your head and patting its cover; that’s how you read books now. In fact, you’ve discovered that not only is this the real way to read books; it’s more entertaining this way.

These concepts seem abstract, but the reality is that we have made truth this abstract.

Even if you claim there is no ultimate truth, that is an ultimate truth of yours. People backlash against this statement, saying it is a cop-out for the religious. But I ask: if there were no such thing as an ultimate truth, would it even be fair to say that anything is true? Might I read a book by setting it on my head? Why couldn’t I be right about the story inside of it? If it were true to me, but not my society, wouldn’t I still be right, if I could respond that truth is relevant and this is how I read? Why can I not pass my exams this way?

Would you let me read that way? Sure, you say, if it pleases me. If it makes me happy. What do I know about truth anyway, you’d say to yourself. Maybe I should start reading books on my head, you might say to yourself. Maybe we all should. And suddenly I miss out on the story inside of the book, and I miss out on many stories afterward. I miss out on knowing greater tales than I could think up, tales that are beyond me and outside of me because I have yet to read them. And I continue to read books on the top of my head, unknowingly missing out on something better than my satisfaction of reading books on my head….

But what if you’ve already tried to read books the normal way, as you obviously have with your mixed-up knowledge of the stories, you say? What if the person reading books on their head has opened the pages of the story and didn’t like reading them that way. Let them put their books on their head. Let them do what they want. Let them never give books another chance.

But is that any way to leave them, I ask you? Leave them to read books on their head, and in a motion of intensive cover-patting?

Now let’s say that you know a test is coming up in our literature class. A test on Lord of the Flies. And the person who reads books on their head was going to have to take that test. What would you think then? What would you believe? Pretend that this metaphor doesn’t imply what you think it does, if it offends you, and you’re thinking of the “ultimate” test of heaven we Christians ramble on about—pretend that this metaphor is not a metaphor but simply: if your friend was reading books on their head and had to pass this test in order to not be kicked out of school, and they genuinely believed this was the right and true way to read books, what would you say? Would you say anything? Or would you honestly let them go about with their way of “reading”? (We’ll come back to this idea.)

I’m going to make the statement now that we all must have an absolute truth of some sort in our lives. We all put our faith in something. Whether it is God, many gods, the idea that god/s does not exist, or whether we put our faith in dark matter. We put our faith into a belief of the way the world was created, we show signs of faith believing that the facts supporting this belief are valid and are proven, that the people who agree or have inspired our belief are worthy. Science is a field full of faith. And science is a field that should not be discredited or scorned at, for it reveals many interpretations of faith, and no matter what you believe, it humbles you to believe that there is something greater than our own human knowledge. Even people who claim not to care whether or not life has purpose, have, I’m sure, at least once in their lifetime asked what the point of life was, and have had to consider it out of sheer curiosity and awe—why the moon, why the sun? Why air, why muscles and bone and skin, and eyes that see color? Why hunger and why language? Why me, why this train of thought; am I the only one who will see it in this way? Why light and why dark, why hot and why cold, why this moment, this time, to be sitting here reading these words and nodding up and down, or left to right?

Saying there is no ‘ultimate’ truth is much like saying there is no original source. You must agree that we are not original beings. The evidence is on our face, under our skin—our DNA is a mesh of two previous beings. I once wrote thoughts on this, to sum it up:

I see a cat seeing me. I did not give eyes to the cat, I never considered giving eyes to the cat. I see a tree as still as the wind allows. I did not decide the wind would affect the tree so. Orange and pink thrown into the sky when the sun drops. Who can come up with these shapes, these concepts? Who can think of these colors?
My own thoughts are not created by me. Nothing is. They are given specially to me, some of them. But they are not made by me. I am but their keeper. I am not their factory, but I am their keeper. This paragraph is strung together by me, yes, but is only made possible by these words that have pre-existed.
Who dreams up the sky? Who dreams up the concept of our dreams?
Try to think of a new color without using the colors we already have; do the same with words. Try thinking up a new sound for a word that doesn’t already exist somewhere in the world. We are the quirky and fragile elements of what already exists; we are not given new ideas and new perspective with a sudden bang, but from something else that causes them to surface. We are designed, not thrown together. How, how, can anyone believe that life is a coincidence, oh how?

 

Not being restricted by an ultimate truth sounds a lot like not being restricted under anything, or anyone. It sounds like not having an authority figure. It might even sound humble; a willingness to accept that you do not know something that is so far beyond your knowing. It sounds great. It sounds freeing. But it’s actually chaotic. We have a think-outside-the-box mindset, many of us, or at least many people whom I’ve come to know, and that’s a wonderful ability, the ability to think outside the box. We will not blindly follow, we will do our research. (I’m speaking to those of us who actually do our research, and do not blindly follow.)  And you know what I’ve come to realize? This idea of not being able to accept, fully accept, any authority—of always having to figure things out for ourselves, of having to have the knowledge of it all… it’s what brought sin upon us in the first place. You probably know the story, even if you believe it is merely a story. Eve ate and shared with Adam the forbidden fruit, in a quest to gain knowledge. The devil, whom had taken on the form of a snake, told her that God wasn’t revealing to her all that she could know. He tricked her into thinking that there was more truth behind the truth of God’s command to not eat from the forbidden tree, and His love. The reality is, the God that we can fully understand, that we can justify in words—is no bigger than our own knowledge and words. No bigger than us. Eve believed God was keeping from her something great, something beyond God himself, maybe. When really, the entire piece of fruit she ate from symbolized sheer trust. God wanted Eve to trust Him enough to believe that He would not keep from her what was meant for her; keep from her greatness that ironically could be found in keeping his commands, not breaking them.

Now here is where the belief of God in general, the belief that this is absolute truth, seems to get difficult. (As if it did not seem difficult already!)

People disagree.

And some people are too afraid to disagree with the disagreements, and some people are too harsh in disagreeing with the disagree-rs.

Please do not misunderstand. Of course we cannot go around pointing fingers and declaring “wrongness” in the world. There are “right” answers to questions that we will possibly never know whilst on earth. And only going around pointing out “wrongness” is why much hatred has developed as is. I know I am guilty of hatred and hypocrisy. Too often I focus on winning arguments that don’t matter as much as showing love to my ‘opponent’ would. For “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal”. Certainly I’ve clashed my cymbals in others’ faces.

What I have said this much this to say, I suppose, is: Have you ever felt like something was missing in the complexity of it all? That in all the analyzing and interpreting, we’ve missed something basic, something basic and beautiful? There is a simplicity of it all that is being lost. There is a justification for everything. There is an embrace of many things. We can disagree completely, but feel obliged to nod our head in agreement. We are afraid to be labeled as close-minded. We are being promoted and encouraged to become masters of spinning. I am even writing this everlasting essay to you just to explain myself; certainly you could laugh and say there is no simplicity in this.

We try to persuade that God is real because we want to win an argument. We try to persuade that God is not real because we want to be justified. We might even go the same church, be in the same denomination, and we bicker constantly, about whether or not the world was literally created in seven days; tear each other a part with differentiating stances on gay marriage rights and whether or not Christians can drink or if the Bible was being literal or metaphorical in this passage or that passage.

We Christians become perceived as ones who either beat themselves up daily or sit on a rather high horse. You might see us self-proclaimed Christ followers screaming on sidewalks at you telling you it is likely you’ll be in hell in some odd years; or perhaps in your mind we are thanking Jesus in a baby-soft voice for helping us pick out our outfit in the morning and how we love that the sun is yellow, because yellow is such a pretty color. There’s the idea of the lion and the lamb, descriptions of God, and it seems we have taken them both to extremes many times. The lion has blood dangling from its teeth, but the lamb has blood on its fur, with startled eyes and unmoving limbs. Perhaps many of us have forgotten that the two are not completely separate, as they belong in one.

I see many my age, at least the people who I have been around, desperately trying to break free of the stereotypes of Christianity; desperately trying to live the “in the world, but not of it” concept, unabashedly dissolving into the world to love it, but still deciphering where the limits of “in” and “of” are. Trying to prove that they are not solely the lion by becoming like the lamb, not solely the lamb by becoming like the lion.

We’re afraid we might turn into our parents, some of us, or the old folk who sit on the pews stubbornly mumbling about how they’re “sick of all this liberalism”. It makes us want to consider everything, but not in a positive way. In a way in which we doubt we know ultimate truth.

God is truth. You can argue with that if you’d like. You can break it down and turn this article around on me, sure. You can use my own words to fight me. You can say that I’m being ignorant to the idea that I’m actually wrong; that I’m being the exact person I wrote about who wears a book on her head and says “this is how you read”. You can say that an atheist believes their truth just as fully, with just as much passion. I understand. I don’t doubt that.

But there has to be a truth. In the end, there will be an answer. Some of us, maybe all of us, maybe many of us, will be wrong. Maybe I’ll be wrong. But God is truth. And I’m willing enough to be called arrogant to say that this is it.

What I want you to understand, is that you and I are alike in that we so strongly desire to advocate our truth, correct?  And that these ways in which we go about advocating it can be dangerous if our motives are purely to better ourselves.

Let’s finish up with the book example. I could easily be called out on it. Somebody could tell me that I am obviously the one reading the book on my head, because books are tangible. You can pick up and feel a book and lick it even, if you’d like. But what about God? You can see some of the signs of your belief in purely the scientific, you say. You can see them and you can show me them with pages and pages of charts and pieces of earth and rock and tangible, wonderful things. I am not saying these things aren’t real; I’m not saying these systems are necessarily wrong. But what I am saying is that you must believe in the same way you believe in your charts, I believe in the evidence claiming that the Bible has remained true to its word throughout the years. That it has impacted millions upon millions of lives not because it’s a fad, for it seems it would have died long ago if it were just a fad. Perhaps you could argue that you cannot prove the Bible, but I would argue that in many ways you can, to a certain extent. We both get to those limitations of “to a certain extent”, whether you believe there is more “proof” for your claim or not. And once we both get to the limitations of where our “proof” can go, well, that’s where our faith comes in.  I do not deny your evidence. I do not deny your reasoning. In many ways, they are my evidence and reasoning, too. I simply believe this evidence and reasoning is a part of something bigger than what I can comprehend, just as I’m sure you believe it is. As we work to break down particles into particles into the tiniest of tiny particles, I find myself believing more strongly in something bigger, and bigger. I believe that this thing that I cannot fully comprehend is called God; and that God (for reasons I will never understand) wants to communicate with me and to love me, because he created me. In trying to communicate with me, he decided he would have to speak my language—to walk the way I know how to walk, to put on flesh and bones and breath air, to be encapsulated in the creation of His, the one He knew well but now would get to experience firsthand. I believe he did this to better understand what it was like to be not only the creator, but the creation. For we are creations given free will, the desire to choose whether not to believe in a creator, or to be only restricted by that which is seen with one of our senses—our eyes. It seems idiotic, sometimes, believing in such a thing. Believe me, I know. Believing in a God like this; the word “God” even has been given such negative connotation, as the word “Christian”. Because many of us do not fully believe in this God, we just believe in the idea of being morally superior. I have been guilty of this myself. We have been guilty of wanting to be right over wanting to know who our creator is, and what being his creation means.

Don’t get me wrong; I am not advocating intolerance. There is a fine line between stepping on somebody’s toes and punching them in the face. There is not a big difference between holding your ears shut and screaming “La la la, I can’t hear you!”, and hearing somebody talk whilst planning your perfect comeback to respond to thoughts that you haven’t really been listening to.

Open-mindedness is a wonderful thing to seek after; our generation, I feel, is striving for it more than ever in many respects. So, be open-minded to the world with the understanding that you will never fully understand God, and that he can always surprise you. But let’s stop pretending we don’t have any right to tell somebody that no, the story, the heart of Alice in Wonderland in its entirety cannot and will never be found in Lord of the Flies. That is wrong.

A pastor I talked to a while ago about this idea of ultimate truth and disagreements mentioned that a nice way to decide if something was worth fighting for was to decide if it was something worth dying for.

What is a truth that you would die for?

Is it the idea that there is a God and He is one God? How about the idea that the earth was created in literally 7 days? Is it the idea that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us? Is it the idea that cursing is unacceptable?

As for truth?

Jesus answered, “I am a way, a truth, a life”…..

No, no. That’s not what He said.

Jesus answered, “ I am the way, the truth, the life”.

When you truly listen, when you truly seek to understand, when you truly desire to love—that my friend, becomes the boldest of statements.

I recognize I can never quite sum this type of thing up. We won’t all agree now. Many will try to explain. Some will listen, some will be the type of “listeners” only preparing their comeback. But I leave you with this statement; a simple statement I suppose I have been trying to explain all along: I believe that God is truth for me. And I believe that God is truth for you. The question of God’s existence will be “answered” in a time that isn’t even worthy of the tag of “one day”, for who knows if it will be answered within the concept of time, if “the end” will be within a frame of time as known to us? But it will be answered.

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