Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Torrential Downpour: Life in Ideas

Changing churches
Living a life devoted to ideas does not typically mean going along passively, or letting self-interest above all else dictate your life. It means altering your life for these ideas. Vegetarianism is such an idea: to devote yourself to the belief that humans shouldn't eat animals, you must make sacrifices in your life. The idea becomes more important to you than pleasure.

It also means that you may not stay in a church simply because it is what you are born (or married) into. You must consider your conscience, and be willing to change your life over an idea.

And so my wife and I are looking for a new church: we can no longer attend the church she has grown up in, and formed a community with, because it has such different values than our own. The differences are not superficial but quite deep and fundamental. In part it is a parenting decision: not only do we not want our children taught things we don't believe, but we don't want our children to see us attending a church that teaches things we don't believe.

But in part, I may be at the beginnings of a religious rebirth, and I have ideas of what I believe Christianity truly is (thanks to Dostoevsky, Yoder, and Hugo, among others). My wife shares with me many of these beliefs. And the church we currently attend is not that. For me, changing churches is not a terribly difficult choice to make: it is meaningful, but I'm not actually a member at the church we attend anyway (though I was married there and my son was baptized there: I do have an emotional connection). For my wife, she will be separating (though not entirely we hope) from a tradition and community that she has had her entire life.

Practical matters still determine what new church we choose: a near location and early service times are important. But we're able to make a conscious, deliberate choice about the church we wish to be a part of, about living a Christian life as we believe it is meant to be. This requires change. This requires sacrifice. But it is a choice one makes when ideas guide ones' life.

Falling with Valjean
You probably know the story of Jean Valjean's crime and redemption. If you listen to the Les Mierables musical soundtrack, the music takes you past the particularly distressing crime to his moment of forgiveness and redemption. It is inevitable; it makes the fall tolerable.

But to read the book, even if you know the redemption that is coming, you are still required to fall with Valjean. You see the darkness of that moment, before the eventual escape from despair and sin. Right now I have finished the chapter in which Valjean steals the silver, but I have not read further. I'm currently stuck in despair with him, experiencing that moment.

addendum: it's worth noting that the moment of forgiveness comes in the very next chapter; my stopping point in the book heightened the sense of loss.

Let me recommend the HBO series Rome. Now that I have seen the entire series (just two seasons), I recognize what an artistic feat it is. I'd compare it to Deadwood in complexity; it is more complicated than The Sopranos. In the closing scenes of the series, it is tremendously difficult to understand what we should feel about what we see.

Next week at this time, I'll have finished my first day of classes. I say this every August, but there is no way to mentally prepare for the separation of daily lifestyles between a break and a semester. Right now, I have no way to prepare or understand what teaching will be like, and as every summer, I have the fear that my brain has atrophied over the summer and I've forgotten how to teach. Of course in a week, it will be commonplace and easily dealt with. But it's a drastic switch in the calendar for which I've yet to find adequate preparation for. I go from staying at home all day playing with a baby, reading books, surfing the internet, watching TV, going for walks, and having little schedule or responsibility, to teaching college students about writing and literature.

Other blogs
If there's anybody that reads this blog but not Pacifist Viking (I doubt it), you might wish to read this post about intended audience, which could have just as easily fit at this blog. I've also been keeping up with the utterly useless tripe at We Have Mixed Feelings About Sven Sundgaard. And I'd also like to recommend my wife's new blog, Cruelty-Free Mommy, where she explores different issues that come up for new parents (I contribute occasionally).

1 comment:

  1. Hey, Joe. Interesting about your church search. I'm fairly surprised that you're leaving Sadie's church (or, rather, that she's leaving it) but it makes sense. I just wanted to share my $.02 about looking for a church community.

    Rob and I liked our church in River Falls and liked Pastor Mike, though we didn't always agree on what he preached. It was a nice community to be in for a year, and it was a nice place for us to get married. I'd already become disenchanted with the Catholic church, so Missouri Synod Lutheran made sense.

    And then we moved to Boston and did not like the only Missouri Synod Lutheran church we could get to, I started questioning the existence of God, and we just quit going. But since the spring I've been going to a Unitarian Universalist church that I like very much. It's not a Christian church, but it does include readings from the Bible (as well as from holy books from six other religions) and I feel it practices the very best parts of everything. It's a welcoming church that openly accepts the GLBT community and organizes protests on its behalf (the gay marriage victory was widely celebrated in Massachusetts' UU community). My UU church is against the Iraq war and protests twice a month. It also is active in the Save Darfur campaign, though I'm not really sure what it's doing at the moment for that.

    In addition, it offers meditation and prayer classes, a lot of opportunities for community involvement, and just a sense of non-judgement. UU's believe that the search for the spiritual should be internal and that each person can develop his or her own theology, and all are equally "right." Church involves singing, meditating (sometimes a LOT), listening to readings from seven religions, and really just relaxing. I've never come away from a church service as joyful and inspired and refreshed as I consistently do from the UU services I attend.

    This may be my mindset at the moment, or it may just be that the UU church is right for me. I don't know. I have a long way to go in figuring out what to believe, but the UU church doesn't tell me what I should believe (except that all humans are equal and should be treated with the utmost respect) and is willing to let me figure it out on my own. I like that.