Wednesday, August 23, 2006

philosophical blah blah blah

I've been reading the Sword of Truth book, Chainfire. Despite the author's tendency to ramble about previous events in this long series of events and to spend maybe half the book reminding us of what's happened already, and despite his habit of preaching on the same subjects for pages at a time, it has been a rather thought-provoking book. I like the idea of the main character remembering someone that no one else can recall ever existing and everyone thinking he's delusioonal. For me, whether the author presents the dilemma satisfactorily is beside the point. The fact is that someone's version of reality differs from someone else's, and so they end up arguing about truth. But the author's point isn't a postmodern one. According to the author, only one of these viewpoints is right. There is something not right with the situation, because the person that no one thinks is real, we know is a central character in the story. There is something entirely upsetting and disturbing about the fact that she's gone, missing, and no one remembers her. But because they all really do not recall her existence, they take it for granted that the main character, who actually "knows the truth" is delusional, and they often take it upon themselves to get him to see the "truth."

So this gets me thinking. I have postmodern-thinking friends, and I'm on the verge of being one myself. But there comes a point where I just wonder where all this no-one-is-right or this everyone-is-right business is really going. Because my version of reality may be different than yours, and we can't be sure exactly which one is right, because we're inherently limited beings with perspectives that are limited by our nature and experience, and since we don't all have the same experience and we can't be certain we all have the same nature, we can't be so arrogant as to impose our version of reality on other people. The logic leading up to it seems disturbingly coherent. But how far do we take it. Do we give anyone and everyone's opinions and perspectives validity? Do madmen and murderers have just as much a right to live the way they want as everyone else? Do they have the right to practice their beliefs? Or suppose we impose our societal standards on these people, on the basis of a majority rule: do we then allow them to think as they please, or do we make efforts to teach them the "truth." Because if the majority rule is our standard for conduct amongst each other, considering the fact that we all have to get along somehow, despite all our differences, then what kind of efforts should we make to impose not only our majority rule, but to impose our perspectives on life and reality. Because if it is only majority rule which makes it wrong to murder people, that by no means indicates that our majority perspective on the value of life is actually more valid and therefore worthy of imposing on others. It only means that that is the way we have chosen, as a society, to function together. So there is really no reason to teach others conform to our way of thinking, because after all, despite our majority and despite the way we've chosen to function together as a society, those murderers might actually be right. Their version of reality may be just as good as ours.

Clearly I'm going too far. Clearly, I'm just embellishing the issue to try and make my point. Okay, so that's what I'm doing. But lets be honest. None of us believes that murder is right (I'm assuming there are no self-professed murderers reading this, who believe that what they've done is good). We all think that those who think that murder, rape, theft, and other heinous crimes are acceptable, that they should all be locked up. Not just because that's not the way we've chosen to conduct ourselves as a society so that we can get along together, but because it's wrong, because such a perspective is beneath the true standard of human dignity, because we believe that life has value, because we believe in some kind of fairness. Otherwise, we would not call prisons "correctional facilities." There would be nothing to correct, if we did not think such a perspective was entirely and utterly flawed. So I've made my point, kind of.

Some people want to do away with arguing. Once we move out of the realm of the nearly-universals like murder, how can we possibly deal with the rest on that kind of level. Some people want to throw in lying, stealing, cheating - fine. We'll throw those into the mix. Most of us can agree on those, so we can be pretty sure that they fall along the same moral lines. What about homosexuality? What about different religions? What about politics? What about rudeness? Some people think that when they are rude, it is alright because they have a good reason. Others will see that rudeness and say it was wrong. It might not be worthy of imprisonment, but no amount of perspective hopping will change the fact that you just shouldn't act that way to other people. They might not say anything, but that complete confidence in the higher moral road is there. What do we do about those questions? This whole thing is why no one wants to argue religion or politics in the first place: we can't ever agree on the issues, so let's just forget about it as much as we can. We can't actually know who's right and who is wrong, because none of us has a "God's-eye view." It has a sort of coherence about it. The impracticality of arguing about moral and spiritual reality is just too overwhelming to ignore.

But I find it's a dilemma for me. Not because I feel entirely confident in my own perspective that I should think that everyone else is wrong when I am right, but because I know there are things like murder and rape that I will not allow to be given any amount of validity. There is no justification for a man forcing himself on a woman, despite what some cultures would say about their men having the right to take from his wife what he wants. It's not something I'm willing to give ground to at all, and I'm certain that there are others, many who may be of the postmodern perspective philosophically, who yet feel the same way. If there are certain standards we're not willing to compromise, then we have a perspective that we think is right and we're willing to impose that perspective on others, not just so that we can get along, but because we believe in justice and goodness.

So where do we draw the line? Is it arbitrary? Do we only draw the line at things that are really important? Do we draw the line where we meet the least resistance? I mean it's easier to cling to standards like that when most of the people around you believe the same thing, but what if I were smack dab in the middle of a culture where rape was acceptible. What would I do? Agree that my perspective on the matter is not necessarily God's perspective on the matter because I'mnot God and I don't have access to moral perspective that he has based on my limitations as a human being? Or do I stand up for what I believe is right? It's all well and good talking about standing up for what you believe is right when everyone in America is telling you "right on! Stand up for those rape victims!" But when the conservative evangelical christian stands up, because he believes, just as strongly, that homosexuality is a sin, and he tries to convince everyone around him of what he knows to be "true," we don't hear the same thing. So how different is it? Regardless of what you or I believe about homosexuality, how different is it? We believe we're right when we talk about rape, while others believe it is their God-given right to take from their women what they want because that is the right that men have. And the conservative evangelical christian believes he is right when he talks about homosexuality, while others believe it is their God-given right to live according to how they feel.

So I know that the typical postmodern person's solution (and by postmodern person, I do not mean the philosopher, so much as the person who has been formed by postmodern culture) is a simple analysis. Which of these dilemmas involve something that is done to another person, anything unpleasant or unwanted. Murder, certainly. Rape, no question. Lying, cheating, stealing, yeah those basically are activities that impact other people in a way they don't want. Homosexuality? They're not hurting anybody, right? Abortion? The unborn foetus isn't actually a human being. And come to think of it, little white lies aren't a big deal, cheating on your taxes is practically your God-given right, and you wouldn't have bought the cd you just downloaded off the internet for free, so they're not really losing anything. Regardless of what your answers are to these questions, it points out the fact that there are gray areas. Some people will assert that yes, little white lies hurt people, no unborn babies actually are human and have a right to life, and actually cheating on your taxes takes money away from important government aid that gives significant service to those in need. And I'm sure some would argue that the immorality of homosexuality is a pervasive perversion that will have a terrible impact on our society. Say what you will. They believe it to be true, and that is the crux of the issue. the postmodern experiment (the human product of the postmodern mindset) is wondering why the hell these weirdo conservative christians have a problem with the way they live their life, and the weirdo is wondering why people can't see the "truth."

I'm just bringing this all up, because it does not seem to me that any philosophical framework, like postmodernism, which I admittedly have not in any way outlined here, has given us a solution to these issues. I feel, having grown up in the both public school and evangelical church settings, that I am a child of both parents, and I hardly know where to fall. I cannot let go of some moral standards. Will I impose them on others? Perhaps I won't use force, but I'm willing to argue some of them (ok, it's true - I'm willing to argue just about anything that I believe at the time). Is that wrong (not the just about anything comment, but arguing for moral standards that I believe in)? I mean I'm willing to let God judge the unjust and allow people to make their own mistakes and all that. But at what point do we stand up and defend others? Do we take Bonhoffer's alternative and join the plot to assassinate Hitler, thereby imposing our knowledge of the truth on a fellow human being, who by the way happens to be murdering millions of people? Sounds fair to me. Unless it's not quite as important as something like murder? But do we decide we can't impose our views on someone just because it's not quite as important? To the conservative christian, all areas of morality are essential and important and people have to learn to follow them. This is something our postmodern culture can't accept or understand. I'm just saying we seem to be stuck, at an impass. We can compromise and say lets be friends and lets not judge each other, but we haven't really gotten anywhere toward reconciliation an love.

Okay, I'm going to stop before I start really rambling (yeah, I know, too late).

Sunday, August 20, 2006

My Birthday

So today is my birthday. Strange... I don't know, I guess it's not really. I mean it does happen every year at the same time. Anyway, I'm glad to be 26, mostly because I was at one point scared of where I would be (or not be) in life at this age, and when I think on it, it turns out... I'm happy. So I'm glad to be here. I'm also excited to go back to Solomon's Porch tonight, God willing. I miss that place a lot. There are so many great people there. I'm sure I'll come back and feel like a stranger, out of place and distant from all the goings-on, but I'm hoping that's not the case, or if it is, I'll be able to rise above it.

The best way I think I can live my life is to be open to opportunities in all situations. If things are not as I expect or hope, I can trust God, and I can look for the opportunity for something good and right to come out of it all. That, and I need to stop focusing on just myself for a few minutes and consider others before me. But it's all one.

I had a great conversation with Kathy Ringhoffer last night. She was so encouraging and supportive to me and I really enjoyed telling her all about my recent personal exploits. I cannot say how much it means to have people be so affirming in my life. Especially adult type people. When so many... older types (sorry, guys)... are always stressing caution and inadvertently doing everything they can to curb my enthusiasm because of a silly thing like worrying, it is both refreshing and stimulating to be supported and, for lack of a better term, egged on from such a source. So thanks to Kathy and everyone else who is so positive in my life.

I've been getting up early ever since I returned from Africa, the past four days. Now before everyone starts blabbering about jetlag, right off the bat lets establish several things. First, when I wake up at 6:30 in the morning with only seven hours of sleep, it is in fact 1:30 in the afternoon in South Africa. If you think about me waking up at a time that I should be waking up over there, it would be a few hours earlier. Secondly, I don't feel strange bouts of tiredness at odd hours of the day. So at 3:00 in the afternoon, I don't suddenly feel like it's nighttime and maybe I should be going to bed soon. I get tired at night, and I wake up early in the morning. And I have energy basically all throughout the day. It's strange but true, and I will not be convinced it is merely a result of my body adjusting to the time difference. I think it's something better. I'm hoping it continues, as I keep devoting myself to the things that matter in my life.

So that's how things are right now. Any questions? Good, then lets move on.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Being back

It's really cool, how I feel this drive, now that I'm back, to keep busy and do something with myself. I know it's only been two days back at home, but I've already demolished an old and built a new small retaining wall in my parents' back yard. And I enjoyed doing it. The physical rigor felt good. And in general, I don't find myself interested in television or stupid stuff that used to capture my attention. I still enjoy poker, and I don't intend to give that up, and I don't actually consider it stupid or a waste of time, though others might. But really, other than the usual tiredness early in the evening, I've had a lot of energy and some cool kind of drive to keep doing things that are useful and helpful and productive. I've always wanted this and tried to discipline myself to live like this, but I haven't really experienced the inner fire like this. I hope it lasts, because I'm all too familiar with short-lived kicks, where I'm excited about something for a week or two and then it fades. But I find that the optimism I've developed about my life and future and everything has impacted more than my peace of mind. Being more excited about life, I find myself more excited about activities and more open to opportunities.

I still feel the need to pray often, as I did when I was in Africa. Last night it hit me hard again. I find myself in distress and my mind in turmoil, when I haven't taken enough time to pray. So last night, before going to bed, I had to kneel and seek God some more, first pleading with him for his peace and his presence, and then putting my trust in him, though I did not yet feel either. When I woke this morning I did feel very much at peace. I know people could easily write this off as a result of sleeping habits in general, but I have come to believe or understand much better that I am completely reliant on God for my peace of mind and for my future and my present and for any blessing I may experience in this world. This attitude I have not found easy to maintain, but constant prayer really helps. And not the flippant kind of prayer that takes for granted everything God does for us or the selfish kind of prayer that is only interested in ones own wants or needs, but a humble kind of prayer that puts oneself at the total mercy of the Creator, that accedes to his interests over the self's and does not fret over ones own problems, but puts humble trust in the one watching over us. I think a lot of people don't really understand how powerful a thing like prayer is. For many it's just something you do because we're supposed to. For others, they recognize in concept that God answers prayers and so it is important to pray, but to really find yourself in close communion with God himself and to be changed and renewed and made different from what you were and to find God's presence and rid yourself of all your worries and put your trust in God and go to him with everything that distresses you, it is truly powerful. The reality of it is beyond what I used to imagine, even though I've always strongly believed in prayer.

Anyway, that's how things are right now. I'm enjoyiing being back, though I still have not seen many people. That's partly my fault, because I haven't called many people and tried to make contact with the outside world. But I'm going to play poker tonight, and I'll see many of my friends at Solomon's porch very soon. Yippie. I've missed Solomon's Porch a lot. So, right. That's all for now. More to come, and then more and more, and hopefully much more after that. I don't want to slow down or let up.

Friday, August 11, 2006

the tug

I've been thinking a lot about my future in my time after leaving Kadesh and on my way to Jo-Burg and back to the states. I'll be arriving in Minneapolis on the 16th, and I have to figure out what to do. I just want to ask people who are paying attention and who are interested in my life to pray for me about this. It is something that I have asked before, and I am optimistic about things turning out well. But I have important decisions ahead of me, and I am really concerned that I do not become stagnant. I've suggested before, if not on this blog, to several people that I have been feeling a tug in my life to move on. It started some time last winter, when I was planning this trip to Africa with Andrew, I began to feel that afterwards I would need to move on to something else, very likely some place else. I had a few ideas of what I would do, but I did not have any likely opportunities, and I was basically trusting that God would make it clear to me when I returned, that the opportunities I needed would open up for me and I would know what to do and do it. I thought that it was possible that my trip to Africa could lead to something else in my life, some other direction and occupation for my energy and time.

I will not go into details here, but I will confess that such an opportunity has come up, for me to take a step I had not foreseen, and it would involve me moving to another place, and it would allow me to pursue the central interests in my life. This is exciting to me, as well as frightening. I continually find objections in my mind, mostly related to discomfort. I would be going into the unknown and trying something that has no guarantee of success, and possibly less chance than many other endeavors. This is not something I feel I need advice about; it is a decision I will need to make on my own (relatively speaking, though no decision or endeavor is entirely on one's own). But I would very much appreciate prayer, as well as support and faith from those who are close to me.

So anyway, we'll see what the Spirit brings my way, but like I said, I am very optimistic, and my trust in God has been growing, and I want to live my life by faith in him. So that's how things are with me right now. I need a book to read, but otherwise, I am enjoying some rest and keeping my mind active and my life balanced and centered and all that good stuff. I'll see many of you in a little over a week.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Personal thoughts and the winding down of my trip

I´m not sure where to start on talking about my life. I have mentioned that I started seeing this as the Spring of my life, where there is a lot of promise of new life, but also plenty of storms to endure. Thinking to the future and on my return to the States, which will happen in a week and a half, I have resolved to not be afraid. Even though my perception of my life has been thrown into confusion and taken some turns I had not foreseen, I´m resolving to put my trust in God for everything.

We leave Kadesh in two days, in order to slowly make our way down the coast and into South Africa over the course of the week. The transition is strange. Andrew and I had a great time with the guys from Minnesota, but they left nearly a week ago, and we are just starting to bond with the group from Utah. That group includes two guys, two girls and two parents, and they are all pretty cool, but they are a different group from the Minnesota guys. I have particularly become close with Cassie, one of the girls, who is my age and is really cool. I will stop there and leave it at that before I say something stupid, which I fear I have already just done. Suffice it to say, it has been an interesting end to our two month trip. It will most likely be very good for us to have the week of traveling to sort everything out in my mind and prepare myself for life in back in America. As I said, I have resolved not to be afraid, but to trust, and I now have to make that resolution a reality. I am probably more optimistic and in better condition than I have ever been before.

I believe I owe a lot to those who are praying for me, because I know I have felt the presence of God on me, as if all your thoughts and prayers have combined to place it there. I cannot say for certain why I say that, except that it feels as if an extra portion has been given to me, through no merit of my own searching or striving or praying. I am very blessed, and I appreciate all the kind regards and comments and thoughts and prayers and emails from everyone who has paid attention at all to my life. Please continue with such, as and after I return.