Outsider, In Circles

Bear with me, as this post may be a tad messy and choppy and long and ramble-y, as it’s a culmination/stream of consciousness of thoughts percolating through my head over the past couple weeks that recently became a more tangible entity while I was showering. That makes a lot of sense right?

Now that I’ve gained a decent amount of life experience compared to where I was ten years ago, it’s interesting to reflect on how a child views his world, or how a day in the life happens for one in a tiny tot size. Walk with me as I take us back to, say, elementary school, when school was a lot simpler than middle school/high school/collegiate years, and there existed a much greater joy for learning and discovery then. The simple phrase “What did you learn at school today?” can easily conjure up an image of a mother asking her young child about his grand adventures that he had while away from the mother for a couple of hours. And of course, the response is never a brief curt answer, but usually one full of chattering and exclamations and ramblings and excitement that this new discovery brought upon his life. Simple things like, mud is yucky, swings are fun, or play dough doesn’t taste good (or does it?). Those wonders eventually give way to schoolroom lessons like how old Europe had a bunch of Kings and Queens and Knights, or that a bunch of people just threw away tea into the water and had a big tea party, or the teacher put some random stuff together and made a volcano in the classroom are fun discoveries based on learning about the world around us. These marvels are a novel experience to one who’s still in the process of growing up, but the adult engaging in this conversation has already gone through this, and is humoring and fostering an atmosphere in which the child can both recount and allow the adult to relive these adventures vicariously through the young one. And the average child never has to be forced or coerced into an answer, rather, it’s an answer that’s just waiting to burst forth from the dam, and on occasions may even preempt the question and immediately start inundating the adult with an account of the days events. It’s exciting, it’s a discovery, and it’s something that shouldn’t be kept to oneself but should rather be shared with any and everyone possible, for which the first target of such an attack is usually the mother (or father, or whoever’s there).

Fast forward to the present, and certainly while those moments above are few and far between (our mothers probably most definitely no longer ask us what we learned at school), that ingrained habit of sharing something new we learned or discovered recently remains, and we choose to voice this new found knowledge to our friends and coworkers and whoever may be in our social circles. Some may be more vocal that others, and some topics may be a little more strange or abstract that normal, but regardless, these are interesting and exciting things that make their way into conversation when provided a chance (i.e. water cooler moments or what have you). And I guess with the development of social media, you don’t even need to be face to face with people to make these announcements,  as you can just type of characters to update your status on facebook or post a tweet to put your news on blast. Different age and time, same idea. You just can’t keep things to yourself. You want to share it with friends and family and people that you care about, regardless of whether it’s trivial blurbs or important happenings in your life. (Granted, the latter will have a much wider and firmer hold on your audience, but you get the idea.)

So, going with the idea of good news or new ideas or discoveries are meant to be shared and not hoarded away by oneself, I think it’s appropriate to extend that to the realm of the church setting. I hope I wouldn’t be too amiss in this assumption, as I myself have also been in an environment that encouraged such sharing of biblical learning or quiet time/devotional discoveries on a regular basis. It wasn’t necessarily confined to a small group or church or fellowship setting, but it would work its way into the daily conversations we were having, and in that moment in time, with the group I was with, it really felt like this religion/church thing was really more of a lifestyle/learning relationship than an institution of religion one merely attends on a regular basis. But as with many things, this group had its pros and cons, of which the cons outweighed the pros and made it difficult for me to continue being a regular member of said group. But for where I was at, it was a great and encouraging environment, especially for someone who’s into that sort of thing.

Removing that group from the equation, the main source of religious activity in my life over the past couple years or so has just been church, the same home church I’ve been in attendance of ever since my parents moved here from HK (’92, means I’ve been going to this church for 20+ years now). And I find it pretty sad to say that I feel like a stranger in my own home church. This unfortunate feeling stems from multiple issues, ranging from the fact that nearly all the people I grew up with in youth group are no longer around, to the fact that the previous English congregation pastor was a polarizing figure who managed to drive away half of the remaining people I knew, while managing to replace them with a whole ‘nother demographic (which I will admit I didn’t bother getting to know them, so we can put that on me), to realizing that I don’t actually even know the remaining subgroup of people at church. I know your name, I know your face, and possibly some of your shallow easy-to-talk about interests, and well… that’s about it. With the doing away of small groups and Sunday school, there ceased to be a forum of where people could engage in talk about about whatever biblical/Godly/etc. issue could be talked about, as the previous pastor pretty much gave us a Sunday message and that was it. Now I’m sure that those who are closer to one another may more easily engage in religious talks and the like, but seeing as how that main core group of folks I sort’ve attached onto was toeing the fence at 30 years old, it really left me as the odd ball out and it was occasionally more difficult to connect with them. So honestly, as it stands now, I don’t really know much about the past of what makes these people who they are, I just know superficial tidbits of factoids about them. I suppose we could be comfortable hanging out on occasion, but if that’s all it’s about, it mirrors a certain group of HS friends I had, where we would play poker, Initial D, catch movies, and the like, for which the hanging out was great, but we never talked (which was definitely more understandable, as HS guys, but as adults, I’d wager not so much).

Continuing on that topic of not really knowing much about anyone, another discrepancy I’ve found between my college fellowship group and the structure here at church is how open people were to talking about their testimonies, which for those not well versed in the church jargon is akin to one’s personal story of how they came to Christ, often a pivotal personal account that helped a person realize their faith was true and not just some misplaced hokey pokey item. It’s not like the people then were constantly shoving it into my face, but that they were certainly more comfortable talking and sharing about their life journey and how they got to where they are, and as an extension of that, these people from that fellowship were certainly more open to talking about where they were presently with God and what stories and lessons and discoveries they had unraveled recently. Whether or not you agree with religion, I think it’s appropriate to say that, seeing that level of devotion to such a thing really helps to wrap you up in it, akin to a person constantly talking about their favorite game or tv show or book, and how every new discovery helps shed new light on that previously talked about issue and how said enlightenment can help enhance or change the way you view or go about something something. In that fellowship, I really saw how the mantra of “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship” become all-encompassing and lived out. In contrast, as I previously mentioned before, I currently feel like I’ve been merely attending an institution for the sake of habit sake, not really knowing or connecting to the individual people yet unknown stories of the people abound.

As I’ve mentioned before, the war of attrition has really hit my age group hard. For a long period of time, I was the only person my age consistently present (it may go up to 2 or 3 if you’re willing to allow for a delta of +/- a few years) at church, where the next two large groups was the ~30 year old above me and the ~18 year old new college freshmen. The young’ns were too young, so it seemed like the older folks were less old (not sure if that makes sense, but, well, yeah). And like I said, sometimes I would get invites to hikes and movies and things (where of course I’d be the youngest one there, which was fine I guess), but then you’d have other certain more personal events that I wasn’t invited to, because, well, I wasn’t really as intimate with that group as the other members were. I take no offense at that, as they’re in the stage of their life where they’re just starting a family, early in their marriage, settling along in their careers, and the like, whereas I’m… not. It’s just the fact of the age gap, but I couldn’t help notice their gatherings and my absence, especially as some pictures made their rounds on social media. Again, it’s not a jealous hey-why-wasn’t-I-invited feeling, but one of acceptance in a manner-of-fact type of situation. It really hit me last week on Superbowl Sunday, when the older folks scattered and disappeared after service, and I piggy-backed onto the young’ns going out for lunch, and afterwards the kids scattered to hangout (and not watch the Superbowl), so I was left alone to my own musings. Meaning that I watched the Superbowl. At home. By myself. My two main “crowds” at church: amicable enough to be a fringe acceptance, but not personable enough to quite make it “in” with either.

Segueing to another different but related topic, there was the whole Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham debate that happened last week. Of course, everyone knows Bill Nye, more commonly styled as “Bill Nye the Science Guy.” All the folks my age grew up with his videos, as science teachers would occasionally put on his videos to keep a class busy for a class period, whilst getting away with still putting something educational on to capture the kids’ attention spans. Bill Nye went into this debate as an advocate for science and arguing for the evidence of evolution, as the debate was billed as a evolution vs. creationism debate. Ken Ham, who’s now more than milked his 15 minutes of fame from this debate, was the CEO of some company that created a “creationist” museum or something, where the entire world history is painted to fit the historical teachings of the Bible. Square peg round hole anyone? But from the get-go, it was clear that Ken Ham was the winner in this setup, as having Bill Nye even deign to meet with this person was giving validity and presence to this nobody. All of a sudden people are googling his name and his works and his association. Here I am talking about him and the debate! Even though Bill Nye went into this with the more even-keeled thought process and had the logic of science to back up his claims, Ken Ham won by getting enough of the internet spotlight on his little venture for just a little moment.

The main attack/defense Ken Ham the creationist had against all the Bill Nye had to say about the history of the Earth as we understand it through science’s POV is that, “you weren’t there, so you didn’t see it, so how do you know it’s true?” Nevermind fossil evidence, carbon dating, tectonic plate movements, or any of that, because since our eyes weren’t there to see if, we’ll never actually know if its true or not. But Ken Ham’s defense is that I heard it from a person who was there, and he wrote everything down in this book, and this book is called the Bible.  A number of issues arise here, the first of which, but Ken Ham’s own attack against evolution, his defense fails from that angle already. Secondly, it returns to the age old defense people usually have when it comes to talking about religion, in that they attempt to use the Bible to defend the Bible. Imagine if, in our HS/college English classes, we could cite our own previous writings to support our own current statements. How much simpler would everything’ve been. But that gives no support or credence to the issue at hand then. I’m not going to get too much more into this debate, as the consensus was that it would’ve been nearly impossible for either side to sway the other, a point which I think Bill Nye already knew, as his message of the night, while in defense of evolution, was actually a stump message for the advocating of science education for the next generation. Clever man.

Of course, a lot of people took notice of this event, and some decided to add their own voice to the cacophony of noises. Not singling anyone out, but someone had a seemingly clever point. That the advances made in science and scientific discovery can only lead to one thing, that the unraveling of such a complex world must mean that their is an intelligent being and intelligent creator to put all this together. The argument here used DNA as evidence of something so simple and consistent across all life that this basic strand of information can end up coding for something as complex as human beings. Checkmate atheists! Right? But then another thought came up and pointed out that, if God were such an intelligent creator, why the hell did he screw up so much. The argument here is that sure, DNA is something simple that ends up coding for something where the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts, but have you really studied DNA? He brought up how there’s a lot of sense and nonsense codons in DNA, and how some strands of base pairs don’t even really even code for anything, where our current understanding shows that it’s essentially a trash/waste/filler product. If God made this, why wasn’t he more efficient/careful/meticulous in designing us. Our breathing system is another flawed design, where fresh air mixes with “used” air. Our breathing/digestive tract is yet another point that could be improved upon, because who the hell thought it was a good idea for air and food particles to go down the same tube? These are just a few of the points evolutionists would point out, in saying that these evolutionary traits just happened to be the most advantageous, and that’s how we developed, and not because it was the best or perfect creation or what have you. I don’t have enough knowledge to back up either side, as I’m sure this debate on this little point here could go back and forth, but I think it certainly helps shed some light into the chaos of the matter.

Closing thoughts. I’ve reached this crossroad before. Two roads diverged, yada yada yada, everyone knows the cliche quote from Robert Frost. Unfortunately, that doesn’t quite apply to me, as I took the easy way out, staying at my home church and being comfortable with the choice and routine that’s been firmly entrenched in my past 20+ years of living. At the time, I said to myself, I could leave, but the people are keeping me here. This time, after apparently having walked in circles the entire time, with the same two choices given before me at this fork, I can no longer say that it’d be the people to keep me at (this) church. That doesn’t even begin to touch upon the internal debate I’ve been having about the whole institution of church and religion in general. I guess it’s finally time to wise up and realize that doing the church scene halfheartedly for an attempt at a social event doesn’t quite work, eh?

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One thought on “Outsider, In Circles

  1. Have similar thoughts about church, as you know. Good read. I’ve been wondering why I feel more at home at a church in Hong Kong [which I only attended 5 times] than at our church. 😦 Thanks for sharing.

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