Thursday, January 15, 2015

  1. How often in one day do you use your microwave?

Yes, this is a book about your religion. And I know that you’re wondering what your microwave has to do with it. Bear with me. It is relevant.

I hate beeping. Our good friends have a microwave that allows them to silence all of the pings, beeps and dings. This is good for them, because they have an infant, and she is a light sleeper and if the boops wake her, that’s bad.
Our microwave does not have a silent setting. It beeps fully five times, when we use it. This constancy of beeping got to me so badly one day, I got to wondering how often do we use the microwave.
I decided a little scientific evidence would be beneficial. So, I took one day (a day off) and I charted how many times a day I used the mike, as I call it. Well,  you won’t believe it, but after a full day of charting this data, I used it fully 10 times. It made me wonder: how many different things do I use my microwave for?
Then I decided to try to widen the experiment. How many times did my family use the mike in one day?
We all agreed to track our use, and I tallied the responses. We used the microwave in our kitchen seventy-five times in one Saturday afternoon. That’s a lot of wattage.

No, there’s a funny thing about humans. If we go back about sixty years, no one had microwave ovens in their homes. In fact, no one knew what a microwave was until after WWII.
They did not begin to gain real prevalence in American homes until the seventies and eighties, and even then the technology was a little rusty.
Now, though, everyone has one and we uniformly take it for granted. My grandmother, and your’s too, if you remember, did everything with her oven and stove top.
The point here is that we not only take for granted that we have microwaves, but that part of that is forgetting to appreciate what we have.
It never fails that our middle boy wants to make popcorn when the power goes out for a winter storm. Can’t use the mike for that, when there’s no power.

Here’s my point. Many people of faith (I’m not using the word Christian, but I’ll explain why that is, in another section. Hang tight.) treat their faith the same way my family treats their microwaves.
No, I’m not saying that you take your faith for granted. I’m saying that in your speech; in the number of times per day that you mention some aspect of your faith, in one way or another, you’re not actually paying attention to what you’re saying. Only, that you’re saying it. And like the mike, you only notice when you pay attention. And that’s usually when something has gone wrong.
Now why is it we talk about faith so much?
Try my microwave experiment with your mentions of some part of your faith. Whether you’re just saying “have a blessed day” to people at your church or whether you mention Jesus’ name, or whether your say something about church. Anything at all faith related, mentioned, jot down a little tick mark for that.
At the end of the day, see what it is that you have as your number.
Now, in true scientific form, we will notice that somehow, since we’re paying attention to this, we’re also conscious about the fact that we may be over-supplying data, so we try to cut back.
No worries, this happens with loads of people in scientific experiments. We get self-conscious.
Track your spouse, and have them track you. That will make things a little more interesting.
Now, take this data and apply it to your life. How is this constant mention of your faith to people all day helping you? Is it helping you? Should it be helping you? Has it helped you?

Let’s look at these questions in the next section.

2. The power of silence and religion.

Abraham Lincoln allegedly said “It is better to remain silent and be thought an idiot, than to speak up and remove all doubt.”
I love this quote, as it has often applied to me, in one sense of the other.

Religion, that is faith in our day and age, has become a game of chatter. We are encouraged to have devotions or quiet reflection once or twice a day, but the rest of the time, it’s obvious to me, it feels like we’re in a conference room at a hotel where everyone is constantly talking about some aspect of the faith. Seems true, right?
The odd thing is, what do we hope to accomplish with all that chatter?
In the previous chapter, I asked, “How is the constant mention of your faith helping you?”
Think about it. You probably listen to a religious radio station that not only has music of your faith, but also the DJ and other special programming all broadcast a constant barrage of scripture references and worship and praise, don’t they? Everything is in context of religion.
Your family and friends, no doubt, talk a lot about the faith. If you’re a regular attendant at church; like if you go more than once a week, you note, that almost everyone is always talking about the faith at some point.
Now, if you compound all that chatter with what you’re hearing from the pulpit and tally it all up (can you?) I wonder if you feel a little overwhelmed?
Think about it like this. What if all that chatter is actually keeping you from being able to think straight? What if all that chatter is keeping you from hearing something that you actually need to be hearing? What if that chatter that you have surrounded yourself with was actually a crutch, snuck in there by you, to make you feel as if you are actually reaching the expectations that you think other believers hold for you in your faith and theirs?
Feel a little like you’re drowning? Don’t worry.

In the Japanese-run camps in China, where they kept Chinese prisoners of war, all day and night, Japanese music and announcements in Chinese played constantly. It was a form of subtle torture. By not allowing the mind necessary breaks to rest, the POWs were made to feel weak, exhausted and eventually to believe the propaganda the Japanese were playing. This, along with other forms of sensory deprivation, are horrible for your brain. Imagine being stuck in a room for several days, with a light on at all times, and loud music playing at levels nearly unbearable to your ears and mind. You would break, sooner or later, and say whatever you needed to say in order to get relief from that situation.
Now, I’m not trying to insult you here, but think about that. A room with a light on all the time and loud music playing all the time, and then go back up to what I wrote about the chatter.
See any resemblance?

The reason I make this correlation is because a lot of modern people of faith are in this situation, and don’t even know it.
The reality is, when you saturate yourself with something (anything, really,) you get to a point where your mind is unable to formulate questions outside of that data. If you think about how often you listen, talk, do or participate in religious things and you separate out the other times, what are you doing in those other times? Sleeping? Paying taxes?
The problem with this saturation is two-fold.
On one side you have the total wall of information coming your way at all times. Eventually you shut off the part of your mind that actually rationally processes the information and you begin to just nod along. Like a POW.
On the other side, it is actually unhealthy to think of only one thing or only one set of things for too long.

A friend of mine works at our local zoo. He told me once about how the behaviors of certain animals changed once they’re in captivity. He explained that certain animals, while in the wild, obey their primal instincts without really thinking about it. But like I mentioned above, about how when you start thinking about a behavior and you become self-conscious about it you pull back; certain animals will stop their instinctual habits because of the captivity.
It is almost as if they know their in captivity.
Once they are in captivity for a prolonged period of time, say several years, these blocks or stops in their instinct actually solidify and they would no longer be able to survive in the wild.
They basically learn to be content in the parameters of their zoo life. They power down the wildness and allow for the protections of captivity to take over. They become less vigilant and far less easily perturbed.

Now think about your faith. How often do you talk about it? When was the last time you spoke about something other than your faith, with anyone. Can you remember? Was it something along the lines of “This is good turkey, honey.”?

3. Shutting out the noise.

A young entrepreneur recently sold his business to a fortune five hundred company and was able to retire-- at 35! At my age, I cannot imagine the set of circumstances where I could retire, and maintain the level of income to keep us afloat, let alone retire with wealth.
He reportedly decided to keep a journal, so that he could record for his young children and grandchildren what life was like for this kind of success.
He decided to share his findings with a friend who was a behavioral psychologist.
After a year, the young man began to feel a strange pressure to accomplish something.
He had everything he could ever want or need and yet, something was missing.

The something, discovered once he enrolled in comprehensive therapy, was a sense of self. He claimed that, even though he had had the self-possession to be a multi-millionaire by his mid-thirties, that’s all he had ever thought about. With the sudden dearth of business in his life, he realized that he had never really begun to question his purpose. He hadn’t thought past his goals.

In a lot of ways, this saturated lifestyle is typical for people, regardless of their faith. We have social media, TV, talk radio, movies, music: it’s a lot of noise.
What happens when we turn it off? We may feel a little pang of withdrawal at first. Then, we may feel a little alone. Suddenly, though, you may begin to hear sounds you hadn’t noticed. Or, see houses you never saw on your lunchtime walk. Suddenly, you begin to observe.
Observation is only one aspect of human development, though. The other part is curiosity. Once you observe long enough, you almost always encounter something that you’d like to know more about. For that reason, your rational mind starts an algorithm to get you asking questions. It’s completely natural to ask questions. How often do you ask questions?
But how much more often would you ask questions if you shut the noise?

Part of the issue with living a saturated lifestyle is that it keeps part of the the mind that thinks and asks questions silent. Add to this the propensity for most faiths to shun questions as a form of doubt. You can ask all the questions you want to, up to a point. But if you ask ‘Why?’ or if you expect evidence, you might find yourself in a little bit of hot water.

When we ask questions, it means that our mind is looking for gaps. It is looking for gaps, so that it can have enough of a store of information to make a decision.
Remember your first altar call? Remember when the pastor was preaching in a slow and solemn way about how maybe you were suffering under a painful addiction, or maybe you had been doing something sinful or maybe you just had a hole in your life somewhere and you needed healing and that all you had to do was to make a decision to let Christ into your heart and that was the first step to freedom? Do you remember how hard it was to decide if you were going to go down to the altar rail? Do you remember racking your memory to think of something painful enough or sinful enough to qualify?
If you’re honest with yourself, you had these, or similar feelings. Why?

Think about the situation. You’re surrounded by people who are singing hymns or praying. There is music. There is the solemn intonation of the preacher. And you feel for just a moment like everything you’ve ever done wrong is out in the open. People are looking at you. If you go, they’ll know you’re a sinner. If you don’t go, they’re squinting at you suspiciously.
What to do?

If you shut off the noise in that situation; if you stop the preacher, stop the music, empty the room and listen to your own internal dialog, you’ll notice that it is rationalizing your behavior. But then it stops too. Suddenly, as your mind is processing the information, you realize that there are gaps. Several gaps are large enough that you wonder why you were ever nearly impelled to go forward.
The fact is you were not impelled, because it was not coming from within you. You were compelled. The pressure was coming from outside you.

Once you unplug from all of the saturating noise, you begin to get to a point where you hear the voice inside your own head looking for gaps. Your sense of self, defined through the information you constantly heard and partook of, now wants to be redefined. And in such a way that you may find that some of the things you’ve been propping your self definition on, are completely wrong.

4. There’s no such thing as a Christian.

Yeshua ben Yosef was very much like other people of his tribe. Aside from a gift with woodworking and a kindly face, the only thing that separated him from his people was an uncanny ability to find gaps in thinking.
We know Yeshua ben Yosef as Jesus Christ. But, for just a moment, let’s call him not by his divine or biblical names. Let’s call him Josh Josephson.
You know a Josh or two. I do too. All good fellows.
If you went up to your friend Josh and started calling him Jesus, he might get a little weirded out. With a few exceptions, no one wants to be called Jesus.
Now, there are people called Jesus (hey Zeus!) but that seems to be a rather cultural thing.
Why doesn’t your friend want to be called Jesus? Because that’s too much pressure. He will likely make a crack about turning water into wine, or something.
Christ, a latinization of the Aramaic Messiah, puts our pal Josh into quite a pickle. He’s not only a nice Jewish boy, but now he’s the Messiah? He should be so lucky.

I only jest here, to prove a point. A rather simple point. We define things by the way we name them. So, if we stop thinking of Jesus of Nazareth as Jesus Christ and start thinking of him as Josh, he becomes way more approachable.
And while there are differing opinions about whether or not he was the Messiah, he doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy would would expect people to call him that all the time. He seems to kindly to lord it over us that way.
So, when we strip the divinity from our names from him, in a harmless exercise to gain new perspective, we can look at things from a slightly different angle.
I said there is no such thing as a Christian. And that’s true. That term didn’t really take hold until a long way after Josh was executed by crucifixion. In fact, James, Peter and a few of the other disciples of Josh would have rejected the term out of hand.
Joshua was born a Jew and died one. He never rejected the faith, only the parts of it that had become corrupt. He found the gaps. He used his ability to find the gaps in logic, to enlighten people’s minds. He was trying to get them to shut off the noise of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

The point of all of this is to get you to think beyond the term Christian and all of the other terms that the modern faith expects you to know. It’s jargon. Think about how you sound when you talk. Do you say things like, “I was really blessed by her testimony,” and “Golly, I feel really on fire in the spirit, right now.” How about, “The Lord was watching out for Tina.”
If you perform my experiment from above, where you tally how many times something you say in reference to your faith, you may find a startling reality: You’re now no better than those loudspeakers in the POW camp.

A great old Petra song called Computer Brains has a line about garbage in/garbage out. The point here, is that what you put into your life is what you get out of it. If all you do, all the time, is talk about the Steelers, eventually, your life will be eaten up with the Steelers.
It’s that saturation that I was talking about. When a sponge is saturated with water, and you set it on the counter, eventually all the water will run out of the sponge and get the newspaper wet.
I make this analogy, somewhat ironically, because the point of the song is to maintain freedom of thought. But what is really happening to many of us is we get locked into a type of speech or thought and we lose our ability to find the gaps.
When I say there is no such thing as a Christian, it is the very thing that would be frowned heavily upon in church. It is the very word you use to define your beliefs. But if you deconstruct it, and take away its power from your life, you’ve opened up a new way of thinking about things.
I have nothing against the religion of Christianity. But when you pull down the power of the word, you notice that there is much more going on than you ever noticed before.

5. Faith vs. Religion: What gives?

My friend and I debate about religious things all the time. He says he is not interested in a religion. He only wants to live the faith. However, that faith is professed in the religion he wishes to ignore.
The reason is because religion has taken on a negative meaning to most faith adherers, because to them it means ritual or ‘rules’ or overly ardent legalism. It also has a tendency to mean Catholicism, to some branches.
More than that, it has a negative association with the lifestyle. People who practice a religion are not necessarily saved by it. However, in those other religions it is the participation in the lifestyle that the religion dictates that brings about wholeness.

What is your faith? Remember, for now, we’re pretending not to give the C word any credence. If you had to describe your faith, how would you do it? Would you say that you believe that Josh died for your sins and that you invited Josh into your heart and that now, you’re saved from eternal damnation on his account?

Go back and read that again. I’ll wait. Now, read the following description:

I believe that an early philosopher or prophet who challenged the ills of his own faith set the stage for each of us to find spiritual freedom in our lives.

You are looking at the book oddly. When you speak your jargon, this is what you would say:
I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal saviour. I believe that he died on the cross for my sins and that I am saved by His grace, and that one day he will come again and save the whole world.

Now, if you go back up and read what I wrote, and you read what you might say, and if you notice that they’re not much alike, then you’ve begun to shut off the noise.

We are told what to say, when asked if we are a believer. Someone told us to say something like the last section up there. You don’t stray from it, because you assume that it’s true.
It must be true. But when we do stop the noise and we listen to what happens after it, you might begin to wonder where the response came from.  Who taught you how to say that?
You might feel like the long released Chinese POW who still hums the tunes from the PA system in the camp and cannot quite put his finger on what that tune is.

You see, we’re hammered all day long with the ‘correct responses’. We get so used to saying these things, that we don’t even listen to them any more. It’s like the animals in captivity. Once you do this for long enough, you can never get yourself back.
So, when you begin to deconstruct your faith, to find the gaps, as Josh did with his own faith, you begin to see not only gaps, but total optical illusions.
The problem, like the retired man, above, is that once you pull away the noise and the fury you’re used to and stop the noise, you might notice that you haven’t really given thought for your own feelings, suspicions, and your faith in general.

6. “A little less conversation, a little more action”

Elvis’ song, which suggests that a woman paramour is stalling, is pretty much the root of the problem. Somewhere in the mental haze of all that chatter, you lost your point. You forgot about a key of the faith.
It is not a descriptive faith. It is a demonstrative one.

My dad is a very verbally affectionate man. He tells me all the time that he loves me. I get an occasional hug. As a father myself, I know that nothing I can say can prove my love for my boys, like spending time with them, on their terms. They want conversation. They want to throw the ball. They want to be with me. Those things, more than me saying that I love them, will be the memories of my love for them, I hope.
Part of the problem with this faith, is that you spend so much time talking, it becomes meaningless. If you only talk about your faith to people, eventually, they assume that that is all you talk about.
That may shock you, but that’s because you’ve got so much noise in your life that you haven’t noticed that there others who don’t believe the same thing as you. You’ve just thought that they were lost. You didn’t know that they believe other things than you. And if you acknowledged it, you just dismissed it.

That last bit may be really hard to take, but it is truth. You have probably spent so much time listening to the noise of the chatter, you haven’t really thought of anyone else. You know that bit Josh talks about loving your neighbors? Have you been?

I am being harsh here, but it is to prove a point. You are not an unkind person. You’ve just been putting the effort in the wrong place. You cannot talk your way to heaven. You cannot pave your way there with words. It is just chatter. And like that chatter, when things get really against the bone, it won’t do any good.

7. A moment of silence.

I challenge you to shut of the noise.  Teach yourself free from the jargon. Beat away the things that have kept you enthralled in their meanings.
Step away from these things.
It is frightening, but if you don’t, you can never get to a point where you see the gaps.

You are thinking that I am doing an altar call. Filling the silence with words to get you to bend the knee. But I am not. I am only asking that you shut off the noise. And in that time, take some time to let your rational brain come awake. Then listen to it and what it is telling you.

When you’ve gotten there, I’ll meet you at chapter 8.

8. Not the end, but the beginning.

I don’t really care what denomination you adhere to. The point of this little book isn’t to get you to believe something new, or different. This isn’t like all those books that try to get you to refresh your lifestyle and rekindle your romance with the faith. I am only trying to get you to take off your chains.

Humanity, unlike other species, seems the only group that holds slaves. If there is another species that enslaves its own kind, I’m not aware of them.
And isn’t that just like us, to have been in one way or another in slavery to something, throughout our lives. But we are taught that all things in excess are bad, except the belief in our faith. You cannot get too much of that.
Well, you, if you’re reading this chapter, may have gotten to a place where you want the noise to stop long enough to hear your own inner voice speaking your own inner dialog. Or, perhaps you’ve heard it. Or, perhaps, you’re just reading this book to warn your congregation from it.
In any and all of these cases, you must remember one very powerful truth.
You are the only one keeping you chained.

There is a story-- I have looked and looked to find a reference to it, or an author, but it is just verbal folklore-- of a young man who is chained to a tree. The chains are only wrapped around his wrists, but he will not undo them. Riders come by and he begs them to free him. They tell him he only needs to free himself, but in response, he always says the same thing. “I am chained.”
The moral of this little bit of folklore is that there is an illusion that each of us adheres to on a daily basis.

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