Saturday, June 13, 2009

Dear Mom and the Matrix of Life

This is my dear, 88 year old mom, the one of the right of course, and my sister Susan.

Each Saturday, for as far back as I can remember, I call my dear mom. She lives 2,000 miles from me and that has always been hard for her (and me). But to compensate, I do talk to her about 30 minutes a week.

The most convenient for me these days is during my 7 mile bike ride over the mountain and into our little fishing village. It may not be the safest thing to do . . . talking on the phone and riding a bike on a narrow highway full of cars . . . but it does kill two birds with one stone.

I even had to modify my bike helmet with black duct tape (making it look like a Nazi helmet from WWII) in order to block the wind off my ears so I can hear her.

My mom is a dear woman. She was forced to drop out of school when she was 15 because her mother died from breast cancer and my mom had four little brothers that she had to raise. Her dad, whom I didn't get to know very well, was very emotionally and physical abusive to my mom. She has suffered from a severe low self esteem her entire life. This has made her an easy target for many people in our community, including many religious relatives (like my aunt Sophia, which I mentioned under the Narcissistic Personality type).

My mom has always kept her Christian faith at the center of her life. It has been the Bible-belt, Baptist version.

Her latest thing has been Joel Osteen. He is her Christian hero and mentor from afar. She has sent me every book he has ever written. I tried to read one and made it through the first chapter.

But I don't criticize mom. She's happy with Joel and I'm happy for her. Maybe this is an example of what Steve was referring to in the comments of the last post . . . God using sin.

My point today comes from my conversation with mom this morning and it relates back to this previous post about signs and what I would call Christian superstition.

My mother has macular degeneration. She’s lost most of her vision in her left eye and is now starting to lose it in her right. She did have treatment of her left eye and it may have helped . . . but there is no way to know for sure. The treatment involves injecting a medication directly into the eye and has a probability of about 20% of helping. The other option is going blind.

My sister called me yesterday and wanted me to talk mom into trying the injections in her right eye as that vision is starting to fail. When I suggested to mom that she go back to the retinal specialist for consideration her response was . . . .

Mom: “Oh . . . I’m not sure if it is worth it. I know what I need to do.”

“What’s that?”

Mom: “I need to do what Joel says, trust God to make me well . . . believe it with my whole heart and then it will happen.”

Me: “Mom, I don’t believe that you are loosing your vision because you don’t believe God enough. I really think you need to consider the treatment and your children will pitch in to pay for it.”

As little later in the conversation mom’s health came up again. This time, it was more of a nuisance problem. She has bad allergies and this time of year she looses her voice because of constant drainage.

As I talked to mom about various treatments her response was, “I think it is God telling me that I talk too much, that I really need to be quiet more.”

Talking about signs in my last posting, her comments got me thinking again. I thought about this the rest of the way into town as my red bike cut through the dense marine fog coming down this side of the mountain.

I really wonder how history may have been different if it were not for superstitions. I mean really, what could have been done that wasn’t done? I see superstitions as a great brake or governor (thinking in mechanical terms not political) on human accomplishments. Again, I see the purpose of those accomplishments as us, working with God, redeeming the world.

One example of what I’m trying to say was in the movie, Out of Africa. I can’t look it up from this high-brow coffee shop, but I think the scene went like this (but my memory may be at fault).

I think it was in Kenya or somewhere in East Africa. A river came though the land every spring and flooded them, washing away all the crops and destroying homes. The Englishman (or was he American?) said that they could damn up that river, stop the flooding, create a reservoir for the dry season and life would be much better. The African man responded that they could not. In doing so, they would make the river gods angry and they would in turn hurt them.

This is what I’m talking about. How many times in history have projects been stopped due to irrational fears? How often are Evangelicals hindered because of the superstitions?

Of course Evangelicals didn’t invent superstitions nor do they have a corner on the irrational beliefs (as exemplified in that African story). Actually, when the church was young (before Constantine) the Christians were the least superstitious in the Greek culture. Many people forget that Christians were persecuted during the first three centuries because they were too un-religious or too un-superstitious. Christians were often called atheists. Having walked the streets of Pompeii a couple of years I can see why. Every home had a god or gods guarding every room. The Greeks of course had their gods for everything.

Again, I can’t look up things from the coffee shop because their wifi is not free. But I think the name of a wonderful book on church history is Lyon’s History of Christianity. He made the comment that the early Christians were considered by the Greek culture at large as being too rational and not superstitious.

I live on an island that sits on the tectonic plates between Evangelicalism and New Age spiritualism (not to mention the pure materialist). If I am to have Christian friends, they are Evangelicals . . . rather conservative ones at that. In my Christian world I feel like I live in a sea of constant superstition. Every conversation with every Christian is loaded (on their side) with God did this, Satan did that, this was a sign, or that has a meaning and etc. No one believes in Newton’s laws of physics. No Christian friend believes in any type of cause and effect. But my point is, how does living in a superstitious paradigm change the way you live in the real world? I think it must be profound. My mother may go blind from those beliefs.

Going back to my previous post about my decision making efforts, after I said I was coming to Nepal, then two days later I get an email from Kathmadu that the two slots have been filled already (but not confirmed) it would have been very easy to say that was a sign from God and I should pull out altogether. Maybe, if I keep pushing to go, then I, or my students, would be killed by Maoist rebels.

I have just one footnote to make before I close. We had our semi-annual church congregation meeting this week. The pastor brought up (at the end) his concerns about the Church’s “back door” and the lack of support for the adult Sunday school program. I had a lot of words on the tip of my tongue. I was sitting with my wife and I knew that she does not like for me to make waves, so I remained quiet.

But I’ve been thinking all week about what to do. I almost set up an appointment with the pastor to explain to him that even I’m sitting with one foot out the back door. But I just know that he would show deep concern about my spiritual well being if I say that. It will be an issue of my spiritual immaturity and that I need to attend more of his lectures. If I try to explain that I am a true believer, that I am conservative in my theology (meaning that I believe that God is there, Jesus is the only way to Him and Scriptures are true) but I’m liberal in my interpretation of culture that he would know that I was becoming a liberal flake.

Then I thought about just sending out an e-mail to the entire congregation (something that would be really unorthodox) and say, “I’m leaving the church but I’m not mad at anybody. I love everyone. I respect the pastor . . . but that I don’t fit with this church.” But is that the coward’s way out?

I think I will visit a mainline (what we use to consider liberal—woman pastor and all) church tomorrow. I will follow the example that adventureinmercy and someone, (was it Brian?) else said, about going to a more “High Church” type of church. But again, is the old problem that my wife loves our church because of her relationships with the people. What’s a guy to do?


Anna A said...

May God bless you in your journey. I sure hope that it gets smoother than mine is. I've switched churches because the theology and worship style is a better fit for what I developed on my own.

But friendship and community, right now, almost non-existent. Will I change again, nope, but I want a feast, not a bare minimum for survival.

Oh, well.

Anonymous said...

Your mom looks so sweet!

But again, is the old problem that my wife loves our church because of her relationships with the people. What’s a guy to do?

This is just me, but I think the idea that a husband and wife *must* go to the same church is more of a socially-born expectation than it is an eternal truth of some sort. I mean, if you love and respect each other, that's what actually matters, right?

So if you go different places on Sunday for two hours, I hardly think that will be destructive. On the contrary, I have a feeling that you going along with your wife to a place that drives you insane is probably a more destructive thing to your relationship (because then, heh, your wife has to listen to you writhe and groan about it later, groaning about something SHE loves and finds meaning in). :)

I just don't think it HAS to be a big huge deal where each spouse goes (assuming the spouse wants to attend a church at all). It breaks with convention, but I think that's the only thing it breaks. :)

My opinion, fallible as always,

Budster said...

Thank you for saying that Molly. I had to give up a wonderful and life-giving friendship (and potential marriage) because our spiritual personalities and worship styles were quite different. She considered a married couple going to different churches as "unequally yoked." You are so and respect can overcome nearly everything and I certainly believe it can overcome attending different churches.

MJ said...

Anna, I'm sorry about your situation. I think that is one of my hesitations about doing a church switch is that the relationships which I have, as superficial as they are, at my church would be lost if I switched.

I did visit a different church this morning, for the second time (I'll talk more about it later). While I know no one there, I do see some potential for community. The church is old, big, "high church" but they have many programs. They feed the homeless. They have several home groups. They have a marriage group. So I do see potential although making a switch I realize is dangerous and can take a while.

I really hope that you find community in your new church. It is hard to judge a church by its cover. When we first arrived here we visited one church, actually called such and such "Community Church." Their web page talked about how everyone there is family. Out of the 5 churches we visited, that one was the most cold. We took the initiative to meet people and they pulled away. I sighed my new neighbor (who lives across the street) and headed for him. He saw us coming and vanished. I'm not sure what that was all about. So it can be misleading.

Good luck for you.

MJ said...

adventuresinmercy, I see and believe your point. I think the difficulty is that my wife does believe that we must attend the same church. She has many deep friendships at our old church. If I leave, she will rip her heart out of those and come with me.

I did visit a different church this morning. My wife works every other Sunday and was at work today. I think it would be reasonable . . . maybe . . . for me to go to this church when she's working, then we could go to the old one when she's off. Still not the best situation.

I'll do a brief posting about the church this morning in a minute.

Oh . . . my mom is sweet. Thanks

MJ said...

Budster, I have to laugh (at myself) because when I met my wife I was a very conservative Evangelical and she was Lutheran. It was hard for her to shift to the Evangelical wing.

Soon after that her sister became a raging Evangelical (for more than even me) plus other influences push her in the Evangelical direction. But to her, it is more of a social connection she feels. Theologically it really doesn't matter. I don't think even worship style matters to her.

I could have come to the Mormon church on our island, and once she made good friendships, she would not wanted to switch.

But look at me now. I am a post Evangelical and I would feel more comfortable in a Lutheran church now than she would. Life has funny ( and sometimes not so funny ) twist and turns.

Anonymous said...

Ha. That is so funny. That is similar to my own experience. My husband came from Lutheran, I was a total fundamentalist/evangelical, with some charismatic thrown in.

Now I'm post-evangelical, happily at an Episocopalian gathering, and it seems very likely that he will be fundamentalist/evangelical until death. :) The church he currently loves won't let you join them unless you profess a literal 6 day creation, etc, and other highly conservative tenants. (In their defense, they are very sweet)...

We're separated, for reasons having nothing to do with church selection, but if we do give our marriage one more shot (which it currently seems like we will, albeit at least not until a year into the future, after lots more counseling, etc), I hope to continue attending separate churches. He finds meaning and connection in the fundamentalist-leaning world. I find meaning and connection in the Episcopalian church. Nuff said. :)

Btw, not like my opinion matters or anything, but I think the "every other week" thing sounds like a GREAT compromise for now. If your wife feels *that* strongly that she *must* attend somewhere with you, it seems like a great "meet in the middle" plan to go with her on her Sunday's off, and to go where you find meaning on the Sundays she works.