Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Noticing Nietzche

Nietzsche is one of those names I've always heard thrown around school and discussions, always told myself I should be familiar with and yet never gotten around to getting to know. I've been reading Ravi Zacharias' The End of Reason and he makes some very interesting points about his philosophy that has me even more curious. They're summed up pretty well in the quote below.

". . . [Nietzsche] had the good manners to despise Christianity, in large part, for what it actually was--above all, for its devotion to an ethics of compassion--rather than allow himself the soothing, self-righteous fantasy that Christianity’s history had been nothing but an interminable pageant of violence, tyranny, and sexual neurosis. He may have hated many Christians for their hypocrisy, but he hated Christianity itself principally on account of its enfeebling solicitude for the weak, the outcast, the infirm, and the diseased; and, because he was conscious of the historical contingency of all cultural values, he never deluded himself that humanity could do away with Christian faith while simply retaining Christian morality in some diluted form, such as liberal social conscience or innate human sympathy." 
 David Bentley Hart (Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies)

Bible Study...why?

Since I was in high school, I've had a difficult time plugging into small groups in church...you know...the teen groups that meet on Saturday afternoons at book stores...the singles group that meets on Tuesday nights at the local coffee shop...the young adults group that meets twice a month at the house of one of its members.

In 15 years of looking, I've never found a group where I felt I fit in. Black church or White. Weekly or monthly. Long term or short. I've always left these groups at best feeling like I could make better use of my time at home studying on my own or talking with a friend about my latest spiritual issues, and at worst, feeling like I'd just barely survived group therapy. I was always left with flashbacks of middle school, feeling out of place and out of touch, thankful the family dog had taken a liking to me, because it gave me something to bond with.

I made sure to give the groups a chance... after all, maybe I wasn't there just for myself. Maybe God had a bigger plan for my being where I was. Maybe I couldn't see the benefit that I was receiving. Still though, even after much prayer and effort, I was thrilled when meetings were cancelled. Relieved when vacation or work plans made attendance impossible. Bored while sitting and discussing. I began to wonder if it was just me. If my introversion had become more than just a personality trait and had become a liability. I'd never fit into groups...secular, spiritual or otherwise, so it was very possible that I was the issue.

Enter Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Though not a spiritual pursuit, the basic premise was the same. People, strangers getting together in pursuit of a common goal. All at different levels, all developing themselves in their own way...establishing their own relationship with the art. I genuinely believe God led me to it, after much prayer to find a martial art that wasn't spiritually based. I was uncomfortable at first, but always wanted to go back...always felt that I was growing and bonding with the people around me. Always felt like my ultimate goal, though different than those around me, was the same as everyone else's.

It's not something I'm proud of, but even though I'm glad to get up and head out to church every week, and every week, am glad I went, I still haven't a group in which to connect with individuals that gives me the same, or even comparable benefits.

This has me wondering...what is the point of small groups? Is it to connect? Is it to grow and learn? Is it to socialize?

If it's to connect, having groups centered around life stages makes sense on a large scale. For people like me who don't connect based on age, race, gender or marital status, it leaves us a little lost.

If it's to grow and learn, should they be grouped by goal? I think this is what the short term, topic focused study groups are based around...I honestly prefer these.

I believe it's a combination and I believe that's what they should be. I do think though, there is potential for some differentiation from the small-group/once-a-week approach in format. I think there's a lot of potential in online interaction, maybe with monthly/bi-monthly in-person meetings.

I'm not sure what the resolution to my problem is, or if I even have one, but it's still one of the things I pray about most.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

And off I go!

I woke up late for church this morning and it upset me. My trusty iPhone alarm failed me (well...one of them did. I have four clock apps. I have a really twisted relationship with time.) I wasn't upset out of worry over fielding questions next week of "Where've you been?!" or concern that people whose opinions I respect would think I'd fallen off the wagon. Not even because I missed a message. (My church, thanks to some great leadership, is progressive in some very good ways and has messages available online, so in a couple of days, I could have caught up on any information I missed.) No. It bothered me because I'd missed an experience that I enjoy and that I feel improves my life and walk with God.

I've had this happen before and I do believe each instance has been a God-engineered absence. Not to be confused with absences caused by laziness, exhaustion, poor planning or failure to prioritize my church attendance. Today's type happens much less frequently...I have to say only three or four times over the last six years. But when they have happened, there's been a reason for it for me growth wise. Today, I had a question answered. It was time to start my spiritual blog.

This will be the fourth blog that I actively maintain. I believe it will be my last, as I don't have any other areas of my life that I believe could benefit in this form of documentation. I used to snub the idea of blogging...funny because I love ideas, discussion and writing. However, I also dislike excess noise in the world, so at first, I saw the concept as a source of annoyance as opposed to a tool that could be useful to myself and others. I also envisioned them as nothing more than online diaries, with people spilling their private lives into perhaps the most public forum that's ever existed in history. For those two reasons, there are two boundaries I'd like to place on this blog. Focus and privacy.

For my own sake, and for that of those reading, I believe its important to have some sort of continuity in writing. I'm not yet ready to put myself on a schedule (I like organic blogging), but I would like to focus on four things that I think are unique to me as a Christian, (that link is to my pastor's blog btw) but also the discussion of which will hopefully be beneficial to anyone who happens to read this. I also will not be sharing every intimate detail of my life or thoughts. While this blog does cover a topic that is inherently close to me, I believe there is value in privacy and that it is neither beneficial to the reader nor the writer to ignore that fact. Not everything going on in my head or heart or life will be a benefit to those around me and I believe some of it should be dealt with it privately, or with a select few people only. But back to those four things...

  • I am an introvert. Over the last decade, I've become an increasingly deep believer in accuracy of the MBTI system of personality typing. For those interested, I'm an INTJ. That first letter I is what I'm talking about. As an introvert, I draw my energies from being alone and find interraction with people draining. I'm not shy, nor am I a lone wolf. My pack has simply been built slowly and carefully and new members are added very infrequently. This trait isn't particularly highly prized in our culture (church or secular) and is frequently characterized as a sickness or a sin. The process of learning how to use the traits that God has given me as they have been intended, and not letting them become a stumbling block in my life, my spiritual growth or to others has not been, and is not an easy one to sort out.
  • I'm a card-carrying member of the business world. MBA and all. It's a difficult world to live in, as a human being, a female, a Black person and a Christian. I used to fight tooth and nail to find my way out of it, but at a Bible study a few years back, a regional manager for Staples said something that got me thinking that maybe, while I'm not skipping to work every day (far from it on many days), this is where God wants me and this is where I can do the most good. I'm still not comfortable in corporate, or even not-so-corporate America, but there aren't many Christians out there (let alone female) in this world, and maybe I can do some good.
  • I have a high IQ. I'm not breaking any records by any means, but I make Mensa's cutoff easily. (no longer a member by the way) Having a high IQ is a tricky thing. You acknowledge it, and people think you're conceited or are judging them. Ignore it, and you're ignoring a foundational part of who you are and your life will become burdened with efforts to "hide". I honestly see it as no different than being tall (which I also am). It's a combination of nature and nurture. As a Christian though, it's doubly difficult. After the second Great Awakening in the US, the church took a turn against intellectualism in almost any form. Sad considering some of the greatest institutions of learning this country and the world have known were founded by the church. This has led a general loss of respect for followers of Christ who are driven by and prefer the world of the mind, leaving the intellectual Christian ridiculed in their secular pursuits for their beliefs and abandoned by practitioners of the faith they follow. I've found a lot of healing and growth by tuning into the works of some Christian apologists. The first new Bible I've bought since...high school (2 months ago) was The Apologetics Study Bible and I'm loving it. We also face our own issues regarding faith, doubt (I was a church-going agnostic at 8 years old) and treatment of other believers (whose worth it can be easy for us to discount), all of which need specific attention. 
  • I'm single, female and past "marrying age". I've been reading Christian literature on relationships and dating since I was in high school and I can say from experience that women have it rough. Everywhere you turn, there are messages linking the worth of a woman in Christianity to her marital status. I've seen women marrying the wrong man, the right man at the wrong time, women who are single made to feel inferior and left out for not marrying and everything in between. I've been spared from a lot of the difficulties because, well, I'm just really not dead set on the idea of being a wife (a huge thanks to the Christian women in my life for not pressuring me in that area). Not that I'm opposed to it or that it's not in God's plan for my life, but the idea of never wearing that hat doesn't put me off. One message I don't hear enough, is that maybe, just maybe, God didn't mean for everyone to be married. Funny, because the Bible is full of single people (even single women) that were very productive and influential workers for God. 
  • And to round out 2011, I've added a fifth category that I originally didn't intend to touch on--race. I spent my youth attending a Black church while enrolled in a White, Southern Baptist school. I never felt like I fit in either place, sometimes playing the privileged "elite" and the lower-income minority in the same day. I believe it conditioned me to feel comfortable with social discomfort and has given me insight into the role that culture, class and race play in the church. 
So yeah...that's where I am and where I hope to go. Feel free to contact me, pray for me, ask me to pray for you and comment as you like...and thanks for reading.