Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A cartload of ideologies

This has been an eventful day. I went shopping for "necessaries." When I was going around the aisles, the bleach, the toothpaste, and the canned corn just seemed so necessary! I ended up with a cart that runneth over. Even the checkout guy was chuckling: "You stocking up for next week?" As if that wasn't enough, on my way out I made a left turn instead of a right one, and I ended up out in the boonies. Fortunately, I didn't stay in the boonies long.

"Eventful?" you ask, "That ain't even a blip on my radar." Okay. The real event was QUAD DAY.

I actually stumbled into QUAD DAY. I wondered what all the balloons were for and I went closer to investigate. The QUAD was absolutely swarming with students. There were booths everywhere. There were brightly-colored paper piles everywhere. There were freebies everywhere. I joined the swarm.

Before 3 hours were up, I not only had a sunburn, I had a little more information about my campus and its surroundings. For instance, I learned that there's a school of the "Universal Mind" here on campus. From my 30-45 minute conversation with a guy manning their table, the school seems set on smushing all religions together and trying to make sense of the casserole that results. For example, all of the gods in Hinduism are interpreted by students in this school as being different parts of a person's mind. Also, lots of Jesus' teachings are right on target -- once they're properly interpreted by someone who knows.

(DISCLAIMER: I'm relying on my memory for how the thread of conversation went. Almost for sure, something is out of order below!)

At the beginning of the conversation, I was trying to understand where this guy -- and his school of thought -- were coming from. About two minutes in, I told him (his name was Rory) that I was a Christian. From that point on, he brought up a lot of different things about Jesus and the Bible.

He was very familiar with Scripture, as well as the writings of Buddhists and Hindus. It was actually easier to talk to him about spiritual matters than some of the Christians manning the booths downstream!

But while he enjoyed talking about what he believed, I had to listen carefully to catch it and understand it. I think it was when I asked him what methods he used that he brought up meditation. When I asked if he had seen any improvement since he started meditating, he respsonded enthusiastically. From what he's seen, his relationships have improved and even his health has improved. At one point he had had high blood pressure. Now, since he's been meditating, his blood pressure has evened out to the "optimal" reading of 120/80. His take on this was that stress has an incredibly negative impact on your body, but meditation is a way to counterract it.

I mentioned that when I meditated, it was always centered around something: it wasn't a blank nothingness. He said he would call that "concentrating." He went on to say that when he meditates, it's like a conversation when you're waiting for the next words of the person you're talking to. You sit there, expectantly, and then the words come. As he continued talking about this "receiving process," I asked him who exactly he was receiving from. The terms he used in his answer amounted to a "force," or "the divine."

As he went into further depth about his beliefs, it sounded like he was selecting from a buffet of religions. (Hmmm... I like how Hindu's fixed this, but then this Christian dish isn't bad, either.) I don't mean to malign him or mock him in any way, but that's how I perceived what he was telling me. I asked him what he thought about Jesus. He said that he understood him to be fully a person. He did have a lot of respect for Jesus, but it was just as one student to another, more advanced student. The analogy he used was of a 3rd grader (himself) looking up at a college student (Jesus). Jesus just had the enlightenment gig down a little better than any of us do. He gives us hope that we too can attain godhood. To back up this claim, he mentioned that we are capable of creating like God did -- because "we were made in his image." When I asked what we're capable of creating, he pointed to the Budda statue sitting on their table. Someone had to come up with the idea, plan it, and execute it. They created it. Of course, the ability came from God, he said.

He mentioned a "unifying principle" -- which was God, he said. As he went along, I tried to sum up what he was saying and ask, "Is that what you believe?" At this point, I asked him, "Do you think all the religions are just different means to the same end?" He seemed to affirm that, so I asked him, "Then why do the various religions disagree?" His answer (which seemed to answer a different question that what I asked) was that people feel insecure in their beliefs, and one way people try to feel more secure is by converting the people around them. That way, there ends up being a group that believes the same thing. Now, he qualified, there are some people -- probably in every religion -- that are so pure that they don't need to convert others. They feel perfectly secure by themselves.

The conversation went up and down several hills after that. I asked him if he had ever read anything by C.S. Lewis. He said he hadn't, but he'd heard of "The Chronicles of Narnia." The other guy working at the booth piped in and said he'd read the Problem of Pain, and had at least started Mere Christianity. #2's statement to the other guy (#1) was, "He's not preachy." I laughed and said, "No, he's not preachy!"

I told him about C.S. Lewis' idea of the Tao: that God gave each person a basic understanding of the rightness and wrongness of things. That's why some of the basic tenets of religions are the same. But where things diverge is when people start adding their own stuff to God's truth. When I said that, he didn't say anything. He just listened.

I asked him, "But what about Jesus' claim to be God?" His answer was that Jesus didn't claim to be God -- he claimed to be the Son of Man. (Now, of course, verses like "I and the Father are one" pop into my head, but they didn't pop in then! I didn't argue the point -- I just asked what he thought about it). I asked him about Jesus' statement, "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Basically, his answer to that was that Jesus points us on our way to enlightenment. He seemed to respect Jesus to a point, but only to a point. It's important to follow Jesus' teachings, but you don't really need to be that close to Jesus. When I asked "Why did Jesus die?" he said that it was probably because people felt threatened by what he was teaching -- but anyway, it was his life that was important, not his death. I told him what I believed: that Jesus lived his entire life knowing that he would die on the cross. I told him I believed that Jesus came to take away the punishment for sin -- that Jesus knew each one of us had sinned, and that through His death, we could be made free.

When I asked him about the resurrection, he couldn't have been less interested. It didn't seem to matter to him whether Jesus was raised from the dead or not. I told him (and he listened politely) that as I saw it, that's what made Jesus different: it proved that God had the power to raise Jesus from the dead -- and to raise me, too!

I asked him if there was anything that was definitely "wrong." He said that anytime we violate things like the Ten Commandments, we slow down our development. He explained some research at some school by neurobiologists that supposedly showed unusual brain activity in people who were meditating. Somehow the person knew when a thought was "bad," and it registered on their brain wave chart, or something like that. He compared this life as to a series of tests, where we decide which way we'll go. I asked him if there was a Final. He said it came at the end of your life, when you evaluated all the things you had done, and you assessed all the karma you had to make up for. Then you set up your next life. (This sounded distressingly like registering for classes online: you know what you need, and you set it up). When he had explained all this, I asked, "So the punishment is slowing your development?" He agreed with that.

When I asked him about the verse mentioning it's for a man once to die, then after that the judgment, he seemed to believe this fit in perfectly with reincarnation.
In fact, he told me that up until the time of Constatine, there were Christian writings that described Jesus' teachings on reincarnation. It was just when leaders got the idea that "If we convince people they only get once chance they'll shape up for this life" that they limited the canonized books to what we have today, and all of the early teachings on reincarnation were discarded. He said there are still remnants of these teachings in the New Testament, in a parable he couldn't recall just then.

He told me about the first person (I think the person was involved in Zorastrocism) who supposedly coined the idea of Heaven and Hell. The student himself did tell me that he believes you can experience heaven and hell on earth. Once he felt like he was better off dead because of the pain he experienced (that was his Hell experienced). Another time he was so encouraged that he felt like smiling at everyone around him (that was his Heaven experience).

(Thinking back on it, I could have said that just because we can taste Heaven or taste Hell here, it doesn't detract from the reality of these places somewhere besides earth).

Here toward the end, I found myself asking less questions and telling him more about my beliefs. He would always listen politely, but he never asked me to explain my ideas any more fully. Probably he had heard it all before.

But I didn't want to go away from that conversation without having at least reminded him of Jesus. I tried to inject Scripture into the conversation, because that's what has living power (through Christ). My words aren't powerful, but Scripture is!

The most disturbing thing he said, though, was what his future plans were. Not only does he plan on getting his Doctor of Divinity, and possibly joining it with a psychology degree. He plans on working in daycares (as he's already started doing). He wants to work with kids before their innate curiousity is tainted.

Maybe he understands something many of us Christians don't: If you truly want to spread your beliefs, a great place to start is with the children.

This was my longest and most detailed conversation. I also talked to the preacher from a Presbyterian "church" in town. First, I'd asked a worker at the Presbyterian tent what their flag meant. It showed an American flag with rainbow stripes instead of the alternating red and white stripes. I had some idea what the flag stood for, but I decided to "play it dumb" in order to give them the benefit of the doubt, and in order to hear their response. The first woman I talked to smiled and said it stood for an openness to LBGT students who might be uncomfortable in other "churches." I asked her if the church taught about what Jesus taught, and she said it did. Then I asked if the church taught that Jesus taught against homosexuality (isn't that convuluted!). She seemed taken aback, and said that of course Jesus had never taught any such thing! When I asked if there were any special programs for homosexuals at their church, she referred me to the "pastor."

This was a middle-aged woman. She was enthusiastic about my questions, and went out of her way to show me how welcoming her church was to homosexuals and other students. Evidently a fear years back the Presbyterian church officially came up with a policy of "More Light" which welcomes LGBT people. When she first mentioned the name, I thought it was spelled "More Lite," -- having a lower Biblical content.

Anyway, she shook my hand, gave me a bunch of papers to read, and dismissed herself.

My last controversial conversation (the gab with the hobby fish gentlemen doesn't fall in this category) was with the students involved in the "Montage," a literary and artistic journal published by students. Before they knew I was a graduate student, they invited me to sign up to write or edit the next edition. They talked amongst themselves: evidently, they rejected "good ideas written badly." One person asked, "What about bad ideas written well?" Another person, who seemed to be head honcho, answered and gave the impression that he really didn't care what someone's message really was. I asked him: "Isn't that kind of a shallow approach? What about the fact that 'ideas have consequences?' " A little bit later I asked him if this was going to be their first journal or if there were others. The head honcho picked up a previous edition and flipped through it to show me what had been done before. The first thing I saw was an indecent picture. The guy next to me turned away and made noises like he was shocked or amused, I couldn't tell which. I told the head honcho, "I'd be embarrassed to print that." The guy with the book said, "Very little embarrasses me." Another student stepped up defensively: "We didn't print that. That was a previous edition." Evidently some previous editor had set up the picture herself with a time-lapse. I told the undergrads around the table that I was very glad they wouldn't print anything like that, and I'd look for the next edition near the end of the this semester.

Suddenly, I was very glad I couldn't participate as a graduate student. I didn't want anything to do with it. Even if I joined the editing board, chances were decisions on submissions were made by vote. I might join something and then have no real say on what happened with it. But my name would still be associated with it.

Anyway, those were some of the more disturbing things that happened today.
As I told my mom and dad: I keep wondering what Jesus would have done there.
What would He have said?

Jesus did have a presence there at the QUAD: there were at least 10 different booths that were staffed by Christians and encouraging other Christians to get involved. That was definitely encouraging. I hope that these groups (but really the students who join them) can help students on this campus TASTE and SEE that the LORD IS GOOD.

1 comment:

MJ said...

Hey there! :-) This is MJ from her blog out here in corn-land. Just wanted to say we all miss you lots! I'm sorry I haven't been able to write ya back yet, things are crazy!

God Bless!

Anima Christi Sanctifica me,