Monday, May 31, 2004

Christianity (from the inside) 1.0

The first thing I want to really talk about is my spiritual journey. It's an odd one, and I know that many people, many, who knew and loved me when I was going to church in Long Beach will find this story unusual. But my story it is. And I've tried to be as truthful as I can. My questions continue, but one has to start someplace:

I was raised in pentecostal churches by parents whose religious attitutudes wavered between neglect and near superstitious frenzy. Then I had Calvin's theology, reduced to a quaint acrostic, shoved down my throat (ah, the limits of deductive reason). After this I became a Baptist, or followed a girl into a Baptist church, and also got involved, with same girl, in Campus Crusade. I even pledged a Christian fraternity (Gamma 85 brother).

I went through the steps required to join the church and was baptized even though I wasn't sure I was a Christian. I can remember that quite distincly. Standing behind the stage thinking...I don't really know if I'm a believer. I could spout the theology as good as any other fool who could read, but I really didn't have a relationship with God which had any depth; certainly I did not understand the historical Christ. After a few years, about seven, living within Christian culture, even praying to the Christian god, teaching and leading in the church (how ironic) I left. There were some good people there who I know probably still care for and wonder about me, but I went through a shitty divorce (most of them are, I guess) a really awful rebound relationship, and at the same time I realized that I had in fact been embracing Christian culture, not Christianity. I needed a code of conduct, a philosophical system, even if I understood it in shallow terms, to keep away the anxiety. Sadly, my faith was founded on very little. It was a child's faith, left over from my childhood churches.

And I was arrogant, frankly. I felt knowledge was the key to the Christian life, though looking back I knew surprisingly little. When my intellect was shaken a bit (by apparent contradictions in the gospel accounts of the resurrection) it felt like I was falling off a cliff. Into a deep, merciless terror. I never actually renounced my faith explicitly, but I might as well have. I came to realize I really didn't know what I believed (how could the soul exist inside the brain, etc.), but my tragic life experiences and my genuine intellectual questions sent me out of the church and, for lack of a better term, into the world.

And there I stayed for some time.

I began to read Plato. I had not read a line of him in school, and here I found a philosophy which had the guts to stand up to the blank materialism/empiricism, the voice of David Hume and even Sartre (or at least S. J. Gould and the modern skeptics) which had a such a strong pull. I was, and am for whatever reason, a natural materialist. God help me.

But Plato was something quite different from what modern science was telling me about the world. And I began to wonder: could the materialists be wrong? Is there something else beyond matter which is not just superstition, wish-fulfillment, or delusion?

In my search I may have still considered myself a Christian in some abstract sense (like the YMCA I guess). I had never actually read the gospels; when I tried I felt viciously judged. But it was a guy named John Kwon who really forced me to take a look ('come and see). He was some kind of student minister at CSULB and in my English class. And John wanted me to read the bible with him. Boy, did I think he was an idiot that first day, when he offered to carry my boombox (we had been listening to rap in class) from my classroom to my office. My mind was going off: fool, idiot, weakling, exploding at him and his ridiculous self. I'm ashamed to remember it now.

I didn't want to read the Bible. In fact, it took John something like two years to get me to agree to do it. He'd come by my office hour (I had to sit there and listen) and he'd read a passage from a gospel and ask me what I thought once or twice a term. He kept saying, 'other books are written by men, the Bible is written by God; you can't know God if you don't read the Bible.' And: 'how can you call yourself a Christian if you don't read the Bible?'

And finally that got me. I couldn't really call myself a Christian if I hadn't even read the gospels, so what could it hurt?

And we met, and read, though only over the school term (I took winter and summer vacations off). Some days I was angry with John just because he had a genuine faith. Once I made him read with me outside, on a stone bench at the bottom of MHB where the wind really blows. It was winter, and he didn't have a jacket. I did. He shivered, and looked at me as I sat there glaring, and read the gospel with me. Ah, I can't tell you how much I put him off. His persistence is a lesson for me to recall now. John was no great expositor. In fact, his English was poor and some of his attiudes I'd still disagree with, but he kept pushing the gospels in front of me and asking me to interpret them a piece at a time.

And as I read Mark (M primacy, you know) and then began John, I found a personality unlike any other in history. I still stand by that assessment. Was it Napoleon who said 'I know men, and Jesus was not just a man' or something close to that? I read with a deep, deep, vicious critical bias. I tried to leave my mind open, but at the same time doubted every single pericope or story. I looked for contradictions, layers, possible redactions, deception, mistaken perception, whatever. But beneath all that, this Voice kept emerging. Jesus said some very strange things about himself, over and over. The multiple miracles were disquieting. How could a group of guys make up this much stuff and get away with it? And even if they did, who could write these words? Who could speak like Jesus?

And so on for about three years. I actually left Long Beach, with my girlfriend, to take a job in Sac. John's persistance had done much, but more was needed. I was still looking. I read Everlasting Man. Surprised by Joy. Moreland (at last, an academic Christian writer). Pilgrim's Regress (I had been in the Giant's prison). Whatever I could. I read a some Crossan and others (others who at least admitted they were non-believers, unlike JDC) who attacked the gospels' veracity. And I found presumption, guesswork, no substantial proof that these documents were not at least partially historical. For all my empirical leanings, Hume's argument on Miracles was largely worthless and based on his own experience. So now what? Sure, no one had levatated in the Roman Senate to be recorded into history, but could the gospels be so readily dismissed as fanciful? Didn't they meet even Hume's criteria for a historical record of the miraculous? And what of the Voice, and the moral quality of the teachings?

Steph and I decided to get married; it's a bit more complicated than that, but that's the basic fact. And we wanted to get married in a pretty church. We found one in Long Beach, All Saints Episcopal. I was not Episcopal though I had visited there a handful of times a few years back, but S and I were so impressed by the way the priest handled us. Uh, yeah, we'll marry you, but what about your spritual health? Who will support you after you're married? Do you have a church to go to in Sacramento? All that cal.

But it wasn't cal; it moved us both. So we started attending a church up here in Sac called St. Mary's, and we went to what is called an Alpha Class (we were asked), and that was where it hit me. I didn't even want to go to Alpha. I kept noticing that while they feed you at Alpha, cults feed you too. And I thought Nicky Gumble's British smile far too big. But I began reading St. John again, and I had what not all Christians have, but what John Kwon had called a 'born again verse.' I was reading, where is it, John 7, where Jesus stands up at the festival and proclaims who he is (again), and also (John 8? I haven't looked it up since) where he says 'you read the scriptures looking for salvation, but the scriptures point to me.' And I knew then. This was for real. I said some lame prayer along with Nicky Gumble (I was at home, making up the Alpha videos I missed) and became a Child of God.

That was March 2000. My questions are not all gone. But a place has been set for me at the banquet in the kingdom, and I will drink and eat with the Lamb, and though I see little need to quibble over the details, I do, oh I do.

More on this topic later.

Peace to all.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Iron and Steel

Alright gang,

this is amazing. I can't believe it's free, so far. I'm hoping blogging lets me stay in touch with people I haven't seen in years, hear more about their lives than I ever could just calling them. Kudos to scooter for getting me set up. I don't know if I'll change the description (it sounds awfully imperial: Troy Speaks!) but I think this idea rocks. I teach English online and I'm so used to communicating like this, but the classroom, even the virtual classroom, has its limitations.

Now I just need to get connected to those people I hope will read my babble, boggle, blog, whatever. This is much better than writing reviews at Amazon.

Right now I have a lot of things to talk about: the ridiculous war in Iraq, school ending, life in the mountains, what I've been reading and what films I've been watching, but first things first.

I never lifted weights before. Oh, I'd tried it a few times but never enough to even say I had one real work out over the years. When the guys at my martial arts school in town (sadly, now no longer a school) brought in two smith machines I was hooked. Those are machines that let you do the basic exercises without really knowing very much. One of the guys in my gym was a personal trainer, or had just become one, and so I tried lifting. And I put the same intensity into the weights I had learned you have to put into martial arts. To be even a mediocre martial artist takes tremendous energy exertion; lots of anaerobic work, lots of getting hit and learning timing and patience and rigorous technique. Well, I could pose in front of a mirror and do kicks, but I'm not talking about that. I spent a year with Danny Inosanto when I was 20, three hard years with Daniel Sullivan, one of his full instructors, around 30, and then was doing karate up here with a very tough sensei (and good friend; sad he's gone). So weights were just another way to push my body.

It's cold up here in the winter. Below freezing some days, near it most days. And the gym we worked out in, just a little industrial building with a concrete floor and cracks in the walls, was not heated in the daytime when I went in to lift. So it was very cold. We'd wear sweats, fleece jackets, and ski hats pulled down until we got some warmth going. And there was no mirror posing time. It was superset lift. Meaning do one set and then do another right away. That was the only thing I had been taught, so I did it.

And did it ever feel good. I can't describe it. It's like how I feel after I scuba dive. That same restive, secure, calm, depleted sense, feelings I rarely have at other times. Maybe it's all the endorphins or the emotional release or the hormones dumping into the blood; I don't know or care, really. It just felt and feels great.

So when the gym closed just a couple months later, I joined this actual, fitness gym about twenty minues down the hill. About the beginning of February. And then I began to really lift.

I didn't know anything, so I read, a lot, almost all online. I discovered the Blonde Bomber, Dave Draper, and his killer website Iron Online. Straight talk from a fine person and poet. I began drinking protein powder and eating througout the day and lifting hard. At first I would get so sore it was a disability. It would take me a full minute to walk down one flight of stairs my legs hurt so bad. When my legs were that sore, I mean raging sore, and I'd work my arms out, say, it was scary sometimes trying to get off the couch. But I stuck with it, and the soreness has decreased by more than half.

To gain muscle, you have to gain weight, and I did. My body started to change, but my stomach, which was about at its 34 inch capacity when I began, grew a bit too. Now I'm trying to do what's called cutting; or in laymen's terms, lose some of my belly. I can't afford all new pants. I think that's why weight lifters were those loose waisted sweats so much: they can wear them when they're bulked or cut. Anyway, I just want to lose a couple inches, and then it's back to eating big and lifting heavy.

I'm still pushing the steel, though. It feels very different with less calories going in, but still wonderful. Very therapeutic. I'm almost 40, and I'm doing this as much for inner growth as outer. There's something very meditative about the steel. It's like surfing is for some people I think. As Vince Gironda said, 'there is joy on the gym floor.' I've found that to be true. I love the iron. At least for now. With no martial arts going on, why not lash the face of age and press on, feel young, stay young longer, don't let my muscle fiber drop off my body as it does without work as I age.

Well, this is a good enough place to start. I'm one of those who likes to hear himself write, and I have a lot to say. This is like journalling but with an audience. Very nice. Very beautiful.