These are the personal reflections and questions of a 78 year old 100% Ashkenazi Jewish male who grew up in a Jewish world and who becomes a Christian at 30. I have wandered across the full spectrum of faith traditions of both worlds and have concluded that Jesus did not want to start a new religion ... he was trying to revive an old one!
This candid presentation of somewhat random life experiences hopefully offers permission to freely explore our humble place in the divine plan. I am mostly learning to ask better questions with the goal of expanding on what we all know to be part of the ultimate truth, but are not satisfied and therefore are still seeking more. Just when we think we have moved closer, we seem to discover even more, so we suspect this quest is ongoing. There must be more and I hope you can add to this dialogue.
As I was raising my daughters and trying to be helpful and loving when they were doing their homework, I was always curious and a bit terrified by the way they would do their math (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division). It was so different from the way I was taught. I was of course comfortable explaining my way of solving the problems, but they dismissed me quickly and looked at me like I was from a distant planet.
In like manner, my journey from a young Jewish boy raised by non-practicing Jewish parents and being sent to a pharisaical Hebrew school at the age of 8 in preparation for my Bar Mitzvah at 13 provided an old math basis for thinking about who God was. Then, as I became curious about who this person Jesus was throughout my elementary, high school and then college lead me to becoming an adult convert to Christianity at the age of 30. I then learned new paradigms about my faith.
Nobody prepared me for the confusion this would create as I then learned that I was a sinner doomed to hell without the help of Jesus. I had been “born again” by seeing Jesus as the completion of my Jewish roots … after all … he was a Jew rebelling against the same problems I had witnessed in my own life within the Jewish synagogue experience. But I pressed on never the less.
I started my Christian experiences in a Catholic church, then a community church, then in a fundamentalist Southern Baptist church, and now onto a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship setting. What I did learn was that each setting tried to establish their brand of what it meant to follow God and why I was safe just as long of course that I followed their rules for belonging and thinking about God.
But, as an engineer and mathematician, that set off all kinds of alarm bells in my mind. However, the individuals I met in each case were clearly so devoted to God in their pursuits that I felt I needed to at least understand why they felt so strongly, or in some cases didn’t feel anything was important. So, for decades I tried to learn and apply their thoughts and memorized the scriptures they used to keep them feeling they were right and doing the right things the right way.
Over time, my self-discovery through reading the scriptures, studying the themes, the language details of the Hebrew and Greek, and discussions with other believers all frayed the nice, neat edges of the platitudes they each used to pull themselves out of the ditches of life. That bothered me a lot. How could each of them be so convinced they were right, and yet so different and intolerant of the others who were also seriously working to follow God in their lives?
I know I am a bit different because I am a geek and have always been the butt of jokes for being that. I get it. In so many ways, I am the Sheldon Cooper type you run into. Lots of academic training in math, science and engineering but lacking those comforting social skills so essential to be liked in society. So, since I am wired up in this way for life I tried to “make sense” of my faith journey in than languages of the math, science and engineering that were comfortable to me.
This website is a brief summary of that effort and may make no sense outside of that context. As my Sunday School teacher Dr. Colin Harris always states: most of scriptural writings are portraits … drawing the key distinction that a portrait will always capture not only what the artist sees but also the underlying perspective the artist has. If you couple that with the definition of theology as “making sense of God” then this website is my portrait of my geek perspective.
One could quite rightly ask “so what?” at this point, but I would caution you that many geeks have had and always will have problems with what you non geeks use to defend and explain mainstream religion. Concepts like eternal life and heaven just seem too mystical and make believe to a geek. This all sounds too much like Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy to those of us who rely on scientific methods. Verses of scripture from thousands of years ago reek of misunderstandings about earth being the center of the universe and that maladies were the products evil agents and sin rather than bad body chemistry and genetics. The idea that the earth is only about 6,000 years old and was created in one “big bang” event as written in the Book of Genesis is squarely at odds with modern scientific facts.
So, how do you reinvent all this, and explain these things to your children and possibly even your parents, without sounding like a complete idiot? How do we “build bridges between” rather than the walls being built by “competing” versions of this same quest and not just fall into the trap of secular humanism that seemingly awaits us with its appeal to reason.
How do we keep the intensity of following God so clearly pointed to in the sermons and parables Jesus spoke about? Can we in modern thought stay truthful and reasonable to others in our intensity, zeal, and awe that we too would be willing to give up our lives if threatened for what we say we believe?
I found and have read plenty of books that convinced me to stop believing what I had believed, but these same authors failed to offer me anything that unified what I have experienced in my faith journey and offered inspirational conviction to keep following the calling of Jesus. So, I was lost in this no man’s land hoping to find some ultimate certainties with clear convincing proof that I was right. Instead, all I have found to date are books that stress God is love and being intensely loving will bring us ultimate happiness … so get over it. While this might clearly be the right thing to do, I found it too similar to the advice my mother gave me: eat your vegetables!
Well then … what is right? Where are the clear higher callings and unifying theology that makes all of this logical and compelling? This website is essentially a compendium of essays written to look at these questions and ask a lot more questions than offering any clear answers. Hopefully, however, these glimpses of attempting to see through to the other side of life we so fear called death will be uplifting and encouraging to you as you work through these same questions in your own life.
Just please remember this. I have no clear answers that can make the critics happy. I can only speak to the way I have been puzzling this out in my own life as a geek trying to find reasonable ways to explain the unexplainable. It is so easy to just label that as faith, but that word makes no sense to a geek. There is no such thing as faith: you either know or you don’t know. Nice binary thinking. Duality at its best!
Once again, my attempt here is to avoid the secular humanist answer, as appealing as it might be. After all, as they would argue it is better than choosing sides in the game of life? Wouldn’t we be better served and serve others better if we saw the beauty in all thoughts and belief systems. If we amalgamate the best of the best we will strive to get to the center of truth. But, where is God in all this?
The blogs, podcasts, and videos here offer my personal testimony and journey and work their way through some of the key questions that have troubled or puzzled me as a geek:
- Is there a rightful place for myths in our faith? Perhaps it is not a surprise, but I do not accept that the Bible as “The Word of God” in that it is somehow a mystical documentation of the divine into written form. I do believe firmly that the authors endeavored to capture what they thought was the divine message they believed they received. And, when it comes to the poetic and figurative writings in the Old Testament, I also see these as beautiful portraits of how these authors believed we should live.
- How then do we work on and work through those puzzling challenges of life, leaning on the faith we already have, but searching for a deeper understanding? Clearly there are many cruel events that seem to defy a loving and powerful god’s presence that turn individuals into bitter resentment crying: “I can not believe in a God who would allow this or that!” Trying to comfort individuals with trite answers like “they are now in a better place” or quoting scripture that God will not test us beyond our abilities simply do not work. Can we learn to see how to find a deeper faith as we actively follow our faith beliefs continually refining what we believe through life’s experiences? Personally, I believe the central feature here is to learn to love differently. And, it is in this context that I will offer my observations about prayer and its effectiveness.
- Does it really matter if we belong to a denomination and if so what should we be in it? Or, do all faiths and even the convictions of atheists have something divine in what they say they believe? And, if that is true, could it be we have all been looking for God in the wrong way? Don’t just get mad at me. I am not saying what you believe is wrong, I am only suggesting that there may be a bigger God than the one you have seen in the past and by carefully listening to and analyzing what others are saying they believe, it could be that we can all believe in a bigger God. It is in this chapter that I take the concept of replacing “or” with “and” in our discussions. There are clearly a lot of things we can all learn about God by including some thoughts and observations made by people we might otherwise think do not know God.
- I also develop something that allegorical perhaps … what I call a computer software model for our human and spiritual development, akin to getting a computer with preloaded software and installing the preloaded software. In this framework of thought, we all start with the primal routines like crawling followed by walking and then running and jumping etc. We develop language skills and start to learn social skills. Then, somewhere for most around the age of 5-8 we start to truly learn the societal normative skills … how to fit in and survive and thrive in communities. I then suggest we layer on these the existential skills and begin to find our own ways here as well. I suggest however that we tend to simply learn these in our heads and not in our hearts in ways similar to the way we learn other intellectual skills like math, reading, science, history, philosophy etc. My personal conviction here is that we can’t learn about the divine this way, no more that we can learn to ride a bicycle by reading about it.
- Finally, I will take a daring step into the unknown of what could be our future spiritual state when we leave this earthly abode? There is so much we don’t know until we pass through to this state and the evidence from those who believe they have been there and come back seems to indicate there is something more. What could that be? And, what if there is nothing? Does that really matter? I will center here on the mirror in which we see dimly for clues.
I do hope you truly enjoy these musings. I am not trying to start an argument with anyone. And, one could even rightfully ask why someone without educational credentials should be listened to. Let me offer you my answer. I didn’t write this to convince you of anything. I am merely sharing what I have found helps me, a geek, continue to seek God and not fall into the trap of secular humanism.
Obviously, there are no “easy buttons” or quick fixes in life, and I do not offer any. So, this is not just one more quick fix book. My observations and thoughts all point to the need for an increased focus on relationships and active engagement … not pie in the sky … but mutual accountability and risk, which then brings about failures and growth possibilities. We can’t simply fix the problems we face in life … we must choose how we go through them.
We can of course go through all this alone … or at least think we are going through it alone. Or, we can go through it with others … in active relationships making a difference … not defined by “the world’s metrics for success” but rather measured by the quality of the relationships we engage within.