JBB’s Final Thoughts Episode 03: Easter & Even More Spiritual Self-Examinations

JBB’s Final Thoughts Episode 3: Easter & Even More Spiritual Self-Examinations (In Bad Faith, episode 17). Easter-time religious & other self-examinations goes way back for me… and it’s a bit too simplistic to brush it all off as delusional. As usual, this story began before I was born and is so complicated and personal that, after trying to record it several times, I’ve resorted to writing it down first. I know, the horror! But it ends well… depending on your point of view… (In Bad Faith episode 17).

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Episode 3: So it’s that time of year, for me. Most people probably pick New Years for their reflection/self-examination. It seems like Easter is when I really turn the spotlight inward. Some of the images the phrase “self-examination” presents probably means that this isn’t something that one should do in public. But you know me, what’s a little TMI amongst friends?

So what’s new this year is that I’ve been spending a goodly amount of time with friends who are decidedly not of any religious persuasion, many of whom have never known the joys of living through normal teenage angst and hormonal confusion with cultural practices and beliefs several centuries out of step with day-to-day experience. They just had the typical “who am I” questions to deal with without the voice of organized religion chanting in their ears.

That’s probably a bit harsh. I grew up in a conservation Catholic household and it was a part of my self-identity and ethnicity that I didn’t think twice about, anymore than I’d think about breathing the air around me. The one twist, or one of the twists, that probably raised my awareness was that while mom and I and the siblings all went to church every Sunday, dad stayed home. You see he was raised Baptist, but kept it mostly to himself because, well, that’s what you did back then to keep some semblance of peace and a united front for the kids in the household. So some level of “choice” was involved in how one lived ones faith. I don’t know that I ever articulated that, or really understood that back then, but I noticed that his not going to church with us didn’t mean that he didn’t believe. He was just having to express it differently.

Given that pre-history, it only makes sense that when I was a teenager, that my form of teenage rebellion was to become even more religious. I know, doh! It was the 70s, the Jesus Movement was sweeping through Southern California and I was struggling with my Catholicism and that teenage hormonal confusion I mentioned earlier. My upbringing, my temperament, and the coincidence of the time and place “led” to a religious experience or conversion that was as real as anything I’d experienced in my short 15-years of life.

Some have famously called Religion or religious experience delusional. Given Religion’s checkered if not tragic reputation across history and cultures, it’s easy to see how many would feel this way. I just know that my experiences were genuine and those closest to me were of the same heart. When I was a freshman religious studies major at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles I read Rudolf Otto’s “The Idea of the Holy,” which was one of the first academic/scholarly works to investigate “religious experience,” and I came to eventually understand that there was or is something more here than a simple vestigial belief system that belonged in a pre-scientific age. Even though I no longer saw myself as Catholic, I appreciated that part of my journey and later, as a Biblical Studies major at Biola University, I recognized the adolescent angst in my classmates who were rejecting their Catholic upbringing for their new Protestantism. Like my father, I chose to experience my faith differently and try to balance my upbringing with my education, and eventually became much less “in your face” with my faith than I had been as a teenage Jesus Freak. I also learned that as much as I studied and meditated, there was always much more than I knew or could ever really understand. But this didn’t squash my curiosity and maybe it allowed me to be less analytical and more “intuitive” about my journey and appreciate my fellow travelers.

There are many scholars and geniuses on both sides of the equation, who have probably forgotten much more than I will ever learn or understand, and I say this, not as some armchair quarterback who has dabbled in Biblical scholarship, but as someone who spent several years studying at a Jesuit university and then finished my Bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies at an evangelical university and began an amazing masters in theology program at Fuller Seminary. My failure to complete that Masters degree… well, that’s another story entirely… Let’s just say that it was another choice, that might have led to some interesting problems later on… Getting back to the point, I came to more appreciate that there was a wide assortment of “truths” in all of these varying religious and non-religious points of view and that, for me, it would be arrogant to make some definitive pronouncement on someone else’s experiences or beliefs. As a scholar I learned that the more one digs the more one finds additional questions. We can point in a direction but we usually cannot say what is exactly out there. And that’s not a failure, that’s life. It’s about the exploration not the elusive answers. In fact, this past week, scientists just found an earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of another solar system. When I was teaching elementary kids in the computer lab ten-years ago, scientists had yet to find any planets revolving around any other stars. We knew that they had to be out there, but ten-years ago there still wasn’t any scientific “proof.” That’s how far we’ve come, and how far we’ve yet to go. So, I choose to continue the inward exploration and try to enjoy the journey and not poke holes in anyone else’s attempt to understand themselves and their part in our existence.

So, to borrow from former-pastor-turned-atheist, Jerry DeWitt, I hope that my believing friends had a wonderful Easter weekend and to my non-believing friends all I can say is “chocolate”!

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