Please Believe

This past week, my seven-year-old daughter asked me if I believed in Santa Claus. Not one of those parents too concerned about scarring my children for life, I told her, “no.”

“But, Mom, [neighbor girl’s name here] said that she got a present last year with a card that was in handwriting that was not her mom’s! Do you believe now?”

“Well, no.”

My four-year-old son chimed in. “[Preschool classmate’s name here] said that Santa came to her house last year, but he was very quiet. Do you believe now?”

“Sorry, no.”

Daughter whispering to son, something like, “if Mom and Dad don’t believe, Santa won’t come to our house!”

Then, aloud in ragged unison, “Please, Mom and Dad, believe in Santa Claus! Please!”

In his book Losing My Religion, William Lobdell says that Pascal’s wager just doesn’t work for him, because he can’t will himself to believe something he simply doesn’t believe. Lobdell says, “it seems to me that to indulge in Pascal’s Wager, you actually have to believe in Christ. The Lord would know if you were faking. I could no longer fake it. It was time to be honest about where I was in my faith.”

Christian apologetics seems to function from two underlying convictions – nonbelievers are either:

a) ignorant, and therefore needing to learn more information, or

b) rebellious, and therefore needing to repent.

There are other ideas, too, like the one I most easily gravitate towards. I can identify with wounded ex-believers, and think that the only thing holding them back from belief is healing and an introduction to the real God, the right God, i.e., my current understanding of God.

A truly difficult thing for believers to do is to simply believe nonbelievers’ explanations of their personal faith stories. When Lobdell, and others like John Marks (Reasons to Believe), tell us that they tried, they really tried, to hold on to their faith in Jesus, even their faith in God, and lost it in spite of their knowledge, their desire, and all – it is often incredibly difficult for believers to take that simple explanation and let it be.

It’s ironic that people who treasure a belief in the unseen can have such a difficult time believing what is plainly spoken to them. I know from personal experience that with enough practice believing “impossible” things, it becomes easier to discount obvious things, including the weight of doubt and unbelief going on inside one’s own self.

What good is a faith that feels compelled to ignore or explain away the disbelief it encounters in others and oneself? I think that sort of faith is rightly called blind faith. What I’m after is a wide-eyed, open-eared, expectant sort of belief that takes for granted that the world is bigger than me, that other people have wisdom I don’t, that if I feel my belief system is threatened by someone telling me the truth, then it’s time to do some reworking with that belief system.

Which reminds me of another post I promised recently and have not yet delivered – thoughts from The Myth of Certainty. That would be a counterbalance of sorts to this post. Belief systems are never complete, are always needing reworking, and yet – to gain some traction, one must take a point of view from time to time.

My point of view at this moment is that I have written enough and I need not bother with a tidy conclusion. Feel free to write your own conclusion as a comment!

Maybe Not

Here is a new song, and the first one we’ve recorded as a video and posted on Youtube.

Lyrics –

Maybe Not
copyright 2010 Julia Bloom

My life is a movie edited for TV, seething under docile mediocrity, and if you paint pictures better take a good look, if you like stories this would make a good book. Or not, maybe not.

I grew up in the back seat of the family Ford. My daddy was a preacher traveling for the Lord. My momma smiled sweetly and dressed us up well. We labored in the vineyards keeping sinners out of hell. Or not, maybe not.

I’ve gazed at stars until they burned my eyes, drunk living water till my throat was dry.

I had a hundred crushes but I never caught one, I had a couple boyfriends and we had a little fun, I had a couple babies with the man who calls me wife. We’ve been together twenty years, we’re bonded now for life. Or not, maybe not.

Sometimes under my feet I think I feel the world spin round. Is each day going faster now or am I slowing down? Once when I was concentrating, unafraid to see, speeding past myself I saw a lively younger me. Or not, maybe not.

I’ve kissed the hand that held me in my place, I’ve wiped each wisp of wonder from my face.

Every time I think of getting something off my chest, my barricaded broken heart cries, “citizen’s arrest!” I never can remember why I left the womb. I maybe lost my keys, I’ll maybe find them in the tomb. Or not, maybe not.

I used to paint pictures when I was a little girl. I used to write stories that could echo round the world. The colors are all faded now, the pencil marks erased – those scribbles of my childhood were nothing but a waste. Or not, maybe not.

I’ve lain awake just waiting for a dream. I’ve held my tongue until I want to scream. I’ve kissed the hand that held me in my place. I’ve wiped each wisp of wonder from my face. I’ve gazed at stars until they burned my eyes, drunk living water till my throat was dry.

Or not. Maybe not. Or not, maybe not.

The Good, the Bad, and the Younglings

Danny DeVito made a movie in 1996 called Matilda, based on a book of the same name by Roald Dahl. A copy of this movie wound up in the bargain bin at a local video store, where my mother was browsing for something to entertain her grandkids so we adults could spend an evening in conversation which included complete sentences. My six-year-old daughter Luthien told me later about the movie and how much she liked it. Her favorite parts, which she described repeatedly, sounded lame to my adult sensibilities.

Typical kids’ story, I thought. Poor little child misunderstood by her parents (at least not orphaned like so much of children’s literature). People are either mean or nice, and she has some sort of magical powers to help her through her ordeals.

A week later when we took the kids to my parents’ house for a movie night, and Luthien asked to see Matilda again, I groaned and asked if we could please see something everyone would enjoy, not just the kids. But, poor misunderstood-by-my-parents me*, I was outvoted. On with the show.

Maybe it helped to have my enthusiastic fresh-faced daughter at my side, and her excessively giggly little brother primed to let loose at all the silly parts. I’m sure Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman playing the outlandish parents helped too. Whatever it was, it turned out to be a fun movie to watch together with my kids. I gave my grown-up critic the night off and joined with my kids in relieved laughter when the victorious school children chased away their mean principal once and for all, hurling the contents of their lunch bags like a G-rated mob.

Later, when the grown-up critic came back from her night out and the kids were asleep, Nathan and I had a conversation (which included complete sentences).

“That movie bothered me,” Nathan began. “All those flat characters – the perfectly mean principal, the perfectly good teacher, named Miss Honey even?! Where’s the redemptive value in a story like that?”

Both of us having only in adulthood discovered subtlety (I love Jodi’s post about this), Nathan and I appreciate stories that humanize people. We remind ourselves and our children almost daily that there are no “bad” people and no “good” people – that every person is a complex being marbled with good and evil.

Classic children’s literature, however, does not often concur. Many of these stories tell about good people (who are usually underdogs and often children) winning by destroying bad people. We see it often in today’s movies for kids too. Up, which was a fun story idea and colorful and interesting to watch, disappointed us for the same reason. The bad guy, apparently, had to go.

Not all children’s stories conform to this standard, but in those that take the conflict of good versus evil as their theme, good and evil are often personified and therefore become polarized characters. Therefore the good character must destroy the bad character for good to triumph over evil. In a more complex story, the good character may do bad things (like Edmund in the Narnia chronicles), but ultimately that character will exhibit his/her inherent goodness through repentance. If there is character development, it will most likely be the good characters who get developed, and not the bad.

At least, that is the explanation I came up with when Nathan and I had this conversation and I tried to understand why children’s stories are not often redemptive.

No expert on childhood psychology (of which, as the parent of small children, I am more painfully aware than ever), I’m pretty sure I’ve heard somewhere that children are concrete thinkers; and I think this means that subtlety just isn’t something they get. So, maybe these stories help to cement into their concrete thinking the persistent human belief that no matter the odds, good will overcome evil in the end.

And maybe subtlety is something to be gained through maturity, interacting with the world, listening and observing others. Maybe the understanding that every person – and every situation – is complex and has something beautiful as well as something ugly or dangerous or evil in it can only come through experience, cannot be transferred through external teaching.

Taking this viewpoint, I think that Avatar should be classified as a children’s story (a highly interesting, predictably violent and visually stunning one) while Star Wars is for mature viewers.

Then again, even in Star Wars, the bad guy known as the Emperor never gets redemption. And maybe Darth Vader would just be classified as a good guy doing excessively bad things for an excessive amount of time until he repents and gets to be immortalized as good.

I dunno. It just feels deeply right and true to me when, as the Doctor triumphantly said in one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes, “Just this once, everybody lives!”

*Uh, Mom . . . Dad . . . my tongue is firmly in my cheek here. (Can’t afford to lose my biggest fans!)

Label and Slander

I answered four questions over the phone recently, for a political survey. Question 1: Do you support domestic drilling for oil? My answer: No. Question 2: Do you consider yourself pro-life or pro-choice? My answer: pro-life. Question 3: Do you believe the current economic crisis would be better handled by cutting spending or raising taxes? My answer: cutting spending. Question 4: Do you consider yourself more in alignment with Democrats or Republicans? My answer: Democrats.

But I don’t exactly sound like a Democrat. Better get my ducks in a row and toe the line. Except I don’t want to be a Democrat. Or a Republican.

Labels get us stuck. If I know that you are an “evangelical Christian,” whatever I have learned to attach to that label gets stuck to you too. Therefore in my unfiltered thoughts you probably are a political conservative and an anti-intellectual, have rather poor taste in music and books, and scoff at or at least feel suspicious of efforts towards care of the earth and social justice.

I know better, of course, but my familiarity with evangelicalism (having spent many years under that label) has bred contempt. It’s become all too easy for me to remember well my disagreements with the subculture of my youth and ignore the many digressions from these negative stereotypes.

Then, to escape the negative side of the “evangelical” label, I want to stick a new label on me. “Liberal” sounds good, or maybe “Democrat,” though I want to be more radical than that, so maybe “revolutionary,” but that can be a bit off-putting so maybe I’ll go for “postmodern” because that’s more open to interpretation, but I also hate sounding too uppity, want to have at least a touch of “down-to-earth”-ness, so . . .

Off I go searching for the perfect label, unthinkingly assuming that there is a platform or agenda out there that perfectly suits me, a pre-fab perspective on life where I will be right at home. Once I’ve chosen my new label, I will all-too-quickly stop thinking things through on my own terms and begin making intellectual excuses to accept everything that goes along with my new label. I’ll dive into the subculture under the label, suck up the energy and life, friendship and inspiration I need, but then after a while, familiarity will again begin to breed contempt, as I reach a threshold of living inconsistently with my soul, that deep inner self that Parker Palmer calls a shy, wild creature.

A friend recently told me she is finished with labels, and I’m beginning to feel I quite agree. Classify this – I homeschool my children; think evolution is the best explanation for the origin of the species; believe God is the beginning and the end of everything and love Jesus who is God with us and the rightful ruler of the universe; think it’s ludicrous that my nation’s constitution still does not contain an Equal Rights Amendment; oppose abortion; oppose the death penalty; oppose war for any reason; oppose killing or oppressing animals for food and will gratefully eat a burger if you are sharing it with me; dream of a world without gasoline-powered transportation and love motorcycle rides; find it shocking that our ‘superpower’ nation can build superhighways and start wars it hasn’t budgeted for but still hasn’t made health care a universal right for its citizens; think my nation’s government is bloated, corrupt and ineffective; denounce blind faith and am attempting to authentically live in the question.

In Labelese, I may be something like a Christian agnostic pro-life feminist environmentalist libertarian Democrat evolutionist conservative vegan freegan . . . and that’s a silly mouthful, so instead, call me human and let’s talk over coffee. My list above is a sampling of the opinions I currently hold, but they are like rocks in a riverbed, continually being reshaped by the flow of thoughts, conversations, information and experiences running over them. It’s my own riverbed, completely unique and just too sloppy with life to keep any label stuck to it.