Sunday, March 06, 2011

MY JOURNEY IN PLAIN ENGLISH

Someone whom I've grown to love and who sometimes comments on this blog asked if I would write about my journey to my belief in God. I'm going to but it will be without a lot of the language usually associated with a testimony. I'm afraid a lot of the Christian lingo we use today has become a coded language for many and may, in fact, hinder communication on a common level.

Koine Greek was the language chosen by God with which to communicate His word that we call the Bible. [The New Testament] Koine simply means "common." It was invented by Alexander the Great to solve a language problem among the soldiers of the various nations he had conquered. It was a single language all were taught to understand. A perfect tool with which to communicate. So I'm going to use a koine plain English to communicate my journey. I do apologize at the outset for it's length.

I remember hearing someone say [Jack Crabtree of the McKenzie Study Center] that all of us may function to some degree with what could be called a “pre-understanding." That simply means, instead of having to invent a whole new theory of reality to explain an experience every time we encounter something new, we all seem prone [Designed perhaps?] to process our knowing and understanding of all new experiences in the light of our current theory of reality whatever that may be. No matter how meager our experience may be. [One soon discovers this does not allow much ability to grasp new realities or ideas as they present themselves, but it's all we've got.]

For example, a baby can learn to swim even at only a few months old. Their pre-understanding is of water, albeit basically intuitive for obvious reasons, and it's feeling to them even if there is only a very minimal physical and psychologically understanding about it all. But it’s the only context they have for reality at the moment and no one can deny they do learn easily at a young age how to swim.

In a totally different vein by way of illustration, I know a woman who grew up in a childhood where the ridiculous concept that African-Americans [Known as Blacks or Negroes then] were not thought of as human by her grandfather. [He was a major figure in her life.] He held them to be only a higher class of animal life but something less than a human being. When she was personally first around African-Americans it was a frightful experience as you can imagine. She generally processed her experience with them from her pre-understanding and it wasn’t a pleasant or easy thing to learn to think differently about them with that kind of filter. But the true and correct understanding did ultimately come. She told me that it was when she processed the new information with an "awakening" that she says took her totally by surprise. [More on this awakening later.]

My point is simply that perhaps it is true that we all start with a pre-understanding of some kind in the processing of our reality. Which is, of course, the only basis we have for our belief system along the way. So we find ourselves with an inability to accept as real anything except what we understand within the framework of that reality unless an "awakening" really does take place. That's the concept I will use to tell my journey.

I was born into a family of origin where alcohol was the drug of choice. It ruled in more ways than I can explain. My parents were poor people who met and married in a cotton patch [literally] in Southwestern Oklahoma when she was fourteen and he was seventeen. To that union came the birth of four children. Two girls and two boys. I was the third with the two girls older by five and seven years and a brother two years younger. My oldest sister is fifteen years younger than my mother.

My earliest memories of our family were of quarrels and anger from the top down. This is not to say there were no good times. It is simply an admission that the bad times hurt so deeply that the memory of the good ones had to be drudged up in my later life to balance out my own anger and bring some personal stability to life as I know it. Will it surprise anyone to find out that my personal anger dominated my life early on to a degree that most people would not believe. I, to this day, choose to not relate to angry people because of that early childhood and my own struggles with it.

In this context [Which was my own pre-understanding.] I often heard of God and read the things in the bible and when I did they were understood in a manner unsuited for reality much as that earlier illustration of the girl and her thinking of African-Americans. “Jesus Christ” was the favorite phrase of profanity used not by my parents as much as by the extended family of origin members. I heard of “God” often but it was usually immediately followed with a “damn.” "Christian" was defined as a goody two-shoes kind of acting that was far from where we were as a family.

I had heard and read many fairy tales at the time as do all kids I’m sure. Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White and her dopy dwarfs. [Or maybe one was just named dopy!] So when I heard of a guy named Jonah and a big fish that swallowed him I had no problem with it. Fairy tales happen. The rest of the bible was to me at the time not much more than a “spook book” because it talked about “ghosts” and one of them was even named “holy.” Well, you see my pre-understanding filter.

Then there came to be, for the lack of a better term for the purpose of this writing, an “awakening” in my life. I’m not sure how to describe it otherwise without some “christianese” language that I’m trying hard to avoid using at the moment. [That's synonymous with “legalese” which is defined as “the formal and technical language of legal documents that is often hard to understand.”] It might be best to associate "awakening" with another word, namely, epiphany. [A sudden striking understanding of something] But it truly was an "awakening" for me personally.

I’ve often thought how we all come to those awakenings or epiphanies at various times in our lives. It may be much as a girl who thinks of a boy as someone who pulls her hair and disgustingly picks his nose until one day she “awakens” to boys in a new way. The same is true of boys discovering girls of course. Who can honestly say when or how it arrives or happens? But "awakenings" do come.

What precipitated this awakening in me, as I think about it, was perhaps the marriage of my older sister at age seventeen to a young man who was unlike anyone I'd ever known. He was manly but different. He was intelligent, kind, and even thoughtful of others. He was nobody's fool and...he believed that God was real. What happened to me perhaps started as hero worship, but it quickly went far beyond that.

It was at that time that I began to discover something of God in a way that was new information to me which I could not fully understand. Yet I could not just dismiss it by interpreting it with my pre-understanding filter. There was no way that what I was hearing about faith and trust could be understood and accepted by a young angry thirteen year old who was sure everyone was going to wind up hurting him eventually. Everybody always had. But something was happening to me that was new, real, personal, and totally inexplicable and it was in regard to this God who was more than a "damn" and it included the message of the bible. It truly was an"awakening" moment for me.

At the time, I didn’t want and refused to think of God as a Father. I had one that I struggled with and I didn’t need or want another. But somehow I began to think of Him as real. Don’t ask me how!! I don’t know. I awakened to it. I can now years later give some answers as to how it happened, [Theologically] but it would involve language [That legalese] about things that most people wouldn’t relate to and which is not necessary for a true awakening towards God to take place in anyone. I’ll leave it there for the moment.

I even had an awakening toward Jesus Christ. He became something more than just a profane word. I’d always thought of Him as a nice guy who really liked doing good but tragically wound up killed between two guys who must have been messed up bad. But He was nothing more than that to me. That there was more to it than that had not occurred to me and wouldn’t have with my pre-understanding.

When this awakening first came I began to see that there was something at work in what He did on that Cross that involved me and how He felt about me. Call it silly, childish, infantile or whatever you choose. I called it that too for a long time. But I truly had an awakening to Him. Those encounters had to be examined and thought about with some kind of understanding for me to be honest and real about myself and my pre-understanding just didn't seem to do it. But I was seeing things differently.

I even began to understand some parts of the bible [Not all of it] in a way I hadn’t before. I saw something wrong in people that went beyond the anger and alcohol that had characterized my family of origin. I intuitively knew I was part of the problem as well. I didn't know or understand what I read in the bible about the word "sin" theologically then, but somehow it was known to me in a fashion I'd not experienced before and it was personal in nature.

I saw Jesus as God’s Son who was dealing with this human problem I'd come to recognize as real and that blew my mind. No way. Boy did it seem screwy at the time. It still does to some degree but my later experiences and understanding have helped me overcome my pre-understanding reality and a whole new way of seeing things has developed. My reality was truly expanded in ways that were beyond my experience and even my full understanding.

To bottom line it, a new kind of relationship had come about when I admitted my acceptance of that reality that was as strange as anything I’d ever known. Remember, this was all contrary to my pre-understanding and was not simply a logical process. It was truly the result of some kind of awakening for me that seemed incomprehensible at first. I didn’t even think it was real at the time. I laughed and told myself I’d get over it. I didn’t.

Amazingly, my understanding has grown to some degree. I still enjoy a good fairy tale [fiction] and love science, Biology, astronomy, history, all of which hold a fascination for me and even politics is a hoot. But none of it discourages or disqualifies the information and that experience I now have come to with regards to the scripture and the Author of it all and have been able to process to an extent.

I am quite happy to admit that I lack understanding in every arena of life whether it is the physical, psychological, emotional, or even the spiritual dimension. But my understanding is growing. I’m even convinced my present understanding will be stretched with more awakenings that could involve the nature of the eternal before it is all over and done.

Right now some people may have a pre-understanding that will only permit them to say, “no way.” My pre-understanding was that too. But this "awakening" has brought a new reality that has been enlarged considerably and will not allow me to write off the possibility there will be more.

I’ve simply had too many awakenings to doubt there are more to come.

Paul B.

16 comments:

Bob Cleveland said...

This is really fascinating .. the stark difference in our stories, where the frame of reference is a Holy, unchangeable, omnipotent God, speak to a personal, individual, intimate God, as illogical as that might seem.

Mom & Dad had sent me to VBS. I got worried about dying, and Dad reminded me of what I'd heard there .. if you believe in Jesus, you go to heaven when you die. I believed it when he said it, and that's where my faith journey started. From a position of believing it all before I knew much at all.

Amazing. Simply amazing.

Paul Burleson said...

Bob,

It may be as simple as the "snowflake" thing. No two are alike.

traveller said...

Thanks for sharing this. I like your use of the word "awakening". It may be the best word to use because, as you state, awakening is a continuous process. One of the great disservices we evangelicals have done to the understanding of what it means to follow Jesus is to convey it as a one time event. I am afraid that far too many people never have additional awakenings.

Paul Burleson said...

Traveller,

I hadn't really thought about that, but, I do think that I've walked IN that awakening and as they come I continue to walk in each one. I DO agree so completely that that it isn't a one time event. It is a way of life.

Thanks for your comment.

Thy Peace said...

Paul, thanks for the post. Very illuminating. Your posts give me great hope in understanding my own struggles.

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU so much for this sharing, Paul.

Christiane

Aussie John said...

Paul,

Thank you for spending the time to share this!

There have been things you have written in the past where I have been caused to mention commonality, but not identical, with my own life. This story is no exception.

I'm glad there is no jargon. When I read a testimony filled with stained glass language, I'm always left with lingering questions and doubts.

"awakenings" is also a word I understand, and 60 years of church life haven't stopped them from being important to my understanding of the life of religious fiction I entered into at a young age.

You're so right about the, "...new reality that has been enlarged considerably and will not allow me to write off the possibility there will be more."

I'm with you there, and have no doubt about the "more to come"!

Anonymous said...

I was very moved by BOB CLEVELAND'S comment of his faith as a child:

" . . . if you believe in Jesus, you go to heaven when you die. I believed it when he said it, and that's where my faith journey started. From a position of believing it all before I knew much at all."

Bob's words reminded me of this:

"To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible." Thomas Aquinas

Christiane

Paul Burleson said...

All,

I'm away in Wichita Falls Tx in a bible conf & will be limited in my response until Wednesday. I've no computer except my I-Phone. I'm able to read but my comments take forever. Continue to comment and I'll join in then.

Paul

Mrs. Austin said...

Christiane-
"To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible." Thomas Aquinas

I have heard this quote a hundred times.

This is my husbands response to that quote, "For those who believe without evidence or proof, they are delusional... for those who do not believe... they are called "skeptical" and evidence and proof that does not exist obviously cannot prevail..." I agree with his statement.

Paul-

Thank you so much for sharing! :) Being in an alcohol, negative, and anger filled house can be hard for a young child. I will never know what it was like to grow up in a home like that.

Do you think that because your home was so destructive that that was really the "awakening" you felt? Wanting to escape the negative and find a positive? And your brother-in-law, who you looked up to, had a religion that could do that for you. At least find a positive in the negative situation.

You mentioned that the word sin started to resonate with you and helped you understand the dysfunction of your home. Perhaps your home life was more of the influence rather than God per say.

I guess what I am trying to say is that if your house was filled with love and laughter and scholarly debates would you still have sought/had a Christian "awakening?"

I know that question is unknowable and I do not want to take away from what experience you did have. More of just a thought.

Thank you for being so open. And for letting me be so open as well. If I ever say something that crosses the line please let me know. My intention is to simply start a discussion not a war.

<3, Mrs. Austin

Paul Burleson said...

Mrs Austin,

Now that's what I'm talking about. You have responded with the attitude and spirit that makes communication possible instead of simply arguing or debating. Good for you!!

I would say the idea that a home like mine could have CAUSED my kind of experience might possibily be a fact were it demonstrable it did it with regularity. But It isn't. It has historically been seen that it is more likely to produce adults who continue to be angry and even produce worse actions than can be imagined.

It has also been true that, for many, the idea of having "faith" in God is, in fact, associated with being "delusional." But, while I am capable of being delusional, I don't think that I am of course. ;-)

I'm sure however, I'd not be able to satisfy anyone's assessment of me and my belief system if they genuinely BELIEVE [have faith]] that I am, in fact, delusional. [Smile again]

Seriously though, let me point to what just one scientist, who I think would have to be thought of as one inside the world of sanity, has to say.

Frank Tiple said,,,, "When I began my career as a cosmologist some twenty years ago, I was a convinced atheist. I never in my wildest dreams imagined that one day I would be writing a book purporting to show that the central claims of Judeo-Christian theology are in fact true, that these claims are straightforward deductions of the laws of physics as we now understand them. I have been forced into these conclusions by the inexorable logic of my own special branch of physics."

[Frank Tipler, Professor of Mathematical Physics, has actually converted to Christianity, hence his latest book, The Physics Of Christianity.]

I would not say Dr. Tipler came to faith in God as I'm defining it BECAUSE of his study. I could find someone much like him intellectually that, perhaps, never changed their mind or even lost their mind and became delusional I'm sure. It does show, however, that no single simple statement can be taken as complete reality in any disagreement about things I would think.

Of course the talking could go on forever on both side of Atheism and a belief in God. My personal message goes beyond just that as you well know. But it is always good to speak with someone who is attempting to think through things. You are to be commended for doing so in my books.

Rodney Sprayberry said...

Paul you wrote, "Of course the talking could go on forever on both side of Atheism and a belief in God."

I think that is an important thing to remember.

I was reading through "The Language of God" again by Francis Collins and came across a quote by Stephen Jay Gould (well known evolutionary biologist and agnostic)who once chastises Richard Dawkins (evolutionary biologist, atheist and author of "The God Delusion)view of "evolutionary atheism"

"To say it for the umpteenth millionth time: Science cannot by it legitimate methods adjudicate the issue of God's possible superintendence nature. We neither affirm nor deny it; we simply cannot comment on it as scientists.

If some of our crowd have made untoward statements claiming that Darwinism disproves God, then I will find my third grade teacher Mrs McIkerney and have their knuckles rapped!

Science can only work with naturalistic explanations; It can neither confirm nor deny other types of actors (like God) in other spheres (like the moral realm)!"

Gould then offer examples from the "simple empirics of the last 100 years" In other words, he lists scientists from both sides of the argument. The continues...

"Either half my colleagues are enormously stupid or else the science of Darwinism is fully compatible with conventional religious beliefs and equally compatible with atheism."

"So those who choose to be atheists must find some other basis for taking that position. Evolution won't do."

Rodney Sprayberry said...

Dawkins responds to Gould's point of view with a little truth of his own.

"It is completely unrealistic to claim, as Gould and many others do, that religion keeps itself away from science's turf, restricting itself to morals and values. A universe with a supernatural presence would be a fundamentally and qualitatively different kind of universe from one without. The difference is, inescapably, a scientific difference. Religions make existence claims, and this means scientific claims."

Paul Burleson said...

Rodney,

Great comment material. Thanks.

I just finished a meeting at first Baptist Wichita Falls Tex and had a wonderful time there. I'm looking forward to my meeting with you guys next month.

Hope no one minds the personal note to Rodney here!

Rodney Sprayberry said...

I, too, and looking forward to you being with us.

Paul Burleson said...

All,

I'm getting ready to post another post. But I had to say thanks to all who participated in this discussion.

I guess we all have to agree that there is no evidential proof that could be considered absolute scientifically either that God exists or that God does not exist. All natural reality would have to be known and experienced for that to happen.

So His non-existence has to be argued on a philosophical basis [Logic] and I understand that. My argument for His existence is from experience. But in the end both beliefs are held on the basis of some kind of faith.

So we wind up with a variety of classifications for the arguments. Theism and Atheism are positions of belief or lack of belief in God, while Gnosticism and Agnosticism are positions of knowledge or lack of knowledge concerning God.

We even have Ignosticism which accepts god as a concept but Apatheism says who cares? He’s not of a practical importance anyway. Philosophically we could debate for forever. People have in fact.

Blaise Pascal may have been on to something when he said..” Even though the existence of God cannot be determined through reason, a person should "wager" as though God exists.”

I guess I’ll just have leave it there for now as far as debates on His existence are concerned .

Our message as Christians goes far beyond His existence and is based on faith that He has communicated that. It goes to the whole problem of man and what we BELIEVE to be His plan in Christ for redemption. I'm sure we'll keep making that message our top priority.