Lately I've been rethinking what feels like everything. From religion and long-held personal philosophies to even just the way I spend 15 free minutes in my day, every aspect of my life is getting the anxiety treatment—I'm over-analyzing it all.
All I can say is thank God for the conversations I've been able to have this week. Yesterday I got to clear up a misunderstanding with someone who hated me and this morning I spoke at length with a friend who's been where I am now in my career and knows the misery.
All week long, too, I've been hashing out this new idea I'm working on with a buddy in text messages. The back-and-forth has helped me clarify and refine my view, and he brought up points I would have never considered.
So let me lay it all out for you, if you're interested. One thing I've been thinking about all week is about perspectives. I've decided I don't really care for your institutions, for your sacred texts, for your governing bodies, or for your TED Talks. I'm interested in your perspective.
I want to be someone who never discredits the perspective of another, someone who thinks perspectivally. I prefer that to the term 'open-minded' because, while I'll certainly take your perspective into account, at the end of the day I have to live with my conscience, you don't. Your perspective may guide my thinking but my decisions in the end are my own.
My religion if you could call it that is Jesus' words and my own conscience. Right now that's all I'm interested in when it comes to church or to religiosity. Jesus taught kindness, love, and self-sacrifice. He taught simplicity. He criticized the religious establishment and the moral majority of his time, the Pharisees. What would he say about Christianity today?
I love what the earliest Baptists said in their first charter, the London Baptist Confession:
"God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word, or not contained in it.
So that to believe such doctrines, or obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also."
Absolute and blind obedience is what today's church has come to expect of its people. Where we once elevated the conscience and trusted the spirit inside ourselves as a guide, we now submit to rules and authorities not found in Jesus' words and have grown skeptical of or oblivious to the conscience.
I believe that this is a byproduct of what's happened in our wider culture over the last 200 years or so. With the rise of empiricism, vitalism, and positivism, we've seen a collective cultural downplay of spiritual things and of the need for a soul and an outright rejection of the dominion and sovereignty of the human experience and human consciousness.
I think we need to become human again and we need to learn to value our humanity again. I think that a healthy view of science and of technology will require some discussion of the transcendental and experiential in the future.
Without a consciousness, an awareness, we'll become zombies under the influence of social media, which has become robotic and cruel already. Social media is shaping up to be social experimentation and social exploitation today. The bots are using us. The answer is heart-talk, it's a good long conversation about what makes humanity a dignified position.
In Acts 15, the earliest church members are making up the rules to their new church and they said, "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: Abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things."
Two things stand out to me. First, the earliest churches only had four rules. Four rules! If we eat the temple food it sets a bad example, it makes us look like we're benefitting from the pagan sacrifices to gods we don't believe in.
We should avoid bloody foods—that's really just for health reasons. Strangled animals? That's a weird one. Wouldn't be a church without at least one weird rule. And then don't sleep around. Common sense, right?
More than that, what stands out to me is that phrase, "it seemed good to us." It seemed good to us. The church loves to quote the verse that says, "There's a way that seems right to a man but in the end it leads to destruction." I don't know where that verse is located but I've heard it so many times it's drilled in my head.
We use that verse, "a way that seems right to a man," to teach that you should never trust your gut. You should never go with what seems right, feels right. You should be submitting to your pastor and your elders and your bible and your mom and dad and this authority and that authority, because the way that "seems right" leads to destruction.
But the early church said, "it seemed good to us" to lay down just a few basic ground rules. Are they saying that if you don't follow these four rules you'll get kicked out of the church or disciplined by the presbytery or you'll go straight to Hell? Nope. They're just saying, "it seemed good to us" to have some rules.
It seems good to the rec center not to allow running around the pool. The floor is slick and you could fall and bust your head open. That's a liability. It seemed good to your parents not to let you eat seven pop-tarts this morning. You'd throw up. These aren't "commandments" with universal, apocalyptic implications. They're just ground rules. Common sense stuff.
The conscience is the place from which we determine what "seems good." And on all matters pertaining to our own lives, the conscience is king. I believe Jesus was the greatest teacher who ever lived and I believe that he really was God in the flesh, that he really did raise up from the dead. That's why I read his words and follow them.
But if Jesus didn't speak to it—which you know Jesus didn't speak to a lot of issues—then I leave it up to my conscience to decide what "seems good."
Jesus only ever gave us one commandment. It was to love God and love your neighbor, which sounds like two commandments but then later he said that loving your neighbor is in itself an act of loving God. Jesus' simple message of radical love changed the world. But it's since been taken and perverted by people pushing their own agendas. Mostly shameless cash-grabs.
The ancient Greeks had this idea of visceral beliefs, of the beliefs you hold to your very core, from the seat of your emotions. If we were to cut you open, what would spill out? What do you believe in the trenches? How do you live when no one is watching? That's your perspective. That's what "seems good" to you.
I don't care about your religion. I don't care about your how all your beliefs are arranged in your head. Don't recite me the bullet points you learned in Sunday School. I don't want to watch your favorite YouTube videos or read your favorite books.
Neither am I interested in the institutions or authorities to which you submit. I want to know your perspective. If your perspective includes something that you learned at church, that's great, but I'm interested in how it affects your day-to-day life.
We don't yell our individual grocery lists at one another, we talk about we've been fed. So instead of the never-ending philosophical debates, let's talk about how you and I are actually living. Let's talk perspectives. Let's talk what "seems good."
To that end, I'm no longer interested in calling myself a Christian or a Baptist or an Evangelical or whatever—those terms carry way too much baggage. I'm about Jesus and my conscience. What could be more simple than that? What could be more loving? more world-changing?
Jesus had a three year ministry and we're still talking about it 2,000 years later. How long has your church been around? All the First Baptist Whatevers of the world that are 100+ years old—what have you accomplished in the last three short years? Was it world-changing?
Another thing I've been giving a lot of thought lately is, like, what do I do? Why is it so frustrating to come up with a Twitter bio that perfectly sums up who I am? I see "Billy Greatguy: Doctor and lawyer at the Business Factory. Father, son, husband to five kids." What might mine say? What seven words sum up my identity?
There aren't just seven things, just ten things, just twenty things that make up who I am. I'm a complicated dude. I'm a 28-year woven tapestry of interests and issues, passions and pains and missions and mindsets and worldviews and wishes and anxieties and virtues and hobbies and career choices—I wear many, many hats.
I applied for a move within my company today and they asked for my resumé, which I hadn't updated since they hired me six years ago. I went to update it but just sat and stared at it for like an hour. Finally I wrote the same thoughtless, generic bullshit that everyone puts on their resumés. They'll probably think I downloaded a sample one from the internet.
The fact is, I'm a lot of things, good and bad. I can't be tied down. I can't be held to one thing. That's what a friend and I talked about this morning. He actually left a high-paying, full-time job in the career field he loves, the field for which he obtained a Master's degree, and he's now working part-time building furniture.
His work pays the bills and allows him the freedom to live a creative lifestyle, whereas the career he thought he always wanted only imprisoned and exhausted him. Oh, how quickly something you once took pride in turns to something you dread.
I should be thankful I'm not having to job-hunt. I should be grateful to have employment, and that it's a moderately enjoyable job. So many people are unemployed, and so many more are just miserable. I'm just burnt out and ready for a change of pace. If I stay at this company I'll become one of those guys who has a heart-attack at 37.
Here's another thing I've been thinking about a lot lately. It's this idea of becoming human, of honoring what it means to be human, of living with a sort of consciousness or awareness or agency that others have willfully surrendered. Or of belief in the soul of man when so few people believe we're more than matter. I wrote about this idea here.
Maybe all of these things that seem so up in the air will soon be grounded. Maybe these thoughts are shaping me in a good way. Maybe it's just good to be thinking at all—does my awareness count for something? Thank God for great conversation and supportive friends in this weird, weird time of my life.