the mystery and peace of not knowing

December 23, 2005

I’ve been reading some amazing blog posts lately. I wonder at how different people living in different places having different life experiences manage to have strikingly similar lines of thought, movings of spirit and emotion. Here are a few of the posts that might flesh out what I am talking about:

Questions of heaven (by my great friend Sara Finesilver), and hell, (by her husband Matt), complications of questioning the faith within the church with the witty and thoughtful Jon Anderson, and recently another perspective on Jon’s thoughts presented by fellow UW alum Cory. Then there is Mary’s response to all of this discussion in the form of a prayer. It’s all so interesting, and how I wish I could have been a part of a discussion like this two years ago.

You see, I don’t struggle with basic theological questions like the existence of heaven or hell. I don’t need to know answers about how heaven works. I don’t care whether I will have my own mansion, or live in a gigantic mansion with everyone else, or whether God will be the large, bearded, white grandfatherly figure that I imagined in my youth. What I am stuck on, is the question of everyone else. I am immensely priviliged and have been lucky to grow up in a place where it would have been hard to never encounter God and where I have always had the luxury of good parents, good education, loads of extra-curricular activities to enlighten myself with, etc.

I also know that I use my time badly, I often eat poorly, I am selfish, immature, I crave attention but hate to be put on the spot. So if I am lucky but basically a sinner like everyone else, does that entitle me to something that someone with the same basic human traits (a mix of good and evil) does not deserve? Because person X (just like me, but from another time/country/race/culture) has grown up in the Chinese countryside or next to a Hindu temple in urban India or as a devout Muslim in Saudi Arabia, does that void them from the hopes of salvation?

My answer to this question (back when I was a Campus Crusader) would have been something along the lines of “God is in control, he knows everyone’s hearts and he can speak to those who don’t have the opportunity to hear, but Jesus is the only way to heavan.” I realize that many people still claim a similar (albeit more polished) argument along these lines.

Here’s my problem: I’ve seen China, I’ve traveled in India, and I’m not saying God isn’t in control, but if God was really revealing Christ to these people there would be a lot more Christians in these places. If this was the case then the students that I knew whose parents grew up in the Cultural Revolution when there was no religion to speak of allowed anywhere, would have heard God speak to them and would have passed the knowledge of God down to them. And if God speaks to a person directly about Jesus, once, how is that a fair shot, considering many in America would say it took them years to come to the church, to accept Jesus for who he is and to follow him.

I realize these questions are stemming from a place where my understanding of what it meant to be saved was extremely evangelical, but there is so much in the Bible that taken literally, can be turned into doctrine that engenders fear and hate and justifies terrible things, and on the other hand are the teachings that focus on pure love and acceptance.

When I started dealing with all these doubts, I was totally lost. I really didn’t know what to do. I had surrounded myself almost exclusively with friends who were similar to me in our ways of understanding Christianity, and my spare time was spent almost exclusively involved in church or religious organization. I didn’t know where to go with my questions. I was a member of my church, which meant I had signed a covenant saying I believed these things “til death do us part” and I didn’t feel most of my friends would understand where I was coming from and was pretty sure a few of them would just dismiss my questions or use the biblical arguments I knew so well against me. I was probably wrong about the judgement of some of my friends, but I think I was right that the only answers I would get from the church would be directly out of the Bible, picked out for their choice words that would swiftly kick me back into place.

I am not trying to mock the Bible, but I knew all of those arguments. But what I felt, it was deep in my soul. It’s a feeling that if God really is good, better than anything that exists, He doesn’t create people that will go to hell. He doesn’t create beautiful people with brilliant minds and peaceful spirits who will die and realize that even though they didn’t so much as pass by a Christian church in all their life, would now be spending eternity burning for the crime of ignorance. Maybe the way I see things is too black and white. Maybe I shouldn’t worry about what my inner voice tells me, because of course, it’s sinful, and not from God, right? But other times, when it’s telling me to give money to the church, it’s my conscience, telling me to abide by the rules of the Bible. I realize I sound cynical and bitter, but the thing is, I have had these ideas and feelings for years now, and I’m neither. I’m just thinking about it.

I read a book a while back by Phillip Gulley and James Mulholland, called If Grace is True, Why God Will Save Every Person. This book is not particularly scholarly. It doesn’t provide a Biblical basis for universalism (the idea that everyone will be saved) but it does explain how these authors made a journey toward accepting this idea. They argue from the basis of their experience with God. They write that they had never sinned and turned to God to find his wrath, or his fury. They had never experienced anything from God that didn’t embody love, empathy, forgiveness and patience. If these things are true about God, how can everything change in the afterlife, how can he forgive people anytime in their lives, up to the last minute for a killer on death row, but not accept people who went their whole lives unaware of his son?

These are my questions. I don’t think there are any answers anymore, but I’m increasingly okay with that. Like my friend Sara said, it’s about “learning not to know, to celebrate the mystery, to rejoice in the tensions of the unknown and contradictions of so many things,” can I have an amen for that?


car jamming

December 20, 2005

I’ve really been in the doldrums lately. I guess it’s less like depressed and more like apathy, but I haven’t felt like writing, and that signals to me that my thoughts, emotions and experiences are not clicking into anything meaningful.

Today, on my way to work, I popped in a new live cd from U2’s Vertigo Tour concert in Milan, which I received for joining the U2.com fan club. It was 10 am, I was driving my regular route from I-94 in Milwaukee west toward Waukesha, and Bono was singing the best song ever, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

I have heard that songs hundreds of time, and at any stage I am in life, particularly related to spirituality, it just always rings true.

I have climbed the highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you.

I have run, I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you.

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in her finger tips
It burned like fire
(I was) burning inside her.

I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone.

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colours will bleed into one
Bleed into one.
But yes, I’m still running.

You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame
Oh my shame, you know I believe it.

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

These are words that so many people know by heart, sometimes in their subconscious, just like people know the words to Coldplay’s “Don’t Panic” and Sarah McLachlan’s “Possession,” because they are so ubiquitous. They play in their real and elevator versions in restaurants, stores, random public places, everywhere. But these particular words still hold so much meaning for me, they can never go cliche.

So driving west in my salt and sand-caked car, warm inside the heated bubble, I sang at the top of my lungs, to this song, one of my five favorites in the world, like I have many times before. There’s something about belting out fabulous lyrics with one of the greatest rock stars of all times, in your car. No one hears, and who cares if anyone sees? It makes me feel alive.

And this morning, it was extra-exhilarating. I really needed some stimulation, something to wake up my soul and my emotions more than anything.


thoughts about time

December 18, 2005

I have not felt terribly like writing the last two weeks, as many of you can tell. I’ve been trying to maintain a reasonable level of busy-ness this holiday season, and overall it’s been pretty good, but I just haven’t had the mental energy to write. I have been trying to shop less, minimize the time I spend vulnerable to sales on cute clothes and things I don’t really need for the house. I really want to save more money, just like I really want to go to the gym more often, but somehow it never really happens. There is a part of me that is really lazy. I mean, I’m a hard worker, but there are a lot of things I want to do and feel like I never have time for. Or maybe that’s because my job totally consumes my life? I don’t know. Would anything be different if I had a less stressful job? Or a job where I didn’t have to be so responsible for so many things? I don’t know. I want to spend time writing, taking a class here and there, and still have a decent amount of (the hated word) “balance” to take care of myself, my home, etc. It’s just so hard, and I don’t even have children. When I see mothers in the restaurant carrying, pulling, dragging children with them, it freaks me out. I am not ready for that kind of committment. Even married, I am very independent, and always have been. I can’t imagine having to worry about a child when going about my daily doings. Not that I am particularly considering children, but lately I see more and more women who look my age or younger towing one or two kids. I don’t know where I am going with this post at all, and this lame ending just illustrates how un-blogging my mood is. Alas..


my friend Jenny

December 15, 2005

I got a strange e-mail the other day from my friend of nearly 15 years, Ms. Jennifer Janscha. The e-mail said that she had mistakenly received something that had belonged to me. It was quite mysterious, as Jenny and I had been roommates but that ended two years ago and it was quite odd that our addresses would somehow have gotten crossed now. Anyway, she said she might stop by my restaurant to bring the aforementioned item to me.

Most of you regular readers know that I won the MKE Online weekly blog contest a few weeks ago. No big deal, there was no prize or anything, perhaps just a few new readers and a little recognition.

Well, back to Jenny. She stopped in the other day to bring her the mysterious item that had been sent to her, which happened to be a red and gold trophy, much like the tens of soccer and bowling trophies belonging to my brother and father, respectively. But this trophy was topped with a gold-colored plastic figurine of a cowboy riding a bull, and the plaque at the botton read: “First Place Blog: Way To Tame The Competition – 2005.” Jenny pulls this thing out and says she got it in the mail, and after a few probing questions, she is forced to say “well, I ordered it.”

What a funny girl, who would go online and order a tacky trophy just for kicks and fun for a friend who won an inconsequential blog contest. This is just her style and wacky sense of humor though, and it never ceases to surprise me in the occasional quirky way.


What I need

December 10, 2005

I got this quirky idea from Mary, who got the idea from Marko; (fun new blog) who apparently got it from his friend Claudia. Anyway, it’s kind of fun. Go to Google; and type in your name followed by “needs” and do a search to find out what sort of sentence finishers you will get. It’s a new kind of self-Googling I suppose. Here’s what mine came up with:

  1. …what Laura needs to do is take better care of her own two kids. (Not yet…)
  2. Laura needs help to obtain air transportation.
  3. Laura needs advice on her combi boiler. (What?!)
  4. Laura needs plastic surgery. (I hope it’s not that bad!)
  5. Laura needs to return to the Shriners Childrens…
  6. Laura needs to teach Jenna the proper way to sit with legs crossed. (I think this actually relates to an indiscreet photo of the first family.)
  7. Laura needs to learn the importance of looking after injuries no matter how slight they might seem.
  8. Laura needs a donation of blood stem cells in order to make a complete recovery. (Sad.)
  9. Laura needs to learn a few things. (You think?)
  10. Laura needs more fat, less carbs. (Jury’s still out on this one.)

And that’s ten, that was fun huh?


my old path

December 8, 2005

The pressure’s off, as I just found out I haven’t won the MKE Blog of the Week contest, which is a let-down, but certainly not the end of the world. It’s basically a random popularity contest, although, I admit, it would have been cool to win. But when I checked out the other winners, I didn’t even feel they were exceptional company, so I feel okay about it.

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In my quest to remain the eternal “cool” sister, I took my sister shopping for Christmas today. I can remember more than a few gifted articles of clothing I received from well-meaning relatives over the years that collected significant dust before heading to the neighborhood thrift shop, so this year I offered to shop with my sister and let her pick out some things rather than just take random stabs at what she might like.

There was already an inch of fresh snow on the ground as I made my way to my parents’ house to pick up Kayla. It had been falling lightly since after noon and had not yet created slippery roads and traffic jams, still remaining an element of that picturesque winter beauty. As I drove into my old neighborhood, I took note of “the path,” as I used to frankly call it, something I have not only seen, but biked, walked, skipped and probably skinned my knee on since I was a small child.

Watertown Plank Road runs through Elm Grove, my “hometown” or home suburb, which butts up against the western edge of Milwaukee county. Because of its location, large lots and small-town feel, it’s now a considerably wealthy and desirable suburb. There’s still a little (albeit struggling) main street with a post office, ice cream parlor, one pub, boutique shopping and a few nice restaurants. Up until about five years ago there was an old pharmacy complete with an old-fashioned fountain where we used drink root beer floats or munch on french fries when we were kids. This place had been around many decades before I can remember, and when it closed, although many of its old patrons had long passed away, it still inspired a pang of nostalgia for my comparatively recent youth.

Elm Grove was my playground as a kid. I used to go to a neighborhood day care and the other kids and I would ride our bikes to the nearby Stop & Go (to buy candy bars) or to the Elm Grove Park to go swimming or explore the park. When we were a little older, we’d bike to “the Grove,” meaning the little downtown, to get an ice cream or wander around Sentry foods or just ride around for the sake of riding around. Once we rode behind the Sentry and discovered there was a gravel path that meandered through a little woods behind the local theater and office buildings all the way to the PDQ out on Bluemound Road, the main highway that runs through Brookfield, our larger, more commercialized and typical suburban neighbor to the west.

I know most of Elm Grove like the back of my hand. When someone tears down one of the 1950’s ranches or one of the older cape cods, I notice, and say things like “how can they build that monstrosity on that lot?” I sound, no offense to any of my elders, like an old person, lamenting my bygone youth and how much things have changed so quickly. A new trend in Elm Grove is the practice of the wealthy buying an older, usually unique and quaint home on one of the many large lots lush with big old trees, then tearing down the house and some of the trees to build a mega-house typical of the newer cookie-cutter subdivision houses that litter Brookfield and many neighboring suburbs. I would hate to come home to Elm Grove in 20 years to see that a majority of those older homes that fit into the landscape without seeming intrusive and extravagant would have turned into more big tan two-and-a-half story monstrosities that look remarkably like they came out of a catalog.

I digress, back to my path. As I mentioned before, I was driving in the snow today, and as I turned off Watertown Plank road onto Blue Ridge Boulevard, my old street, I noticed that my path had about an inch of snow on it, and it was yet untouched. It was 3:30 pm, kids were getting out of school. Had this been 15 years ago they would have been walking the path home, heading to their houses or to their friends houses, making snowballs along the way or just kicking their way along the little strip of blacktop that lies between the road and the yards. Elm Grove is actually the kind of place where kids could still reasonably walk to school, to the park, to go get an ice cream in summer. But what I increasingly observe, is that the path seems untouched, until 4 or 5 pm, when a dogwalking middle-aged couple might go out, but the kids, they get rides or take the bus and then, sit down for some snacks and tv, or snacks and computer games, or snacks and Playstation. Whatever it is, I certainly remember my childhood a lot differently.


more blog contest

December 3, 2005

Just a reminder, please vote for me with any and all of your e-mail addresses at the MKE Online site. For some extra entertainment, I got a shout out on the blog of one of my competitors, an apparent food maniac from Milwaukee. If you link here you will have to scroll down two posts until you get to the blog of the week post where he reviews, in his own way, his competition. Again, please take a second and vote for me. Muchas Gracias!

In other news, just below is a pretty new post. More when I get some sleep.