Living with Questionsby Dale Fincher
Living with Questions addresses tough theological questions that students ask and adults rarely answer fully. Philosopher, storyteller, and popular campus speaker, Dale Fincher addresses The Questions-a series of seven core, life-defining questions asked by high school and college students across the country-in a style that is personal and imaginative. See more details below
Living with Questions addresses tough theological questions that students ask and adults rarely answer fully. Philosopher, storyteller, and popular campus speaker, Dale Fincher addresses The Questions-a series of seven core, life-defining questions asked by high school and college students across the country-in a style that is personal and imaginative.
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Living with Questions
By Dale Fincher
ZondervanCopyright © 2007 Charles Dale Fincher
All right reserved.
Chapter OneQUESTION 1
DOES WHAT I THINK REALLY MATTER?
THE WORLDS WE MAKE
PROTECTING YOUR VILLAGE FROM THE DRAGON IS WAY MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR JOB.
That sentence was printed on a Mountain Dew banner that hung outside the Electronic Entertainment Expo, also known as "E3," in Los Angeles.
I laughed. What does THAT have to do with Mountain Dew? I thought. And who really needs an excuse to play another video game?
The kinds of gamers who attend E3 log dozens of hours every week to build up their massive, multiplayer online characters. Others enjoy the shorter rounds in first-person shooters (my personal favorite). And if they aren't shooting Nazis or practicing wizardry, then they're coordinating a simulated family (The Sims) or moving their dancing feet in sync with directional arrows (Dance Dance Revolution) or creating an alternative life (Second Life or Eve). For many, video gaming is a lot more fulfilling than going to school, working an after-school job, spending time with family, or even obeying the law.
This last one became evident during the crime spree at the release of PlayStation3, which included three UPS workers who stole more than $19,000 worth of the systems during shipment.
Yet what happens when I'm more into my video games than my job? Who'll make the money I need to support my hobby? Or what happens when my wife feels like I love my machine more than I love her? How do I remember it's just a game?
Keep this video-game world in the back of your mind, and let's get a bird's eye view of the kinds of worlds we live in.
Besides video games, humans have created worlds or diversions as part of everyday life-diversions their creators hope will make them feel important, valuable, or perceived as being aware. Or people may turn to even deeper diversions that help them dodge life because they don't have any hope or because they have a need for belonging, security, or love.
Our motivations often reveal if something is just a diversion. And the opportunity for diversion is everywhere. The following are just a few of them:
DIVERSION #1: MONEY
Many people are controlled by the diversion of making money. To them, money means more spending power.
Others pursue money because it provides material power, and they believe that's true security because it prevents others from taking advantage of them.
Money also helps pretenders believe they're more important than and superior to others.
What motivates the kind of career we want? Is it the amount of money it provides? Or does the job we want match our best abilities?
DIVERSION #2: TRENDS
Some divert to trends, particularly fashion. We want to be perceived as being "aware" and "up-to-date" and "relevant." We desire to belong.
Have you ever thought about what really makes clothing fashionable? It changes all the time. I've often wondered what aliens might have thought if they'd landed on our planet back in the '80s and seen our clothing styles. Would they have believed we're intelligent life forms?
I often think we allow fashion to play Jedi Mind Tricks on us.
In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Obi-Wan (Ben) Kenobi and Luke are smuggling droids into the Mos Eisley Spaceport on Tatooine. The stormtroopers interrogate them, but Ben sweeps his hand and uses the Force to control their minds.
Ben: (sweeping his hand) These aren't the droids you're looking for.
Stormtrooper: These aren't the droids we're looking for.
Ben: (sweeping his hand again) Move along.
Stormtrooper: Move along. Move along.
Fashion does something similar to us. In the 1990s, the two most popular fashion trendsetters were Madonna and Princess Diana. If they wore it, then "relevant" people followed it. Today, based on what we find in popular magazines, other celebrities now fill those trendsetting roles. We look to them, and we imitate them. As fashion copycats, we dress up in the latest fashions to show others that we're aware of what's "really" going on. Some will even contradict the popular glamor style with a counter-culture style. That group will play the same fashion games to show they're the smart ones who know what's "really" going on. Our deep desire to be included and part of something important is sewn up in our fashion sense.
And because clothing companies know all about our desire to fit in and our willingness to imitate, they turn on their Jedi Marketing Mind Tricks to prey on us.
Messages flash before us: Nothing to wear? Come to Merino Outlets. Everything on sale!
Us: I'm cleaning out my closet to make room for my new clothes. I must have them. I'm aware of celebrity fashion, and I should be wearing those styles to fit in. Here's my money.
Messages: Now you're acceptable. Now you're included. Move along.
Us: Now I'm acceptable. Now I'm included. Moving along.
Fashion mind tricks are multifaceted, and we're vulnerable to them because we believe fashion will give us what we're really looking for. First, celebrities and designers create new designs, and then the marketers promote these latest styles in print, on television, and online to change our tastes toward the new trend.
Then retailers get more of our money, which was all spent on clothes we didn't even need and wouldn't have wanted if we weren't so emotionally needy.
When I was in my early teenage years, I remember how important it was to "peg" my pants. If I didn't do it, people would laugh. Making sure my pants were rolled was more important to me than my homework. I laughed at my parents for taking bell-bottoms so seriously when they were younger. And the cycle of fashion keeps spinning, and we think it's so important.
Here's a thought about fashion: It has less to do with truth and more to do with trends.
How weird would it be to say skinny pants are truer than boot-cut pants? Or bald is truer than a mullet? Or stripes are truer than plaids?
Yet by looking at the magazine covers displayed by the checkouts in grocery stores, we'd believe fashion is the only remedy to our need to fit in.
And most of us know what happens when we rebel against the opinion of the mob. We feel behind the times, old school, or "sooo last year's model." We feel as though we don't belong.
I enjoy fashion, but its overemphasis gets a little weird. Even in a world where people say "everything is relative" and "what's true for you isn't true for me," we still feel pressure to fashionably conform or be left behind. It shows how desperate we are to make sure people think well of us.
Want to know to what degree you seek fashion as a diversion? Ask yourself how much time and money you spend on it. If you don't come from a wealthy family but still insist on carrying a Louis Vuitton bag or buying $100 Nike shoes, for instance, then you're probably seeking fashion as a diversion.
DIVERSION #3: WATERING DOWN GOD
Another diversion is found in our talk about "religion." We divert into passivism to avoid conflict. And avoiding conflict, in our minds, equals peace. But peace is more than the absence of disagreement.
That's because our publicly funded schools insist God is a religious idea. Many believe that learning about God isn't truly possible, helpful, or educational. They divert conflict by silencing those conversations, saying talk about God has no bearing on real matters of learning.
Yet when we get on the Internet or watch TV, this idea is taken to the other extreme. Rather than keeping God-talk off-limits, MTV, for instance, creates religious commercials. In 2005, MTV created 24 different "Spiritual Windows" highlighting the religions of the world. With so many different views of God-or gods, really-all being treated as though they're basically the same, how are we supposed to take one view seriously? If all religions are special, then no religion is special.
The diversion is either to avoid God or to make all gods the same. But real talk-about which God exists, what God is like, and how we can find him-is avoided.
Do you find yourself saying all religions are basically the same? Do you find that talk about God makes you uncomfortable and even stirs up feelings of anger inside you? Do you hate it when people start talking as if more than one God may exist? Pay attention to those feelings and ideas. They may clue you in to the fact that avoiding an honest talk about God is a diversion for you.
DIVERSION #4: OUR PLACES OF WORSHIP
The major trend toward an increased interest in spirituality suggests a diversion.
People turn to Christianity or Islam or Buddhism or Wicca not because they find them true, but because they find them helpful. Or they say it's good for their children to be exposed to moral teaching. Or they find their religion of choice gives them a sense of purpose. All the while, they insist that each of us needs to find the religion that's right for us. Rarely do I hear people speak of a religion that's right for everyone without some kind of protest about proselytizing or bigotry.
Even in Christianity I see people attending worship services and finding diversions in the music, their acts of service, their attendance record, and their small groups. So while churchgoers may claim they're trying to have a "God experience," all the while they're simply having a "music experience" that stirs their emotions in a certain way.
Just like all diversions, any of these church activities can be good or bad. What we must question and explore what is our motivation.
DIVERSION #5: OUR MUSIC
We've found music as an endless background noise to fill our lives: Work, study, and free time.
In the ears of students on campuses everywhere, we'll find those famous white earbuds. My sister-in-law has commented that during breaks at her public high school, most students will listen to their music more than they'll talk to other people. I see kids who are willing to hang with their families as long as they can also wear their headphones. They keep themselves plugged in to their music and tuned out to their families.
Music is a tireless diversion today. We play it when we're walking, jogging, driving, resting, studying, partying, and-for some-even sleeping.
Music helps us find a place to belong because, like fashion, we identify with the artists. They give us permission to plant our flag and say, "This is my group. These people understand me." It's an easy way for us to join a side, whether or not that singer or band even cares about us. And it only costs a few bucks.
Another diversion music provides for us is that it moves our emotions. We listen to music to feel normal. We also divert some of the other emotions we're feeling-overlaying one emotion with another-by drowning in our music.
A sense of boredom can turn to anger with the push of a play button. Adrenaline pushes through our blood just by skipping ahead to a faster song. And for those few minutes of a song, we can ignore our present situations. And we fear the quiet.
Experts tell us that when we listen to so many other voices through our noise machines, we hardly have time to listen to our own. We don't even know what our own thoughts and beliefs are.
More than meth, marijuana, or alcohol, music today is the drug of choice. We need it. Crave it. Feel lost without it.
DIVERSION #6: OUR BUSY SCHEDULES
We have schedules to keep, too: Sports practices, band practices, after-school clubs, friends, television, games, recreational drugs, IMing, chat rooms, and Web surfing, to name but a few.
No wonder students tell me they have no time to live with questions-they're too busy. They say it with enthusiastic insistence-as if being busy should be excused at all costs. Busyness becomes a diversion.
It exhausts me to be stuck in busyness, pressured to conform and perform-or get left behind.
I received an e-mail from a student who told me he walked away from God because he didn't want to be a hypocrite.
God will understand, he said.
He said he's open to believing in God again, only he didn't have time to really know God because he's too busy with other activities.
God will go easy on me, he said.
For this student, God must be willing to wait on us and excuse our diversions. God must find ways to adapt to our lifestyles, fashions, and schedules, or else God will also get left behind.
A SIGN THAT WE "NEED" DIVERSIONS
When we slow down, a certain uneasiness appears to let us know we treasure diversions. Do we feel a certain uneasy noise in our souls? A discomfort? A certain wiggling to do anything but be still? A nagging feeling that there must be something more?
Then we ask questions of ourselves (even if we don't voice them)-
Why can't I control my emotions?
How do I stop being angry?
Why am I afraid?
What does God want from me?
Why do I feel insecure around my friends?
Why do I feel so lonely?
But instead of allowing ourselves to ponder and live with these questions, we find something else to take up our thoughts. Maybe we skip tracks to a better song.
It's not a question of whether we have uneasiness or not. We all have it at some level. It's more a question of where we'll go to deal with it.
This will help control my emotions, we think. This'll take care of the problems I'm sensing in me and around me.
It will help us ignore the uneasiness, anyway.
All of these diversions suffocate our souls because we use them to silence the noise in us and around us.
And we get into the habit of believing the remedy is just a matter of changing our feelings for the moment, and then maybe our loneliness and dissatisfaction will fade. Then the lyric by U2 may become our own: "I still haven't found what I'm looking for."
LOST IN THE WILD
Go with me into J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Among the vast mountains and marshes of Middle-Earth walk Frodo and Sam, two Hobbits of the Shire. Their quest is to destroy the One Ring.
Tolkien writes that they are "bewildered." At the heart of that word, is another word-wild. Tolkien, a linguist, means exactly what he writes. Frodo and Sam are out in the wild, nearly directionless, and carrying a ring they never wanted into a land no Hobbit dared enter. They don't know the way.
We, too, are bewildered. We are in our own version of the Wild. We are born into it, and we find ourselves alone in it. Many people surround us-some who love us, but many who don't-yet nobody really knows us deep down. Nobody completely understands us. We feel alone. We feel lost in the Wild.
To deal with it, we find new diversions-hobbies, music, activities, even religion-anything to keep us from the sad tale that we don't know the way to go.
Yet we want to find our way Home.
In Frodo's story, the armies of Rohan gather themselves along the largest city of the race of Men. Minas Tirith assembles its sentries on the walls, while Gandalf rides Shadowfax to the inner chambers where the Steward rules that white city. The moving Shadow of Mordor darkens the earth and sky with shadow, the Nazgul, and the Orc armies. The light and freedom of Middle-Earth are at stake.
How strange would it be if a group of rogue Elves sat on a nearby hilltop smoking and holding signs that say, War is not the answer!
Yet this is our world in the Wild. Many people are more willing to let our souls dwindle than to say something is wrong with the Shadows that surround us.
I long to exist in a world-even if for only a few minutes-where it's not about more shopping, music, and busy schedules. I desire to live in a world full of purpose and to find a village worth saving.
I want a place where I matter.
I may need to be like Bilbo Baggins, putting aside my walking stick and strapping on a sword so I can confront the dragon.
I have to agree with that Mountain Dew banner: Protecting your village from the dragon is way more important than your job.
Our village is Home, and our quest is to get there. It's where we want to live, be at peace, and be ourselves. Home is partly our community when we put down the selfish, dishonest, and fearful masks and get honest. Protecting our community, our nation, our world, and our lives will always be more important than our jobs.
Yet, how will we survive? We all desire to belong, to take part in fulfilling work, to experience deep relationships, and to be safe with a stable family. How will we accomplish this?
Throw more money at fashion so we'll look like everyone else? Throw ourselves into casual sexual encounters in an effort to find intimacy? Throw ourselves into an endless cycle of online gaming? Throw more hours into work we may not even believe in, just because we want to own a nicer car or appear more capable?
Excerpted from Living with Questions by Dale Fincher Copyright © 2007 by Charles Dale Fincher. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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