I got back from the retreat at about 3am last night. I caught up briefly with Yush on our joint venture (which I've set to have a release date roughly one month from now) and to get us on the same page, then went to bed for ten hours.

So how was it?

Well, it's supposed to be like: jaded, tired kid goes to church seeking spiritual fulfillment, connects with everybody at retreat center, finds inner energy to fight off sleep deprivation while engaging in all sorts of group-building activities, starts doing that thing during praise time where he closes his eyes and raises his hands as though nobody is watching, finds speaker captivating and listens to every word of each sermon while taking notes, on the final night succumbs to the pressures and accepts the altar call to accept Jesus Christ as his savior, manages to wake up early the next morning despite going to sleep at 5am and still have energy for Sunday morning service, feels like something inside him has changed dramatically, the world is fresh and new, the trees are greener, inner peace (presence of God, not absence of trouble [Ed. note: See? I did sorta listen!]) is found, goes home and passes out while making a commitment to self to change his lifestyle, wakes up at 8pm that Sunday with a renewed energy to life and starts attending every church-related activity for the next three months.

The reality is a bit different. There was a time when the above WAS the case, and perhaps that's why I have unrealistic expectations. I had a great talk with two people during the altar calls (names withheld), and one of them ("John") mentioned how he felt always felt a bit disconnected with the way that everybody else felt, since many people would want away from the retreat thinking it was the best thing that happened to them, while John felt that it wasn't that great.

For me, the greater the chances you experienced the idealistic retreat situation, the greater the cynicism you have for the church as you get older.

It's all a part of growing up - I remember my teenage years were particularly dramatic. Although I was born into a lower class (albeit not a LOW low class, but definitely not comfortable; I was born into the ghettos of Hattiesburg, Mississippi), my parents saved their way into a middle class, so the struggles I had during my teenage years weren't particularly ones of extreme hardships, but more those of identity.

Coming to church can be a liberating experience for those kids going through those experiences - the church offers that identity that seems to be so fulfilling - serve the Lord and go to heaven. The church even offers the perfect role models - men who are not affected by the materialism of the world but are fighting for a greater cause. (Side note: in a small group the comment was that only in the face of great disasters or adversity do we, as humans, truly feel small and insignificant. I think we all have trouble escaping how fucking awesome and wonderful the ability to logic and reason is - the ability to create new ideas and to see the growth of them ... is simply amazing. In my opinion, humans have a hard time grasping that such an awesome gift can be tempered by such frailty - both in a physical and metaphysical "world overwhelming" way, which is why we overvalue our skills and reach as humans. It is because of this I think we are always yearning for the "greater cause," we can't understand that our logic and reasoning would be applied to such mundane tasks as making computer programs).

It's not that I was looking for a role model - my parents are perfect role models. But when you have an emotionally detached father (common for Asian households) and an overbearing mother ... you tend to see only the negatives at that age. Of course, the winds of time are quite effective at blowing away these gristy fallacies, which is probably the reason why most college students start really connecting back with their parents once they're on their own. So I looked for a role model elsewhere - and the church provided it. They provided that structure.

People want structure in their lives. People don't want to have to worry about stuff in life - they just want it told to them. Look at websites (haha, bet you didn't see that coming) - the best website would be an unnamed website that simply let you create data nodes. You could link them and display them in any way. It woudl be the website that could do everything. What's a node? A piece of data. What's a piece of data? Email, webpages, people, etc. We could create such abstraction that it do ANYTHING, but would anybody use this? No way. We want to be told what each webpage does. We want each webpage to accomplish a specific task. In the same way, people want their lives to be structured accordingly - it's much easier to see a role model and fall in love with the concept of the church.

Of course, much like infatuations with girls, the infatuation with the church can be a dangerous thing if the idealism is not rooted in reality. Which brings me back to the my main point - the unrealistic expectations of these retreats and the ability of church to transform your life. If you accept the altar call, how long does that commitment last? A week? Two weeks? This point has been driven home by P.Moon that we should not be passive in our search for Christ after these - faith requires constant cultivation and a commitment to the lifestyle. But why does the church create these situations which are clearly for emotional exploit if it's looking for a long-term lifestyle commitment to Christ?

I've created a new paragraph here, but I have no real answers. I'm disillusioned with church politics, the history of the Catholic church in abusing its power and meddling in politics, the meddling by the fundamentalist Christian right in politics, and what I see as emotional manipulation by other churches.

But can a passive church succeed? Most definitely not. We live in a world that places a premium on science, logic, and reason. If we cannot reason a concept, we discount it. This is something I struggled with during college, but sometimes you just have to accept the faith and just take that first step. Logically, it's a fallacy. Attempting to understand the church through the lens of science will ultimately fail, just like trying to understand science through the lens of religion fails (see "creationism"). This means the default behaviour of people will be to drift away the church - active preaching is required. But how do we actively preach with the Oprah-ization of our generation ("accept and be tolerant of everybody")? I am NOT a fan of door-to-door preaching, nor do I like the Pit Preacher... nor do I like people who always try to twist a conversation into a conversation about religion and faith.

I think it all goes back to role models. People are always looking for role models (this never changes), and people always try to emulate those they find the deepest respect for. I have various friends of both sexes, and I respect them all for different reasons - there is always one key characteristic that I find truly impressive about them. Because I respect them, I respec the lifestyle they live, and therefore it makes me far more receptive that I will try to actively become a person of better faith.

Of course, my concern is, as always, that the Christian lifestyle contrasts with success in this world. I've been granted the incredible gift of direction in life (for the next few years), and I've been fortunate enough to be in a position to pursue this (this is the one thing in my life I'm most proud of) direction. I feel that an active pursuit of the Christian lifestyle clashes with secular success. I think anybody that tells you otherwise is bullshitting. If you start a new enterprise ... that is a lifestyle in itself, whether it's a non-profit org, a busienss, or just a new club. This is again something I struggled with greatly during this past week - why was I put in a position to pursue these grand dreams and ideas when the church demands loyalty and a commitment to church? For many years, I've not gone to church while maintaining a lifestyle of faith (in my viewpoint, although others will disagree) simply because there is no room in my life for both. There still isn't.

Well I'm just rambling now. So I'll try to end this in a succint manner; I'm feeling pretty chatty right now, I could write pages and pages, but I'll sum everything up:

I'm feeling good. Not feeling a spiritual refreshment, but I think I've just accepted the reality that I will never get a logical or scientific answer to God. I'm still cynical towards the church and its dealings with certain situations, and I'm still confused as how I can make the Christian lifestyle and the lifestyle I want to fit together or even if they're reconcilable.

Some short statements of other thoughts I'm too tired to write out: Nobody is smarter than anybody else. Everything is a game. Why do we get more guarded with everything as life goes on? Girls' farts smell like cinnamon buns.

Posted by roy on September 25, 2005 at 01:45 PM in Personal | 4 Comments

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Comment posted on September 26th, 2005 at 05:18 PM
not only girls' fart smell like cinnamon buns, sir. mine too smell delicious!
Comment posted on September 26th, 2005 at 04:50 PM
If the lifestyle you want isn't what God wants, then just drop it.
Comment posted on September 26th, 2005 at 01:16 PM
I feel somewhat the same as mingtian. I was raised Catholic so when I decided to seek out God and try to reconnect with Him, I naturally went to a Catholic church, where I was comfortable. I still go there, but only because it provides a quiet place to meditate and feel closer to God. But I really believe that we don't need buildings or institutions to be good Christians. Just believe that Jesus died for us so we can be ok with God again, and then be the best person you can, even while earning millions of dollars (hopefully). Just treat your fellow human beings with respect. I've never thought raising your arms and shouting that out in public made it any more real -- in fact, I always felt that detracted from the sincerity of it. Just my thoughts. I enjoyed your post.
Comment posted on September 26th, 2005 at 09:44 AM
My farts sure as hell do not smell like cinnamon buns, but if that's your fantasy. So be it. XD

As far as your question goes, "I'm still confused as how I can make the Christian lifestyle and the lifestyle I want to fit together or even if they're reconcilable." just be a good person and stop worrying about being a good christian. The concept of christianity makes me feel inauthentic. There's no set way to love God, so I say screw it.