Sunday, January 27, 2008

CHOICES: God's will and anomie

So I'm in the U.S. again. This means going through extreme culture shock once again, largely defined by the stress of dealing with so many choices. This morning it was Bagels and Cream Cheese. The brunch I attended had seven types of Bagels: Blueberry, French Toast, Apple something, Cinnamon something, Plain, Grainy Wheat and... wait for it... mocha chocolate chip! So I finally made that painful choice by settling for the simplest and healthiest option (Grainy Wheat) and set about putting some cream cheese on it. Easier said than done; there were five choices! I think plain was in there somewhere, but I didn't find it among the three whitish ones, a pinkish one and a greenish one. I settled for the romantic-sounding Honey Walnut. Choices.

At the moment, I'm in a phase of transition, and I am experiencing the weight of choices in my own life. I can choose to live pretty much anywhere, and do pretty much anything. Ironically, this time, there are no real opportunities presenting themselves anywhere... but that just means I'm looking everywhere! There's nothing binding me anywhere to anything or anyone. What freedom! How exciting!

How frustrating. How do I choose? I should just choose something and stick with it, I'm thinking, but how in the world do I choose what to stick with? Wouldn't life be so much better in so many ways if I just had a destiny given to me? We crave freedom to make decisions for ourselves, but then are we willing to bear the weight of a wrong decision? Oh, the stress... what if I choose the wrong thing?

Sometimes I wonder whether there is an essential difference between faith because we need faith, and faith in something that we really truly believe to be true. Some people don't believe God cares at all, maybe doesn't even exist. Other people read their scriptures and conclude from it that God gave us certain commands and put us on the earth to do our thing, and it is up to us to make the decisions about how we go about doing those things. Other read the same scriptures and conclude that God works through a variety of supernatural, or at somewhat ethereal, ways to guide us in every little tiny thing we do.

Does it matter which one is actually the case? Well, sometimes I feel like I have to believe it's the third explanation simply so that I can trust God with the next step. If I believe God brought me to where he is, then I can believe that he will take me to the next best thing. But if I think it's all up to me, then I have to ask myself if I made a mistake.

This brings me back to that sociological concept of anomie: when we have so much opportunity that we want even more, or we have so many choices that none really seem good enough so we make up something even more elaborate, or we look at where we are and compare it to where we could have been had we made a different choice.

Take marriage, for example. When I was in the Middle East last year I had the amazing experience of watching a woman meet a prospective bride for her son for the first time. The evening went well enough, such that at the end she brought her son in to meet the young lady in question, and for her to meet him. Based on this one incredibly brief encounter, they were to decide whether they should begin a life together. (In the end, he proposed and she refused, in case you were wondering.) Now, please don't take me wrong, that's not the way I want to meet my future partner, but at the same time I really admired their sense of value and commitment. They didn't dig deep into all the intricacies of each other's personality, history, relationships, ideologies, or any such things. They based a decision on the most superficial of things: house, job, car, beauty, family reputation.

Sounds bad, huh? Well, most such marriages stick, and are even often happy. Whereas many, even most, marriages based on all those more deep things end in bitterness and divorce. My theory here is: when you can choose you always want to make the very best choice, and when there is a hint it's not really the best you go off looking to make a better choice or improve on what you've done. When choices are limited, you just make the best of what you have, and that's that. For those of us who have had the world at our feet, so to speak, it's almost impossible to limit ourselves in that way. But blessed are those who never had a choice in the first place.

Or something like that -- Even as I write this I think of the tragedy it is to never know that there are other ideas, other ways of doing things, out there. I'm passionate about the need to help people see the choices that too often they have but don't realise they have.

So perhaps I should focus on how those of us with choices should look at them. I do think it's awesome when I see God guiding my steps in some amazing way: often, I find I could have done one of a million things, but when the time came to make a choice, it was so obvious which of those million things was the best way to go! I love that! It's what I build my life on, and I'm so glad that I can give the credit for that to God. Which brings me back to the question of whether it's enough to believe it because I believe it, or do I need to be able to somehow "prove" that that's true? Well, I choose to trust him, I just do.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

my last blog in that country

Well, I imagine there is a high-tech more-convenient way to do this, but it didn't pop out to me, so here goes...

During my two months in my unnamed Middle Eastern country, I had a lot of observations and experiences that were very thought-provoking. I posted about some of them here.

On the plane flying back to England, where I am now, I wrote a final blog about my perspectives on the country, on Islam, on my own Christian faith, and my friends. If you like my thoughts you might like to read it, but I guess you could say I poured my heart out... so I have opted for not posting it here where anyone can read it.

If you're interested, drop me an email and I'll send it to you. If you don't know my email address, there must be some other way of communicating with me via my blog - at least leave a comment and I'll try to figure out a way to get it to you.

And regular blogging will resume shortly!