Project Conversion

Project Conversion

Calvin and Hobbes: An American Upanishad?

posted by abowen

My wife Heather acts like she knows me. Maybe she’s seen the volumes of Calvin and Hobbes comics in my “book box” in the attic. Perhaps I’ve quoted a few lines or reminisced on fantasies over building disturbing snow monuments in the front yard. Either way, she sent me the following Calvin and Hobbes comic strip last night and assumed, correctly, that I’d love it.

There are two reasons I said “Hell yes” out loud to this comic. One, because I love the correlation to the nature of religion, and two, because like my hero Calvin, I too am a “math atheist.”

That said, Calvin and his imaginary–if not rational–friend Hobbes was a comfort to me growing up. Like Calvin, I’ve always been a skeptic and at times, overly imaginative. He never quite fit in, and while I believe he secretly desired the company of others, was just as comfortable in the world of his own imagination. Calvin actively participated in the world around him on his own terms, in a capacity that was unabashedly and naturally him.

Ironically, Hobbes is an imaginary figure grounded in reality. He is a stuffed animal–a tiger, in fact. He represents a sort of gravity for the often rampant imaginative power of Calvin, although he is in fact, not real.

In a way, and I’m not sure exactly what the author’s intentions for Hobbes were, this stuffed tiger, animated in the mind of Calvin, represents our conscious self–that over-arching presence of rationality and morality. What’s fascinating for me is that Calvin, although he has the so-called “traditional family” with a still married mother and father, along with society’s normative positive influences, only discovers rationality and morality in an entity that for all intent and purposes, he brought forth or dare I say, uncovered in his own mind. To go farther, the manifestation of Calvin’s sense of reason and morality, although no doubt a projection of his subconscious self, is a presence he often submits himself to as in a master-disciple relationship.

Strangely enough, this modern exchange reminds me of the Upanishads, those timeless wisdom narratives between masters and disciples of the Indian Dharmic tradition. Their sometimes stressed and heated discussions over the mystery of life and the nature of the divine are seen here in our contemporary Calvin and Hobbes and force us to question the implications of our sacred texts.

Generations from now, will Calvin and Hobbes serve as a type of American Upanishad?

Some might balk at the notion, but the wisdom of these two fictional explorers is not lost on their loyal readers. In a word, it doesn’t matter if Calvin and Hobbes do not really exist. Just as Hobbes only exists in animated form in Calvin’s mind, and yet informs his sense of place, rationality, and morality, so do many of our religious stories and traditions inform us today.

Voltaire once wrote that “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.”

Is God, like Hobbes, a projection of our highest sense of morality? Have our various traditions granted personage to and animated rationality and the greater good? Are our notions of the divine, like Hobbes, a personal projection grounded in reality?

I don’t know the answer to these questions, but like Calvin, I am comfortable in my constant search for truth and an insatiable imagination which gives life to ideas. Hobbes, even with his gravity, allows Calvin’s speculation and curiosity to leap just high enough to gain the sensation of flight into his own fancies with the comfort of knowing he’ll never float away. If there is a God, that is exactly how I imagine it to be.

Celebrating the Glory of the Sun

posted by abowen

Today (in the Northern Hemisphere) marks a time that goes by many names: Litha, Midsummer’s Eve, the Summer Solstice…and all point to the sun’s highest glory.

Last year’s experience with Wicca made it exceedingly clear that I have a (to my pleasant surprise) close relationship with the Goddess and her Moon, however I’ve always personally identified with the element, fire, which is associated with the God.

Fire is a highly energetic and expressive force, much like the nature of the God or forms of male divinity within Wiccan and Pagan traditions, respectively. The God, and by extension the sun, is the animus of life–it’s power, fury, and light. As the consort of the Goddess, life burst forth from their union and we, the creatures of the Earth, celebrate and reap this harvest during the three succeeding harvest festivals of Lughnasadh (August 1st), Mabon (mid-late September), and Samhain (late October).

This is the balance of the male and female aspects of our existence and indeed, the very fabric of the cosmos. But even as we celebrate the glorious, life-giving power of the sun during its height today, we simultaneously recognize that the Solstice marks the beginning of the God’s (and the sun’s) eventual sleep. For no sooner than the sun rises to maximum potency does he reach this zenith and slowly fade. This is a reflection of the reality within all things, the consistency of change. Like the yin and yang, all of reality bears within it the seed of change in form and nature. This reality of the God in this context helps us loosen our grip on the notion of permanence, of clinging to that which inevitably fades, and embrace our ever growing and evolving selves.

There are many ways to celebrate the Litha, however the most fundamental way is simply enjoying to warmth of the day. Tending my vegetable garden in the back yard, with its green beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, and corn while watching the bees hoover from blossom to blossom is one such way.

Wicca, Pagan, or otherwise, everyone feels a connection to the power of the sun. How will you bask in its warmth today? I encourage you to put down the phone, laptop, or busy schedule today and take a stroll beneath the glorious gaze of the sun.

Carrying One’s Cross: A Literal Meaning or Metaphor?

posted by abowen

According to this kid, it’s for real.

Junior Garcia, a 19-year-old college student from Texas, decided in July of 2011 after a Christian youth group meeting to “…take up my cross. And I felt so strong in my heart. And I felt Him tell me where to go and how to go.”

Photo by Evan Lewis of the Texarkana Gazette

His journey involves dragging a 12-foot cross 1,369-miles from Texas to Washington, D.C. along with family and fellow members of his Pentecostal church. The trip began June 7th and should conclude July 13th of this year.

This isn’t the first time someone has lugged a giant cross over a great distance in the name of their Christian faith. Arthur Blessitt carried his own cross around the world, covering 39,943 miles. It took the guy 44 years. Eat your heart out, The Amazing Race.

So where does such religious drive come from? What’s the impetus that transforms otherwise seemingly normal folks into cross-country crux carriers?

No surprise here; it’s the Bible.

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.“–Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew 16: 24

There goes Jesus and his metaphors again. But was it really a metaphor? I mean after all, Jesus did bear his own literal cross and was crucified, according to the gospels of the New Testament. So did he really intend for his followers to do the exact same thing?

I don’t think so. Can you imagine the 1. something billion followers of Jesus toting twelve-foot crosses all over the place? Suddenly your office space just turned into a tangled pile of Lincoln Logs.

Anyone seen my cross? I left it next to the coffee machine...

This is where a little bit of context and common sense come into play. In my humble opinion, I believe Jesus used “cross” as a variable in his sentence. In other words, one’s cross becomes the personal struggle by which you follow him. This battle between the literal and metaphorical is a constant feature throughout all religious traditions and is the cause of both wondrous demonstrations of faith and compassion, but also abhorrent demonstrations of myopic interpretation.

So was Jesus talking exclusively and literally about everyone taking up a cross? Probably not. His use of metaphor when talking about the same burden is demonstrated in the same gospel:

You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”“–Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew 20: 22

Jesus is again using metaphor in speaking about his personal burden, just exchange “cross” for “cup.” Christians might easily have a chalice hanging on a necklace rather than a cross and it would mean just about the same thing.

So has this 19-year-old kid taken things too far? Has he taken this metaphor literally and made a foolish display of his faith?

No, I don’t think so, at least not entirely.

Some have suggested that it’s all for show, that it’s a publicity stunt. There were those who postulated the same thing about me during Project Conversion. I don’t know this guy personally, but I can relate to him on this level. No one does something like this for publicity. He’s dragging a wooden cross 1,300 miles and then praying in the nation’s capital. That takes balls, faith, and the absence of ego because there is no reason any sane person without an ounce of those three ingredients would do this otherwise.

My personal cross was Project Conversion. It was something I had to do, something I had to bear, and it changed lives–mine most of all–in the process. It changed lives because I was faithful to my burden even when I wanted to quit. This kid is doing more right now than so many out there. Junior Garcia is making the journey of his life at the age of 19 when other kids are sitting on their ass playing video games, stuffing their faces, or complaining of boredom.

So I don’t think the argument should be over whether this kid took Jesus’ command too literally, but how to animate our lax society into bearing a cause worth walking 1,300 miles for.

What do you think about this kid? Do you have a cross worth bearing?

Part Two of Heather’s Guest Post: “How Religion Almost Ruined My Marriage.”

posted by abowen

Here is part two of my wife’s post carried over from yesterday. Enjoy and be sure to visit her blog as well for more!

——

Let’s get some background info on my husband, Andrew.

He is the grandson of a Southern Baptist pastor. However, he wasn’t really raised in a household that put much emphasis on religion either. In high school, he became a devout, but very judgmental and hypocritical Christian. He was in a Christian band and had a holier than thou type attitude.

When he went away to college, he started to lose interest in religion all together. Alcohol, partying and girls were much more important which is how he got involved with me.

Religion was never something we talked about. He was trying to get away from his and I just didn’t know enough to talk about it anyway.

As we began having children, my Mom often asked us about having the girls baptized to which we both adamantly refused. “No way,” we would say, “Let them make that decision on their own”. And often times a very heated argument would ensue.

After the loss of our last pregnancy, my husband abandoned faith all together. Not only did he not want anything to do with it, he didn’t want me involved with religion either.

You can imagine the tension in our home when I confessed Christ as Lord and Savior in 2009.

This pushed Andrew from being an atheist to an anti-theist. Any conversation remotely involving religion would end up in a fight and I would leave the room crying.

I didn’t understand why this was happening. Why would God call me to Him knowing the amount of stress it would put on our marriage. I really began questioning everything.

Andrew made it very clear that he didn’t want me putting my faith on our daughters.. He allowed them to come to church with me. He even came to church with me occasionally, which usually back fired on me because he would spend the rest of the day criticizing every word that was spoken.

Before you get to picturing Andrew as this big, bad anti-religion monster (which he sometimes was), keep in mind that I am the one who changed. When we were married, I wasn’t a Christian, nor did I have any plans of ever becoming one. Would he have married me if he knew who I was to become? At that point in his life, I’m not sure he would have.

Mid-fall 2010, Andrew was so cold-hearted and bitter. It wasn’t just my faith he was trying to destroy. He was against ALL religion. If you’ve ever seen a person consumed with hatred, you know it’s an ugly thing. And that is what he had become.

Then, I believe God started working on his heart. One night in October, we were lying in bed and Andrew tells me, “I can’t live like this anymore. This hatred is burning me alive. I’m going to do a project. The entire year of 2011, I’m going to live each month as a member of a different religion. I’ve got to stop hating these people and in order to do that, I am going to have to be them. And I need your support.”

My classic response was, “You’re kidding, right?”

But alas, he was serious. Project Conversion, as he named it, was born and we started January 2012 with him being a Hindu. He blogged the entire year and if you’re interested, you can read his journey here.

It was a rough year. I was always supportive threw many tantrums and wanted him to quit many times. I definitely didn’t always show him Christ through me. My pride got in the way and I worried about what people would think. I got so caught up in the nuances that I was missing the bigger picture.

He continued the project the entire year. I wish that I could sit here and tell you that at the end of 2011, he made his final conversion to Christianity, but he didn’t. He didn’t convert to any religion.

However, he left the year a changed man and our marriage was saved because of it. He no longer hates religions. He is now as he states, “a lover and student of all faiths”. He is the loving, caring, happy person he was when we were married.

He helps me to learn more about my religion. He goes to church and attends Bible study with me. He helps me to teach the girls about Christianity and he even helped me pick out a Bible-based homeschool curriculum for next year.

My husband may never be a Christian, but he loves me and he honors me. He is no longer an obstacle to my faith.

I’m not here to tell you that our differences in faith never cause issues within our family, because that would not be true. Being unevenly yoked definitely has it’s challenges and I’m here to tell you about those challenges and how we get through them.

Being a wife with an unbelieving spouse and interfaith marriages are topics I’ve become passionate about. You’ll read many posts about that here at Upside Down Homeschooling.

Homeschool moms, do you have an unbelieving spouse? I pray that you’ll find some love and encouragement here.

Do you know someone whose marriage is struggling because of differences in faith? Please encourage them. Your words could make a world of difference.

“Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives.” 1 Peter 3:1

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