167. on spirituality (part 1)
The state, quality, manner, or fact of being spiritual.
(I hate it when definitions use word you’re trying to get the definition of in the definition.)
1. Of, relating to, consisting of, or having the nature of spirit; not tangible or material.
2. Of, concerned with, or affecting the soul.
3. Of, from, or relating to God; deific.
4. Of or belonging to a church or religion; sacred.
5. Relating to or having the nature of spirits or a spirit; supernatural.
So lately I’ve been thinking about spirituality. The Bible makes it pretty clear that the physical world is not all that’s out there. And I’ve shared before about how I have no handle on that side of life (see blog 148 among others), but I’m tired of my Christianity being just an idea, something I hold in my head more than in my heart, because living a life without spirit is like the difference between learning color theory and actually painting. I’m tired of theory. I want to paint.
But in my early twenties, the formative years of my faith, I was introduced to a rather rigid, intellectual version of Christianity that was heavy on apologetics and absolutes and reason. Spirituality didn’t figure heavily in our discussions, and I don’t know if it’s what they intended, but I left there with a heavy dose of skepticism towards spiritual explanations and experiences.
And that’s stuck with me to this day. Even with some of the miraculous things that I’ve seen, I still tend to try to find clean, clinical explanations for them, rather than just accepting that I had witnessed something spiritual.
Here’s an example:
Six or seven years ago I went on a mission trip to Okinawa. Our missions director at the time was a lady named Chisako. She was born in Okinawa and even though she had lived in Hawaii for years, it was her goal to return to her home town, Gushikawa, and plant a church there. To prepare for that, she organized short-term mission trips to Gushikawa to kind of scope out the area and make connections and to pray for the city.
During my second mission trip there, we went to put on a Hawaiian show in Gushikawa. The team that had gone before us got us into the brand new Gushikawa Citizens’ Performing Arts Theater. Now this isn’t just some rinky dink ghetto stage. This is the premier stage in Okinawa, and ranks among the best in all of Japan. The annual Red and White Festival was held there once. It’s hosted orchestras, artists, and productions of all kinds from around the world. Oh, and it also hosted a free, all volunteer hula group from a little church in Hawaii.
The fact that we got in there was amazing. And we only had to pay something like $300 to pay for the staff that night. I mean, that’s a miracle in and of itself, but I wasn’t part of that mission trip so I’ll just talk about what I know.
I was part of the lucky group that got to perform in the actual theater. But there was a problem. The only night we could hold the event coincided with Obon, the largest religious holiday in Okinawa (it’s where we get Bon Dances from in Hawaii). It’s like Christmas in America and holding a Hawaiian show on the night of Obon is like…well, it’s like holding a Bon Dance on Christmas Eve. Everybody there said we should cancel the event because no one was going to show up.
Long story short, the night of the event turns out to be an amazing success. I don’t remember the final head count, but I do know that we went there with something like 300 shell leis and we ran out well before the night was over. Final estimates were in the 400 – 500 range.
So at first this looks like a genuine hand-of-God miracle. Months later, I find out that one of the local relatives of one of the people on our team rented one of those vans that they use for political rallies in Japan – the kind with the bull horns on the roof. On the day of the Hawaiian show, they drive through town all day advertising the event, talking about how it’s free and how great it’s going to be.
And in the end, I suppose there are a couple ways to look at the success of the event. One could say that it was still a miracle that we had such a great turnout – that even the relatives advertising the show with the bull horn van was an act of God. Or one could say that the relatives saved our asses. Saving face is a huge thing in Japan and the relatives did what they did, in part, to make sure that we didn’t lose face by having a poor turnout.
I don’t know that I ever shared this with any of the people who made up that mission team, but when I found out about what the relatives did, it kind of took the wind out of the miracle balloon. It looked like a miracle for a while but in the end, there was a rational explanation behind it.
And that’s such a cynical way of looking at it. I mean, maybe God prompted the family to advertise the event, maybe people would have come even without the bull horns. I don’t know, but my mind tends to see the success of the event as a product of reasonable, natural events rather than a divine act of God. And it embarrasses me to admit that. But that’s what goes through my head.
I think of the movie Signs (dir. M. Night Shyamalan) and how Mel Gibson’s character (a former priest who lost his faith after his wife died) has this big of dialogue:
“People break down into two groups when the experience something lucky. Group number one sees it as more than luck, more than coincidence. They see it as a sign, evidence, that there is someone up there, watching out for them. Group number two sees it as just pure luck. Just a happy turn of chance. . . . See what you have to ask yourself is what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or, look at the question this way: Is it possible that there are no coincidences?”
I guess for most of my life, I’ve just believed in coincidences more than signs. And that’s a sad way to live life as a Christian. And that’s why now I’m looking for something more. I want to experience the spiritual side of life.
But how do I get over the cynicism that was drilled into me?