On Saturday night, after conversing with Fitz, it prompted me to do a proper blog, for various reasons. Firstly, to get my thoughts into written form as a record for myself, him and the next generation – but also as an act of spiritual discipline… discipline? Well, I’ve decided that each morning I am going to read the Bible, pray and then blog. This sounds a reasonable, somewhat dedicated statement people tend to make at the beginning of each year, but for me this is actually like saying “I am going to become an Elephant trainer, does anyone own an Elephant?” or “I would like to pursue a career in astrophysics despite my dyslexia”. The first hurdle to overcome is the fact I am terminally “eveningness”, as my psychology lecturers liked to put it.
I know this as a fact, it is not just a hunch. I have seen it visually displayed in a large lecture hall, with 2,000 Sydney University psychology students “awake” hours projected on a wall. I was represented by a very visible dot way over in the right hand corner, separated from the cluster of little dots by an expanse of white space on the line (where the axis is morningness to eveningness and awake cycles are counted in units of time). If this whole paragraph made no sense to you, don’t worry, I’ll draw it out for you sometime – but the jist of it is that I like to sleep in the mornings. And this is a hard flaw to overcome.
Nevertheless, I’m set on this commitment, and regular readers will be able to visibly track the blog posts… so that is making myself accountable for a specific goal (which may actually be a bad thing as my songwriting friend Ray Badham recently let me know. He has a report showing that shared goals are statistically less likely to be met, so that is super encouraging).
Ok … anyways, so let’s get into things – the topic of my first post… mega smash hit book “Eat Pray Love”. It was handed to me by one of my besties, handed it by her bestie, and ultimately I think about four women have read the book I took to Italy to read in October, 2010. And while I was away, I happened to miss the movie release in Australia, so I finally downloaded it through Itunes yesterday, and watched it from start to end.
I had so many reactions that I had that I vlogged about it, and decided to expand these thoughts into a very first, proper blog.
About: “Eat Love Pray” is an autobiographical account of New York author Liz Gilbert, as she navigates the two years following her tumultuous divorce. Solidifying the end of her marriage with a disastrous love affair, she says:
I dove out of my marriage and into David’s arms exactly the same way a cartoon circus performer dives off a high platform and into a small cup of water, vanishing completely. I clung to David for escape from marriage as if he were the last helicopter pulling out of Saigon. I inflicted upon him my every hope for my salvation and happiness.
This relationship was obviously doomed to fail. And fail it did – spectacularly. Torn apart, broken and lacking her desire for life, Liz decides on a plan: four months in Italy (to eat), four months in India (to pray) and four months in Bali (to find balance – but, inevitably of course, the title gives it away – for love).
What is great about this book: It is raw, authentic, honest and unpretentious. It seems like Liz is your neighbour next door, or even maybe yourself. She is funny, strong and yet, lost. It seems like that’s the best way to put it, because this is the most eloquent, unfinished journey of a woman’s search for God that I have ever read.
The book is cleverly written. In fact, it seems hand-crafted. Liz has whittled 108 story-beads of perfect proportion placed into a prayer necklace called “japa malas” which, she explains, adorn the holy men in Indonesia. And so reading the book becomes, in a sense, a prayer for all those lost and in-transition, and something of a compass for thirty-something people around the world who don’t fit into regular “scripts of life” as I like to call them.
And initially, or at least in the first chapter, it seems like Liz is seeking the Christian God, Jesus. At least, she knows that her audience, which I guess is mainly American, is Christian by culture. And in her funny way, she stumbles upon a profound critique of religion. In this way, it is a very important book for Christians, and ministers/pastors to engage with, as it manages to paint a picture of the church and depict how and why so many of the most creative minds of our lifetime are not attending congregations, but are still seeking God.
That is not to say it becomes a model I think people should follow. I don’t think Liz herself, lost and pioneering an uncharted way of living, would appreciate being followed. I think it’s more a commentary on her experience as a non-Christian seeking faith in the twenty–first century. It is a window into the lives of millions of people who have not found their strength, and wholeness in Jesus.
Pulling the heartstrings of an entire generation: To say this book has touched a generation is not exaggeration! There are ten million copies of this book in print. And it seems like people do not simply read this book, they hold to it like a religion. Which is why I have made three important observations about this book:
1) This book is a living example of how Generation X and Y now approach religion.
According to Tony Lester, Sociologists have recorded to date 9,900 religions throughout the history of humanity. I’m not sure exactly how they define religion, but I’m pretty sure it is basically a worldview that makes the story of a person’s life coherent. Religion creates meaning from the events of our life, and brings these parts into a consistent whole. This over-arching story could be that of an old man with a white beard sitting on a cloud somewhere pretty un-related to everyday existence, or it could be a belief in a two-headed serpent, with each head representative of a conflicting aspect of human nature, rolling around creating mountains and valleys, its’ tears creating lakes. Anyways – the amount of recorded religions is increasing at the rate of two to three religions per day according to Lester. In fact, he considers it “the rush hour of the gods”:
What is now dismissed as a fundamentalist sect, a fanatical cult, or a mushy New Age fad could become the next big thing.
It is clear from the beginning that Liz’s travels have spiritual intent. In fact, her travel started with the words of Ketut, a Balinese fortune-teller. And Liz has to reconcile his words (and seeming accuracy) with her existing thoughts:
“Traditionally, I have responded to the transcendent mystics of all religions. I have always responded with breathless excitement to anyone who has ever said that God does not live in a dogmatic scripture or in a distant throne in the sky but instead abides very close to us indeed – much closer than we can imagine, breathing right into our own hearts. I respond with gratitude to anyone who has ever voyaged to the centre of that heart, and who has returned with the idea that God is an experience of supreme love.”
I have to admit I was initially a bit put off by Liz Gilbert and her expensive religious search across three continents. But her likeability slowly increases with her honesty, and failures. And after meditating for days and being challenged by Richard, a Texan divorcee, Liz comes to a conclusion in the film that “God dwells within you, as you”. Which I vehemently disagree with – God does dwell within me, but thank God that I am not He. And suddenly I really, really liked her. I felt sorry that she felt so alone, that institutionalized church had let her down so badly, and realized that this book was for me a lesson in understanding why people forge their own paths when it comes to God.
Now most pastors would consider this phenomenon a bad thing, that people are seeking for spirituality in exotic places… but like it or not, it is. And I consider it the greatest opportunity of our generation. If we can lower the barriers that communicate loudly, and major on majors within our spirituality, showing people we are willing to live what we believe, I truly believe that Christianity does offer people a coherency unparalleled by other religions. Definitely better than a religion that you make yourself!!
2) This book gives us hope. It shows how post-modernity has managed to break the idea that Science can answer everything.
In the aftermath of modernity, there are various ideas as to where we’re going, and very little that is actually concrete. The only thing that is becoming clear, is that science cannot and does not answer everything. Paul Hiebert, Shaw & Tienou eloquently cover this in the academic book “Understanding Folk Religion: a Christian response to beliefs and practices” … but for those who are less academically inclined, basically there are a lot of questions that science doesn’t answer. Such as, why someone’s wife had a miscarriage. Or where people go when they die. And so, we find ourselves often in this middle world where formal religions are arguably less relevant to the ordinary person’s life, and Science fails to answer questions adequately. This is a great opportunity for Christian leaders!
3) … And should allow Christians to question, from a place of faith. This book is a clear picture to Christians that people’s preference for twisting themselves into knots to create coherency is often preferable to them than accepting the truth statements or doctrines of the established church.
People are looking for love. People look for friendship. People look for an understanding of their destiny, of purpose. People are looking for the answers to their fears, and to their questions. People are not looking to tick off the boxes of other people’s expectations anymore. The days when people took a job in the nearby factory and worked for forty years until they received a gold watch are statistically over. And, the age where all the locals attend the parish church at 10am every week is cracking too. People are experimenting, innovating and changing. They are driving long distances to church, or even preferring church online. And the questions that Christianity answers has to change along with the people it is looking to reach.
Don’t get me wrong – I uphold the book of the Bible, and its’ authoritative place in the believer’s life has to stay the same. Definitely the passion by which we approach the truth and engage with God also stays the same. And even our faithfulness to attending church (as best defined) should arguably stay the same. But the way we ask questions and answer them from the text has to change. It’s called a ‘hermeneutical spiral’, examined first by Segundo, who basically states that the questions of the poor in Latin America challenged him and changed him so drastically that the next time he read his Bible, he desperately sought answers to the different questions he was now asking. And, in desperation to have these questions answered, he found them answered in the text. But these answers challenged him again to his very core, dealing with the way that consumerism had eaten up a very central place of his soul. So the way he responded to the poor changed – and a new model was created.
And if we are to be the Segundos of the Western world, as I would suggest that we need to be, then we are to listen to the story of Liz Gilbert, and the people like her. To listen, and allow her questions to rise to the surface of our hearts, ready to sit with the Scriptures in hand and listen to their response, and allow it to change the way that we do … everything.
Watch Tanya’s reviews on YouTube…