Saturday, April 9, 2011

Entry 27 4.2.11

Entry 27, April 2, 2011, 6:23pm (ship time)

Sea day today. I enjoy the last day of this cruise, because after three days of wandering around lollygagging between each island at night, the Lady G is finally steaming somewhere with some purpose again. We're headed West at about 17 or 18 knots right now, but the ocean is coming in long rolling swells from almost directly astern which give the ship a strange loping movement underfoot, with small rolls port to starboard that last a very long time -- always more than five seconds, sometimes almost ten.

I have a friend on the ship named Amelia. She's a South African girl who works in the spa department, and we've been sharing books back and forth. This is a common practice among the crew members who enjoy reading, as an unread book is a precious commodity on a ship. Anyway, South Africa is a surprisingly religious country (maybe not surprising to some, but it was surprising to me) and so her most recent loan to me is "The Purpose-Driven Life." For those of you not familiar, this book claims to ". . . help you understand why you are alive and reveal God's amazing plan for you, both here . . . and for eternity" and was written by Rick Warren, a pastor from California.

"But David," you might ask, "why would you read such a thing, as you are an agnostic? Surely you can't believe all that God tripe." I'll admit I raised my eyebrows a bit when she handed it to me, but here's what Amelia said: "I'm not trying to convince you. I'm not sure about it myself. What I am trying to do is challenge you." And by Jove, if there's any way to get me to read something, it's to frame the situation as an intellectual challenge.

And a challenge it will be. It would be quite easy to read this book as antagonistically as possible -- to follow every sentence with a sarcastic retort in my head, to get halfway through and dismiss the author as a worthless hack, and then to rationalize the entire situation as proof that I not cut out for a life of faith. But if I truly am open-minded -- a quality that I claim to value -- then I need to be able to read what he has written and consider it just as seriously as I consider the Tao or anything else I read or hear about life and its big questions. Warren didn't right the book for no reason just as Lao Tzu didn't write the Tao te Ching for no reason. This will be difficult, as my knee-jerk reaction to Christianity has always been an across-the-board rejection.

I don't know why this has been the case. Perhaps it was just an instinctive contrariness, an attempt to create self-identity by rejecting the social norm. Perhaps it is the vibe I get from Chrisitianity itself, because some Christians feel very deeply that everyone needs to think the same way as them (the whole "no one comes to the father except through me," bit). This speaks to me of an insecurity or a neediness in the church as a whole, because if the story really was universally compelling you wouldn't need to convert anybody -- they'd all join up immediately. Many of the world's older, more mature religions don't feel the need to convince, argue, exhort, threaten, or otherwise influence anyone to modify their thinking. In fact, I've heard that students of zen are extremely reluctant to talk about their own spiritual journeys, as they feel that every answer is so personalized that to tell another would be to derail the other's development (something I would do well to remember!).

But it is time to put that aside. I am going to assume that Warren deserves the same level of respect that I would afford Lao Tzu until something convinces me otherwise. The only way I can learn is if I let myself be teachable.

Which brings up the deeper, more surprising (to me) reason why I don't want to read this book. The cover says "Bestselling nonfiction hardback in history" and "30 million copies sold." On the back it says Warren is "One of the 100 most influential people in the world." Truthfully, I am afraid that it will change me. I am comfortable with who I am, and I am afraid this book will "tamper with" my intellectual and emotional machinery. I don't want to let anyone else "under the hood," so to speak.

But it is time to put that aside as well. If my own systems of thought are sound, then a challenging point of view will serve only to enrich them. If they are weak, then they deserve to be knocked down and replaced with something stronger. A twofold challenge, even opening this book -- humility and courage.

But enough of this. I've been spending far too much time arguing at the cover. Time to open this sucker up.

Warren divides the book into forty sections and recommends that you read one a day (hah, a forty-day spiritual journey. I see what you did there, Pastor Warren . . . slick, very slick). I do not have that much time -- Amelia signs off before the Atlantic crossing. I'll probably read between three and five a day, and document my reactions as part of this log. Stay tuned . . .

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