Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Faith of a Skeptic

The First thing I would like to do with this post is to thank all of you who have left comments. I really appreciate it. It helps to know that people are actually reading what I write!

This being said I would like to respond to one of the comments written about the haunted house post. Michelle wrote "So as skeptical a person as you are, it’s pretty interesting that you were able to come to a point where you could accept Christianity." This is a very important subject to me, I feel I must address it.

Yes, I am a skeptical, and cynical person. I question everything (ask any of my ex-professors) and everyone, I am constantly looking for ulterior motives in people (although you wouldn’t know it from my happy-go-lucky disposition), and doubt much that others accept as fact. So how could a person such as myself find faith?

Everyone has faith in some things. I have faith that the chair I’m sitting in will hold me, I plop down on it without giving it a second thought. Should I? Isn’t it possible that it’ll break next time I sit down and send me sprawling? Sure, but I know it’s in good shape so I trust that it will hold me. Many times the problem isn’t in our ability to have faith, it’s in the fact that someone presents us with a rickety old chair held together with bubble gum and bailing wire and asks us to have enough faith to sit. In other words, it seems that Christianity, for some, is just too big a pill to swallow. I agree! Especially when looking at the brands being peddled by modern western society (I don’t see much love in their political agendas).

The dogma spewed by many well-meaning, but often times misguided people is sometimes more detrimental to the message of Jesus than helpful. I am not a Christian out of fear of Hell or hope for Heaven (although it is comforting to have my bases covered). In fact, true to my skeptical nature, I don’t really know for sure if there is a Heaven or Hell, as I have no personal experience. Neither have I experienced God "speaking" to me personally. It seems that most of the reasons given for being a Christian are pretty shallow and unexplored. I would hope that mine are not.

I have experienced these things to hold true. People act according to their belief system (the one they actually believe, not the one they give lip service to), there are many systems of belief in the world that most people don’t even realize they're indoctrinated in(i.e. capitalism, consumerism, the idea of justice, hedonism), and most people never even question the ideology that they were born into. Considering that the world is shaped by the actions of people, and those actions are directed by their beliefs, isn’t it important to discover truth? This is what the greatest of men have sought.

The question is who has found it? Alexander the Great certainly found the true way to build an empire, but "should" we conquer and kill to acquire power. His empire (as all have or eventually will) fell. Donald Trump knows money, just as Einstein and Newton knew science. But "should" life be about hoarding possessions, and where do you think pure science would lead if not tempered by morality.

Three men come to mind that took steps beyond the typical views of the world and sought higher truths. They changed the world by changing peoples minds. Interestingly they all shared the same fate. The three of whom I speak are those that I portrayed in one of my drawings. Dr. Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Jesus (actually the shroud of Turin in the picture). They each sacrificed their lives for the greater good of mankind. King was instrumental in bringing about civil rights, not by changing laws, but by changing minds. Gandhi freed the country of India without raising a single weapon, he instead freed the minds of his countrymen. Jesus set the example that the other two men followed. His teachings, when truly grasped, lead to freedom, his example leads to true power. The "kingdom" Jesus brought about on this earth consists of 33% of the worlds population (the population of China is only 20%, and the U.S. is a minuscule 5%) . He forged this kingdom without lifting a sword. His influence has fed more hungry, and healed more sick than any other person in history, yet this is just the tip of the iceberg when speaking of his accomplishments.

I am a reasonably well read man, but I have never come across anyone that, when examined with the critical eye of history, comes close to garnishing the respect deserved by Jesus. Even before getting into the supernatural quandaries that most people immediately jump in when discussing him.

So what about the miracles, what about God, what about Heaven? I told you before I don’t know, but I have hope that the man I’ve found to hold the truth about so much I can examine, also spoke the truth about those things I can’t.

Even without that assurance I will follow Jesus.

Tanner Noguess

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Some Of My Drawings

I always wanted to try my hand at drawing, but while I was in high school all of my electives were taken up by music classes. So, during my last semester at college I took my first art class (Drawing I). I've been wanting to show these drawings to my friends and family, but have seldom had the chance (I don't carry 'em around you know). Since I need to practice posting pictures before our trip and I didn't want to bore everyone with another long post, here is the series I did for my final presentation (click on them to enlarge).





In case it's a bit vague they are all tied together under the theme of "Knowledge."

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

A Time in the Wilderness

Last month I graduated from college, next month my wife and I will be traveling around the world, but right now is a very confusing time for me. A time in the wilderness.

I’ve been so focused on finishing my degree that other things have been put on the back burner. With my goal finally realized I feel like I’ve been given a key, but I don’t know what door it opens. This is not the only confusion I have though, when I am honest with myself I realize that I am perplexed by many aspects of my life. As I look upon my religious beliefs, I recognize that I have compromised their meaning to the point of meaninglessness. I look upon my education and wonder if I should have studied a different subject. I examine my life in general and find myself sadly lacking in accomplishment. I even question in which direction I would want to accomplish.

I am disillusioned with our materialistic society, our capitalistic government, and the fact that the church does not truly separate itself from the secular world in it's ideals. I am disillusioned with myself and the fact that my mind can fathom a lifestyle that my body will not conform to. Everyone knows the importance of healthy food and an physical activity, yet I am sedentary and eat junk food. I would like to set the world afire with my accomplishments, yet I don’t even have a clear goal. I would like to be a mystic, a spiritual leader that propels the world into a utopian future and directs souls toward everlasting life, yet I find myself doubting the very existence of the "soul" as it is typically understood. It seems that I am disillusioned with everything.

I am reminded of walking on some land close to my house called the Red Arroyo. An area basically composed of red clay, a ditch that if your lucky has a little stagnant, fetid water in it, and an assortment of desert flora that provide no noticeable benefit. The only plants out there are those that manage to suck water from great depths, release almost none of it into the environment, and are invariably covered with some type of thorny exterior. The king of this foliage, the mesquite, is one of the few "trees" (it would probably be considered a large bush by biologists) that will thrive naturally in West Texas, and it is quite possibly the most rugged plant alive. In other words this is a wild, untamed place, a wilderness.

The funny thing about the Red Arroyo is that if you really look around while your walking through it there is some beauty to be found. It does not contain the manicured look of the well-cared-for lawns of our town, this is nature, the way it truly is. I’m not saying that it’s pristine and untouched by man, but it makes me feel somehow closer to the truth, distanced from the "bubble" man builds around himself as a shield from the harshness of reality.

There is another interesting observation I can make about this little wilderness area. If you follow the ditch far enough, through all the stickers and thorns, evading the mesquite branches that seem to try to grab you as you pass, and somehow manage to keep out of the foul, marshy mud that appears from nowhere and leaves a stench on any article of clothing that it comes in contact with, if you press on past all these obstacles there is an area to be found, quite surprisingly, around a certain bend. Suddenly you are staring at a big beautiful pond surrounded by green grass, large pine trees, foot bridges and exquisite houses. It is in fact probably the most beautiful neighborhood in our town, and there is no better view of it than from the side bordering the Red Arroyo.

I remember that Jesus too went into the wilderness. He separated himself from the illusions of this world, was tempted to seek materialism and hedonistic pursuits, yet instead found the oasis that he would spend the rest of his life leading the world towards. He came out with the knowledge that he would, in fact, give up his own life to share with others.

As I look around during my time in the wilderness I realize that I am confused, disillusioned, and perhaps bordering on lost. I don’t know what to believe, and I question even those things I used to accept as fact. But still the separation from the dogma of society, government, and organized religion lends itself to seeing pure unadulterated truth. Much like the difference between the well managed lawns of a city and the rugged plants of nature.

So what truths am I left with? I know beyond a shadow of doubt I want to spend my time on earth wrapped in the warm blanket of love. Of course with my wife, but also extending to all those I am in contact with. I know that the world would be a much better place if people would work unselfishly and to the betterment of all, rather than hoarding, and competing for resources. I truly believe there would be enough for everyone. I honestly cannot say if there is an afterlife, but I can say there is a life after this moment, and this moment leads to the next in a series of consequences, so the more "righteous" we are today, the better the future will be. Unfortunately, I also know from experience that I will fall far short of ideal, and so will everyone else. Therefore, I must forgive others for there shortcomings, and hope in turn for forgiveness of my own. This includes society, government, and the church. After all, the system we find ourselves a part of has been established since long before we were members of it, some might say we were "born into original sin." Finally I see that great things can be achieved by those willing to sacrifice. Unfortunately, I still don’t know if I am one of the few who are willing to do it.

As I examine the things I hold to be true I also recognize that there are gapping holes in my knowledge. Such as the true nature of God, or in fact the certainty of the existence of God as most would define him/it (although that opens a whole can of worms in itself, "defining" God is like putting the infinite into a box to examine at ones leisure). Also, again how can I in truth express confidence in an afterlife when I have not personally experienced it? So where does this leave me? Well, in fact, still in a wilderness.

As I choose the next direction for my life I do have some guideposts to follow. I have looked at the world from the viewpoint of the wilderness and found truths that transcend the bias of the current state of the world. Once again I have discovered that there is someone pointing in the direction I know to be right. Someone who has already made it through the wilderness. And though there are things I don’t and can’t know, at least not yet, I will follow him.

I must, though it pains me, make a distinction. I am speaking of following the man that lived 2000 years ago and taught of loving your enemies, healing the sick, turning the other cheek, giving money to the poor, and teaching others to do the same; not the modern American conservative movement that espouses cutting taxes for the rich, spending more on national "defense" than on education, enforcing their moral code through the legal system, and seeking "justice" on those who oppose them. Unfortunately they also claim his name. Did I mention I’m a bit disillusioned?

Tanner Noguess

Friday, January 21, 2005

A Little Bathroom Humor

Typically I would refrain from bathroom humor, but in this case I think that I’ll have to suspend my usual sensibilities.

Yesterday evening there was a meeting of a group I’m interested in promoting (I won’t mention their name do the nature of this post). I was going to pick up someone that wanted to learn more about the organization, but I didn’t know exactly where his house was. I had the address and a general notion of the area, still I found myself driving back and forth looking for a particular cross street.

About this time I began to feel that rumbling, grumbling, pressure in my lower abdomen that indicates a bodies need to release some gas. I know you’ve all been there! Soon I let loose with what turned out to be one of the raunchiest farts I’ve experienced in recent memory! My eyes were watering when I saw the street I was looking for. It hadn’t been 30 seconds since my foul flatulence had been unleashed on the interior of my vehicle!

I was a little concerned when I turned the corner, but thought I might drive around a little to stall for time, maybe drag my feet a bit while I was walking up to his door. By this time I even had the beginning’s of a plan to have a nice little conversation at his doorstep.

Just then he stepped out of the shadows to the curb. He saw me! I became panicky as I realized I couldn’t keep driving, I couldn’t drag my feet, I couldn’t have a long conversation. Worse still he was walking around to the passenger door as I frantically tried to roll down the window, turn on the A/C, fan my hand, and blow outside. It was futile, he had opened the door and was stepping into the car. I’m sure I had a pitiful look on my face as I shook his hand and asked him how he was doing. I could smell his cologne as he sat down and had a fleeting hope that it would cover the odor. I could see by his expression it didn’t.

Neither of us "aired" the subject, but it was a definitely long ride to the meeting.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Haunted House?

I'm a generally skeptical person and question most everything. When Jerry, my mother-in-law's boyfriend, told us that his house was haunted a couple of months ago I dismissed the idea pretty quickly. I thought he was either joking, was the victim of an over active imagination influenced by a creaky old house, or was perhaps just a little delusional. My education in psychology has taught me to seek such rational explanations for the "supernatural." Since then, though, I've had to reevaluate my position.

A couple of weeks ago, while in Jerry's restroom, I heard someone moving around outside the door. I finished washing my hands and stepped outside. There was nobody out there. In fact, everyone was on the other side of the house. This struck me as odd, but I didn't think too much about it until several days later when it happened to my wife Joy.

Joy's mother, Jerry, and Walter (Joy's brother) were all in the dining room when Joy walked in obviously shaken. She asked them if one of them had been outside the bathroom door. They had all been sitting in the kitchen in plain view of each other and claimed that no one had left. When she heard this she became very frightened. She revealed that she had heard someone outside the bathroom. When she got out and didn't see anyone, she thought her brother was hiding somewhere to scare her. When she found them all in the kitchen it really did scare her. She was still shaken when I arrived from work.

Jerry claims that not only has he experienced the apparition, the woman he bought the house from told him it was haunted. He has even affectionately named the ghost Freddy. I, being the cynic that I am, suggested that it was probably just the house settling. Joy reiterated that it sounded like someone walking outside the door, and she was upset the rest of the evening.

The final episode of this story happened two nights ago. We were again gathered at Jerry's house. This time those assembled included Joy, her mom, Jerry, Joy's sister Mickie, a friend of Jerry's and myself. The men were watching T.V. in one room, while the women were visiting in another. Jerry's friend actually said something about hearing a dog inside the house when he had been waiting outside the door, and wondered aloud if Freddy had a ghost dog. Right then we heard a metallic clang come from the hallway. Joy's mom came out to see what we were up to, but we thought that they had made the noise. The ruckus had come from the hall outside the "haunted" bathroom. I went back there to see what was going on and encountered my wife and her sister hugging each other in fright. Their mother was staring at the hallway closet and I could here what sounded like something moving inside! NO ONE IN THE HOUSE WAS!

When I opened the closet door there was nothing there but a few boxes full of old junk. We could still hear the noise! Now it sounded like it was coming from the ceiling. I looked around and saw that everyone was staring nervously upward.

Like I said earlier I've had to reevaluate my original position on this matter. Now I think Jerry has squirrels in his attic. This is quite a step up from thinking he has bats in his belfry!

Addendum: My wife, after reading this, insists that though the noises from the latter night could have been squirrls, the earlier noise was different. She fervently maintains that it was the sound of someone walking, and that I am dismissing the possibility of it being a ghost to easily.

Monday, January 17, 2005

I take another drink of nice hot coffee on a cold Sunday afternoon

I take another drink of nice hot coffee on a cold Sunday afternoon. I’m sitting in my house shoes seriously considering crawling back under the electric blanket. Like I said it’s cold! My wife walks in and asks if I’ve walked the dog yet. I confirm her suspicion that I haven’t and she informs me that we need to take her. So off we go, out into the chilly air.

When we get back home it’s time for our church group so out we go again. We gather to grow as Christians and friends for a couple of hours, then it’s to the grocery store to pick up some pesto for supper. We cook, we eat, and we get under the electric blanket where it’s nice and warm. She writes in her journal, I will probably read a little after I finish typing this on my laptop. In other words, we have a nice, normal, run of the mill Sunday evening in San Angelo Texas U.S.A. I can’t help but wonder how different our evenings will be in the not to distant future.

Our lives will soon be anything but "normal". We have committed ourselves to this fact by purchasing something called a "Round-the-World Ticket" from American Airlines (well, them and their worldwide affiliates) for each of us. In less than a month we will be heading west over the Pacific to begin a trip scheduled to last nearly four months covering countries from New Zealand to Korea; Japan to England and countless places in between. We will be returning home from the east over the Atlantic Ocean having completely circumnavigated the planet.

We have been preparing for a while now. We have travel size everything to fill our backpacks and clothes made of quick drying materials; our dog will be well loved by a sweet couple and our house will be watched over; we’ve been vaccinated for all kinds of diseases and have prescriptions for malaria and dysentery; we have purchased travel insurance and my boss has had plenty of time to find a replacement for my position. Still though, unexpected things keep popping up. Last week, for instance, while trying to get a visa for Australia we realized that my wife’s passport is still in her maiden name; the tickets are obviously not. The procedure for changing a name on a passport usually takes six to eight weeks. Did I mention we were leaving in less than four? Sure, they’ll expedite the process, but it ain’t cheap!

I know it’ll all be worth it we’re finally on our way. I can’t stop daydreaming of swimming in the great barrier reef, eating sushi in Japan, and touring Stonehenge in England. With all good things comes a little bad though, and I have to admit that I’m not looking forward to some aspects of our trip. I sure am going to miss this nice warm electric blanket!

In the beginning was the word...

Well, I guess I've done it, I finally have a place to express myself for all the world to see! All I can say is wow! What interesting times we live in. And in the beginning was the word...