Dinner: They finally unleashed the Indian guy, and we had curry. Again, not enough meat and kind of tame - they were really worried about burning the taste buds of the old boring white people in the group - but good flavour. Also shrimp chips, salad, green beans actually cooked properly. Dessert was mini cheesecakes with syrup, powdered sugar, and fruit slices, so also pretty good. Hooray.
Part 1: Sermon
A lot of sermon time was taken up with people from the group giving testimony about their experiences at the weekend retreat. One woman said she had a big experience. She had prayed to give her life to God on Monday, but felt ill at ease the whole week and through the weekend up until one discussion when she realized her problem was that she didn't like accepting gifts. Once she understood this, she felt emotional, became physically shaky, and felt flushed.
Another girl said she had prayed the same prayer. Two months ago, she lost her job, so she wanted to feel like God had chosen to take her job away and that there was a reason God wanted her to be unemployed. There was lots of crying.
I tuned-out some more emotional testimonies and crying and waited until the video started.
Gumbel explained that the reason why Christians should tell others was that people are looking for meaning, Christianity has the answers, and it would be irresponsible not to tell them. I understand this point of view, even if I don't think it does have the answers.
According to Gumbel, there are 5 P-words that detail how Christians are supposed to tell others: Presence, Persuasion, Proclamation, Power, and Prayer.
Presence means that you have to act well and be a good example for others while letting them know you are a Christian. He gave the example of William Wilberforce
(19th century abolitionist leader) and Millard Fuller
(started Habitat for Humanity).
Persuasion means reasoning and arguing with people, knowing the bible, knowing the answers to common skeptical questions - like the problem of evil, what about other religions, etc. Gumbel maintains that Christianity does not require a "blind leap of faith" but only a reasonable faith. Of course, I disagree with that too, and feel sorry for wannabe evangelists who encounter a knowledgeable skeptic. Based on the answers provided by Alpha, these guys would get torn up.
However, Gumbel doesn't seem to want to go up against real skeptics. He told a story of a seminar he was at where he and another pastor were challenged by a hardcore skeptic who went on for 20 minutes of questions attacking Christianity - history, biology, physics, ethics, theology. Gumbel was overwhelmed, but the other pastor just asked "if I could answer all your questions would you become a Christian?" "No," the skeptic replied. Looking around at everyone else in attendance, the pastor said, "Are there any other questions?"
Proclamation is about telling your story. Gumbel wants everyone in Alpha to write down and memorize their testimonies about their journeys into faith. As he said, there is no answer to that; "they can't say, 'no, that didn't happen to you.'"
Power means doing and telling and performing miracles. Not much advice was given to as to accomplishing the miracles part.
And Prayer, which is pretty self-explanatory. You pray for your potential converts to see the Truth. You pray to make yourself feel better.
Hmm. Pray for potential converts? That sounds strangely familiar. Like what my wife prays for every single night (in my presence, too). But not only that...
Part 2: Small Groups
...It turns out that a bunch of other people in my group are praying for my conversion, too. One even had a dream about me in that regard. It was really creepy.
Basically, most of the small groups time was about me. One guy started by asking if I'd changed my mind and started accepting Christianity at all. I said no and explained why not. Then everyone started piling on with how they were praying for me. The main tactic was them telling their testimonies and then trying to compare and contrast with what happens in my life.
I realized that they think I live, and have always lived, some sort of worry-free blessed life with youth, wealth, health, good looks, a beautiful wife, house, and a rewarding job. And the fact that I've never been down and desperate is why I don't feel the need for God. It's funny to me since I've never considered myself to have such a blessed life, though I do recognize that my life has been pretty good the last few years since I finished undergrad. But I still see myself as the nerdy socially outcast guy I was in my younger days, and to a certain extent still am now. And I'm not rich or privileged. "I drive a 2002 Nissan Altima," I exclaimed in exasperation. I still work 9-5*
every day in a cubicle, ie. there is CERTAINLY more to life than this, to borrow Alpha's catch phrase.
The difference, I think, is that I'm comfortable with my place in the universe due to my knowledge of science and history, but more than that, I don't have the anger, depression, and forgiveness issues that the rest of my group seem to have. Sure, I have had my problems in the past and have been faced with crappy situations, and I've let them eat me up for months or even years before. But I've learned to not get down, not hold grudges, and ride-out rough patches without the need for a watchful father-god because, for the most part, bad situations don't stay bad forever. And if they don't improve, well, human beings are very adaptable and can either make the best of a bad situation or even do something to make the situation better.
Most of them, though, had become Christians in response to some form of extreme trouble in their lives. To me, though, entering a faith when under duress is like grocery shopping when starving. You buy crazy things that you have to live with even after you're no longer hungry, like ten Salisbury steaks that will reside in your freezer forever.
The session ended with the lawyer guy magnanimously assuring everyone that I'd become Christian sometime...* It really should be 8-5, but I've been an hour late for work a lot recently due to exhaustion and poor sleep habits.
Labels: Alpha Course, personal, religion