jottings from tertius

views of the world from my worldview window

"If there was no God, there would be no atheists." G.K. Chesterton


SITES OF NOTE

Tektonics Apologetics Ministry
blogs4God
The Adarwinist reader
Bede's Library: the Alliance of Faith and Reason
A Christian Thinktank
Doxa:Christian theology and apologetics
He Lives
Mike Gene Teleologic
Errant Skeptics Research Institute
Stephen Jones' CreationEvolutionDesign
Touchstone: a journal of mere Christianity: mere comments
The Secularist Critique: Deconstructing secularism
Ex-atheist.com: I Wasn't Born Again Yesterday
imago veritatis by Alan Myatt
Solid Rock Ministries
The Internet Monk: a webjournal by Michael Spencer
The Sydney Line: the website of Keith Windschuttle
Miranda Devine's writings in the Sydney Morning Herald
David Horowitz frontpage magazine
Thoughts of a 21st century Christian Philosopher
one-eighty
Steven Lovell's philosophical themes from C.S.Lewis
Peter S. Williams Christian philosophy and apologetics
Shandon L. Guthrie
Clayton Cramer's Blog
Andrew Bolt columns
Ann Coulter columns




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"These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own." G.K.Chesterton


"You cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion." G.K.Chesterton


"As you perhaps know, I haven't always been a Christian. I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that."C. S. Lewis

"I blog, therefore I am." Anon


Tuesday, December 21, 2004

one ordinary life

 
Ray is nobody you have heard of but sometimes the stories of little people loom large.

Ray is just an ordinary guy but, in his little corner of the world, he has done some extraordinary things. His story is a testament to faith.

Ray’s’s father was a U.S. marine so the family moved around a bit including stints in Japan and Korea. On his return from overseas service, Ray’s dad was dissatisfied with the way things were in the States so he decided that the family would emigrate... to Australia. So Ray, though Kentucky born, found himself as a teenager attempting to put down roots in an Australian city and trying to fit in to one of its better private boys’ schools. Ray’s native intelligence and natural exuberance enabled him to meet these challenges and to overcome any obstacles so that he was soon right at home and acting like a local – albeit with a Yank accent. It didn’t hurt that he was charming, witty and devilishly handsome either, making him both popular with the girls and admired by the boys. He was also something of a practical joker so he easily assimilated with the Aussies. As a keen sportsman he soon became a cricket fanatic. Now cricket is sport which is an obsession to many Australians but is virtually unknown in the USA. Ray was soon a true blue Aussie - despite his American twang.

There was however another darker side to Ray. He was an aggressive atheist and skeptic; he delighted in pouring scorn on religious beliefs, and on publicly and privately mocking Christians. He ran with a crowd that shared his disdain for religion. This was an era long before the Internet but Ray was the epitome of the now classic internet infidel. He despised Christianity, Christ and God. He viewed it as a crutch for the weak; believers were the most deluded sheep-like ignoramuses on the face of the earth. Ray was the sort of guy who would curse God, dare Him to strike him dead, then laugh in His face when, of course, nothing happened.

But beneath the surface bluster, bravado and cynicism, Ray was also a sensitive and thoughtful young man. He had all the knockdown arguments against God but he found himself challenged by the quiet integrity he observed in the lives of many of the Christians he met and mocked. Then his admired older brother found Christ; next a young woman he was interested in became a Christian; then while at university he found himself constantly coming into contact with Christians whose faith seemed to radiate some deep inner substance that was missing from his own outwardly successful and popular college party-life. Their faith and hope challenged all his assumptions and prejudices. Had he missed something? Was there something more to life? Was there a greater purpose and meaning to it all than just being born, reproducing, having a few good times, and a lot of not so good times, and then dying followed by the great and endless nothingness?

Finally, like another young university student named C.S. Lewis, half a century earlier, he found himself dragged kicking and screaming into the kingdom of God. The young man who had so aggressively attacked Christians now humbled himself before the One he had despised and was transformed into a committed follower of the Christ.

For the next 25 years Ray’s faith in Christ was the cornerstone of his life as he married, raised as family, and pursued a successful career as a high school teacher. He was active in Church and in Christian groups, as well as in the full range of extra-curricula, cultural and sporting activities the committed school teacher and dad finds himself called upon to undertake. When I first met Ray I was immediately attracted by his magnetic personality and personal charisma. I was amazed to find that his zest and enthusiasm for life had, as its firm foundation, a deep trust and confidence in God. And surprisingly I also discovered that he was still close to a number of friends from his old infidel gang days. Though he now rejected their outlook, he still enjoyed their respect.

Now Ray was not the stereotypical Christian believer. Though orthodox in his beliefs, he was not the puritanical, fundy, bible-bashing, moralising kill-joy of popular caricature. In fact he could be, and often was, the life of the party, an extravert who loved practical jokes and verbal punning. He was quite radical in his political and social views and was well-read, he "enjoyed a drink", he loved to tell a good story, he was popular with his students, a real charmer with women and a hale-fellow-well-met with "the guys". Ray was the classic "people person", and he used his natural ease and grace to share his faith in a gentle, subtle and non-threatening way with those he came into contact with. This surprised some people. "You , a Christian?!" "You really believe this Jesus stuff!?" The fun-loving party guy would become serious and quiet and tell them yes, he did. Some shook their heads, but others listened. He was the kind of guy who had quite an impact on the lives of many of the people around him.


Time passes, Ray gets older, enters middle-age. While everything seems to be going just marvellously for him – a lovely wife, three great and gifted kids, an admired and respected teacher, a popular and involved member of the community - something begins to gnaw at him. The old questions reappear. Is this all there is? Is life passing him by? Is there more he could be doing? Are their challenges he should be undertaking? Experiences he should be, well... experiencing? Now it seems God is not so close anymore. The old doubts and uncertainties resurface. But that’s just life. So he shrugs it off and just gets on with it.

But then personal disaster strikes – which I won’t detail out of sensitivity and respect for Ray and his family, but it is of a kind of disaster that strikes with more and more frequency in modern society, the kind of disaster that we kid ourselves is not really a disaster at all, when in fact it poisons and destroys all it comes into contact with.

Suddenly his whole world comes crashing down; he suffers from bouts of anxiety and depression, his marriage falters, breaks down, ends, his kids become alienated from him, his old friends desert him or neglect him, he no longer feels accepted in his chosen career, or at ease in his church involvement. The old certainties crumble, the foundation no longer seems sound. He feels lost and alone, useless and rootless. Where is God? Doesn’t He care? Is there a God at all?

A midlife crisis? Perhaps. But then again aren’t the crises we face as human are always so profoundly, well... spiritual.

Now Ray had always been attracted to things Japanese, so much so, that mid-career he had begun taking Japanese language lessons and soon was teaching Japanese... So he flees like a nomad in despair to Japan, perhaps drawn by memories of his early life there. He sheds his old skin, discards everything from his former life - his possessions, his friends, his career, the whole package, even his beliefs. He is not quite an atheist again but he is not much of a believer any longer either. Though approaching 50 he begins again at year zero, peddling his bicycle through the streets of Tokyo, living in a small one-room apartment - and teaching English to enthusiastic Japanese students of all ages. In the midst of personal upheaval he finds a calling.

And there he starts to bloom again. Slowly but surely what seemed dead is being reborn. He has nothing much in the way of possessions but he finds that in helping people, in caring for people, in working alongside people, he begins to feel alive again.

And there in the land of the Rising Sun he finds the Risen Son again. He discovers that God had not deserted him, had not abandoned him, but was there all along, in both the bad times as well as the good, in the sad as well as the happy, in the times of failure as well as the times of success, and in the periods of deep despair as well as in the moments of joy. Ray had lost family, possessions, prestige, success, but he had found that no matter how deep the pit, God is deeper still. He had lost everything but he had gained so much wisdom and understanding in return.

A half-a-lifetime ago, Ray had reached out for a God whom he didn’t believe was there and he had been electrified to find The God Who is There had been all along reaching out to touch him. Down the long journey together he had grown so comfortable with God that He had become like the favourite comfy sweater one gets accustomed to wearing around the house. But then when the chips were down, when tragedy struck, when chaos loomed, God seemed a vanishing mist, a comfortless comforter, or worse, either heartless and cruel or weak and impotent. Ray had to relearn, or perhaps learn for the first time, that God is not some cosmic "sky daddy" handing out blessings like trinkets from a tray, but the One who is the great I Am, in whom we live and move and have our very being. And he remembered the most startling and amazing thing about God: This God loved the world so much that He entered into our pain and suffering by becoming a man, and as that man, He cancelled the debt of our guilt and shame by bearing in his own body the penalty of our sins to set us free from the power of alienation and shame and death and fit us for his kingdom.

Ray is still living with the rest of us in "a place called vertigo" but he has found, and found again, the sure and steadfast anchor of his soul.


I am privileged to have know Ray for the last 15 years. I have been embarrassed by his larrikanisms, blushed at his jokes, been amazed at his psychological insights, been annoyed at his politics, being inspired by his example, been shocked by his outrageousness, been encouraged by his friendship, been deeply saddened by his downfall, and uplifted by his rising again.


This Christmas I am thinking of Ray far away in Japan riding his bicycle through sleet and snow to visit another student.



for Ray LeB.


4:01:00 pm