Experiential Filters

Happy May! Christ is risen!

Have you ever had a certain way of thinking or processing information and experiences, which you can by no means articulate, you only fuzzily know where it came from, and which haunts you for years in a number of circumstances? Perhaps that was too specific, but I’ve got to suppose this isn’t uncommon. And then eventually you break it open, and find all sorts of oddities inside, so that the mere looking at it is enough for it to become obvious why you had always fought with it?

I have that kind of relationship with “life changing experiences.” I fought and fought with them because they’re important in evangelicalism, and because I tend to mean something rather peculiar by that phrase. First, they almost certainly mean something religious — something concerning one’s relationship with God. I’m not sure if that’s because I was actually taught a meaning, or if I misunderstood someone at some point. The obvious meaning for that phrase, as it stands by itself, is an experience that changes a person in such a way that his life is different for having participated in it. Leaving aside the obvious case of converting to Christianity (which certainly can’t be the only meaning, since this is most often said in this context by people who are already Christian), there are a couple of obvious problems with that, however, especially from a conference leader/testimony perspective, and especially for young people. In order for that expression to be personally meaningful, one would have to know where one’s life was going before the Experience came along, and then what happened in the Experience itself, and what one’s life is like after the Experience for long enough for this to be significant in one’s life, and then to be able to see that the way in which one’s life actually went is different than how it might have been projected to go, were it not for the Experience. Which must be why LCE advocates were often former drug, alcohol, or sex addicts. Before the Experience I was an addict. I’m not an addict now. (glory to God!); thus, my life is changed. In the case of addictions, not only is the change obvious and concrete, but it’s also discernible in a very short period of time (supposing that the addiction doesn’t resume after a week or a month, of course).

As it happens, however, not every person has every sin in equal power, and if one’s own sins are not very much like that, then the conditions under which one is able to recognize how one’s life is being changed can be much harder to see. Different vices have different qualities to them. And, when it comes right down to it, when a Christian speaks of their life being changed for the better, that probably involves replacing some characteristic vice with a virtue. Christian conferences would be ever so much less fuzzy around the edges if this was made clear more often. In fact, if it were ever made clear. If one is asked to “recommit one’s life to Christ,” that probably means that one is a Christian, but still “enslaved to the passions,” and needs to resume fighting against them.

When a person participates in Christian activities (not only evangelical ones, but most any Christian group; perhaps some secular groups as well), he is often asked at the end to reflect on how he has changed and grown, and is presented with the testimonies of other people, often people in very different internal circumstances, as a kind of template. Everything is new and different now! I had never known that poor people could have happy children before! I was so challenged by life without my ipod! We had ten minutes of silence every day for five consecutive days; I learned so much from having “quiet time” as part of my daily routine; it was such a challenge at first! Perhaps I exaggerate, but memory suggests not. I suppose the mature reaction would be to be happy for the person giving the testimony, if uncertain as to how he had managed to live even 17 years in the world and not have been already well acquainted with most of these things. I’m not always mature, so I would wonder why I wasn’t so struck by such things. Even a momentary interaction with the things actually said, rather than the way in which they were said, would show that no homeschooler could possibly find ten minutes of silence challenging, no George Macdonald lover could possibly be surprised at the combination of poverty and joy, somebody who had never owned an ipod could hardly react to its absence, and so on. As I say, though, I’m not always so mature, and have often been motivated by a desire not to seem… “un-worldly?” even to myself. But then, underneath those things, one’s life may being changed, but in a way that one doesn’t yet understand, and may not ever see as connected to that event.

All of this I may have known already, but I’m writing about it both because I should at some point write an account of my time in Georgia, and (God willing…) will be going to Moldova as mart of a mission team. I want to participate fully in that trip, and serve God and others, and be a good witness for Him in words and action — and I also want to see things the way I actually see them, which has proved the harder part of many religious events.

Something interesting about TLG is that there’s no — templating, I might say, in the way I had experienced it before. a person is left alone with a lot of Georgians, speaking to one another in Georgian, some other volunteers scattered through the towns and villages, and the voices in her head. And neither Georgians nor, I think, many volunteers, process events in the way I tried to outline above. I get the impression that the Life Changing Experience as something one sets out to participate in isn’t a big thing in Georgian culture any more than the Conversion Experience. Going with the flow is a big part of Georgian culture, as is struggling to get by. They’ve had a different history than America. Traveling because it’s cool and you can is a big thing in TLG culture, and several people have expressed an interest in becoming certified in TEFL and traveling to a few different countries before settling down.

So then the question is, given the way in which I automatically try to process experiences: is it a good way to do so? Should I continue in the same way? To which my immediate, unexamined answer is that it’s not bad; it has it’s good points — but also tends toward immaturity. If I’m spending all my energy on my own “life journey,” or whatever, then it’s likely I’ll overlook what’s going on with others, and ways in which I might be of help. Which is a recurring difficulty for me.


3 thoughts on “Experiential Filters

  1. This is a cheesy response, I just thought of it and haven’t vetted the idea. But I think your perception of the world is very well thought out, if not always clear to you. There is value in that. Even if to “know who you are” is not much use to the people of the 1970’s generation who wanted to find themselves, I would respond that what this means to know yourself is to recognize your value. You don’t need a LCE in order to have value, that is a mistaken belief Christians sometimes make. Here if I weren’t so lazy I would try to specify what I mean by value. You are just as valuable if you don’t think you can live without your ipod as you are if you do. Focusing on one’s life journey in order to understand that one has value already can be a powerful way of preparing one’s self to use that value to help others.

  2. I presume you mean “good” in a practical rather than moral sense. The way that works best for you, is the good way, both practically and morally. Being aware THAT you process things a certain way (and not others) adds potential value to the processing. Because you know your process, you have the ability to avoid universalizing the personal where in ought not to be. The universalizing of particulars is at least one aspect of the LCE I find most distasteful. Universalizing of particulars can be done “from above” but not from below (or within). This idea of perspective (above versus below) is beautifully drawn out in C.S. Lewis’s essay “Transposition.”

    • Universalizing of particulars? I’m not sure what that means — could you give an example?

      BTW: I read the synopsis of the Transposition essay, and it sounds exactly like the answer to what the Green Witch said when she tried enchanting the Children and Puddleglum in The Silver Chair.

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