On Damascus and a human need for magic?

In the Midwest, we have super-churches. Willow Creek in Chicago has the following question on the splash page of their website:

“How would it be like to live for God with fresh vision and unbridled passion?”

I had been fleshing out this idea even before seeing that, but it’s interesting to me that the word choice involved “passion”. I’m a bit unsure as to the grammatical structure of that sentence, but I include the quote solely on the basis of word choice. More on that in a minute.

Here in the UK, we have the Church of England, affectionately known as “C of E” and a weekly destination for a very small proportion of the total English population. To say that the C of E is quite different from the Midwestern mega-churches is such an understatement that I don’t even know where to begin. It’s increasingly hard for me to see them as two subsets of the same faith.

I had the interesting opportunity to discuss the mechanisms of entry into C of E priesthood with a man of the cloth. The surprise to me in this conversation came in the context of the role of a “Road to Damascus” moment in determining someone’s “calling” to become ordained. Apparently such a moment is identified by some, but not all, of the new prospects. Surprising to me was the idea that such a moment was considered at all indicative of the possible long-term success of the priesthood as a career choice.

This idea immediately brought to mind another “moment of magic” that seems to be valued by most people, the idea of “falling in love”. My views on such things were irretrievably altered by my trips to England prior to moving here, as I became over the course of these trips acquainted with someone from a background that still practices arranged marriage. I was initially shocked and appalled by the idea, but have gradually come to see the merits of such an attitude. In considering the long-term likelihood of success and happiness in a partner relationship, the question in my mind is simple: why do we place value on a “road to Damascus” moment of falling in love as an indicator of the long-term success of a relationship?

Certainly such an idea is propagated within pop culture; the movie “Sleepless in Seattle” with its constant references to “magic” is the example that pops into my head most immediately. However, let me remind you of the dictionary definition:

Magic (noun) the art of producing illusions as entertainment by the use of sleight of hand, deceptive devices, etc.; legerdemain; conjuring: to pull a rabbit out of a hat by magic.

That’s right, the art of producing illusions. Why do we think we need this in our lives? Do we really wish to make critical decisions about our lives, either our career or personal commitments, based on this idea of magic, based on a vision on the road to Damascus? Why do we not take a more considered view of the realities and implications of a serious choice like that of a career or partner? Why do we tend to look down on cultures that still practice arrangements of marriage (although the current trend towards internet dating, especially in the context of the quiz-heavy sorts like eHarmony, is really just this arrangement in modern sheep clothing).

I come now full circle to the interesting quote on the Willow Creek webpage. The quote implies a need for “passion” in our church and spiritual lives as well as in our private ones. I turn again, for lack of better option, to the dictionary:

Passion (noun) any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate.

We have become driven by a need for an emotional high either in church or in love. Is this the best thing? Is a “Road to Damascus” moment really going to sustain someone on the long and hard road ahead, when the realities of life are not glamorous? I think not, but clearly I must be at least somewhat in the minority in my views since this concept is so pervasive. We love the idea of Paul’s conversion being sufficient to not only sustain him in the rest of life but to cause him to become arguably the greatest advocate of the nascent Christian faith. We love the idea of the magic of falling in love as sufficient to sustain a relationship and lead to long-term happiness. But what if it’s not? What if we’re fooling ourselves with this? What if Paul was the exception, and not the rule or model upon which to base our major decisions?

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3 responses to “On Damascus and a human need for magic?

  1. If we incorrectly assume that Paul’s road to Damascus moment was enough to sustain him throughout his career, for lack of a better word, then we’ve managed to miss the point of the vast majority of his writings. Paul continually refers to the fact that he is in fact not perfect and continues to do the things he does not want to do. I believe the mistake people make is assuming that it was easy for Paul to be a follower of Christ. I think we would have a much different view if we had a better understanding of the history of the period outside of the writings in the Bible. I’m sure Paul constantly questioned why he was out traveling through the desert to get to yet another town where he was unlikely to be well received.

  2. Pingback: The church in the US and UK « Not From Around Here

  3. Great post – very thoughtful.

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