Mystery and “Why?”

There are some things I miss about being a kid.  One of them is the kids often haven’t developed the idea that games ought to be equally fun for everybody who plays.

Kids see themselves as the center of the universe.  They see themselves as the most important.  Early on, we see this in kids’ struggles at taking turns.

Little kids think that they should always be the one at bat, because being at bat is the most fun.  Little kids think that they shouldn’t have to get off the coin-operated shakey boat thing outside the grocery store, because it’s much more fun to have a near-whiplash experience than it is to watch somebody do it.

Have you ever watched slightly older kids engaged in a game of make-believe.

If they are old school parents, and it’s a couple boys, they are running around with a couple toy pistols.  If the parents thought that they were hip and modern and that they could impact these things (for better or worse my wife and I fall into this category) they are running around with guns made out of legos, or sticks remotely shaped liked pistols, or perhaps that old stand-by, the extended forefinger with the thumb pointed up in the air.

After a few minutes of running and shooting noises, one might declare “I have a force field.”

Then he’ll step out from behind the shrub or whatever and fire with what he believes is impunity.

The other kid, at this point, we’ll generally proclaim that he too has a force field.  He’ll step out from behind his cover, too.

The two kids will then stand there, locked in a stale mate.  I think you can probably correlate intelligence and perhaps later life success with how long it takes one of them to figure their way out of this quandary.

“I’ve got a force field cutter!”  He’ll say.  As he tries to implement this wonder of science, the other child will proclaim, “I’ve got a force-field-cutter-destroyer!” inviting the retort “I’ve got a force-field-cutter-destroyer-destroyer.”

At some point, it stopped being a game of make believe and it became a game where each boy was looking for some advantage not open to the other one.  As we grow and mature, we come to recognize “If I’m allowed a force field, then they are allowed a force field.”  But it seems to me this recognition takes some years to develop.

I’m a younger brother.  My early childhood is marked (marred?) by my older brother’s attempts at formulating games which were fun for him but not so much for me.  Most of them end in acts of cruelty that should be outlawed by the Geneva Convention.  There was this one Fall evening that a game culminated with me being  tied to the trunk of this great big tree and squirted with sugar water to lure the fat New England mosquitos.

I’m not debating whether or not this was a good time for him.  Watching a sibling be slowly devoured is a dream for most kids.  My point here?  It wasn’t so much fun for me.  We hadn’t yet really developed this concept that a game is only a game if it’s fun for both sides.

And this brings us to that ancient game “Why.”  I’m sure you know it.  Kids reach a certain age.  And then they begin to ask why.  They ask “why” about things they want to know.  And they ask “why” about things that they don’t want to know.  They ask “Why” when they understand what’s going on.  And they ask “Why” when they have absolutely no clue of what is going on.  They ask “Why” as a way of being social, and keeping a conversation going.  They ask “Why” when they are trying to shift the focus away from other things that are being discussed.

Why, why, why, why, why, why, why, why!

The why game is much more fun for the person asking “why” than it is for the person answering.  We all know that there are few things more annoying than being asked “why” more than once in fifteen or so minutes.

But I hope you won’t judge me if I tell you that I personally take a sad little delight in playing the why game.  Being on the other side, asking the question, “why.”  Once, it’s kind of a funny thing.

But the real pay-off?  When somebody answers the question, “why?” Is to ask it again.  “Why?”

In addition to annoying those nearest and dearest to us, there is something profound about playing the “why” game as an adult, though.

Playing the why game makes a pretty interesting thing crystal clear:

We really don’t know very much.

Most everything we do, say, or believe, it can’t hold up to much more than about five “why’s” before it breaks down.

I might for example, state that eating healthy is a good idea.


Well, because people want to be healthy.


Well, because it’s more fun to be healthy than it is to be sick.


Because being sick hurts.


Uhmm… maybe because we were made that way?  If getting sick were pleasant, there would be no reason to eat healthy?


Because most unhealthy stuff tastes better than most healthy stuff.  We need some other reason to eat healthy stuff.


Actually, I have no idea why.

Could somebody have come up with an answer to that final why?  Sure.  Could somebody have answered any of the previous questions differently?  Certainly.

There will come a point that they will run out of answers.  And each answer, it’s a little more theoretical than the one that came before.

Science is no help in this area.  Even the most thoroughly understand phenemona can only withstand a few rounds of “why.”  There have been times when people predicted that this science or that science will soon run out of things to discover.  There have been people who looked to the future and thought that soon all the dilemmas within their domain would be solved.

But they have always been wrong.

The things that we don’t know… The times when we can no longer really answer the question, “why?” that’s when we’ve traveled into a place of mystery.

All the things that we think we know… they are mystery.  And all the things that we do know, they are islands floating on this ocean of mystery.  Mystery is a fundamental element of the universe, larger and more profound than all the things we will ever know.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

5 thoughts on “Mystery and “Why?””

  1. Ahh… Nick has devoloped this wierd passion for old school games. He found an Intellevision at a yard school with a whole mess games. He’s like a kid in a candy store.

    At any rate,I am very much in agreeance: why is the point.


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