Hi! This is me
In the context of this site I want to share how the Gospel became meaningful to me. This will allow you to better know where I am coming from in my posts, sessions and FAQs. I continue my story in my first Post describing what led me to put this site up.
(Oh and the basic info stuff… my name is Ragnar Oborn, and I live in Canada. I am married and we have a son. I studied at University of Toronto, University of New Brunswick and Acadia University.)
Restlessness in a Privileged Youth
I grew up in an upper middle-class professional family. Originally from Sweden, we immigrated to Canada when I was young, and then I came of age while living abroad in several countries – Algeria, Germany and Cameroon, and finally returning to Canada for university. Like everyone else I wanted (and still want) to experience a full life – one that is characterized by contentment, a sense of peace, and of meaning and purpose – along with a connectedness to other people.
Living in these diverse societies – of various religions as well as very secular ones – and being a voracious reader, I was exposed to different views as to what is ultimately ‘true’ and what it took to get a full life. What I observed was that though I (and most in the West) had unprecedented wealth, technology and opportunity to achieve these goals, the paradox of our time was that they seemed so elusive. I noticed that relationships are more disposable and temporary than that of previous generations. Terms like ‘rat race’ was used to describe our lives. I heard that if we can get just ‘a little bit more’, then we would arrive. But how much more? And more of what? Money? Scientific knowledge? Technology? Pleasure?
As a young person I felt angst probably best described as a vague restlessness. Since my father was an expatriate consulting engineer in Africa, I hung out with other wealthy, privileged and educated western teenagers. But life there was quite simple with few outlets to amuse us. So my friends and I dreamed about the days we could return to our home countries and enjoy TV, good food, opportunities, and the ease of western living – and then we would be ‘satisfied’. Yet when I would visit Canada or Europe, after the first bit of euphoria the restlessness would return. And worse, I also noticed it in the people who lived there all the time. Whatever they had (and they had a lot by any standard) there was always need for more. I thought I would find ‘it’ when I had a popular girlfriend. And for a while this seemed to fill something within me, but after a few months restlessness would return. I thought when I got out of high school then I would ‘arrive’… then it was when I could get a driver’s license and gain mobility – then my search would be over. Now that I am older I hear people speaking of retirement as the ticket to satisfaction. Is that it? Do we spend our whole lives chasing one thing after the other, thinking the next thing around the corner will give it to us, and then … our lives are over? It seems so futile!
The Wisdom of Solomon
During these years, because of this inescapable restlessness that I saw in me and around me, the writings of Solomon made a deep impact on me. Solomon, a king of ancient Israel famous for his wisdom, wrote several books in the Old Testament. In Ecclesiastes, he described this same impenetrable sense of restlessness that I was experiencing. He wrote:
“I thought in my heart, ‘Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.’ …I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was worthwhile for men to do under heaven during the few days of their lives.
I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone … before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired men and women singers, and a harem as well—the delights of the heart of man. I became greater by far than anyone … before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me….I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor.” (Ecclesiastes 2:1-10)
Riches, fame, knowledge, projects, women, pleasure, kingdom, career, wine… Solomon had it all – and more of it than anyone else of his day or ours. The smarts of an Einstein, the riches of a Bill Gates, the social/sexual life of a Mick Jagger, along with a royal pedigree like that of Prince William in the British Royal family – all rolled into one. Who could beat that combination? You would think Solomon, of all people would have been satisfied. But he concluded:
“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’ … I … devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:1-14)
“…when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun… So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun.… This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun?… This too is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 2:11-23)
Hardly optimistic! In one of his poems, The Song of Songs
, he records an erotic, red-hot love affair that he was having – the very thing that seems most likely to provide life-long satisfaction. But in the end, the love affair did not give him sustained satisfaction as we know from Ecclesiastes.
Now wherever I looked, either among my friends or in society, it seemed like Solomon’s pursuits for a full life were the ones everywhere being offered and tried. But he had already told me that he had not been able to find it on those paths. So I sensed that I would probably not find it there and would need to look on a road less travelled.
Along with all these issues I was bothered by another aspect of life. It troubled Solomon as well:
19 Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. 20 All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” (Ecclesiastes 3:19-21) 2 All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not. As it is with the good man, so with the sinner; as it is with those who take oaths, so with those who are afraid to take them. 3 This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: The same destiny overtakes all. … they join the dead. 4 Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion! 5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten. (Ecclesiastes 9:2-5)
Woody Allen vs. Solomon
Death is utterly final and reigns absolute over our lives. As Solomon said, it is the fate of all people, good or bad, religious or not. Woody Allen directed and released the movie You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger
. It is a funny/serious look at death. In an interview at the Cannes Film Festival he revealed his thoughts about death with his trademark humor:
“My relationship with death remains the same – I’m strongly against it. All I can do is wait for it. There is no advantage to getting older – you don’t get smarter, you don’t get wiser, you don’t get more mellow, you don’t get more kindly – nothing happens. But your back hurts more, you get more indigestion, your eyesight isn’t as good and you need a hearing aid. It’s a bad business getting older and I would advise you not to do it if you can avoid it.” 
He then concluded with how one should face life given the inevitability of death:
“One must have one’s delusions to live. If you look at life too honestly and too clearly life does become unbearable because it’s a pretty grim enterprise. This is my perspective and has always been my perspective on life – I have a very grim, pessimistic view of it… I do feel that it [life] is a grim, painful, nightmarish, meaningless experience and that the only way that you can be happy is if you tell yourself some lies and deceive yourself.”
So are those our only choices? Either take the honest route of Solomon and be resigned to utter hopelessness and futility, or take the route of Woody Allen and ‘tell myself some lies and deceive myself’ so I can live under a more happy ‘delusion’? Neither seems very attractive. Closely linked with death was the question of eternity. Is there really a Heaven, or (more alarmingly) is there really a place of eternal judgment – a Hell?
All of these issues and questions percolated within me. In my senior year of high school we were given an assignment to collect one hundred pieces of literature (poems, songs, short stories etc.) into an anthology. Most of my anthology dealt with these issues and it allowed me to ‘meet’ and hear many others who also wrestled with these same questions. And meet them I did – from all sorts of eras, educational backgrounds, lifestyle philosophies and genres.
There was Satisfaction
by the Rolling Stones, Time
by Pink Floyd, and Ozymandius
by Shelley, Samuel Coleridge, W.H. Auden, Shakespeare, Frost, and so on.
The Gospel – Ready to Consider it
I also included some of the well-known discourses by Jesus as recorded in the Biblical gospels. So along with lyrical pieces as mentioned above were teachings from Jesus like:
… “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)
It grew on me that maybe, just maybe, here was an answer that perhaps addressed these issues and questions that Solomon, these authors, and I were asking. After all, gospel (which to me had just been a more-or-less meaningless religious word) literally meant ‘good news’. Was the Gospel really good news? Or was it more-or-less hearsay? To answer that I knew I needed to journey down two roads. First, I needed to start to develop an informed understanding of the Gospel. Second, I had lived in different religious cultures, had met people and read authors who had many objections to, and held ideas in opposition to, the Biblical Gospel. These were informed and intelligent people. I needed to develop a sound basis for belief – regarding the Gospel as well as other doctrines – and test these beliefs. I needed to think critically about the Gospel, without just being a mindless critic.
There is a very real sense that when one embarks on this kind of journey one never totally arrives, but I did learn that the Gospel does provide answers to these issues. Its whole point actually is to address them – a full life, death, eternity, and practical concerns like love in our family relationships, guilt, fear and forgiveness. The Gospel’s claim is that it is a foundation that we can build our lives upon. One may not necessarily like the answers provided by the Gospel, one may not agree with them or believe them, but given that it addresses these very human questions it would be foolish to remain uninformed of them.
I also learned that the Gospel at times made me quite uncomfortable. In a time when so much beguiles us to just live Comfortably Numb
the Gospel unapologetically challenged my heart, mind, soul and strength that, though it offers Life, it did not offer an easy one. If you do take time to Consider the Gospel you may find the same.
 May 15, 2010 interview recorded by BBC News at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/8684809.stm