Tuesday, November 25, 2008
I spent the subsequent decade and a half trying to unravel what happened to me on that infamous night. I was a driven man to know why and I searched with an intense honesty. Why had my faith failed me? Surely that night was only the breaking point of a process that had begun long before. Could I ever find God again? Could I understand what ailed my faith and continues to haunt American Evangelicalism?
It has taken me two long years to put into words the story of this incredible fifteen year journey. My discoveries about myself, human psychology, church history and philosophy were nothing short of profound. Anyone that feels uneasiness with the Evangelical Church, or their own faith, will be enlightened. In the next twenty-one postings (twenty-two if you include the Introduction) is the accumulation of those years of study, meditation and hard work.
I’m posting my manuscript here and I am asking you to read it and to comment on it. I hope to publish it because I really believe that it is too important of a story not to be told. Before I even start the arduous process of getting a publisher’s eye, I need your help. Your honest feedback chapter by chapter would be greatly appreciated. At the bottom of the page, click on "older posts" to continue.
tags: Evangelicalism, Church history, Christian Dualism, Christian Psychology, Doubt, Christian Doubt, Disillusionment with God, Disillusionment with the Church, Faith and Reason, True Spirituality, Spiritual Abuse, Plato, The Navigators, Failed Missionary experiences, Post Evangelical, Emerging Church,Blue Like Jazz, Gnostics, Gnostic Christianity, Platonic Christianity
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
First, I had an e-mail (in response to this manuscript) where someone seemed quite stunned (maybe disturbed would be too-strong of a word . . . then again maybe not) about how I’ve described some of my early Christians experiences. The person seemed to see my description as incredible, as if it was from an extremely unfortunate and rare, circumstance.
More about that is a second.
The second thing that happened was that I posted a comment on another Christian forum, with equal candor as I have here, and I was censored. I guess it surprised me a little bit, since that forum/blog is quiet open-minded. I’m not offended in the slightest about the censor . . . but, combined with the other item, it got me thinking. Am I too brash? I wrestle a lot with how to word things when I write. But I feel highly motivated to be honest in my writing, and speaking. God is a God of truth. I feel that too much damage has been done by the dishonesty in not only the Christian community, but in human relationships in general.
I certainly don’t write with the intention to offend, nor do I write for the shock value. The e-mailer implied that my experiences were extreme (or embellished). I really don’t believe that they are even that unique. I think I speak as a common man, with common experiences, but I’m also willing to take the risk to speak very candidly.
I decided to peel back the onion of truth further than I had originally intended after I read several of the works of Frank Schaeffer. In his Crazy for God, as well as his earlier fictional, Calvin Becker Trilogy, he speaks with shocking honesty. I really appreciate his candor and it helps me to know that he and I are made of the same stuff, and that his folks, (my Christian heroes), were mortal. So my goal, when I speak with such frankness, is to resonate with the deep, silent hearts of others who have had these experiences . . . but never the audacity (or chance) to speak of them.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
One Man’s Perilous Search for Authentic Christianity
By j.Michael Jones
I've decided to take this blog in a different direction . . . for a few weeks at least. I've been working on a manuscript for over two years and I'm just finishing up the finished draft (not the finished-finished draft as it is still open to modifications).
I have done quite a bit of writing before including two mediocre books (book 1, book 2). But this one is different. I'm certainly not one who is prone to over confidence but I really think this work is very important. It is the accumulation of about 15 years of thought and struggle. I really believe the message is extraordinary and I only hope that my ability to write communicates clearly and it is remarkable in its ability to catch and hold the reader’s attention.
This is my story, but it is not an autobiography. Sure there are several chapters that examine (very candidly) my emotional and spiritual up-bringing. But it is more of a book about Christian history and philosophical thought. It is like a work of Francis Schaeffer but wrapped in the flesh of my own personal experiences.
The saga starts with my fall from Evangelical grace as a Navigator missionary in the Middle East. Once my entire Christian world had collapsed around my ankles, I was left with 3-4 choices. I could become numb and continue playing the Christian game as if nothing had happened, but I could not live in a lie. I came close to ending my own life, just to escape the pain. I also came close to throwing in the proverbial towel and walking away from Christianity forever. But the path I was driven to take, was to search and find the answers of why my Christian world had failed.
I’ll post one chapter at a time, starting with the Introduction tonight. You are welcome to comment, advise and correct. I know my story is long, but it is far more intriguing than the DaVinci Code . . . but, so true to history that no Church historian, in either Christian or secular university, would dispute it. I think if you read it carefully, it would have a profound effect on how you think Christianly.
The above is a photo from the balcony outside my son Daniel's Computer Science department. As a TA (teaching assistant), he has an office on that floor. We, Denise, Ramsey and I, stayed in his apartment this weekend and spent the morning visiting the campus and where he works and studies.
This morning I had a great time out at a coffee shop (and it wasn't even a Starbucks) with Ramsey and Daniel as we discussed fate, determinism and chaos theory.
This previous night, we had a wonderful visit with my daughter Amy (pictured above on the right) 80 miles further south at Pacific Lutheran University. I'm learning more and more that, while it is a great school (academically), it is going to great means to break away from its Christian roots. I hope that Amy is well-grounded because a "Christian school" can be far more dangerous than a obivous anti-Christian school. It is sad that true Christians have gotten out of the good education business (like Harvard) but now only seemed to be involved in dumb education (science programs teaching that the earth is 6 thousand years old and promotinug cheap miracles as commonplace) schools. PLU is certainly secular, but I sorta of wish it was honest up front that it is NOT Christian. I don't mind my kids going to non-Christian schools as long as they are honest about it.
This was the first time I've seen Amy since I stood in our driveway crying my eyes out saying good bye. It was easier this time as I am getting use to it a little better. She is doing well and I hope to see her soon . . . at Thanksgiving.
The last bit of my personal news is that I've been working hard over the past few weeks trying to set up a clinical rotation for PAs in Egypt. Like with any endeavor . . . there are always road blocks. It always amazes me that there are always obstructionist people that sit in leadership roles. There are PA programs who are terrified about the thoughts of their students going to a very poor group of people to simply help them.
Then, I find I'm running into roadblocks with the Egyptian government who wants big fees or rolls and rolls of red tape to allow a competent medical provider to come in and give free health care to very poor people that otherwise might die. Sad.
My next posting is about a new direction that I hope to go in with this blog.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
I'm still digging out of work . . . spending over 14 hours at the grindstone yesterday . . . but I see some daylight. It is also not like I'm not writing.
I had a wonderful time at Starbucks this morning editing my book manuscript, which I've been working on for two years. I've written two mediocre books before, but this one may be different, I hope.
This book, Butterflies in the Belfry, takes a close look at the effects of Dualistic thinking on modern Evangelicalism. It is not just a sterile discourse, but a deep historical, theological, psychological and sociological review . . . but wrapped in the flesh of my own personal experience as a missionary, then a failed missionary at that. I'm thinking of posting one of the later chapters of the book that deal with the concept of sin and sanctification from a Monist viewpoint. That chapter will be long though.
In the meantime I do want to review some of the observations of my recent trip. I may do a couple now, then a couple after my book chapter.
In case you are stumbling onto this one post I must clarify again my perspective. I am a critic of Evangelicalism . . . but not the traditional critic. I do not look across the American, Christian landscape and point out sin, sin which I feel I have, somehow, avoided.
My perspective is that we all, non-believer and believer, are far more influenced by the Fall than we realize . . . and that certainly includes me, the chiefists of sinners. However, Christians pretend that we are much better than we really are. I think they do this for several reasons, but looking at it from a Monist’s perspective, one of the problems is that they consider all our faults as “spiritual” thus removed from the physical self. If our faults are just spiritual sins, then repentance is easy.
However, if our faults are rooted in the physical-brain (but still a result of the Fall) then change comes much more slowly. For example, we all have psychological baggage and that baggage becomes rooted on the framework of our physical brains. Brains change very, very slowly.
So what happens is that when the Christian believes that they can repent and change overnight, but in reality their fall is far deeper, then they simply create a façade or veneer over reality. Jesus called this situation as white-washed walls.
So that is the point of my criticism . . . seeking a higher honesty, not proclaiming that I am some how less sinful.
With that said, I will comment that during my recent tour of the Bible Belt (my childhood home) the Christian farce-ness is very different than the Midwest or Pacific Coast Christian Farce-ness (which I now call home). I thought about what the difference could be. I think it is simply the old-Bible belt has become so comfortable with its farce-ness that they wear it more superficially.
The example is, the pastor in our old Baptist Church is still around, although he is retired. It turns out (I didn’t know when I was a child) that he has had a mistress for over 40 years. Now that his wife has died (btw, he wrote a moving book of how God supported him during her illness . . . he doesn’t mention in his book that he was bonking his mistress on the side and couldn’t wait for his wife to die so he could marry her) he does want to marry her.
But this kind of “mixing” is not that unusual in the area where I grew up. For example, recently a young gal (20s) who was married with a small child, had sex with the head deacon (in his 50s) so that he would choose her for the church pianist. The new pastor thought that wasn’t good. But the people, who’ve been at that church for years, thought that the issue was the pastor meddling in business that wasn’t his own.
In the Midwest, the girl might sleep with the deacon, but it would be extremely hidden. They would do it in such secret that no one would find out. If anyone did find out, they were pretending that it never happened.
What drives me crazy is the pretending. People would sit in the context of the church I grew up in and preach against homosexuality, alcohol, sex (in general) but at the same time, have a trunk full of booze, having homosexual lovers, and mistresses . . . but they would pretend they didn’t like those things. Everyone one would know that each other is pretending . . . but its all part of the game.
My point is they should come clean. If you have a trunk full of booze, don’t sit in the old Baptist church shouting “Amen!” every time the pastor says that alcohol is sin.
More to come.
Monday, October 27, 2008
I have many thoughts since I’ve been here but haven’t had the time to put them down.
The first thought is about thinking . . . oddly enough. I know that I put the caption of “meditation” in the heading. I do think that when scripture mentions meditation . . . it is speaking more about what we (non-Dualist) would call thinking than the word meditation, with all its baggage.
Meditation, itself has had a Dualistic twist from both the Medieval-Gnostics and, in more recent generations, Eastern/Pantheistic influences.
Okay, to get to the point. I left Seattle on a flight to Orlando, FL.
I always find that to be a very long flight. For one reason it is 5 ½ hours. But that flight seems a long as a 12 hour flight from the UK to Pakistan I took a couple of years ago.
Anyway, I was prepared this time, or so I thought. I had my lap-top charged up with plenty of work, including editing a book manuscript. I admit that I also had a couple of movies on DVD as well. But, despite the fact that a relatively new battery, the laptop went dead before the first hour was up. I had nothing else on hand to do. I’m re-reading The Grapes of Wrath, but I couldn’t get to it.
I did nap briefly. But I decided to do an experiment. I decided to stare out the window and just think for 4 hours straight. It was a challenge at first. But then I had the time to think about things, which I had not thought about in years—re-working problems, planning the future and pulling out old philosophical questions. Yeah, I even thought about some scripture. I also had the time to go back and relive (as much as my faulty memory would allow) some of the wonderful days I had with my kids when they were little.
When it was over, I realized that I had spent more time in just sitting and thinking on that flight than I had in years. It was positive. I want to work in more sitting and thinking into my life.
I think I've shunned away from this before because thinking got elevated into a “transcendental meditation” type event, an upper story (as Francis Schaeffer use to say) experience . . . even among Christians. They want to roll their eyes in the back of their heads and emotionally float on the spirit. But the human mind is a work of art by God. Exploring thoughts and memories can be just like spending a few hours listening to an album of great music. After all, the statement, "An Idle Mind is the Devil's Workshop" is from Ben Franklin, I think, but not from God. Hmm. I have to think about that.
Friday, October 24, 2008
I've had a lot of experiences that has provoked thinking over the last few weeks. Visiting with relatives from across the spectrum, 1) radical liberal-anti McCain pro-Obama supporters, 2) radical conservative-anti Obama pro-McCain supporters, 3) Stripper/model relatives, 4) TV evenangelists relatives and the list goes on. Sometimes I've had all the above in one living room.
I am overwhelmed by work because I was gone, but hope to be back soon.
Friday, October 3, 2008
So, today starts with chaos as do all days before I leave on long trips. All my pain patients want to get in at the last minute and it gets crazy. So I wish I had time to put together concise thoughts on this blog, but again I’m faced with typing fast and posting when I get the chance. Otherwise, it may be two weeks before I’m back with a computer.
Topic One: What to do about church? In many postings ago, I described what I saw in my ideal of the best church. Yes, I’m unhappy with my present church simply because it is Evangelical and when we came here, six years ago, I didn’t realize that I was no-long Evangelical. But like a nice, single, 40-something, lady friend of mine said (about getting into relationships with men after I was trying to set her up with a friend), “It is always easier to stay out than to get out.”
Now that we are involved with this church, it would be scandalous to get out. If we were just moving to this island, I would have selected the large Presbyterian Church. I was encouraged to avoid it because the pastor is a woman. Not that I would disagree with that, but the popular view is that if a church has a woman as senior pastor, then the church would not be Biblical . . . to the point that they may be worshiping Buddha on Sunday morning (eyes roll here). I have visited that church once and enjoyed it. The pastor even made a comment about how some members of the congregation are faithful Democrats (which would never, ever be mentioned in an Evangelical church). But their programs seem to express their belief in the same essentials of Christianity.
They do have an intriguing service that I want to check out when I get back. It is called their “casual service” and meets on Sunday afternoon.
Tonight I’m going to an Episcopal Church because they are showing a film on philosophy and discussing it afterwards. I actually attended an Episcopal Church, for a year, when I was in college but it was a charismatic wing of an Episcopal Church and quite bizarre.
But if I did find a church that I would fit into better, that wouldn’t solve things. My wife as said she would not change churches. She says, “You are looking for the perfect church, which you will never find.”
Of course she is right. But she goes to church for totally different reasons than me. She goes because it reminds her of growing up in the church and because her friends are there. The belief system doesn’t matter to her. And as I have said before, some people in this church see me as a liberal fruit cake from the things I’ve said . . . like, we should not criticize the teens for tattoos. While, they think Denise is the perfect church person. Yet, in the privacy of our bedroom . . . where she can talk honestly, she is far more liberal than I am when it comes to theology. For example, she thinks Paul was sexist and will not take any of his writing seriously.
So we will see what happens. I may start to combine churches, attending the Presbyterian “Causal service” on every other week with our old church on the weeks that Denise can attend (she works every other week end).
I know that I can not find the perfect church, but I stay frustrated at my present church. This last Sunday, the pastor taught the main adult Sunday school class. The pivotal point of class this past week (and we were discussing the law) was his example of confronting a high school boy for using profanity at a soccer game. I’ve never understood, first of all, how such profanity is sin (unless God’s name is taken in vain) and secondly, how our confronting non-Christians about any of their sin does anyone any good. It certainly doesn’t make them more acceptable to God if they stop swearing (and still don’t have Christ). It doesn’t make them any more likely to become Christians. Actually the reverse. If they are confronted in public like that, by a pastor, they probably hate Christians even more.
The only thing that confronting Christians about their sin accomplishes, is to make us feel better about ourselves . . . like we are acting as God’s police. It is the same psychological phenomena that drives the Taliban death squads (as an extreme example) that went around Afghanistan stoning people who were selling alcohol, books (but the Koran) or not wearing a veil.
So, I’m on a different page than the majority of people I go to church with, but I really like them as friends. It would be messy leaving. People will assume that I’m mad about something (that’s why most people change churches).
Topic 2: I had a conversation with someone yesterday from Corpus Christi, Texas. Somehow our conversation ended up on a legal case about a dead child there named Andrew Burd. This was a complicated case and I don’t have space to discuss it here but I will leave a link if you want to read more: http://www.caller.com/news/2007/sep/08/overton-verdict/
I’m going to try to make a long story short. I must also say, before I start discussion this case that I was not there and I certainly don’t know all the facts. But I do know some of the facts from the papers and the court hearings.
What I do know is that Andrew was a 4 year old foster child of Larry and Hannah Overton. They were in the process of adopting him. Also I know that Andrew had behavioral problems and I don’t remember all of his diagnoses . . . nor does it matter. I also know that the Overtons are Christians and home-schoolers and quite involved in their church in Corpus Christi. I also know that Hannah has been convicted with Andrews death . . . I think capital murder.
How the events that came about that led to Andrew’s death started with the statement by the foster parents that he had behavior problems and part of that is where he soiled his bed and had an eating disorder.
To punish him for each of those two specific behaviors, they had taken away his mattress, forcing him to sleep on his springs and he was force fed pepper and salt laced water. It was the last thing that killed him. Andrew died of salt poising. It is the same way you can die if you drink sea water rather than fresh water.
The other facts of the case (with several witnesses) was that, for some odd reason, there was a delay of getting him medical help after he stopped responding. No one called 911. An hour after he was unconscious, he was taken to an urgent care clinic. The staff there testified that he arrived unconscious, and they called 911. Andrew never regained consciousness but died the next day. That was very sad.
First I will speak about some injustices that I think the family suffered in this . . . then I will discuss the other side. But before I move on, I must make a side bar of why I even became interested in this case.
I saw a news spot on the Internet and it mentioned the name Rev. John Otis as one of the main (I don’t mean legal) defenders of Hannah Overton. He has written and spoken on her behalf. John was one of my college roommates and co-Navigator members and since has become a PCA pastor. That’s why this case caught my attention.
Now, in defense of the Overtons is that I do think the media, Child protection agency of Texas and others demonized the family and make accusations that turned out not to be factual. One example is the “rumors” that Andrew was covered in cigarette burns. It seems that those were probably bug bites. They also tried to make out the Overtons to be evil child abusers. I don’t think that was true. I suspect that the Overtons loved Andrew with all their hearts and had good intentions of doing what they thought was best.
With that said, and again this is based on long-distance observations, that they were bad parents, not because they were evil, but because they were stupid. It is my theory that their stupidity . . . and of those who defend them . . . because of their dualistic orientation.
Christian Dualists usually see the world in black and white. The good Christian community sits opposed to the evil, liberal world. They also tend to think that we Christians are far better than we really are because . . .
I'm picking up here, trying to finish these thoughts. I'm traveling and do not have good access to the Internet, so I will try to hurry up and finish. I've also had the chance to read the two comments below and wanted to include my response here.
First of all, as I tried to allude to when I began my discussion about the Overton case, is that I am an outsider. All I know about the case came from about a hour of reading . . . online, and that was mostly newspaper articles, court documents and defending blogs. Then, what prompted this posting, was a conversation from someone who lives there. I'm sure that their opinion is too based on what they've read in the papers and watched on their local news. So I have no expertise on this case nor do I claim to. So, I shouldn't even brought it up. But I did, as I do have a tendency to share what I'm thinking about here, especially as it pertains to my own struggles with Evangelicalism.
One of my biggest pet -peeves is when children die at the hands of Evangelicals . . . and there has been about three other cases this year. The other three, were more clear-cut than the Overton case. Both were parents, one set in Oregon and one in Wisconsin and one was a grandmother and her son in the town, here in Washington, where I work. All three of those cases were where religious people (I say religious because the grandmother was Jehovah Wittiness) allows their little ones to suffer and die because of Dualistic reasons. In summary, if God wants to heal them, then He would without medical (earthly) help. That's why it upsets me so as I work in medicine and know how easy it is to prevent this terrible suffering and death.
I've lumped the Overtons in this category and maybe that is unfair. I do not feel ashamed for calling them stupid, because anytime a child dies in a way that can be prevented, I feel the urge to cry out STUPID.
But I will certainly agree with the commenter below that I am sure that this was NOT MURDER. As I tried to say, I'm sure that it was an accident and I do believe that Hannah's conviction of capital murder was a breach of justice. I would have been happy with manslaughter.
Now could it be that she was totally innocent? Maybe. But I find that difficult to believe, but again my knowledge about the details of the case is slim so I guess my judgements are unfair. However, there are some points I want to make and they are based on what seems to be factual. Again, this is based on the media's eyes. The commenter said that it is not true that Andrew had stopped breathing an hour before they took him to urgent care but he had only thrown up. Okay, then the media is mis-leading the public.
But we do know, unless someone corrects that as well, that the Overtons were punishing him by forcing him to eat hot peppers. I'm not going back and trying to find the court report again, but that's what I remember was stated and the Overtons agreed. We also know that he died of acute salt poisoning.
I'm sorry, but, as a parent of 5 (one with the wost eating disorder that I can imagine), can not comprehen forcing a kid to eat anything for punishment. Doesn't any one have any sense here? This is the kind of crap I've seen from a few home-schoolers (and we were homeschoolers) and the Bill Gothard wannabes. It is totally nuts and starts with the premise that we can raise almost perfect kids if we don't fail to "spare the rod" or in the Bill Gothard groupies, spare the wooden spoons. How many Evangelical kids have I seen having their mouths washed out with soap or beaten with wooden spoons because we really thought they could be raised to be pure.
Now the question in this situation was, could the salt poisoning have been either an accident or metabolic? As a medical practitioner (for 26 years) I can tell you that it is remotely, very remotely (salt-pica) possible that it was an accident. However, ER labs and a path report should have easily distinguished between acute salt poisoning and metabolic hypernatraemia. It should have been a no-brainer to figure out. I also did a brief search in the medical literature and I could not find a single case of self-inflicted, fatal salt-pica. Yes, there were some reports of salt-pica among severely mentally ill children . . . but none to the point of death. Eating dirt or rocks is far more likely for a child.
Now with that said, I want to leave this specific case and more on to the more general principles. The reason I want to move on is clear, for me at least, is that I'm on thin ice. I was not there with the Overtons and I do not know what happened. But again, I agree that this was not murder no bad how it was. Stupidity at the worst.
But the big picture, and why this relates to Dualism Vs Monism, is the following. I've observed that the Evangelical community has a far too high of value placed on our righteousness. I was taught in my early Christian days that when you receive Christ, presto, you are a new and totally new creature. This posting is getting long so I must get to the point and come back to this later. I believe that the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian in their true morality . . . and sanity, is a mouse's whisker thick. In other words, there is very little difference but for the saving blood of Christ. Christians though, learn the Evangelical masquerade. That is why I don't trust Christians much more than non Christians. That is why you shouldn't trust me either!
In closing, as another example, was a local youth minister, proud father of five, Christian school founder and principal was discovered harboring a run-away girl in a secret room in his school. There he was bringing her drugs, alcohol and having sex with her on a regular basis. When the story broke, I heard from many Christians how he was a martyr and is being persecuted by the state.
But now, months later, the proof is overwhelming that those facts are true.
So, when we give the fallen flesh the respect, knowing that it was made by God, but is fallen, then we know how powerful sin is, emotional baggage, stupidity . . . that WE ALL carry. But for the blood of Christ. It is God's righteousness bestowed upon us. Amen.
I really, really typed this fast as I had to go so I'm sorry for all the typos.
Monday, September 29, 2008
Well it happened. I was thumbing through the radio (actually looking for NPR when my usual station was coming out of range and I wanted to hear the debates on Friday). There he was . . . didn't catch his name, but a radio evangelist screaming (the way TV and radio preachers do) about all this was "all predicted in Larry Burkett's book" and that "Jesus is coming soon."
Without getting too uptight about this, the thing that really disappoints me is that pastors turn every natural event, earthquake, floods, killer bees into some proof that the end is near. This is not to even mention political events. A camel spider can't even fart in the Middle East without some "best selling" book coming out how it is proof that the end is near.
First of all, I don't think Larry Burkett himself was trying to make those connections. I do think he was cashing in on some fear-mongering. But, many of his principles were correct (I haven’t read the book since it came out in 1991). However, if he claimed to be a prophet, which I’m not sure he did, then he was a false prophet. He predicted America’s economic collapse well before 2000.
So I’m not blaming Larry. But I am blaming the foolishness of Evangelicals. We always avoid doing our home work about the real issues, but instead claim some simple knowledge that, whatever happened . . . camel spider fart or bomb in Jerusalem or economic down turn . . . that it is a sure sign the end is near.
Where are the thoughtful Christians who do know what they are talking about? What about the legitimate questions that no Christian is raising? Things about social justice, free markets, entitlements, corruptions and partisanship? There needs to be intelligent discussions about these real topics rather than stupid answers about proof that whatever just happened is proof that Jesus is coming back next week.
In Mark A. Noll’s book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, he illustrates this point very well:
The evangelical predilection, when faced with a world crisis, to use the Bible as a crystal ball instead of a guide for sorting out the complex tangles of international morality was nowhere more evident than in the responses to the Gulf War (Gulf War I) in 1991. Neither through the publishing of books nor through focused consideration in periodicals did evangelicals engage in significant discussions on the morality of the war, the use of the United Nations in the wake of the collapse of Communism, the significance of oil for job creation or wealth formation throughout the world, the history of Western efforts at intervention in the Middle East, or other topics fairly crying out for serious Christian analysis. Instead, evangelicals gobbled up more that half a million copies each of several self-assured, populist explanations of how the Gulf crisis was fulfilling the details of obscure biblical prophecies.
Eyes roll here.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
So I was minding my own business, digging a drainage ditch at the end of my driveway. I've been working off and on all summer and with the rainy winter just around the corner, I need to get it done.
I was startled when Scottie, my neighbor, walked up behind me.
I explained my little civil engineering project to him in detail. He seemed intrigued, especially when I told him about my attempts to find the buried power line leading up to my house. I knew it crossed the driveway somewhere, but hopefully not in the area I was digging. After all, I had used a metal detector to find it, and there were no beeps in the area I was digging.
I was a little confused at this point, thinking he must have a better metal detector than me, or more time on his hands to look.
“No, that’s OK. I’m sure it’s not where I’m digging and that’s all I need to know.”
Later on in the morning I moved to another project of building my wife a really nice garden area (to help her with her kids-moving-away depression). I saw Scottie walking up through the yard and approaching me. He watched me straining to dig post holes in our very, rocky old glacier moraine soil. He gave me some very helpful tips, of using a iron bar to break up the rocks. But then he added, “I found your power line.”
“Oh,” I said with a perplexed look on my face. I didn’t see a metal detector anywhere, plus I had told him that it wasn’t important.
Noticing my puzzled look he added, “Wanna see?”
“Sure.” I followed him across the yard and down the short-cut to our lower drive way, through the woods. Only as he walked in front of me did I see the copper wires he was holding in his hand.
When we got to the driveway area where I was digging, he used the toe of his shoe to trace a linear outline through the dusty earth, marking the course of the power line.
“So how do you know this?”
“You see, the copper in the wires in the ground had an attraction for the copper in the wires in my hand and they draw the wires in this direction.” He paused . . . .still getting no response from me, then added, “I can find water using a willow branch for the same reason. The water in the ground draws the water that’s in the willow and makes it point down. How hard it points down will tell me how deep the water is, say, one hundred feet verses two hundred.”
I was still trying to decide what to say. Of course I don’t believe this. He was trying to explain things from an earthly perspective . . . within the realm of physics. However, all major forces of nature have been discovered and described. There is no such force where two molecules of copper, or two of water, can “draw each other together” over relatively long distances . . . from a few to many, many feet.
Also I had watched Scottie carefully and I saw how the trick was done. All you have to do is tilt your hand very slightly and the copper wire would swing in the direction of the tilt, following gravity. But it makes it look like it was under the influence of some other power. Scottie attempted to “teach me” how to find the buried wire. As I held the wire in my hand, I intentionally, by the same slight of hand, made it move in the opposite direction as it had for Scottie just to prove my point
Still in my silence, Scottie was observant of the doubt written on my face. Then he took a very different twist and explanation. “Mike, I don’t think you have the gift. You see, the ability to do this is a gift of God. An old Baptist pastor passed it down to me.”
So now he was explaining it from a, upper story (as Francis Schaeffer would call it) reason. A super-natural miracle, and therefore should have nothing to do with physics. You can’t have it both ways . . . a miracle and a work of physics.
Now here is where the real problem comes in and how this situation is an issue in the Church. You see, Scottie is a very good man, a wonderful neighbor and a great friend. He is also a confessing Christian. But then, after telling me that this little magic trick was a “Gift from God,” he then asked for my confirmation. But I don’t believe it at all! As a matter of fact, I think I know where the buried wire is and it is no where close to where his little wire trick said it was. But how do you respond to a question like this?
If I say, “No Scottie, I don’t believe that this is from God. Really, I think this is insulting to believe that God has been reduced to doing very simplistic illusions like this, rather than raising people from the dead or splitting the Red Sea (which I’ve crossed before in a boat) in half.” If I do say that, it would really make Scottie mad. He may not express his anger, but I’m sure that he would not be so willing to speak to me or be my friend as before. The reason, as I found out later, he has a rather wide reputation for being a dowser, gifted by God, within the Christian community.
But then, what if I smile and say, “Wow Scottie. That’s amazing (and I think that is how my wife would deal with these social situations).” The problem with that approach is that . . . well, simply stated, I would be a bold-faced liar and isn’t lying sin?
So, what do I do? I just kept smiling, trying to show how much I do like him and want to be his friend, but I don’t say a word. It was awkward! He finally just walks away.
But I face something like this every time I enter an Evangelical church. I use to get a long great with Evangelicals. Then, about 15 years ago, I made a vow in my heart to stop lying, especially lying for Jesus.
Now I am faced with this social dilemma every Sunday morning. People are often saying to me, God did this or that. I just keep the same odd smile. I could use a linguistically approach if thinking, Yes, God did do that. He created the laws of physics and the laws of physics did that. But I know what these people are saying. They are saying that God did a miracle. God worked OUTSIDE HIS LAWS and found a parking space, caused the phone to ring seven times, caused their dog to bark at a certain time, or helped the cleaners get a spot off their dress. But I can’t go along with that anymore. Not only is it lying, it is demeaning to God and I find that offensive. Would the creator of the universe be reduced to doing card tricks or making a wire spin around the inside of a pipe . . . or maybe bending spoons?
But at the same time, I am a human. A man whom God has created for social interaction, fellowship and friendship. I was a far better friend when I went along with Evangelicals and praised them for the miracles that they were attesting to. I don’t scoff at them or show them any disrespect. Actually, I do the same as I did with Scottie. I smirk and say nothing. But they are begging (with their eyes) for my approval and amazement. Sorry, I just can’t do that any more!
I was telling my wife, Denise, about my experience with Scottie. She interrupted me to say, “You didn’t say anything to him did you?”
“No, of course not! I really like Scottie a lot and I wouldn’t say anything to offend him. But I can’t lie any more!” How tempting it would be to give him praise and say, “Wow! Look what God has done.” I’m sure that our friendship would jell. But . . . can Christianity continue with their superstitions and not be harmed? I think not.
I have a posting I want to do today about my experience over the week-end with my great neighbor and his divining rod.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Also, I saw a story on the news the other night where a blogger like myself was fined thousands of dollars for using copy-righted images. That was another blow. I need to come back and take down all the images that I don't have the rights to . . . which is a lot. I can't afford to buy the rights. I could take my own photos but that will add a lot of time and effort.
So, once again I'm at a cross-roads of what to do with this blog. I have such a busy life, or at least it has been. Many people write better than me, design blog pages better than me and have more interesting topics. I only decided to do this blog when I felt that there was a niche.
Mike Spencer had a posting on his blog on "Why I Don't Read Your Blog." I responded that I really am not writing for others, although they are welcome to come and read and comment. But this blog is my Wilson (from the movie Castaway). I wanted to use an image of the bloody volleyball but again it was a copyrighted image.
But there are many days that I feel like pulling my hair out. I feel like the entire Evangelical world is freaken insane and I have to go somewhere to talk.
So I will decide if I continue or not.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
I know . . . another tangent. I will eventually get back to the theological question about chance, luck and fate.
But today I’m writing because I’m hurting. I don’t know if I can even get through this note without tears coming to the surface and then dripping on the keyboard. That would be fine if I didn’t have to put on the old confident, happy façade as I start seeing patients in chronic, physical, pain . . . in about 20 minutes.
I’ll explain the factual situation then I can dive back into the emotions and even the theology behind it all . . . if there is one.
I’m the father of five children. We have four boys and a girl. The oldest, Bryan, is married to Renee and living far away in the Twin Cities. The second boy oldest just graduated from a local college (living away from home but still close). He is heading off to graduate school in Seattle in a couple of days.
My next son is still experimenting with college, but he too is moving to the other side of the state, Spokane, in a couple of weeks.
My daughter just graduated from high school is moving over a hundred miles away for college in two days.
I still have one son at home, and he is starting college (at age 16) in two weeks.
We’ve gone through these transitions before. It was very hard when Bryan graduated and went off to school. It was hard when he got married and very hard when he and his wife moved far away.
But this week has been especially hard. Bryan and Renee came for their annual visit . . . seeming briefer this time. It was also hard because I felt the grief of saying goodbye starting even as I was picking them up at the airport. I think when they stay a week, there is some denial that the goodbye isn’t coming and you can fake it for a couple of days. But as I sat at the arrivals at Sea-Tac airport, I knew that, on the ramp above us was the departure ramp, where I would be returning to in just a few days. It reminds me of an old Roger Whitaker (folk singer) song, with the chorus something about, “The first time we said hello began our last goodbye.”
But within a matter of one week, we will be saying goodbye to my daughter, as a major milestone or tipping point. Then my son, Daniel, off to graduate school. Not as hard for him as he has lived away for two years, but still hard. Then Tyler, my third, will be moving so far that he can’t drop by anymore. Then, on top of that, but with much less fanfare is the grief of saying goodbye to the warm sun of summer and anticipating the cool, dark and rainy days of winter.
If a crowd of people were sitting around my table here at Starbucks, I’m sure at least one would say something like, “Well, at least your children are alive and well. You have no reason to be sad.”
I really do thank God for that . . . their health and being here on earth. I’ve known several people who’ve lost their children. Just recently a friend of a friend’s son accidently hung himself. Levi was only 15. I can’t imagine that pain.
In college a good friend, Danny, was decapitated in a freak accident. I was numb, for a year. When I was in high school, one close friend was killed in an accident. She was 16. When I was a young child, my next door neighbors’ daughter was killed in a car accident.
We almost lost our son Daniel when we were missionaries in Egypt and he had typhoid. But I have never known the experience of loosing a child. But I have lost a dad, whom I loved very, very much.
So I would have to agree with the imaginary person sitting across the table that, yes, there are things that are worse . . . such as loosing your child to death, rather than distance. But I don’t agree with the conclusion is I have no reason to feel pain. I’m sorry if I do not feel guilty about talking about my own grief. It is still very real and its sting is tart.
Amy, my daughter’s passage, is most dramatic. As she prepares to move to college, friends have said to me . . . and me to myself, that it’s really not such a big deal. She wasn’t around that much over the last two years anyway . . . between her friends and work. But still, there wasn’t a single night I didn’t lay in twilight between awake and asleep . . . listening for her trademark entrance from working at the theater. She would go straight to the bathroom, then a run up the steps to her bedroom.
Amy’s bedroom is . . . excuse me . . . was directly over ours. While I didn’t see much of her, I did feel her presence at night. I could literally hear her breath, sneeze, talk to her cat . . .and certainly talk on her cell phone. I could even hear her pass gas . . . if girls did such disgusting things.
I know that she will sleep in that bedroom again. She will be home from holidays, maybe even for a few years. But it will not be the same. She is walking through a door of passage, a transition to a new place in her life and the old life will never, ever be the same. This passage brings me great grief . . . and that grief seems perpetual. I can remember feeling it the first time as I held Bryan’s tiny hand and took him to Hermantown Elementary School. We had just gotten back from the mission field and he had never been in school during the day before. I certainly felt it again, strongly, at his graduation from high school. I cried like a baby at his wedding, even though I love his wife Renee. But it was a door, a one way door.
Okay, I’m back. I’m sure that the pain has diminished enough that I can type without crying, but I’m in a safe place where I can cry and I don’t have to put on a façade in ten minutes to see patients.
Since I wrote last, Amy has left. Daniel leaves tomorrow as the leaving saga continues. Saying goodbye to Amy caused a dam to break in my eyes and it was terrible because I had to quickly swallow the pain for the patient-seeing façade as I said goodbye just as I left for work.
But as I contemplate this sadness, I see no resolution. I feel a kindred heart to Solomon in his book of Ecclesiastes. It is a book without resolution. Evangelicals are very uncomfortable without resolution. In his book, Blue Like Jazz, Don Miller said he gave his book such a name because it was an autobiography but one without resolution. He adds, that Jazz does not resolve. The broken hearted, confused don’t become unbroken or enlightened in Jazz.
But grief always brings me to a lonely place. You can’t talk about it with most Christians, because they feel that they must give a solution or resolution to the pain.
It was silly to stand in line at my dad’s funeral and listen to a parade of people coming by, most of them good Baptist people, saying really stupid things like, “God took him home for a reason. Now don’t be sad.” Or, “He’s better off now.” Or the worst, “God is took him to teach you x, y or z.”
That’s what I mean by resolution. So how would I resolve my present and enduring grief . . . the grief of watching my little children grow up, not need me anymore and move on?
I do lean in the post millennialism direction when it comes to eschatology. I really do believe that things are getting better rather than worse and that the Church is here to redeem the universe, then Christ will reign here on a new earth forever.
So as I reflect on that scenario, I’ve imagined what I see as true resolution, the new earth. So I imagine everyone I have known, in good health with new bodies (including my dad). I see us living at a very high elevation in the Alps . . . or maybe Himalayans. We would all be in the same quaint village with houses made of stone and smoke meandering from the chimneys. We, that’s me, all my kids, my parents, my sisters and brother, uncles aunts, friends . . . then add Denise’s family . . . all living together in the wonderful village. You might through in George McDonald, Francis Schaeffer and a few more people of history.
But then we come back to my kids. If they are there, how old would they be? Of course, I would want them small . . . not one of their heads above my waist. I loved being a dad to small children. I was their hero, their philosopher, their teacher and protector. By the time they become teenagers, I am reduced to not much more than a financial provider. They don’t need protection (at least they think). They don’t want heroes, confidants or wise counselors . . . just a credit card or my Pay-pal password.
What would I give to have them small again. If there was some type of weird principle of physics, where I could go back and be their dad again . . . you know, with them small . . . but then after five years I would explode or something . . . I would do it. I would take five years again as their dad, with them small, than the next 10-30 years that I may have with them as adults.
I would love to reach down and pick up Amy and swing her up on my shoulders with one hand . . . like I use to do. It wasn’t that long ago when she looked into my eyes with such wonder, begging me with her bright smile to tell her about the world. Not any more. She knows the world. She knows more about many things than I do. Her heroes are other people now, real, world heroes.
I would love to have my little solider boys all decked out in Indian paint, or some Star Wars storm trooper cloths as we built tree houses to fight off the evil dragons or dark empires. That’s the only resolution I can see, at this moment, for my pain.
I just learned yesterday that I have a grand child on the way, my first. As I’ve mentioned how much I miss being a dad, I’ve had several grandparents tell me that grandparenting is even better. Maybe so and I hope for that. But we will only see our grand child for, maybe, four days a year. Still my heart still aches to have my little warriors, my little princess small again.
So I can not resolve this pain with some imagined new earth where my kids were perpetually children . . . forever. But how would that work? It wouldn’t be fair to them, to go back and be little children again, as if their new bodies from God will be tiny bodies. Would it be fair to Renee if Bryan was six years old?
Then what about my parents? My mom has longed for the days when I would came running in the house wearing a loin cloth and a Bowie knife, pretending I was Tarzan. How can my kids be little, me be a father . . .yet I be little for my mother? There is just no way to resolve this pain.
They say that time heals all wounds. I think that is wishful thinking or denial. I do believe that time dilutes all wounds. I still carry (very diluted by now) heartbreaks from when I was seven. So if you want to call it resolution, then I know my awful pain, which I feel in the pit of my stomach right now, will eventually, insidiously be diluted. And maybe that’s the best I can hope for . . . a kind of resolutions.
But if I hear one more person saying something stupid, not authenticating my very real pain, I’m going to punch someone. How many parents have I heard tell me that they popped the Champaign when their only child finally moved out. Good for them but that doesn’t help me. It hurts like hell! It is part of hell, it has to be. Surely God never created us for such pain.
So, you put on your façade, place one foot in front of the other and smile. Why? Certainly not for yourself. If it were for me I would scream and cry and pull out what hair I have left. But if you are sad for very long, you will loose what friends you have, and that will bring another form of grief. Solomon, I hear you. Vanity!
But all I can to do now is to have an existential faith that somehow God will resolve . . . but how? I have no clue.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Pastor Michael Guglielmucci spun gospel of lies
I know, another tangent. However, we had a visiting gospel singer and his wife at church on Sunday. The husband shared an amazing story of how his brother in law had terminal cancer and was in a coma. He then went to his room and prayed over him, sang a song and the next day he was healed and sitting up.
I'm very skeptical of stories like this because most of them are lies or deep embellishments. I wanted to confront the singer after church, for more details, however, too many people were in line to hear more of his amazing stories.
But this news story below is another reason we SHOULD be doubtful over these amazing stories.FROM AUSTRALIA:
A pastor who claimed terminal cancer inspired him to write a hit evangelical pop song has been exposed as a fraud.
Michael Guglielmucci told worshippers, friends and his own family that he was likely to die from the disease.
He claimed his hit song "Healer", which was included on mega-church Hillsong's latest album, came to him as a "gift from God" on the day the diagnosis was revealed.
It propelled Mr Guglielmucci, formerly a pastor with Melbourne-based church Planetshakers, to the forefront of Australia's Christian youth movement.
But the story was completely made up.
A statement from Australian Christian Churches vice president Alun Davies said Mr
Guglielmucci, now living in Adelaide, had admitted to fabricating his cancer story.
"Representatives of the National Executive for the Australian Christian Churches recently met with Michael Guglielmucci," Mr Davies said.
"At this meeting, he read a statement indicating that his claim to have cancer was untrue.
"His credential with the Australian Christian Churches was immediately suspended."
An abundance of material documenting Mr Guglielmucci's falsified illness is available on the internet.
In one Hillsong video, subtitled in Spanish and posted to YouTube, the pastor described his made-up cancer diagnosis in meticulous detail.
"I went to the hospital expecting to have some tests and got the news that I had cancer, and quite an aggressive form of cancer," he said.
"I walked into my studio at home and for some reason pressed record, which was a good thing ... I just sat at a piano and began to worship.
"I didn't, like, sit down and write the verses and the chorus, I just sang that song from the start to the finish.
"I just realised that God had given me an incredible gift and I knew that was going to be my strength."
A Facebook group entitled "I continue to love and support Michael Guglielmucci" has been set up, with many young Christians calling for the pastor to be forgiven.
But comments attached to YouTube videos have been less kind.
"Should this still be on [here]? Can someone delete it? Mike never had cancer, it's all a lie he made up. It's embarrassing and sad to watch," read one comment.
In an e-mail sent to Hillsong members yesterday, the church's general manager George Aghajanian said the news was even a shock to Mr Guglielmucci's own family.
The suspended pastor was seeking professional help, the e-mail said.
Planetshakers spokesman Darryn Keneally said his church was "devastated by the elaborate hoax".
He said Mr Guglielmucci would make reparations to anyone who gave him money because of his made-up sickness. "There were no fundraisers conducted however when Michael left the church, 18 months ago, a special offering was taken up in honor of his services to the church," he said.
"Planetshakers Church did not ask for any congregational financial support to be given to Michael and we have not given him any financial assistance since.
"We have asked that all money generated from the proceeds of his song Healer be donated to charity."
What his video on You Tube ( http://hk.youtube.com/watch?v=W0v5BFjolHY&feature=related ) then allow yourself to throw up.
Yes there is forgiveness and tremendous grace in Christ . . . but that's no excuse for our non-skeptical behavior over this madness. I'm not trying to throw stones at this one man, but to say, something is wrong with our entire Christian mindset where we keep falling for this crap.
1) We don't understand the depth of the fall.
2) We don't appreciate the influence of the fall on the psyche, both ours and others. The reason is, we don't give our physical brains, emotions etc. the credit they deserve. We spiritualize everything. For example that a man can be so much of a liar. There is such a things as Factitious syndrome that is much more than the simple act of lying (one simple sin), it is a mental illiness (the result of the fall of Adam).
Monday, August 25, 2008
Above is a drawing depicting Furtuna . . . Roman Goddess of fate (same as the Greek goddess Tyche).
Christian teachers have avoided this topic like the plague. The only lecture I've ever heard was by LAbri's Dick Keyes. Not only did I attend the lecture in person (I think it was in Vancouver, BC) but I also met with a goup, which met with Dick, that night to discuss his lecture. Also I ordered his talk (btw is available here ) and listened to it at least a couple more times. But Ihave to say I was disappointed.
I really like Dick Keyes as a speaker, but even he hedged, then danced around the topic in his discussion.
The concepts of fate, luck have been grossly neglected by the Church, when it comes to teaching Biblical principles. However, the views on these topics are very entrenched within Evangelicalism.
When any event of significance happens and then you hear it mentioned by Christians (especially if they are actually standing in a church building) you will hear the view expressed that God has comprehensive control over life. That every hair on your head is not only counted, but God directs it precisely on which side of the part to lay. Then, when you get to much more important topics (more important than a good or bad hair day) then there is no question of God’s control.
You will hear the clichés, “Everything happens for a purpose,” or “God doesn’t make mistakes,” or “It was a God thing.” There is absolutely no daylight given to cause and effect of the laws of physics or human physiology of working themselves out. Everything, from the leaf falling from a tree, to someone’s child dying from a tragic and brutal accident is directly from the hand of God . . . or from the end of Satan’s pitchfork.
The problem with even discussing this topic with Christians is two fold. First, there is a great confusion with the Biblical concept of God’s sovereignty. God’s sovereignty is a totally different topic and is worthy of debate in its own right. But that topic is about whether or not God calls the elect from birth to be saved or does it involve a free will choice. So that topic is very different from what I’m talking about. This was the disappointment in Dick Keyes’ lecture is that it starts talking about luck, but ends with a (reformed position) about God’s sovereignty.
The second problem is that there is a strong emotional need to believe that all events in life had a purpose. As a Christian, the paradigm is that the purpose must be good ( or bad in the case of Satan doing it). To question that divine purpose, in the Christian’s eyes, is to question God’s ABILITY to control events . . . so the question is never even raised.
I remember the look of horror that a dear Christian friend, Betsy, gave me when I told her that a certain event in our lives (about selling a house in a bad market) was simply bad luck. “Surely you are joking” she asked.
more to come. . .
Saturday, August 16, 2008
The photo above is of the book (by that title) written by Vasily Grossman in 1959. I have not read the book, but only the Cliff's Notes version. In very brief summary, it is about the life journey of a Jewish man, Viktor Shtrum, caught between two totalitarian states. The two states were Soviet Communism and Nazism. One of the major themes of the work was looking for human good in the midst of tyranny.
What I want to discus is not the book, but the concept of fate and the Christian perspective. If you are interested in the book you can read more about it here. I hope to read it soon.
As I start this long discussion on fate, you will see a recurring theme. Yes I have addressed it before (just go back to some of the old postings.) I really think that most Christians have a defective view of fate. They feel secure in that view because that view (in their opinion) is the only one that has a God who is big enough. However, I really think this defective view does far more harm than good. How many people have been disillusioned over believing that God is the one who caused the tragedy that they faced? Millions?
Two things have brought this back to the front burner for me. One (as mentioned a couple of posts ago) is having recently read the book The Shack. The entire book is devoted to dealing with a tragedy and one man's pain about that. The second event was getting a newsletter today from some dear friends, who are missionaries in the Middle East. They described a tragic event in how Tim's (the husband) mother had suddenly died. In their missionary newsletter they went a long way to describe how God had orchestrated every event of that sad tragedy.
I also want to try and do a more thoughtful and scholarly treatment of this topic than before. I have a feeling that it will spread out over several posts. Many of my previous posts have been under a tremendous stress of time (usually typed out in 15 minutes between patients in a busy medical office). I don't even have time to proof-read them. But I want to try and take my time, trying to reduce the number of typos (some which I find weeks later that completely change the point I was trying to make).
I believe that this issue of fate is connected closely to whether you are a Christian Dualist or Monist. I must explain before I end this post and return my focus on the Olympics and the Michael Phelps' show. If you believe that the spiritual realm is far more significant than the physical realm, then everything that happens in the physical realm must be connected to events, persons or destinies within that spiritual realm. Does that make sense? So, if an event happens here, for it to make sense, you must say that God did it . . . or Satan. A Christian Dualist can't let a physical event stand alone . . . as a simple working out of the laws of cause and effect.
As a Christian monist, I am not faced with that pressure. The reason is, because I believe that God created the cosmos (this physical world) and He created it very, very good. Yes it is fallen and defective but it's not garbage. Therefore God created the laws of physics (those described by Newton and others). They are God's handiwork. So are the laws of bio-chemistry, human psychology etc. So I don't have to say that God is the puppeteer, pulling the strings of every event in my life. The vast majority of events are the simple working out of cause and effect . . . that in most cases are amoral. The fallen world is far more dangerous than the pre-fall world. So bad things do happen now. Some of them have no purpose (slipping on ice and falling off a cliff) because they are not a direct act of Satan, nor by the hand of God. The laws of physics can allow you to skid on a wet road and crash your car if you are going at a certain speed with certain bald tires.
But just listen to the Christians around you. Can they say that grandma was hit by a Mack truck and killed in a tragic way . . . and God had nothing to do with it? If they say such a thing, it would be in the privacy of their hearts . . . maybe with their husband or wife in their bedrooms . . . okay, maybe with non-Christian friends at a bar, but never in a church. It is a very strong colloquial, American, Evangelical Christian belief that if you are a mature Christian, you will see God's direct hand in every event. A mature Christian would never, ever talk about luck.
More to come
Friday, August 15, 2008
But my point in my previous posting was not about her case. The thing that brought up bad behavior was the local arrest of a youth pastor for raping up to 30 children. He has confessed to many accounts. He seems really sorry for his actions. He made a statement on local news that he has battled his desire for young children his whole life.
But I ask an honest question. What could we do as a church to prevent such tragedies? Certainly in this fallen world we can never prevent all of them. I don't think "screening" church workers better will work.
I really think we must change our sanctification (or our concept of godliness) paradigm. We are all fallen and, given the right circumstances, are capable of doing really bad things. So, we need the church to be emotionally safe (where this youth pastor could have stood up in a meeting, or at least confined among his closes Church friends that he had a problem with be attracted to children.) Then we need honesty. We need to stop playing "I am righteous" game. We need to hold each other accountable. And lastly, we need to always remember that our righteousness is God's righteousness bestowed onto us and has nothing to do with our great behavior.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
The Evangelical Farce Factor – Scandal After Scandal. In the national news lately has been the story about Victoria Osteen (Joel's wife) and the law suit brought against her by the Continental Airlines Stewardess. I must say, at this juncture at least, the truth is not clear. It is possible that Victoria Osteen did attack the stewardess and then again, it could be that the stewardess either made up the whole story or at least embellished it. But this situation does bring back to the front burner the whole problem of Christians behaving badly. I will mention events that have more validity than Victoria’s.
This brings me to Ted Haggard . . . a situation with far more certainty and more remarkable. It was more remarkable because Ted was not only the main pastor of a mega church (as is Victoria) but he was also a national Evangelical leader AND his behavior was much, much more conflicting with the way he presented himself. I mean, he had a enduring-secret life of hiring male prostitutes and even smoking meth with them while preaching against both from the pulpit.
But poor Ted is old news. The real reason this was brought to my attention in the last few hours was neither Victoria's nor Ted’s behavior. Locally we have had two major evangelical scandals of late.
The first one was about three weeks ago when the principal of a major Christian high school was discovering having a double life. In secret he had a juvenile runaway girl hidden in a secret room of his school, where he allegedly was having sex with her, and bringing her alcohol and drugs. He was an upstanding Christian leader in the community for years and considered a great family man.
The last sad episode broke just last night. I was on my way home from work yesterday and I saw a Seattle mobile TV crew heading across the bridge to our island, then down to the next island. I didn’t find out until the 11 o’clock news that, unfortunately, a 21 year-old “youth worker” at a local Evangelical church has admitted (after being caught red-handed) of having sex with as many as 30 small children. Yesterday was certainly a tragic day for his church and his family . . . and all of Christendom.
When most evangelicals hear of such terrible stories, they usually react in one of two ways. The first one I will call the “Persecution Complex” and the second one, “The Rare Exception.” I will describe them.
The Persecution Complex: In this reaction, evangelicals will say, the sad story in the news is not true. It simply never happened but the evil, secular news media is out to persecute some poor, innocent Christian. I heard this as an initial reaction to Ted Haggard by some of his church members and I’ve been hearing in the Victoria case.
The Rare Exception: In this response, evangelicals will say, that the person, such as Haggard, is a very rare exception to many, many godly saints who would never do something like this. Somehow he slipped through the cracks. In a knee-jerk reaction they will say, “We need to create a better screening process for our church so we never hire anyone who would do something like this.”
The true, non-dualistic view of these situations would be different. The monist would believe that (but for the grace of Christ) that we are all capable of doing things of such malevolence. While I may not be tempted to meet with male prostitutes, nor to molest children it may be within me to commit adultery or lie, or become an alcoholic (I say that because my father was . . . and my brother is, so at least genetically the potential is there).
When you are a dualist, you believe everything of importance is spiritual. Our brain-based emotions, personality etc. therefore has no significance. So, the spiritual is very fluid and is dependent simply on obedience. But if I give the physical body the merit it deserves, I would realize that change comes at a snail’s pace.
If someone is sexually abused as a child and then develops a sexual attraction to kids, that doesn’t magically go away through the simple act of conversion. The damage emotions are still damaged. The altered neurons are still altered. Yes, God can heal them in time but it may take a lifetime.
So how should we react to these terrible events? The real key reaction (and action to prevent future mistakes) is to recognize that the only think that separates us from the Ted Haggars is a membrane of wet tissue paper (speaking figuratively). This gives us a humility that we ARE vulnerable.
If you have a whole church with this attitude, then there would be a great feeling of security within that church. The great pretending that we are pure saints could be dismissed. When you are around other Christians, you could honestly say, “Hey I feel vulnerable to having an affair,” and the other brothers and sisters’ jaws would not drop in horror. But they would smile and say, “Me too. Let’s keep each other accountable!”
So when you live in a Christin world that is a farce (everyone pretending to be saints) then the risks of Christians living a double life is much higher. So in conclusion (before I drag this on too long) the bottom line is "High Standards" nor "Screening Process" does not guarantee against Christians behaving badly. But the best insurance is having a church that is a true sanctuary, where people can be honest about themselves, their weaknesses etc. without condemnation . . . knowing that we are all covered by Christ's righteousness. We must get rid of the superficial facade of righteousness so we can talk in honesty about our temptations etc.
If you believe # 2 above (that bad behavior is rare) I will post some of the links I found on Google. These are only the tip of the iceberg. So the illusion that we are good people isn't working.
Monday, August 11, 2008
Before I left town I had done a series about a conversation (and honestly in language) that involved Jesus Himself making an appearance. My wife, Denise, had just finished reading The Shack and mentioned that percisely, that was what that book was about.
I read The Shack last week while I was in Whistler. I have to say that I was very impressed with not only the writing but also the theology.
I won't bother reviewing it here but I suggest that you go to the book's website and then buy it yourself. It is a fresh look at how God works in evil events.
Monday, August 4, 2008
If you read this story of Jesus in the Cafe, you will not see a peaceful setting, but one of conflict. But I don't think you will see cruelty.
In this last story, Jesus put his finger on the issues in each person's life. Sure, Jake was deeply offended, but he needed to be offended. The same is with each of them. Yet, Lacey, Melvin and eventually John were drawn to Jesus by His brute honesty rather than repelled.
So honesty can disrupt the harmony but is not cruel. Someone can honestly tell me that I have bad breath. It may upset or embarass me . . . but in the end, I think I would be grateful.
The late Francis Schaeffer describes the culture in America after WII up to the 70s as the age of Peace and Affluence. This was the kind of peace he was talking about. Not peace with God or even peace between people or countries. But it was a superficial harmony . . . doing anything you can to avoid rocking the boat. But Jesus was a boat rocker. I really believe that we should be boat rockers too, but of course in love. It is very hard to be a boat rocker as it can make you very, very lonely.
I’m taking a short hiatus from this blog. I will be vacationing in Whistler, BC. I plan on doing a lot of writing there, but not for this blog. I have a book manuscript that’s been on the back burner too long. I will be back here in about a week or so.
Sunday, August 3, 2008
In the last scene, Jake storms out of the café, leaving Jesus, Lacey and Melvin sitting in silence.
Jesus: “The lesson this morning is about idols. That’s the great wall that separates most men, and women (smiling and looking at Lacey), from me. The dollar and religion are some of the strongest and most common of the idol faces.”
Lacey: “Jesus, I feel sad about this. Will we ever see Jake and John again?”
Jesus: “If you are really asking if you see them, then the answer is certainly. John will be around town, but will not come back to your church and he wasn't planning on coming bqck anyway. But, I think he will come around again. On the other hand, you will see Jake regularly and that’s the great travesty.”
Lacey, looking puzzled: “How’s that? I’m confused.”
Jesus: “The face of Jake’s idol is his religion. He will keep his post as church elder and continue on worshiping his idol. It would be better for him, and more encouraging for me, if he left his idol so he could find me. But, between the idol faces of money and religion, religion cast the greater enchantment.”
Melvin: “You keep using the term ‘face of the idol” and I’m not sure what you mean by that.”
Jesus: “Of course all idols are the self, but they just take on different faces. John takes the face of money, because he allows money to define his persona. Without money, he fears, he would be nothing. The same is true for Jake. First it was sports then it became religion. Without them, he would quickly have to find another face to fill the void . . . say money.” (then Jesus chuckles quietly).
“But of course the only thing that satisfies, which can really fill that void is not the self, but God’s gift of Me. That’s why, to the thirsty desert dwellers, I called Myself ‘living water.’ To this generation I would have call Myself the ‘true religion or philosophy’ or perhaps the ‘true money.’
(Jesus looks over at the pan of water, washcloth and towel, which Maria has brought. He reaches for it and pulls it closer)
Jesus: “This brings me back to the two of you. Are you going to leave me too?”
Lacey: “No! Jesus, without you I have no place to go. It doesn’t seem fair (but again catching her verbage) HOWEVER I’m sure it is fair, that you asked John to give up a million dollars for you and you’ve only asked me to eat waffles and ice cream . . . free waffles and ice cream at that.”
Jesus: “Lacey, the face of your idol, your physical self-image, is no less a beast than John’s great wealth. It’s just has dangerous and cruel. There are many people, far too numerous to count, who have forsaken Me because of their physical self-esteem. It would have taken John only a few years to replenish his retirement account. Didn’t it take you more than three years to shed the weight that you wanted?”
Lacey: “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
(Jesus turns and stares at Melvin)
Jesus: “And Melvin, what about you? Do you want to leave me?”
Melvin: “No, my Lord. But you haven’t asked anything of me yet.”
Jesus: “That’s right. It is now your time and your assignment.”
(Jesus turns to face Lacey again, but glancing back and forth between her and Melvin)
Jesus: “Lacey, you don’t know Melvin’s story and I’m sure it will not be easy for him as I tell it. But Melvin, when he was only a very young child, had his innocence taken cruelly away by a evil man. Melvin was raped.”
(Melvin’s eyes look immediately downcast like he can not bear the embarrassment. Lacey’s eyes fill with tears)
Jesus: “From that day onward, he has not been the same. He has carried on his back an unfathomable amount of shame. His shame has become the face of his idol. He can not give it up because in doing so, he is afraid he will loose himself. Yes, Melvin does know me and I he, but the face of his idol keeps him form experiencing the purity that I died for.
For, you see, while Melvin and Jake may appear as opposites . . . Jake so confident and self-assured, while Melvin seems weak and intimidated . . . they are actually very close. They both have used religion as their cover. The only difference is that Jake thinks he succeeded in it, but Melvin knows he hasn’t. Melvin feels the shame every day. No matter how many Awana badges he earned, how many church services he went to, how many hours he listen to preachers on the Christian radio station . . . none of it would extinguish his agony of shame.”
Lacey: “But that’s so unfair. Melvin didn’t do anything to merit that kind of shame.”
(Melvin is starting to cry, but remains silent)
Jesus: “Lacey, did you deserve to be called Pigey in high school? This is fallen and cruel world. Injustice dominates since the Fall . . . but my blood became the great equalizer.”
(He reaches over and grasp Melvin’s chin and pulls his head up so he is making eye contact with Himself)
Jesus: “It’s your turn Melvin.” He sets the pan between them.
Melvin: (holding back the tears) “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus: (smiling and thinking) “Let me ask you a cultural question. In your society which is the most offense statement, ‘Kiss my foot’ or ‘Kiss my butt?’”
Melvin: “Uh . . . I guess ‘Kiss my butt.’”
Jesus: “That’s what I thought. So it will be your butt. Your society deems the butt as the most shameful place of your physical body, while in the New Testament society it was the foot.”
(Melvin looks horrified as Lacey just perplexed.)
Jesus (standing up now with the towel draped over his arm): "Okay, Melvin, drop your pants.”
Lacey: “He can’t do that here in the café . . . not in public.”
Jesus: “Fine. Then loosen your belt so I can reach your buttocks.”
Melvin (while following Jesus’ directive and loosening his belt): “Jesus, you can’t do this either here . . . not in public. Jesus I can’t let you touch my butt.”
Jesus: “I will do it here in public and Melvin, my son, if you cannot allow me to touch your butt, then how on earth could you allow me to touch the really filthy part of you . . .your heart?”
(Melvin doesn’t speak another word while Jesus tenderly wrings out the wash cloth in the pan of water. He motions for Melvin to bend over the table while He reaching inside his pants and boxers and washes his buttocks. The other people, Maria and the other café staff watch and are dumfounded.”
Lacey’s Id: These people will think we, and our whole church are nuts. But something amazing is happening here and I can’t get in the way.
(Jesus finishes, dries off Melvin’s buttocks and then Melvin tightens up his belt. When he looks up again, his eyes are red from crying. He and Jesus take a seat)
Jesus: “One last assignment for you Melvin. I would like for you to get up in front of the church next Sunday morning. I want you to tell the story about your rape, your shame and how I’ve completely cleansed you.”
Melvin’s Id: I can't do this. Crowds terrify me, especially church crowds. I will have a terrible panic attack . . .”God help me to do this. I want to do this but I am terrified. Please God help me.”
Lacey: “Jesus, Pastor Dan would never allow someone to share something like that in the middle of church service. Everything must be scripted and he really, really frowns on such personal things to be shared in public.”
Jesus: “Well, I guess next Sunday will be a little nerve racking for pour pastor Dan.”
Melvin’s Id: Maybe there is a way out of this.
Melvin: “Jesus, you know for me to share something so personal would be traumatic for our church. A lot of people would be offended. Many would never speak to me again.”
Jesus: “Actually, only a few will be offended. Pastor Dan will be offended. Jake will be offended plus a handful of others. However, Melvin, there are five other men whom have been raped when they were young boys . . . and about forty women have been raped or sexually molested in their lives. They long to hear your message. The message I’ve written on your life.”
(Jesus stands and looks at Melvin and Lacey. He puts his hands on their shoulders)
Jesus: “I guess I’m finished here and it looks like I've really disrupted your little prayer breakfast . . . something like . . . what do you say, ‘A bull in a china shop.’”