Friday, May 30, 2008

Christian Decision Making - Final Principles

Now that I have discussed what's wrong with the Evangelical-Dualistic approach to decision making, I want to lay out some principles that I think are much more in touch with the reality which God has made.

1) Most of the time God doesn't give a rat's ass about which choice you make. Believe it or not, God does not have an opinion about most of the decisions that you make in your life. I'm sorry, but you are not the center of the universe. This does not mean that God doesn't love you immensely nor that God is not in control but he's not your butler either. But nowhere in scripture can you support the ideal that God is a micro-manager nor do we live in a fatalistic universe.

God created you (me, everyone) and this wonderful world. He created our minds our bodies. Our taste, desires and dreams have developed through our experiences and most of the time these are amoral in themselves . . . neither good or bad. But God, who loves us, wants us to enjoy what he's made. God looks at this wonderful world He's made and turns us loose and says, "Enjoy it baby!"

Of course I am not saying that we are free to sin (and sin is to be defined narrowly here, not every little imperfection that "may not please God" like spitting, miss-pronouncing words . . . yada, yada, yada is sin. Evangelicalism has a yoke of "sin" that is unbearable for any mortal. Things like, "Don't offend another Christian. Don't be a bad witiness." Here is how you can look at God's simple requiements:

Micah 6: 8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

2) God is not a cruel mystic. In other words, God doesn't hide "his will," leaving us to search for it like a bloodhound with a bad cold, and if we make one mistake in finding it, a terrible disaster will fall on us (for the choice that we made). Relax. If it is not blatant sin (okay, you can't choose to go visit a prostitute . . . God does care about sinful choices), then don't get a knot in your shorts about it. Sure your business may fail . . . so what. Enjoy the journey!

3) Be Honest About Motives. When all things are said and done, we all end up doing what we want to do anyway. There's no need to spiritualize everything just for the sake of cover. If you have always dreamt of going to China, you don't have to visit an orphanage and calling it "mission trip" to justify it. Be honest. Say you are going for the fun of the adventure. All your motives ARE NOT PURE. Some of them may be.

If you wanted to be a missionary in Africa, and 30% of your motive was to tell the lost about Christ . . . then maybe 20% is for the adventure, 30% for your self-esteem to be looked up to as a great missionary and then (what does that leave . . . 20%?) 10% is to get as far away as you can from you nagging mother-in-law . . . and 10% is to see bare-breasted native women every day, then be honest about it. If 80% is to see bare-breasted native women, then maybe you shouldn't go!

4) Use the same (intellectual) decision-making processes as the non-Christian. Certainly we need to pray . . . asking God to show you your honest motives, and to reveal any sin that you need to avoid. But look at the pros and cons.

We, Christians have a great advantage over the non-Christian. Our future is not sealed by a simple poor choice. The worst thing that could happen is that we loose all our money, and we are killed. But Scripture is clear that no circumstances can change our destiny before God.

Maybe more . . . if I can think of anything that I left out.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Motives - The Deal Breaker in Decision Making

The concept of "motives" has stood as the capstone to the process of Christian decision making. Even in my Navigator days, you could follow the “Five Steps” to good decisions, but if the motives were bad, then the whole enterprise would be spoiled.

One example is when I was deciding to go to the mission field. I was trying to decide where to go. I was torn between Iceland, Paris (working with immigrant Moslems) or the Middle East. I had spent months in the Middle East, but had also spent at least a week in the other two places.

I can remember several Christian friends (and the mission boards themselves) asking me, “What are you motives for going to each of these places?” Without getting into the complicated details, I will summarize that my motive for going to Iceland, was that I had a passion for the country. I loved the geographic situation, including the glaciers, ocean, geysers and hot spring. But I also had a passion for the lifestyle, culture and people.

I remember when I told a director of a mission board that those were my motives for wanting to go to Iceland, he immediately told me that those were “not the right motives and I would fail there.” I, unfortunately, believed him.

Dualistic thinking leads us to two errors when we consider motives. The first one is separating “good” from “bad” motives along the same Dualistic lines as were present during the Dark Ages. Anything that comes from our physical selves (our minds, taste, desires, etc) is bad. Anything that comes from the “spiritual” (wanting to save souls, wanting to know God better, wanting to be a better Christian, etc.) was good. So the fact that I loved snow, mountains, sea (all the things that I enjoy where I now live) were “of the flesh” and thus bad. So if a decision had any influence from these “bad” motives, then these “bad” motives must be rejected.

As a result, and with great sadness, I told Greater European Mission that I would not be coming to Iceland, but going to the Middle East. I hated the Middle East, the flatness, the crowds, the heat . . . but I was concerned about the souls of Muslims. So that was a “good” motive.

The second error that Dualism gives us about motives is the concept of “pure motives.” This comes from Dualism, because Dualistic Christianity does not understand the depths of the Fall of Adam. They think the Fall only effects the, very fluid, spirit. Thus, someone could become a Christian and . . . presto! . . . over night be a new person. They believe that us, born again, Christians can do things out of pure motives.

But the real (non-Dualistic) view is that our bodies, including our brains, are very important and does not change very easily. People who were abused as a child or who had psychotic (genetic) tendencies . . . well their thoughts and behavior can change but very, very slowly. Why? Because the brain changes very, very slowly.

As a monist, I know that we are far more deeply fallen (because of this physical component) than what I use to think. I honestly don’t think there has been a single person since Adam and Eve who did anything out of pure motives. There is always a mixture between evil, amoral and good motives with every choice. However, Evangelicals tend to cover up the bad motives.

I will give a brutally honest and albeit extreme, example.

I was in an intense Navigator training center. Ron was one of the Nav guys, but he was gay. Of course he would never, ever have admitted he was gay at the time, but us guys (who shared a house with him) had that instinct. Since then he has come out of the closet.

Anyway, Ron was very much in love with Mike (who wasn’t gay . . . as far as I know).

Ron felt God leading him, to ask Mike to “disciple him.” On the surface this sounded wonderful. The Nav staff guy thought it was wonderful. Ron said it was a “God thing.” But looking back, I would say that 90% of his motives were to enter a relationship (any kind of relationship . . . including a disciple-disciple maker relationship . . . would suffice) with Mike.

So every decision that we make will be like a pot a beef stew. Chunks of bad motives, good motives, neutral motives, all blended together. So, we fool ourselves when we think that we are making the correct decision because we are doing it out of “pure motives.”

The truth is, when we make most of our decisions, we are deciding to do what we want to do (regardless of the motives) and then scramble to find “spiritual” cover for our actions. We just need to come clean with the whole motive thing and then the decisions would be far less taxing. We also need to recognize that a non-Dualistic God does care about what we want. If I love mountains, then go for it! I don’t have to choose things I hate just to be sure that I’m doing it with pure motives.

More later. I will also come back and proof-read the things above I wrote in haste.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Christian Decision Making – Theological Considerations

If you listen to Evangelical music, read their books or listen to their sermons, the message makes mighty big assumptions about decision making.

The fundamental assumption is the belief that there is NO ambiguity in our choices. Christian people often quote verses like Jeremiah 29: “11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

With that verse, the quoters often make a huge leap, assuming that the word “Plans” apply to everything and every Christian. In other words, God is the extreme mirco-manager. But any sensible person would have to realize that you can not make that conclusion from that verse. If you read the surrounding context, you would realize that this is a direct message from God to the exiled Israelites in Babylon. It doesn't, nor has it ever applied to Christians in the way that Christians mis-use it.

Then, look at another favorite verse for the “God-the mirco manager” camp, Matt: 10:29 “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Again, you should read the entire chapter or book to get the real meaning of this passage. Actually, the passage seems to be saying the opposite of how that one verse is used out of context. It is saying . . . hey, don’t be surprised when bad people hurt you or even kill you. They do have that power to make decisions and God does NOT (very different than He can not) control those things. However, He does control you eternal destiny and bad people can not take that away.

Then, when it comes to decision making . . . such as choosing a wife . . . Evangelicals quote other passages such as the story of Jacob and Rachel and how God choose her for him. From that, they make a giant leap that God chooses one woman for each man. But again, the entire story is taken out of context.
So the first question is, which decisions have a "God's will" attached? I think they are far fewer than we have been led to believe.

This problem is closely connected to the unhealthy Evangelical Dualistic view. How? If you believe that this world, and every thing in it, has little significance then every decision MUST have spiritual consequences as well.

If I decided that taking a new job in a new state was completely my practical choice (that God doesn’t have an opinion about it), then I would likewise be stating that my personal choices have significance in this present world. I will not have to worry that if I move to the other state that my children will fall into the wrong crowd and become Satanist. Nor would I have to believe that if I stay at this job, the kids would become saintly missionaries. Real life is not that clear.

So, I want to establish that in some oblivious choices, God does have a strong opinion (e.g. should I rape and kill that person . . . or should I steal that money). However, most of our common decisions have amoral answers.
God gives us great freedom to choose but our choices have real consequences. I mean it could be that if I move my children to another state that they will become Satanist . . . but on the other hand they may become Satanist if I don’t move them, and in that case my moving them would be a good thing. So we do have a responsibility to choose wisely but it's not magic. Follow God's mysterious and irrational will and every thing will go great, make a mistake (in figuring out his obscure will) and you are in big trouble

More to come . . .

Monday, May 26, 2008

Christian Decision Making

The fact that I have spent two arduous weeks on the edge of shipping out to China—or not—I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of “Christian Decision Making.” From the first e-mail I got, which was asking me to come to China, I’ve been sifting through about a hundred different factors trying to make my decision.

These factors include (in no specific order); 1)the terrible need and the possibility that I could help, 2) my patient needs here, 3) fellow employees here who would either not have work (my medical assistant) or have to work harder (the doctors that I work with) while I’m gone, 4) the possibility that I could get killed, 5) being away from my wife—which of course is a bad thing, 6) the adventure of going to China, 7) the fears, especially having to see hundreds of decaying bodies, and thousands of grieving people, 8) the up coming graduation of my daughter from high school and my son from college, and that is to only name a few of the factors.

Actually, I’ve made two decisions, the first day after the earthquake, I decided that I would go. Last Friday (as we were still being held up by the Chinese government), I decided that I would have to back out. But even today I got word that the Chinese might finally give permission tomorrow . . . so I may be faced with another decision in the morning. Do I put my name back on the list of goers?

Christian Decision Making, is also a topic that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. I even have it on the back-burner as a potential book topic (I have a file titled; “Books I Hope to Write”).

To do this topic justice, I will have to do it in a series, much like I did about looking for the perfect Church. I want to look at decision making as it is now taught within Evangelical circles. Then I want to deconstruct that paradigm from a monist's perspective. Then I want to build a new paradigm looking at it from philosophical, psychological, sociological and theological perspectives.

Besides this introduction I want to start by reviewing the commonly held views of decision making within Evangelicalism.

I don’t if you have had any “formal” training in Christian decision making or, maybe, have absorbed any of the common Evangelical thinking. I personally, having spent about 15 years in the Navigators, went to countless workshops, read many books, tracts and papers on decision making. I’ve also listened to many messages on the same. I will later talk about the “technique” of decision making that the Navigators taught. However, before I get to the particulars, I must talk about the general theological-philosophical principles that most evangelicals (but not necessarily I) hold.

As a side-bar, I keep using the term “theological-philosophical” in my postings but according to Francis Schaeffer (which I agree with) there is no difference between “theological” and “philosophical” questions, but only in the answers given. In other words, theologians and philosophers ask the same questions but give different answers.

The Evangelical position in an over simplified form states the following;

1) God is in control and has a specific will for not only the big things, the directions of nations, whom I should marry, whether someone lives or dies; but also the most minor decision points, such as what suit should I wear to the meeting or where I should park.

2) God's will (or the "correct answer") is often not clear but can be very obscure.

3) If we make the incorrect choice, then not only will God be disappointed (okay you could call the choice sin) but there will be a bad outcome . . . maybe even a horrible outcome.

4) God will show us his will (although it might be mystical) if we do the correct steps to find his will.

The tool that I was taught to use, to make “godly decisions” was the hand. The thumb stood for the Word, which was the key. The index finger stood for prayer and leading (such as the “leading of the holy spirit.” The middle finger for “godly counsel,” the ring finger stood for “authority” (which meant what those in authority over you were saying, such as parents, Navigator leaders or even the government figures. The lonely little finger stood for “circumstances.”

There were even spread sheets (this was before the computer age so they were actually charts) for listing the responses to each of these five factors.

So, if a tough decision was coming up, you would start reading the Bible looking for sign. It was a mystic reading, not a factual reading. One word, completely out of context of what the writer was talking about, could jump out at you with an answer. It was exactly the same as reading tea leaves or palms, but it was the Bible so, to the Evangelical it harbored special mystic powers.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

China Earthquake Update

Still chaos. Chinese said yes to us yesterday, to come and help set up a clinic, but now things are on hold. Looks like we may leave Friday.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Bags packed, and then up-packed, but then packed again

It is still a roller-coaster ride. We are going to China, then we are not going to China, then we are going to China. It is still up in the air as we are waiting on the Chinese gov to allow us to come. They've said, yes, then no, then yes. I hope to know by Monday . . . and then could be leaving by Wednesday. So, no time to blog. I have to focus on all the things I have to do at home and work in case I am gone for 17 days.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The China Syndrome

I've been a little busy, too busy to post. China experienced their devastating earthquake on Monday . . . by Monday night I had an E-mail request to come and help (with the same group that I went with to Pakistan). It has been a roller coaster time since . . . thinking about packing, buying a few supplies (like a solar panel-something that would have come in handy in Pakistan) recruiting other workers (including a Chinese doctor) etc. Last night we heard, officially,from the Chinese government that we would not be allowed to come right now because they want to handle the crisis themselves. So it is waiting and seeing. With the death toll going up, they may change their minds.

I'll be back when things slow down.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

It's Not You . . . It's Me

Of course, we are all familiar with the proverbial break-up line, that the characters of Seinfeld seemed to per-fect. The line is a cover, and in some ways reflect a compassion for the girlfriend or boyfriend, whom you frankly don't like anymore. An of course it is THEM. If it wasn't them, then you would still like them and want to date them.

It has been many moons, but I do remember trying to break up with a girlfriend and it took me about six months. Why? Because I felt so sorry for her. She certainly didn't want to break up with me. I said in many different ways, "It's me . . . not you." But she knew it was her.

But, speaking now of Christian character and behavior, this same thought is key. Knowing that our hearts are deeply flawed and deceitful, we must always be asking (in the face of some kind of conflict) "is it me or is it them?" Of course it's both and the only real question is how much of it is you and how much of it is me? No one does anything out of 100% pure motives.

I've been thinking about this question for several reason, but two came to the surface in the past couple of days.

The first reason is that I watched the movie There Will Be Blood last night. It was a wonderfully acted movie (especially by Daniel Day-Lewis, who won an Oscar for his role). I honestly can't say that I fully understand the plot and even reading reviews weren't helpful. It appears that the author of the original novel by Upton Sinclair (called Oil) was not clear on several factors.

To make a long story short, the main character, Daniel Plainview, was a driven oil man, who let nothing stand in his way to succeed. I don't know why, but he carried with him an inward rage. The movie doesn't tell us why. But he only sees other people, even his own son, as a means to the end of his success in business.

Daniel, in the end, reaches his dreams of enormous wealth (and it was during the depression when no one else had money). But Daniel was so chronically angry, that his anger eventually dove him to alcoholism, madness, murder . . . and ruin.

It makes me think of my own life. I know that I am an a chronically angry person and I've tried to over come it, with God's help, but I must always be aware of that tendency. I could write a whole book on the reasons that I carry anger but the real answers may be a alluding as in Sinclair's Novel.

Part of it may have been my genetics, I don't know. There wasn't a lot of anger in my relatives.

But it didn't help with the fact that from the time I was about two years old, I was tortured (and I don't use that term in a flippant way) by my much older, and mentally disturbed brother. Gary was extremely jealous of this new little brother that came into his world. There was also a huge bully on our street named Les. The two of them joined together to beat me up, force me to eat dirt, worms and cow poop. I was tied up for hours with duct tape over my mouth while they threw darts into my flesh or shot me with pellet guns. Once I was lured to the roof of our house, then after I was there (and I was about 4 years old at the time) they took down the ladder and left me for several terrifying hours . . . until I jumped off, hurting my leg.

Dad was distant ad never got involved in "child-rearing." Of course this was not that uncommon in the 50s. Why my mother didn't intervene is complicated. In summary, she was a victim herself from an abusive father. I think he left her with such a horribly low self-esteem that it spilled over to her attitude toward her children. I honestly can't remember if I told mom what was happening to me, but surely she saw Gary constantly hurting me, destroying my toys etc. But I think that, in her eyes, all her children deserved injustices because she was taught that she deserved them . . . if that makes sense.

I don't know why Gary and Les had nothing better to do in life but to beat the crap out of me on a daily basis. The emotional abuse was the worst part, but I won't get into the details of that here.

This abuse continued until I was about 7 or 8. How it ended at that time was that first my brother got drafted and shipped off to Vietnam. I had such hatred for him that I felt a huge relief and hoped that he would never come home again. I've tried, with God's help, to love and forgive him now as I should . . . but after 40 years our relationship is still strained.

Les was about 6-7 years older than me and huge (very tall and heavy even for his age). But the only way I got him to stop hurting me was to stab him. I'm serious. I know that it sounds terrible but I was so scared that he would abuse me again.

One day I happened to be cutting a rope in our back yard with my mother's butcher knife when he approached me. I usually had to stay hidden in my bedroom to avoid him, because any time he caught me outside, he would grab me, and carry me off to his torture chamber.

That day, he approached me and I held up the knife and warned him to leave me alone. He started laughing an went to grab me, and I stabbed him in the top of his head as he reached for me.

I know that this sounds like I should have been locked up. Les, did have to go to the hospital where he had about 8-9 stitches. No one asked me why I did it, they just thought I was screwed up in the head. These days I'm sure the police would have gotten involved. It became some what of a family joke. I regret doing it, but at the same time, I think I had very little choice. I was 8 and Les was about 14 and twice my size. He treated to kill me if I told on him. I did tell his mother once. She didn't do anything about it as he quickly denied it. Then he made life hell for me for telling on him. So I saw no way out.

I'm not telling this as a sob story, as we have all had unfortunate (and unfair) things happen to us. I'm also not telling it as an excuse. But, I must be aware of my own emotional baggage . . . that I have lingering tendency toward anger, especially when I feel that someone is being disrespectful towards me. So, if I'm having a conflict . . . I must always ask . . . "is it them or is it me?" As we are all products of the Fall of Adam, this humility must always be our friend to keep us honest. The most destructive attitude, which some personality types tend favor, is always assuming it is THEM.

The second reason I'm thinking about this is that I know that I am often critical, especially when it comes of matters of the church. This weekend, there were many exceptions to my criticism and I know that in my broken nature, I often fail to see the good.

The first thing was that church had a wonderful baby shower for one of the daughters of a church member. She is not married, but the church has supported her with open arms and with love.

Secondly, I am leading a Sunday school class about the historical influences of philosophy on both the Church and secular, western culture. The key part of the class is the Francis Schaeffer classic film series, How Shall We Then Live. The positive things I have to say, is that each week, the attendance of the class has increased. There seems to be a real hunger for our church people to understand these things. Also, I know it has been hard for him, but our pastor has relinquished the class period (he usually leads the adult class). In the first week or two, it looked like he would attempt to cause a coup and take over the class . . . but now he is only asking questions (or giving additional information) like anyone else.

So there are good things to report.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Games We Play--The Illusions We Portray

This is a side-bar of my discussion about mental health within the Church. The premises that I am making here is;

1) The Fall of Adam has penetrated us (physically, emotionally, psychologically and of course spiritually) much more than we realize.
2)The process of sanctification is much slower and arduous that we have been led to believe. Therefore the "Godliness" that we think we are obtaining is often an illusion. For example, I don't think any Fallen/mortal man or woman ever does anything out of 100% pure motives.
3)But don't worry, be happy . . . we ARE fully righteous IN CHRIST.

The Problem: In American "colloquial" (or you could say "folk") Evangelicalism, it is believed that when you are saved, you are instantly a new creature ( a misunderstanding of II Cor 5:17), and all your old problems suddenly disappear. It is also believed that all the effects of sin on you is spiritual, not physical (brain, emotional or psychological insults from the Fall). The problem with this paradigm is that while the "spiritual" is very fluid and changeable . . . simply by changing your will . . . the physical effects of the Fall are much more difficult to change. Alcoholism or anorexia are a prime examples. These don't usually go away over night if you become a Christian.

So, if we live in a Christian culture that believes that you can and should live almost perfectly, when in reality you can not, the options you have are to be yourself and look very unspritual or disguise your flaws through a series of psychological gymnastics.

I recently finished Frank Schaeffer's Calvin Becker Trilogy. Simply stated, it is the story of a normal adolescent boy growing up in a deeply dysfunctional, but very spiritual Evangelical family. I enjoyed reading it as it was well written and from an angle that is rarely explored. The problem that I have, like others, with the books is that it is too close to home . . . Frank's home. The book parallels his own family. However, it is fiction and I am sure that Frank does not believe that his own family, Francis and Edith Schaeffer, were anywhere near this dysfunctional.

In those books, there are some serious psycho-social problems, but smeared over with a super-Evangelical spirituality.

I'm going to take the time to tell one story ( of many I could tell ) to illustrate this point that I'm trying to make.

About 8 years ago, I joined an online forum of my old, college Navigator buddies. One of them was John. He had been my spiritual mentor in college and I've always respected him a great deal. Afterwords, he went to Presbyterian seminary and may even have a doctorate in theology by now. He is also the pastor of a PCA church in Texas.

One day, oddly, John comes onto the forum and wants to share "Something very exciting God is doing in his and his family's life." He said it had to do with their health. Then he reminded everyone that he had studied "medicine" in college. Really he was in pre-med for one semester. Next he shared that "God had showed him some very interesting things about health." For one, he said, "God wanted everyone to be in good health. Everyone (which included me) who prescribes medicine are sorcerers and thus of the devil according to the Bible."

After that post I was offended, and scratching my head. I wasn't sure where he was heading with this and I waited to see.

He next shared that "God has shown him the natural supplement Manatech," which, John suggested, cures almost every disease known to man . . . including cancer.

Up until this point, I had not said anything. But then he went on to encourage someone on the forum to have their friend stop their chemotherapy for breast cancer and go on Manatech supplements. This really concerned me so I started to do research.

What I learned was that Manatech supplement company was started by a "Christian" and is marketed toward Christians, especially pastors in the southeast and Texas. It was also started by a man who had a jaded past in business, selling bogus insulation panels for homes in Texas. Also, most importantly, it is a multi-level-marketing company.

So I asked John to come clean. I asked, #1, was he an "associate" for Manatech, thus part of their sales force? Secondlly I asked, is there any scientific evidence that Manatech does anything?

He hesitated but finally admitted that he was indeed a Manatech sales person. Then the only scientific evidence that he could give for a product that he was telling people to use instead of chemotherapy (and thus putting their lives at risk) was that Dr. Ben Carson used if faithfully and advertised it for the company.

That simply didn't make sense. Dr. Carson is a respected neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins. I use to work for Mayo Clinic and I knew that there was no way that Johns Hopkins would allow him to do commercials for a supplement company. So I called Dr. Carson's office.

It turned out that Dr. Carson had NEVER used Manatech products nor endorsed them. The only relationship that he had with the company was that he did a motivation talk for them (which he does for many companies) for a fee of $25,000.

I confronted John on the forum with that information because he was manipulating the old Nav people to buy his products in a fraudulent way.

To make a long story short, John wrote me a long private letter of how I was in sin, that I had disappointed God, that I needed to confess my sin (of gossip, or some obscure sin, which I can't remember). That if I confessed my sin to the whole group and tell them that I had sinned against John and Manatech, then he may forgive me and be able to fellowship with me again, but until then, he could not.

Do you see what's happening here? Let's peel back the layers of the facade. John was trying to con a group of good people out of their money to buy his supplements and to tell them that God wanted them to. Then, when I challenged him, he turned it into a "spiritual matter" of my sin.

I've seen Christians do this over and over. Back when I was in the Navs, we would use guilt manipulation all the time to get our own selfish way and we thought we were saints. I use to play these games all the time. I've seen many pastors over the years do the same. If you attempt to challenge anything they say or do, they will make it a "your sin" issue and their views as "God's way."

I will end with one more brief example. David was a guy I went to high school with. I didn't know him in high school but got to know him as I started college. He joined the same Navigator group.

To save time, I will be direct and share the story in brutally honest detail. I really believe that David was, romantically, infatuated with me. He was obsessed with me, perusing me constantly . . . yet he also portrayed himself as a Navigator disciple.

David was also very smart (IQ probabably over 160). He was my highschool's valedictorian. He was also very articulate and . . . very manipulative.

I was a new Christian myself at the time and very naive. I really thought that God wanted me to be nice to everyone at all cost. Yet, I did constantly try to set barriers to David's sexual advances.

When I would shun his advances, David would then go to the other people in the ministry and start a very well thought out plan to tell them how much he, "loved me . . . as a brother . . . and he didn't know why I didn't love him." He would hang out with the girls in the ministry (whom I wanted to impress) and tell them how mean I had been to him. Then the girls would be angry at me until one would confront me saying, "David really respects you and loves you. You have really hurt him and he's been so nice to you. You need to seek God's forgiveness and restore your relationship with him."

It was my nightmare. I was too embarrassed to explain to the girls that David wanted me to have sleep-overs at his house, then would try to fondle me while I slept. I hated it!. But every time I turned down his offer to come over . . . next thing I knew, these girls (remember the cute girls, which I wanted to impress) would start coming up to tell me how I had sinned against David and had hurt, poor David's feelings. Until this day, those girls think I was some kind of mean jerk.

I would say that David made my 4 years of college a living hell. He went on to become an important staff person with the Navigators (who has a strong stand against homosexuality) and has never appoligized to me, nor do I have any evidence that he's changed.

But this is the kind of games that we allow to happen.

So what's the solution? To consider that we are deeply fallen, that our hearts are decietful and not trustworthy. That none of our motives are really pure. That we are saved by the righteousness of Christ. That when we are honest with our fallen self (homosexuality in David's case, or spiritual manipulation in John's case . . . or, my sins of trying to make my wife feel guilty for not allowing me to get my way) then we can deal with these issues directly.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Exorcism of Mental Illness

I'm not sure why the topic how the Church handles mental illness intrigues me so much. I think it is for several reasons. One, I do have a degree in psychology and it has been an interest of mine for quite a while. Also, as I mentioned at the end of my last posting, I too have suffered from some significant mental health issues in my life (and may be the reason I got a degree in psychology to start with).

The last reason, is our concepts of human emotion and behavior is central to our Christian paradigm. For example the Greek concept for psyche and soul is virtually the same. It was only through the developments of Dualistic thinking that the spiritual "soul" became separated from the physical (brain) "psyche."

Back in the 1970s I was studying psychology at a state university, however, most of my thinking about psychology came from Evangelical sources at the time. The only reason I was getting a degree in psychology at the state school is because, I wanted to eventually get a license as a psychologist and the only way to do that was to get a credentialed degree.

Most of the Christian psychology resources, at the time, came from the likes of Jay Adams or Tim Lahaye. Jay Adams, was the king of the Evangelical counselling movement. The cornerstone of his type of counseling was called (coined by himself) "Nouthetic Counseling ." For fifteen years I was a great believer in Nouthetic Counseling as the only true Christian approach.

I will barely mention Tim Lahaye because, ( back when he was making money on psychology books . . . before he starting making millions on "end times" books) based his ideas on Greek mythology. Yet his ideas were very popular.

Now I believe that Nouthetic Counseling, in my honest, monist opinion is total crap and has done more harm than good. The reason is that Adams believes that ALL mental illness is the fault of the victim. So, to help them you must 1) confront them, 2) make them change . . . or cast the demons out of them. He told stories back in the 70s of how his Nouthetic Counseling techniques were emptying out mental hospitals.

But when you consider mental health issues in the true, non-Platonic-Dualistic view, you would realize that the Fall of Adam not only affected our spirit, it greatly affects our physical being, including our brains. Psychiatry and neurology (in which I now work) has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the brain is malfunctioning in most major forms of mental illness. This is not inconsistent with scripture. Only if you had been hoodwinked by Platonic Dualism would you ever see people as only the soul. Read some of Plato's works and you will see that he struggled very much with the division between the Soul and the body . . . believing that our essence was the soul (without any influence of the physical body or brain).

To say that our tendency toward mental illness has a physical (brain) dimension is in no way excusing it (as some Evangelicals would say). It is only dealing with a real problem in a honest and Biblical way. The brain can recover from the genetic and acquired injury, both by God's healing and what the Bible calls "renewing our minds" (or what secular psychology would call cognitive restructuring.) There is a place for medications, to help to correct for the malfunctioning brain.

The other common Evangelical (Dualistic) view is that mental illness is a direct attack or possesion by demons. Again, they reach this position because they can not accept that the brain, because it is physical, has any merit.

More later. . .

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Outside . . . Looking in . . . The Plight of Mental Illness Within the Church

I know that I had a previous posting about how the Church deals with mental illness. This time, without sounding like "Oprah's sob-story of the week club." I would like to make it more personal. Again I write as an observing journalist, but, not trying to sound sterile and overly objective.

I must start with my premises about mental illnesses and they would include;

1) Because we are fallen creatures, we are all insane . . . to some agree. None of us function, from an emotional standpoint, normally all the time. Some have the type of mental illness (personality disorders, mania, etc.) that we can easily camouflage as spiritual gifts.

2) We are not all the same footing due to fallen genetics and life experiences. So the person who suffers from severe depression, isn't less of a Christian that the jovial guy who has never known a sad day in his/her life.

3) While mental illness is a result of the fall, much of it is as a result of fallen humanity (old sin) and the victim often has little control over their mental illness. I did not say no control. But, for the example, anorexia, they can struggle for a life time in more heroic measure than most of couldn't even imagine. Yet, they may never be completely delivered.

The Evangelical church has historically blamed the victim as being "weak" because they haven't practiced some obscure spiritual discipline such as "keeping their eyes on Jesus." There are no simple formula for eradicating one's mental illness overnight. If God heals these illnesses miraculously, then He must do it rarely. How many people do you know who were born with Down's Syndrome and God healed them completely and now they are normal? How many people do you know who were born without legs and then in a church service, a miracle happened and their legs grew right then and there?

Because mental illness is obscure, it can more more easily be assumed that it can be easily cured . . . instantly. The reason is, because there are no physical evidences of it to start with, you can not easily prove that it is there . . . or that it is not there. Many people believe that they were cured from their mental health problems the moment they accepted Christ. I don't think that happens any more frequently than people who's legs grew back right in front of you.

Most of the time where there is a "miracle deliverance," it is simply the problem going underground and the person faking a deliverance because the extreme peer pressure of the Christians around them (especially the one claiming to have healed them).

4) Those who have more surface problems with mental illness (things that are not easy to hide or to "dress up" as some spiritual attribute) have often felt like outsiders to the roll call of the saintly. Certainly this was the way I felt when I was with the Navigators. In the Navs, in the 1970s/80s, you were held to a very high level of "godliness." Godliness was defined by several things, most of all was the outward performance of the "Fruits of the Spirit." This was smiling a lot, speaking in joyous sound bites. All of us had to pretend a lot, but especially us with some baggage.

5) I suspect that everyone who suffers from mental illness, from the mild anxiety to the extreme paranoid psychophrenic, hates their mental illness more than anyone and would do anything to be delivered from it. So those without that particular ailment, are being very judgemental when they see the person's illness as their own damn fault.

6) God loves all people, including those who suffer most from the fall . . . whether it is a disabling physical problem or a mental illness. The church is to serve these people as well and is to be as wise as serpents about those who are disguising their mental illnesses. All Christians, those who suffer from mental illness as well as the Type-A super-successful saints, equally depend on Jesus' blood for achieving our acceptance by God and by the Church.

7) The role that Dualism has played its ugly head in this matter is simply the way that the dualistic Christian looks at mental health. They assume that the brain, emotions and of course our own bodies are inferior to the "soul" or spirit. I've posted about this previously. So, in summary, if your mental health problems are really all spiritual problems (rather than physical brain problems) then they are very fluid an can be changed in an instant through simple obedience.

I think I'm going to have to break this up into several postings the way I did my discussion about the Church.

I will end here by revealing that my own personal struggles with mental illness is with the most common forms; 1) depression, 2) general anxiety -- especially social-phobia.

Regarding my own mental illnesses, the cause is not clear. However, like with most sufferers, I'm sure it is the nature+nurture cause. Regarding "nature," or genetics, my mother also suffered from these. Regarding "nurture" I, like so many people suffered some abuse as a very young (pre-school) child (not by the hands of my parents).

I have struggled with and fought against my issues from many directions.

I hope to continue these thoughts.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Mike's "Perfect Church" -- Part X Meeting

In Tomlinson's book, The Post-Evangelical he describes a group that meets in a pub called, "Holy Joe's." I don't care for the name, but it must work there. It is also quite unstructured, which sometimes can be scary . . . but many parts of this group I liked a lot. For one, there was brutal honestly. I was just told by a pastor today that there is a problem with too much "honestly" within a church. Hogwash!

We need a safe place where we can go, among loving friends, let our hair down and say exactly what's happening in our lives. We need a place where we can ask questions, any question and still be respected. We need a place where we can hear scripture taught in an effective manner either by a great teacher, in person, or via electronic media. We could listen to good music, that has a message or speaks to the emotions in a positive way or expressing our emotions to God. We could sing together if we want. There we could enjoy all forms of art. Poems, paintings, photos or video. It must also be a place where dualistic thinking doesn't try to wall-off the 90% of your life from the so-called "spiritual."

I admit that I am addicted to Starbucks. I am addicted to the taste of the coffee and I am addicted to the ambiance. It certainly doesn't have to be a Starbucks as any cafe would work . . . or even a bar. A home would work fine as well. But my concept of the church meeting would happen in one of these places.

When? Anytime but Sunday. The reason? If you really study scripture, "the sabbath" is God's gift to us . . . for our rest. It is also to teach us about our sabbath rest in God.

A Seattle newspaper use to do a commercial about their Sunday morning edition. When I watched the ad, it struck me as the way God wants us to spend the sabbath.

The characters in the ad (a couple) are in bed. The ad says, "Sunday mornings are the one time in the week, when you can stay in bed until noon . . . if you want." Then it shows then just laying in bed in their PJs, napping, reading the paper, drinking coffee and eating breakfast . . . IN BED! In our crazy, busy worlds, this is how God wants us to spend the sabbath.

It was people, in their attempts to create penitence and duty, who came up with the very busy Sunday schedule. Got to get up. Get all the kids squeaky clean. Put on your best cloths. Practice your song or your Sunday school lesson . . . or whatever.

So my perfect church community would probably meet on Saturday night, or Saturday morning. It would be a time that you would never go to out of obligation. But just like any fun, social group (think of Cheers, or you favorite group) you wouldn't miss it for the world. It is a place where real relationships take place. Where you are loved . . . and ENCOURAGED!

The meeting place, like with Holy Joe's, nonbelievers would be welcomed and would feel at as ease as the tax collectors felt with Jesus. They could come as our friends . . . true friends, and not just our "evangelistic project."

Outreach, would be very important to the church as well. But the form of "outreach" would be defined broadly. This includes service to those in need. HIV-AIDs hospice, single moms, elderly, homeless or just the lonely.

That's my perfect church! Done.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The "Perfect Chuch" - IX - Freedom

Probably the greatest "concern" and criticism that any of us, who are thinking in the direction of the emerging church, is the terrible danger of freedom. My PCA and Lutheran friends, which I mentioned in the last posting, believe that if you don't adhere to very precise doctrine, and be willing to die for it, that the liberal (or even New-age) bogey man will get you. They believe that as soon as you waver with a little ambiguity, that within months, they will find you in a ditch with your slimy hands wrapped around a Boone's Farm bottle, a porn magazine, a bag of pot and a Buddha.

But that is not true. There is some freedom in what Christians believe . . . but to a finite point. I will illustrate the danger. I will try to do one more posting, bringing the Freedom and Order issues together, then one more posting after that to summarize what my perfect church would look like.

The real danger in freedom lies in the story I am about to tell.

In 1995, I attempted to start a "house church" in Marquette, Michigan. In my long and arduous preparation for the adventure, I traveled to what was considered the "best house church in America." I spent about 4 days with this house church, in Denver.

I would have to say, that my first impressions were excellent. It was like I found that church that I had always looked for. The sense of community was unlike anything I had ever seen.

The entire church decided one day to move to the same neighborhood to 1) be available to each other and 2) to be a light to that community. To make it possible for all of the members to be in the same community, they had to choose a community that all members could afford to move to. So those, who were living in plush homes overlooking the city from the west Rocky Mountain foothills, gave up their lifestyle and moved into this low-class neighborhood.

They really did share all things in common. No one went hungry and the wealthy (doctors, lawyers) freely shared to help the widows and the single moms.

One lady had breast cancer and the people were cleaning her house every day, washing her clothes, feeding her family, taking her to appointments etc.

Their impact on the lost was also outstanding.

Things seemed to be going great until the last day I was there. I attended an elders' meeting. In that meeting, just out of curiosity, I kept asking "Where is your statement of faith?"

Finally one of the elders looked at me and said, "You just don't get it do you. We couldn't care less about what you believe, just as long as you love Jesus. I mean, if you think that Jesus was a great man, and teacher blessed by God in a special way, but you don't believe he was born of a virgin, then that's none of my business . . . as long as you love him now."

I was stunned.

The second thing that happened, was that I observed the "elevation of leadership phenomena" that is the hallmark of cults. The founder of that house church was Gene Edwards. He is a guy who was a Baptist pastor decades ago but then became a strong proponent of the house church movement. He's written many books, some of them really good. But as I sat in on the elders meeting, Gene, who lives thousands of miles away, was on the speaker phone. Every decision that the church made was dictated by him and the elders looked to him in a very unhealthy (prophet-like) way. Men, all men are fallible.

I saw this same problem when I was with the Navigators. Leaders were elevated to a point that they were considered infallible, which is the beginning of the fall.

Even I heard Gene Edwards say (in a taped message) that he considers himself as a modern apostle and there's only 2-3 in the world at that time. That was scary.

So, with my week starting out as a wonderful week seeing the church community working like it was intended to work (and very rarely does) I was very disappointed to see that the church was build on a foundation of straw. It did eventually collapse and disappear.

So to find this balance between the scholastics (thinking that our reason hasn't fallen) and we can find all doctrinal truth absolutely, down to the tiniest of details, like my PCA and Lutheran friends or the freedom of the wonderful house church but with no good foundation, it is very difficult.

I think one simple place to start is with the early church's first doctrinal declaration, the Nicene Creed of 381 AD. Then we would need a statement about scripture being the word of God. Beneath those simple doctrinal statements, a statement about some of the practical guidelines for organization might be helpful.

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father [and the Son], who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Francis Schaeffer had a wonderful talk titled: The Aboslute Limits of Christianity. It is a great statement as well.