Monday, September 29, 2008

Christian-Gnostic Opportunists! Gag!

I just knew it! With the crazy economic times over the past week, I knew that it wouldn't be long until some big-mouth Christians were on TV, radio or writing stupid books. I'm not talking about Larry's book . . . yet. But, books about how they, the author, has all this secret knowledge about how the economical mess has some sure sign that the Second Coming is around the corner.

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

The "Devine" and the Rod, a Christian Social Dilemma

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.

“Whatcha doing?”

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 can find your power line for you.” Scottie said with great confidence.

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?”
He then, in silence, started to show me. He held two short 1” diameter copper tubes in each hand, then placed the heavy gauge copper wires, bent like a hockey stick in the tubes.

The short end of the wire went into the copper tubes in each hand so they could rotate freely. He walked around and when he was over the spot where he thought the buried wires were, the copper wires in his hand crossed. “Yep, they are right here.” He looked at me and he must have read the perplexity in my face like a book, as he went on to try and defend what he was doing.

“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'm Coming Back Soon

Life has been sooo busy lately, but I do see the light at the end of the tunnel. I hope to be back posting today. I still am debating if I should change the direction of this. Although Christian Monist summarizes many of the issues I want to deal with, sometimes I think something like "The Skeptical Christian."

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


It's been a while since I posted. I got a little depressed with my kids all leaving home. The last one left just Sunday.

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

Empty Nesting Sucks

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.