Thursday, October 30, 2008

Back in the Saddle



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 fa├žade 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

The Lost Art of Meditation



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.


Mike

Friday, October 24, 2008

Back Soon

I hope to be back soon. I was travelling for almost four weeks - visiting relatives and attending a "Global Health Conference."

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

A Few Words Before Leaving Town



Ihave a hodgepodge of thoughts today, and I wanted to get some of them down before I leave town to visit my mother in Tennessee. She’s 85 and in good health. I only get to see her once a year. While I treasure our time, with her and my siblings, I also miss being away from my family . . . this time for three weeks.

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.