Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ted's Big Adventure

I happened to see the entire Ted Haggard interview tonight with Larry King. I didn't plan on it. I just went to the gym to burn off my morning mocha and there it was. Since I don't have CNN on my home cable, I wasn't even aware that it was coming on.

Apparently there is even a more interesting HBO documentary tonight about Ted . . . but you guessed it, I don't get HBO either. After the treadmill listed the amount of calories burned at 360 (about the number in my mocha) I stopped. I certainly wasn't running for another two hours just to watch HBO.

If anyone out there watch either program, I invite you to write in the comments below . . . before I stick my foot in my mouth. So, what did you think?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Blankets - By Craig Thompson

Graphic novel??? What the heck is a graphic novel I asked my son Ramsey. That was about two years ago. It turns out, it is what I would call a bound comic book.

When I learned that Ramsey had bought me one for Christmas this year (and it was $29) I didn’t know what to say. I mean, I knew he liked graphic novels, along with about every book that has been written. But I had not read a so-called graphic novel since reading Mad Magazine as a teenager. My expectations were low to say the least.

I finally picked up my new book after I had finished Grapes of Wrath and A Catcher in the Rye. I had two other books started, a new Biography of Francis Schaeffer and Heaven Misplaced. However those were my hot tub books. I needed a Starbucks book, so I grabbed Blankets.

If it means anything, I read Blankets in one day. Yeah, it happened to be a Sunday and I didn’t have much going on. But after I opened the cover that morning at Starbucks, I couldn’t get it off my mind.

Yes, I know that comics, woops, I mean graphic novels read faster, but the book does have 592 pages.

First of all, I was really impressed how well my son knows me.

He had said, “Dad, I really think you will like this book

He had said, “Dad, I really think you will like this book.” But I didn’t know why . . . until now.

First of all, Craig Thompson writes beautifully and draws even better. That alone is captivating. However, there were other points that were alluring to me.

It is autobiographical and while the main story line is about Craig’s first love with a gal named Riana, the subplot, or “B Story” has to do with Craig’s rearing in an Evangelical home. Despite his best intentions, (sorry to give anything away) it is also about his eventually leaving the faith.

Thompson writes with incredible realism. Over and over I thought to myself, “Yes . . . I’m sure that’s exactly the way it happened.” His Evangelical candor is like that of Frank Schaeffer. But he does not take up the embellishments and over-dramatizations of a movie like Saved.

I think the book does a wonderful job in exposing the dichotomy that a young man faces while believing in the Evangelical’s pretense about the world, but, having to live in the realism of a very different world.

Ramsey knew that I would love this “B Story” because he knows that I hold this issue very dear to my heart. The issue of course is Evangelical dishonesty that helps to lead to 80% of our children eventually leaving the faith.This book is a must read for every open-minded, honestly-searching pastor and youth pastor.

The third reason that I enjoyed this book so much is that the crux of the story takes place in Marquette, Michigan . . . a place I lived for 8 years. The realism was so convincing that I started to have vivid flash-backs to my time there. They drive up a lonely mountain road that I had driven many times. They visited Marquette High School, which I had also visited many times and the drawings brought it all back to me.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"For the Sake of the Gospel . . . Keep Your Damn Mouth Shut!"

A long, long time ago . . . in a galaxy, well you know the rest. Anyway, I once had a difficult experience with a Christian authority figure. His behavior was dysfunctional, cruel and maybe criminal (don’t read between the lines, it was nothing sexual).I was young, naïve and still believed in the evangelical utopian society. But I will never forget the so-called closure on the situation.

The big-wig organizational leader spoke to me on the phone. I was expecting, “How’re you doing? Holding up okay?” But instead, he called to give me a stern . . . but spiritualized, warning, “For the sake of the Kingdom, keep your mouth shut. A few years ago, we had someone else got though something like this with our organization . . . they did a lot of gossiping and it really damaged the Gospel.” Then he hung up.I tried to keep quiet, and did so for about a year, but then my head almost imploded. I had to talk to someone.

I was reminded of this issue when on CNN’s-web page yesterday I saw the story about Ted Haggard. Click on the title for the entire story. It is about a young man, last name Haas, who had a sexual encounter with Ted Haggard a number of years ago. When the scandal with Haggard broke, Hass contacted the church. Of course the news media can be biased and this story is coming from the perspective of the young man, but I will post the part of the story that caught my eye:

After the Haggard scandal in November 2006, Haas said he contacted the church immediately.

The church has said it struck a legal settlement with the man — it has not named Haas — in 2007 that paid him for college tuition and counseling as long as he did not speak publicly about the relationship. Brady Boyd, Haggard's successor as pastor at New Life, called it "compassionate assistance — certainly not hush money."

According to documents Haas provided KRDO, he is to be paid $179,000 through 2009. Haas claimed the church didn't follow through on promises to pay for counseling and medical treatment.

"Their main focus was, you know, cover it up, don't say anything," he said. "You'll regret it if you come forward."

Of course everyone is very familiar with the problems of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. The major complain, which I’ve heard on the news, is how the church tried to cover it up . . . moving offending priest to new areas etc.

It seems to me that the church as been too preoccupied with issues of "appearance" or what can be cloaked in spiritual terms as, "The sake of the gospel." We were always taught to never give a "bad wittiness." To talk about any problem, was always considered "gossiping." But my sense is that honesty is a better wittiness than pretending of flawlessness. I've heard of far too many stories where people left Christianity because of having to bury real problems.

So, should the church cover up failures to keep the "Gospel" shinny and attractive? Or should the church show the world that we are made up of real, fallen people with real problems? For example, if I had been an elder at Ted Haggard's church, and a young man came with such a complaint, I would not hesitate to bring it out in public. The Biblical principles, and I still believe there are sometimes such a thing, is to confront sin (in a loving way) rather than pretending it's not there or burying it in shame.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Story About Don

I have two points to make in this posting. But before I dive into Don’s story, I have to preface with a clarification. So, in an odd way, I will make my points . . . then tell the story.

Any time we write (including all of us) we may or may not communicate what we were thinking we were communicating. Of course our own personal experiences determine the connotations that we get from the written words. Like everyone, I know that my written words are often misunderstood. For example, when I posted my thoughts about the Palestinian people in a medical blog, someone right away accused me of being anti-Semite and/or Pro Al Qaeda. Holy cow! Nothing could be further from the truth. I have no political agenda except that all people are created in God’s image and deserve respect. That’s all I was trying to say.

The story about Don is in the “Christians behaving badly” genre. When I’ve tried to tell these stories before, some readers quickly interpret what I’m saying as a gossipy, “Look how bad this Christian is . . . I’m so much better.” Indeed, when I shared Don’s story with a mutual friend, (who knew both Don and me during our Evangelical days) that was his take. Good grief. That is almost the 180 degree opposite of the point I’m trying to make.

Here’s the point that I’m trying to make. Don, is not that much different from any of us. It is a failure of how we practice Christianity that leads us to believe that we can “grow” or mature, to a point that sin no longer has much of an influence on us. To keep up this façade, we all (and I mean ALL) pretend that we are much better than we really are.

While pretending that we are godly creates a warm and fuzzy feeling in the Christian world, and church lobbies, the harm is that the hidden reality goes unchecked. Christians begin to hide their ids (borrowing from Freud) in their closets and there they can grow and multiply into monsters.

I’ve tried very hard to swim against this tide and I often find myself in trouble. As some well-meaning Christian told me once, “You should be past that by now.” Or another one, “When you say those things, you come across as an immature Christian.”

What am I saying that brings such a response? I will say things like, my wife and I had a disagreement (wouldn’t even call it a fight). The response I get from my Evangelical friends? It is like we are the only couple within all of Christendom that isn’t perfect. So rather than the other person opening up and sharing the same failures, they hand me an invitation to a Christian “Marriage Enrichment” seminar. Or, they have this horrible look on their face like Denise and I are near divorce. No Christian would say something about a disagreement unless their marriage was horrible, right? Good grief again.

With that said, I will tell Don’s story. But I believe, that if Don had lived in a Christian world where perfection was not expected, where it was safe to talk about the secret temptations in the closet, I don’t he would have ever ended up where he did.

Oh, yeah, my second point. As I discuss Don’s case (the term we use in the medical world) I also want to point out that there is something amiss in our concepts of godliness or people so-called “controlled by the Spirit.”

I think I heard about Don before I ever met him because his dynamic reputation was bigger than life. He was a dynamic youth group leader in our area. I became a Christian my senior year of high school and began to associate with other Christians students, some of which attended the church where Don was a youth pastor.

The first time I met Don in person was when I started to date Sharon, a Christian girl that attend his church. She invited me to her youth group meetings. Once I met Don, I attended every week for the following year.

I remember that first evening that I met Don. He was playing a guitar and singing with a wonderful, Don McLean-type of voice. In between he had the quick-witted joking of a Robin Williams. Then he led us in a Bible study, being one of the most incredible Bible teachers (for a youth audience) that I had ever heard. I can still remember that very first Bible study. It was about the woman at the well. He told it in such a funny way like, “The disciples ran into to town to get burgers while Jesus stayed behind to take a leak.”

I can’t remember if Don told his testimony to the whole group, or privately to me as I do remember us talking out in the parking lot of the church alone. He described this amazing story of how he was very involved in the drug culture. Then, like this miracle, a voice told him (while he was on some drug, LSD I think) to turn on the TV. There was Billy Graham giving a message. Then, like a miracle, he sobered up and listened to every word. At the end, he prayed and received Christ. I think it was even a little more dramatic than that, like he had to wrestle with visible demons or something.

I, however, stood listening with my mouth gapped wide open in pure amazement. Over the subsequent weeks and years, I got to know Don even better. The next year I graduated from high school and started to attend nearby East Tennessee State University. There, Don was an upper classman and the student president of Campus Crusade for Christ. He has so much charisma and confidence that all of us Christian (men at least) wanted to emulate him. He was also the most “spiritual” person I had ever met. He seemed to never sin and was constantly bubbling over with the Holy Spirit. Every time you ran into him on campus, he had another amazing miracle that had happened to him. There were amazing healings, people coming to the Lord through him left and right.

I worked with Don on a big project to bring in Josh McDowel, a famous Campus Crusade speaker and author. Josh was so personally impressed with Don that he invited Don to become part of his ministry team that was traveling around the world. Don turned him down.

The fist time I ever consider a chink in his armor was when Don was a senior, or perhaps he had graduated and was taking graduate courses. He was also working as the dorm director of Taylor Hall, an old dorm that has been torn down since. My friend Ken, was a resident in that dorm.

In those days, there was only one phone on each floor, and it was a pay-phone. One Sunday the pay phone rang and my friend Ken answered it. On the other end was a girl and she was looking for Don. I can’t remember if she was just a girl he had met in a bar, or an actual hooker. But she described to Ken how Don had taken her to a motel, they had sex and then he abandoned her. If she was a hooker, she was complaining that she didn’t get paid. But the story is fuzzy.

When Ken told me the story, I was in disbelief. I think I, being the good Evangelical that I was, stuffed it and continued pretending that the Emperor was wearing cloths and my Christian hero was still flawless.

The next time I saw Don, was my senior year. He had moved away a year or two before. I was walking across campus and saw him walking toward the administration building. I ran to meet him. He seemed very different. We had always, “talked about the Lord,” which meant we talked about something we perceived as, or embellished as miracles. Sometimes we talked about more proofs that the end times were near. He had his same big, bright smile, but he didn’t respond. Then he said something about he had forgotten that Jesus supposed to be coming back then he rolled his eyes and said he had to go.

Sometimes, when I’m bored and have a computer in front of me, I do a “where are they now” search on Google. For some odd reason Don Crumley came to mind last week and I did a search. I found the link that I have on this posting. I felt really sad, but I wasn’t sure it was him. I mean the age fit. Even the location of Wise, VA fit. I couldn’t tell from the photo because it’s been 30 years and the photo is of a heavier Don. So I sent the photo to Ken, who lived on the same floor in Taylor Hall with Don. He confirmed that it was Don and he had heard that Don was in some kind of trouble.

You hear stories surfacing like this all the time, but really is just the tip of the iceberg. My concept of a dream church is where we realize that we are all imperfect. That we accept each other as we are, expecting flaws, not hiding them. Yet, a place where we are very encouraging to each other and stand beside each other in fighting the monsters that live deep within our souls. If you read the link, Don has been arrested, awaiting trial, for several accounts of child porn. I know disgusting, but Don seemed to have been a decent man at one time (unles it was all an act), I just wish we could have helped him deal with his demons then.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Gaza - A Christian Litmus Test

I got an e-mail last Monday asking me to volunteer to come to Gaza ASAP to help with the medical relief. Of course it would not be safe and I had mixed feelings about it, but I said yes. Maybe I would have had second thoughts if I had not been depressed. Anyway, it is a week later and they have never ask me to come so I'm sure I will be going.

But now, moving on to another subject . . . Gaza, and the Christian response to it.

I'm sorry about the graphic photo, but it is reality.

Our pastor did his monthly dinner talk last Sunday on the situation in Gaza. I had mixed feelings about going, but I did decide to go at first. In the end I stayed home because Denise came home from work with a migraine.

But, I know most of my pastor’s views on the Middle East, because we’ve had other conversations about it. He represents the mainline view of Evangelicals. I’m sure if I had gone to the dinner meeting, I would have been frustrated . . . not just because of his views, but the fact that I would be the only dissenting voice. Once again (and this is why it is hard being a Post-Evangelical going to an Evangelical church), I would at least appear as the weak, misinformed (or confused by “worldly” views) Christian or a full-blown heretic at most. Maybe someone would even consider that I wasn’t a Christian at all. This is what our head elder suggested when I made the comment that I didn't believe that the universe is only 6,000 years old . . . but that’s another story.

So most Evangelicals believe the following about the situation with Israel:

1) Israel is still God’s chosen people and, according to the dispensationalists, God will once again work through that nation.

2) That it was God’s plan for Israel to become a nation again in 1948, and indeed the establishment of Israel was a sign that Christ’s return was imminent.

3) The way that Israel was established was fair. The Jews, coming in from Europe, had an agreement with the Palestinians to buy their land at an above the market value. The Palestinians were happy to do that. Later the Palestinians (just because they are evil people) decided to hate Israel for no reason and they have been the source of all the problems since.

4) We must always support Israel because God is on their side. In the recent war (like all wars that Israel is involved in) the Palestinians got what they deserved.

What amazes me is how dogma can be such a filter through which we view reality, to the point that we can’t see the obvious. There is not one serious student of Middle Eastern history that would see the development of the nationhood of Israel in this light, unless they too had been seduced by some political (Zionist) or religious dogma.

Certainly dogma has its place, to keep us on the straight and narrow. But dogma can also be a substitute for thinking and certainly a tool for determining your personal self esteem and judging others. The thinking goes, “I think the correct doctrines therefore I’m a good guy (on God’s side). They think something differently, so they are the bad guys.”

I had an e-mail from a medical practitioner friend named David yesterday. He is a Jew with strong ties to Israel. He was telling me that he had just returned from “Gaza” the day before and was safe and sound. But I knew he was visiting his family on the Israeli side. When I told him that I was considering going to Gaza proper, he send a brief comment about, “Yeah . . . they’re the ones firing missiles at my family.” But, knowing Dave fairly well, I wrote him back, “David, I am a-political. I don’t care which side of the line I’m on. I could patch up Israeli kids as easily as Palestinian kids and really think you would do the same.” He replied, “You’re right . . . I would.”

So, looking at the situation in non-political terms and certainly non-religious (eschatological) terms, you would see 1400 people (most of who are innocent bystanders, children, women etc.) killed on one side. Besides that, they were on the side where the resources are very, very limited. Then on the other side, 10 people killed, of whom, 5 were innocent bystanders? It is so obscene that only someone blinded by some ridiculous political or religious dogma would not see the great human tragedy. I have had several messianic-Judaistic friends who I’m sure are cheering about Israel’s invasion and wished that they had killed more Palestinians. How hateful.

I really like Micah 6:8 when I think how I should think about any circumstance. I simply states: “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.”

I've talked to many Muslims and Christian-Arabs. The number one issue why they don't like American and especially American Evangelicals is how they place dogma over human lives. If the Palestinians had not be dealt with unfairly there would have never been the ground swell to create Al Qaeda. Of course there's been other issues the Arabs have for hating us . . . not even mentioning the Shah of Iran situation, or us arming Iraq and Iran to fight each other. I'm not justifying in any way the evil they've done. They are without excuse.

I'm certainly not advocating, like Ahmadinejad that the nation of Israel should be wiped out or removed. Of course not! No, we must now live with the situation that the US and UK created. I have the same respect and love for the Israeli people as the Palestinians. However, we must have humble repentance and true love for all men, women and children.

Now erase the entire Scolfield dispensationalist thinking and put on the eyes of God, look towards Justice and Mercy, and how can you not feel compassion for any innocents that are harmed reardless of who they are? What would Jesus really do? The litmus test determines if a Christian is more committed to a particular (man-made) dogma, or the principles of scripture, God's justice for all.

See also:

Monday, January 19, 2009

Depressive Pondering Part II

As I was saying, I really think, at least for me, that depression comes when we get some type of glimpse of the wonders of God’s gift and then sense the loss of it. I know that doesn’t apply to everyone. I may have some genetic tendencies toward depression, but some people have such a serious genetic flaw in their brain’s biochemistry that they’re depressed without any need for an external catalysis. The Fall of Adam has left its mark on our emotions.

I think that my catalysis, this time, is simply the feeling of loss of growing older and seeing changes. It was very hard in September seeing three of my kids simultaneously move away for college. But then, the holidays seemed to stir it up again. I couldn’t figure out why at first. I mean, all three kids were home for a couple of weeks and one, Tyler, has moved back home for a while. But the sadness seems to form around the realization that even when they are home . . . it still will never be the same. They are adults now. They don’t need me to tuck them in. In some ways, having them home is unpleasant. They play music at 2 AM. They leave dirty dishes and laundry everywhere. In some ways I was ready for them to leave and that makes me even sadder.

I wish I could push a button and I would be 33 instead of 53. I wish my kids could all sit in my lap at one time again . . . without crushing me to death. But it will never be.

My last one at home, Ramsey, senses it too. He made an interesting statement at the coffee shop, right before they all moved out in the Fall. He had a very sad look on his face and said, “Our family, as we have known it . . . well, it’s officially over. That really makes me sad.”

This is what I’m talking about. A glimpse of something wonderful . . . the family life we’ve known . . . and then see it lost. That’s why I think depression is where our life line curves closes to reality, seeing the wonder of God and the loss of the Fall.

I really like the book of Ecclesiastes. I was always taught, as an Evangelical, to read it as the kind of thoughts you would have if you were a non-believer. I just read the book again and noticed the commentary (in my wife’s NIV) keeps saying, “This is how one would see the world if they were without God.” Of course, Christians are always supposed to be joyous. Look at the face of Evangelicalism . . . the TV Christians. They have these huge smiles on their faces like they slept with a freakin coat hanger in their phony mouths. A truly spiritual person would never say that life is meaningless or that all we should do is to eat, drink and be merry . . . or would they? Solomon even says, “Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.” (Chapter 7:3,4) Is there a possibility that that grief is a lost Christian discipline or art form?

But Solomon was the probably the wisest man the world has ever known. At his time, he was also the most spiritual. Who came up with the ideal that we suppose to be happy all the time?

The “be happy” or “power of positive thinking” attitude of the Olsteen camp is the “Opium of the Masses” that Marx was speaking of. It is an artificial numbing of the senses so we become more detached from reality . . . the wonder of God’s glorious gifts and our losses of them.

But what is the solution for our grief, Prozac? There’s a place for Prozac and the other SSRI drugs especially when combating the disabling sadness that reflects an error in brain processing.

I’ve spoken before about the fact that there is no resolution this side of total redemption of the universe. I mean, people think, “If only I could be more successful, then I would be happy.” I watched a program on the TV while I was in the gym one day. It was about successful men. One man was age 41 and was earning 85-100 million dollars a year as a hedge fund manager. He didn’t seem happy. He worked 80 hours a week and felt compelled to do better and better. I could dozen of other examples.

I’m certainly not advocating that Christians should sit in a state of perpetual sadness. No. Life would be miserable like that. But I do sense that when we are sad, we are most real and most in touch with life. There may even be a kind of joy . . . within sadness.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Depressive Ponderings Part I

I’ve avoided posting this week because I’ve been drifting in a depression. I don’t want to over dramatize it because it is a simple garden-variety depression . . . something that every man and woman knows from time to time. I do take such melancholy turns more seriously than some because I have experienced two episodes (more like epochs) of clinical depression in my life. Any time I find the ground under my feet tilting in that direction I take alarm and start my preventative steps in the opposite bearing.

My steps of prevention are prayer, exercise, getting out side in the sun, cold beers in the hot tub, more chocolate (btw Starbucks Mochas are expensive, but still cheaper than Prozac), more reading and thinking. But these are not part of a “secret formula” for avoiding depression (like the title of a self-help book) . . . but a simple governor to slow the descent. My formula wouldn’t work for others and often doesn’t even work for me.

I haven’t avoided writing. I’ve written several long articles. One was Tuesday morning. We had our semi-annual church congregational meeting Monday night. I felt damned depressed after that. I had several thoughts about the age-old problem for us Post-Evangelicals, and that’s what to do about church. I personally am attending a Evangelical church, and that creates problems from time to time. But that’s another posting. However, I shelved each of my writings for a few days to “age” them . . . then I digitally tear them up (sending them off to the recycle bin via the delete button).

I have learned not to write things for public viewing when I’m depressed. The reason is, when I’m moody, I tend to write too honestly. I also write too honestly in the middle of the night. I’ve lived to regret many things (like e-mails) that I’ve written at 3 AM.

I know that it may sound a bit strange for me to consider depression closer to the truth of reality. After all, it is considered a mental “illness” thus a distortion of reality and something we need to get over quickly. But sometimes I have the sense that the closes I’ve ever been to reality (seeing the world as it really is) is when I’ve been at the very troughs of serious clinical depression. I know that sounds terrible, but I will try to explain.

First of all to humor anyone who has not experienced a prolonged (lasting months) of real depression, it is really worse than death. That’s why some people kill themselves during the middle of it . . . because death is better. I would have killed myself when I was depressed but I had maintained enough sanity (thank God) to know how it would have hurt my family. It is an emotional hell. The best example of this kind of hell, in my opinion, was portrayed in the Robin Williams’ movie, “What Dreams are Made Of.” The flick was trying to portray Hell itself, where the main character (played by Robin) went to rescue his wife. But it was such an awful situation (she was huddled in fetal position inside an upside down church in the most God-forsaken place). Another flick that gives you the feeling is the Japanese animation, “Grave of the Fireflies.”

But why would I even suggest that this type of dark, emotional labyrinth is where we intersect reality the most? I’ve said many times that I believe that Christians really don’t understand the depths of the fall. This is reflected in the notion that we can “grow” or “mature” where we loose most of that darkness. Secondly, I don’t think most Christians really understand the wonderfulness of creation. Now that last statement would seem to suggest that things are better than we know and when we are depressed, we are more out of touch with reality.

However, it is the contrast that makes sadness . . . sad. What I’m trying to say is that a war bride would not be so grieved (crying her eyes out) seeing her solider husband climbing onto the bus with his duffle bag, not to be back again for 18 months, unless she had known the glory of having him home and in her bed every night. A child would not mourn for months over the loss of a dead mother, if they had not known the wonder of loving and having that mother near.
More to come . . .

Monday, January 12, 2009

Cynicism in the Balance – Conversations with Caleb and Two Evangelicals

One of the conversations I had with Caleb over the Christmas break was at our dinner table. He expressed (now realize I don’t know if he is sincere or just trying to get a reaction from us) that he really believes that there is no such thing as an altruistic act. In his Darwinian state of mind, he tried to prove that every thought, every act is completely selfish and for self-survival.

As they say, the apple does not fall from the tree and, you can ask my wife, I tend to be cynical. But I would never take it to the extreme that Caleb claims to. For example, I have no doubts that people, plenty of people, have committed true altruistic acts. I can think of no greater example of that than someone who gives up all they have, their families and even their own health and comfort to go and live in a dirty slum in India, just to help the poor. The marine, who throws his body over a hand grenade, would be another excellent example.

Maybe a little less spectacular are the kind things all of us do every day. I don’t suspect selfish motives behind every word and every deed. I am certainly not a Linguistic Deconstructionist, trying to read between the lines of every sentence, looking for a selfish agenda. Nor, do I think like . . . well, maybe like Nietzsche . . . that everyone has one purpose and that is to self-serve and self empowerment. So I do try to dampen my cynicism, as I can go too far at times.

I remember in my Evangelical days, I was never cynical (at least not outside my own head). Cynicism was not very sexy for an Evangelical. I always smiled a lot. I only looked at the positive side of every situation. If my tire went flat, it was a good thing. “At least I can afford a car.” I would say with a bright smile. In some ways that’s not so unhealthy. Really, deep in my heart I do have these appreciative feelings. This is especially true after having lived in the Third World. So I’m not flippant when I think, but for the grace of God, I could be living in a muddy slum in Tanzania.

But, as a Post-Evangelical, I have a great hunger for truth . . . even emotional truth. If you are really honest, then sometimes you think in cynical ways because you see the fallen world as it really is.

Okay, my two conversations.

In the gym the other day, I ran into an Evangelical friend. I had a fairly long conversation with him. He is really a neat guy and I do like him a lot. But I found that I can’t communicate with someone in the Evangelical frame of mind. He constantly smiles. He has a positive twist on every thing he says.

The biggest example was listening him tell the story how God had recently called him into the pastorate. It was all spiritual . . . a word of scripture . . . an odd feeling in his soul, etc. Not trying to read between the lines, but I know some of the true story (BTW women, in the private places of their homes do tend to be more honest and Denise tells me the truth she hears about other people).

Some of the true story is that he quit his job a while back, to “serve the Lord.” Now that might sound good on paper, but his wife was having a very difficult time with her new found poverty . . . and living on welfare. Especially since they were both college educated and had lived a comfortable middle class life before he became jobless. I suspect that the real reason he quit his job is the same reason there are days I want to quit my job. Being burnt out and frustrated with the same work problems.

So I am certain the reason he grabbed the chance to be a full-time pastor of a large church was partially due to the fact his wife was almost near an emotional breakdown. Their cars did not work. They barely had food. She was stressed out and I know that (through Denise) as a fact. But he never mentioned the “behind the scenes” reasons.

As he shared the very spiritual perspective of how God did this and that . . . I just wished he could have told me how he and his wife were really doing. How she was pissed at him and he felt confused. I could have talked with him for hours about that.

But after sharing his “supernatural” story with all of its positive glory, he asked me, “So . . . what’s God doing in your life?”

I was speechless. With so much going on in my life, I just didn’t have the energy to work hard to put a positive spin on every freaken thing. I wanted to say that I was pissed off for a week because my well froze and then my well pump died. I laid under our deck in the snowy mud every day trying to thaw pipes when I wanted to be inside with my kids, who were home for Christmas. Then it took my entire bonus (2K) to pay to have it fixed. Sure, I could some how repackaged the event with a big smile on my face and how God did it for such and such a reason, but I really believe crap happens for no good reason is this fallen world (where the laws of physics do matter).

I couldn’t tell him how my kids are not turning out perfect and I feel scared that it is my fault. To do that, like in my old Evangelical days, I would have to repackage the story where I give a thinly-veiled cover to how wonderful of a man and father I am.

We use to tell stories of “How wonderful God is because He did such and such great thing through me.” Okay, so I slip into a tad of Linguistic Deconstructionist and say, what I really was doing was just boasting about how GREAT I WAS!. But I don’t have the energy to do that any more. That’s why I feel lonely. I feel lonely to have honest conversations without the hassle of dressing every thought up in spiritual banquet gowns.

I’ll have to get to the second conversation, which I had today with another Evangelical, but this posting is too long already

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Saturday Night in the Coffee Shop

It was a typical rainy northwest day, which is better than the blizzard conditions we were facing just 10 days ago. I could have done my usual climb of Mount Erie . . . well I could have, but it was cold and rainy . . . so I took my exercise inside. After a good run at Thrive, I took a quiet seat at the coffee shop over an iced mocha.

My trips to the coffee shop are a fixture in our village, with my yellow jeep often parked outside. But it isn’t usually a place of reflection because I am either in a rush, on my way to work, or I’m with one of my children on the week end and our conversation takes the place of quiet reflection.

I did go this morning with Daniel and Ramsey. But this evening I was alone, the lights were dim. Being about 5 PM, there were only a couple of lovers sipping tea in the corner.

My main purpose tonight was to start the book, The Catcher in Rye, by J. D. Salinger. The reason? During my conversation with Ramsey and Daniel (AKA Caleb) this morning I made the comment that I really wish I could know what was going on inside of Tyler’s (age 21) mind. I knew he would be starting home today, crossing the cathedrals of the N. Cascade Mountains in our 15 year-old Previa. He was coming home . . . sort of, after dropping out of college for the third time and with no plans beyond the next hour.

I can’t remember which one said it, Dan or Ramsey, but they both agreed that if I really want to know Tyler, I must know The Catcher in the Rye. I had a puzzled look on my face. They, however, like a matter of fact statement, knew that Tyler’s life changed after reading the book. If I had read it, it was so long ago that I don’t remember a single word. But I found it odd, that I had been searching for months trying to figure Tyler out and for Dan and Ramsey it was a no brainer.

I did finish the first three chapters at the coffee shop and I certainly do believe I’m on to something. I can’t wait to see the story takes me and if it really does unravel some of the Tyler mystery.

Next topic. I haven’t been writing much on my blog for several reasons. One, with the holidays, being snowbound and no water for a week . . . things just got crazy. Then, things continued in a crazy mode as I went back to work. All those patients, who were snow bound, suddenly needed to come in. At work I’ve been too busy to type. At home, Ramsey has been using my computer for hours each night as he is recording (and mixing) music on it.

Just before Christmas I posted the manuscript of a book I’ve been working on for two years, so blog visitors could take it out for a test-drive. Several have been very helpful and I’ve already started a re-write. I hope to post the new version as soon as I can. It isn’t easy because of formatting. I type in MS Word, but when I post it on the blog the formatting goes to hell. I may experiment with this writing, trying to translate it to html, then try to post it that way. If that works, then I will post the changes in my manuscript as soon as I make them.

Topic Three. Once again, I’m contemplating what to do with this blog. At one point I decided to move from posting anonymously (being extremely honest) to just sharing the muses of a post-evangelical man on a journey. But there are plenty of those out there. Then I decided that the best thing was to define the blog by the one, somewhat philosophical (even metaphysical) issue that I thought was key to where my journey had taken me and that was Christian Monism. I do feel that Christian Dualism was one of the greatest problems that I faced as an Evangelical and therefore Monism was a facet (at least) of the answer.

But now I am feeling a little hemmed in by just the term "Monism.'' The other thing is that visitors might find the term “Monism” as confusing or even something extreme, which it is not.

I then reflect back on an article that Michael Spencer wrote on his blog about “Why I don’t read your blog.” Honestly, I found it to be a little condescending. But one of the reasons he said that he doesn’t read blogs is if they keep changing their format or title.

With that said, once again I ask myself, why do I write? I’ve address this before. I think the main reason I do is for myself. Some days I feel so alone in the universe that I want to scream. It is so hard to find anyone that wants to listen, and if they do, they don’t understand. It is equally hard (at least for a man) to find someone who really wants to talk . . . in reality. So this blog is my “Wilson” as the volley ball in the movie Castaway.

But no one writes without the desire that someone is listening. I do track this blog and I know that I average between 50 and 100 visitors per day. While I know that may are only passing (spending seconds) some spend ten or twenty minutes so I know that they are reading something.

So I will decide if I want to make it more generic than the “Monism” direction that it is now. There are several issues that I want to deal with again. One topic is the loss of innocence. What I mean by that statement, is on some days I wish I were the old Evangelical Mike of 20 years ago. Then all of life fit into neat little boxes. I had a confident answers for everything, from who to vote for to what clothes to wear that day.

If I was still an Evangelical, I would know then that my children would be bad if they weren’t going to church and they would be okay if they were. I don’t know that anymore. Some of them might be at a better place in their journey if they are questioning every thing like Caleb is and not going to church. On the other hand, if some are going to church, but being taught not to think, not to question and foolish things . . . like Obama is a secret Muslim who is going to lead the U.S. to the great tribulation (eyes roll here) then it is not a good thing. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

In my Evangelical days, life was neat and clear because it was pretending. Some days I want to pretend again. I want to click my heels and go magically back to a child-like naivety. I want so smile and ignore the fact that I’m pissed off at my wife on some days . . . and she is towards me. Or to ignore tha fact that I'm sometimes depressed or some days I am really scared. It was so easy when reality was based on playing the game. But still, undergirding all that, is the fact that if God is there, He is a God of truth and that is something I should never fear . . . truth.

There was a lot more I wanted to add but this is getting too long. When I write fast like this the typos abound all the more.

Thursday, January 1, 2009



I'm still here. I posted so much material when I posted my book manuscript I wanted to give the blog as rest and give people time to read some of the other material. I'm grateful for all the comments and e-mails, which I've received. I have already made several changes (not reflected in the manuscript already posted).

I've also had time for a lot of reflection over the holidays . . . things I wish I could write about and may soon.

It has been a crazy holiday time. The three kids, who are in college in Washington, came home. But even before they could get here we started getting hit with the snow storm of the century. It was tough getting them home. Then we had 20 inches of snow and record cold. The only car that could get out was my Jeep.

Next our waterline from the well froze. This in turn caused the well pump to fail. We ended up going 8 days without water. I became totally consumed in melting snow for water.

One of our first dinner nights together, Caleb suggested that he is a materialist (in the true sense) of there being no God, no soul and that we are the sum of chance plus time (primordial crap in other words). That of course makes me sad, but I was not surprised.

The thing that makes me the most sad isn't that Caleb isn't "being a good Christian" but it is depressing for anyone to really believe that they have no meaning, no purpose, the sum of the universe's (with a small "u") crap. He is turned off by the farce-ness of Evangelicalism. But the only farce that is worse, in my opinion, is that of the materialist. I've known many that claim they have that position, but yet live like they have meaning. It is impossible to not live like you have meaning. But that's another story.

Then Tyler tells us that he has dropped out of college is broke and is possibly moving home.

Life is always interesting.