Monday, April 20, 2009

Diverging Paths . . . Long-lost Friends

First, before I diverge, I will comment that this beautiful artwork is from the link under the title. I hope they don't mind me using it so I am driving traffic their way.

This topic came about as I was working on my "lonely Christian Man" postings. I was thinking about some of my really close friendships with men over the decades. Most of our friendships began to dissolve, in a reasonable sort of way, as we moved apart geographically. Several of them were college friends and some were good friends since then.

However, I was imaging (as one old college friend suggested) that if they all moved to my little island it would not be friendship utopia. The reason being, we have taken very different paths in life. I would like to believe that it is not my fault. I mean, if they were here, I hope that I would welcome their friendships (but I know that I can be self-deluding at times).

All of us started with the same standard (or maybe hyper) Evangelical starting point. But while I’ve move much farther in the direction of ambiguity in life, they have moved further in the direction of certainty. Not all of them. Some of them have moved away from Christianity all together. One is now a pedophile (I posted about his arrest a few months ago). Some left the faith and got into drugs, sex, money or cults.

But in the eyes of many of my friends, who have become so confident in their certainty, I now fall far outside of their concept of “Christian.” It seems that I’m a stench in their nostrils.

Even when we were all on the same page, as Evangelicals, we had a lot of certainty. I mean, not only did we have all the major doctrines “correct” but we also knew precisely when the end of the earth would come, who the anti-Christ would be (in college I think it was Henry Kissinger), we knew that all ills, including all mental illnesses, were the product of the individual’s sin (Bill Gothard actually told us which sin led to which mental illness). We also knew the 4 steps to being a Christian, the 1 step of being “Spiritually controlled," the 5 steps to being a disciple, the 3 steps to overcoming worry, the 10 steps of any thing.

After my fall from Evangelical grace, I have moved further and further away form “certainty in all things” way of thinking. I still have some degree of certainty. For example, God is there, that he loves us, that he sent Christ for us and that scripture is God-inspired. But much of the peripheral beliefs are open to discussion.

My freshman roommate and mentor (guy who helped disciple me) was my hero. I really looked up to John as an intellectual giant. Since our parting of ways after undergrad, he went to seminary and became a pastor and author. He has written many books and tracts about wrong doctrines within the PCA and how these people need to be excommunicated. He can divide theological hairs so fine that they would grow in a frog’s armpit or pubic area. Do frogs have pubic areas?

John and I had a final parting of ways when I was participating in a “Yahoo College Reunion” forum. Many of our old buddies would post now and then. Then one day John shared that God was doing something through him that was unique and had to do with his health. My eyebrows were raised but I sat on the side lines. Then as the discussion continued, John shared how “God had shown him” a unique supplement that virtually cures all diseases known to man. As soon as he mentioned the substance, Mannatech, I did some background checking. To make a long story short, it is a supplement sold by a guy in Texas who has a shady past in business. Then he had a “vision from God” to sell this supplement. He preys on Christians for his huge MLM company.

I kept my mouth shut until John told one of our friends to stop her chemotherapy for breast cancer and only take these supplements. He used scripture to try and show that chemotherapy and all prescription drugs were denomic and that Jesus was in the Mannatech company. I suddenly felt “moved by God” (pun intended) to raise some serious questions. The first of which, was did John sell this stuff? He hedged for a while then admitted that he did.

But then I started getting personal e-mails from John, letters of rebuke. He was pointing out how I had “sinned against him and the Mannatec company” and how I need to repent and ask for forgiveness from the whole group. It was crazy. He was the con artist and I only called him on it after he told someone to go off their chemotherapy (and they would certainly have died). I finally had to stop accepting his e-mails. So that great friendship had a strange ending.

Then I think of Rob. He was a great friend. He watched me go through some tough things. I also watched him served as an associated pastor in a very dysfunctional (you can use the word cult here) church. He came out of that experience tattered and torn. We parted geographical ways at that time but tried to remain friends.

A few years had passed before I “met” Rob again. He had changed a lot . . . so had I. The paths had diverged further than I had anticipated. He invited me to his Lutheran blog. I thought that was a great idea. I like Lutherans. I even married one. But his blog would quickly become like a lobster trap for me.

The chance to re-connect and fellowship with a great, old friend was a enticing as a chunk of cod (or whatever they put in lobster traps). I did some postings, somewhat like the ones I do here. I remember doing one on the Christian myth of being “thin for God.”

I noticed that Rob and his new buddy, Eric always posted on the merits of the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church . . . and how all the other Lutherans were out to theological (and liturgical) lunch. They went further than that by celebrating the death of Pope John Paul II on the very day of his demise. It felt awkward to me to read their gloating and I’m not even Catholic. John Paul II seemed like a very nice man.

I also sensed a “precisely correct doctrine in all things” mentality on the blog. I think I was in denial at first . . . and I kept doing my typical generic postings and feeling a kind of long-lost kinship.

But my days were numbered. Rob started to suggest that if I really cared about the spiritual welfare of my children I would drive them off our island, and about 50 miles, to a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. The last hurrah came as Eric attacked me for something tangential and what I would consider extremely trivial. I had posted that I didn’t have time to answer a particular question because I was going out the door to go to a Seder meal. I had never been to one before and Denise had asked me to go with her.

By the time I got home from that meal, Eric had a vicious posting about how neither good Lutherans (nor good Christians) go to Seder meals. Rob strongly supported Eric. I sadly knew that Rob and my paths had diverged beyond an irreconcilable point. There was me, in my lack of certainty in the trivial, and he, now more certain than ever. I felt like I could accommodate (ignore for the sake of our friendship in other words) his views easily . . . but I knew he could not tolerate mine. I almost cried as I deleted my profile off his blog . . . knowing that a rich and warm friendship for a decade had run its final course. His path led over the hill and out of view. But that is the nature of man . . . and of life.

It makes me want to sit and ponder. How can people get along so well and celebrate so much together in Christ then become so alienated from one another? How does time lead friends down such diverse paths? It must be part of the fall . . . because it’s too sad not to be.


pennyyak said...

Apparently, frogs do have a pubic (bone, area, something). Not much into cutting up frogs these days. And apparently no tolerance for rhetorical questions either. It's that big blue G (as in Google search) that's staring at me all the time.

Looking forward to the rest of your post.

Don Hendricks said...

The certainties we all grew up with in the evangelical are indeed being shaken and stirred and I am sure your path and willingness to be committed to truth telling will be exciting and rewarding, no matter what we lose and gain along the wait. Mannatech, sheesh. it is good the internet gives us information to research.

MJ said...

pennyyak, sorry you had to read that before I had finished, and proofed it. Yeah, Google is my friend too.

MJ said...

Mannatech . . . any experience with it? I find that anything wrapped in Jesus . . . is crap (and very dangerous). It must be Jesus plus nothing.

Sean McKeating said...

These things run in seasons. You come together to do a ministry, and often intense ministry, and you know that you will be friends forever. Then you move apart and each of your experience tracks diverge. One of you gets promoted to a higher position in your organization, while another finds himself in a Chinese restaurant in Cairo...

This is unfortunate but not strange. I read about Paul wanting to kick John Mark to the curb, or Peter having different experiences from the brothers at Jerusalem and having to upbraid them for giving him trouble for eating with the uncircumcised.

We are meant to walk together in relationship. After a time, these relationships change. You regret the changes, but do not let them leach all value of your past experiences, and then you wonder who you will be walking with next as you follow Him.

Blogging seems to help me through those transitional times. Hopefully it will continue to help you as well.

MJ said...

Sean, I know you are right. Somehow there is that inward craving for unity. It is a craving, that I know accept, for something in eternity and not in the here and now.

craig v. said...

What did you have in these relationships to begin with (what did you lose)? I don't mean this antagonistically, I'm just probing a bit.

MJ said...

Craig, you point is well taken. I think in these situations you do start with some type of common ground.

It is interesting what life-experiences do to you. While I feel that I've become less dogmatic on the lessor issues, these two friends are far more dogmatic on the minors. The more dogmatic you become on the trivals, the smaller your world becomes.

I remember hearing a great lecture by Dennis Haack (see Ramson Fellowship link) about living in Babylon. He asked the serious question, which of your Christian beliefs are so important, that you would be willing to die for. For me, it's the essentials and not the minors.

pennyyak said...

Gosh, MJ, I loved reading it. I'm just love complaining too much.