Monday, June 29, 2009

A Weekend in a Lutheran World - Is There a Place for Christian Pretentiousness? An Honest Question.

As an introduction, I will say that I just spent a long week end in a Lutheran world (my in-laws). In the reunion, there were 42 people. Out of that group there were six ordained Lutheran pastors, a daughter of a Lutheran pastor . . . and the rest, all Lutherans except for myself and my 5 kids. Even my daughter in-law is Lutheran.

But before this starts to sound critical, I will say that I have a real, honest question that they may have a better way of living. Yes, just like my Bible belt roots, the Lutheran Christian world is very pretentious . . . but in some ways it seems to work. The question I want to discuss further . . .is there a place where you give up on living honestly on the first floor and finally realize that life seems to work better up on the thirtieth?

Before I continue this thought I must explain what I mean by pretentious so that the reader’s connotation will not take them in a more extreme direction than I intended. The level of pretentiousness, which I’m talking about, is the common Christian variety. My personal Bible-belt heritage was full of it and I am sure my own personal, post-evangelical life is as well.

The late theologian Francis Schaeffer once spoke of the American culture of the 1960s as being an age of personal affluence and peace. The counter-culture hippies of that age labeled the acumination of these traits as the “plastic society.” Unlike the meaning of the word “plastic” today it had nothing to with credit cards (which didn’t even exist in the 60s) but referred to the facades held up by the American middle class to give the illusion of personal peace, moral goodness and affluence.

When the hippies revolted against the establishment (the Leave-it-to-Beaver, American-Christian culture of the 60s) for being the plastic society, Francis Schaeffer said the Church made a grave error. In his opinion the Church should have stood side by side with the hippies showing support in common opposition to that plastic society . . . pushing towards a more honest one. However, the Church reacted with the first battles of the coming culture wars. They condemned the long hair of the hippies, their loud music and the use of the “F” word . . . but, they did not listen to the other words, the actual message of the hippies that echoed from the megaphones in places like Berkley and Woodstock.

But this personal peace and moral goodness is the part I want to talk about as it relates to being pretentious in the Lutheran world, which I just experienced. Regarding the peace, what Schaeffer meant by this concept was very different than world peace (the absence of wars, which the society in the sixties did not oppose, such as the war in Vietnam) but a calm in your personal and family life.

Maintaining personal peace came to mean keeping calm in your life at all cost. In other words, it means keeping your life still like the mirrored surface of a quiet mountain lake. One stone or one bug landing on its surface will sent out rings of concentric ripples across it.

In order to keep this personal peace, certain things must not be said. A very general and proverbial example of this concept is the social more of never bringing up politics or religion among relatives at the table during the holidays. But this oath of silence would eventually mean, in this Lutheran cultural at least, the avoidance of questioning anything, the voicing of any feelings or the discussing of things without calmness (any part of life that is not consistent with the Christian ideal or moral goodness).

In my In-laws’ family, they never, ever speak of personal problems (besides brief mentioning of health concerns or bad crops). They never discuss controversial questions, or express displeasure in one another . . . while I know that on a deeper level there is great animosity between a few of them. However, personal problems certainly do exist—no less than any other family—but beneath the surface. I know this for a fact thanks to a few of us out-laws who do talk.

There have been some major family issues which stand like the elephant in the room . . . but never spoken of. The elephant sucks in his chest, sticks his trunk close to his chin, his tail between his legs and tries to hide behind a potted plant 1/80th his size and everyone tip-toes around him.

Before I continue with this Lutheran culture of pretentiousness and I talk about its possible benefits (or vices) I will, in contrast, mention a few points about my imperfect Bible-belt/Baptist culture.

In my culture, there was not an oath of silence at least not near as much. In Tennessee it is common to wear your dysfunctionality on your sleeves. The problem there, in my opinion, is that they have a very different form of pretentiousness. There, habitual sin and Christian, or at least Southern Baptist culture rest comfortably in the same bed (sometimes literally if you know what I mean—wink, wink). It would not be unusual for a family friend and deacon of my mother’s church to make the comment, “I went to church so drunk that I could hardly walk straight enough to take up the offering plates.” Then they would all belly-laugh. But that’s a different set of problems, which I will have to deal with at another time.

In this Lutheran culture, family and church are at the center of life. There is a precise protocol of behavior and verbiage. But does this type of pretentiousness have a good side? I don’t know but am just posing the question.

In the in-law group there have been eleven marriages, the longest (my mother and father in-law) 60 years and the shortest, (my niece and her husband), two years. Out of that group of marriages, there has only been one divorce and one separation, which of course if far better than the average. No one in that extended, Lutheran family has been arrested (that I know of), no one hooked on drugs (that I know of). No one has "come out of the closet" save one sister-in-law, once removed. So does holding firmly to the oath of silence, the pretending that the Christian ideal exist (even though it does not in the secret places) work?

I’m pretty confident that I am the least favorite of the in-laws. I’m not sure I know all the reasons as to why. Maybe a lot of it is my fault and my poor social skills. I don’t know the Lutheran lingo, how to properly sing in a Lutheran choir . . . but I do know how to eat Lutefisk. That must say something. I’ve learned to speak “farmer.” Some of the problem may have to do with the fact that I came and took their daughter 2000 miles away.

But I can’t help believing that I when I say things that break that code of silence I offend a lot of the family. It is not that uncommon that I find myself at the end of telling a long story only to see stoned-faced people quickly changing the topic in a spirit of social awkwardness. My stories might have dealt with friends, whose kids are on drugs, pastors running off with a woman in the church or etc.

This past weekend, I noticed once that all eight Lutheran pastors were sitting in the living room at the same time. I came very close to asking, “Where do you stand on the ordination of gays?” Why? I wanted to ask only because I’m a curious guy. I have no agenda. But that would have been a social disaster because I know that the complete spectrum of views exist among those family pastors so they would never talk about it in public . . . a personal peace issue.

I know that my wife, being a product of her culture just like I’m a product of mine, is most happy when we are smiling but not talking or asking questions.

My daughter once went from visiting my wife’s side of the family to seeing mine. On the plane back from Tennessee she made the comment, “Your family is certainly dysfunctional.” Well, besides freely talking about their fears, sorrows, grief and disagreements there is clear external signs that their system is not working out. I have one brother and two sisters. There are 9 marriages shared among that group of four (and I only account for one marriage).

So, does Christianity work better when it is pretentious? If there is a strong Christian tradition that when it is adhered to closely, meaning everything from sacraments to pot lucks (but never talk of where people really are in their beliefs or feelings) is that better? Maybe it is.

In closing, I will say the problem for me becomes a moral issue. I can restrain myself and never share my feelings, questions or disagreements . . . but eventually it must lead to lying. Faking emotions must eventually be joined by faking words. “Oh, I loved that song. Oh, I loved that message. I love the fact you sold my car for me (without asking me), I love the fact that you took off for eight hours with an old friend without telling me. Keep smiling. Oh, I love everything and everyone. I love all political views.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A Quick Word About Michael

We just resurfaced from the concrete river heading east. Seeing the Internet again, and CNN I noticed every where is plastered the news of Michael's death.

I was just thinking again, with a Christian monist perspective (believing that this physical world has great value in God's eyes) I would say that Michael's talent was a reflection of God Himself. His voice, lyrics, dance . . . all, to me, shouts of God's greatness. You don't have to divide art into "Christian" Vs "Non-Christian" forms to know if you should appreciated them. I believe that you can deeply enjoy incredible videos like "Thriller" without guilt . . . or fear that demons are behind every bush.

He, of course, became the punching bag from many Evangelicals because of his presumed guilt of child molestation. I give him the benefit of a doubt. Maybe he had poor judgment in a lot of areas . . . but most of us do.

Thanks Michael for sharing God's creativity with us. I hope that you got to know the real Jesus Himself.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Road Trip & Late Night (Christian) Radio

Okay, it wasn’t that late but it did remind me of an old John Denver song by the same name (Late-Night Radio) and I was getting sleepy. Everyone else in the car was already in deep somber but me. We were far removed from our jagged and wet coastal N. Cascades and journeying across the rolling and dry eastern Washington plain. There is a sharp contrast between the liberal, new-agers who live on our rocky island and this cowboy land.

My NPR station out of Seattle was fading in the back shadow of the mountains. With more static than words (or classical music) I gave up and hit the seek button on the radio. It spun through the entire range of the dial and came to a very loud and clear Christian station. I’m not a fan of Christian radio although Denise still is. I hit the button again. It spun through the entire hertz of frequency and rested back on the Christian station just like shooing a seagull from your picnic table at the beach, only to have it circle high in the air and land right back were it was.

The radio was broadcasting a children’s program and it blared so loudly that it awaken everyone in the car . . . including me. The radio kids were singing sweetly and with great enthusiasm about Noah or Peter and the other fishermen. It reminded me of our countless road trips in our old blue VW van with the kids were young. We didn’t rely on Christian radio that much but we had a whole library of evangelical, kids-tapes that sounded the same. Focus on the Family put out volumes of such material.

The next segment of the radio program was title (can’t remember for sure) “Uncle Bob’s Question Time.” That sounded interesting.

At this point I’m going to recreate that program as best as I can remember. I will try to keep my commentary to a minimal as I don’t want to sound critical again like I just can’t help myself from deconstructing everything Evangelical. I will let the reader (if there are any) deconstruct this in their own minds. My only point, and it’s a personal one, is that sometimes I am amazed how far I have drifted from my Evangelical roots. I started to diverge twenty years ago with a failed missionary experience. But the process has been gradual. So, while listening to this Christian radio, first I felt a kinship, remember the old days with James Dobson and the Adventures in Odyssey. But then when Uncle Bob started talking, I felt like I reside in a parallel (maybe a perpendicular) universe.

Uncle Bob’s voice is one of those playful ones that’s a little over the top—somewhat like Pee Wee Herman’s in his Big Playhouse. This episode began with an introduction. While whimsical music played Bob’s voice said, “Welcome to Uncle Bob’s Question Time. Boys and Girls did you know that every question that you will ever have has an answer in God’s word?” The music then decrescendos into silence.

Uncle Bob:
Today we have a letter from one of our listeners in Kansas City, named Coy. Coy asks, ‘Uncle Bob . . . my uncle Dave died from AIDs last year. Will I get to see him in Heaven?’”

(Oddly Uncle Bob continues but begins his answer with a chuckle in his voice. Why is he happy about the poor girl’s uncle dying? Okay, sorry, I said I would try not to do commentary.)

Uncle Bob:
“Well Coy, that is a great question! You know Heaven is a wonderful place. There will be no tears, no suffering, no regrets, no sorrows and no grief. So you will not miss your uncle because then you will be in Heaven.

But let’s turn to God’s word." (He turns to a passage in Matthew 19:4:

Haven't you read, he replied, 'that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female,'and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.'

You see, Jesus says that gay lifestyle is sin. You can not go to Heaven if you are in the gay lifestyle because Jesus says so. But you will not be sad about not seeing Dave when you are in Heaven because you will be with Jesus.

Also Coy, Dave would not be happy in Heaven anyway. In Heaven will only be people who love God and desire godliness. This will make people like Dave very uncomfortable.”

I didn’t notice that Ramsey and Amy, in the back seat, were wide awake and listening to this program. They immediately and simultaneously burst out laughing. I didn’t get the chance to ask them why because it is hard from me to hear them from the front driver’s seat when the car is loud.

So what is wrong with this? I really try not to be critical. There is so much in life that is wonderful and worthy to spend energy thinking about, so I have to learn to stay away from Christian radio. But sometimes, I forget how far I’ve diverged and I start tiptoeing back into the evangelical waters.

I know that I'm breaking my promise (about not deconstructing Uncle Bob) but I am left with a few questions. 1) Really Bob, the Bible has a very precise answer for every question? Then tell me who the were the Neanderthals and you are not allowed to use tangential meanings from obscure verses to answer that question? 2) Why does all knowing Uncle Bob assume that Dave died from AIDs because he was “practicing the gay lifestyle?” That’s a huge assumption (and they say, to “assume” is to make an ass out of u and me). 3) Okay, now assume (now I’m doing it) that Dave was, indeed gay. If we believe in a gospel where once we are saved, we are still not perfect, then how much gay sin discounts the entire gospel in that’s person’s life? This raises a very important question.

What I’m trying to say is, I’m sure (if he is like most Evangelicals) that Bob believes if George, a good Baptist minister, is caught bonking (is that a decent term?) one of the women in the church, does that sin of adultery nullify his entire conversion experience? I bet even uncle Bob would say no. So how does Dave having AIDs convince Bob that Dave had done something to pave his way to hell?

3) Lastly, so Bob is saying that Dave would RATHER experience hell’s fires for all eternity (and worse . . . separation from God) than be UNCOMFORTABLE around good Christian people in the glories of Heaven? I admit that we Christians are sometimes obnoxious, but that statement seems a little bizarre.

I just purchased a novel on CD so I can avoid radio for the rest of the trip and just enjoy the beauty of the landscape and the creative words of a great author.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Should Christians Feel?

I waken this morning with the taste of sadness in my mouth. It wasn’t a personal sadness but Barbara’s sadness by proxy. Barbara’s husband died suddenly last Wednesday. I thought of her waking up a lone each morning, after 50 years with the same man. How terrible. Maybe this is what they call empathy . . . the internalization of someone else’s feelings.

I also was thinking of the Iranians and couldn’t wait to turn on the news to see what was happening now that it was Monday night there. I switched on the TV and the news was over. I looked at the clock and it was 8:30. I had been awake at 6:00 as Denise left for work. I would have stayed up but I have the day off and allowed myself to drift off back to sleep.

I did find one news show . . . but I soon realized it was the 700 Club. I wouldn’t trust any news from their agenda. I’m sure before their broadcast is over they will somehow relate the Iranian uprising to Armageddon.

There must have been some forgotten dreams between 6 and 8 AM, something to do with Barbara . . . and the Iranians. I don’t remember the dreams but the feelings of their sadness was leaving a taste in mouth in the same way a flavor would have been left if I had eaten an onion and sardine sandwich in my sleep. After watching the movie, The Science of Sleep (a really weird but enjoyable movie), with Ramsey Saturday night I realize that Barbara and the Iranians may have been included in the same bizarre dream, driving around in cardboard cars (you have to see the movie).

One of the earliest memories of my childhood was standing in a department store, maybe J.C Penny’s or Sears. My mother was towering over me in her London Fog, beige, trench coat with her big hair and diamond-studded baroque glasses. I don’t know how old I was but it was during my preschool epoch of life.

My mother was speaking to another woman as only two mothers could. They were making a fuss about my brown eyes and who I got them from. Then I remember, as if it were yesterday, my mother looking down at me and telling the other lady (who is only a faint silhouette in my memory), “He’s a very sensitive child. He feels things very deeply.”

I think I remember this ancient event so clearly because prior to that moment I thought I was normal (now I realize that none of us are “normal.” Okay, maybe Jesus was the only normal man).

So, because this tendency for deep feelings had already made itself evident by age five, I suspect that there is a genetic influence although I’m sure my family culture eventually played a role as well.

But I still do feel things very deeply. I cried for a week when my friend Terry died and Denise kept trying to remind me, “You weren’t that close to Terry I don’t know why you are taking this so hard.” I’m sure if I was to spend a few hours on a psychiatrist’s leather couch that I would be eventually be diagnosed with some form of bipolar disorder (as practically everyone is these days). But it certainly is not the extreme type.

As I bicycled into town this morning, coming over the mountain with my glasses so fogged up I could make out the faint white line on the edge of the highway, my mind considered this whole concept of Christians, feelings and what is normal or not.

I woke up with another feeling this morning and that was one of dread. I’m leaving on a cross country trip tomorrow morning. The trip itself is the good part. While I’ve flown several times out of state this year, this is the first road trip in . . . at least six years. Okay, I took an Amtrak trip to LA three years ago. But to travel a long distance down with the earth is something I feel good about.

The part that I dread is that I’m going to a big family reunion with my wife’s side of the family. Of course I like her family and really haven’t seen them much in the past few years. I really ought to go. But the part that is hardest for me is (speaking culturally here), is that emotions are not allowed to be expressed on their property. To summarize, they are second generation stoic, Scandinavian, Lutherans. It is part of that culture to consider feelings as not becoming to good Christian people. Denise knows her parents love her but she says she has never heard them use the word, “love.”

I’m sure other emotionally charged words have never parted their lips. Words like hate, sad, depressed, frustrated, elated and I could go on. It’s not like they don’t have these emotions but they can not be expressed externally. I’m positive the word “sex” has never, ever been spoken on their farm by anybody but certainly a lot of it has happened there and not just within the Christian ideal.

In my search of church history I did seem to come to terms with my in-laws’’ cultural orientation better. It seemed like when the Vikings (who lived with a pure, raw, unadulterated expression of emotion) were finally tamed under a Christian king, the pendulum swung to the other extreme. It soon paralleled the Victorian English’s low esteem of feelings. I will define it (since this is the Christian Monist blog) in terms of Dualism Vs Monism. Simply the Victorians and Scandinavian stoics started considering emotions as a function of the flesh so to be spiritual you must rise above the animalistic expressions of feelings. It also made a good line of demarcation between them and the old Viking ways to show proof that they had repented. The Charismatics have gotten around this by showing pure unadulterated human emotion . . . but re-labeling it (as in a masquerade) as “spiritual” or a supernatural working of the Holy Spirit.

Okay, back to the situation at hand.

I have a couple of decades of memories of going to my in-law’s farm. It was usually a holiday so my wife’s three brothers, two sisters and their families would also be there in a state of chaos. Most of my memories were when our five kids were small. As soon as we got to the farm, Denise would disappear with her sisters, leaving me with the kids. The kids hated being at grandma’s and my job was like a swimming pool life guard. I watched them day and night trying to keep them for going off the deep end and imploding.

My mother-in-law is a stoic’s stoic. Once I got to know her brother (my wife’s uncle) I saw the pattern much more clearly. I’m not trying to be critical here as I do believe that we are all messed up in some ways, me more than most.

But my mother-in-law set her house up as a museum. The kids were not allowed to touch any of her figurines. They were supposed to sit on folding chairs, in nice clean clothes—hands folded on their laps—for days. They couldn’t go outside because it was either too cold (and it was) or too muddy. I remember once my son, Bryan, reached over and picked up a wooden puzzle (not realizing it was an antique) and took it apart. It was like if he had thrown a brick through their window in the way the family reacted . . . but carefully not showing any emotions.

When my sister-in-law, Sharon, combined her Lutheran stoicism with a new-found Christian fundamentalism, she became our out of control family’s worse nightmare.

It was during one of the Christmas trips that the event happened. Sharon had read far too many, “How to Raise the Perfect Christian Family” books. I was just on my way out of Evangelicalism . . . not having answers to everything anymore.

Denise came to bed late one night and I could tell she was upset but she could not tell me what the problem was. She didn’t want to tell me until we were off the farm because she was afraid I would show emotions . . . anger being the most evil one to express. Finally I was able to get her to spill the beans but with conditions set by her.

Apparently that day my son, Daniel (aka Caleb), age six, had mooned one of her kids (she had seven). To me it was kids being kids. To Sharon it was positive proof that Daniel was sexual pervert and possible demon possessed. In her views, if a child of six was a sexual pervert it only meant one thing . . . they too had been the victim of sexual perversion. Sharon was going to call the department of social service the next morning and report us. She was deeply (as a loving Christian relative with big smiles here) concerned about our family. Maybe a stranger had been abusing Daniel . . . or worse . . . his own father!

I think I can clearly say, it was the most angry I’ve ever been in my entire life. I’ve been in a couple of fist-fights but I had never been THIS ANGRY. My blood pressure must have climbed to a million over a hundred thousand. But I had to eat my emotions like a dirty shirt. Denise had me promise that if she told me, that I wouldn’t say anything or show any emotion at the breakfast table the next morning. I lay in the bed the entire night, in a cold, adrenalin tainted sweat, trying to stuff my emotions. It took every ounce of courage not to march into Sharon’s bedroom, yank down my p.j.s and MOON HER!

Usually the stain of marriage is the conflict in how the husband and wife were raised differently. The other dimension of conflict is probably the different in belief systems or just genetically-based differences of personality. I think this issue of how to express emotion has always been Denise’s and my most difficult part.

She has endured two bouts of my severe clinical depression. It is confusing to her, as to me. I try to practice good mental hygiene (and prayer) now as I never want to walk that path again. The best visual representation of depression, in my opinion, was in the Robin Williams’ movie, “What Dreams May Come.” Robin (can’t remember his screen name) traveled into hell to save his wife who had committed suicide.

Denise couldn’t save me and felt perplexed. I think she too has learned that just saying don’t show sadness is not the answer anymore and denying it is not good mental hygiene. There was a time during the midst of one of the depressive episodes that she made me go outside and lay the back seat of the truck because I had started to cry. She didn’t think it would be healthy for the kids to see their dad cry. I lay in the back of that Toyota, in Houghton, Michigan, with the snow pouring down . . . crying for hours—until my tear glands went dry. I felt like Robin William’s wife in the movie, when she was in fetal position in the bottom . . . actually top, of an upside down church, in the bowels of hell.

I am not one to try and put a positive spin on every thing (as if that is not apparent by now). I do realize that some extreme emotions are simply part of the human dilemma. I can remember in the depths of my last depression feeling that I was seeing the world in its most pure and honest form. I still wonder if that might be true. I t is sort of how King Solomon describes the world in Ecclesiastes. I knew that when friends at church were being so friendly it was because they saw us as an Amway target. They wanted to sell us stuff and really didn’t give a damn about us. But that too is part of the fall, the alienation of people from people.

I’m not a complete pessimist regarding the fall. There is still plenty of God’s glory in the background of every thing, even of course the non Christians (such as the Iranians). Like the astrophysicists, who talk about the background energy of the Big Bang being evident everywhere in the universe, the same is true about God’s glory. It is there . . . everywhere. I think that Solomon ended with the same conclusion. People do, sometimes, love one another with real love. There are rainbows . . . sometimes . . . and not just shit.

So, I’ve rambled without resolution but to say that I think emotions are part of being human. I will prepare myself to enter the world of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers on the Minnesota farm. In that story and movie, the only way the alien pod-reproductions could tell if you were a real human (and then kill you and reproduce your body) was if you showed emotions. The real human survivors learned to hide their emotions and then they could blend in perfectly with the pod people. I will try to blend in with the stoics.

I remember a patient of mine, who was also a writer and poet, wrote a poem about her depression. It was titled, The Ode to Prozac. The opening line was, “To feel or not to feel is the question.” On Prozac she did suffer depression . . . but she didn’t feel anything deeply.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Overall a Pretty Good Day

The photo is not the best . . . taken by my cell phone in a dimly lit restaurant. But it was the best way to capture a great ending to a pretty good day.

My daughter brought me breakfast in bed. Then I biked into town on a cool morning, but with some good sun breaks to greet me as I came down the mountain into our village.

My son and daughter later met me at the coffee shop after I had about an half hour alone to read a few chapters of A Farewell to Arms.

From there we went to my usual church. Denise and two of my other sons met us there. My sons don’t live with us anymore so it was unique to have four of our five kids on one pew in church at once. It happens, but about three times a year. I guess father’s day was such an occasion.

Church was eventful for a few things. One, a dear older friend of mine died suddenly this week. I gave his wife, Barbara, a big, long hug and I didn’t want to let go. She looked worn. I can’t imagine what it is like after sleeping in the same bed with someone for 50 years then suddenly they are gone forever (speaking of earthly terms). Barbara, the target of my hug, is one of a few people that understands me at this church. I don’t know what she did in her previous (preretirement) life but she is a smart lady. She had read all the Schaeffer stuff.

The second event was me handing L. (my paranoid schizophrenic friend) a little treasure. He is obsessed with Biblical themes and honestly is quite knowledgable. About three years ago I was telling him a story about me wading in the Sea of Galilee and stepping on some old pottery. I grabbed it and brought it home but lost it. He told me that he would love to have a souvenir like that.

I was cleaning out my shed yesterday, sorting boxes of screws and nails, and stumbled on that piece of pottery. I handed it to L. this morning and he gave me a big hug. Then he started talking about things that were so tangential that I could not follow him. His paranoia kicks in when he thinks you are not listening to him. So I tried very hard to pretend I was.

The pastor preached on several topics but one was about the rumors of the church failing. He showed several books that he had read recently, each predicting the demise of Evangelicalism (Imonk has spoken a lot about this recently). However our pastor took a twist on this that I’m not sure I had any better luck following than the conversation of my schizophrenic friend. Well it wasn’t that it was tangential, but it’s the reasoning that I don’t get.

Basically he figures that our young people are leaving the church in droves not because the church is doing anything wrong but because we are allowing grumbling in the church. This is the result of the lack of the hierarchy of covenant. I sense he is talking about guilt manipulation. In other words, telling our teens to keep their mouths shut and obey us . . . by going to church. I feel sad about that. If the church doesn’t respond in honesty, then there is not a lot of hope.

I cut out of church early to do something I had never done before. I went to our village square to protest. It wasn’t really a protest but a demonstration of support for the Iranian people. I happen to have this huge Iranian flag that I stole from an Iranian army outpost in the earthquake area of Pakistan. Actually the Iranians had abandoned their post and we took it over. I took their flag.

Today I was going to march and hold the flag high so people would remember to pray for those who seek their basic freedom. It seemed like the Christian thing to do. However, when I got to the town square, there was no protesting today. It is a tradition to have several protest groups there each Sunday. Each group has their own corner near the Safeway. I knew that I would NOT be welcomed with my Iranian flag on the Christian corner. Christians (at least the ones who protest there) hate Iranians, Muslims, Gays, Aborters and most of all, Democrats . . . and they make their voices very loud.

After church I had a rare chance to take a nap. Later I listened to my three sons jam on their guitars. After that I took a long kayak trip across Puget Sound, another stop in the coffee shop to work on a book and then . . . have my sons and daughter take me out to my favorite restaurant. That’s how we ended a pretty nice day.

I feel, I guess lucky is the best term. I could say blessed. But I had four of my five children with me. I am proud of all five. Things are well. There have been a few stormy times in our lives, when things were not well . . . but they are well now and I thank God for that. I know that there will be bad days in the future. I know it can’t be a good day for Barbara or her two (adult) children who are experiencing their first Father’s Day without their sweet dad. Yeah, for us, it was a pretty nice day.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Culture of "Success"

This problem is not endemic to the Christian subculture, or even to the American one. Maybe it is a condition of humanity . . . where people are very uncom-fortable with “un-success” (not quite as strong of a word as "failure"). People equally feel insecure with the lack of resolution. Maybe this is why Donald Miller’s book, Blue Like Jazz seemed to strike a cord. He says that Jazz is a type of music that doesn’t resolve. His narrative about his Christian experience differed from most previous Christian books because it left the reader dangling . . . not knowing what the answers are . . . and actually not even being sure what the questions were.

If I’m making a point here it is that I think we Christians should be different. We should be more comfortable with unresolved problems, and failures (or “un-success”) than anyone. After all, it is one of our theological dogmas that this world is fallen and troubled. But I think that we feel most uncomfortable with “un-success” than most because we have mistaken the Bible as a self-help book for success in our personal lives, rather than a narrative about how the creator of the universe has redeemed us.

There’s always a stimulus of some sorts that provokes my thoughts. This time I think it was an event on Wednesday night.

A Christian youth ministry (whose board I sit on) was having their end of the school year bash (and evangelistic outreach) down on the waterfront. I would guess 500 teenagers were there, if not more. After the last band played, my wife and I stood on the gravelly beach with the sun setting over the San Juan Islands in a crimson tint. We were waiting on my son who had performed earlier.

Denise was in deep conversation with one of our good Christian friends. This friend and her husband are venturing into a new business endeavor. As I heard her tell the story, it was sprinkled with comments about God doing this, God said that, the Holy Spirit opening such and such doors. She is a very nice lady and I’m not being critical. This is normal Christian talk. But as my mind wandered away and across the calm waters of the sound my imagination ran a bit. I considered how this narrative might play out on the other side, if the business venture fails. She probably would never mention it. I won’t go into details except to say that in their situation a business failure is a very good possibility.

Then I started thinking about the fact that I can never remember sitting around with a group of Christians were someone told a personal story that ended without resolution or with a lack of success . . . and no one attempted to finish the narrative with a happy ending. First of all, it is rare that the primary speaker doesn’t put a happy ending on their own story. If they do leave it dangling, someone, certainly, will fill in the blanks of God doing this for such and such a reason or there is a rainbow in this pile of shit somewhere.

I don’t know why, but I don’t mind looking bad or being vulnerable. My old Navigator leader use to tell me, “Mike, when you talk like that you come across as being very unspiritual.” Toward the end of my five year training program he removed me from his inner circle because he felt like God was calling him to find “Sharp men and women . . . those with real leadership potential,” and I didn’t fit that mold.

I often tell stories where I’m the one screwing up or something bad happens. I wrote a whole book about my professional failures once (A Kernel in the Pod). I don’t do it for pity. I guess I do it for honesty’s sake and sometimes to laugh at myself. I know that when I leave a story dangling and just wait, people look embarrassed for me. Then someone fills in the gap (or tells me that I’m a real looser as if I didn’t know it). I’m glad that Jesus loves losers. I really think the Bible is actually the losers’ guide to knowing you are redeemed anyway.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Freedom . . . only Braveheart Could Have Said it Better.

There's really not much I need to say here. I'm excited. I'm deeply moved about what is happening in Iran. I'm not sure if people in America understand what this revolt really means.

I heard an Iranian professor/writer/exile speaking in Vancouver, BC about three years ago. She said something that really struck me as odd (at the time). She said there is going to be a movement in favor of human rights—including women's rights—and pro-democracy that will sweep the Middle East like a brush fire. The amazing thing (woops I said I would never use the world “amazing” anywhere) is that she said it would start among the youth in Iran.

These are exciting days for us optimists. I’m not though counting my chickens before they hatch. I think the pivotal point will be tomorrow (during the night our time). The Supreme Spiritual Leader of Iran will either; a) crack down hard causing a bloodshed or 2) do a total re-election. But if he, in his arrogance, picks “a” I still don’t see this as the end of the beginning . . . but the beginning of the end.

I may come back and say more. There is a Christian point to all this. God did create each person with dignity. Fallen humans do mis-use religion and always for the same reasons (just ask Nietzsche), money/power, sex and to be highly esteemed by others. The Mullahs operate from this angle as do the American TV Evangelist. So I’m pulling for the people, and praying for them. Their freedom and dignity does mean something . . . even if most of them are Muslims.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Jimmy Carter - My Brand of Christian

Wow, so much to say here and so little time. This is a topic that is dear to my heart and that is the treatment of the Palestinian people. This week Jimmy Carter toured Gaza and had a couple of media events. In the one today, he said that the people of Gaza are treated like animals. The reason he said it? Simply because it is true. He has the nerve to say it . . . making him a hated one among many evangelicals.

My point here is that our eschatology should never determine our morality. Christians (nor anyone for that matter) shouldn't let their political lens determine their ethics.

I know how the Palestinian people have been abused. I strongly recommend the book, Blood Brothers, written by a Christian Palestinian who lived through the establishment of the nationhood of Israel. He tells a very moving story about how his family was removed from their land . . . against their will.

Of course I am not a anti-Semite. I am a pro person because all people are created in the image of the God that I serve. The holocaust of course did happen and it was one of the worst events, and most evil, in human history. But this does not make the Palestinian people somehow worth less. Yes, in their great frustration (and not to justify evil in any means) some Palestinians have taken the unfortunate course of violence. That is evil too.

But here is my commentary. I can not ask for prayer for the Palestinian people in my church without people rolling their eyes. I can not say that I believe peace in the Middle East is possible, and should be our goal, without my Evangelical friends scoffing. What ever happened to the concept of the blessedness of the peacemakers?

I was once doing a sermon (in a Lutheran church of all places) about our ministry to reach Muslims. I remember a young man marching up to the podium when I was done and almost verbally attacking me. All I did was say a few words out of compassion for the Palestinian people and that one of the reasons the Muslims are so opposed to Christianity is that American Christians (not Christians in other countries) turn a blind eye to the extreme racism that's practiced in Israel. I know because I spent an entire day in the car with a Palestinian and watched how he was humiliated at every check point by the Israeli army.

I too love the Jews. But as Christians we can not let our dogmatic view of a very specific eschatological concept (God caused Israel to become a nation again in preparation for eminent return of Christ) to influence our view of justice.

Jimmy Carter has been a Southern Baptist Sunday school teacher his entire life. His honesty, humility and boldness . . . his work to help the homeless, all those add up to a brand of Christianity that I envy. Yeah, envy is the correct word.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Dear Mom and the Matrix of Life

This is my dear, 88 year old mom, the one of the right of course, and my sister Susan.

Each Saturday, for as far back as I can remember, I call my dear mom. She lives 2,000 miles from me and that has always been hard for her (and me). But to compensate, I do talk to her about 30 minutes a week.

The most convenient for me these days is during my 7 mile bike ride over the mountain and into our little fishing village. It may not be the safest thing to do . . . talking on the phone and riding a bike on a narrow highway full of cars . . . but it does kill two birds with one stone.

I even had to modify my bike helmet with black duct tape (making it look like a Nazi helmet from WWII) in order to block the wind off my ears so I can hear her.

My mom is a dear woman. She was forced to drop out of school when she was 15 because her mother died from breast cancer and my mom had four little brothers that she had to raise. Her dad, whom I didn't get to know very well, was very emotionally and physical abusive to my mom. She has suffered from a severe low self esteem her entire life. This has made her an easy target for many people in our community, including many religious relatives (like my aunt Sophia, which I mentioned under the Narcissistic Personality type).

My mom has always kept her Christian faith at the center of her life. It has been the Bible-belt, Baptist version.

Her latest thing has been Joel Osteen. He is her Christian hero and mentor from afar. She has sent me every book he has ever written. I tried to read one and made it through the first chapter.

But I don't criticize mom. She's happy with Joel and I'm happy for her. Maybe this is an example of what Steve was referring to in the comments of the last post . . . God using sin.

My point today comes from my conversation with mom this morning and it relates back to this previous post about signs and what I would call Christian superstition.

My mother has macular degeneration. She’s lost most of her vision in her left eye and is now starting to lose it in her right. She did have treatment of her left eye and it may have helped . . . but there is no way to know for sure. The treatment involves injecting a medication directly into the eye and has a probability of about 20% of helping. The other option is going blind.

My sister called me yesterday and wanted me to talk mom into trying the injections in her right eye as that vision is starting to fail. When I suggested to mom that she go back to the retinal specialist for consideration her response was . . . .

Mom: “Oh . . . I’m not sure if it is worth it. I know what I need to do.”

“What’s that?”

Mom: “I need to do what Joel says, trust God to make me well . . . believe it with my whole heart and then it will happen.”

Me: “Mom, I don’t believe that you are loosing your vision because you don’t believe God enough. I really think you need to consider the treatment and your children will pitch in to pay for it.”

As little later in the conversation mom’s health came up again. This time, it was more of a nuisance problem. She has bad allergies and this time of year she looses her voice because of constant drainage.

As I talked to mom about various treatments her response was, “I think it is God telling me that I talk too much, that I really need to be quiet more.”

Talking about signs in my last posting, her comments got me thinking again. I thought about this the rest of the way into town as my red bike cut through the dense marine fog coming down this side of the mountain.

I really wonder how history may have been different if it were not for superstitions. I mean really, what could have been done that wasn’t done? I see superstitions as a great brake or governor (thinking in mechanical terms not political) on human accomplishments. Again, I see the purpose of those accomplishments as us, working with God, redeeming the world.

One example of what I’m trying to say was in the movie, Out of Africa. I can’t look it up from this high-brow coffee shop, but I think the scene went like this (but my memory may be at fault).

I think it was in Kenya or somewhere in East Africa. A river came though the land every spring and flooded them, washing away all the crops and destroying homes. The Englishman (or was he American?) said that they could damn up that river, stop the flooding, create a reservoir for the dry season and life would be much better. The African man responded that they could not. In doing so, they would make the river gods angry and they would in turn hurt them.

This is what I’m talking about. How many times in history have projects been stopped due to irrational fears? How often are Evangelicals hindered because of the superstitions?

Of course Evangelicals didn’t invent superstitions nor do they have a corner on the irrational beliefs (as exemplified in that African story). Actually, when the church was young (before Constantine) the Christians were the least superstitious in the Greek culture. Many people forget that Christians were persecuted during the first three centuries because they were too un-religious or too un-superstitious. Christians were often called atheists. Having walked the streets of Pompeii a couple of years I can see why. Every home had a god or gods guarding every room. The Greeks of course had their gods for everything.

Again, I can’t look up things from the coffee shop because their wifi is not free. But I think the name of a wonderful book on church history is Lyon’s History of Christianity. He made the comment that the early Christians were considered by the Greek culture at large as being too rational and not superstitious.

I live on an island that sits on the tectonic plates between Evangelicalism and New Age spiritualism (not to mention the pure materialist). If I am to have Christian friends, they are Evangelicals . . . rather conservative ones at that. In my Christian world I feel like I live in a sea of constant superstition. Every conversation with every Christian is loaded (on their side) with God did this, Satan did that, this was a sign, or that has a meaning and etc. No one believes in Newton’s laws of physics. No Christian friend believes in any type of cause and effect. But my point is, how does living in a superstitious paradigm change the way you live in the real world? I think it must be profound. My mother may go blind from those beliefs.

Going back to my previous post about my decision making efforts, after I said I was coming to Nepal, then two days later I get an email from Kathmadu that the two slots have been filled already (but not confirmed) it would have been very easy to say that was a sign from God and I should pull out altogether. Maybe, if I keep pushing to go, then I, or my students, would be killed by Maoist rebels.

I have just one footnote to make before I close. We had our semi-annual church congregation meeting this week. The pastor brought up (at the end) his concerns about the Church’s “back door” and the lack of support for the adult Sunday school program. I had a lot of words on the tip of my tongue. I was sitting with my wife and I knew that she does not like for me to make waves, so I remained quiet.

But I’ve been thinking all week about what to do. I almost set up an appointment with the pastor to explain to him that even I’m sitting with one foot out the back door. But I just know that he would show deep concern about my spiritual well being if I say that. It will be an issue of my spiritual immaturity and that I need to attend more of his lectures. If I try to explain that I am a true believer, that I am conservative in my theology (meaning that I believe that God is there, Jesus is the only way to Him and Scriptures are true) but I’m liberal in my interpretation of culture that he would know that I was becoming a liberal flake.

Then I thought about just sending out an e-mail to the entire congregation (something that would be really unorthodox) and say, “I’m leaving the church but I’m not mad at anybody. I love everyone. I respect the pastor . . . but that I don’t fit with this church.” But is that the coward’s way out?

I think I will visit a mainline (what we use to consider liberal—woman pastor and all) church tomorrow. I will follow the example that adventureinmercy and someone, (was it Brian?) else said, about going to a more “High Church” type of church. But again, is the old problem that my wife loves our church because of her relationships with the people. What’s a guy to do?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Oh . . . The Days of Signs and Roses

I'm at the crux of a huge decision. I long for the days when all my decisions were quickly determined by “a sign from God.” Sometimes, I believed that the shirt at the front of the closet, the red one (which caught my attention) was the one God wanted me to wear that day. He wanted me to wear it so that Bob or George or Brenda would confuse me with someone else. Next a conversation would start between us. I would share Christ and they would become a Christian. If I disobeyed the sign, wearing the blue shirt, Bob or George or Brenda would spend all of eternity in Hell’s fires.

My present decision is a black or white one. For over a year I've been working on the idea of creating a non-profit group for taking medical students on overseas clinical rotations. After all this work, the time of reckoning has finally come. I must decide within the next week if I crap or get off the pot (borrowing a line from my Appalachian roots).

I have the opportunity to take my first student to Nepal in October on a three week medical trek (where we backpack from village to village delivering medical care). But there are huge issues at stake. If I have any hope of going forward on this project, this will be the next step. But this is also the best time to give up, before I waste any money.

I remember gong through a Navigator seminar once with the title, “Christian Decision Making.” It broke down the process into five simple steps. All of life’s answers then came in five—or sometimes six—steps. Bill Gothard was the master at the cookbook approach to the perfect Christian life. The steps could show you how to be successful, have the perfect marriage, raise perfect kids and never suffer from any kind of mental illness.

The five factors essential to making any decision were; 1) the Word, 2) circumstances, 3) godly counsel, 4) prayer and 5) a sign from God. Regarding the sign, we always used the Bible account of Joshua laying a fleece on the ground and God giving him an answer by whether there was dew on it or not. Every time anyone mentioned a major decision, such as what to major in, which deodorant to buy, which girl to marry, we would always ask, “Did you lay out a fleece?”

I like signs. They make the process so easy. The fleece can be as simple as, “God . . . if you want me to do this, make x happen.” My roommate was able to get a gorgeous girl to break off her engagement with a hunk and marry him after God gave him a sign. The sign was, “God, if you want her to marry me, don’t allow me to fall down today.” He didn’t fall down that day so he rushed over and told her that God wanted her to marry him . . . and she did!

Today I bought a bag of chips. One of the chips was shaped like Nepal, or so I thought. (btw Nepal doesn’t have a very distinctive shape if you haven’t noticed). I had to laugh. There was a day when that would have meant something . . . what the hell it meant … I wouldn’t have had a clue, but it would have meant something. To go or not to go was the question.

But I don’t believe in signs anymore. The shapes of clouds don’t carry subliminal messages from the creator of the universe just for me. That’s not a bad thing. I don’t believe that God loves me any less.

I love my children to pieces but I don’t go around sending them secret, vague messages to mirco-manage their lives.

I still believe that God is all powerful, actually more powerful than before. I mean, if God had unlimited power . . . why on earth would he communicate through the shape of a potato chip?

There’s also a flipside to not trying to follow signs, a positive flipside. I don’t have to worry about mis-reading the tea leaves and making a tragic mistake, like wearing the blue shirt and sending a bunch of strangers to hell . . . or somehow making my joy less complete.

I honestly don’t believe that God has a specific will about my present decision. He will love me and bless me with either.

But one sign, any sign, would take a heck of work out this process.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Gift of Doubt

The conversation yesterday about theological dogma got me thinking again about this issue of certainty and doubt.

Throughout the centuries there, of course, has been a tremendous amount of intelligent writing by theologians and philosophers about this meticulous waltz between faith, reason, doubt and certainty.

I’ve said before that one of the key thoughts that I got out of Dave Tomlinson’s book, The Post Evangelical was his statement that the hallmark of the post evangelical is the loss of certainty in all things.

So all morning I’ve been thinking about the issue of doubt. As I press for complete honestly, living down near the first floor, I must admit that I’ve been a chronic doubter. I was one of the first agnostics in my Bible-belt high school. Then, after I became an evangelical, doubts continued haunting me. All my Christian peers could boast that they had 100% (or if they were ex-football players, they would say 110%) sure that not only God was there, not only that Christianity was true, but that their precise brand of theological dogma was true.

But, I now realize that it was not the doubts themselves which caused me so much grief. I mean, I did not lay awake in bed at night pondering the good chance that God did not exist. My doubts have always been minor. But it was the doubt-stigma that gave me grief.

I really think that doubts have gotten a raw deal. Doubt isn't the sign of lack of faith, or rebelling against God. Actually, those who say they never doubt should scare us.

Imagine that all doubts came from one little part of the brain. Say it was contained in a little scrotum-looking sack beneath the brain (okay, I know I'm describing the pituitary, but this is pretend). Now imagine that every Christian had this little doubt sack cut off. Never again would they doubt anything . . . but believe everything. This would be a complete disaster! If we think Christians are gullible now . . . can you imagine them without their doubt organ?

Doubt is a gift. We should doubt everything because we live in fallen world where real deceit thrives.

So when it comes to believing that God is there and that Christianity is true, I too believe that it is impossible for anyone to be 100% convinced. What happens is that they become more and more dishonest about their doubts.

If our reason is fallen it therefore (different than what Aristotle implied) can not arrive at total truth all the time. Secondly, our emotions are fallen and can not be trusted.

I work in neurology and almost 30% of our patients have psychogenic illnesses. These are not like real stomach ulcers caused by worry. These are totally fake diseases, like seizures, caused by the subconscious. The patient with fake seizures will fall on the floor, shake, scream grunt . . . but it is not real. Usually they are doing it to get the nurturing that they crave (and often did not get as small children).

So we can not trust our emotions. When we say that I know that God is there and I've never doubted Him for a second, then we are living closer to self-deceit. If God is there (and I believe that He is)then He is a God of truth. The closer we live to truth, the closer we live to God.

So, I believe that doubt is a gift. It is a gift that sadly has so much of a negative stigma attached, that most Christians are left to doubt in the secret places, in the dark corners of their minds.

I may add more . . . but again . . . maybe not.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Disillusionment - Reillusionment

I really liked this painting for two reasons. For one, it is titled Disillusionment, which is the topic for this post. But also, the artist encourages people to share it (and buy the prints which you can find via the title link).

I keep saying that I want to start taking more of my own photos to illustrate my posts, but, I really don't have a good camera right now.

I wanted to talk about Christian disillusionment . . . and is there a blam . . . or a cure?

I start with a verse from Proverbs 13;

12a Hope deferred makes the heart sick,

There are days when I wish I was still naïve. There was a time in my life when I believed everything. I believed that there was a great chasm that separated the good guys from the bad guys . . . and I was a good guy. I believed that all spiritual (meaning strong evangelical) people were good to the bone and had pure motives in all their interactions with me. There was a time when I believed that my own actions were from great purity.

There was a time when I believed that God controlled every tiny event in my life. If my pencil rolled off my desk, God did it for a special reason just for me. Maybe it was because when I bent over to pick it up, a mirco-meteor would fly over my head just missing me. God did it for a reason. He saved my life!

There was a time when a Christian leader would tell me to jump and on the way back down I would shout, “Thank you sir.” I knew that Christian leaders loved me more than their own life. Or at least I hoped.

There was a time that I believed in an utopian Christian world here on earth. On the other side the non-Christian world, in great contrast, was evil to the core.

There was a time when I believed that I was among the few that had true doctrinal dogma. I was thankful that God had shown me the way, bringing me to the right teachers, the right books . . . and just giving me the sense to always find the perfect truth.

But this was a long time ago. I, like many post-evangelicals, became terminally disillusioned when we were slapped in the face with brute reality. It was then that I discovered that my prince (not talking about Jesus but referring to the prince in the painting above) was really just a skeleton

My question, is there a cure? Are we marked forever? Is there a place for us anywhere?

I think I bring this up at this time from this issue that I perpetually deal with . . . church. My wife, in her wisdom, has said, “Mike, it really doesn’t matter which church we go to, you will not find that perfect church you’re always looking for.”

Some days I am content to live with this great unease. It is the same unease of Hebrews chapter 11, here the so-called heroes of the faith, who lived with expectations . . . but not realizations. I do have a great hope for the new earth and being a new person someday.

But on other days, I feel discouraged. I am the perpetually square peg in a world of round holes.

I really enjoy IMonk’s blog. I was reading his posting today about the church conference in N.C. I hear about Mark Driscoll and the Mars Hill church, which he pastors. It sounds great . . . and it’s only an hour from me. I couldn’t attend there, but I could visit. However, would I find contentment in his church? I fear that I would not.

My fear may not be justified. But I will close this part of the post with a story. It was when I was trying hard to re-find the church after a horrible 3 years of depression and confusion (after returning from a failed mission experience).

I heard about one church in our community that seemed out of the evangelical mold. I was leading a class at the public library in Marquette, Michigan, which I called, “Eastern vs Western concepts of spirituality.” It was my feeble attempts at reaching the un-churched with the truth about Christianity. It came out of the fruits of my own personal study.

My own personal church, save our pastor, thought I was nuts because they had no clue why I would want to talk to New-age people and why I would want to talk about philosophy rather than throwing verses at them.

Two Christian guys (the only Christians in the class) approached me and invited me to their church. They described it as a “thinking” church.

I took my family with great expectations that I had found a home church. My previous church (even though it wasn’t charismatic) had a large group of people who wanted to import the Toronto Blessing.” If you don’t know anything about that, look it up. It is bizarre.

When I arrived at the new church (a Christian Reformed) the first thing I noticed was that the guy who led the singing, kept doing little talks between songs. He shared that he is a Ham Radio operator and he is in contact with Christians around the world. He had just heard the night before that Jesus had returned and was in India, raising people from the dead. There was excitement in the church.

I was discouraged. I left the building and took the family out to eat at Ponderosa Steak House. As we went through the Sunday buffet, I notice a group from the church right behind us. It was a well-dressed, attractive lady who was about 40 and two men, rough-looking (tattoos and beards). We smiled and said hello to each other.

I sat down at a long table with my wife and five kids. The threesome, from the church, sat down at the table right behind me. The lady introduced herself and the two men (friends and housemates of hers). She welcomed me to her church.

I turned around and started eating. Behind me, I heard one of the men praying loudly, first in normal English, the in tongues . . . I suppose.

In a moment, as I had a piece of steak in my mouth, she tapped me on the shoulder. “Bruce here has a question.”

I smiled and turned around (my family was oblivious to this whole conversations as they were enjoying their great food).

“Do you know the Lord?”

Me: (being a little surprised) “Uh . . . certainly.”

Bruce: “I noticed that you didn’t pray over your food.”

Me: “Well, sometimes we do. My family started eating while I was introducing myself to you . . . so then it was too late.”

“It’s good to always put God first. It’s also good to be the leader of your family.”

(feeling really angry by now) “Fine.” I turn back around and try to eat.

The lady taps me again. “Bruce here has a lot of gifts . . . he has God’s anointment.”

Me: “So?”

Lady: “So . . . he is talking to you and you should listen to him.”

Bruce: “Do you have the Holy Spirit?”

Me: (rolling my eyes) “Yes I have the Holy Spirit.” Then I turn back around.

Bruce walks over to my chair and speaks with his eyes rolled back in his head and with his hand on the top of my head. “God’s spirit says to my spirit that you are without God . . . that your heart is dark and blocking the spirit . . . Satan release this man . . ,”

I jumped up and ran out to the car. I was so damned depressed and I felt like the entire Christian world was a bunch of freaking lunatics.

I’ve been involved with a couple of churches since then. Certainly I’ve found much better experiences. I find an occasional person, like Lincoln, at my Minnesota church whom I can really relate to. I feel like I am with a group of like-minded misfits when I go the US LAbri conference once a year. But most of the time . . . I feel like the square peg in a round-hole world.

I have the feeling (and I don’t think this is founded) that if I even went to the Mars Hill church, I would be greatly disappointed. Someone would walk up to me and try and tell me something that Gold told them to say to me . . . right out of the blue.

Is this the way it must be for the rest of my life? Do I just withdraw and become a freelance Christian? I don’t know. But I will keep praying that I would find someone here on our little island who’s a Christian but a square one. There are plenty of opportunities to come to church here and pretend that I am still innocent . . . but not a church, which I know of, were I can go and be real.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Question of Redemption

I've been considering lately, trying to have coffee with my pastor and discussing my dilemma with the church . . . actually his church specifically. I’ve talked about this many times in this blog that me, the somewhat post-Evangelical, trying to fit into an evangelical church is like the proverbial square peg in the round hole.

My wife accuses me of putting thoughts into other people’s minds and maybe that is true. But I’ve had this imaginary conversation with the pastor many times. I think I know how the conversation would go, and that’s not just conjecture, but based on previous conversations with him over coffee . . . or pizza. Maybe I’m putting words in his mouth, but I think they are the words that he would really speak.

It is really hard to put into simple terms my position (and the position of many of us in this same quasi-not evangelical-but believer category). Our pastor, like many evangelicals I’ve tried talking to (see my previous posts about why it is hard to speak to an evangelical) usually have on their “liberal” radar. Within a few words spoken by me I’m sure the radar will be setting off alarms. But theologically, I am quite conservative, while socially, I may be liberal and that’s where the confusion begins.

As I boil it down I think it comes to my perspective on redemption. It was the organization LAbri (which I found as a breath of fresh air while suffocating under the blanket of evangelicalism) that first introduced me to the concept of the redemption of all of creation.

As a dualistic evangelical, redemption, like everything else, only applies to the spiritual . . . the saving of souls (and all that is involved with that). However, in my perspective of redemption, it covers the material as well.

In practical terms, we live in a fallen, broken world. God had chosen us, people created in his image to bring redemption to this broken world. While He desires everyone to be redeemed spiritually that’s not the whole picture. In redeeming our physical bodies, nature, culture and everything else, He can use the church, but He can use those (whom evangelicals would consider as nasty) non-Christians as well.

So, besides the traditional view of the gospel, redemption, in my opinion, also would include:

Any beautiful art

Beautiful music (Mozart was a redeemer of sound/noise while he probability was not redeemed himself spiritually. But like I said, God can use the church and those outside the Church).

Not only food for the hungry but great tasting food for even those with plenty.

Physical healing. I work in chronic pain disorders and I image a huge pile of physical suffering that I, hopefully, have been able to remove from my patients as an act of redemption.

Picking up liter.

Fixing up a broken down old house.

Making a garden.

Writing a wonderful book (even by non-Christian authors)

I could go on and on. That’s why I don’t measure a presidential candidate on one or two issues, but the entire package of bringing redemption to the world.

But this language sets off the liberal alarms among my evangelical friends. But once again, theologically I believe virtually everything that Luther believed. I respect those who are Christian and don’t believe Luther.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Chrome IXOYE and Christian Heros

This will hopefully be a brief post but I welcome others to take this further than I will through their comments.

It is still early in the day, I've had my coffee, but I still can't get my head around the thoughts that make sense of what I want to say.

Issue one. Everyone has heard by now about the cold-blooded murder of Dr. George Tiller in church yesterday. He was one of only three doctors (per the report) that still did late-term abortions. His clinic had been the site of protest for years and he had even been shot once before.

Of course, everyone knew that the murderer would likely be a male and Evangelical. They did catch the guy, a 51 year old man. The scene this morning was them hauling away the suspects car from the Kansas City freeway. On the trunk of the car, shining in the bright sun, was the chrome IXOYE fish emblem. A great feeling of irony came over me. I suspect that the 51 year old man was also a fan of the WWJD bracelet and other religious charms. I consider myself pro-life but I'm a comprehensive pro-life person. I grieve for the life of Dr. Tiller and his family, while I don't support his acts. But there is something very wrong with this picture . . .the murderer's car with the IXOYE fish on the trunk.

In the WWJD frame of mind, I ask, what did Jesus do? Was there not haenous acts of killing and injustice as Jesus walked the earth? Didn't Jesus have the power to strike people dead if He wanted? There's something to be said here, and I am a loss for words. But I just can't get that image out of my mind, the chrome IXOYE on the trunk of the murderer's car.

BTW, as I was searching for an image of the murderer's car (and I never found it) I did find this blog . The first poster refers to himself as "Christ's Rottweiler." Something is terrible wrong with that image as well. It reminds me of the summer I spent (when I was 19) of being "God's soldier against sin." I wanted to "stamp out sin wherever I found it." I hope God forgives me, and my victims, for my stupidity.

Item 2. I am not a fan of TV evangelists to say the least. I wanted to do the Sunday rest thing yesterday afternoon, by taking a nap in front the TV. Nothing good was on. Even Discovery was all reruns. I came across Franklin Jensen preaching. This really caught my attention because my niece is on his personal staff. I've heard a lot about him through her, but have never listened to him in person.

He was preaching from his LA church and the hot topic was the Ms California, Carrie Prejean, and her war with the gay community. It didn't surprise me that he framed it in the context of her speaking out for the Lord and the Gay community persecuting her. He even suggested that he may eventually go to prison for speaking against gay marriage. Of course his scenario fits in with his end-times predictions (Christians all thrown into jail in the next generation).

But again, I am puzzled and sense that someone has something great to say about this story . . . and it does, in some way, relate to the previous one.

I am not naive. Of course the gay community will jump at the chance to persecute Ms Prejean because she spoke against gay marriage. This is part of the culture wars that Evangelicals have chosen to enter. But there is also something very hypocritical and deceptive in the way that she is now a Christian hero. I mean, she did have photos take of her nude, or near nude. Everyone knows that the real purpose of those photos, and for the entire beauty pageant business is sexual. Of course the reason she posed for the nude photos (and the same reason she entered the pageants) is because it makes her feel special. People (mostly men . . . but heterosexual men) make her feel special because she fulfills their sexual gratification (I wonder how many Christian men took her photos with them to the John).

Didn't anyone see Little Miss Sunshine? I mean the only thing that Olive (and her grand pa) did wrong, which was so upsetting to everyone was to reveal to the pageant people (and they looked with horror on their faces) that the pageant is indeed sexual (even though little girls were their medium) and, like the TV evangelists, it was about money.

So there is a connection between the two thoughts above and I've rambled long enough. I'm sure someone else can connect the dots better than I have.