Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Non-superstitious View of Bad Events.

My son Bryan and his wife Renee are expecting their first baby. They struggle financially as do most young couples. Bryan had a job that he truly loved. Then suddenly, without any warning, his job is ending . . . his company is on the verge of going under and had to lay everyone off.

The old, Evangelical Mike would have sought to find emotional opium through the thoughts that; 1) God did this for a reason, or 2) Something better is coming for sure. Unless I took the “Satan is behind it” approach, were I would have to blame Bryan to make sense about it, as if he had somehow disobeyed God and this was the consequence.

But in a Christian-materialist paradigm, where I believe that a good God created this wonderful physical (material) world and it has meaning in itself (cause and effect) then it is very liberating.

I can now know that this event was the result of common, earthly, things, like the economic down turn, the fact that certain scientific experiments didn’t work (according to the laws of biochemistry) and possibly by the fact that the CEO of a major customer company may have had some whim that he didn’t want their product. Anyway, there doesn’t have to be a meta-narrative behind every event—an angel or devil behind every bush.

Certainly you can learn from hardships, but in the old dualistic paradigm, we believed that God had a very specific lesson, which He was trying to teach, and we had a great obligation to find it . . . or we would miss out on His blessing. There is no such pressure in this new paradigm. There should also be the release of guilt for Bryan that he is not being punished by God, or the fear that God is not listening. But this is an imperfect world and crap really does happen . . . and often for no good reason.

Prayer does matter. While I don’t believe that God is working outside of his wonderful laws of nature at every turn (like many Evangelicals, especially those of a charismatic bent) do. Nor does God have to do miracles for me to love Him and trust Him. The fact that He does use the wonderful laws of nature, which He created, doesn’t cause me to think less of Him. Nor am I caught up in the psychological game of lying to myself and others about miracles that never really happened.

But prayer does matter, because scripture says it does. So I can pray for Bryan and Renee. God may do a miracle . . . or He may not. He may allow the workings of his laws to take their course. In this case His laws of social interactions, to play out where Bryan lands his own new job.

This understanding of the power of random cause and effect within God’s laws of nature also prevents that terrible cancer of the soul. This cancer begins as a quiet mutation of our cells of hope. When we are deeply disappointed by something . . . a parent dying, a child killed, a destructive hurricane or a job loss . . . that we tell ourselves, “This was of God.” Knowing (actually erroneously thinking) that God caused the event will cause that cancer to flourish eating up trust completely. We can pretend, on the surface that all is well with our souls, but the cancer has taken away a trust.

A great lesson that I learned from Phil Yancy’s (Disappointment with God) was that many times God throws up His hands and say, “I didn’t do it.” Not that He couldn’t! We can still love that God and trust Him in the face of cause and effect working themselves out, under the God-given laws of nature, but an imperfect (fallen) nature.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

“We Are All F . . ed Up” and Other Truths from Strange Places

Saturday was an incredible day. The weather was perfect, Robin-egg blue skies over tortoise seas, white-capped mountains in almost a 360 degree dispersion around our little island.

I started my day with my usual 6-7 mile ride over our little mountain pass and into our fishing village. The pass again was fogged in that time of morning and with my sunglasses had so much internal fog that I could barely make out the white line beside the highway. I couldn’t stop to wipe them either until I passed the apogee.

Ramsey met me at Starbucks for our book reading time and talk. I’m now half way through Tender is the Night and am enjoying it . . . despite it being more of a soap opera genre. We finished up our reading time early. I wanted to go to a philosophy discussion group that meets one Saturday per month, but the Shipwreck Days lured me in a different direction.

Shipwreck Days is where the entire village is turned into a fascinating open-air market of crap. But good crap . . . flea market crap. There were thousands of people in town to look and to barter . . . people all the way from California, Idaho and Alaska. The only thing I bought was a handful of polished fossilized snail from a rock hound. I will use them when I make my next concrete counter tops in the bathroom. While I was paying for the rocks, a shopper made pointed out to the vendor (in an arrogant way) that the note “30 Million Years Old” above the snails was wrong and that the earth is really only a few thousand years old. “Evangelical” I said in my mind. The vendor, being a good salesman just chuckled and responded in a kind way, “What is time among friends?”

Denise and Amy are still in the bowels of Africa and our communications have been scant. They don’t have Internet and the pre-paid cell phone has expired. But I know that she is coming home in just one week. This gives me a sense of panic about getting things done. I have a huge amount of my outside summer chores . . . plus now I have a huge amount of Denise’s indoor chores to do. I’ve let some of them slide, like vacuuming. We have a 125 pound, long haired, Saint Bernard who leaves a trail of hair everywhere. But I figured that if I vacuumed now, it would not be noticeable by the time Denise gets back. I also figured out that I much more prefer my big shop vac over the dainty (and much more expensive) house vac. But I did scrub the kitchen, wash and hang out clothes, scrub the toilets and change the bed linens. Outside I split wood (which heats our house in winter), spread mulch, weed-eated and tackled a huge job of cleaning the shed now that my son’s friend’s motorcycle (in a million parts) is out.

I finished my chores by 4 PM; okay I didn’t finish them, but more like they finished me. I took a break then went and climbed our little 1200 foot mountain (two miles up, a mile and half back down) and headed out to kayak in the sound. But my beach has been closed and I couldn’t find a place to launch.

Be patient I’m getting to the “We Are All F---ed Up” segment soon.

On my way around the west side of our island, I picked up a hitch hiker. He was a young guy with long straight hair down passed his waist. It was a bit funny, but I have the top off the jeep and the wind was blowing so hard that his long hair was whipping me across the face that stung and creating a fog of locks between me and the windshield that made it hard to see to drive. He kept trying to hold on to his hair and saying, “Hey dude . . . I’m sorry man.” I just had to laugh. Out of pity, I drove past my house and another five miles out to the main highway to give my rider a better chance to catch a ride.

The parking lot where I dropped him off was on Pass Lake, a beautiful mountain, fly fishing lake. I had totally lost track of time (something that seems to happen easily now that I’m bach-ing it this month) . . . it was 8:30 PM. What the heck, I thought. No one cares where I am right now. I just have a big empty house waiting on me. So I threw my kayak into the water and had a marvelous time paddling across the large silent lake of glass as the sun was low in the West. Just one lone fly-fisherman in one of those inflatable pants things shared the mile-long lake with me.

As I was putting my kayak back on the jeep I looked at the time. It was now after 9 PM and I thought, the only things I’ve had to eat today were two brown sugar and cinnamon Pop Tarts and one carrot. Okay, I had two Mochas too. But for some frustrating reason, I exercise like crazy, eat like a bird and still have that middle aged chunk. I was always skinny as a rail. I know the mochas’ don’t help.

So I went home and ate two crabs (that a crab fisherman-patient had given me) a bottle of Alaskan Amber. I looked at the time and it was 10 PM and I felt pretty much awake and with some energy left. So (finally I’m getting to the point) I thought, this will be the year that I go to the What-the-heck Fest and listen to Kimya Dawson.

The fest happens every year as the younger crowds counter part to Shipwreck Days. Kimya has been part of the concert series for each of the past three years (since she is a local). Her music really grew on me as she did the vocals for the Juno sound track (the monotone ballads). Comcast is now using the same style in their commercials.

The point I was getting to (via the title of this post) is that she had an accompanist this time, a young man with very long hair (pictured from the back with Kimya singing above) that I was confident was the same man I had picked up earlier in the day . . . but it wasn’t. This man was from the UK. He played the mandolin very well. Then Kimya asked him to sing his song that he had written.

I wish I could find the lyrics online. I can’t even find his real name. But he song starts out talking about a few problems then it hits the chorus, “We’re all f**ked up, We’re all f**ked up, We’re all f**ked up.” Later in the song when he sang the chorus again, he added, “Our brother and sister are all f**ked up, or parents are all f**ked up, the police are all f**ked up . . . yes we are all f**ked up!”

I certainly started to feel very uncomfortable with 5-600 people, ages 15 to 25 sitting around me reacting so positively to the song. I mean as culturally liberal as I am, those words being shouted out still hit me in the gut.

At this point, it reminded me a little of something Francis Schaeffer once said about the protesters at Berkley. They fought for the right of free speech. When they finally got it, there were so many things that needed to be said, questions to ask . . . but at first, all they could do is walk up to the microphone and scream the “f” word.

But as uncomfortably as I felt, it went to the next level. The singer asked the entire warehouse full of people to sing along with him. They began to scream those same lyrics over and over and it seemed that I was the only one not screaming it.

But then I started (which is not humanly possible) to look at this situation through the eyes of Jesus. The sting of the words faded, but the message came to the forefront. Yes, they are correct, we are all “f**ked up.” It is simply the current colloquial expression of: Romans 23: 22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

I looked at the crowd and felt a lot of hope rather than a deep offense. My hope is, this generation understands a great Biblical truth far better than the previous ones. Knowing that you are all “f**ked up” is the first step of finding the cover in Jesus.


I've been playing tour guide for the past week or so. This means up early to drive long distances, then getting home late. I enjoy doing it as we have so much to see around here (like Artist Point pictured above). But, I have not had time to post (nor have I got to HUG's writings yet but I'm looking forward to it).

I do have some issue I hope to talk about soon.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Book Manuscript

Butterflies in the Belfry, Serpents in the Cellar

Follow the link under the title of this posting and will take you to my complete book manuscript. This is still in the "beta testing" mode so if you have any suggestions, feel free to share them under comments.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How I Found the Church (Christian Society) Again

Sometimes I have this guilt feeling about the fact I always seem to be venting about the Church . . . or my church at least.

I have written a manuscript (new title; Butterflies in the Belfry . . . Serpents in the Cellar), which I posted here about six months ago. Thanks to the help several who comment here I've re-worked it and will post the new improved manuscript soon (and link it to a new post). Pennyyak helped a great deal. Headless Unicorn Guy put me in touch with a professional copy editor who has helped a lot as did a few others. When I post the manuscript, it will still be something of an "Open Source" so you can still make suggestions for improvement.

I was finishing up the markups on the last two chapters and I've decided to re-post chapter Twenty here. The reason is, I think it tells (among some bad) a really good story of how I found the Church again after a couple of years wondering in the wilderness. This all happened twenty years ago.

Butterflies in the Belfry, Serpents in the Cellar

Chapter Twenty

So? The Christian Society

I am not a Church service person. I’m not saying that for any theological or philosophicalreason but as a personal preference. Many Christians truly enjoy the Sunday morning tradition. I’m probably the aberration. My attitude possibly dates back to my early upbringing when church service was a farce and only stood as an act of penitence.

I also don’t care for most church service music. I don’t like country and western twang, I don’t care too much for operatic falsetto. I also don’t care too much for music which has the purpose of working people up into a total emotionally frenzy, without much content, as some of the more contemporary Christian rock music does—with its eardrum-piercing, electric guitar squeals, hands raised in the air and eyes rolled back in the head. But this is simply my own personal taste. But give me a John Mayer, Sarah McLachlan, Jewel, Cheryl Crow, hey . . . even a folksy John Denver-sounding concert with good lyrics of honest seen-world experiences and true unseen world theology and I would be spell-bound for hours.

I don’t care much for Sunday morning preaching. After fifty years of church attendance, it is very difficult for even the greatest preacher on earth to preach something that is new and thought-provoking. The same would be true if I weren’t a Christian and I had sat for one hour for every Sunday for the past fifty years, listening to a motivational speaker. It doesn’t matter how good that motivational speaker was, it would simply get old after a while. However, I do love thought-provoking lectures from Biblical scholars and thinkers and I could sit in on a good lecture for at least two hours without the constant effort to keep my attention focused or checking my e-mails on my smart phone. I must have listened to hundreds of hours of such lectures on cassette tapes in my Walkman during my first couple of years after my rabbit-hole experience. I did pick our present church because the pastor teaches closer to this type of teaching than any other church on our island.

I do like interacting with people, even though on Sunday mornings that interaction is very superficial. But I deeply crave honest, Christian friendship and fellowship in the same way as a man crossing the Sahara on his knees, craves water . . . where there is virtually none. Such true fellowship is indeed very rare and hard to find. Certainly it is not possible during a typical Sunday morning church service where a smile and a handshake is as far as the interaction can go. Maybe in a well-led Sunday school class there can be a little true fellowship.

But I am sure that many people honestly enjoy Sunday morning church service. However, I wonder how many go, and imagine that they enjoy it because they believe that this is what God wants them to do . . . going out of guilt or penitence. I’ve talked to many teenagers and this is a common feeling that they are willing to share when they are being very candid.

I can remember a children’s Christian music cassette tape that my wife use to play in our old VW Vanagan when we were traveling the country raising support for our mission. Denise bought the tape from the performers at a mission conference that we attended. One song on the tape really bugged me. The title and lyrics were “Everybody ought to go to Sunday school.” Over and over the chorus rang out, with the same words as the title. The only reason given for going to Sunday school was “ought.” Maybe the lyricist meant something different than guilt manipulation but I’m sure many kids took it that way. Are we not surprised when eighty percent leave the church when they are old enough to do so?

At this juncture I must bring up the issue of semantics when I talk about the Church. What I hope to discuss in this chapter is the vision I have of what the non-Dualistic Church would look like. But I want to avoid the word “church” because, again, it is a word loaded with a lot of connotations and many of then have nothing to do with the original Biblical intent.

The Geek word in the new testament, which is translated “church,” is spelled (in English) ecclesia or ekklesia. It is a description of a people group and not any kind of institution. It simply means “those called out for a purpose.” A modern example would be something like Congress or even the Army. It is where people from all walks of life come together for a common goal. It is really very simple. Over time the word “church” has come to mean a place, a service or an institution, anything but a people group. You can not “go to church” in the Biblical sense, any more than you can “go to family” because ecclesia was never a location or an event. So the real church is about the collection of Christian people not a service, institution and certainly not a building. So I will be referring to this group, most of the time, from a more neutral wording of “Christian society.” I will just use CS for short. But I don’t mean to downplay the immense importance of the CS in God’s plan. It is the CS that is the bride of Christ.

One influence of the Gnostics, which has had a continuing influence on American Christianity, is the personalization of the Christian faith. The Gnostics considered Christianity as a personal matter between you and your God. True Biblical Christianity is anything but that. In my attempts to point out the Dualistic influence of churches (with a small “c”) I am not attempting to devalue the CS.

If you go back and read the New Testament without wearing Dualistic glasses, you would see that the mandates for the CS form are very few if at all. There are historical examples of how they functioned in different areas. If you go back and study the CS in the Ante Pacem period (before the peace of Constantine in 312) like I spent a year doing, you will see that it took many shapes during that period. Some Christians met daily, some hardly met at all. Some had elders, some deacons or both. But with Dualistic glasses those descriptions have no earthly-historical meaning anymore, but must be spiritualized as absolute laws or mandates, and if they are not followed precisely, like Levitical law, then God will be very displeased. In the same way the snake handlers in Newport, Tennessee took the example of handling snakes and not getting bitten as a Biblical mandate.

One of the few mandates that I do find is in Hebrews chapter ten, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” So the opposite of “not meeting” isn’t simply meeting for the sake of meeting, but encouraging one another as the CS was meant to do. It is hard to encourage one another if we don’t know one another. It is hard to know one another when we live in a Christian society were we all pretend that we are much better than we really are and we don’t dare show a sign of weakness.

Good friends from every sort of Church denomination would argue with me until they turn blue in their faces about my oversimplification of the CS and about the great freedom of church form. Each friend promotes their own church form as the true Biblical structure.

We attempted to start a house church once. It was when I first had the sense that a truly non-Dualistic expression of the CS could happen. However I had a naive idealism that didn’t, yet, recognize the depth of the Fall of Adam. This was about half way through my personal journey and my thinking was not well developed yet. I thought I should find, or create the perfect church. While good Christian societies are possible, maybe even great ones, fallen people can’t produce perfect churches . . . but at the time I thought I could.

Although the fellowship was great in our group, and the teaching was better than I had seen in years, a few, well-meaning Christian friends were deeply troubled because we had taken our children “out of church.” The parents of one of my son’s friends said that he could not come to our house to play anymore because of this. They just couldn’t bring themselves to think outside the traditional church box. We weren’t doing it to avoid CS, but to have more of it.

We did eventually disband because we couldn’t sustain the group. The cockroaches of old and new sin within each family made it a group that could not reach critical mass. One family believed that we must following orthodox Jewish customs and laws in order to really please God. Another family thought that we should be hoarding food, guns and survival gear for the coming war with Bill Clinton, Janet Reno and the UN. So we obviously had to dissolve for irreconcilable differences. But these families were the only Christians in Marquette, Michigan at the time, who even dared to try a house church concept . . . but apparently, each for different reasons.

I do believe, if it had succeeded, that our children, in some ways, would be far better off today. Through their youth group experiences over the years, they have been exposed to unhealthy Christian-Dualistic thinking including a disrespect of their intellectual questions and a lot of emotional dishonestly. Young people are very good about recognizing emotional and intellectual dishonesty. It is intuitive to them. This is why the eighty percent of children, who grow up in Evangelical churches, do not stay in them. The American Evangelical response to this hemorrhaging of young people is to make youth groups more entertaining. More trips to the water parks. More trips to the ski hill and Christian concert venues. While at the same time, in my experience, they create a thicker and thicker wall between their pretend Christian utopia and reality. Kids are naturally drawn to reality like moths to a porch light. If they can stand up in youth group and say, “I’m not sure I believe in God anymore,” and feel not only accepted, but having a very honest (not a chain of superficial evangelical clichés) discussion, they might consider staying in that particular CS.

When I was sitting in the Mexican restaurant with my good friend Ken, he was sharing that in his opinion, how paramount it was that Christians went to the right church, which taught the perfect doctrine. After all, his church had just excommunicated another church over an issue that was too abstract to even discuss outside their own heads in spoken words. Strangely, when I returned home from that trip to Tennessee, I had an E-mail waiting from a good friend, Rob, in Michigan. He was sending me the name of a church of his particular Lutheran synod that was fifty miles from our house. He strongly suggested, “For the sake of your children” that we move our membership to that church. He was very worried about the proper use of the sacraments and, in his opinion; his church was the only one that did.

I now think, what starts out as good intentions of finding the right CS becomes entangled with the economics of self-worth. The thinking goes, “My church is the better than yours just like my basketball team is better.” Therefore, we feel better when we go to the “better church.” We get that warm, fuzzy feeling deep inside that we are going to the church God wants everyone to, but we happen to be good enough or smart of enough, unlike the millions of other Christians, to have found the only correct one.

I certainly don’t want to diminish the eminent importance of sound doctrine, the historical precedent of church form and structure. Doctrine is very important and form has its place. One of the best functioning church meetings I ever visited, when looking at the mandate to encourage one another, was a house church in Denver. I flew out and spent a week with them when I was contemplating organizing our own house-based church meeting. In many ways this Denver CS met my concept of the ideal. However, I started to notice some problems. At the end of the week, when I sat in on their elder’s meeting, it became obvious that they really didn’t care a lot about doctrine or form. After I kept asking doctrinal questions, one elder finally turned to me and said, “You just don’t get it do you. We couldn’t care less about what you believe, just as long as you love Jesus.” While functional wonderfully at the time, this CS was sitting on very dangerous ground. The tendency, unless you have a good doctrinal foundation, is that in time you will wander from Biblical truth.

I eventually gave up on my hope of finding the ideal CS and returned to the more traditional church. I’ve been somewhat of a misfit since. When the pieces started coming back together for me, post-rabbit hole experience, I vowed in my heart that I would never live in the veneer Christian world again. But it has been very tough going . . . and quite lonely.

For one thing, I vowed to refrain from constantly speaking in terms of the supernatural. For example saying, “My car wouldn’t start, I prayed and pumped the gas and twice and it was a miracle . . . it started! God did it!” Of course if it was clear that God decided to do things differently from working though His wonderful natural system, if He did step into the playground and give a piggy-back ride, I wouldn’t hesitate to boast about that. I mean if my car didn’t have an engine, but I prayed and it started and ran continuously (without gas) for years, I would call that a supernatural work of God.

I also decided that I would try my best to keep my cellar door, at least, ajar. I knew, because of the roaches in my own soul and the tempting lure of the economics of self-worth, that I would not have the courage to keep my cellar aired-out all the time. Unfortunately, you just can not live consistently that way.

But, within the walls of the traditional church, I didn’t give up on the hope of finding honest fellowship and good teaching. The closes thing I have been able to find to Biblical fellowship within the traditional church is the small group. But even small groups have been so influenced by Dualism; it is hard for people to be honest and open.

Speaking honestly within the traditional church is sometimes extremely difficult. When we first got back from Egypt, I wasn’t even sure I was still a Christian. I was suffering from clinical depression to the point that I was seriously considering suicide. I had a plan of hanging myself in our barn. In desperation I took my long walks at night, which had always been a special time of prayer for me. But on those lonely nights, the sky, the billions of brilliant stars seemed cold and empty. I remember begging the cold, dead universe . . . “God, if you are out there somewhere, please find me!” Was He hiding somewhere within the Large Magellanic Cloud, or playing hide and seek behind the Cat’s Eye Nebula or was He never there in the first place? I really didn’t know at that point.

I was also still very confused as I had barely started my journey to understand what ailed my faith. It was tempting to push those unattractive attributes deep into the cellar and slam the door closed and play the church game again . . . just so I could have friends. It is very hard to have good Christian friends when you are honest about where you are in life, angry, confused, depressed and doubtful.

After resigning our post in Egypt, I secured a job in Duluth, Minnesota. This position was in a large clinic with seven other medical providers. One of them, Norm, was on an extended leave at the time with the National Guard. Angela, a nurse practitioner told me, “Mike, you’ll really like Norm. He is a strong Christian man and father like yourself (making inferences based our missionary service and the fact we were expecting our fourth child). In fact, he won Father of the Year. He and his wife have two natural children and they adopted six special needs children. They are like the perfect family!”

I was looking forward to meeting Norm. He did return after a few weeks. He was a very confident, type A Christian who knew all the answers . . . at least the Evangelical cliché version of them. But he did not like questions, not any of them. He seemed repulsed by me every time I approached him honestly. When I said, “I’ve having some serious doubts right now,” he literally became angry but with a sarcastic dimpled smile, “Yeah, good for you . . . so you think you have the right to doubt God, but God never doubts you!” All his answers were bumper sticker material.

During this most difficult time of re-entry, as I was attempting to take my family back to church, I finally reached a point that I couldn’t stomach it any longer. We tried many churches, but it was the same facades and the same clichés in each one . . . something like a KFC franchise serving the same three-piece-original recipe box in Biloxi as Singapore. If anyone spoke to us, and it was usually with very good intentions, the conversation would go like this:

“Hi, are you folks new to town or just visiting?”

“We are new.”

“Where did you come from?”

“Uh . . . Egypt.”

Egypt! Were you in the military?”

“Uh . . . no. . . we were, uh, missionaries.”

“Missionaries! Praise God that must have been a blessing.”

“No, it was hell.”

At this point, the person would either, quickly make distance between me and them or give a cliché response, “You must not have trusted God, because God never fails.”

I was always amazed with such comments because I hadn’t said anything about “God failing.” I wasn’t trying to make any theological statement about God’s sovereignty. I was just being honest about how I felt in my emotions. However, the person, consistent with the Dualistic view, felt obligated to hastily make a connection of my state of mental health to some significance in the unseen realm. “You didn’t trust God,” was like a spear into my chest. It was frustrating and painful to spend years working so hard for something, giving up so much, and then being diagnoses on a whim by a complete stranger. I had not trusted God? Is this what this was all about? Hmm. When I had given up my high-paying job, lived for a year in a van with my two kids and pregnant wife, then we went alone to the huge city of Cairo . . . all because I thought that was what God had wanted me to do. But I hadn’t trusted Him correctly?

I think the lowest point came when we were visiting a very large evangelical church, whose ranks had been growing by leaps and bounds under the guidance of a charismatic pastor, named Paul. One Sunday morning I was sitting on a pew in the vestibule and Paul came in the door and had a seat next to me. He looked at me, in the eye, and smiled, “Hey Michael. How’s life treating you?”

Not recognizing that it was only a shallow greeting, I answered sincerely, “I’m very depressed right now.”

I felt like this was a fair statement because it was during the period that I was seriously being besieged by the choice to commit suicide or not—feeling so hopeless that suicide might be the only road out of the perpetual swamp, which I found myself in. I was, indeed, begging for help. So, I think I was being honest when I said I was depressed. The thin, tall pastor with the dark Hungarian hair just smiled . . . and did not speak another word to me.

In a few moments we were seated in the huge auditorium along with five hundred fellow churchmen and women. After a lively choir performance, Paul took the podium, looked out over his congregation and almost the first loud words that, literally, came from his mouth were, “I’m sick and tired of Christians telling me that they are (then using a very prissy voice) depressed. It makes me sick to my stomach! Do we serve a depressing God?”

“No!” came the cry from a few deacons in the front row.

I have never felt so alone and desperate as I did at that very moment. I knew that Paul, or maybe no one, cared a damn about me. Maybe they only cared about their ability to score religious points with other Christians. The inaudible answer screaming in my ear was, “Do it . . . hang yourself. It really is hopeless!” I think the most distressing thing at that time was realizing that this was the world I had been living in for fifteen years.

Before my fall down the rabbit hole, I would have reacted toward someone like me, the same way that Norm did or Paul. For a Christian to suffer or fail had to be their own, new sin. History in the seen world must have a spiritual meaning . . . or no meaning at all.

About that time I lost contact with Norm as he abruptly ran off, leaving his wife and eight children, with a nurse who was twenty years his younger. He had apparently been having an affair with her for some time. Maybe that was why he was so offended if I tried to open my own cellar door. He had some real monsters lurking down in his own. But he had thrown a nice braid rug over his trap door that led downward. But in the midst of my despair, eventually there came a glimmer of hope that went by the simple name of “Dave.”

Denise was doing every thing that she could to help me and she insisted that I not give up on the Church. We went to a new one, a Christian Missionary and Alliance church on Arrowhead Road in Duluth, but it could have been any church. It was the same thing all over again. Strangers were standing in the vestibule greeting us and asking who we were. When a newspaper man, Dave Peterson, asked me how it was being a missionary in Egypt . . . and I responded, “It was hell,” he didn’t bat an eye, but smiled softly. Putting his hand on my back, like a semi-man hug, he added, “Hey, I want to hear all the details. Can I bring the pastor and we meet at Burger King this afternoon?”

That afternoon, I sat with Dave and the pastor for three hours over a Whooper and fries as huge soft snowflakes tumbled out of the grey sky and onto windshields of the cars in the parking lot. Through the birch trees, which lined the highway, you could see the whitecaps of a tremulous Lake Superior, a few hundred yards away.

I had been back in the states for six months and Dave was the first person to ask about our experience . . . I mean sincerely asked. I didn’t hesitate to begin telling our story. I thought the saga had been pushed down, inside a can, so long and so hard, that if I took the lid off, it may not come out very easily, as if it had solidified. But it did come out, slowly at first, but then it began to flow out like hot honey, then hot oil. Hot oil gave away to a bust of boiling water, like an Old Faithful eruption.

Dave was a stocky man . . . about forty years old and the pastor, ironically also named David, was about twenty-eight, thin and five-foot seven at best. I will never forget stocky Dave’s face. He sat like a statue, in a good-listening way, with his chin set firmly on his two fists, resting on his elbows. After about forty-five minutes into the story, I saw the most amazing thing I had ever witnessed. It was like I just had ten years of therapy rolled into a nanosecond. What was it? It was simply a huge tear . . . a sincere tear . . . tumbling down Dave’s silent face and dripping off his cheek onto his fist.

Until that point, I assumed that Dave, like everyone else, wasn’t even listening to me. I guessed he was daydreaming . . . off fishing somewhere out beyond the whitecaps. With the sight of the tear, I froze in confusion, followed by a strange kind of delight or at least a relief. I became so choked up that couldn’t speak anymore, but I could cry. The dams burst in my own eyes and for the first time I began to sob uncontrollably until my French fries became a blur and soggy. It may have been the first time I had cried in fifteen years. Real men, especially Christian men don’t cry. I hadn’t cried at my friend Daniel’s funeral and how could I? After all, even his parents were so godly that they didn’t cry.

But that day, I finally had an ear and that’s all I had wanted. I didn’t want the “answer,” or a cliché or a Bible verse. I knew all the Bible verses. I didn’t want someone just listening to the first sentence out of my mouth then interrupting, trying to make meaning out it by connecting it to something in the unseen world . . . God teaching me a lesson, or being my fault because I had not been obedient. I didn’t want someone glancing at their watches within five seconds of the story.

I honestly can’t remember what happened after Dave’s tear and the tears that followed. It really didn’t matter. I don’t know what he or David said that day and maybe they said nothing at all. But I do know that the moment prior to that dinner at Burger King on Skyline drive in Duluth, Minnesota I was hopeless, so hopeless that I was certain that I would commit suicide before a few more weeks would past. Afterwards, sitting in the fast-food parking lot under a windshield covered in new, soft, fluffy snow, I knew that some day I would find God again, and I would be well. On that day, I also found the real Church once more.

Years later, when I was over the depression, my faith was restored and I had moved past the finding the perfect CS phase, we were back with the traditional church. However, I was still determined to make the traditional church a better CS. I became the director of small groups. My own small group, six or seven families meeting together in our home for five years, became one of the best expressions of CS I had seen since my early days of college.

But even within that context it was still very hard to remain transparent and honest. As our group had jelled, I came up with the idea of moving to the next level. The women had taken two weekend retreats together and it was a great success so I thought that I could reproduce the experience with the men. Women are naturally more open to sharing their hearts because, frankly, men are far more insecure when it comes to the economics of self-worth.

I rented a remote national forest cabin in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It was so far out in the woods that you had to drive on snow-covered gravel roads for an hour then ski in carrying all your supplies in back packs or on sleds behind you. When the seven of us men assembled, we had a blast. We went snow shoeing, ice fishing and skiing. That night, we settled down by the wood stove.

The cabin was very rustic, simple logs on a concrete slab. It had one large bunk room and a kitchen with a wood stove area. There was no running water but a pit toilet out back whose seat hovered around zero degrees all winter. There was a real danger of your buttocks sticking to it if they were damp so you had to tuck pieces of Styrofoam under you before sitting down. With the outside temperatures dipping below zero, it was a struggle, even with a roaring fire, to keep the interior of the cabin above forty degrees.

But it seemed like the perfect ending to the perfect day. With just a candle or two burning, most of our light came from the flicker of the open wood stove. We pulled up chairs in a semi-circle around the warm fire with our mugs of coffee or hot chocolate.

Looking around the semi-circle, the glow of the fire reflected off the faces of each of my buddies, with their torsos blending into the shadowy background. We started off telling a few funny stories, and then I decided to take a chance and to move the fellowship to a deeper level.

I looked around and asked, “So . . . what’s really happening in your lives?”

I knew from Denise’s report that during the women’s retreat, some opened up about personal struggles such as significant issues within their marriages. This is what I wanted to accomplish, a gentle opening of the cellar doors . . . not to be nosey, but to give us a chance to live more honestly and help one other slay our dragons.

Time passed and no one shared. Then I noticed that the bold, fire-reflecting, faces seemed to be pulling backwards . . . like the heads of tortoises into their shells. I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to be the one to share . . . so was everyone else. The longer I gave it, the deeper the heads retreated. Soon there were only slits in their shells through which you could only make out the reflection of yellow, beady eyes.

I took a deep breath, opened my own cellar door and went spelunking. I took my flash light to the darkest corner that I could find . . . and there stood a Basilisk. I put a collar round his neck and led him to the door and into the light of the flickering fire for heart-wrenching show-n-tell.

“Here’s something that I’m struggling with.” I took another deep breath. “Once a year I have to go to continuing medical education meetings for a week. Now days, it seems like every hotel has” . . . another sigh . . . “adult movies on their TV. As soon as you turn on the set, the beginning menu starts enticing you to buy a movie. Being alone in the room for a week, the struggle is immense. I figured out that I could go down to the lobby and tell them to turn off the adult channels . . . but . . . like an alluring ghost, the next morning they would reappear. I hated those weeks of struggle to avoid them . . . and having watched one.”

I looked around and the shells were close so tight, that no eyes were still visible.

“Guys, I need your help. I need someone to hold me accountable.”

Still no response, so I had to ask, “Doesn’t anyone else struggle with this?”

Some of the tortoises had their shells clamped tight, but I could make out the eyes of my friend Brad, directly across from me. His shell slowly opened so I gave him more time.

“Well,” Brad finally said, “I have the same problem.” Then he sipped his coffee and looked down at his feet as many other shells started to pop open. Brad opened his mouth to continue . . . but then came a loud sigh from beside me. I hadn’t notice but Charles, had his head out all along and now his neck was really sticking out.

“This is disgusting!” He exclaimed. “How could a godly man even be tempted with this filth? This conversation is becoming unedifying.”

I then noticed that as soon as I had started sharing, Charles had started thumbing through his Bible. Now he held several places with his fingers and he started to read. “Job said in Job 31:1 that he had made a covenant with his heart to not look lustfully at a girl. Those movies are all about lust . . .”

Charles continued on for fifteen minutes with a mini sermon with multiple verses about the evils of sexual sin, as I watched the tortoises pull in their heads and close their shells. Brad not only retracted his head but his legs . . . and his tail.

Maybe the concept of lusting never crossed Charles’ mind anymore now that he was a “godly man” . . . but again, Norm would have reacted the same way. Norm could have given the same mini sermon . . . while the night before he had slept with his little nurse girlfriend. But how would the CS be better served? Having the cellar doors open or nailed closed with stacks of Bibles on top holding it down? The closed-cellar churches certainly look a lot better, nice and clean and organized. The open-cellar churches can get pretty messy.

I’m not talking about a situation where we speak boldly and constantly about our most intimate sins. I have seen that happen before, though rarely. Sometimes we, in order to get attention, can be a constant public confessor. In that case, trying to look like the humble sincere Christian, we seek to improve our Christian self-esteem. That is not what I’m talking about.

But, the true CS must be a very safe place. We are not called out from the world because we are better or live better or have more value, but because our miserable sin, in God’s eyes, has been erased once and for all. If we really believed that, then walking into any church setting would give us the incredible safe feeling of re-entering our mother’s womb. We would sense God’s total acceptance as exhibited by other Christians.

Instead, the church setting can be one of the scariest places on earth. I deal with a lot of patients with pseudo-seizures, anxiety disorders and panic attacks. One of the most common places for panic attacks to occur is in the middle of church services. Most people feel the least accepted in the middle of church service. I know that growing up it was a tremendous act each Sunday morning putting on our best church clothes and faces.

But the church should be a real sanctuary from critical judgment. It should be the first place that people think of to run to when they are in a crisis, even if that crisis is a mental health problem or a direct result of their new, personal sin. After coming to this place, I went back and read the Gospels again. I noticed how Jesus made sinners, with open cellar doors, feel compared to the sinners who had their cellar doors nailed shut (white-washed walls in other words).

A great CS is a place that when, even a mature Christian walks up to you and says “I’m depressed,” or “I’m in the midst of an affair,” or “I’m molesting my children” or “I hate my spouse,” that we don’t look at them with horror on our faces and run away, throwing verses over our shoulders at them as we are on our way out the door . . . but we reach out with a smile and a hug and say, “I want to hear all about it. Let’s meet at Burger King today.” This would be a genuine smile, not happy about the sin or the pain of course, but happy that they have opened their cellars and have given you the honor of entering their Cellars with them, two friends side by side, swords in each hand, to fight the terrible dragons, like in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

When we, as Christians, don’t recognize how many cockroaches still inhabit our own souls, we are very vulnerable to allowing our psychological economics of self-worth be expressed as godliness. In 1976, while I was an undergraduate student and while I was still new to the faith, I became a self-proclaimed ambassador of the Holy Spirit. I actually thought that I would spend that year stamping out sin wherever I found it. This included in my own life.

To address my own sin, I had a large chart on my dorm room wall where I tracked my days without sin. The behaviorist psychologist B.F. Skinner had a daughter, Susan, who became an expert in tracking human behavior. I used one of her charts to track my sin. Yeah, it was pathetic. But worse than that, I was on the constant lookout for sin in others. If I heard someone say an angry word, I would immediately call them on it. If someone said “darn” I would point out that it was a substitute for “damn” and therefore equally sinful. If someone told a story, I would go over the facts to make sure they were not lying. Of course, stories about supernatural works of God were the exception and were even points in the positive column. I would never question such miracles because doing so was equated with questioning God. I didn’t make a lot of new friends that year.

After my rabbit hole experience, I sometimes noticed the same attitude in other Christians and I find it most unappealing. I’m perplexed why no one killed me back in my undergraduate days.

When we use leverage, critically evaluating others in order to boost our own feelings of self-worth, we must add measurements. God only gave us a few guidelines for living well. It is hard to keep score with only a handful of basic rules, so we create more and more, in order to create a graded system for establishing our own self-worth and for comparing ourselves favorably to others. This is the psychological basis for legalism.

During our wonderful five year small group in Michigan I pressed hard against legalism, because I don’t think it’s healthy. One night we had a visitor to our small group. Aaron was an Air Force pilot, somewhat from the same cocky mold as the Tom Cruse character in Top Gun. During a time of preparation for prayer, Aaron shared how upset he was that a Christian neighbor on the Air Force base had “ruined his testimony.” He explained that this neighbor decided to clean up his cul-de-sac. He spent a Saturday afternoon picking up trash and then bundled it and put it on the curb in front of his house. Apparently he had several beer boxes on his trash. Aaron was driving by and saw the beer cases and went in to confront his fellow Christian. That’s when he explained why they were there . . . but it still left Aaron very upset.

Being polite toward our new visitor, I didn’t say anything. In a moment, Barb began to share. She had been a long time member of our small group . . . and like me, tended to fall off the shame side of the narrow path. She was always very hard on herself, especially when it came to her weight. She may have been forty-five pounds above her ideal weight, according to Hollywood, so she certainly wasn’t morbidly obese. She shared that night, almost in tears, “I failed God this week. I had a sign on my refrigerator door not to eat a piece of Jason’s (her son’s) birthday cake, but in a moment of weakness I did.”

I honestly couldn’t take it anymore . . . first with Aaron’s rules about beer boxes and now Barb’s self-imposed condemnation for eating a piece of birthday cake. I spoke up with some emotion, “For Heaven’s sake . . . where does God tell us not to eat birthday cake?”

Aaron, with his two percent body fat frame chimed in, “God hates gluttony!”

“Gluttony . . . is eating one piece of birthday cake, your own son’s birthday cake, gluttony? Is having a beer box, even if they were your own, on your curb the same as being drunk? You know Christ hated legalism as much as any sin.”

Aaron seemed puzzled by my comment then added, “You talk like you think legalism is something bad. We need to code to prove our obedience and love for Jesus and to prove that we are different from the world!”

But are non-Christians more attracted to the CS if the CS has more and more mores for separating themselves from non CS members? I think not. Lastly I want to look at this last area of how thinking non-Dualistically would have an effect on the way in which we relate to the non-Christian world, and our efforts to bringing them into the Kingdom of God.

After my rabbit hole experience and recovery, I re-entered the Church as a changed man, often feeling like I had been transported from a distant planet, or at least a different culture on our own planet. I call it a deformed to reformed experience. My old system of thinking was shattered or deformed and a new or reformed thinking took its place. It has been a constant struggle for me to fit in with American Evangelicals while holding tightly to my ideals, my self-imposed moratorium on spiritual dishonesty. I occasionally do run into others, who—like me—have had some type of rabbit hole experience that has changed their whole world. I’ve met women whose “godly” husbands ran off with the church secretary. I’ve met people whose children were violently killed and the Evangelical clichés didn’t resolve anything for them. Sometimes they take the wide path of becoming silent zombies, not expressing what they think or the confusion that still reigns in their inward kingdom. It is only in brief moments of very private conversation do I sense this harmony between us.

But more unique than my story, or the stories of the other deformed—then—reformed people, are these unique Church creatures whom have never lived in the fantasy land above the rabbit hole. I’m not sure how they did it, but they never bought into the American Evangelical subculture. They, like the lone trailer still standing after a tornado, never seemed to be influenced by the Dualism that has saturated the Church for two thousand years. I call these people the “Spared Ones.” You find Spared Ones in almost every church. Even in my little Bible belt church, there were some women and a couple of men who were like this.

The Spared Ones have no hesitation about speaking truth, even when it goes totally contrary to the mainstream Christian thinking, or makes them look very unspiritual. Throughout Church history, there must have been these refreshing saints. By their nature, being against the flow of Church history, they were usually ignored at best.

One of them, in my humble opinion, is the nineteenth century Scottish novelist George MacDonald. I wish I could say that I’ve read all his works. I’ve only read a few but Denise has read them all. C.S. Lewis has said that he never wrote a book without quoting MacDonald. He seems to have this rawness about him. Knowing that he did endure personal suffering, he could have been the deformed-reformed person rather than the natural Raw Christian. Maybe there was a time in his early life when he too conformed to Evangelical Dualism and its cultural mores. I honestly don’t know.

However, the true Raw Christian will tell you if they are having a bad day. They will not pretend that all events were orchestrated by God to teach someone, somewhere patience. They do not despise the cosmos or their own flesh, but deeply appreciate God’s creativity and glory in every thing He’s made . . . including the “nasty people” who are not Christians. These Raw Christians, something like Christ himself, are not offensive to non-Christians, but are attractive to them. Both of these groups give me great hope.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


The painting is Pablo Picasso's painting Friendship, oil on canvas done in 1908.

I've written before about the issues of friendship, especially as it applies to the Christian male. This morning, during my Starbucks book time with my son, I started thinking about friendship again. The reason is a week from today my long-lost friend Bill and his wife Susan will be in town.

Bill and I go way, way back . . . even to preschool days. We were best friends then and remained best friends for the most of our lives. We became Christians together and were involved with the Navigators in college. However Bill could not keep his mind (or hands) off the girls so he faded out of the Navs. The Navs, in those days, strictly frowned on dating.

I went on to an intense Nav training center in graduate school, and Bill went on to PCA (Presbyterian Church of America) seminary. Eventually I went to the mission field. About the time we were coming home from the Middle East, Bill and Susan left for Australia. After a number of years they moved to South Africa and have been there for about a decade.

This type of friendship with Bill is rare, especially among men. When a relationship goes back so far you develop this sense of security where you can say about anything and know that the other person still accepts you . . . just as you are. After all, I’ve seen Bill at his worse and he has me.

About 11 years ago, when I was in the midst of being a complete failure as a Christian, Bill was one (and only) person I could confine in. It was my good fortunate that he was in the states at the time.

But here is my concern. I want to keep my expectations low. Part of me wants to pour my heart out to him . . . and his wife. Susan is also a good friend as well, with our good friendship going back to the undergraduate days.

The reason that I want to keep expectations low is the looking-glass syndrome (mentioned a few postings ago). Bill is a professor at a PCA seminary. The PCA is one of the most “certain” Christian denominations. They have virtually all theology figured out to the last letter and they are harsh on those who do not. I’ve seen my old PCA denomination excommunicate a pastor and members, not over the gay lifestyle or new-age spirituality but over Christian doctrine that is so complex that it is difficult even to put into words. Then here I am, no longer certain about anything, except the real, obvious fundamentals of Christianity. I have hunches about eschatology, but I would never be certain enough to argue with someone over it.

The last visitor that I had from my old Nav group was about five years ago. Betsy goes back to my high school days so she is a pretty good friend. But she, like Bill and Susan, are on an entirely different page than me now. She too is strongly PCA and has certainly in most things. I know this well because her son (Dan) lived with us for a few months and he is great kid but is certainly certain (should that be “certain2 “) about most things in life.

When Dan’s mom was out we went for along drive and spoke about the old days. Then I did the social blunder (the kind of thing I’m now fearful that will with Bill) I used the word, “luck.” I think I said something to the fact of, “Yeah, Denise and I were pretty lucky.”

Betsy seemed very concerned taking a trivial matter to a much higher plane asking, “You don’t really believe in luck do you?”

Sheepishly I answered, “Yeah . . . I guess I do.”

I know that when I was a good Presbyterian I would never have used the word “luck” or “chance.” We really believed that every cell in your body was constantly controlled by God and no event, no matter how minor, happed out of cause and effect in nature . . . or chance.

From that moment on, Betsey seemed a little concerned about my spiritual state.

I remember a similar thing happening the last time I saw their family. That time it was her husband Dave and both their sons. This was fifteen years ago when our kids were quite young. I can’t remember exactly what happened, but we were having a great time until the social blunder changed everything. I’m trying to remember what it was that happened.

I know that “the event” had something to do with my daughter Amy. She was about four at that time. If I remember it right, she came down from her bedroom, donning just a tee shirt and underwear to say good night (this was after being read to and tucked in) to her mom and me . . .and I’m sure to see our visitors. Dave’s two sons were about 8 or 9 at the time. After she left, Dave seemed very concerned and I wasn’t sure why.

The next morning at breakfast Dave made some comment that Amy seemed to be very comfortable about showing her body to strangers and that is usually “a bad sign.” I was perplexed. Then he asked a strange (and painful) question, “She hasn’t been sexually abused has she?”

I didn’t know what he meant by that. You see, the thoughts of a four year-old-girl “showing her body” in a sexual way wasn’t even on my radar. To me, it was an excited little girl who wanted to see these interesting friends one more time. And it was too hot to sleep in her usual flannel pjs. This was nowhere near as bad as my fundamentalist sister-in-law, who accused us of sexually abusing our son because he had mooned her kids (I shared a few postings ago). But it was still on the same track of thinking.

As a side bar, I don’t understand why Evangelicals seem to be hyper vigilant over sexual abuse of children but I keep hearing stories of where it is occurring within the Evangelical church (as it did in my church growing up). But that’s another question to look into.

So things were a little awkward for the rest of the visit with Dave and his two sons. I had this constant feeling that he was disapproving of our parenting techniques.

It reminds me of when we were on deputation as missionaries, traveling from city to city (raising money) staying with church family after church family. We only had two kids, Bryan and Daniel, ages four and two respectively. I kept hearing things from our host families (usually the wife) like, “I’m surprised that you let your kids watch T.V.” or “I’m surprised you let your kids have refined sugar,” or “I’m surprised you allow your kids to talk during dinner.” I knew that eventually someone would say, “I’m surprised that you allow your kids to crap and piss in their diapers.”

My vision of hell, isn’t Dante’s Inferno but being a perpetual middle-aged pastor of a very conservative (has all the answers about life) evangelical church where my family is in the proverbial fish bowl 24-7. In this vision, instead of being married to Denise I’m married to an evango-Barbie (beautiful but extremely shallow) woman and we have ten typical kids. So the kids have the things that you would find in spectrum of any ten kids, one or two with ADD, a couple with a tendency towards depression and maybe a girl with an eating disorder. The church expects them to line up like the kids in Sound of Music when their dad would blow his whistle . . . then take their seat on the front pew. I digress again.

It has been ten years since I’ve seen Bill. He has always had complete candor with me . . . venting about an extremely controlling missionary boss or flirty co-pastor’s wife. Of course I have always felt very comfortable sharing at the same level with him. I really hope that it is the same this time. I’ve always held up our relationship as being the ideal for Christian fellowship, where you can say absolutely anything (as long as it is true) and feel loved and accepted . . . like a real blanket of grace. I just hope that blanket is still there.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

No Virgina . . . the Bible Does Not Have All the Answers . . . Nor Did it Intend to

I bought just one book from this organization and now I get spam about their products. I've had this one before, their hot selling DVD on the Biblical view of global warming. This relates back to my posting about late-night Christian radio and uncle Bob saying, "Kids, the answer to every question is found in the Bible."

This is an evangelical cliche and I don't remember anywhere in the Bible that it claimed to have "the answer to every question." Most mundane questions about life are not answered in the Bible and there is nothing wrong with that. However, if I said that statement in my church, I would be thrown out on my ears.

The Bible gives the answers for the big questions. To try and give a "Biblical view" on the mundane, you have to be a big fat liar (twisting scripture more than a 12 year old Romanian Gymnnast). That's why people get in all kinds of trouble in writing books about "The Biblical Principles of Wall Street Investment" or "The Biblical Plan for Weight Loss." It gives the evangelical one the warm and fuzzies to think they are doing it God's way . . . but give me a break. Who made God the mirco-manager of life? There is FREEDOM, creativity and knowledge (extra-Biblical) that is very valuable.

Here's the run down of the DVD. BTW . . . scripture says NOTHING about global warming because the particular problems were not present during the time the Bible was written. A bigger question is why are the Evangelicals so opposed to the concept of global warming? Is it because they drive SUVs to Bible study?

Retail $19.99 - OUR PRICE $14.95

What is the truth about global warming? Are the ice caps melting? Will polar bears and penguins soon be found starving on small floating icebergs? Does the future survival of man hinge on an immediate reduction in carbon emissions?

This bold new documentary is an exciting and important tool for all who face the rampant misinformation propagated by ecological alarmists. Global Warming addresses subjects that most others won’t touch, including misinformation which is contained in Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.

Global warming is real, but it is not primarily man-made. This biblically-based and thoroughly balanced view of climate change reveals that global warming is not a black & white issue. Viewers will see why well-meaning Christians need to be extremely careful when advocating environmental policies. The message of this richly illustrated DVD is urgently needed in America, and the world.

Through on-location interviews with leading creationist scientists, climatologists, and other commentators the dangers and politics of global warming are revealed. Learn how you can be effective in caring for creation without becoming an unwitting accomplice to the myths of global warming. This balanced approach to a very “hot” topic will equip you with the information necessary to honor the Creator ... without worshipping the creation.

God’s promise to Noah was that, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and winter and summer ... shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22). On-location interviews with leading scientists are combined with compelling graphics to make this one of the most urgent and important DVD releases of the decade!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Human Condition

I don’t know what it is about Starbucks that makes me want to write. I think it is the smell of the freshly ground, deeply roasted (my non-Starbucks friends would say . . . burnt) beans. Maybe it is the wacky anthology of music (Roy Rogers, Bob Dylan or East Indian music like today).

I came here today to read . . . not write. After writing a long blog entry here Sunday afternoon, then deleting it a day later, I was ready to swear off blogging for a while.

But, today I want to write about what I’m reading.

I’ve mentioned before that I have a “meeting” here every Saturday morning with my son (and other kids if they are in town) to read and discuss our books. I’ve always been an avid reader of philosophy, theology, science and adventure travel. My sons . . . all of them . . . have been great readers of novels, usually the classics. In January I took on the mission to read all of the top 100 English novels. I’ve read about 8 so far.

I have never read non-Christian novels since high school. The reason was because I was my dualistic thinking. I never saw any value in fiction. I mean, how could I spend my time reading a story about something that never really happened while the rest of the world is going to hell . . . and not necessarily in an a hand basket?

I finished work early today as my last patient couldn’t get their health insurance’s prior authorization in time for the visit. I was in no hurry to go home to big empty house. BTW,I did hear from Denise this morning. I had a call on my cell phone. It was an awkward time as I was talking to a patient about her serious depression (and suicidal ideation) when my cell phone rang. I went to turn it off only to see this 13-14 digit number. She made it to Kenya but was exhausted. It was 7:20 PM there and she was going to bed.

On my drive here, in the misty rain, with the top down on the jeep (and the seat of my pants soaked), I was listening to NPR’s All Things Considered. They were talking about poetry and the ideal that poets can not support themselves from their writings . . . but must have day jobs. One poet, who works in the cooperate world, made the comment that it is too bad that she, and other authors, can’t support themselves by their writing. Writing, she went on to say, “Has a tremendous value in helping us to know and understand the human condition. Therefore poets should be paid the way the cooperate world pays its executives.”

Yeah! I thought. The “human condition.” That’s why reading novels are so important.

It is odd then, that we Christians, who serve the true, living God, should be the ones who both know and expose the human condition, but we don't. Christian literature is so screwed up. It is wrapped around AVOIDING the human condition at all cost, in exchange for the idealized human condition. For the same reason, Thomas Kincaid (art of an idealized world) sells best among Christians while abstract or even disturbing art forms are avoided.

Today I just started Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night. I always like to read (on line) the background of a book before I read it. I’ve read a few of Fitzgerald’s other books. I would never have appreciated them in my previous life.

He wrote this book during a dark time in his life. He was broke. His wife was in an insane asylum in Baltimore and he was alone . . . cranking out Tender is the Night on an old type-writer. The reviewers comment that the book reflects his depressed mood.

People accuse me of being on the dark side too much or being critical. But I am not. The world is full of darkness and that is exactly what Scripture says about it. We do not survive this world by using Christianity as the “opium of the people.” But we live in reality, navigating the dark corridors with a hope . . . not necessarily a smile, but a sincere hope. We are forgiven. We will live forever in a new and better earth. There can be no better news than that. But in the meantime, we are flesh and blood. We feel sad. We feel hurt. We feel depressed. We live in the human condition.

The reviewers said that Tender is the Night is full of adultery and even incest. How horrible. The only thing that is more horrible is the reality that that, like it or not, is the human condition. I have known of both . . . even among my Christian friends. These issues would never be the topics of Evangelical novels.

I really like Frank Schaeffer for several reasons. First of all, I’m a big fan of LAbri. I also have some connection to Frank’s family, as I spend many a nights in a living room watching movies or discussing books with his mother planted on the couch. She was too old at the time to contribute much to the discussion (she is back in Switzerland now suffering from dementia).

But even among LAbri, Frank is now a black sheep. I really believe the real reason is that he has the courage to be very honest. He writes, now, down on the first floor . . . next to reality.

His first controversial book (which is hard to find now) was Sham Pearls before Real Swine. I was doing some soul searching at the time and the title grabbed my attention. I didn’t realize that Frank too had become disillusioned with Evangelicalism. His mother gave me the book (an author’s copy he had sent his mom). I don’t think she read very much of it. Of course she loves her son but as she handed me the book she made the comment that “Frankie is an angry man.” Looking back I see that Edith, as a wonderful woman as she is, lives on the Victorian side of the looking glass . . . Frank on the Mad Hatter’s side.

I am thankful for Frank’s Calvin Becker Trilogy novels as a bridge between the Evangelical sugar-coated books to the dark classics. Franks writes brutally honestly. I can see why some within LAbri (and the Evangelical world) despise him as a traitor.

Side Bar:(to illustrate the point) A lady from our church just came into Starbucks. I went to a party at her neighbor’s house a week ago because her neighbor works with Denise. I made the comment to her, “Hey I was next door the other night at Carla’s party.”

My friend had frown on her face. “Well, I would never be caught at Carla’s parties. I’ve heard the F word before so I don’t have to go out of my way to hear it again.”

I found her comment so strange. It never crossed my mind that I should go to Carla’s to just “to hear the F word.” Actually, I was there for two hours and can’t remember hearing a single “off color” word. However, I did hear many amazing stories about peoples’ lives like a guy who set the motorcycle speed record at Bonnieville back in the 70s and a guy who had spent his life fishing on the Bering Sea.

Anyway, back to my main point.

I see Frank as someone who just could not pretend any longer and had to come home . . . to the real human condition. But, he seems to still have the hope . . . as do I.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Looking Glass

I know, it's strange, but I did this long posting last night . . . .then I deleted it. I guess I feel I cross the line sometimes in sharing personal feelings. So I woke up this morning, seeing that some comments were coming in and decided to delete the whole thing. Rats. I worked hard on that one as well.

I will put Alice back up and pick back up on that one segment of the old posting. The point is that when some of us go through a personal crisis, we emerge on the other side, trapped (not in a bad way) behind the looking glass. From that point forward, the entire world looks differently. What use to be normal conversations around us . . . now seem like the bizarre talk around the Mad Hatter's table.

I'm not sure why some of us are changed in this manner and many people are not. I know people (more than one) who have lost a child in a horrible accident. Sure they are sad and grieve like anyone, but their perspective on life doesn't change. They still believe in the Christian bookstore philosophy of life . . . soft music, rosewood incense, perpetual smiles, always speaking from one cliche to the next.

I'm not talking about the alternative being bitter or depressed, but just feeling like life on this earth is a strange place. I see the glory as well . . . but everything looks different now.

My wife and daughter must be in Kenya by now. I hope to hear from them soon as I can't communicate with them. It is strange to think if our house burned down or one of our kids was in an accident, there is no way I could communicate with Denise right now. It is like she is on the back side of the moon.

I went for a long bike ride tonight that become somewhat eventful. I just had my bike tuned up and this was my first ride in over two weeks. As I was climbing my first big hill, five miles from home, the entire back wheel locked up. The hub was deeply entangled with the gear shifter thing (can't remember it's name). I sat by the road for a while with grease up to my elbows. No one was home to call. Finally I got a hold of Ramsey (he was hanging out with friends in town) and he agreed to swing by to pick up the bike since the wheel wouldn't even turn.

It was a strange feeling sitting there on the shoulder of road obviously stuck, and car after car whizzed by and just looked. One guy slowed down and asked if I needed help. That was nice . . . but Ramsey was on his way. After loading up my bike in Ramsey's car, I started, and finished, the five mile walk back home.

I think the exercise did me some good. I started the walk feeling angry because the bike had been fine for the past 500 miles of riding, then I take it in for a tune up and the first time I ride it, it is a mess. But, by the time I got to my lonely home, the adrenalin had been burned off and I felt a lot of exhausted peace.

I'm starting a Bible study at church on Thursday. We (if anyone shows up) will be studying Hebrews. I have not been in the word a lot lately. I have a little fear about it. At the same time I am eager to read scripture again. I think my fear is that I will find something in scripture that doesn't fit in my new paradigm of life. Then I wouldn't know what to do. I honestly think that when I return to scripture, especially to Jesus' words, it will seem more clear.

My example of scary scripture is that, in prep for the study Thursday, I read all of Hebrews while sitting in the hot tub last night. I looked like a prune by the time I was done. The only such scripture (the kind that scares me) was a few statements about "obeying your leaders." That gave me a few chills up my spine. But I think the image that such verse conjure up are of the spiritually abusive leaders I've known in my past. I have to think about that one for a while. "Obey your leaders." I need to read the original languages to see what that really means and in the proper context.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Family - The Christian Elite and the Myth of Godliness

It was a glorious day yesterday . . . bight sun, blue seas, white-capped mountains surrounding flat green lowlands of vegetables and berries. I really wanted to go home after work to do a long bike ride (needing exercise badly after a week of being on the road) however it came to my attention that I had an important dinner meeting.

I took the drive up the coast to the meeting. I can’t complain. The meeting is along one of the top scenic highways in America, Chuckanut Drive and yesterday she was in her prime. I had the top off the jeep and could smell the firs and the sea.

As I drove I heard a preview on NPR of the coming Fresh Air program. Fresh Air was starting at the same time (6:30 PM) as the dinner meeting. I pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot and continued to listen . . . all the way until about 7. Fortunately, the only thing I had missed in the meeting were cocktails and a social time.

The thing that had grabbed my attention by Fresh Air was the topic. It was an interview with Jeff Sharlet about his new book, “The Family.” I encourage you to read the out-takes of the interview here (or even download the podcast of the entire program).

In summary, The Family is a secret Evangelical organization among the movers and shakers in Washington. It was started in the 1930s (if I remember right) by a man who had a strange vision from God. In the vision the founder was told that the way to reach the world for Christ was to reach the hearts of the people in power and help them to think like Jesus, or to become "godly" in other words.

I know that I am not naive. I do realize that NPR has an agenda . . . okay, more like a slant than an agenda. However, personally, I find that they have less of an agenda than about any other radio-based news source (except possibly the BBC). I realize why this book was reviewed at this time and it is because two of the leaders of “The Family” have recently been caught in Adultery. One of them, Mark Sanford, actually admits now to a whole string of affairs. The media loves to gloat over Evangelicals caught in extreme hypocrisy . . . and who can blame them? We all hate pious people, especially when they are fakes . . . or flakes.

There is so much that I would love to comment about regarding The Family. But I will cherry pick two issues. Those issues include the concept of reaching those in power, and the myth of “godliness.”

This whole story reminded me when I was involved with The Navigators at the University of Kentucky. There was a phase that we passed through when the great emphasis was finding potential leaders. They philosophy went (just like with The Family) that if we reach the societal elite for Jesus, then we have a much better chance of winning the world for God.

One of the greatest proponents of this thought was a Nav staff guy at Eastern Kentucky U, named Nick. I got into a discussion with him once (he was very hard to talk to because he had extreme spiritual arrogance) after he gave a talk at a Nav conference to about 200 campus leaders. He said, “Never share the gospel with anyone sitting down. The problem is, if they are sitting down before the gospel, they will never do anything for the Lord. Instead, only share the gospel on the racket ball courts, or the running tracks or to people who are class presidents. These are the people who will change the world.”

I asked him at the end of the lecture, and in front of everyone, “What about someone sitting in a wheel chair?”

He put on his condescending face and responded, “Have you ever seen anyone in a wheelchair changing the world?” I was perplexed. I was eventually removed from leadership for being an trouble maker.

Nick was extremely hard-nosed . . . for the Lord of course. Everyone introduced him as the most godly man they knew. He got up early and ran five miles . . . for the Lord of course. He slept about 4 hours at night . . . for the Lord of course.

Nick disappeared once, for about a year. He was in his upper forties at the time. He re-appeared with a new, 20 year-old wife. She had been a student on the campus where he was leading the ministry. As far as we could tell, she wasn't a Christian . . . and if she was, a brand new one. However, we were never allowed to mention this, like the elephant in the room.

So there are several points that I wish I could make, if I had the space. One, is that the concept of Christian godliness is highly over-rated. Never trust a godly man or woman as there is no such thing. And, I wonder why Jesus never caught on to this theory about only reaching the elite in society. He must not have been very smart.