Friday, February 27, 2009

Against the Prosperity Gospel

Here are some of the verses that I was told to memorize when I first became a Christian through the Navigators. The Nav leader instructed me (or interpreted for me) that these verses are clear that God would protect me from all harm and only his perfect, loving will would happen to me . . . as long as I did what the Navigator told me to do . . . woops, I mean as long as I did what “God” told me to do. If I didn’t obey God, then his protection would suddenly disappear. Somewhat like gang extortion would do to businesses in south LA.

These are some of the foundational verses for the prosperity Gospel. Just listen to any TV Evangelist and they will quote one of these if you listen to them long enough.

Jeremiah 29

11 For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Proverbs 21

1The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.

Matt: 10

29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.

Job 1

10"Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.

I certainly don’t have the time or the expertise to give an expose on these above verses but I’m sure some great theologians have.. However, I . . . and many Evangelicals . . . have been deceived.

If you simply go back and read these passages in narrative as well as historical context you will see that it is saying something very differently than what I was led to believe. We were taught a Gnostic interpretation. For example, we were taught that the Jeremiah verse was a direct promise to me personally from God. A promise that he was going to make me prosperous . . . as long as I did everything that the Nav leader . . . er I mean that God told me to do.

But the promise in Jeremiah is to the nation of Israel in very precise historical times. If you read the Matt verse in context, you will see too that it is talking about something very differently than the fact that God controls every cell in our bodies and will prevent them from becoming cancerous . . . unless, for some odd reason, he wants the cell to become cancerous.

More to come . . .

Thursday, February 26, 2009

When Bad Things Happens to Good People - Holes in the Evangelical Prosperity Narrative

I’m ashamed to admit that I have never read this book by Harold Kushner. When it was first published, 20 years ago, I was a hard-core Evangelical and we were taught that the book was full of hearsay. We were told, by pastors etc, that the book presented a God who is too weak to overcome difficulties in this world. I really need to read the book for myself to see if this is really his conclusion. I mean, the same pastors would say the same about my position . . . which is the furthest thing from the truth.

But I’m using his title and book photo to introduce this topic. This topic, in many ways, is a continuation of my last post.

While some people write blogs with careful research and thought (I think of Michael Spencer here and some of the more scholarly blogs he quotes from) I type rapidly, between patients, and from the gut. So, I often have typos and thoughts that should have been developed better. But if I don’t do it this way, then I don’t do it at all. It’s a time issue. I work about 50 hours a week, I’m back in graduate school, I’m on there boards of directors . . . the chair of one . . . plus I have several reading and writing projects going. Sorry to digress.

In summary, my post yesterday is about the fact that I have a close friend who is dying from cancer. It is really upsetting me and it is about all I can think about.

My friend Terry had a form of cancer that most people recover from. He started out on a good track and we heard constant reports of his progress and little “miracles.” Then he had a sudden and unrepentant rapid decline. This week the news was even much worse . . . as if his disease was following the worse possible path. This is despite a lot of people praying for him, he being in the hands of great doctors and the family doing every thing right.

Then I noticed the odd turn in events. Our church (we go to the same one) was oddly silent about him this week. I thought it would be the main topic since his terrible news came in just on Friday.

This is where we as Christians, especially Evangelicals (and I’ve written about this before) paint ourselves into a corner. The narrative that we love to read and hear about is where the Christian beats the odds . . . where miraculously they are healed when the doctors said there was no hope. Or, the plane goes down and the Christian, Bobby or Betty, are the only survivors . . . and they survived against great odds. These are the books that fill our mall’s Precious Moments Christian Bookstore.

What happens though, when Bobby or Betty (The faithful Christian-hard church workers-with wonderful Christian parents) are the ONLY ones killed on the plane. And, imagine, that the plane crash was minor.

My first encounter with this problem was when I was 18 years old and a new Christian. I had jumped with both feet from the Bible belt upbringing into hard-core Evangelism. One of my Christian friends, Amanda, was a wonderful gal. Great church worker even (although she was only 16) helping her older sister to lead their youth group. Amanda had just gotten her driver’s license. She asked if she could borrow her dad’s pick up to take one of her first solo drives, down the hill, to the store, to buy milk. She got in the truck, drove very carefully (about 35 MPH from what I was told). However, the edge of the tire dropped off the pavement. This pulled the truck towards the ditch. The steepness of the ditch made the truck turn over. I’m not sure what happened. Either her head came out the open side window or something came it . . . but everyone agrees, it was a “freak of nature” that Amanda was killed.

I was devastated and very, very confused. I knew guys in high school that drove their supped up cares at a 115 MPHs on those twisty Appalachian roads, and with a 1/5 of Jack Daniels half drunk. These guys hated God (by their own words) and did as much evil as they could find to do. They are in their 50s now and have never had a car wreck. Why did Amanda.

As a young evangelical I did the same thing as I see Terry’s Christian friends doing. I went silent. I never visited Amanda’s parents again nor her older sister, who had been a good friend. I simply didn’t know how to process the loss. It is one of the biggest regrets of my life.

When really bad things happen, when fate follows the worse possible road, it leaves us out on some type of theological limb with a saw in our hands. The response usually takes one of three forms. Like me, and our church right now, we go silent. Or, we blame someone. For example, the doctor’s made a mistake. The patient was a smoker. He didn’t take care of himself. Finally we get into the “God’s wonderful plan” narrative. In Terry’s case, I expect people start to talk about God had this “wonderful” plan for Terry to suffer really bad, then go through an agonizing death . . . for a good reason.” Often people start the name the reason, teaching someone something or bringing a relative of the victim to the Lord. But often people settle on (thinking it is a great expression of faith) simply, “Only God knows . . . but he did it, he is in complete control and I trust that he knows what he’s doing.”

I will continue this thought in a Part II.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Cult of Christian Niceness

I'm going to try this again. I did a posting yesterday ( at least I had written if off line but only had posted the photo ) but then after sleeping on it I decided to delete it. I wrote it with a lot of emotion, which is sometimes not the best thing to do.

This issue, which I'm about to describe, dove-tails with the previous post about Sentimentality.

The issue at hand is that I have friend, a fellow Christian and church member who is, basically, dying from cancer. I feel upset about that. No, I'm not mad at God or anything like that but I simply feel deeply saddened.

Here is where I felt some outrage over the past two days. My friend, T, had a type of cancer that had good odds of him recovering from. Our church had been praying for him faithfully since his diagnoses six months ago. His cancer "ride" had been a roller coaster. He was doing great, back at church in early December. Then, just before Christmas he took a nose dive. He was in ICU for 6 weeks. Then he started to get better again. There is a potential cure with a bone marrow transplant and they were hoping to get him well enough for that.

Now here is the kicker. Every week in church we've prayed for T. Then last Thursday, he took a devastating turn when the cancer entered his nervous system (from which I don't think anyone has ever recovered). Everyone in the church gets the updates from the family via e-mail and Thursday was no exception.

But oddly, very oddly, he was not mentioned at church on Sunday, even though we had a very long prayer time (including praying about a member's dog). Even though things were much worse, it was like he suddenly disappeared. I felt a great unease, thinking that should even cancel church and spend the entire time praying for him rather than pretending the set back didn't exist.

I've been following his daughter's blog and I feel like I am updated daily if not hourly. It is very grave at this point. Yesterday the daughter blogged about a "miracle" which was minor in the whole scope of things. That is he came out of his comma long enough to talk. The daughter (in her own way of coping I'm sure) shared a lot of spiritual language about how they had the chance to talk about death and heaven. Of course Christians must always look for the rainbows . . .right.

I still feel sick . . . very sick. Yes, I believe in God, I know he's there and in control . . . but my friend is dying!!! Doesn't anyone get it? It is like our whole church has shifted into a Christian bookstore mentality (soft music, pasty smiles) in a very dysfunctional way of coping with loss. We should all be angry as hell that T is suffering and dying!!!! That doesn't offend God! He didn't create death as some wonderful thing that we must be thankful for.

Yesterday the pastor sent out an e-mail update about "good news" about T. I thought something new and wonderful had happened so I jumped to the blog. It was the same old entry I had read that morning. The pastor was pointing to him waking up as the "good news." I wrote the pastor an e-mail asking if he realized that T was still dying? He said he did. So what's this "good news" business???????

This is the exact place that my Christian friends see me as nonspiritual because I don't see the rainbows when a friend is suffering and dying. This has absolutely nothing do with trusting God or being "spiritual"!

I remember how pathetic it was when my father passed away. The whole family had to stand there besides my poor dad in the open casket, trying to maintain a smile, while people paraded by telling us all their crappy reasons why we shouldn't be sad. Like, "Look at the bright side,God took him home for a reason," or "He's in a better place now."

What's wrong with us that we can not face death like real men and women but we need this spiritual pretend opium to make it through? Why is it that when a brother or sister doesn't follow the miracle paradigm (where God heals them) that we then do the very unjust thing of making them disappear in our minds?

I like the way my Arab friends mourn. They are even more fatalistic than Evangelicals yet, somehow, they allow themselves to rip their cloths scream profanities, punch the walls, break furniture. This is healthy mourning in my book. Everyone knows the shortest verse in the Bible . . . "Jesus wept." But Evangelicals have to spiritualize it . . . saying that Jesus wept because he was so disappointed in his unspiritual friends. No, I think he was deeply grieved that his friend Lazarus was dead, dead, dead!

So if I'm ever on my death bed I want my friends and family there. But I hope that I have some Arab friends there who care about me. I hope there are no candles lit, no gospel hymns or expectations that I would carry a perfect smile to the grave. I want some gnashing of the teeth . . . tearing of the cloths and tears. I hope that I have some Arab friends in the room. Hey, I hope I have some gay friends in the room. I don't mean to stereotype them, but the gays that I've known tend to be the most observant and honest in our society.

This has nothing to do with faith. I mean even if we knew 100 percent that as soon as we die, we would be in perfect bodies bouncing around Heaven with the Lord, that doesn't dampen the fact that this life is over, that we won't see our love ones again for a very long time. That, in itself, is worth getting very upset about. It is NOT an issue of not trusting God. It is an issue of being human!

Okay, enough said.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Sentimentality: A False Affirmation and a Challenge to Christian Belief

Last week I was in Rochester, MN for a two reasons . . . visiting my family (son, daughter in law and wife’s family) as well as attending the annual L’Abri conference. As usual it takes a week to dig out of work after being gone.

I think it was Wednesday night before I got back to the gym at Thrive. It was late and the evening news was over, so the only thing to watch, while I ran my 4 miles, was the HGTV program House Hunter’s.

The episode was about a couple from New Mexico, who considers themselves very, very “green.” There were scenes of them recycling cans and jars in the garage of their million dollar (plus) house. They were so “green” that they wanted a vacation home on the beach to be closer to nature. The husband studied a map of the US and decided on the coast of Oregon to start their search, because Oregon was a very “green” state.

The rest of the episode focused on their house search . . . for their 500K beachfront vacation home. The top requirement for their new home was being “green.” To them, that meant energy efficient appliances and etc.

They narrowed their search down to three homes. One a beachfront without energy efficient appliances, one that was a townhouse without a direct beach view and a third that was 100 yards from the beach. The third house, while not on the beach, did have energy efficient appliances. It was also attractive to them because it had been built on an official “wetland.” The builders had been so cognizant of the surrounding wetland that they decided to reduce the house’s footprint by tucking the garage under the house rather than beside it.

At the end of the episode, the couple agreed on the wetland house and bought it. Next they bought an entire house full of high-end furniture to fill their new house. The very last scene had the wife speaking about happy they were with their new “green house” and she was excited that the city had decided to develop the wetland around their house into a pond and walking trails.

I was left with a very odd feeling about that episode but I just couldn’t put it into words at first.

My pastor had asked me to buy him a tape or CD of one of the L’Abri lectures. I usually like Dick Keyes’ (L’Abri – Harvard area) lectures the most . . . although I didn’t attend a single one this year. The reason was I was attending lectures that my sons attended. So when I came time to buy my pastor the CD, I picked Sentimentality: A False Affirmation and a Challenge to Christian Belief, by Dick because I wanted to listen to it too.

It was an excellent lecture and I highly recommend it. I think it appealed to me so much because I’ve been so interested in honestly within the Church. I have to be careful about reading too many books or listening to too many lectures that agree with my point of view. For the sake of balance, I try to read or listen to opposing views. Dick’s book (linked on this page) is an example of a perspective for balance as it deals with the problem of cynicism.

But when I listened to Dick’s Sentimentality lecture, the morning after the Thrive incident, the problem with the “green” couple finally clicked. They were a non Christian expression of what Dick was referring to.

You have to listen to the lecture to understand the whole perspective, but it is the concept of being consumed with the emotions (or existential parallels) of an idea but not necessarily the idea itself. The most easy example is the ideal with a young man, or young woman . . . in spring time, being consumed with the concept of “being in love” while the person they are supposedly “in love” with is as exchangeable as a Rubik’s Cube's square.

One of the examples that Dick gives is how Christians become very consumed with the “feelings” of the fruit of the Spirit without understanding the work of the Spirit. But it’s more complicated than that. He tells how a pastor, who has interpersonal conflict after conflict at a local church until he can’t take it any more and decides to resign.

However this pastor and the entire church culture were so invested in the so-called “fruits of the spirit” of niceness, that they can exchange the realities (think Rubik’s Cube again). The pastor announces to the church that it is “God” who has called him to resign. So no one deals with the reality of the interpersonal conflicts, which are based in reality, because they are so deeply invested in the feelings of the “Christian niceness.”

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Anthony Flew Changes His Mind About God

A few postings ago I mentioned Anthony Flew, British philosopher, who (when I was in college) one of the most outspoken atheist in the world. I was at a LAbri conference this past week end and noticed this book about Flew's change to theism. He does not claim to be a Christian, but I thought this was interesting. I also have not read his new book but am looking forward to it.

I know that this is a side bar, but since I just mentioned Flew in a previous posting I wanted to also mention this new development.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

God, How Honest Do You Want Us to Live, Part V- B

I’m moving on to a new post without finishing my thought on the last one. I will also incorporate Steve’s comments, or a response to them, here.

Now Steve, when you say that we should only live on the first level, I must assume that you do know what you are talking about and you do realize where the first level really is and how hard it is to live there. Trying to live honestly is alienating and creates chaos within the church. That’s why I even ask this question and I don’t mean to ask it rhetorically.

Looking at Christ, I, of course do believe that he lived his life on that first level. I often use the woman at the well, or the money changers in the temple as examples. Maybe that’s why he was so misunderstood. But Christ was able to do that. Maybe a better question for God is, can we, as mortals, live in complete emotional honesty?

I will give some examples of why it is so hard.

I have never liked Sunday morning church services. I’ve attended them faithfully for 50 years but I’ve never, ever liked them and I think that is personal taste. Any time I tell a Christian, especially a pastor, of my taste; they immediately turn it into a spiritual fault. “Oh, Mike . . . how can you say you love God, but hate his church?” That of course is spiritual manipulation but it is part of living on the 20th floor. One of the reasons I don’t like Sunday morning church is because I want to go deeper than that superficial practice.

My wife loves church services, but she works most Sundays leaving me home to take my 16 year old son. Denise would be really disappointed in me if I did not take Ramsey to church.

I would much rather sleep late on Sunday morning, watch a good news show, go down to the coffee shop and sip coffee, read a great book . . . . maybe even scripture, and have a wonderfully honest conversation with someone. I love deep theological, philosophical discussions. I am starving for deep emotional conversation . . . where I can talk openly about my struggles and where I can listen intensely to someone else’s struggles.

I don’t like dressing up, sitting on a hard pew, singing old hymns, and listening to long lectures. Our pastor is a good teacher, so I don’t hate his sermons . . .although they are too long for me.

Ramsey hates Sunday morning church service too, and I don’t blame him at all. But he enjoys discussing spiritual things over coffee.

About two months ago our church service leader asked Ramsey to do the computer power point for the pastor’s sermons. He felt obligated. But then he told me how much he hated the thoughts of doing that. He hated going anyway, and this may have been the last straw that when he finished his 3-4 month tenure at the computer . . . he would choose never to go back.

Seeing the serious nature of the situation, I e-mailed the service leader. I was polite but very honest. I told her how much I appreciate her hard work and how I realize they need someone to do the power point (which most of us could live without but it makes the pastor feel good to use it). But then I explained that Ramsey really doesn’t like coming to church anyway, and this would be his last straw if he had to do that.

She responded in an understanding way, but saying that she too has a son that doesn’t like church and it makes her sad (I realize she was trying to make me feel better).

At this moment I had to make a choice. Do I live this moment on the 20th floor with everyone else or try to live more honestly? I tried to live honestly in that situation. I mean it would have been very easy for me to have said, “Yeah, Ramsey makes me sad too.”

I told her, “I understand Ramsey well because I don’t like Sunday morning church services either.” Of course what I said became offensive. But it would have been a form of lying for me to shake my head and say, “Yeah I know, Ramsey is just a bad boy.”

Denise says, “Trying to be honest is no excuse for being cruel.” That’s the dilemma we face. Being honest is often interpreted as being cruel. When Frank Schaeffer talks about his father’s fits of rage and his mother’s personal pseudo-piety, Christians, especially his sister and brother in law, see him as simply being cruel.

I remember a group of women from a Church came to visit Denise on a Saturday night, and she had to get up early Sunday morning to go to work. They knew she had to get up early . . . but they stayed until 2 AM, talking about nothing (to a guy it’s nothing, like baking, dresses, make up, flowers). I had gone to bed and was sleeping. I awaken and heard them talking so I put on my house coat, went downstairs and asked them to leave. I was just being honest. “It is way too late for Denise to be up. You need to go home now.” I didn’t say it in anger, although I was. I don’t hate them. I don’t even think they are lesser of a Christian or human than me. I simply told them to go home. But this offended them and they took it personally and unfortunately, I think it damaged our relationship after that. I could have been the suffering servant (or allowed Denise to be) and let them sit and talk until Denise had to go to work. That would have been the polite but dishonest thing to do.

So, we (everyone including Christians) live so much on the 20th floor, that when someone tries to live on the ground floor, they see that person as offensive, cruel, unspiritual and it makes it very difficult for the one wanting to live in God’s truth. That’s when someone starts to become alienated.

I do think I would like for someone to tell me if I’m staying too late, if my breath smells bad, than for that person jus to sit and smile on the outside as they grow to hate me on the inside (down on the ground level).

Some other examples of living dishonestly on the 20th floor, but keeping the peace within the church include pretending to believe:

1) I rarely fail . . . and when I am caught in a failure, I mask it over with spiritual stucco by saying things like (with a big smile), “Well, I’m not perfect!” or “Jesus came to save a sinner like me.”

2) I always know the precise answer to every question of life. I also know the precise and correct interpretation of every Biblical passage.

3) All wars have a noble purpose, and America (and Israel) are always on God’s side.

4) Everything the pastor does is for the Lord. Hey, everything that I do is for the Lord.

5) My marriage is perfect . . . yet, I can use veiled super-spiritualized attacks to get back at my wife in public. “Pray for Denise . . . she struggles in that area.” Rather than saying, “Pray for Denise, I sometimes treat her like the jerk that I am.”

6) Saying that, “while I understand your mother’s depression I’ve never been depressed because I keep my eyes on the Lord.” (puke).

7) God has his favorite political party.

8) I am certain about everything.

9) I've never doubt God's existence because God is my buddy and I know him well.

It is interesting that I have known several men you suddenly have left their wives and children and ran off with much younger women. But as I think back, all four of them were leaders, self-confident and would never admit to any short comings. They lived up on the 50th floors (one was a high leader in YWAM, One a Navigator staff person, one was voted father of the year in Duluth, MN).

However, the humble guys I've known, who live lower in the building . . . guys who say things like, "I don't want to be left alone with those young girls . . . knowing me, I'll act silly to impress them, or lust for them." I've never known one of these guys to leave their families. They are so aware of the darkness in their cellars that they keep themselves safe.

I could go on an on.

So is it possible to take off the masks and live really honestly? Since I have tried, I am not invited to lead Bible studies anymore. I’m not invited to be elder anymore. I’m often seen as a trouble maker . . . even though I try very hard to keep my mouth shut. I don’t think I have much spiritual respect (and I shouldn’t even worry about that). But it does cause those trying to live honestly to be marginalized. So I would ask God this question to see if maybe, in this fallen world, living dishonestly makes Christian life possible . . . I doubt it, but that's one possible answer.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Questions for God, Part V-A How Honestly Do You Want Us to Live?

I’m calling this segment V-A, because I know I will need a V-B to complete the question. I will spend most of this first posting just defining the question.

If you look at the question and give an immediate resounding, “Completely honest of course!” then you don’t really understand the question. It is a very serious, deep and somewhat philosophical question. If you did understand the question and still answered that way, then I think your answer is too frivolous.

I’ve given the illustration before of society (including the Christian societies)being like a building. In some ways, we as individuals, are like a buildings in a microcosm. In the very bases or cellar of that building is real-reality. I used this term in the same way that Francis Schaeffer had to resort to using true-truth because the term “truth” didn’t carry the classic meaning anymore (even during his writing period of the 50s and 60s). The same is now true for “reality.” Reality has become even personal as you hear people talking about “your reality” Vs “their reality.” But I’m talking about absolutely pure, emotional and intellectual reality or honesty. Another way of saying it is extreme candor.

In this fallen world, the basement of the building is not that pretty. I mean there are some scary things that lurk there. To insulate ourselves from that ugliness, we start to build floors above that real-reality.

In my opinion most of us live somewhere between the 20th and 50th floor of the building. I said in a previous posting that in the top floors, such as the 100th, reside those with psychosis such as schizophrenia, living within psychogenic worlds totally disconnected from reality.

On the 80th floors are many public figures, especially most of the TV Evangelists, politicians and I would speculate many in the entertainment world with their fake; boobs, faces, hair and names would fit well there. People with other mental illnesses, such as personality disorders, would live there comfortable besides them.

Down on the other end of the spectrum, say on the 10th floor, you have the so-called “right brain” people—those with particular artistic abilities. Some of the best examples are the poets, authors and song writers (not necessarily musicians) as well as painters and photographers. But not all of them. I mean, Thomas Kincaid, the patron saint of Evangelical art, lives well up on the 75th floor. Of those in the entertainment world, the comedians might be more on the lower floors because most of their material (think of George Carlton here) comes from throwing back the curtain on this cellar real-reality in brief exposures (enough to get a laugh, without making us too uncomfortable).

When I was “godly” and a Navigator-staff, missionary guy, I was living up about the 50th floor. Most Christian role-models live there. The missionaries there share the floor with the pastors and community Christian leaders.

The reason that Christian heroes have to live so high in the tower is linked to our whole misunderstanding of the concept of godliness. When we really think that godliness is obtainable, but it really is not then we have to insulate ourselves from the brutal reality of our inner man (or woman). That’s why the Christian leaders who have a lot of public exposure often have to keep moving on up the stairs of the building until they are near the penthouse with the lunatics. That’s where I put the Ted Haggards of the world . . . woops, I said I would never mention him again.

However, when your building collapses, like mine did about 20 years ago . . . suddenly you find yourself down on the 10th floor (or lower) in a pile of rubble. Then you have to decide what to do. Some try to reconstruct your fake world even higher above reality than your old fake world. This is why Jesus called the Pharisees (who also lived high in the veneered tower) “white washed walls.” Some of us, though, enter this confused state of seeing beyond the looking glass for the first time, and not wanting to go back.

This is where this question comes in. How far back up the stairs do you climb and where do you position your life again? Where is it that God wants you to live?

The reason that I called the quick, “God wants you to live completely honest” answer as frivolous is because it is virtually impossible to do. Society, including Christian societies, builds these facades for a reason. If you do not conform, you find yourself becoming more and more isolated and rejected. Not only do you look much less spiritual, but the Christians don’t like you anymore.

I wish I could give a simple example of this phenomena. I would have to say that I think, in a way at least, Frank Schaeffer is an example. If you read his Crazy for God, or his fictional works, he tries to write as close to the basement as he can. He still considers himself as a Christian. But many in the Evangelical world see him as the devil. Why? Because they see his honestly as a cruel embellishment. But if it is an embellishment it may be an anti-embellishment, where you bring the facade down to reality.

I will try to give a more practical example. If you try to live within the typical Christian world, yet try to live near the ground floors, then you talk openly about . . . more to come.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Questions I Would Ask God (or Jesus), Part IV; Why Do You Seem Silent?

This is a question that I can not even begin to discuss among my Evangelical friends while I could have a great time discussing it with a bunch of philosophy students. To Evangelicals, if you say, “God seems silent” it means that you are having spiritual or emotional troubles. But this posting is not part of that game. But among Evangelicals it really is (often) a sociological game because the mores of the Evangelical sub culture make it very important that you and God talk back and forth every day, if not every minute of every day. To say that He seems or is silent is to say that God suddenly stopped talking or you stopped listening, both of which is a sign of spiritual failure.

But my question here is a very sincere, transparent, metaphysical question. Like I said before this question is not a “questioning” question, with attached emotions or judgements. In other words, I’m not standing on a hill late at night shaking my fist at the moon screaming, “God why do you seem so freaken silent (or distant)? I’m hurting down here!” There is a time and place for that.

There have been times in my life when I asked this question as part of an emotional or spiritual point of despair . . . but not this time. This time it is a simple, honest question and I’m confident God has a good answer.

First I must get past the hurdle of, “Does God really seem silent?” Again, I could never ask this question in a Sunday school setting at my church. There would be an out pouring of every one in the room that absolutely NO, God is not silent . . . only that I’m a bad person, troubled, for not hearing Him.

But let us get real for a moment and divorce ourselves from the Christian sub-culture. This is a very important question for our youth, for seekers . . . hey, even for myself. It deserves honest consideration and not just religious clich├ęs.

When I say that God appears silent it is like I’m standing in a maddening crowd, pointing and screaming, “Look the emperor is naked!” I would be pelted with rotten tomatoes.

But when Evangelicals talk about God not being silent, they are usually basing it on what I would call “soft” or “paper” miracles.

For example, when I was studying philosophy at a state university, there were a group of us Christians who were upset that the prof kept saying things like, “Jesus = Marijuana.” What he meant by that was that Marijuana made you feel good, so did Jesus, etc. We opposed him so much that he scheduled a debate outside of our classroom . . . it was a huge event. It was the Evangelicals Vs the Atheists.

When the main atheist spoke he used the Parody of the Invisible Gardener by Antony Flew, to illustrate that God was not there.

I responded that “God did indeed enter the garden in history as the person of Jesus Christ.” Even my Christian friends had no ideal what I was talking about and didn’t know who Antony Flew was or what garden the atheist and I were talking about. I remember a friend, David, looking at me as I was sitting down and shaking his head and said, “What are you talking about? You’re making no sense.”

Then this Christian girl Mary Lou stood up and said, in defense of all of us, “I know for certain that God exist because I have a God-shaped piece missing in my heart and God fits it perfectly like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle”. The Evangelicals thought her statement was quite beautiful, while the atheists scratched their heads . . . and smiled.
So I want to disregard all the “proof” that God is there that is based on inward feelings, flaky miracles (those that can not be substantiated by others and could look identical to miracles that were the products of psychological wishful thinking.) With those things out of the way then God does look silent at this point in history. I am confident in the Bible, and therefore God has not always been silent. I mean, He wasn’t silent to Moses. He wasn’t silent to Paul and certainly not silent to those who walked with Jesus.

Schaeffer wrote a book titled, He is There and He is Not Silent. I haven’t read it in a few decades, but I have read it at least three times. I can’t remember his exact approach to the topic. I know part of his answer was the same as mine that God has spoken in history at times. He may (or may not) have used soft miracles to say that God is still speaking. For example, changes in people’s lives, giving people direction through that small, inward voice, etc. Even those they may be real . . . they can not be substantiated thus they do not count in point.

With that long introduction I will ask my question now. God, why does it seem that You are silent now? It seems like it would be so helpful for Your cause if You were visible today through substantiated voices or miracles. I use to say, when I was much younger, that all I needed was a Road to Damascus experience, like Paul, and I too would try to turn the world upside down until I gave up my physical life for You.

I will give my version of multiple choices, realizing that Your answer may be something all together different.

One option is that you are very visible but to our Fallen senses we don’t see you clearly?

Another option is that you want our faith to have the opportunity to be expressed and grow, but if you were in our sight, speaking to us in real substantiated voices every day . . . then it would be too easy.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Questions for God Part III; Why Did You Make Us So Horny?

I have children who read this blog on occasion so I hesitated with my choice of words. I’m certain that my wife would disapprove and consider it as trashy . . . but I really couldn’t think a better way to state it and one of my objectives is being transparent and honest and Monistic, seeing the glory of the physical without thinking of it as inferior or dirty.

So this question is easy to ask, but once again, needs some clarification.

Fortunately many of the questions that a typical person may ask do not make my list because I feel very comfortable that the Christian answers (as Francis Schaeffer use to say) are so adequate. For example, I have no problem understanding evil in the world, why good people suffer, why there is death and illness . . . because I do understand the Fall of Adam.

I know that the Fall has had its mark on us and the universe that we live in. Nothing is spared . . . however, nothing is totally decimated. There is an echo of God’s original design in everything. The hard thing to figure out sometimes is where God’s wonderful creation ends and the effects of the Fall of Adam begin. I can think of no greater area of this perplexity than our sexuality. Before I continue I will add that this is not a flippant question, but is serious with all of its practical and metaphysical implications.

So here’s the problem and the question I would ask God if I had the chance. I can only speak from the angle of a male and I realize that this dilemma may or may not be experienced by women (or even all men).

Somewhere, around the age of 10, boys develop a sexual interest. These are not like their previous interests in rocks, stamps, baseball . . . but it is a deep, primal, all consuming interest that constantly haunts them and will for most of the rest of their lives. This intense, all consuming desire begins to interfere with virtually every relationship with the opposite sex. As much as they try, it becomes difficult to just be friends especially with girls that they find attractive. The boys become tormented, either moving toward physical contact, or deserting their female friend forever. So it is like a curse.

This is one area that my old Navigator staff leader had right (the one I met when I was 17 years old). He started asking me, “When you are with your girlfriend, sitting in the car, holding her hand or kissing her . . . can you really do it without any sexual thoughts?” I knew in my heart of hearts that the answer was no. This haunted me until I broke up with her . . . not to date again until I met my wife 8 years later.

These intense sexual desires also become men’s chief source of guilt, leaving most of them in states of constant shame and struggle. Of course, as I’ve mentioned many times on this blog . . . like my previous posting about my old Campus Crusade friend Don, yeah, and of course Ted Haggard . . . sexual impropriety is the most common reason for a man’s spiritual downfall. I’ve known too many pastors to count who’ve been caught in some time of sexual sin. How many men have destroyed their marriages because of the fire in their bellies?

So my question is, did God make us this way or did He make us more “civil” than that but Adam’s Fall complicated matters?

I certainly am one to support fidelity. I think it is extremely healthy, psychologically (and in every way) for two virgins to get married and to stay married and faithful to each other forever. So, if this was God’s plan, it looks like he would create men in a different way.

In this “better way” men would have no romantic interest in any other woman until they meet their wife. Then their eyes would fixate on them in the same way that a young duckling imprints on its mother and would never look at another woman. Indeed, they would find all other women hideous. But even at that point this perfect man would have no sexual interest . . . until the wedding night. Then the intense sexual desires would come to the surface and they too would be imprint-able onto that one woman forever.

So, this question of mine for God has a multiple choice answer, and one of those being “other” (for an answer I hadn’t even thought of).

My first thought is that God indeed wanted us to multiply and having a strong sexual interest was part of that plan. Prior to recent history, boys married at a much younger age . . . for example 16. Therefore the days of torment were shorter-lived and more sane. Mix into this original design Adam’s Fall and presto . . . you have men’s present dilemma.

But are there other answers? I mean, could God have make us the way we are and if so, why? Was it to test us? Did he want us to struggle and overcome to prove our fidelity?

In closing this question, I will comment that this “curse” (and delight) of man does mellow with age. In Plato’s Republic the character (an old man) Cephalus says,
I remember someone asking the old poet Sophocles whether he still enjoyed sex, he replied that he was glad to have left that frenzy behind him.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

If I Met God (or Jesus) at Starbucks, Questions I Would Ask, Part II; Why is the Universe So Big?

I will comment that the book image that I used to introduce this topic is not about the same issue (asking God questions) and this is not a review of that book. However, from the reviews I've read of that book, it seems like a decent read. It seems to be more about how we as Christians can answer the questions of non-Christians.

Again I must clarify my attitude in asking questions. There is a difference between “questioning” (with judgments attached) and asking honest questions, with a desire to know the answer. For example, I may question my son by asking (in a loud voice). “What were you doing driving 80 MPH in a 55 MPH zone?” Do I really want to know the answer or am I expressing a judgment or frustration about the situation? I think the later. However, I may ask my wife, in a calm voice, “Why did you go into town today?” I’m asking because I don’t know the answer and I am curios . . . did she go to get more milk, or did she have a doctor’s appointment? I’m making no judgments about her intent.

I have no shame in being curious. We are all chips off the old block, and God Himself being the block. God is creative, curious and wants truth.

Now to my next group of questions under the main question:

Question Two: Why did you make the universe the way it is?

1) Why is the known universe at least 13-14 billion light years across? I mean, that is so huge that we can not get our minds around it. I’ve spent 16 hours flying at 500 mph to reach Asia. I can not comprehend traveling 185,000 miles per second and still taking me 14 billion years to cross the universe. It seems it would be much simpler if the universe was only our solar system. So what is the meaning behind such a huge place? What is the meaning behind there being not just thousands of suns, or ten thousands of suns . . . but billions of galaxies, each with billions of suns.

My limited mind would think that the universe is so big to either, a) show us how big God is, or b) God has many other people spread around the universe whom He loves and is redeeming, c) the universe is really not that big, but in another dimensional (outside our three dimensions) view, would fit in the palm of your hand. There may be other possibilities that I haven’t even thought about.

2) Are they other people out there on other planets? If so, what’s their story? I mean did they too fall under Adam’s sin? Are they too being redeemed by Christ’s work here on our planet, or did God visit them differently?

Friday, February 6, 2009

If I Ran into Jesus (or God) at Starbucks, The Questions I would Ask Part I; Explain the History of the Earth, Especially Human History.

Most of these questions are not essential. I mean my faith does not depend on having an answer or the correct answer. However, these questions come from a simple curiosity.

Question One: Please explain the total history of the earth, especially that of humans.

Now I happen to believe in a very old earth (billions of years). Christians have a choice of the very young earth (a simple interpretation of scripture with the earth being 6,000 years old) or the very old earth (the overwhelming evidence of science that the universe is about 13 billion and earth at least 4 billion years old) and both views have huge problems. Most of my Christian friends believe in the young earth because they feel that makes them a better Christian. But to do so, you have to ignore so much reality that you might as well believe in a flat earth. I’m not saying that the geologist, paleontologist, evolutionary biologist don’t get things wrong, but they are not simpleton idiots like the young earth creationist would like for you to believe.

Now that prolog was to make the point (I will get to my question for Jesus soon) that if I simply believed in a young earth my questions would not go away . . . actually they would just begin. A young earth question would be why was God so deceitful I the way he made the earth and the fossil record?

Okay, I’ve established that I’m an old earth guy because it is the lesser of evils as far as consistency with truth (in my opinion). But here are the questions I would want to ask Jesus, or God.

1.) If death did not enter the world until Adam sinned, what was happening for the millions of years before people entered the earth? I mean, there is overwhelming evidence that the dinosaurs lived tens of millions of years before man came onto the scene. Of course they died, we have the fossil record. I burned dead dinosaur farts in my car driving to work this morning. So how was death here before man’s sin?

2) Who the hell was Lucy? I mean the old, very old non-modern human fossils. Was there a small-brained human that you created before modern human? Was Adam like Lucy or like modern man? Or was Lucy more of a smart ape?

Who the hell were the Neanderthals? I mean, they had bigger brains than us. They died out so we did not inherit any of their DNA. Were they a very differ race of man? Did they have the soul of man? Did Jesus die for them? Or were they a super-duper Ape who had the soul of an animal?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Tween the Pit and the Pendulum; Finding Balance

I woke up the other night in a cold sweat. Maybe it was the fog filtering in through our bedroom window from nearby Puget Sound. But I had a strong feeling that it was from an internal source. I was feeling guilty about something. Those detached guilt feelings can sometimes be of substance (where your subconscious is trying to tell you something based in reality) and sometimes it a manifestation of our messed up psyche in this fallen world. I mean I can be depressed for no reason, why not feel guilty for no reason.

But if my guilt, this time, has a source it is that I think I’ve ridden my cynicism too far on the pendulum . . . or at least the perception of my cynicism. It is a tempting pit, to be cynical. The reason is, when you feel that you are all alone (if you discount the few friends that you’ve found in cyberspace who see things from your perspective) the tendency is to constantly see things that bug you and things you want to speak out about (like my posting about my old Campus Crusade fiend getting arrested for child porn, or Ted Haggard).

Now at this point I will say that my cynicism it is truly a misperception. The reason that I say that is because I am far more of an optimist than my Evangelical counterparts. I do lean in the Post-mil direction, theologically. I honestly think that the world is better today than it was 100 years ago. I think it is much better today than 500 years ago and it is tremendously better today than 2000 years ago. On top of that, I think things are going to get better and better. I do believe that the gates of Hell will not stand up against the advance of the Church and I have great hope about that.

When I mentioned this perspective in our Church Sunday school class a couple of years ago, our head elder (who usually thinks I’m a flake) responded, “No one in their right mind would think that things are better now.” He is like most in the American Evangelical world that believes that Christians are being heavily persecuted today and it’s only going to get worse until Jesus returns (pre-mil) then it will be Hell on earth.

Sorry. I actually do believe that we can obtain peace in the Middle East and when I say that in a Church setting, most people roll their eyes. Maybe I’m a Jimmy Carter Christian. Evangelicals think I haven’t read the End-Times script. So that is one problem of my perceptions.

I am also seen as a Christian Materialist, if there were such a thing. I never throw the term “miracle” loosely, like I hear among my Christian friends. I had two close calls on the highway this week, but I don’t believe that an angel literally came down and stopped me form crashing into the stopped car in front of me. I don’t believe that God literally changed the laws of Newtonian physics just for me so I would not crash. I think you can explain it entirely from a cause and effect scenario.

However, while I think the vast majority of “miracles” that I hear about in church or as I sit on the board of a local youth ministry, are just wishful thinking or embellishments, I am more of a miracle believer than most. I’ve shared this quote from Einstein before, “There are two ways to live your life - one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle.” I honestly believe everything is a miracle. I mean if you use the term “natural” like most people mean it (outside of God’s working) then the only natural thing is absolutely NOTHING. Before God did his creative act (miracle) there was NOTHING. Everything this side of absolute NOTHING, is a miracle. So the existence of the planet is a miracle. The existence of Newton’s laws of physics is a miracle. So if my car stopped due to the coefficient of friction between my brake pad and the wheel disk and between the rubber of my tire and the asphalt of the road is within God’s domain not outside of it. I don’t have to make up something about angels to be speaking in miraculous terms.

So part of my guilt is what I feel as my perceived negative attitude. I do want to clean up my act and try, without falling into the game-playing act, to put a positive spin on my hesitations.

I also am feeling some guilt about my lack of time reading scripture. I’ve been reading books more than ever by not scripture. There was twenty years of my life where I spent hours each week in Bible study. But I’m not sure if I was better off then. I mean, when I was with the Navigators, we memorized scripture all the time, had 30 minute devotions every morning plus hours in Bible study . . . but we used the Bible like a Ouija Board. I mean, one word could catch your attention, a word that had nothing to do with the original intent of the writer, but we believed (in a Gnostic way) that it has special meaning for us.

During my years of really searching, after my Navigator days, was my best time in scripture. But I’ve lost all enthusiasm about it. I think it is the remaining bad taste in my mouth from the Nav – Ouijabible days. But in that way, the Pendulum may have traveled too far and it is time to find a balance. So I hope to spend some time reading scripture again.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Ted's Big Adventure Part II (and last)

Okay I started this topic so I think I must see it through, although I have mixed feelings about it now. The reason is, I don’t have the passion about it now as I did the night I first saw the Larry King interview. Secondly, I knew it would be hard from me to communicate what I want to say and certainly someone will mis-understand my point and my motive. After this I hope that I never bring the guy up again.

My wife expressed her view, and I think it is the normal Christian reaction, that; 1) Ted says he sinned, asked for forgiveness so who are we to judge? 2) Only God knows his heart whether he is sincere or not and 3) Therefore it is none of our business.

However, in my view, my frustration with the Ted Haggards in the world is personal. I believe that I, as a believer in Christianity, do have business giving an opinion on him and I will try to explain why.

Looking at the facts (the few I know), Ted Haggard was a pastor of a large evangelical church, the president of a large evangelical organization, preached against sexual immorality, homosexuality and certainly drug use with a great passion. At the same time, he was making sexual advances to young men in his church and paying for sex with male prostitutes and using methamphetamines. I also know that when the prostitute came forward, he strongly denied it. Now Ted says it was sin, he’s confessed to his wife and asked for forgiveness from the prostitute, the young Hass man and others whom he has “sinned against.” But, if you listened to the Larry King interview, he says other things, with a big smile, like “he’s not perfect” that “Jesus came for the sinners not for those perfect” etc. He hints that a speaking tour is coming soon . . . maybe a book.

But the sin of adultery and other sexual acts is only the tip of the iceberg to the problem. Speaking of which, it is like saying, after arriving in New York from the maiden voyage of the Titanic, “It would have been a pleasant trip if had brought warmer clothes.” What about the freakin iceberg and the deaths of over fifteen hundred people?! Ted likewise misses the whole point.

I think it was Shakespeare who said something like, “All the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” But in the same spirit, I will say that all of the, (human), world is a building. The basement of this figurative building is the honest, pure reality where there is total intellectual and psychological candidness. On the hundredth floor is where the severe schizophrenics live, totally out of touch of all reality. Most of us live on the 20th floor (or higher) were we are “insulated” from the brutally of our true fallen nature by 200 feet of concrete and re-bar. I know that it has been a goal of mine to descend those floors and I’ve tried. But with each layer you go down, you loose more friends and when you play less of the game, at least at my age, you become more and more isolated.

But if God is there, He the God of truth and reality. Therefore descending the stairs brings us closer to our true self and to Him (although our doubts may be truer as well). If God is not there, then we have evolved this psychological layering so we can function better on the 20th floor even though that functioning has less of an interface with reality.

Okay, with that said, I must come back to Ted. It is my sense that Ted has lived his entire Christian life residing on the 80th floor (or higher). To me, he seems to be totally out of touch with his dishonesty, sexuality, and fallen nature. If he accidently took the elevator a little higher, he would be in the attics with the schizophrenics. But the schizophrenics have an excuse. They had a brain defect. Ted and those in Evangelical la la land have no excuse.

So the biggest sin here isn’t just him smoking meth and having sex with a male prostitute, but living so disconnected from reality. It is the same way that Jim Bakker could have a young intern give him oral sex in a motel room and in thirty minutes go on national Christian TV and smile big, praising Jeeeeeezus and being “filled with the spirit.” The adultery was lesser of sins and he didn’t have a clue. Maybe he does now, I don’t know. But watching Ted the other night, I’m convinced that he has moved from the 80th floor . . . up to the penthouse. Remember both men only came forward when they were caught.

Why is this any of my business? My son Daniel says he’s not sure he believes in Christianity because it looks like it’s a farce. He’s not alone. A lot of Christian practice is a farce. Ted’s family talked about all the good he had done. They don’t get it either. If Ted had the greatest ministry the world has ever know for the next 100 years, he could not reverse the damage that he has caused . . . and he just doesn’t get it. He is so far away from reality . . . in Evangelical la la land up on the 80th floor with all those from the TV Evangelist circuit.

Am I judging him? If we really looked at the way Jesus ministered on this earth, he handled the whores and thieves with a velvet glove, especially if they wanted to live lower in the building . . . closer to reality. Like the woman at the well. She said she wasn’t married, but Jesus brought her down a few floors . . . and it appears she went willingly.

But the Pharisees, who were living up near the Haggard penthouse, Jesus treated with boxing gloves on. But too often, the church does the opposite. We throw stones at the, whores, gays, “global warming-democrats” and baby killers (many of who don’t even claim to be Christians) but we take the “judge not least ye be judged” approach to the lying TV Evangelists.

I rest my case. But don’t be surprised if Ted comes out with a book, a new pastorate, or a TV show. People who are narcissistic not only believe the rules don’t apply to them, but have an insatiable appetite for being at the center of attention.