Saturday, March 28, 2009

Observations from a Brief Vacation



I just got back from a family reunion/mini vacation in the Orlando and Jacksonville, Fl areas. I've gathered many thoughts and some still are swimming around my head and yet to be “gathered.”

Thought # 1:


My one of my sisters lives on an island north of Jacksonville. On her island are several historical sites including the Kingsley Plantation. I won’t go into the historical details about the cotton plantation except to say that it “employed” at least 50 slaves. Their humble cabins are pictured above.

While at the plantation I wondered into the site’s bookstore. I skimmed a several books about the people and times of the place. The thing that caught my attention was the fact that the area had been transferred between Spanish-Catholic rule and English- Protestant rule four times. Each time it was under Catholic rule, the slaves faired better . . . a few even being able to earn their freedom. However, when they were back under English-Protestant rule, they did much worse.

I spent some time pondering the whole slavery issue and of course the question that comes to mind is how did the Protestant Christians allowed such horrible injustices to be propagated under their watch? Having grown up in the South, I’ve been an eye-witness to the unorthodox, but unfortunately comfortable, blending of Bible-belt Christianity and racism. It still amazes me and makes me sad.

But a more relative question is what injustices prevail, comfortably, under our Christian watch today? How have we compromised the gospel of Christ for personal gain?

Thought # 2:

A while back I did a series of postings about what I would consider as the perfect church. I ended up describing an imaginary group that met at Starbucks . . . not too early in the morning . . . and had deep discussion about scripture, culture, philosophy and the honest happenings in our own lives. But it wouldn’t just be session in “sharing the ignorance.” We would have guest speakers or listen to tapes (MP-3s) of excellent speakers on Biblical topics. We would also be a close-knit family that supported each other throw the thick and thin . . . with whom we can be totally honest without fear of social retribution. We too would share the sacraments, practice church discipline, have leadership and pray for each other.

While I was on this vacation (it’s a long story and I will give a brief summary) someone, in our group, went to church on Sunday morning. It caught my attention because they described the church as a very causal meeting at a Starbucks-type coffee shop. Then as they explained more detail, I got a different impression than my “perfect church.”

This coffee-shop church was really a mega church with a popular pastor with a big following. As part of their out-reach to the 20-30 age group, they have coffee shops set up where the pastor is piped in on a flat screen, HD TV.

As I listened more, it was not at all what I was thinking about. It seemed to have a setting where members were even more disconnected from each other. It seems to only serve two purposes. 1) Give this pastor a feeling of an even larger kingdom (with hundreds more in his fold from these satellite sites). 2) Give people an even easier, less painful way to achieve their penitence. I’ve said for a long time that for most church goers . . . going is simply penitence. God likes me a little better if I go to church on Sunday morning and listen to a religious lecture. This coffee-shop church didn't seem to carry any moral authority. What I mean, it seems that you could comfortable attend there and continue living with your girlfriend or boyfriend and everything would be cool. Is this the face of the Evangelical church to come?

So, this trend concerns me. While it is church in a coffee shop (like I had purposed) it seems to have moved in the opposite direction of what I was thinking about.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bookstore on the beach




I know that I never finished my musing about death and a funereal but things got too busy. We are on a little vacation in Fl, visiting family and the sun. I have my dear mom, aunt, sisters, 2 sons, daughter in law daughter with me and it is a wonderful time.

We went shopping today and I had a brief time in the bookstore. My daughter pointed out a book, PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives

I'm sure the author doesn't like this (but I'm making up for what I'm about to say by recommending the book) but I read the entire thing in the bookstore. It is easy to do.

But the premise is this. The author creates a webpage and invites people to mail him post cards of their most secret thoughts. These would be anonymous of course. The book simply contains copies of the post cards.

If you've read much of my blog you know that I am one obsessed with honesty . . . especially Christian honesty. While this book is not Christian, it does seem to give you a front row seat to a portal into the secret places of peoples' souls. I like that. I like to know that I am human and that when I have secret thoughts they are not that different from others.

The book is also revealing of the darkness of this lost world. But not in a typical Evangelical view of how we have to save the poor souls so that they will be normal like us. I'm sure that many preacher could take statements out of that book and build sermons around each one. But I mean this from more of a King Solomon's view in Ecclesiastics. Honest statements about real human emotions . . . or the real human condition.

I wish I could write more and I will try again later but I'm surrounded by family and I must not ignore them.

I did try to start a blog once where I wrote anonymously and invited Christians to do the same . . . but then I changed directions. I did hear of a pastor that started an anonymous confession blog. Maybe that is helpful for some but I would hate for people to feel that their "confession" on a blog in some way brought (or bought them) them a little more redemption. That is what Jesus is for.

I also wish that we never had to write anonymously. That is what I see in the new earth. Where we can speak total truth without any fear of rejection.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Musings from a Funeral



Yesterday we buried my friend Terry. The funeral was huge, I would guess over 1,000 attended the service. I am also happy to say that the service was very functional (as apposed to being dysfunctional). No one shared how Terry had been taken to Heaven because God had a particular job for him there . . . or that God had created all this suffering for a very specific reason (for example, to teach his wife patience). No one said, at least from the podium, "If you really trusted God you would not be sad" (which I've heard at other funerals).

I think one reason that it was functional was that most of the service was conducted by the fire department (where Terry worked) rather than by an Evangelical pastor. Our pastor did do part of the service and he did a good job. But most of the service was reflecting on Terry’s life without the emotional-opium-need to try and find some kind of meaning in such a horrible suffering and death.

Terry's daughters did speak and one said that Terry was glad that he got leukemia because of his experience of the out-pouring of love from his friends. I'm sure Terry did say that but I don't think he really meant it. Sometimes, in tough situations, we say emotional things that we really don't mean. If he did mean it, then it is a sad statement that we don't share love on each other the way we should . . . until we get cancer.

But while I sat in the pew, I felt overcome by grief at times. First comes the tight, almost painful feeling in the throat. Next the soft tears tumbles down your face, then, at the worst moments, the uncontrolled shaking and verbal shrieks. You try very hard to hide that last part.

Ironically I've been reading James Joyce's Ulysses and I happen to be at the part where Joyce is reflecting (in a flight of thought way) about death and the funeral.

I've noticed that in the place of extreme emotions, depression, grief and joy, that I feel most human.

In the place of the emotional mundane, you can start to be deceived by the materialist that I am a carbon-based robot, the result of endless evolution. But when you feel the cut of acute grief, it is like you come to the surface of the milky sea, and can see clearly and experience your own God-breathed humanity rawly and with certitude. Maybe that's the basis for the saying that there are no atheist in foxholes. Oh, yeah . . . that's another deep emotion where I feel most human . . . intense fear.

More to come . . .

Friday, March 13, 2009

Why It's Hard to Talk to an Evangelical - Part V (and last) - Anti-intellectual Snobbery


When one thinks of snobbery, they visualize the intellectual (or pseudo-intellectual) looking down their noses at the poor, ignorant “little people.” While that is sometimes the case, in Evangelicalism, it seems to be turned on its head.

Mark Noll explains it best in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. But in summary, Evangelicalism has taken a very deliberate course of opposing intellectual endeavors since the Second Great Awakening. The reason for this follows the influence of Dualism within the Church. When you esteem everything earthly, including books, sciences, arts and even culture itself as inferior or perhaps evil, then you feel obligated to avoid them.

Extreme examples always illustrate points the best. So, in this example I think of Bill. He was the most conservative Evangelical I had ever met. Before moving to our area in Michigan, he had been part of a Christian militia (sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it?) outside Glacier National Park in Montana. The militia was headed by a Baptist minister.

Bill had a long black beard. He forced his wife to wear a head covering. Did I mention that he beat his wife when she disobeyed, such as speaking to other women when he wasn’t there to monitor what she said?

I could never get far in conversations with Bill. I tried to talk to him about the concept of domestic violence and psychological abuse. He was always looking down his nose at me because I read books. He used to say, “Everything I need to know is in God’s word. I don’t read that worldly crap.”

The Bible must not have had good instructions for how to deliver a baby because his poor wife almost died when he tried to deliver their baby himself. According to him, the whole field of OB/Gyn was a Satanic means for sexually exploiting women. He argued with me that there was no such thing as cervical cancer and a Pap smear was nothing short of rape. If a doctor ever performed a pap smear on his wife, he said he would kill him.

Now that I have staked out my point with the extreme, I will move back towards the common. But again, I feel I must clarify things before I am quickly misunderstood.

I’m not being critical towards those who, for one reason or another have a low IQ. I’m not even being critical towards those who, for sociological reasons, never got to finish high school or certainly not college. Neither of my parents could finish high school due to the depression. I know an Evangelical man right now, also named Bill, who never went far in education and doesn’t know a lot about the world. However, this Bill doesn’t look down his nose at me for reading books or sharing information. He seems quite inquisitive. There’re a lot of life experiences (he is in his 70s) that I learn from him. So I’m not talking about IQ or educational level but attitude.

I have no claims of being an intellectual . . . although I wish I were. I mean, when I’m around my Evangelical friends, I have to play dumb. I have to pretend that I don’t know anything about science or history or world events because if I don’t, they will use it against me . . . like I’ve gone over to the “Dark Side.”

But when I’m in a roomful of real intellectuals, I feel quite intimidated. They start quoting Greek poets talking about obscure Mongolian battles and quarks in ways that I can barely understand. Some of these same people, for example when I’m at a L’Abri conference, can also talk about theological concepts at the same level of complexity.

I will close with an example of why this anti-intellectualism snobbery makes it difficult to have a conversation with many Evangelicals. I’ve used real-life stories in past postings, usually with me as the victim. I’m going to give a fictional account (without me as a victim) this time to avoid the appearance that I’m just talking about “how I’ve been wronged.” This isn’t about me.

Setting: George is a thinking Christian. He did go to college and graduate school in the sciences . . . because he loves science. He is having coffee the vestibule of a large Mega-Evangelical church. He approaches Tom, the “Deacon of Men’s Discipleship.” George’s motivation for talking to Tom is simply because he wants to create better relationships with other men.

George: “Hey Tom, how’re you doing?”

Tom: “Not bad. God is really blessing me. What’s God doing in your life?” (George notices Tom’s eyes bouncing around looking behind him and across the room like he is only partially listening to George).

George:
“Uh . . . well I’m in good health . . . I guess that’s good. Uh, so Tom, where do you work?”

Tom:
“I work for the city parks and rec . . . what about you?” (Tom’s eyes are still looking behind George . . . George turns to see what he is looking at . . .doesn’t see much but the crowd of people talking and drinking coffee)

George:
“I teach earth sciences at the community college.”

Tom: “Really. That must be hard, trying to be witness in such a hostile place.”

George:
(a look of confusion on his face) “Hostile? I haven’t sensed any hostility . . . I’m not sure what you mean.”

Tom:
“Well, my nephew went to that college and it sounded like all his classes were taught by humanists (Tom has no idea with a humanism really is philosophically but that is a term he heard on Focus on the Family) and evolutionists. He dropped out and is going to trade school. My daughter is going to go to Bible school after college”

George: “Humm . . . Oh, I see what you mean . . . but I haven’t had any problems. The people I work with all seem really nice.”

Tom:
“Well then apparently you are not living out your faith very visibly because Jesus says the faithful will be persecuted.” (Tom looks across the room again like he is looking for someone. George turns again and looks behind himself to see what has Tom’s interest)

George:
(He is feeling a little hurt by Tom’s statement and wants to change the subject) “Well, maybe I haven’t met any of the hostile people you’re talking about. I teach geology and wildlife management courses.”

Tom: “Are you an evolutionist? I mean, I don’t think the college would allow a Christian to teach there . . . especially if they stood up for their faith. By the way, are you in any of our men’s discipleship groups? If not you really should be. We teach our men out to really live out their faith in their place of business. For example, I was asked by the city to help implement a “save the salmon” campaign. I refused and I almost got fired over it.”

George:
(with a confused look on his face) “Salmon . . . do you have something against salmon?”

Tom: “Of course not. But it’s part of that evolutionist crap . . .save the salmon and abort the humans!.”

George:
“I don’t see the connection. I mean, I’ve seen the studies and the salmon population here in the NW have dropped by an average of 75% over the last 20 years. There is hard evidence that one of the reasons is water run off from agriculture and chemicals, oils solvents etc, in the city. Filters over the drains do make a difference. That’s been a well established fact by many great biologists. So, by controlling over-fishing, run off, migration interference, such as some of the dams, then we could restore the population. It is pretty hard science.”

Tom (with a smirk on his face): “I think I see why no one persecutes you at the college . . . you sound like one of those humanists.”

George:
(Shaking his head and feeling insulted again): “What have I said that gives you that impression?”

Tom:
“You remind me of my sister’s husband who is always trying to quote me scientific studies. (now smiling big and patting George on the back) The only study I need is God’s word. God said it and I believe it and that’s all I need.”

George: “But what we were talking about had nothing to do with the Bible.”

Tom: “Really? Ha! My friend, everything in my life is anchored in the Bible.”

George: “We were talking about salmon for pete’s stake. What have I said that offended you?”

Tom: “Oh, you haven’t offended me. Nope. You can’t offend ole Tom. No, but I really believe that God is in control. We could have a billion billion salmon spawning this year if God wills it. But those studies are the humanist way of shutting down hard working fishermen like my uncle. It’s the Democrats that want to control every aspect of our lives . . . they’ve never really counted the salmon. I read online about a guy who claims that we have twice as many salmon spawning each year than they did in the 1800s. (looking again behind George and spotting a very pretty church lady) Oh, I’ve got to go talk to someone. Hey if you are every interested in a men’s discipleship group let me know. These guys really love the Lord and I think you could learn a lot from them.”

George walks away feeling distant from Tom with little desire to try and talk to him again. He also feels discouraged because his attempts to create a closer relationship seems to have done the opposite. He also has no desire to join a discipleship group if it will be more of the same . . . or starting with the assumption that he is not a good witness because he believes in the science.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Why It's Hard to Talk to an Evangelical - Part IV - The Grid of Certitude



The one thought that I got from Dave Tomlinson’s book The Post-Evangelical, was the concept of loss of certitude. Evangelicals in general, feel that they must have certainty about all issues, theological or cultural. This is going beyond the fundamentals of the faith, such as the inerrancy of scripture, and other issues which were expressed so well in our ancient creeds.

The Evangelical certitude drifts into areas such as; 1) the age of the earth is 6,000 years old, 2) Creation was 6 literal days, 3) The coming of Christ is imminent , sometimes expressed in decades or years, 4) God being responsible for every event major or small, 5) particular gifts of the spirit and etc.

Beyond the theological certitude, the Evangelical community has developed certitude about many cultural issues (none of which is even mentioned in the Bible). This includes such beliefs and mores as 1) homosexuality is completely an issue of choice and sin and there is no brain component, 2) drinking alcohol is sin, 3) giving the appearance of drinking alcohol (like eating dinner in a bar) is sin, 4) saying words that express strong emotion (like “what the hell?”) are sin and are labeled as “swearing” although these words have absolutely nothing to do with the Biblical concept of swearing, 5) looking nice during Sunday morning church services, 6) watching TV is sin (everyone almost watches TV but you don’t mention it in front of Evangelicals are they will pretend that they don’t watch it), 7) Going to any movies except for those produced by Billy Graham or Disney, 8) Reading Harry Potter books 9) Always looking at the positive side of every thing, 10) Listening to any music other than “Christian music (whatever the hell that is),. 11), Homeschooling is the only way to raise kids . . . if you are a really good Christian, 12) Christian college is the only college for kids, 13) You must be Republican and believe in the entire Republican platform. All the Republican leaders are men/women of honor and all the Democrats are godless liberals, and 14) The last one I will mention (but there are many more) is that Global warming is a myth. Today I got a notice from a Christian publishing house about a book that is a “Biblical Expose” on global warming. Really? This is a scam. The reason is simple. The Bible is completely silent on the issue of global warming in the twenty first century. To imply a “Biblical perspective” is a lie and a crafty manipulative wording to make your personal, cultural opinions more palliative to Christians.

So the Grid of Certitude is where you really want to have a meaningful conversation with an Evangelical but they filter everything you say through this grid. The vertical lines are the trivial theological certitudes (remember this is well beyond the creeds) and the horizontal lines are the Christian-cultural mores

If you are someone who is a synthesis-type of thinker, trying to find harmony in everything, you might say, so . . . we all are Grid bearers in conversations. You can easily say that I’m a Grid Bearer because I screen all the words of the Evangelical through my post-evangelical eyes, condemning them for the mistakes I think they are making. But I really think there is a difference and I don’t think I’m just being arrogant.

I can, and do enjoy conversations with Evangelicals who have a very different opinion than me. If one of the men at church starts telling me how wonderful the Creation museum is in Kentucky, that’s fine. I don’t say anything and I’m content to continue talking. I still think they are good people and want them as my friends.

But the Evangelical Grid is soaked in certitude. I’m not a 100% sure that the universe is over 13 billion years old. It looks like it to me. But maybe God did create the universe with an appearance of age. I feel very tolerant to those Christians who believe in a young earth because I don’t have certitude.

But, in my experience, if I say something to an Evangelical about me believing that the universe is old, that is a conversation breaker. The reason is their grid of certitude. I’ve violated God’s standards, in their eyes, and I am left to repent or to be avoided.

That is one reason that I find it hard to speak to an Evangelical.

In closing I will give a true-life example of the horizontal grid. I wish I could give examples where I’m the perpetrator, but in this incident I couldn’t think of one (I’m sure I’m an expert at this misbehaver but I can’t see my log).

Setting: I was a new medical officer in the Air Force. I was sent to Sheppard AFB for medical officer’s basic training. I arrived at the base’s hotel, checked in, and was assigned a room.

That night, around 10 PM, I was in my undershorts in bed reading a book. To my surprised, I heard a key enter the lock and in walked a thin man in his late 40s. He seemed upset. I will call him Colonel Bob.

Colonel Bob: (in an aggressive loud voice) “What are you doing in my room!?”

Me: (looking like the deer in the headlights) “Uh . . . uh . . . your room? I checked in and they put me here.”

Colonel Bob: “Get your stuff and get out. I am a senior officer and I do not share rooms. We always get private rooms.”

Me: (Still looking startled) “Uh . . . where am I supposed to go at this hour?”

Colonel Bob: (walking over to the other twin bed) “That’s not my problem but you should have known that this was my room.”

Me: “Uh . . . how could I’ve known that . . . I mean I just checked in at the desk and they told me I was assigned to this room?”

Colonel Bob: (Looking at the bed stand) “Hmm . . . is this your Bible?”

Me: “Yes.”

Colonel Bob: “Are you a Christian?”

Me: “Yes.”

Colonel Bob:
(Reaching out to shake my hand now with a smile on his face), “Well I’m a Christian too!”

(I shook his hand)

Colonel Bob: “Oh, I guess God put us together for a reason . . . maybe you can stay. But you should have checked and made sure that there was no other person assigned to this room. You will learn that officers must be responsible for their behavior.

Narrative: Bob was putting his things away and telling me his story. He was an orthopedic surgeon, a member of the Christian Medical Society. I think he had served on their board as well. He told me of several mission trips he had taken and how God has used him. We were getting along great (after the awkward introduction) until he opened my refrigeration door.

Colonel Bob: “Whose beer is this?”

Me: (Feeling intimidated by his tone of voice) “Uh . . . that’s mine.”

Colonel Bob: “You must be kidding me. What kind of wittiness is that?”

Me: “What wittiness?”

Colonel Bob: “The enlisted men that clean this room for one or the people in the BX where you bought. this. I mean now you have no wittiness on this base.”

For the next three weeks Colonel Bob hardly spoke to me at all. He hung out with other Colonels and didn’t associate with me . . .because I was a captain I guess. I would have loved to have been his pal and I tried many times to start conversations but because I had hit his cultural gird of certitude the conversations ended.

Monday, March 9, 2009

What it is Hard to Talk to an Evangelical : Emotional Dishonesty Cont.

I like to illustrate the points I’m trying to make with real-life examples. I think most readers know what I mean. Do you feel comfortable talking about honest feelings when you are in conversations with Evangelicals? Remember they are holding up this idealistic grid of the “Fruits of the Spirit” to evaluate your comments. Can you show your anger, when you are honestly angry? Can you talk about your real-life fears? Can you talk about being depressed?

Here is one real-life example.

Setting: I participated in a national evangelistic campaign of Campus Crusade for Christ in 1978 called “I Found It.” It was program that came right out of Madison Ave. I worked in a phone bank as a “telemarketer” with the purpose of calling up people and reading them the “gospel” off a flip chart. Here is how Campus Crusade evaluates it in on their history page:

1976 "I Found It!," an evangelistic billboard/bumper sticker campaign, is launched. 85 percent of all Americans are exposed to the campaign.
1978 "I Found It!" campaigns are established in more than 100 countries. As a result, more than 3.5 million people become Christians.


During the training sessions for this ill-conceived project, I watched a movie put out by Campus Crusade on techniques for evangelism. This film was put out by a guy that was Campus Crusades’ director of evangelism. It had several scenarios role-played with the goal of teaching us how to take advantage of evangelistic situations or what they would call, “Divine appointments.”

One scenario bothered me even then and I was a hard-core evangelical, or, at least I was trying to be. I will tell it the best I can remember.

There were a line of people (actors of course) at a grocery store check out. The check out counter had a sign that said, “Maximum of 15 items.” It was taking the clerk a very long time, having to call for price checks etc. One man, near the back of the line seemed fidgety. The lady in front of him had a crying baby plus about 40 items in her cart.

At the back of the line was our good Christian. He was well-dressed and well-groomed, plus it had a big (fake) smile strung across his face.

Fidgety Man (turning to Christian guy): “Man this is taking forever!”

Christian Guy (still with the big smile on his face), “You know, I used to struggle with impatience too. Then I met Jesus Christ. He completely turned my life around. Now things like this don’t bother me at all. As I walk in the spirit, my life is always filled with peace.”

Fidgety Man
(with a soft humble smile): Really. I would love to have peace. Can you tell me more about this Jesus?”

This is what I’m talking about. The so-called Christian man was such a fake that I’m sure no intelligent “Fidgety man” would fall for this tactic.

Discussion:

I know for me, I become impatient when I’m in a long check-out line, especially if I have to be somewhere. The difference between the old, non-Christian Mike and the Christian Mike is that I will now try to talk myself out of the frustration. “Okay, Mike there is nothing I can do about this. Complaining won’t help. Relax.” The Christian Mike would also avoid saying hateful things to the people in front of me because that is not the gracious thing to do and the fact it won’t help the situation. But the emotions are really the same.

If I said, “I don’t get impatient anymore because I am controlled by the Spirit” then that would a lie and an emotional denial.

I mentioned before that I had to can a home Bible study I was leading two years ago over this issue. It was on marriage and no one would share when I asked pointed questions (about hard things in their marriages). To be fair, I shared things that irritate me about my wife, and shared (for her since she didn’t share either) things that I do which I think irritate her.

Then, during refreshment break, two of the husbands approached me and confronted me that all I was doing was trying to, “dig up dirt.” They also said things that suggested that hey didn’t think I had a healthy marriage. I think I have a very health marriage . . . but I don’t deny reality.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Why It's Hard to Talk to an Evnagelical - Part III - Emotional Dishonesty



Background:

In my humble opinion Evangelicals have a view of sanctification that is faulty. They believe that at the moment of conversion a radical change in their being quickly ensues. If the new believer grows for a while then you can eventually become almost sin-free.

This is where I think Platonic dualism enters a root to the problem. If you have the metaphysical view that you, the person, is immaterial (speaking in philosophical terms) or, in other words purely spiritual, then change can come quickly. It is like directing the wind. However, if you are a monist, believing that God created this physical world very real, with real consequences, then we are more complex than just vapors. The brain is very important in our personalities and demeanor. Having at least some part of our personalities, urges and desires, being based in the material (our brain in other words) then it does not change that easily.

Then Evangelicals have the tendency to misunderstand passages such as Gal 5: 19-20. They believe that if you are really “controlled by the Spirit” then you are full of love, joy (interpret as smiling all the time, being really nice and always seeing the glass half full), peace (never, ever worrying about anything), patience, kindness (more smiling) etc.

But imagine that 1) we do not change that easily, 2) Gal 5:19-20 dose not mean what they think it means, then there is a contradiction between what they perceive and the reality of the world. What happens next is that they have no choice but to construct a fa├žade over their own reality to make it consistent with what they believe to be true.

This leads Evangelicals to become very emotionally dishonest. For example, an Evangelical can have the exact same emotional feelings as their non-believer counterpart, but, while the non-believer’s face turns red and they say, “I’m really pissed off about that!” the Christian would hide their feelings and say (if they say anything), “Hmm. Oh, I hadn’t noticed. Maybe I’m a little disappointed.”

Take a more extreme situation, clinical depression. It is estimated that as many as 10% of women and 5% of men are clinically depressed at anyone time. I have had two experiences with clinical depression and it was hell. But, almost like I had leprosy, I had to hide my clinical depression from most Christians simply because they would not understand and see it as my disobedience or failure.

I use to look at depression the same way (before I experienced it myself). I was going to visit a church once to speak as a missionary. I found out that the pastor had just had a “mental breakdown” and was suffering from depression. I honestly thought in my heart of hearts that there was no way a man could be “walking with Jesus” and be depressed.

In closing this posting I’m going to paste the surrounding verses of Gal 5:19-20. Notice a couple of things. First Paul is warning them about legalisms, outward works of obedience that makes them think they are more holy than they really are. Now look carefully at the passage. Paul is really pissed off at those guys who are telling these new believers that they must be circumcised to be holy. This made Paul so angry that he says, he really does, that he wishes that these guys would go ahead, slip and cut their balls off too. This was pure anger and it happens right before the passage where Christians think that Paul is saying that good Christians never should get angry. That is rough language and certainly doesn’t depict a smiling, quiet Paul who would never say anything offensive. I will share in my next posting a real-life example of such a conversation.

This is from the Message Gal 5:

11-12As for the rumor that I continue to preach the ways of circumcision (as I did in those pre-Damascus Road days), that is absurd. Why would I still be persecuted, then? If I were preaching that old message, no one would be offended if I mentioned the Cross now and then—it would be so watered-down it wouldn't matter one way or the other. Why don't these agitators, obsessive as they are about circumcision, go all the way and castrate themselves!

13-15It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don't use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that's how freedom grows. For everything we know about God's Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That's an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?

16-18My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God's Spirit. Then you won't feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don't you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?

19-21It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.

This isn't the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God's kingdom.

22-23But what happens when we live God's way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

23-24Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.

25-26Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Why It's Hard to Talk to an Evnagelical - Part II - The Chink in the Armor Syndrome Cont.



I wanted to do a post, deconstructing my last one. After that I wanted to re-construct how I had wished Jack had responded to me. But the more I though about it, I was feeling a little uncomfortable with the story that has me as a victim.

Today, while in the gym, I pushed my mind to come up with an example when I was the perpetrator. It was hard but not because I rarely am such a Evang-o-jerk. It’s a hard to remember examples because when I was most notorious was years ago. Not to say that I’m not guilty now. Now,I am often blind to my own faults . . . the log in my eye syndrome.

But, I did come up with a good example. It is good because it was horrible and will be brief to tell.

Setting: I was raising our support to go on the mission field twenty years ago. I had been travelling around the country but came back to Ypsilanti, Michigan to speak at a church service. After church I had the conversation with a man, Ron, who I knew fairly well. While we had been out of town for a few months Ron had suffered a serious heart attack . . . and he was only 38 years old. We had our conversation in the vestibule of the church.

Ron: I guess you heard about my heart attack?

Me: Yeah that was terrible. Are you okay now?

Ron: Well, I’m in rehab. I’ve changed my diet and am exercising. However, I’m scared to death. I just can’t sleep at night anymore. My chest pain started in the middle of the night and now I keep think I feeling it again.

Me: (With a big smile on my face) Hey Ron, I have a verse for you. (this was something we were taught to say in the Navigators . . . just before we slammed someone in the face with a Bible verse with the intention of making them feel really stupid and unspiritual).` Proverbs 3:24 says, “when you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.” My sleep is sweet. You see, I use to suffer from insomnia before I was a Christian. Then God gave me peace. Now I know that God will protect me. The worst thing that could happen (quoting a concept from Bill Gothard) is that I would die. But if I died; a) it would be God’s will, b) I would be in heaven with Him and c) so it would be great! You just have to believe what God says. (Then I padded him on the back and walked away).

Now, if I really loved Ron more than myself and was not interested in making myself look spiritual and tearing him down (in order to make me look good), I would have said something more like the following:

Me: Oh, I did hear about it and I’ve been thinking about you. Man, I would have been scared to death. How are you holding up?

Ron: I’m doing okay, trying to get in better shape, but I am scared, so scared that I can’t sleep well at night.

Me: Of course you are scared. You wouldn’t be human not to be. I’m sure that I wouldn’t be able to sleep either. There’s nothing unspiritual about that. Have you talked to your doctor about this? I mean, he might need to prescribe something to help you cope with your anxiety until you get over some of the shock of it. Man, you’re my hero. I think I would be going nuts by now. I have a lot of problems with anxiety. Honestly I can’t sleep the nights before I have to do a talk in front of a large crowd. I can’t imagine the fear of having a freakin heart attack.

Anyway, you get my point. The operative word is Grace. When we have a conversation, we want to go there relaxed . . . like showing up naked rather than in a suit of armor. We want the other person to respect us to the point that no matter what we say, they will (in grace) give us the benefit of the doubt. Of course I’m not speaking about extremes like saying “I thinking about trying meth . . .or I’m leaving my wife” without some questioning. But event that questioning should be done in a spirit of grace.

When the Church (capital C) creates a world where we can talk to each other without fear (wearing our suits of armor) then we can talk about where we really are in life. The more we know where each other are, the better the Church can be.

My Friend Terry Has Died



Above is Terry doing the "L" sign . . . for leukemia.

I came on line just now to work on my postings and to respond to the comments. I checked my E-mail and just got word that my friend Terry died about an hour ago. In case you are new to this blog, I wrote a lot about Terry a few postings ago.

How do I fee? I feel very, very sad. I was choked up and tears were running down my face as I just posted on their blog. This is what I wrote:

I feel deeply sad so sad that I can barely type for the tears. I feel terribly angry. Of course God is all powerful and in control and now He is really pissed. No one hates cancer more than He.

What a terrible intrusion. What a hideous aberration. I only wish that we could take some of your burden of pain off your hearts. We love you guys very much.


There is so much more I would like to say, but just feel too sad. I will say that no belief system gives us more right to scream and clinch our fists at death than Christianity. I don't know how we made grieving so dysfunctional. It does not offend God when we scream. I feel so sad for their family. CANCER SUCKS!!!!! It took my dad too. IT REALLY, REALLY, REALLY SUCKS!

I just know that some Evangelical friends will try to mold a "Precious Moments" figurine out of this pile of shit.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Why It's Hard to Talk to an Evnagelical - Part II - The Chink in the Armor Syndrome



I did a little research into the word "chink" to make sure that this was the metaphor that I really wanted to use here. Unfortunately I discovered that is has some what of racial roots. It was a term, or slang name, that originated by Europeans for Asian races (taken from the same root word as "China") and it stood for their eye. The Europeans saw Asian eyes as a slit rather than rounded as theirs.

But moving beyond any racial overtures, the term also started to mean a narrow slit between anything, especially between the joints on a suit of armor. These joints, such as the arm pit, were the vulnerable points of armor. The suits had to be flexible so the joints were required. However, each army trained heavily in techniques for exploiting these “chinks” for the kill.

I decided to stick with this metaphor because as I read on, I saw that the same word came to mean the gaps between bricks in a wall (the mortar joints.) In my previous post I spoke of how basic conversations between believers are the mortar joints that make up the walls that, in turn, make up the entire Church. So these conversations ARE very important. You can not hate conversations with other believers AND love Christ’s Church.

Background:

To start with, we are all insecure . . . especially men. Just watch a single man in a bar with a beautiful young woman and you will see this play out the best.

I see this insecurity as part of the Fall of Adam. I differ now in my thinking, than when I was an Evangelical. I don't think that once we are a Christian we don't improve that much. The insecurities persist but we take on more “socially accepted” (in the Christian society) ways of dealing with it. When I was an Evangelical, I believed that as soon as you became a Christian and when you started to grow, most of the bad ways of thinking went away and most of the way I thought was pure and right.

When we have conversations with others, to compensate for our deep insecurities, we like to portray ourselves better than we are (Evangelicals have to use a little humble trickery to pull this off without looking proud . . . like "GOD did such and such through little ole me"). At the same time, we try to put others down. The reason, speaking psychologically here, is to use them for leverage.

The chink-in-the-armor syndrome is where we as Christians, have our radars on, looking for the chink in the armor of the bother (mostly) or sister when we are in conversation with them. That radar can take on several forms. It can be theological radar, looking for some deviation of nice, clean pure doctrine. I think our subconscious actually wants the other person to have an error, so we can call them on it and feel better about ourselves. Inside our heads we think, “Wow. I caught him. I am God’s gift to the world, or at least God’s ambassador . . . rooting out error in others.)

I think the best way to illustrate this situation is to share a real life experience. I will admit that this one was somewhat of the extreme, but true and I will try very hard not to embellish the story. Within the story, look for the examples I was talking about.

Jack and Me

Physical Setting:
I was flying from Rochester, MN to the west coast for a Mayo Clinic business trip. I boarded a small commuter prop plane in Rochester bound for the twin cites. I sat down besides a 35 (about) year old man I will call “Jack.” I just happened to have a Bible on my lap because I had taken it out of my carry on to read on the plane.

Personal Setting: This was one of the most difficult times in our lives. I won’t go into all the details, however, on the financial front things were tough.

We had built a home in Michigan a few years earlier when I had taken a job there. Soon, after arriving in Michigan I discovered that the job was in a group practicing Medicaid fraud and I had to get out. The house contractor (a Lutheran pastor in his day job) made huge blunders on the house, and then went bankrupt. We were left with a ½ built home . . . that put us in deep in debt to complete it and fix the problems. Then we put the house on the market and I took the job at Mayo Clinic. At the time of the story, the house in Michigan had not sold for after 6 years (finally sold about the 9th year on the market).

Since we were paying two mortgages, we almost were in financial ruin. My wife and I had spent hundreds of hours in prayer over the situation. We had our churches and friends praying for us. I was working two jobs and was almost to the point of physical exhaustion. Although we had 5 children at home at the time, my wife had to make a very hard decision to go back to work.

Jack: (Smiling and looking at my book on my lap), “Is that a Bible?”

Me: “Yes it is.”

Jack: (Reaching out to shake my hand firmly) “Well, you must be a Christian . . . I’m too!”

Me: (smiling softly) “That’s nice.”

Jack:
Actually I’m the president of the Firemen for Christ for the sate of Minnesota. I’ve been a fireman for about 15 years. I got involved with Christian ministry about 10 years ago when I went to a Promise Keeper’s convention. It changed my life. I eventually became one of the leaders of Promise Keepers for the entire Midwest. I was behind bringing the Promise Keepers convention to the Twin Cities a couple of years ago.

Then I decided to start the Firemen for Christ organization. It has been a really blessing. God has used my life in ways I never imagined. I’ve discipled many men. I have four men in local communities, each with their own Firemen for Christ group. So my ministry is really multiplying. God is really good to me!

We have four wonderful kids that my wife and I are home schooling. That is the only way that education should be done. I would never allow my kids to go to a humanistic public school where they teach evolution and that gay lifestyle is okay.

Do you have any kids?


Me: “Yes . . . we have five.”

Jack: “That’s wonderful. Where do they go to school?”

Me: (I’m starting to see the writing on the wall) “Well, they are in the public school in Spring Valley.”

Jack: (with a very disappointed look on his face) “Really?”

Me: (being the coward that I am) “Oh, we use to home school our kids. However, we had to put them back in public school this year for financial reasons.”

Jack: “Well, I’ve learned that when you put God first in your life, he will provide all your financial needs. My wife quit her job when she found out her boss was living with his girlfriend. We just trusted God. She has stayed home teaching the kids since and God is faithful to take care of us. It was like a miracle, as soon as she quit, I got a raise.”

Me: “That’s nice.”

Jack: “Maybe you were just trying to live outside your means. I mean, God provides, but you have to live inside your means.”

Me: (Feeling angry at this point). “Listen, it has bee a very hard few years. Right now we own two homes and we are paying about $3,000 a month in mortgage costs. There is nothing we can do about it. We bought our present home for $115,000, is that living outside our means?”

Jack: “I don’t think you need a vacation home if it forces you to compromise your children’s’ faith by sending them to public school.”

Me: (showing a little anger now) “I didn’t say anything about a vacation home! We use to live in Michigan and our house there will not sell and it has been on the market for six years. We built it for $170,000 and we are trying to sell it for $125,000 now and it just won’t sell!”

Jack: “Oh, I just turn those things over to the Lord and he takes care of it. Have you done that? I mean, I can tell you are stressed out about it. I mean, since I trusted Jesus as my savior I have never known such peace. I use to have a temper too.”

Me: “Yes Jack, I have turned it over to the Lord. I’m been on my knees every night with my wife for six years praying for that house. I walk in the park every evening for a hour praying for that house. For a while I fasted one day a week to pray for that house to sell.”

Jack: “Well, I’ll pray for you. I’m a man of faith and amazing things happen when I pray. One of my disciples was really sick and even the doctors at Mayo couldn’t help him. But then they called me. I prayed for him one night and he was better the next day. A real miracle and I give God all the credit.”

Me: (being sarcastic, but Jack not realizing it) “Good idea Jack. Pray for my house to sell. That would be wonderful . . . praise the Lord.”

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

How to Talk to an Evangelical . . . if you Must.



Okay, this posting has nothing to do with Ann, sorry to disappoint you. Just the title of her book seemed like a good introduction to the topic I want to talk about. Ann of course is the pin-up girl of the right (and many Evangelical men fantasize about being on a deserted island . . . just them and Ann . . . laying on the beach, her brushing her hair over in that sexy way) and of course talking about how the liberals have taken this country away from God.

A better subtitle of what I want to say, is sharing my honest thoughts on why it is hard to talk to evangelicals. I know, this sounds cruel, mean, negative and not the loving thing to do. But I think I have the right to do so because; 1) it’s an important topic with many sociological, psychological and theological implications, 2) I was a hard-core Evangelical for 20 year. I was the worse of the worse. Therefore I have the unique perspective to discuss this topic, 3) I really do like my Evangelical friends. They are good people (beware using “good” in the relative sense) and I really do WANT to talk to them and be their friends . . . but it is hard.

Evangelicals do not hesitate to talk about how important the Church is (with a capital "C"). However, if the Church were a building (speaking in metaphors) then the mortar between the bricks is the simple conversations between believers. It really boils down to that simple common denominator. So conversations ARE very important. I find it odd, that many of us, who stand firmly to support the Church, care the least about honest conversations.

So, again, I may look cynical, but I’m talking on this very basic part of Christian human behavior because it is the mortar that holds the whole building together.

I will continue in Part II

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Blame Game - Another Opium of Dying

With my friend Terry still on my mind, I had to share a few more thoughts. The latest is that his wife and daughter is bringing him tonight to die. I’m meeting with the pastor in the morning at 7 to pray for him and his family. We still do pray for a supernatural miracle . . . but will not be disappointed in God if he does not intervene.

I noticed two observations with how we evangelicals deal with loss or failure and both relate to Terry.

About two weeks ago I was part of a large fund-raising auction. I sat with a group of people, all from one very popular charismatic church on our island. The thing I noticed, and it wasn’t a bad thing, is that they were all over-the-top a bit. What I mean is that each time the next person would show up, they would all give each other these huge hugs, slaps on the back and saying things like, “Isn’t God good!” They were very jovial and loud.

There is nothing wrong with the way they interacted. But in the middle of the up-beat conversation, the guy sitting next to me turned and asked, “So what’s happening at your church?” He had a big smile on his face.

I honestly searched my mind for some type of spiritual answer that I knew would satisfy him. But really, Terry’s serious health was the only thing that has been on my mind lately. After thinking, I looked up and said, “Well one of our members is dying.”

The reaction I got from him and another guy listening to us was just like I had cocked my leg up and farted. They were speechless. No questions, but a look of disappointment on their faces as I had done something antisocial.

The second thing that happened was today in the gym. As I was getting dressed a Christian friend came in. After greeting each other, I looked up and asked, “You know Terry (lastname) don’t you?” I figured he did because they work for the same fire department.

He looked at me with concern, “Yeah . . . didn’t he just pass away.”

“No,” I said. Then I explained what had been happening. I told him that we were expecting Terry to recover fully up until a couple of weeks ago, then he took a sudden turn for the worse..

This guy looked at me and shook his head, “Yeah . . . but he was a smoker.”

I was perplexed by his statement. I had never seen Terry smoke, but I had smelled cigarettes on him at church. It wasn’t a big deal to me except that I hate the ill, health, effects of smoking.

Actually, there is a relationship between smoking and leukemia but it is subtle and the science is not clear.

In the fist example, again I sense that we Christians really don’t know how to deal with bad news. To share an honest, but sad story among Christian friends is as socially offensive as farting really loud.

In the second situation, I observe how we build insulation between ourselves and bad things by casting blame. Yeah, Terry smoked. So somehow he got what he deserved. Therefore, the reasoning goes, since I’m so smart not to smoke, I’m protected. That some how gives us some comfort.

It is presumptuous to believe that Terry’s leukemia is related to his smoking. Many, many people die from leukemia and have never smoked.

I just wish we could embrace failure, sadness, and bad news better. Me must separate the concept of bad news from the implications that God failed, wasn't listening . . . or that something is wrong with our faith.

Monday, March 2, 2009

"Dying"

Terry's family used the "Dying" word for the first time today, on their blog. It takes a lot of courage to do so.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

When Bad Things Happen - Against the Prosperity Gospel Part III (and last)



In review, this topic began when, a friend of mine, Terry, who is seriously ill with cancer, got suddenly worse. He was expected to respond to treatment and recover. He was following the script up until December. Then he took a downturn (against the odds in his favor). Last week, he took a devastating turn when he had central nervous system lesions—from which no one (as far as I know) has recovered.

I had watched this pattern among our Christian friends (Terry and I go to the same church). We were talking about and praying for Terry every week. Then, when he got really sick, everyone went silent. They didn’t know how to respond to such bad news.

Update: Terry had radiation of his brain, and as expected, he’s had some cognitive improvement. As a medical practitioner, I know that this does not change his grim prognosis. However, he was back on the radar again this week with news of this miracle.

I am very happy that he is back on the front burner. Indeed, there is going to be some special prayer time at church this week for him and I deeply applaud that. I hope to participate. I do pray for a miracle . . . a real, supernatural miracle. I want Terry to be healed and fully recover. I don’t doubt that God can do that . . . although I observe that real miracles are rare.

Now the question that I have raised is why do bad things happen despite our prayers? Why do they, sometimes, follow the worse possible course rather than a miraculous course? But more specifically than those ageless philosophical and religious questions, I’m asking a sociological and psychological question. Why do we Evangelicals feel so uncomfortable with bad news? I honestly think the bad news about Terry is what caused him to disappear off the Church’s radar for a week. He was not following the Evangelical narrative.

Here is how I see things. I really think that this issue is deeply tied to the unhealthy dualistic influence within the Church. With this view, this physical world is totally insignificant at best or evil at worst.

If this physical world has no significance, then, if anything here has meaning, it must be intimately tied to the spiritual by God, the puppeteer, strings.

I flipped on the radio and it was tuned to a Christian radio program. I don’t listen to Christian radio. If I could find something like the Mars Hill Forum, I would listen to it, but around here it is usually wild-eyed evangelists.

This radio preacher was mainstream (I think even part of a Focus on the Family program). He was shouting, “Every event of your life, every person you meet, and every thought in your head is no accident . . . no, it is an encounter with God almighty. The question is . . . what will you do with this date with destiny?” Seems like an oxymoron. God controls everything . . . but your choice determines the outcome.

There is a great security like religious opium that makes you want to believe that every event of your life is controlled by God for a wonderful purpose.

But if you are not a dualist then you believe that God really did create this wonderful world and it, within itself, has great value. If this world has great value, then events of this world have great value. When the Fall of Adam has tainted this world . . . then this world becomes really, really dangerous.

I can drive to a nearby bridge, which is 250 feet high, and jump off. If I do, I will die. There’s no puppeteer’s stings to prevent it, drawing me back up like a bungee cord. So in this paradigm, bad things can happen. Bone marrow cells can follow the laws of biology and divide in error, part of the fall of Adam, and thus they can become cancerous. If there is a 90% chance that you will recover, there are still ten people out of one hundred who will follow the course of my friend.

My Evangelical friends see me as having a God that’s too small. That is a great misunderstanding. I am even a Calvinist. My God is bigger than that of most Evangelicals. Many Evangelists have a God that created a universe that is only 6,000 light years in diameter. Then there is a wall, something like in the Truman Show, where God projects the images of billions of galaxies with his digital projector.

My God has created an enormous universe, at least 13.5 billion light years across. My god doesn’t do silly miracles like making your leg grow (in millimeters) as some faith healers say they do. He doesn’t do “miracles” like making migraines a little less often, make a snowflake or a rainbow. No, when my God does miracles, they are real miracles like raising people from the dead. He doesn’t do these miracles often but they are real.

So shit happens . . . and that’s the effect of the Fall of Adam in this real world. If you read the entire chapter of Mathew 10, and not just verse 29, you will see the truth. That verse, about the sparrows, is in the midst of Jesus telling them of all the terrible things that WILL happen. He makes it clear that those who DO kill the body can not kill the soul. That is where we feel safe. No one can take our soul but there is no promise of prosperity.