Wednesday, April 29, 2009

DSM IV Axis II - The Church's Dirty Little Secret Part II

In this posting I wanted to just list the compre-hensive catalog of some of these disorders. I will pick a few, over the next few posts, and talk about how they might fit in to the local Evangelical congregation.

A couple of caveats first. As I've said before, a mental diagnoses is a matter of degree (and HUG alluded to in his comments). We each can have some of these traits at times. But at some point along that continuum it really does become a pathological mental illness.

I can say generally, the cause behind these disorders are the effects of the fall on humans. But a little more specifically, it always seems to come down to nature & nurture. For some, it is more of nature (genetics effecting the complex functioning of the brain) and for others there is more nurture (early childhood rearing).

The problem with the church, and why I do think they are naive, is that they discount the fields of psychiatry, seeing them has "humanist," and put all human behavior in simplistic, dualistic terms . . . good guys and bad guys. Sin, and fruits of the spirit. However, in some people evil and goodness are so mixed (at least in how they present themselves) that Christians don't know how to react. Promote them to not only pastor . . . but the head of the denomination . . . or expel them as troublemakers.

I really wish that we could have a Sunday school class about mental health (and mental illness). But even to suggest so (which I have before) will bring outrage in 90% of the Evangelical churches. You might get by with it in a more mainline, old-somewhat more liberal, denomination.

I welcome any comments or personal experiences. And, if you figure out that I am mentally ill . . . please don't tell me. I'm enjoying the illusion that I'm sane.

Cluster A (odd or eccentric disorders)

* Paranoid personality disorder: characterized by irrational suspicions and mistrust of others

* Schizoid personality disorder: lack of interest in social relationships, seeing no point in sharing time with others

* Schizotypal personality disorder: characterized by odd behavior or thinking

Cluster B (dramatic, emotional, or erratic disorders)

* Antisocial personality disorder: "pervasive disregard for the law and the rights of others."

* Borderline personality disorder: extreme "black and white" thinking, instability in relationships, self-image, identity and behavior

* Histrionic personality disorder: "pervasive attention-seeking behavior including inappropriate sexual seductiveness and shallow or exaggerated emotions"

* Narcissistic personality disorder: "a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and a lack of empathy"

Cluster C (anxious or fearful disorders)

* Avoidant personality disorder: social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy, extreme sensitivity to negative evaluation and avoidance of social interaction

* Dependent personality disorder: pervasive psychological dependence on other people.

* Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (not the same as obsessive-compulsive disorder): characterized by rigid conformity to rules, moral codes, and excessive orderliness

Monday, April 27, 2009

DSM IV Axis II - The Church's Dirty Little Secret Part I

DSM IV stands for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, 4th edition. It is simply a catalog of mental disorders, as outlined by the American Psychiatric Association. The manual divides mental disorders up along five axes (or levels). The axis I contains the mental diagnoses that most lay people are familiar with, including things such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, phobias and even schizophrenia. The dirty little secrets are the more troublesome (in many ways) and little recognized disorders in the axis II.

It will be far beyond the postings in this little blog to explain these disorders. I also am not an expert . . . although, in my line of work I must be somewhat familiar with them.

I say that they are the Church's dirty little secrets because not only they seldom recognized . . . but often appraised as positive spiritual characteristics (when you know these people on the surface) or just bad people (once you get to know them . . . and they you).

Often the people who suffer from these disorders create a living hell on earth for some of the people they are closest to and who have tried to love them (and oddly whom they have tried to love in their strange way).

The first thing that brought this issue to the foreground for me happened last week. I was watching the Today Show and they were interviewing a forensic psychiatrist regarding the case of Melissa Huckaby, who has been accused of sexually molesting and killing 8 year old Sandra Cantu. The psychiatrist was talking about anti-social behavior and someone asked, maybe it was Matt, something along the lines of, “This lady was a Sunday school teacher in her Grandfather’s church. You would think that someone would pick up on her problems.” I’m not assuming that she’s guilty, and this isn’t even about Melissa, but about the psychiatrist’s answer.

She said, “Church people are notorious for being naive about human behavior, especially when it comes to the mentally ill.”

I’ve been thinking about that statement every since. In later posts, I hope to explore some of the Axis II disorders and how they might play out in an Evangelical setting.

But before I end this posting, I wanted to share some thoughts regarding the why we are so naive.

In the traditional, Evangelical (American) Dualistic (okay enough adjectives) Church, we see a big separation between the fluid, or flexible soul and the material, more fixed, brain. So behavior is simply the express of choices. We assume that all people start at the same place (mentally) and can choose to do good, if they love the Lord, or to sin, if they don’t.

We believe that people can act on one extreme end or the other . . . where we can act out of a supernatural indwelling of the Holy Spirit . . . or out of demon possession.

I recently gave an example of this later statement when a man at our church went nuts. When he started shouting “Praise God!” many people started cheering “Amen!” They thought revival had come. Then, when he immediately switched to shouting, “F. . . God!” there was look of horror on the same church people’s faces . . . who then assumed he was demon possessed. However, I think the man is mentally ill and that concept was outside of anyone’s, save a couple of us, way of thinking.

If you understand that the material world is of substance (no pun intended), meaning importance, then the fall of Adam influences the material in a deeper way than most Evangelicals can imagine. Someone with bipolar, or clinical depression and certainly anti-social behavior or personality disorders don’t “snap out of it” the moment they become a Christian. Could God give them a whole new persona? Sure he could. But he doesn’t. This is not a theological statement but a simple observation of reality. Messed up people remain messed up after they become Christians . . . just that the messiness goes underground. I’m not saying, that with a few years of better thinking patterns, maybe some good treatment, and prayer, that they could be some . . . okay, maybe a lot better, but never 100%. The Fall of Adam is really that bad.

But if the Evangelical, due to their Dualistic perspective, thinks that education is crap . . . unless you study the Bible (I just heard our chief elder say a few months ago that we shouldn’t allow any of our young people to go to college), then the whole field of psychology, sociology and especially psychiatry is crap.

If you also assume that the spirit is very fluid, where I could be a socio-path, axe murderer . . . then meet Jesus, and the next day be a smiling Sunday school teacher, then we do become naive.

I don think that in many Christian circles the more common diagnoses, depression, bi-polar, are being more accepted as a legitimate disease . . . however, the complex, and deceiving Axis II problems are not.

I will explore some of the Axis II problems next time. But before I do, and in closing, I will make a humble comment. Psychiatrists have told me more than once those patients with these Axis II disorders are often the last to know. With that said, maybe I’m one too. (smiley face here) I know that I’m messed up in more ways than I know. I know too that by the mercy of God, he still loves me.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Christians and Vulgar Language . . . .Great Article


The article below was sent to me by a Navigator staff friend. He has always been a breath of fresh air, plus, he tells me that the Navs have really changed since my early experiences with them. Heck (pun intended) when I was with the Navs, it was deeply frowned upon to say "darn," "shoot," or "crap."

I member going to a national youth conference (in Ft Wayne, IND) with a Christian Church group. I was a Nav and we thought that we were head and shoulders above church people. But I went because I had the hots for a gal in that youth group an she invited me. I took a friend with me (who eventually married that gal-smile face here). We had one speaker was doing ministry in an inner city somewhere. He looked rough. He had also recently lost his 7 year old son, who had been hit by a car. While he was speaking, and when he went to mention his son, he looked angry and said, "God didn't send that damn car to hit my son!" Some people started cheering. Us Nav people were appalled.

But good heavens (pun intended again) if you can't say "damn car" that killed your son, or "shit happens" then are you really in touch with reality?

The first time I attempted to publish a book, a children's book, I was shocked by the editorial guidelines that I was given by the major Christian publishers. They would not allow any "off color" words, including darn, shoot etc. They also would not allow a story to have anything but a happy ending. There could be no mention of sex (even within marriage) no mention of alcohol or smoking. So, in other words, up on the 50th floor of the reality building.

Enjoy the article:

A Tasteful Examination of Using Salty Language
no one under 17 admitted without a parent or guardian

Is it okay for Christians to curse?

I have a friend who works in the Christian publishing industry. He was recently telling me how conservative it is, and for emphasis, he added, “We can’t even print the b-word.” I rolled through a catalog of words in my head, trying to guess which b-word he might be referring to. There were so many choices. Was it bitch, bastard, balls? Surely any one of those could be the vulgar culprit. Or, perhaps there was some other curse word that I hadn’t been exposed to yet; some urban street-slang that these publishers were on to, one that would soon be infiltrating our suburban high schools, possibly even making its way into the mouths of our church youth. I remained silent, not wanting to guess the wrong word or expose my lack of street cred regarding the youthful slang that the Christian publishers were so down with. God forbid, I certainly didn’t want to show my age. Not hearing a response, my friend volunteered the answer to this trivia question. “The word is ‘breast’.” He said. “Breast. Can you imagine that?”

No, I can’t. What I can imagine, though, is the abrupt and final termination of any misguided notions I had for snagging a book deal within the Christian publishing industry. I pictured myself sitting across the desk from a pastorly editor, who is suddenly infuriated upon reading the word “ass” in my manuscript. Enraged and offended, he pulls me up by the ear and briskly marches me through the building, shoving me out the door, back onto the cold, harsh streets of Grand Rapids.

I never thought of the word ‘breast’ as risqué, really, not when it is used in an appropriate context. I mean, we are all adults here. And I bet most readers are either women or married men, which means that we either have them, or have had them in our sights at one point or another. Why work so hard to pretend that the breast is not a functional part of a Christian’s every day lifestyle? Read the Song of Solomon, for goodness sake.

It’s not that I am a foul-mouthed libertarian. I have always been fairly conservative when it comes to language. The Christian publishers’ attitude reminded me of my own conservative upbringing, and the taboo that was expressly reserved for any utterance remotely resembling a curse word. I never, ever heard swearing in my home, growing up. Even the words that were quoted during King-James bible stories in church and Sunday School, words like “hell” and “ass” (the animal ass, not the body part), were strictly verboten. However, with age, a more robust group of Christian male-friends, and quite possibly hanging around too much with my own teenage daughters, I have definitely loosened up my tongue a bit. Especially as I started writing, I developed a healthy respect and appreciation for the use of a salty word now and then to round out a story, or to drive home a point for emphasis.

Plus, it’s pretty much how we talk. “We,” meaning the friends from work and church who I spend time with, those with whom I fellowship and share my life with, even the most spiritually mature brothers and sister in Christ. We feel quite free to use an off-the-record reference now and then. Not every day, not usually in a crowd, and certainly not in every conversation, but occasionally, yes. I know several men, spiritual pillars of their churches, who will occasionally drop the word “shit” into their conversations with me. And hey, to me, it usually sounds just fine. Sometimes that is exactly the right word choice, just what the doctor ordered. “Golly, Brad, I think I just got on my pastor’s shit list,” one gentleman confides. Other times these folks are referring to the actual tactical meaning of the word, especially coming from those who are associated with the agricultural industries—those hard working men and women who till the soil and work with livestock. “I was out in the barn and got shit all over my shoes!” the godly Christian farmer will say to me, and he doesn’t even know that it was once a forbidden word in my Evangelical fundamentalist household growing up. None of these gentle folk are being vulgar, foul-mouthed, or inappropriate. We are just friends, talking to each other about our lives, in our own tongue.

So why can’t it be so in my own writing, where I am also sharing my self and spiritual life with my friends, you the reader? How we talk in real life is not at all like the Christian publishing market portrays. I’ve been a Christian for a long time, but sometimes I can not relate to the sanitized, simplistic, hyped-up and over-spiritualized language that is often passed for inspirational literature. Everyone is trying to out-motivate everyone else. I worry that these authors and publishers are more concerned with spiritually one-upping the reader, rather than getting down to the mat, revealing the messy truth of life, which is where the bulk of my real, normal life is taking place. It just doesn’t sound real.

Of course there are plenty of insights and inspiration to be gained from reading and listening to the pastors, motivational speakers, theologians, and writers who are out on the circuit today. And God knows we all can use some wisdom and guidance on our journeys of faith. But lately, for me, I am too often left with an awkward disconnect between their well-meaning spiritual advice and my real-world experiences. It’s as if these experts don’t quite get what my life as a “normal” person is like. I mean “normal” in the sense that giving spiritual advice is not my primary occupation.

I can understand the reluctance of Christians to print or speak words that may compromise or call their piety into question. Maybe they find it hard to know where to draw the line, and thus prefer to err on the side of caution. None of us wants to fall under James’ admonition of being unable to tame the tongue, “uttering both praise and cursing out of the same mouth” (James 3:9-10).

I try to imagine if Jesus ever used a cuss word. Especially the teenage carpenter-apprentice Jesus, after accidentally hitting his finger with a hammer. I doubt it. But what about the disciples?

Take Simon Peter, for instance. Well, no question there. Peter definitely cursed. He was the one with the potty-mouth, the one the other disciples had to keep apologizing for. “Oops, sorry Jesus, about my brother’s TRASH-MOUTH. He got into this bad habit of cursing when he was working in the Galilean Fish Workers Union a few years back. But he’s a good guy. PETER CAN YOU PLEASE JUST TONE IT DOWN? Goll-lee! Jimminy Crumpets!” Peter was probably no different from any other fisherman you might be acquainted with—you know, “salt of the earth” and all. He may have toned it down some after becoming a full-fledged apostle, but I can still see him dropping some Aramaic f-bombs when he got worked up—he did have a temper, after all.

What about Paul? Rumor has it that if you look carefully at the original Greek manuscripts, you will find that he used a saucy word in one of the epistles, and not by accident. This scandalous idea was first presented to me over twenty years ago while in college, by a speaker at one of our InterVarsity Fellowship meetings. This gentleman was expounding on Philippians 3:8, “I consider everything a loss compared to the greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” After the speaker preached on the magnitude of Paul’s commitment (”So should ours be,” he said), he went on to tell us that the word “rubbish” is not quite the literal translation. He continued on this tangent and with a wink and a sideways smirk told us, “You folks might find it interesting that the original Greek word Paul uses here is a slang word. It means something a little more explicit than the word ‘garbage.’ It actually refers to human excrement.”

“Whoa! Dude! All right, Paul!” That’s what most of us guys were thinking. But I never heard anything more about that translation again, and avoided saying that particular slang word for human excrement when describing my commitment to Christ, or in any other context, for that matter. Fast forward twenty-five years. A few months ago I stumbled across that same proposition while reading a book called The New Christians by Tony Jones. Tony makes the exact same point in a little sidebar—that the Greek word Paul uses in Philippians 3:8, skubalon, is the equivalent of our vernacular word, “shit.” Most bible translations will use words like “refuse” or “dung” or “garbage.” But the real translation from the Greek is a slang word for human excrement. You know what it is, so I won’t say it again.

Well, there you have it. Paul used a street-word for its shock value, to get his point across. But Paul wasn’t “cursing” just then, was he? He was using a slang word in a certain context to bring a punch to his very strong point. There are certain slang words that are actually appropriate at times, more relevant or at the very least functional. There’s a big difference between using slang and actually cursing. Cursing involves outright vulgarity with an intention of offending and condemning the listener. Which is not what I, nor my good brothers and sisters, ever intend when speaking. And, I guess that’s my point. Or my question. Just what exactly qualifies as a curse word anymore?

I serve on a Board with one of the pastors from a mega-church in our area. A couple of weeks ago we were about to receive a presentation from someone who wasn’t quite so polished in his use of language. Like Peter’s handlers, I warned the pastor that the presenter might accidentally drop a couple of off-color words into his presentation, by accident. Words not typically heard in his weekly sermons. This pastor replied: “So what. I think an off-color word can be refreshing once in a while.” This is actually code for “I am so effing tired of being censored by the Evangelical language police.”

Can you imagine that? A pastor who welcomes salty language as “refreshing?” Maybe I can someday imagine a world where Christian-oriented material is published with language that really sounds like me, my friends, my church, like we are having a real conversation about real life. Not that it would be nasty, irreverent or blasphemous, and certainly not cursing others, just talking. That’s quite a stretch, I know. But, dang-it-all, I can dream, can’t I?
Bradley J. Moore posts regularly on the challenges of business spiritually engaged at Bradley is an executive in a large corporation in the Northeast which shall remain nameless. On May 31 and June 1, 2009 he will appear (along with InsideWork contributor Stephen G. Payne) at Leadership and Spirituality: Transforming the Workplace, a first-of-its-kind Princeton Theological Seminary event addressing the dynamics of spirituality and leadership in the workplace.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Clinical Depression Takes A Friend

I know I've talked about depression before, including my own. But two things have brought this to the front burner . . . actually three. The first one is that I learned Tuesday that a friend, more of a business acquaintance, had taken his own life that morning. I was stunned. He left behind a wife and two children. In the photo, Steve is the one in the back sweater. He was in publishing and I had written several articles for his magazine plus reviewed articles for him that others had written. I did not know that he even suffered from depression . . . nor should I have known. I mean, we only knew each other on a business level. It seemed so sudden. His blog posting the night before was normal. . . . publishing stuff.

Before I got the e-mail about Steve, I was thinking about the suicide that same morning of the CFO of Fannie Mae, David Kellerman. He had hung himself, also leaving a wife and children. I want to explore this topic again, not digressing into my own experiences but more about depression in general . . . and how we react to it.

I've decided to abort this discussion for the simple reason that I've talked about mental health and the evangelical response before and I feel I am beating a dead horse if I go there again.

Earlier this week it was weighing heavily on my mind. In summary, I think among Evangelicals that depression often goes underground because we have been taught that the fruits of the spirit include "joy." Therefore, if you express your depression, then you can't have you head screwed on correctly . . . from a good Christian standpoint.

But, if you believe that the brain can influence your mood, and the brain has been subject to the fall (both genetically and through difficult life experiences) then you will recognize that depression can be a real disease and often the victim . . . well, is a victim. That isn't to say that they are helpless. There are ways to fight against depression. Re-thinking (cog native restructuring, renewing of the mind) and sometimes medications (as well as rest). Of course prayer. But I even say prayer with hesitation because Evangelicals have, too often in my opinion, see prayer as a magic wand. Say a prayer and presto, you problems will be over. When the problems don't magically go away, then you have to move up to the 40th floor to insulated yourself from the reality of the mood disorder down in the basement. You can live up on the 40th floor, big smiles on your face, living in denial . . . until they find your body and your suicide note.

I have no clue about Steve's history. Maybe he was very open about his mood disorder. I don't know if he was a Christian or not.

It was strange, but as a young Christian when I was in college, I was taught by my Navigator leader that once you are a Christian, you are protected from many things (physical, spiritual harm) including mental illness. That's why it was such a confusing paradox when one of our Nav members, Owen, killed himself over Christmas break. We had to assume he was simply in sin. I wish I could go back to those days and spend many hours talking to Owen . . . and just listening.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Building Metaphor

I’ve spoken of my building metaphor before, especially in my manuscript, which I posted several months back. But I decided that I wanted to explain it once more, connect it to this whole concept of Christian Monism, and then put it in a sidebar so I can refer back to it from time to time.

I see the playing out of life, both on the Christian front and on the secular, as a building. It is a tall, 100 floor building. The floor that you live on in this building corresponds to how close you live to reality. Reality, in this sense, is real-reality. I’m talking about the very fundament, candid, emotional, psychological, sociological, spiritual and physical reality of this world as it is.

In my opinion, most of Evangelical Christianity is played out around the 20th to 40th floors. Many of the TV evangelists, like you would see on TBN or Daystar, play out their public lives up on the 70-80th floors. I think (speaking of the secular world now) that many politicians and celebrities also share those higher floors. The upper floors and penthouse are reserved for the psychotics (who are totally divorced from reality).

The reason that I even became interested in this issue has to do with my fall from Evangelicalism. Early on, I realized that my entire Christian life had been lived up on those middle floors (I believe that my days in the Navigators were lived up on the 40th+ floors always pretending to be very godly).

Once I started exploring real emotional honesty, I had a passion to take it down to ground level. I’ve never achieved that for many reasons. For one, it is very sociological hard to do. Once you venture beneath the 20th floor (and you are a Christian) there is tremendous pressure on you to keep lying (see my recent posting about Church games).

The bottom floor, down near reality, are some comedians, like the late George Carlin. I don’t mean to make him out to be a hero. He was talented and he tried to expose our society to its harsh realities. But I think he was a bitter and addicted man. No, he didn’t seem to know God. But he did know a lot of truth and did not hesitate to point it out. Freud (although wrong about many things) was one of the first to try and point to the “id” of the basement.

Many people either, A) are highly offended if I suggest that they don’t live near emotional reality, or B) believe that life only works well when we allow ourselves to live up on the twentieth floor or higher. I think my wife sees things from the “B” perspective, and I respect that. I do realize that most of society functions better where there is a lot of insulation between us and our fallen selves.

How Does This Relate to Christian Monism?

Okay, it’s complicated. But if God created both the physical (including the brain) as good (but fallen) then the brain is important. The brain, being anchored in the material, does not change easily. If you were born with a personality disorder (or acquire one through life) it doesn’t change the moment you become a Christian, but starts to take on disguises that would make it more accepted in that Christian sub-culture.

Dualist Christians believe that the spiritual is far more important than the physical, and some honestly believe that the physical is evil (“worldly” in other words). So if you disallow the role of the physical brain on thinking, behavior etc . . . you are left with a very fluid “spirit.” The spirit, theoretically, can change on a whim . . . just through simple obedience or choice.

So the typical Evangelical belief system is that we have the opportunity to grow to be very spiritual very quickly. We can leave a life of sexual exploitation, drug addition and in a matter of a few years, be pastor of a mega church, claiming to have been totally renewed.

This is why one gal in our Navigator training center could return to sex and drugs literally overnight, after having been “trained” and discipled as a “godly woman” for a decade. The old self was not that far from the new self all along.

However, when reality does not mesh with our belief system, we are forced to create an insulating façade. That’s what society does as a whole does (all of us pretending that we are much better than we really are) but Evangelicals are experts at this.

This is how the wonderful, godly, man who preaches to you each Sunday morning, can be abusive to his wife and children in the privacy of their homes. Sometimes this abuse is apparent but sometimes it takes more discreet forms (allowing the godly man to continue feeling better about himself) such as spiritual abuse. This is where you put people down or smash them like a bug with your Bible.

So, in conclusion, I thought I would describe this metaphor once more . . . stick it over to the side . . . and reference it in future discussions.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Diverging Paths . . . Long-lost Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Dilemma of the Lonely Christian Man Part III - The Fear of Effeminatecy

Yes, I know there is no such word of Effeminatecy but it is one that I invented to express the fear of intimacy--because of the fear of appearing effeminate (which is broader then just appearing gay).

Now, if what comes to mind, when I mention this topic, is that Christian men should have the freedom to lay around in their Speedos rubbing suntan lotion on each other . . . good heavens, that's not what I mean at all.

But I sincerely believe that virtually all straight men have this deep fear of looking effeminate. But what's considered effeminate includes things like; 1) talking about feelings (with one exception . . . men can say that something pisses them off), 2) visiting each other for no other reason but to visit, 3) spending time together . . . unless there is an external locus of focus (which I will talk about later), 4) appearing that they don't know all the answers all the time and there's more.

Here is how some of this problem plays out in the real world. I can not call any man in the church and say, “Let’s go out for coffee, or a beer.” Immediately, they would think that I was either; a) a freak, b) in love with them and a latent homosexual, c) selling Amway, d) need to borrow some money, e) raising support for some Christian cause . . . or who knows what. I’m sure that 99% of the time they would make up a lie as why it wouldn’t work out, like, “Oh I really can’t. That’s the night I must take out my furnace filters and clean them.”

One of my closes friends at church (although there are days I say things thing disgust him, like--what I mentioned in the previous post--“Cancer Sucks.” I know that this guy is hurting right now because his son has an addiction problem. I know this because his wife told my wife. I would love to say, “Let’s go out for a beer and talk about it.” However, he doesn’t’ want to talk about it. We have to pretend that it’s not happening. This goes back to the pretending that we, men, are all perfect and have perfect children. So we have to hide all our flaws.

Us who are married have some advantage. Our wives can easily call the other man’s wife and set up a dinner or going out just to talk. They then drag their husbands along. Then once the woman breaks the ice, by talking about emotional things, the men can have some engagement in conversation.

So men usually use the mechanism of what I call the external locus of focus to have any relationship with other men. We can’t get together just because we want a friendship (too gay), but we can share a common interest outside of ourselves. That is one reason that I think the NFL is so popular. It is okay to go over to a guy’s house to watch football, or to build RC airplanes, geo-caching . . . oh yeah, fishing of course. Fishing is the best because you either sit and a boat or stand on a bank and do nothing . . . but if you stand there long enough you can start to ask personal questions. “How’s working going? How’s your marriage (woops that sounds too effeminate), uh how’s your dog?”

I’ve never been skilled at building friendships with Christian men by using this eternal locus of focus. I’ve gone fishing with Christian men a few times. But I’ve observed that most men, whom you would meet in a church, do not want to “hang out” with other men from church. Part of that reason is that most of us want to let our hair down when we hang out. I’ve watch other men (and I’m sure I’ve been guilty) go through a strange transformation when they are hanging out with work buddies and a fellow-church man comes by. The guard goes up and the “Promise Keeper” façade is unrolled.

I’ve also tried to build enduring friendships (using the external locus of focus) with non-Christian men as well, and I’ve failed at it too. I know at least part of the problem must be me.

I once joined a big sea-kayaking group when we lived up on Lake Superior. I did several fun trips with as many as 300 men (and some women). But several problems came up. First, my wife really didn’t like it when I would be gone (our kids were all young at the time). So, the once a quarter weekend trips always seemed to cause us trouble.

But then, like seed falling on shallow soil, the friendships didn’t seem to deepen over time. Part of the problem with this kind of group (and subsequent groups I’ve tried to join like a mountaineer group) is the alpha male syndrome. Men, as I’ve said before, tend to be very insecure. To cover from this insecurity (and I’m talking about all men here) is to be competitive . . . very competitive. To be cutthroat men must always push others down and inflate their own egos. This in turn is not very conducive for deep friendships to develop.

For example, the kayaking group was actually started by a man (my age) who had won a silver metal at a summer Olympics in white water kayaking (for another country). Any time we when out for a leisurely paddle out on Lake Superior, it would turn into a race. It was a race for speed, but also a race for who knew the most about kayaking.

I was scolded once for holding my paddle wrong, or for making too many waves or for not having a $500, marine GPS on my kayak etc (the kind you would need if you were trying to navigate the NW passage in your kayak, alone . . . in the dark . . . and in the fog). Then the kayaks themselves became competitive. Many had homemade carbon fiber racing machines . . . or the purist would actually travel to Greenland and work with Eskimos in building a skin kayak. In their eyes, anyone who didn’t have an official Greenland kayak were inferior.

I confess that I also built two kayaks myself during this phase. But I would go on these trips, and come home feeling like an outsider. I was raising 5 kids and could not afford putting 5-10K into a kayak. But these relationships seemed dead ends and I dropped out after a couple of years. The only way to keep up was to earn a PhD in kayakology and to invest more in the sport than I had invested in my house (or kids college).

Much more to come . . .

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cancer Sucks . . . and Other Theological Truths

I WILL get back to my "lonely man" segment as soon as I have more than 30 minutes to think and type.

However, a brief visit with a a side-bar.

My friend Terry died about 4 weeks ago from cancer. With so many friends and family in town, I really haven't had an opportunity to speak to his wife that much . . . until now.

I was so impressed that I thought I needed to share this. She (usual music director at our church) performed a lovely Easter service music program (mostly playing the piano) this past Sunday. But then, as my wife and I got to speak to her about those last moments . . . before Terry's passing, she said something that told me, as an Evangelical, that she is healthy. I saw her anger rise and she whispered, "That Cancer!" That was, in my opinion, a theological correct thing to say. I'm just glad she is honest about the anger and fear.

I just had to share that. Sometimes Evangelicals are emotionally honest.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

New Look . . . But Still Here . . . Lonely Man Will Continue

Sorry about the confusion about the change. I've had the same lay out for about two years and I thought it was time for a change. After reading a lot of blogs lately, I really thought I could improve the layout of this one by getting rid of some of the busy whistles and bells. I will continue working on it over the next few days. I also want to get the old camera out and start using more of my own photos. So the next time (months away I hope) that I bring of "lonely man" issue . . . I'll have a photo of myself sitting on the beach . . . alone . . . crying in my beer. Ha.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Dilemma of the Lonely Christian Man Part II

I approach this topic not as some type of critic, but as an observer and questioner. I honestly don’ know the answers to the questions but I’m just thinking outside my head.

Here’s a series of the questions that I have, and I will discuss them afterwards.

1) Is the Lonely-Christian-Man syndrome just my personal problem, or is it pandemic?

2) I was told by a pastor, as I graduated from college, that the college years are unique and I will never, ever have relationships again that close. Is this a fact and if so, does it have to be that way?

3) Assuming that I’m not alone in this syndrome, what are the causes?

4) Are they ways, “steps 1, 2 and 3,” that I can do to change things . . . at least in my micro-cosmos?

The Cause # 1, The Fear of Being Known:

I know I’m speaking out of order of the questions I asked above . . . but I think the cause has several factors. The catch-all answer is of course the fall of Adam and individual alienation that comes in its wake. But I want to think about the particulars . . . how that general idea works itself out on a day to day basis.

I’ve said before (in many posts ago) that if you boil down all human behavior, I really think you can say it is based on what I call the economics of self-worth. We all want to have value to our friends, our families and of course with God. Some would call it self-esteem but I’m talking about a concept that is a little more complicated than that.

I had a good, ex-Lutheran pastor, friend I will call "R". I don’t mention R haphazardly because he was one of my last good friends. I lost him as a friend, because he became more and more precise about doctrine (about the Lutheran church is the only true church) and eventually he, by his choice, stopped being my friend. But that’s a side topic.

What I was going to say about R was that he went in for counseling regarding some marital issues. He came out of the meeting with the Christian psychologist angry.

The reason R was angry was because the psychologist suggested that he had some self-esteem issues and depression. Being a scholarly guy, he wrote up a paper about his opinion on self esteem. He really believed that the whole concept of self-esteem was humanistic and not Biblical. Here is a children's video series with the same dogma. Dare I say that the Christian people, who put together this series, did it to boost their own feelings of self-worth?

R believed that Christians should have the attitude that we are all wretched, disgusting and appalling but that we only have value in Christ and his work on the cross.

I could easily get off on a tangent here, talking about this concept of self-esteem, but I do think that on a daily basis our self worth dose play a major role. We want to be respected, loved and valued. This desire is, at least, a part of the motivation for every thing that we do or say.

Men are, by fallen nature, very insecure. We feel that we must put on a perpetual façade to give the impression that we are better than we really think we are (deep inside). This applies to not only Christian men but all men . . . in my humble opinion. Christian men just add “spiritual” markers on the façade.

So, if we men are actually deeply insecure, but put on an intense façade to make others think we have value, then we don’t want other men to get too close or they may see the real me. When men do relate, they must keep up such a thick façade that, in the end, it is only one façade relating to another one. In another metaphor, one, remote controlled unmanned drone interacting with another remote controlled unmanned drone.

Now, I could agree with R at one point, that the insecurity problem has been solved on the cross. That is true in a theological or a redemptive perspective. I mean, the only issue of value that really matters is what God thinks of us. In Christ, when God looks at us, he sees perfection! It is a type of façade, but a Christ-façade, which God himself has built.

But this doesn’t change the reality of how I feel emotionally (or what one could say psychologically). No matter how “spiritual” we think we are, or how well we have our heads screwed out correctly (regarding the proper theology) still we operate from this primeval level of wanting to be valued by others.

So I believe that the first cause of men's loneliness is this alienation built around our fear to be known.

Non Christian men are bad at this . . . but I believe Christian men are worse. The reason being, Evangelicals believe that all our thoughts, desires and behaviors are at the rein of our self-control. They also

More to come . . .

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Dilemma of the Lonely Christian Man

Before I start this post, I will say two things. One, I've posted on this before. Secondly, when I did post on this idea, I had one lady write me that this is not just the Christian Man's Dilemma but also the Christian woman's as well. I respect that. But I do have tunnel vision and I can only express things within my own experience. I am sure that may women experience the same.

I must also add, as I share a personal perspective, I'm certainly not saying there is a reason to feel sorry for me . . . as if I'm unique . . . but I talk about this issue because I do predict that it is a common experience.

I also don’t mean to imply that this is a unique experience for CHRISTIAN men. I think it is a dilemma of all men (and women). Part of the fall of Adam is not only a separation and isolation from God . . . but also from each other.

A woman would be best suited for describing how this dilemma works for them. But speaking from the masculine perspective, I think that many men are . . . in an odd way . . . very comfortable with this isolation. As men, we are often taught to build high walls around ourselves (to hide our insecurity) as a young child.

I do think that I’ve always had some passion for digging deeper, relating deeper than the average guy and I think that is just part of my personality. However, I also think there is an especially difficult part of this dilemma for the Christian male. The reason is, the Christian male knows that things could be better. (I believe that we Christians have a God-given utopian dream, of what could have been here on earth without the Fall and what will be here on earth after redemption. This is sort of a Hebrews 11 phenomenon).

Another reason that I think that men (all men) are especial vulnerable to this feeling of loneliness is that some of us have tasted a world without loneness. I know that when I was in high school I had some great friends. The same was true in college. Then in graduate school I was also involved with a close-knit Christian ministry. Even non-Christian men have tasted it. Maybe it was among brother in a fraternity.

Since graduate school, I had one other experience where I was not lonely. That was during the years I lived in Marquette, Michigan. I think the reason then was two-fold. One, I was in the Air Force for my first 3 ½ years. The military is much like the college setting . . . very conducive for developing friendships. Also I led a family Bible study for 5 years with the same couples. I was not allowed to take it to the level of honesty that I wanted, because we were all Evangelicals and had to keep up a “spiritual façade,” but we did get close. However, since then . . . there has been isolation.

I think the reason that this issue has become acute for me again was from recent events . . . and my jealousy of my wife’s social contacts. One event was when one friend died a few weeks ago.

The jealousy of my wife comes from the fact that she has many good friends. These women come over and immediately start asking Denise how “she feels” or “thinks” about such and such. If we are out of town (like we were two weeks ago) within hours of our return, the phone starts to ring. It’s her friends calling and asking about the trip. I can never remember a man calling me about anything in the six years we have lived here. I have called several, including one last Sunday, asking if I could help him split wood. I stopped by the house of another two nights ago when I was out on my bike. He had just gotten out of the hospital and I wanted to see how he was doing.

So the first thing that prompted this loneliness self-pity party this time was the phone ringing last night. When the phone rings, it is always for Denise. When I’m on the phone it is usually the hospital calling to dump a major problem on me . . . at 2 AM. Or, like last night, it is me doing some type of unpleasant business. I had to call the firewood guy who Denise paid but never delivered our wood as promised.

I was also jealous of Denise because she is going to Kenya this summer for three weeks with our daughter. She mentioned last night that her boss suggested that she take and entire month off and go to Kenya.

I started to think, and again I know it is self-pity and the sin of jealously, that I have worked full time for 27 years. Full time for me means about 50 hours per week on average. Denise did not work outside the home for 16 years, and now she works part time (about 20 hours a week when she is not teaching). The 16 years she stayed at home were not easy for her. She was caring for, and doing a great job btw, our 5 children.

But, I’ve never taken more than two weeks off in a row and those two weeks are usually centered on providing a vacation for my family. I can’t take more time because I am chained to my job. We have to have my income. Denise worries a lot about our bills . . . and she has the right to, because she is the one who pays them. But if I took a month off, or worked 3 days a week, it would be a huge problem. At least I do have a job.

The way this relates to loneliness, is that one reason that I am lonely is that I don’t have any time for anything else but work, gym, home fix-it chores and rest. I’m jealous of Denise when she is going out with her friends at night, getting together during the day. She’s had many lives outside the home. She was very involved with martial arts for about 5-6 years. Now she is involve with triathlons.

The next item of jealously is the fact that she works with a hundred women. Several are her good friends. They talk about life at work every day so even when she’s at work, she has a huge amount of socialization.

I work in a medical office. The two doctors I work with are somewhat antisocial. They would never speak to me if I did not speak to them. They have no desire to socialize outside of work. The women in our front office are much better about socialization, but I certainly don’t think it would be healthy to have women as my best friends.

I remember my first experience with loneliness came right after college. I moved to inner city Louisville, Kentucky to be involved with the Navigators. The Nav staff there (in his fifties at the time) live an hour away in a suburb. There were no other single men in the ministry . . . actually there really wasn’t any ministry that I saw anywhere. But I became very, very lonely . . . and depressed.

I remember going to a park in Louisville and sitting on a bench. The fall maple leaves were yellow and orange and the wind was cold blowing in off the Ohio Rriver. I sat and cried my eyes out telling God how lonely I was and begging him for help.

I decided to bring it with the Nav staff guy at our next, once a week, 1 hour (precisely) discipleship meeting. He was not a very personable guy anyway so I was scared to say anything that didn’t give the image that I was perfect. But finally I did.

“Hal . . . I’m very lonely right now and I don’t know what I can do about it.”

He cleared his throat. “Then you’re in sin.”

I never brought it up again. His answer to any problem was the same, “You’re in sin.”

But now, 27 years later, I have tried to build relationships with other men but it never seems to work and maybe it is my fault. I’ll pick up on this theme in the following posts.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Tween A Gnat and a Camel

Coming soon . . .

I've decided to come back to this topic later.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Have Christians Lost Their Ability to be Cunning?

16"Stay alert. This is hazardous work I'm assigning you. You're going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don't call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove. Matthew chapter 10 "The Message"

The Webster Dictionary gives several related meanings for “cunning.” The two main ones include:

1: dexterous or crafty in the use of special resources (as skill or knowledge) or in attaining an end (a cunning plotter with usually a deceitful end).

2: displaying keen insight (a cunning observation)

From the text of the passage, and other translations from the original Greek, The Message’s use of the word “cunning” clearly relates to the second definition. However, once you finish reading this blog, you may see that some Christians practice the “cunning” of the first definition rather well.

I’m ashamed to admit that it is TV programs (okay sometimes books) that prompt many of my postings (like Oprah and the Yearning for Emotional Honesty posting). This time it was a Dateline segment on Friday night, where Chris Hansen investigates Dennis Lee. Dennis is a long time fraud king . . . and sadly, a type of minster. At least he preys on Churches for his schemes. Before I continue, I will give describe my premise regarding my observations.

I do not come at this issue of cunning, or lack of, from any type of theological or Biblical exogenesis perspective, but from more of a simple foundation. If God is there, and if he is a good God, then he is a God of truth . . . and honesty. I could share a lot of scripture at this point but you know most of them. If not, go to Bible Gateway (or your own electronic Bible) and do a word search for truth.

With that said, I must add the caveat that truth (due to the falleness of this world) isn’t always easy to find. The rationalists, including Aristotle, were wrong on the point that reason can always lead you to truth. In a perfect world . . . maybe.

But in this world, as we find it, truth is obscure. Satan is the god of lies and is pretty good at deceit. There are many passages (and I won’t share those here either) about this idea of psychological dishonesty. One of my favorite verses is Jeremiah 17:9 (New International Version)

9 The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?

So in conclusion, we can’t trust anyone or anything completely. How many pastors have been trusted completely . . . only to find out that they were stealing money from the church, sleeping with the church women (or girls) and only God knows what else. None of us are totally trustworthy and "being a strong Christian" or even pastor, doesn't change things.

But, in this cult of niceness that we (those) Evangelicals find ourselves in, being cunning or skeptical is no longer in the vocabulary.

The Dateline story was about a master con artist, Dennis Lee. To make a long story short, he has a MLM type of business plan where he promotes a variety of “energy” products. The one they highlighted on the show would make cars get 60 to over 100 MPG. The product cost $1500-$3000. You can even buy a dealership. This is the product they tested (with real scientist) and was worthless.

Dennis Lee also has perpetual motion machines, and all kind of energy from nothing (all violating Newtonian laws of physics). But the sad thing . . . the really sad thing, is that this con man is cunning enough (think if the first definition of the word above) to wrap his enterprises in Jesus. This kind of stuff is what would make the real Jesus want to drive them out of the temple (along with the TV evangelist) with a whip.

But my question is, have we Christians lost our sense of being cunning (the second definition)? As Christians, we shouldn’t focus on being nice . . . but KNOWING THE TURTH! If someone comes up and tells me any type of incredible story at Church, I have the responsibility to question and doubt them. This not only includes get rich schemes, but also miracles. God is simply a god of truth. We need to be taught the art of doubting.

I want to do a posting next time on a very personal story where this same type of thing was being pulled with a group of Christian friends.

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Medley of Self-indulgent Thoughts in the James Joyce Style

I think it was a combination of three things that put me in such a good mood this morning.

Reason 1) The sun is out! It has been an entire week of cold rain. That’s why I selected this photo of me. It was a self-portrait taken in my pup tent three years ago in the God-forsaken NW Pakistan; near the epicenter of the terrible earthquake (ironically the name of the place I was, in Urdu, is “The Place God Loves”). It had been a cold (36 degrees) rain for about 4-5 days straight. My pup tent was surrounded by ankle deep mud and not far out side the mud was a crowd of angry protestors, on the back of wagons . . . . being pulled by tractors, yelling (in both Urdu and English) “Death to America!”

On the morning of the photo, I awaken early (5 AM) to no sound of rain. Then, when the sun came up . . . it was out and I could tell from the brightness through the tent wall. So I had the same feeling this morning. On the morning of the photo, I awaken early (5 AM) to no sound of rain. Then, when the sun came up . . . it was out and I could tell from the brightness through the tent wall. So I had the same feeling this morning.

2) I feel like I am walking through the aftermath of a hurricane (I know that’s an embellishment). But, starting about three weeks I worked like a dog, went off to a family reunion and then have worked like a dog this week upon return. I put in a 13 hour yesterday. Today, my schedule is light . . . halleluiah!

3) It’s Friday.

Regarding James Joyce. I had enough time this morning to sit in the coffee shop for 30 minutes reading James’ Joyce’s Ulysses. I’m trudging my way through the long book because I want to read all the great writers. Growing up in the (Dualistic) Bible belt, we were taught that novels (earthly people writing about earthly things) were a waste of time so I’ve missed out on all the great novelists.

Joyce writes Ulysses in the stream-of-consciousness style. Some chapters read in a way that each sentence is a totally different thought from the previous one. I have a lot of thoughts this morning so I’ve decided to borrow from James . . . at least this one time.

Self-indulgence. I would guess that Blogs, by definition, are somewhat self-indulgent. I mean there are millions of them, most of them (probably like this one) go unread. But like I’ve said before, the purpose of my Blog is for it to function as my “Wilson” (from Castaway). It is my sounding board to get my thoughts in a written media. Certainly it is nice when someone comes along and reads and comments . . . especially when they are saying something that I read as “No you are not insane . . . I feel the same way.” Of course, occasionally, I get the “Yes you are insane” comment or e-mail.

The collapse of Evangelicalism. Mike Spencer had done a series on his blog and in the Christian Science Monitor on his belief that Evangelicalism is terminally ill. I’m sure if I buy it. Okay, maybe it is in ICU. I know that I’ve been critical of Evangelicalism but I think it will, for better or worse, survive in a variety of forms. This includes the propagation of mega-churches with “rock star” Pastors. I do believe that the old mainstream, somewhat conservative, churches will endure . . . but their separation from reality will continue to widen.

But in the aftermath of the Evangelical illness I do believe there will be some new Christian paradigms on the scene.

One will be the pseudo (I say “pseudo because I don’t think Donald totally supports this idea) Donald Miller’s Blue-Like-Jazz “Free Lance” Christians. These are people, usually younger than 35, who have a conservative theology but do not go to church anywhere. I don’t think that’s a healthy option, but time will tell.

Lastly, I suspect a boom in the quasi-Christian-pantheistic approach. You know . . . the “all streams lead to the same sea” system. The Bishop that just got defrocked for being a Moslem is at sign of this kind of thinking. I’ve noticed on our island several Christian, especially charismatic Christians . . . as well as the old mainline ones, mixing new-age spiritualism comfortably.

But then, I’m not sure what’s going to happen to my breed of Christian. I'm talking about those who are disillusioned with Evangelicalism (might say post-evangelicals), who want a much more honest way to function as a Christian, but who are not tolerated within the present wineskins.

This brings me to my last random thought, again self-indulgent. I know that I am often critical regarding Evangelicalism. There’s all kind of clichés about not "don't be negative or critical if you are not willing to be part of the solution."

But then I review my history. I've really tired to be part of the solution, but it is swimming against the tide. I was a staunch Evangelical for twenty years. Then, my falling out with them was gradual. The whole time I was attempting to stay and be part of the solution. During these years of my falling out I’ve been an elder for two different churches. I’ve been the deacon of small groups. I’ve been the main adult Sunday school teacher for a large church.

When I moved to this island, I had great ambitions of contributing to the local church. We joined. I tried to teach the youth class.

When I took over the youth, I had them pick the topics that they were most interested in. One was music. One was TV shows. So we started listening to their music with a deep understanding of what the song writer or band was trying to say. We didn’t do it in a flippant way, but investigation the philosophical beliefs of the band. Then we compared it to the Biblical concepts. The TV show that we did this with was LOST. I thought we were having a great time . . . but then the pastor quickly replaced me. He was worried that some of the parents would be dissatisfied that we were watching a TV show in Sunday school . . . rather than being lectured to about the Bible.

Then I tried to teach adult Sunday school and ran into the same kind of roadblocks. Then I not only became elder, but later became the head elder. However, it was very hard trying to fit in.There were so much emotional dishonesty between the elders and pastor. I was also looked down on by some of the other elders. It is hard to lead if you don't have respect. And the disrespect was based on honest things I tried to say. For example, the previous head elder questioned if I were a Christian because I didn’t believe the earth was only 6,000 years old.

So I’ve tried. Now I live in limbo. I’ve given up on trying to be involved with the church. My wife says we’re are NOT switching churches. So I find myself, as a Christian, just as isolated as the “Donald Miller” freelancers . . . something I sense very unhealthy.

The last random thought was about happiness. I know deep question. But with every scenario that I can conceive, I can not create a heaven on earth situation that would yield happiness. I don't believe in the old fakey happiness that I use to believe in . . . smiling a lot and claiming that I'm happy.

But I really am starting to think that Soloman had it right. Eat, drink and be merry because everything else on this earth is in vain. Of course we are given eternal life in Christ and a new heaven and earth. But I really don't believe that the positive thinking approach is the way to find contentment . . . but enjoying yourself is. I don't mean sin . . . Jack Daniels and two super models in a beachfront hotel. No. I'm talking about having fun with your family, drinking Mochas in the sun, reading Joyce, soaking in the hot tub or hanging out with your relatives on a family reunion. Maybe I don't have to find all the answers to be happy. Maybe I don't have to fix the church or even my own family. These things, eating, drinking and being merry is what brings contentment.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Oprah and the Yearning for . . . Emotional Honesty . . . Rranch

It was really the Yearning for Zion Ranch, that my wife was watching the other night. I wasn't interested but I had gone to bed early and Denise had the show on in the bed room . . . so I ended up watching it.

In the program, at least the part I watched, Oprah interviewed a circle of young brides (some sharing the same husband).

Okay, once again I will end up talking about honesty, and that might be my pet-peeve lately. But my real interest, and it has been so for a decade and a half, is truth. So I’m interested in truth at all levels, and here, once again, I’m speaking of a human (meaning emotional and sociological) truth.

As I watched the Oprah interview with the young brides, who are a part of the Yearning for Zion cult, I sensed a great familiarity. I remember my Evangelical days, both of being on college campus, being in the intensive Navigator training center and a missionary. I can remember how we, while we strained at a gnat (of theological truth) we swallowed a camel of emotional/sociological lies.

What I’m about to say could easily have been included in my “Why it’s hard to speak to an Evangelical” segment. However, in my Evangelical days, we didn’t respond to any question with the honest truth but with a cliché. This is what I observed with the young Yearning wives.

This will be my paraphrase of the Oprah interview, and, btw, Oprah did ask some poignant questions.

In case you are not familiar with the group (and I suspect that most people are more familiar with them than I am) I will summarize . . . again in a paraphrase.

This is a Mormon sect that practices polygamy. Traditionally girls are married off as young as 13 and the men have several wives. Often it is an older man, say 50, who is marrying a young girl (in her teens) but not always. I remember an interview with one boy escapee who commented that all the girls his age (around 18) were taken by the old men.

So one of the questions Oprah asked were, “Do you get jealous of the other wives?”

One gal, after hesitating for a moment, answered along the lines of, “No. We are sisters and we love each other in the Lord.”

It didn’t take long to realize that the interview was totally empty. Good questions asked . . . parrot responses, speaking what they “Should say.”

I can remember as an evangelical (and I’m sure I still do it) being asked a question and, in my subconsciencious mind, looking back through the file drawers, not for the honest answer but for the “correct answer.” This was especially true if I was in a crowd of evangelicals.

For example, we might be out “on evangelism” and a non-Christian asks, “Don’t you ever doubt God’s existence?”

My mind would journey back, avoiding the honest-answer files, and moving past them to the “what you are supposed to say” files, then I would respond, “Never. I know that God is there because I walk with Him every day. I know that He is there as much as I know that I exist. When you trust God with your life, He will reveal Himself to you in a way you can never deny.”

But, in the back of my mind, I knew there were times . . . late at night when I was having insomnia . . . my mind would ask, “How do I really know that God is there? How do I know that this isn’t just a psychological illusion?” I think C.S. Lewis did the same.

But if I were with a group of evangelicals and a non-believer asked me the doubt question and I went back to the “honest files” and pulled out an ambiguous answer, like, “Well, sometimes I wonder if God is really there after all,” my evangelical friends would be extremely disappointed in me and I would be re-classified within that subculture as “not a very strong Christian.”.

I just heard on the Seattle news last night that an atheist group is trying to create some type of anonymous web page or phone bank where “religious people” can come to when they have doubts. They said that their point was not to try and convert the “religious people” to atheisms . . . but to teach them critical thinking skills.

While I agree with their premise, that all people should be taught critical thinking skills, I really don’t buy their benign purpose. I know that I’m often very critical of evangelicalism, however, I see the hard-core atheist as even much more of a farce. They surround themselves with this intellectual arrogance where they really think that they have reached their point of disbelieve through their great minds (and reason). In reality, those confident in their atheistism usually have psychological factors that are not that much different than the Yearning for Zion group. Often it is moral autonomy that drives them.

This brings me back to the YZ group. Let’s get real here. So they live in a situation where men can dominate women and give them orders that must be obeyed. These men can “marry” (or a polite term for legally having sex with) multiple women, even girls much younger than they are. When the men get tired of a woman, they can always be looking for new, virgin flesh. On top of this behavior, they live in a society where they believe that God not only allows this kind of behavior, but He wants it! So when you pick a new 15 year old bride (and you are 50!) and have sex with her, that makes God (and you) happy!

As a mortal, fleshy man, I can say that I see why they believe the way they do. Even the atheist men would like to live like this, but at least they have a moral compass (God-breathed at creation). It is in our man-natural (but not necessarily godly) nature to want to have sex with multiple women, especially younger and younger ones (I’m just being honest here). It is also in our nature to want to dominate others, especially our women and children. In cults, domination is often used in the way that to “disobey me is to disobey God.” It’s a trap! Run for the hills!

Okay, now back to us. I think of more practical terms of how we give parrot answers. I was a missionary once. Honestly, I loved it. I loved living in an exotic country, not having a job during the day. I could spend the day at the park with my kids if I wanted. While we lived with little money, exotic travel was a common requirement. It made it so much easier to say that “God had called us to Egypt.” I’m saying that all our motives were bad. I had a sincere desire to help Moslems come to Christ. But, us as broken humans never have pure motives about anything.

Right now I am trying to create a study abroad program for PA and medical students. I had the rare opportunity on a plane the other day to be my usual candid self without someone questioning me. I was sitting beside a guy around 30 who works for a Christian outdoor adventure organization. This guy was very honest that the reason that he was doing it was because he could get paid, not well—but paid, to do the things he loves. I’m really glad he didn’t do the evangelical parrot thing, “Oh God called me to this ministry.” I’m sure he is helping the teens that are in their program but he also is doing it because he loves mountain climbing, kayaking and etc.

I felt very free to tell him that the reasons that I’m trying to start my company are (and in this order): 1) Pay my way to live overseas, at least for short periods of time, 2) To be in the role of teacher and expert, to a group of students (ego massage), 3) Help those people who have little medical resources and 4) Try to broaden the vision of these students to see the needs around the world.

But if this were going to be a Christian endeavor (mission group) I would have to paint over all the motives with a simple, 1) “God has called me to this mission to save the lost.”

I remember a conversation with a fellow evangelical (but who has since become disillusioned with the faith and left) back in college. He said something to the effect, “Christian decision making is where we quickly decide what we want to do, then spend a huge amount of effort making it look like something God wants us to do.”

The only thing wrong with that is that we should be honest about it. Hey, I want to go be a missionary in X, Y or Z because being a missionary makes me look very spiritual.