Thursday, September 30, 2010

My Thesis Against Evangelicalism Part II

Thesis II: Evangelicals Ascribe to Platonic Dualism

This really shouldn't be listed as one item of the thesis because, in my uncertain view, it under-minds most of what is wrong with Evangelicalism.

I will try to be concise as I explain my view and then give practical examples how this works out in real life.

Of course, there is a dualism in the way God had created the universe. There's the physical realm and the spiritual. The Platonic take on this (as well as others such as Zoroaster of Persia) is simply, the true reality is in the spiritual realm (thus Plato pointing up in the painting by Raphael). The physical world, according to Plato, was inferior and only a shadow of the true reality. Zoroaster and others go as far as saying that the physical world is not just inferior, but evil (as did many of the Christian Gnostics).

So, when you have this unhealthy view, that this physical world is insignificant, if not evil (many Christians talk about "worldly views vs godly views" thus implying that this physical world is slightly evil). So, this kind of thinking has a profound effect on how you live and think.

In my uncertain, humble opinion the Dark Ages were completely the result of Platonic Dualism within the Church. In today's time, the Taliban think in extremely dualistic terms (and I've had the opportunity to spend time with pro-Taliban people in NW Pakistan). Therefore, for them to blow up a nursery school (thus killing 50 pre-schoolers) is good if it accomplishes some spiritual purpose because the spiritual is so much more important than the physical realm.

If Evangelicals were in total power, as the Medieval Church was, we would now be in another Dark Ages. There is a micro-dark ages happening within Evangelicalism as we speak (in my uncertain, humble opinion).

So, how does this translate into Evangelicalism?

According to the Platonic-Christian Dualistic view, the following things do not matter:

The physical brain
Human history and the study of it
The role and influence of culture (or the study of, such as anthropology)
Laws of physics, thus cause and effect
Paleontology (science in general)
All fine art that was created by non-Christians
Human physical needs, food, water, shelter and emotional needs

So, the practical working out of the above thinking is that Evangelicals become very superstitious. For any of life's events to have meaning, they must be directly tied to the spiritual world. Grand ma didn't get better because of smart people using the laws (which God created, by the way) of biology of disease and medicine, but because an angel came into her room and touched her.

The car wreck that killed my child (speaking figuratively here) wasn't caused by them driving 60 mph on an icy road while texting their friend (and Newton's laws of centrifugal force and the coefficient of friction), but by God doing it deliberately to teach me patience or to trust Him . . . or possibly by Satan to try and disrupt my great ministry.

Here is another very earthy (pun intended) example and it is a good one because it involves my old Evangelical church and my new church. I can juxtapose one over the other for contrast.

My new church does a dinner for the homeless every Sunday afternoon at their church annex. It is an ecumenical event involving many churches in our town. At one point my old church and many other evangelical churches were involved with this event. A problem devolved when people from my old church (this was before I came here seven years ago) and other evangelical churches started giving the homeless people gospel tracts or trying, directly to evangelize the eaters.

My new church make a decision not to allow proselytizing during the dinner event because they did not want the homeless people to feel used (as a simple target for evangelism, like baiting a mouse trap with cheese).

If I heard the story correctly, my ex pastor (the one who came to my house to scream at me) thought that was inappropriate to "bar the gospel within the doors of a church." He led a revolt of the evangelical churches against my new church. None of them been involved since.

In their (Dualistic) thinking, even though these people were homeless, poor and hungry, food in their stomachs wouldn't do them any good. It had to be the gospel or nothing (thus the "spiritual" trumps the physical).

I think my new church has it right. Love is feeding the hungry . . . no strings attached . . . not using people . . . just a simple act of love for love's sake.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

My 95 . . . Okay, maybe 1 . . . Thesis Against the Evangelicals, Part I-B

This is simply an addendum to my last post. I will be back tomorrow for my next major post.

I wanted to say that Thesis I should have been stated as "Moral Certainty in All Things." A close cousin to that is Thesis II, "Theological Certainty in All Things."

I have several good Evangelical friends. Each have this same attitude when it comes to this issue, basically, their precise church (or denomination) is the ONLY one that has their theology right. Each one has expressed concern about the churches I've attended because they may not conform to their concept of the theological ideal.

I use to be the same way. I thought I had all theological positions worked out . . . where I found absolute truth and many other Christians were in error, sometimes deep error.

This is an example of my attitude now, where I've lost certainty. I personally lean in the Post-Millennial direction regarding eschatology. However, I have no sense of certainty. I may, and probably am, wrong in my views. I have no problem hanging out with people with all views . . . because if really smart people have spent their entire adult lives trying to figure it out, and they ended up with opposite views, how the heck do I think I can reach the theological certainty that they could not?

The problem for me personally is the constant criticism that I get from those evangelicals with theological certainty.

I have tried to hang out with one of my few Christian friends, especially since I left my church (he left the same church three years ago). It gets irritating when every conversation we have, he ends up making several comments how "Biblical" his church is, and how he questions the choice of my new church (especially because my new church has a woman pastor). This kind of perspective really drives a wedge between people and is a major reason that Evangelicals now bug me.

My 95 . . . Okay, maybe 1 . . . Thesis Against the Evangelicals, Part I

It's been a while since I've read Luther's 95 thesis and I didn't have time this morning. But, if my memory serves me well the 95 were made up of church behaviors and theological positions, especially when it comes to justification.

Eagle asked me what mine would be against evangelicalism. This can be complicated so I think it will take more than one post. I've decided to approach first from the superficial issue, then the philosophical one.

While Luther's concerns were very legitimate, mine do not focus so much on theology or even church behavior. Part of it is behavior, but I believe that behavior is reflective of deeper underlying philosophical beliefs and it those beliefs I oppose, not the specific behaviors if that makes sense. Once again, if you want to understand the details of my thinking, you can read my entire 350 page "thesis" or manuscript here.

First, like any good position paper, I must briefly define "Evangelicalism."

The root of this term grew out of the American church movement to counter liberal theology which was taking over the European churches in the early twentieth century. The title was based on the simple distinguishing belief that the Evangelical churches held that Jesus was the only way to redemption, thus there was a reason to evangelize all non Christians. However, since that time (and even then) this simple fact marked a church movement that had a far wider culture. I'm not in opposition to that original, simple defining thought, but much of the huge culture, which grew up around it.

To define Evangelicalism today is not easy. It is like trying to mark the boundary to a fog bank. So, if you had two churches, of the same denomination, in the same town, one may be far more evangelical in character than the other. However, there are of course denominations and church types that one would assume are evangelical.

Okay, to my thesis. I will start with one surface marker and come back next time to explain the philosophical under-tow which I think is behind it.

I. Moral Certainty in All Things

I think it was Dave Tomlinson who said, in his book The Post Evangelical, that one of the defining features of being a post evangelical, is the loss of certainty in all things. This is NOT the same as moral relativism. The key word is "all." So, myself, and any post evangelical would still see murder as sin (in all cases), lying as sin, hate as sin etc. But, we wouldn't see voting Democrat as sin.

The tendency of Evangelicals is to see all of life in back or white terms of godly or sin and they see their own perspective as god-given certainty . . . not personal opinion.

To put flesh on this point, I will illustrate with the age of the earth issue.

The problem for me (and this is just one minor issue) in my old church buddies believing the Ken Ham doctrine that the earth is 6,000 years old is not that they are in sin and I have certainty that the earth is billions of years old. Honestly, my view in the old earth is my personal view based on my understanding of science and that it would seem odd to me that God would create an earth with a strong appearance of age, while it would really be young. That is a personal opinion. That's why I have no moral evaluation of someone who believes the earth is young. They can still be my friends and have my full moral respect. At worst, I might have the feeling that they didn't know much about true science, but that is not a moral issue of godly vs sin. So-called "godly people" can disagree with me and still be "godly."

But the evangelical believes that not only can you know absolute truth in all things, but if you don't you are at least in sin, or maybe not a true believer at all. So it becomes a moral issue, not one of opinion.

So, when I said in my church that I believed that the earth was billions of years old, two church-leader friends right away said I had "come under the spell of the humanist secularist" (a moral problem and they used the Bible to try and show me that I was in sin).

Then the head elder, pastor's right hand man said, "My Bible says the earth is 6,000 years old. If you don't believe the Bible, I'm not sure you can be a Christian." Ouch! So, he not only had certainty in his beliefs (about the non-essentials, the age of the earth) but he had a strong moral judgement on those who do not see things his way.

So the age of the earth is one trivial issue. This same principle, moral certainty in the obscure, has hundreds if not thousands of practical examples. I've heard in my recently-ex church as well as other evangelical churches the following moral certainty:

"Tattoos are a sign of a pact with the devil and they are sin."

"The Tea Party Movement is God moving in this country" (so if you are not a tea-party supporter, you are not on God's side. It's not a political opinion but a moral certainty)

"Music with a rhythmic beat is an act of sexual pleasure thus sin"

"Homosexuality is a clear and simple choice to reject God and to sin because they love the devil." (homosexuality is complex topic, far beyond what I want to discuss here. But certainly it is not just a simple choice to reject God and love the devil.)

I could go on an on.

I will, tomorrow, continue this discussion with the deeper philosophical problems I have with Evangelicalism, giving practical illustrations of how those beliefs manifest in attitudes and behaviors.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sons and Lovers, D. H. Lawrence - The End

I finished this book, number 12 on the all time best, English fiction list. It had a slow start, but in the end, profoundly insightful and moving.

In a nutshell,
Woman meets an attractive man at a dance. Marries him a year later. He is a miner who's life depressed the hell out of him. He becomes an alcoholic shell. His wife's knight becomes the night to her.

She seeks her life through her kids, especially a son named Paul. She becomes obsessed with Paul, and creates a co-dependency of convenience.

There is an invisible force-field, between Paul and the women that he loves. He has no insight why his love torments himself and the women, yet, he can not have them.

His mother dies . . . he dies emotionally. One of the women who loves him too dies (emotionally), because Paul can only be a shell without his mother.

His relationship was never incestuous with his mother on a physical front, but certainly it was on an emotional one.

Here is some of the brilliant writing of Lawrence, the very last page of the book. This was some time, maybe a few years after the death of his mother. On this night he ran into one of the women he loved so dearly but could not have (and she remained faithful to him for years without ever seeing him again). The hope at the end (and it isn't clear) that he returns to find her.

Notice the desperation of the soul without God . . that which attempts to live in the impersonal universe. Paul gave up all belief in God at an early age.

(I will type fast so pardon the typos)

In the country all was dead still. Little stars shone high up; little stars pread far away in the flood-waters, a firmament below. Everywhere the vastness and terror of the immense night which is roused and stirred for a brief while by the day, but which returns, and will remain at last eternal, holding everything in its silence and its living gloom. There was no Time, only Space. Who could say his mother had lived and did not live? She had been in one place, and was in another; that was all. And his soul could not leave her, wherever she was. Now she was gone abroad into the night, and he was with her still. They were together. But yet there was his body, his chest, that leaned against the stile, his hands on the wooden bar. They seemed something. Where was he?-one tiny upright speck of flesh, less than an ear of wheat lost in the field. He could not bear it. On every side the immense dark silence seemed pressing him, so tiny a spark, into extinction, and yet, almost nothing, he could not be extinct. Night, in which everything was lost, went reaching out, beyond starts and sun. Stars and sun, a few bright grains, went spinning round for terror, and holding each other in embrace, there in a darkness that outpassed them all, and left them tiny and daunted. So much, and himself, infinitesimal, at the core a nothing-ness, and yet not nothing.
"Mother!" he whispered--"Mother!"
She was the only thing that held him up, himself, amid all this. And she was gone, intermingled herself. He wanted her to touch him, have him alongside with her.
But no, he would not give in. Turning sharply, he walked towards the city's gold phosphorescence. His fists were shut, his mouth set fast. He would not take that direction, to the darkness, to follow her. He walked towards the faintly humming, glowing town, quickly.

Now, think about this. Because this book described sexual activity between non-married people (in R-rated language) this work was banned by the Church and in Europe and America when it first came out in 1910. They were all idiots. These are God's words. Written, not as infallible scripture, but as the observations of a mortal man with a genius insight and word-craftsmanship that touches were few can. What insight to the fall of man, and the human condition. What evangelism into the want of atheism, what hope in the strain of darkness.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


This really has nothing to do with my previous posts. I just happen to hear Fresh Air tonight on NPR (on my way to visit my new church's book club). I was deeply moved by a story about this, Johnny Cash's last performance before he died. It was a video produced by Mark Romanek.

This whole story and video is deeply moving. Johnny Cash is singing about all the pain he brought other people during his life, and his great regret that he couldn't go back and fix it.

I believe strongly in redemption. God is in the business, as are we, of bringing redemption to the world. That is the work we are given to do. It must start with myself before it is too late in this life.

I invite you to watch the video at the bottom.

(originally by Nine Inch Nails)

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that's real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything

What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

I wear this crown of thorns
Upon my liar's chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair
Beneath the stains of time
The feelings disappear
You are someone else
I am still right here

What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What I've Learned from Frank

I had a friend out for the past few weeks. One of the discussions that came up was Frank Schaeffer. I think my friend, like many people, were under the assumption that Frank had bit the Christian dust a long time ago.

Honestly, I'm not sure where he is at spiritually right now. It has been a while sine we've corresponded. However, it wouldn't surprise me if he wasn't that far away from where I am. He does write a lot with a critical view of Evangelicalism. However, in my opinion, most of what I've read was warranted.

While Frank's dad still stands as my greatest Christian hero (warts and all), Frank himself has left his own mark on me. That mark is brutal honesty. I read his Becker series with a passion. Part of the reason was that the semi-autobiographical works involved people I had known (every so slightly). I had spend many of evenings in the same living room with Frank's mother. I had attended many workshops led by his sister.

So, his mark is seen clearly here in this blog. I write as near as the first floor (with the ground being unadulterated reality) as I can. I am often misunderstood (as Frank is) because of it.

Denise told me that someone had expressed concern to her, after reading this blog, that our marriage was it trouble. It is not. If you have read this blog you have seen as bad as it gets. Maybe I should focus more on the positive. But normal people (and I've never claimed to be normal) only share the tip of their personal icebergs. So, if someone shares tangentially that they have a disagreement with their wife then in the privacy of their bedrooms, they are experiencing marital hell.

When I talk about depression, readers think I am really, really messed up. But honestly, I'm only messed up with one "really."

But Frank has helped to give me the courage to be more real and I am grateful for that gift . . . despite the grief it has brought me.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Freedom or the Lack of

I'm completely stressed out right now. It's not the first time. This time it is the eclipse of several factors. Work is incredibly busy. Denise is in Minnesota looking over her dad, who is critically ill. She was due home last night, but has to delay coming home until next week. When she is gone I not only have my abundance of chores to do but her's as well.

Last night I had a meeting about me making a major professional change of starting my own business. There's a huge amount of work and risk involved with that.

Lastly, we have had house guests for six of the last eight weeks. My present guest has his own reasons to be stressed out. I feel torn between trying to be a listening ear and keeping my own head above water.

I know that said "lastly" with the previous comment but the real kicker is that Denise and I become empty-nesters in two weeks. It will be a profound change in our lives. I wish I wasn't in the haze of chaos right now so I could focus on Ramsey's last days at home.

So I haven't had much time to write here. Heck, I haven't had any good thoughts of late because I'm so tired. I don't sleep well when I'm stressed. Then I get desperate and take a medication to help me catch up . . . which leaves me chemically impaired for the day. I've never figured out which is the lessor of evils, being impaired by insomnia or sleeping well under the influence of medications and then living with the "after glow" more like "after dull" of the medication for the rest of the day.

I wanted to talk about Evangelicals burning Korans. But I couldn't get my head around that right now. I did get in trouble on a medical forum when I said something negative about the Bozo pastor behind it.

But the thought that came to me in the last 24 hours, between the fog and the total distraction of taking care of desperate patients, relates to a few words I heard on Fresh Air with Terry Gross last night. I caught only five minutes of the broadcast so I'm not positive who she was interviewing or about what. I mean, I know he was an author. I think it was Jonathan Franzen talking about his new book Freedom.

This is approximately how it went. I tried to find the exact script on line but was unable.

Terry: "Why do you include characters who are depressed? Is there something behind that?

Franzen: "All interesting people have some darkness within them. They make the best characters because they are so real and rich. There is so much to draw from in their character." (something like that).

So it started me thinking. While I've experienced at least two bouts of serious. clinical depression, that is not the cross I bear. I mean, I wouldn't give myself the diagnosis of depression, at least for the past 10 years. I am respectful that it could raise its ugly head at any time so I am vigilant.

My baggage (thorn in the flesh or whatever metaphor you want to use) is anxiety. Yeah, I live with it daily where depression comes like a season . .. here in great strength, then melts away for a long duration.

But I liked the positive spin that Franzen put on the milder forms of mental illness (versus the more serious like schizophrenia). We who suffer such, have a deeper well to draw from. Yeah, that sounds sweet.

I've notice how so many of the great artists dealt with the darkness of depression or the noose of anxiety. Many of them took their own lives in then end. I think of Hemingway et al.

So I think to feel deeply about life and the beauty therein, runs the risk of feeling the darkness of the fall.

So, at least today, if I could push a button and suddenly be someone who has never struggled with mental illness . . . I'm not so sure I would.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Truth about Projects

Have you ever had a notion but the words to express that thought (outside your own head) just don’t come to you? Often, when you least expect it . . . presto . . . there’s the words and syntax you’ve been looking for. It hasn’t happen this time.

I’ve been chewing on wordless thoughts since Sunday and it remains so. But I’ve decided that the time has come to attempt to dress them up in make-shift sentences to try and communicate it to others.

I’ve shared frequently about my struggles to live within the evangelical world while no longer being one myself. Once again I will indulge into this matter. But my reason and attitude is not from the position of “OMG, please help me I don’t know what to do!” But, more like, here I am on this journey and I want to jot down some observations, not about me so much, but about the issues.

A few weeks ago I shared that my evangelical church had a service as good as it gets . . . yet, I walked away unfulfilled. I would have to say that this past Sunday was the opposite. It was as bad as it gets . . . and I still walked away unfulfilled.

I considered it as bad because the sermon was about football. The pastor is a big football fan. The chief elder is a high school coach. We use to have a couple of other coaches in our congregation. The pastor’s brother is a high school coach. So the subject matter comes very easily to our congregation.

I think the reason I didn’t like the comparisons of football game to the good Christian (the good ones are the players and the bad ones, just fans) is because I was with my youngest son.

You see, for most of my sons, high school athletics were not a positive experience. They frankly didn’t care for them. Oddly they liked academics much more. However, their lack of interest in sports caused them to be the brunt of a lot of anti-social activity.

I remember when we first moved to Spring Valley, Minnesota (a farming and football town) I observed while a pick up truck load of players passed by our house and screamed at my sons (whom I obvious love very much), “Hey Jones Queers!”

I asked my sons, “What was that all about?”

One of my sons answered, “Dad, this is our lives all day, every day because we aren’t on the team.”

I’m not sure if their mom appreciates their dis-taste for organized sports as she was the proverbial cheerleader dating the quarterback throughout high school. You know, the small-town American dream.

So that was the first part of why Sunday wasn’t my favorite service.

The second part carries the greater mystery. You see, our church always has a new world changing program or emphasis each fall. They always peter out before a few months have passed. The first part of my disillusioned regards how evangelicals always see the problems of the world as being solvable by programs. I’m program-weary. I despise all of them . . . all hoopla and no meaning. I have no excitement when the newest, positive “God thing” comes down the tube.

The latest one is the “Truth Project.” Our church is going to jump in with both feet and if you aren’t jumping in too, then you are just a fan up in the football stadium . . . not a player on the field.

Why this creates so much turmoil in me is my most inward contradiction. I have always advocated studying church history, philosophy, art and science within the church setting, especially as it relates to understanding our present culture. On the surface, that is exactly what the Truth Project is. I should be jumping up and down . . . shouldn’t I?

I had only heard a little bit about it before Sunday, but as I sat there in the bleachers . . . I mean pew . . . I had a sad, uneasy feeling about this. I came home and studied the project online in more detail. I think I know why but I’m sure.

First of all, it is another evangelical project. I was very involved in such a project years ago called “I Found It!” We were going to reach the entire world for Christ within one year and then usher in Jesus’ second coming. I think it alienated more people than it attracted or helped. The effort consumed the best part of an entire year of my life.

The man behind the curtain was a Campus Crusade staff guy who had previous worked in and ad agency on Madison Avenue (if I remember correctly). His resume read like the perfect all-American, father, husband and Christian hero. He also had a strong, handsome, confident type-A persona. Looking back and deconstructing a bit, I see that the whole damn project was wrapped up in his personal ego.

Dr. Del Tackett, the man behind the curtain at the Truth Project reminds me so much of the man behind the “I Found It!” campaign. When I watched the video (online) about his great accomplishments, I get the ebie jeebies.

I hate being a cynic. I loose sleep over my self-doubts and guilt about it. I don’t mean to be. I mean, I’m really not an Eeyore. I see so much good in the world and so much beauty. I see so many wonderful people, so much so that I’m drowning in envy. But I am dubious about so much that is evangelical and the Truth Project is such a case.

The next issue about this project is the way in which it is packaged. It, for all practical purposes, is a MLM scheme. You can not participate unless you attend (and pay for) a training conference. Then you have to follow the plan and orders coming down from the top to a “T.” You must purchase their books, tapes and etc. A good, Jewish friend, named Dave, always tells me, "Mike it is about the money. Everything comes down to being about the money." In this case, I do think that the Truth Project will make someone (or some group) rich. Count the money.

The next point, is where I feel the guilt of my cynicism most acutely. It has to do with the experts featured in the project. I will just mention Os Guinness. You see, I’ve always been a fan of his. I’ve read about all of his books. I taught at least two Sunday school classes based on Os’ lectures (via tape). So I feel shameful that a project, which he supports and is part of, rubs me the wrong way.

What’s wrong with me?

Okay, one last point and I wish I had the elegant verbiage of a Kerouac, Dickens or Lawrence, but I don’t. It has to do with how these topics of philosophy, science and history are used in the Truth Project. Rather than helping us to see God at work in the world, the purpose of it seems to further divide the good guys from the bad guys in the perpetual culture wars (between the Evangelicals and nons).

I rest my case.

This is

Friday, September 3, 2010

Thoughts from the Two Bearded Men

I go through these cycles of insomnia. As I've said before, for some reason, in the middle of the night my emotional senses seem most raw. It is usually a detached anxiety or guilt. Some of my old Evangelical friends would say that it is probably the Holy Spirit convicting me . . . for things I've said or posted here. But I don't think so. I think it is the generalized anxiety that I must carry like Paul's thorn.

Following good sleep hygiene practices, I leave the bedroom and go into another room to read.

Working my way through my list of top 100 English novels, I'm (sadly to say) am still on # 11, HD Lawrence's Sons and Lovers (the profile bearded on the top is Lawrence).

In prep for reading the novel I did a little background checking. One review, which I read, said that Sons and Lovers was banned in several countries when it was first published in 1913 for "inappropriate content" (in this near-post Victorian age).

So I was a bit puzzled as I worked my way through a beautifully written, but clearly "G rated" book. It wasn't until my pre-dawn reading did I move far enough into the second half of the book to start to get the feeling for the controversy.

While the title might make the issue obvious to most, the point of it was not so clearly manifest within the reading of the first chapters. But before I indulge into the complex, I will share just a paragraph of Lawrence's beautiful words;
He sat down against his will, resting his back against the hard wall of hay. They faced the amphitheatre of round hills that glowed with sunset, tiny white farms standing out, the meadows golden, the woods dark and yet luminous, tree-tops folded over the tree-tops, distinct in the distance. The evening had cleared, and the east was tender with magenta flush under which the land lay still and rich.
So, if you can't remember the story, it is about the family under the shadow of an alcoholic and abusive coal-mining father near Nottingham, England soon after the turn of the century. It was quite autobiographical as the author had the same type of upbringing. Who knows where fact ends and fiction begins. Who also knows why Mr. Morel (the father in the novel) drank. There may have been ghost in his closet that I've yet to discover. But it could have easily been his meager existence of climbing down a black hole everyday before the sun had come up, not to re-appear, dark and dirty, after the same sun had set.

But the focus is really on the mom and her life that she tries desperately to live through her children.

Her oldest son dies alone in London. The youngest son foolishly signs up for the war. That leaves Paul. She has daughters but the book's title is about "sons" thus they play only prop.

Paul has this strange relationship with a girl. She dearly loves him. He loves her . . . but there an invisible force field (my words) that stands in their way. He doesn't have any insight and feels helpless.

By the end of my reading last night it became clear. It was his mother's love that is her son's confining cocoon. But the love insidiously evolves from
storge (Greek for motherly love) to eros. In the last scene, before I returned to my bed to try and sleep, Paul tells his girl that it just won't work. He returns home to a grieving and physically sick mother . . . in such a state only because of Paul's neglect. She emotionally manipulates Paul with layers of guilt for exchanging a beautiful young girls attention for that of his own mother. They kiss good night. Lawrence describes the kiss as passionate.

You see how this segues into the second breaded man. Do I need to say more?

My point is, and I've brought this up many times in this blog, that the fall has penetrated our psyche far deeper than each of us realize. In my opinion, none of us know the true depth of our motives nor the inward working of psychological make up (and the scars it bears). Truly altruistic motives are possible and do happen. But so do those that center on the id rather than the superego.

I use to hate Freud as the opium-addicted humanist who was the form of an anti-Christ. I, ironically, was led to Christ by a high school psychology teacher who, on the very first day of class, wrote on the board three names. Freud, Skinner and Jesus Christ. He announced that there were three ways to look at life and he would compare the views of these three sources over the subsequent semester. Clearly his Jesus and Freud were not on the same page.

I now see Freud (as many non-believing scientist and writers) as brilliant people who made some true observations about life . . . even though, without God, they may have reached faulty conclusions. Freud, like a miner himself, dons his carbide headlamp and led us all down into the bowels of our own psyches. It wasn't always pretty.

Life is much easier when we, in our super-ego (especially Christian, saintly super-egos) play croquet on a manicured lawn than when we go down to the bottom floors and look at the reality.

To bring this long thought to a close, I will say that I have changed in my perspective. I, once, thought that I should try to live as honestly as I possibly can. After all, God is a God of truth. I've spoken many times of trying to go down to the first floor.

But, with some more thought, I don't think it is possible or even healthy to always live in pure truth. Without sounding corny is that the way we are made and in the midst of the fall, we simply can't handle the pure truth of life. If we put on pure truth glasses life would look so messy. I would see that virtually everything I did (and everyone did) was for self promotion to fill that bottomless pit of wanting to be of value. Such circular thinking could drive you as mad as a hatter.

Yet, there is still a place for a deeper truth than we now live. I can sit in church and hear a pastor say, "God spoke to me this morning and told me to enlarge my tent for a great work he is about to do in this town. Either you are for God or against Him! Either you are with this project or not on God's side."

Immediately I can know what he really means, down there on the first floor. He is really saying, "I want to be of value. I want to be at the center of attention to make me feel valuable. So, I want this huge church with me at the center of attention. But I must wrap it in 'God's will' in order to manipulate you to make me the superstar."

My concluding thought, and it is about this view of discernment, is about the show's Dateline and 20/20. I am intrigued by many of their stories. especially when it is about supposedly great people, having a secret life where they do terrible things. It has to do with my interest in psychology.

Two weeks ago one of them was about a charismatic pastor in California that made friends with a wealthy atheists, robbed him blind, and then murdered him (via "accident") to cover his trail.

Last week was about a serial rapist, who turned out to be a seasoned police chief.

In both cases, the people closest to the perpetrators totally refused to believe the convictions in spite of overwhelming evidence. In the first case it was the church people. In the later it was the policeman's family.

But when we can believe that "good people" can't do horrible things, we don't fully understand the Fall of Adam.

The positive point of all this rambling once again is, 1) we are completely valuable in Christ and we need nothing else, 2) we shouldn't be naive about our potential for evil nor that of others. But lastly, we also shouldn't be cynical. Sometimes it is okay to play croquet on the Queen of Heart's manicured lawn . . . and love every second of it.

Sorry about the long post. I typed as fast as I could think. It is late, 6:07 PM and I'm at the coffee shop and I need to get home to my wife. I will proofread later.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Butterflies Will Fly Once More

Like many who have ventured here over the past couple of years, I have had the desire to write and be read. Looking back, I think I have written about eight or nine book manuscripts. I ended up self-publishing a couple of the nonfiction ones . . . the rest . . . into the dust bin or word-sewer of life. I've literally thrown manuscripts, which I've worked on for years, into the furnace or garbage after giving up on finding a publisher. I'm sure the words and chapters still exist somewhere, ghost-like, lurking between some tracks on a hard drive.

Writers are a bit like rock star-wannabes. I have had kids in the later category. Many hope . . . while very, very few make it. I wish it were just an equation of talent. I honestly think that I would feel much better if a publisher or literary agent would read something I've written and then send me this nice letter that they think it is total crap. Even a nasty letter would be okay. Then you would know that you didn't get the golden ring because you didn't deserve it.

But, as in becoming a rock star, talent is only a part. A lot of it comes down to who you know . . . but more importantly . . . who knows you. My siblings, mom and kids don't count. If I had murdered someone famous, then I'm sure many agents would line up to look at my work.

Then there is luck. There have been many writers who were "discovered" by luck. I have one such friend and have heard of many others.

My friend typed out a manuscript, his first. Was in a cab in NYC and he didn't know he was with a copy editor (or someone in publishing). When he mentioned he was working on a autobiography . . . right there, they asked to see it.

They read it, turn it over to an agent. It was professionally edited and published. Then, believe it or not (like a story line in Hallmark movie) it was made into a movie with some big name stars. This friend never even approached one publisher.

But for the rest of us mortals, who haven't killed . . . or slept with anyone famous, it is disheartening. The reason is, after my eight or so manuscripts, not one line, not even a word, has ever been read by anyone in the business! You just can't get you foot past the front door.

I've read two books just on how to compose a query letter (the first step). Those letters were written with great skill (or so I thought). Not messy, like I write here sometimes. Yet, until this day not one bite.

My latest work was indeed a work of passion. It took twenty years of thought and four years of actually writing. It is my manuscript, Butterflies in the Belfry, Serpents in the Cellar, which some of you have seen before. I've spent the last year approaching literary agents with no fruit to show for the effort.

The process,is some ways, is a real catch-22.

First I carefully selected eight "secular" agents who had worked with similar titles (if you don't know what this manuscript is about, I will soon explain). All eight of them responded in a timely fashion with a professional written form letter. "Thank you so much for your letter and for considering our agency. However, we regret to tell you that we are not accepting projects of your type at this time."

Then I picked a Christian literary agent. He had previously written for Christianity Today before starting his own agency. He did not respond back for over a month. Then he wrote a personal (rather than an off the shelf) letter, but it was very negative, "I wouldn't touch your project for no amount of money." What the hell does that mean? He knew very little about it.

Then someone here suggested that I contact Jeff Dunn. He was Imonk's agent. At the time, he was working for a literary agent group. I wrote him a formal query letter. That was about five months ago. He never responded. He is the only agent that I've ever approached, who never responded.

Then I found out that he was starting a new publishing company. Hmmm, I thought, that's why he didn't respond. So I wrote a nice query letter there. No response.

Then I saw his personal e-mail listed on Imonk. I wrote his a query letter via e-mail. No response. Follow up e-mail query letter. No response. Then I wrote him, via the same address, a note that I had read Imonk's book. Immediately he responded and asked me to go on Amazon and write a review of it. So, now that I had his attention, I hit "reply" and wrote out my query letter. That last one was about two months ago . . . still no response. I've always (like I've said before) found silence the worst type of communication. Call me ugly names if you want . . . but just call me!

So a few weeks ago, I held my manuscript over the trash bin (and my finger hovering over the delete button) but I hesitated. I hesitated for two reasons . . . okay, maybe three. First, I have worked so hard on it. Writing it, editing it, having it professionally edited and then editing it some more.

Secondly, I think it is too damn important to throw away. It is in the same general genre as Michael Spencer's Mere Christianity, but I honestly think it goes much deeper and answers more fundamental questions about where we went wrong . . . and it is seasoned with some pretty interesting stories. So, I think there are a lot of people out there who are searching for what I've figured out and put down.

In conclusion, I'm to the point that I'm giving up on "getting it published." But, I have not giving up on getting it into the hands of people whom it can help. I guess this means self-publishing again.

The thing I hate about self-publishing is that the (Xlibris and Trafford) companies promise you the sky. Then, the moment your hard-earned cash gets transfered from your account to theirs, it is like you suddenly become the the bastard son they never wanted. It happened with both. I had great difficulty getting my book out there. The one with Xlibris was always listed as "not available" by all the main sellers . . . after they promised that all of them would have it. It took a year to work out those bugs after many unanswered e-mails and letters sent to the company. In the meantime, I was somehow able to sell about 10,000 copies, and actually made it all the way up to 25,000th on the Amazon best seller list. Sad isn't it.

Then a similar thing happened with Trafford. I told them about the problem I had with Xlibris and they looked appalled. Then, as soon as my book was in print, I got a notice that my particular size (and I could have chosen any size) was no longer being accepted by Amazon or B & N.

So, in my first step, I will make the manuscript "open source." I will post a new PDF file here for the entire thing. Just click on the title of this post. I haven't read the conversion to PDF so I hope there were no glitches. I know some of you were here when I posted it in its more raw form a year ago. It has been edited more since then, but not enough to warrant you re-reading it.

But if you haven't, feel free do download it and read it or pass it on.

I will attempt to get it into other formats, for Kindle-type readers, in an actual paper back version and maybe even an audio version.