Thursday, October 28, 2010

In The Name of God

This CNN News cover photo from yesterday really hit me with this toxic paradox. I do read Arabic so the writing on the "ladies" bandannas blasted me.

The part that is visible is, literally, "No god but The GOD." I would have to assume that the writing continues on the other side their heads "And Mohammed is His Prophet."

The story is, this line of women "firing squad" is shooting to death two young girls in Somalia. The girls had been accused by the (men) leaders of "spying for the Somalian government." The group behind the execution is part Al Shabab, an militant Islamic army, which had taken most of the country and has the intention of setting up a strict Islamic state.

My old evangelical friends are often sending me photos like above with the intention of showing how evil Islam is and how loving Christianity is in contrast. That is not my point here at all. Right now, in this time period, I would agree that Islam has more violence on its fringes than Christianity. The only place I can think of where Christians are killing non-Christians in the name of God is in Nigeria (and maybe a few other sub-Saharan countries). However, this peaceful state has not been the norm throughout Christian history.

Just a generation ago (when my mother was a little girl living in the south) "church boys" were torturing and killing blacks, in the name of God. The first (and only) African-Americans to move to my mom's childhood community were a brother and sister who came there to try and grow a little food in the rocky, clay soil. Rumors quickly spread that they were involved in incest (only because they were black, and the good, Christian white people assumed that black people routinely did horrible things like that). The rumors grew and grew until a pickup truck loaded with red-neck church boys come to their cabin, beat up the man, dragged him out into his front yard. Staked down his arms and legs and then, used pointed sticks to gouge his eyes out. They did this with the blessing of the good-ole Southern Baptists community, as an act of God.

But then you go back a few generations and you run into a long line of atrocities in the name of Jesus. Under the banner of Jesus not only were people shot (most of this happened before guns) but people were stabbed to death, countless ones burned alive while tied to a pole (can you imagine the horror?). People, in the name of Jesus, were disemboweled, had molten lead poured down their throats (for saying something "against" the Church), had their eyes gouged out, hands cut off and the like.

But when I saw that photo yesterday, I felt like I was being teleported into the hearts of those young girls. What were they feeling?

I had always wondered what it was like for the French aristocrats (and eventually common people) to stand in line for the guillotine. Charles Dickens helped me to understand that through his Tale of Two Cities. So now I think I can feel what the girls must have felt.

I'm quite confident (based on what I know about human nature) that those two girls had done nothing wrong. They were simply scapegoats for a paranoid society. As they were bound and blindfolded, they must have been in a complete state of terror. They must have felt a complete sense of injustice. Then the bullets of "God's heroines'" guns tore the flesh from their beautiful little faces as they pierced their brains. How horrible! This is worst than any monster of Halloween's fantasies.

But what can we learn from this? This is the true, fallen nature of us who are called "man." We have this intense desire to be loved, to be "somebody," that will allow us to do such monstrous things to others, so that we can feel better about ourselves. We can believe that we did this for God . . . therefore our associates will know that we are truly "God's people." After all, we did act for Him . . . didn't we?

John 4:20 says;

If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

In Praise of Childhood

(pictured, yours truly playing with Nepalese children a year ago. Note, I'm out of breath because I just hiked 20 miles, climbing 4 thousand feet and now trying to exert myself at about 8,000 foot elevation)

I'm coming at this post from an odd direction. It is actually my youngest son, Ramsey, dealing with some depression now that he is away at college. But I had the unique perspective of watching the catalysis for his depression appear right before my eyes.

It was about four years ago. I was sitting around a table in the coffee shop (where else) with Ramsey, his sister and two of his brothers. It was the eclipse of all three of his siblings moving away within weeks of each other. As we talked about it, it finally dawned in his young mind (I think he was 14) what was happening. He looked up and said, with this deep grief written on his face, "Our family, as we've known it is now over." Honestly, he has struggled a bit with depression every since.

Ramsey, I think, had an enchanted childhood. On that day, he knew that the long hours of interacting with, and somethings fighting with, his brothers and sisters had come to a permanent end . . . for all practical purposes.

For many of us (certainly not all as some people, unfortunately, have had horrible childhoods) childhood was indeed an enchanted time. The years crawled along at a snails pace. There were no worries (especially in the pre-school years). Your parents took care of the problems. You job was simply to explore, learn and have fun.

I too was the youngest child. My siblings left in a hurry as well, so it seemed. My sister got married when she was 16 and my brother got drafted to Vietnam. Suddenly, my childhood was over.

I can remember, like with Ramsey, the moment my childhood ended. I was about eleven. I was in my back yard sitting up my army men for a huge battle (and I used firecrackers for bombs and a BB gun. . . making it look very authentic). My mother paused on her way back from the garden. "You need to get rid of those army men. You're too old to play with toys!" Then she marched on down to the house. I wanted to shoot myself with my gun . . . but I knew that the wound would not be mortal. I felt a deep sadness. The years of wearing loin clothes with a hunting knife and running through the woods, of building tree houses, floating rafts down the creek and having imaginary friends (who were totally devoted to you) died that day.

Some of the early Gnostics saw children as non-spiritual beings, the same as animals. Therefore, some of them did not oppose the murdering of babies as was the habit of parts of the Greek culture. They, like the Hellenistics, saw the adult in his or her naked glory, as the ideal.

I'm wondering though, if maybe the Christian ideal is different. Maybe we will all be children again in the new world.

Maybe that was the essence of the following passage:

Matthew 18:3

And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

I love to watch children play (and to play with them if given the chance). Their approach to the world is so honest, so pure and simple. They don't understand hate very well, unless someone takes their toy away.

I know that we can relive our own childhoods with our children and grand children . . . but it is still not quite the same. Childhood is really glorious.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Evangelical-Phobia Part II--Why Christians Don't Make Good Buddies

The article that Becky mentioned in her comments was not near as long as I had expected, so it was a breeze. I will post the essence here:

Forgiving love is a possibility only for those who know that they are not good, who feel themselves in need of a divine mercy, who live in a dimension deeper and higher than that of moral idealism, feel themselves as well as their fellow men convicted of sin by a holy God and know that the difference between the good man and the bad man are insignificant in his sight. St. Paul expresses the logic of this religious feeling in the words:
"With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not thereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord." [1 Corinthians 4: 3-4]
When life is lived in this dimension the chasms which divide men are bridged not directly, not by resolving the conflicts on the historical levels, but by the sense of an ultimate unity in, and common dependence upon, the realm of transcendence.
So it got me thinking some more about this. I'm not going to have time today to write what I intended but just to start.

I was thinking though about the fundamental issue that we all face, and which I think is the deepest value of our soul, that is the desire to feel significant. Some of the methods of feeling significant are; a) knowing something that others don't and acting as their teacher (like the Gnostics), b) seeing yourself on the higher moral ground than others, c) accomplishing something that few others have (Guinness Book of World Records catalog these people), d) being rich (money gives us significance . . . so we believe), and e) being famous . . . I could go on.

But my point is, I don't think evangelicals are in touch with this primal draw of human behavior. They are emotionally dishonest to the point that they see it as a true issue of "knowledge" (doctrine in other words) and a true issue of morality. So, it is scary trying to hang out with them, because you know inevitable, they will find an area that you are factually wrong about (in their view) or worse, they will find a moral failure.

They strive to feel significant on a psychological level, but they don't know that's what's going on. So their radar is on to find flaws in you, chinks in your armor. This is why I think they are scary.

Of course the same can happen in non-Christian settings. We (especially guys) know obnoxious people that we work with (and who have no religious affiliation) who do the same thing. We don't want to hang out with them either.

So, the paradox is that the Gospel supposedly fixes this deep psychological problem. We are created (on purpose) by a loving God so we have great significance. We, on a moral level, are completely clean in God's sight. So, why is this problem of insecurity seem to be more prominent with Evangelicals?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Christians and Art - Imonk Discussion

There's a well-deserved discussion on Imonk today regarding art. I wish I could jump in but I barely had time to skim most of it. Unfortunately Mondays always hit me like a hammer at work but I wanted to bring it to other's attention.

Monday, October 18, 2010

In Praise of Education--And How Many Evangelicals Get It Wrong

History is a race between education and catastrophe. H. G. Wells

I've taken a break from my reading of fiction to read Greg Mortenson's Stones into Schools. I've had a great drawing to his books (including his previous one, Three Cups of Tea) mainly because I've had the opportunity, twice, of working in the same area of Pakistan that he works in. I know the towns, villages and highways, which he describes so vividly.

Greg got involved in the school building project by accident. He took a wrong turn and ended up in a village where the elders asked him to, please, build them a school.

That's often how life happens isn't it. An unpredicted set of circumstances sends you off in a direction that you never would have dreamed of. But in the process, Greg has become convinced about the tremendous value of education.

About a year ago I was sitting in my old Evangelical church during a period of discussion, which came at the conclusion of a Ken Ham video series. I had sit patiently through about six weeks of arrogant, ignorant and brow-beating, self-righteous lectures . . . via video. I kept my mouth shut because I knew that I was the lone voice . . . the one person who didn't see Ken Ham as the new Evangelical hero.

I listened as the leaders of that church discussed how most of the youth (I would say 95% of that particular church's youth) were no longer in church and the reasons why, in agreement with Ken Ham's premise, was that the parents had "allowed" the kids to be exposed to secular education. One church leader said that no good Christian parent would allow their kids to be exposed to a non-Christian school system. Another, senior elder man, chimed in that no good parent would allow their kids to go to college. He suggested that Christians should send their kids off to trade school or Bible college at best. The point being, if they are exposed to "humanistic, evolution they will be brainwashed and leave the church." The conclusion was that we need to crack down on the youth.

I felt really sad. It was on that morning that I think I really made final decision to leave that church. I voiced my opposition but was labeled as someone else who had been brainwashed by the humanists.

In Mortenson's latest book, he goes into detail about the history of Afghanistan. He describes how the Taliban sprung from the ashes of the post-Soviet war chaos. It started with a group of about 200 uneducated men who came out of a refugee camp near Kandahar and recruited many more . . . then took over the entire country. They sent Afghanistan back into the Dark Ages but with far more brutality.

Mortenson says that the word "Taliban" is Arabic for "Student of Islam." Actually (and I do have a degree in Arabic) the word "Taliban" is simply the exact same as the English word "Students" but it has taken on the connotation of being a student of Islam. However, ironically, these "students" are largely illiterate and know nothing of science, history, sociology, psychology and etc. They profess to be experts on Islamic law, yet they do not understand Arabic, the only language of the Koran.

I had a unique opportunity once to share about 45 meals with a group of pro-Taliban men in Northwest Pakistan. I was warned (due to the high tensions surrounding us Americans being there) not to bring up political topics. We were there strictly to help with the earthquake relief. However, one evening I looked around. There I sat, the only American in a circle of bearded men, eating ground goat meat and curry. I couldn't help myself.

We had a very long discussion about the the Taliban, the war (wars), American politics, Christian vs Islamic perspective on issues. It went well because I spoke as the humble inquirer, not the trouble maker. But I did question them on a few points.

But the thing that hit home to me was how identical the thinking of these men was to that of my Evangelical friends . . . just switch a few labels around. Both groups opposed secular eduction . . . if you are devout to the faith you only study your faith. Both groups were filled with conspiracy theories based on rumors . . . not on an educated understanding of the world. Both groups demonized the other.

Above is me with with one of my buddies in the Pakistan's Northwest Territory, 2006.

It would have been funny if it wasn't so sad to hear the pro-Taliban guys talking about their fears that the evil, brutal Christians want to come into their countries and force their babies to become Christians (using Hell-fire missiles, launched from drones to back them up). I had heard the same from many Evangelicals, "the militant Muslims want to come in and take over America and force our babies to become Muslims." The MO of both groups . . . well, is ignorance.

Like the founders of the First Great Awakening, I too see education as a key to a better world. I don't mean "education" through a political filter such as a Christian school (or, on the other side, an anti-Christian school) but truth seeking at all cost. God is a God of truth, therefore no one should fear truth.

I wish all Christians could get a PhD from Harvard. They would be better Christians. I know a couple people at Harvard and they both told me the same thing. You would be surprised how many believers teach and attend there. Good for them.

I also know someone who is a pastor of a church just off Berkley's campus. He has many scientist and professors in his congregation. Good for them.

Not that God can't use the humble, uneducated fishermen. Certainly He can. But whoever see the seeking of truth (education) as the enemy is indeed poor. Greg Mortenson, (although a missionary kid but who has no claim on being an evangelical anymore) IS doing God's work.

Friday, October 15, 2010

In Praise of Agnosticism (or Fallibilism) - Part III, The Youthful Exodus

The third (and last point) with this sense that there is good in lack of certainty, has to do with the mass exodus of our (usually younger) people from the ranks of not only evangelicalism, but Christianity in general.

The point is this:

If you preach to our kids that they must believe all that we teach about Christianity with all certainty and if they don't . . . it is a moral failure, then they have choice to fake it, or walk away. Many of them--out of integrity in my opinion--will choose to walk rather than fake it.

But what if you were more honest with the kids? Imagine that they held the option of "mostly believing" without it being interpreted as a moral failure or spiritual inferiority. Imagine, that you even held critical thinking as being a good thing. I think far more would see this third-rail option rather inviting. It would be more palpable to them than the all-or-none situation of either believing everything out of the pastor's mouth, with no doubt, or flushing the whole Christian think down the toilet.

Issac comes to mind. He is the son of a good friend of mine, who died from cancer a little over a year ago. Issac was a faithful "church goer" and was involved with the youth before he graduated from HS and . . . before his dad died. He disappeared from the ranks of my old church.

I saw him around town and attempted to talk to him. He was very presumptuous about my views (and wrong). As I would ask how he was doing, he would quickly add, "I'm sorry I haven't been to church . . . I've been busy. I hope to be back soon!"

I didn't say it then, but the next time I saw him I was going to say right up front, "Issac, I don't give a rat's ass if you are going to church or not." Hey, now I can say, "I haven't been to that church in months myself."

But I was talking to his mom about him. She said that Issac said he was fed up with being told what to believe and wanted to go out and find truth for itself. She then rolled her eyes in a profoundly disapproving way. I told her that I thought that was a great thing. If my kids say they are going out to find truth for themselves, I would be all for that. I would hope to give them some direction in the process.

That is why I taught a class on "Doubt" at my previous Minnesota church. I think that doubting can be a very healthy thing. It is too bad that few churches see it that way . . . and in the process, they drive off a lot of sincere kids . . . and older folks.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

In Praise of Agnosticism . . . Another Third Rail Perhaps? Part II

The diagram on the right might be the most typical thinking when it comes to agnosticism, but it is not what I mean here.

The diagram, and the most common interpretation of agnosticism, is the belief that we can't know if God is there and if He is, He is unknowable . . . so it really doesn't matter. I mean something very differently. I'm saying that the perfect certitude of knowing God is there is not possible, but (and a BIG BUT) you can still make assumptions on what you do know and believe, and live on those assumptions anyway. I'm not talking about an irrational mysticism. I'm talking about climbing the ladder of reason, but realizing it comes short. Yet, like those in Hebrews eleven, you are willing (by choice) to take the chance and live your life as if you were certain but living in honesty.

So this is more than just an issue of semantics and I will try to explain why. There are two main points.

Point 1: The Delusional Phenomenon

So, if it is clear that human beings can't know anything with absolute certainty (based on what we know about psychology, what scripture says about the Fall of Adam and, common knowledge of observation) yet if some people claim they do, then they must be delusional.

In other words (and I will focus on Christians) if we can only climb the rational ladder so far, but we believe we can reach certainty, then we fill in the gap with the spackle (Bondo for you car buffs) of dishonest smoke and mirrors "faith."

I will close with a "case-report," as we say in medicine.

I became a Christian at the same time as a friend. He and I were different in our approach and personalities. While I struggled with doubts and skepticism from the beginning, he reports that he has never had a second in his Christian life when he has doubted anything about the faith.

So I endured my college years of spiritual training, constantly being told that my doubts and skepticism was a sigh of immaturity. I tried desperately to emulate my friend's spiritual growth, who, in his child like trust believed everything he was told.

As I moved up the evangelical ladder there was growing pressure to trust and conform. I was often deemed un-spiritual when I had raised eyebrows after a full time parachurch ministry leader (in his mid 40s with a perfect family) disappeared for a couple of years, and then came back into the ministry with a new 22 year old college wife, who, from my conversations with her, was not a Christian. But everyone acted like nothing had happened . . . but surely something had. What happened to the wife and kids? Was this an affair gone to seed?

I was the only one who raised questions when two differ Christian leaders, (one a Nav staff guy and the other, years later, a Pastor) started to say that God wanted people to take the nutritional supplements, which they each were selling as part of a MLM scheme out of the trunks of their cars. I looked like a jerk to question them.

So, all those years I felt inferior because of my skepticism and but I feel there are many like me. We suffer guilt and spiritual inferiority because of our "agnosticism." Of course skepticism has a close brother, cynicism which we have to be leery of.

But now I ask, who lives nearest to the standard of having a healthy state of mental health, those who are believe that they are 100% sure of things, or those who know themselves well enough that they know that they are subject to getting it wrong?

I've written before about doubting boldly here on this blog. This post, of course, is re-wording the old thought. But, living in a state mind where you are willing to constantly admit, I can't know 100% that God is there and that the Christian gospel is true . . . but I can know enough that I'm willing to put all my eggs in that one basket. That may actually be the "spiritual" high ground after all.

I want to add one more dimension to this thought but this post is too long . . . so tomorrow.

Monday, October 11, 2010

In Praise of Agnosticism . . . Another Third Rail Perhaps? Part I

If my old pastor would read this post, it would confirm his hopeful belief, (hopeful because it would prove that the only one who would dare leave his church, is someone who doesn't love God to start with) that I have fallen completely off the Christian wagon. But, bear with me and listen to this perspective.

Before I scare you completely away, we have to talk about definitions. What I mean here, when I speak of agnosticism, is the most simple, straightforward meaning, "without knowledge."

To tweak this definition, I would say that this knowledge is "certainty." So when I speak of agnosticism here, I'm not saying, "There is no way to have even a clue whether God is there or not, so why bother?" I am saying (in my humble, uncertain opinion) that due to the fall, or the way we are as humans, we can't reach a level of complete certainty on anything, including knowing that God is there and that Jesus is his only mediator.

Now imagine that you were a chubby, middled-aged pastor, wearing an open collar and beige polyester sports coat and you were standing up on the platform of a huge, roundish auditorium of an evangelical church. It has tacky plastic "stained glass" windows and blue carpet with rows of pews or folding chairs. You speak loudly, with great emotions (and a southern draw), "Okay, I want to see the hands. How many here believe that God is there with absolutely no doubts? That Jesus is His only begotten son? That this book (holding up a big black, soft cover Bible with gold trimmed pages in one hand above his head) is God's holy word? How many? How many?" Then he smiles big with approval as the hands go up, then he adds in an even louder voice, "Okay, where's God's people . . . I want to see every hand in this room raised! There you go. No hold outs! Praise God-da!"

Wouldn't you feel like a jerk if you were trying to be totally honest and not raise your hand? People would stare at you like you were Megan McNeil (the girl demon possessed in the Exorcist).

So, this issue of knowing (epistemology) had been discussed ad nauseum by philosophers and theologians over the centuries and I don't think I have much to add but to bring it down to a more practical level and with candor (as always).

So, the testimony of everyday life screams at me that we are poor at knowing reality. If you ask any psychologist, they will give you a long list of how we, on a psychological level, pervert reality. Even us, who are some-what sane (I know that point is debatable) we are easily hoodwinked. We mis-interpret reality on a frequent basis. No that is not the same as saying that we have no clue what reality is . . . just that we are all vulnerable to getting it wrong at times.

I was in a Navigator group that behaved like a cult. I was in it over fifteen years. While I was in it I was 100% confident that we were one of the few who really knew the truth on how to live out the Christian life. But look at all the other cults. Good people, sometimes really smart people (there's a lot of scientists in cults as well) who swallowed the paradigm line, hook and sinker.

So, while the really crazy people, boarder-line personality disorders, schizophrenics even people in severe depressed states, loose touch with reality (okay maybe the depressed are more in touch with reality), we are all vulnerable to errors in thinking.

I've quoted this verse from Jer 17 many times:

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

So, all good Calvinists believe in totally depravity. But the caveat to this "Depravity" is that on a spiritual level, God calls people (with an irresistible call) and makes himself known to them (with an absolute certainty). My point, is that the so-called spiritual certainty is a myth.

I've had many Muslims tell me that they are absolutely certain that Mohammed is the supreme prophet, because God has made it clear to them. They believe this as much as any Christian I've known (or better).

So what do we do? Throw up our hands in hopelessness? But with me bringing up this whole question, aren't I doing the devil's work? That's what everyone in my old Navigator group and my old church would think.

However, I want to discuss the positive thoughts about this third rail of belief.

This post is getting too long so I will have to do a second post. But I hope to describe the glory (and deserving of praise) of the idea of holding this position: "I really think that God is there and that the Christian message is true. Am I absolutely positive? If I am really honest with myself (and others) I will have to say no. However, based on my short-of-certainty, belief, I will live and act like I do have certainty. That is the moral act of "faith" (very different from a blind faith, a complete shot in the dark).

More tomorrow.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Third Rail . . . of Organized Christian Involvement

Denise and I were talking earlier this week about my youngest son, Ramsey, which just went off to college. On the phone, the previous day, she was asking him if he was going to church and strongly encouraged him to get involved with either The Navigators, or Campus Crusade.

I've always been close to this son and I think I know how he thinks and feels. I shared with Denise that in my opinion, Campus Crusade or The Navigators would do him far more harm than good.

I certainly think there are those Christians, or Christians who are at a certain place in their lives, for whom such organizations are helpful. I think the Navigators would never, hopefully, be repeating their behavior from my era . . . where submission to authority was the center-piece of their theology.

But if you are a deep-thinker, an observer of social phenomena in a critical-thinking way, and a non-conformist, you can be quickly disillusioned by such groups. When your spirituality becomes a function of rote memory and behavior mimicking, it quickly becomes so shallow that the slight breeze will send your faith off into the night like dandelion seeds.

So it got me thinking about the "third rail" of Christian experience. If the first rail is full commitment to the institutions of church, and/or para-church, and the second rail is total abandonment of all organized religion (still claiming to be a Christian, or not) then there might be a third rail.

The metaphor of the "third rail" of course implies danger, as in the electrified rail of a track. My ex-pastor strongly believed that if you were not fully involved (both feet) in a local church, but not just any church, one that fit within his narrow definition of "Biblical church" then, he questioned if you could be a Christian. I remember that during one of the first sermons, he was railing (pun intended) against the emerging church movement . . . non of those forms (such as the house church) were Biblical, in his view.

But I've been wondering of late if indeed a third rail is maybe a viable option for some. What I mean by this option, is minimal involvement.

I'm going to a new, "high church" (my words) now. Several weeks in a row I marked the visitor's card that I, a.) wanted to become a member, b.) wanted to be part of a small group, c.) wanted to know how I can volunteer to help. So far no one has contacted me. I'm thinking though, maybe that's a good thing.

While I could never see Ramsey fully involved with Campus Crusade, I.V. or the Navigators (or a campus Baptist church), I could see him going to a sponsored meeting or lecture on comparative philosophies. . . if it was of a topic that relevant to his life.

I also could see him attending, on occasion, a high church . . . even Catholic (but the form, which he is not familiar with might scare him off). But it would hard for me ever seeing him involved with the traditional church, not unless his spirit was completely broken . . . and he walked in zombie form with his hand held out (like from Huxley's Brave New World) saying, "soma . . . soma."

But this thinking flies in the face of the New Testament . . . doesn't it? What about all that talk of not failing to meet together as some have? What about all the NT talk of elders, deacons, preaching, teaching and etc?

Honestly, I would like to go back and try to read the New Testament soon . . . while trying to keep my cultural glasses off. I'm starting to think that there is a place of intense teaching (not brain washing) when someone first becomes a Christian . . . especially when they come out of a totally non-Christian culture as the people in the New Testament.

But then, I think there may be a time when lecturing week after week does more mind breaking than edifying or building up. Maybe this is what scripture is talking about that in Hebrews 5:11-14:

11We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

Okay, I want to think about this more. But maybe it is time in my life that I go to formal church, take the sacraments, focus on serving those in need but stay away from Bible studies and Sunday schools and definitely stay away from groups that practice intense conformity.

I know I'm not making a lot of sense right now.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

More Blankets

Someone commented recently, and I think it was Eagle, that they related deeply to the graphic novel Blankets. I wanted to say something at the time but didn't get around to it.

But I too was deeply moved by the book. It was the first (and last so far) graphic novel I've read. I related also because part of the story took place in Marquette, Michigan, as place I lived in for almost 10 years.

But, like the commenter, I sensed the story (somewhat autobiographical) is the typical route away from Christianity. It is a gradual disillusionment. A sense that there is a disconnect between what Christians say they believe, how they act in "Christian public" and how they act and think in their private worlds.

That's why I cringe when I heard in my old church, Ken Ham and on Christian radio that the way to stop the hemorrhage of youth out of the church is to brainwash them harder and brow-beat them earlier. Sad.

But I've linked the title to the original post here about blankets.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Cellars . . . a Good Thing . . . or a Bad Thing?

I've talked a lot about honesty here and the fact that we all have these secret lives, or what I refer to as the cellars, where things can be quite differently than they appear up on the surface. I'm not a big fan of cellars, because throughout history, they have been notorious for collecting some pretty nasty stuff.

I've shared before how I grew up in the Bible belt in that idealistic age of the 60s (which were like the 50s in more progressive areas of the country). In our Bible-belt culture, the Sunday school director at our Baptist church was habitually having sexual encounters with young boys, the pastor had a mistress, a narcissistic aunt and church lady manipulated everyone, stoled church money (and still does). My own church-going dad was a closet alcoholic. Speaking of closets, a Navigator leader (a man and now staff) was romantically in love with me and pursued me without mercy for my entire college years in the name of God. Every attempt I made to confront him or to bring it others' attention, he would manipulate the situation to make me out to be the bad guy.

So, I have never had fond feelings for this type of privacy, a dark, damp place where fungi can grow.

This came to my mind again on Saturday. I was listening to Garrison Keillor on NPR. I rarely catch A Prairie Home Companion because of it coming on so early here the west coast. I did live for 15 years in the upper Midwest where PHC is a weekly staple and Garrison a patron saint. But, I tuned in just has he was doing his Lake Wobegon dialog.

He was talking about in that small Minnesota town, people really don't want to know about others' private lives. (you can listen to the whole, long thing here). He first described the new Lutheran Pastor. The pastor was tough, rode a motorcycle, drank beer hard and liked shoot guns. Then, non-chalantly mentioned that she was a woman. He made the comment that there were things about their new pastor that no one wanted to know about (suggesting sexual orientation).

Then he talked about the Catholic priest, in a funny way. The priest leaves mass on Friday night and drives out on the freeway to a point no one knows him. There he goes into the truck stop bathroom and changes into a flamboyant pink shirt and drives down to the Twin Cities. The priest has a secret obsession (okay fetish) of being force-fed pureed vegetables by obese women. He drove around until he found a 350 pound waitress and paid her $100 to force-feed him pureed squash while holding him tight against her bosom.

The funny part was that this priest came close, many times, of confessing his private obsession. When he tiptoes around it, the congregation squirms in their seats. They are so afraid that he WILL tell them. They DON"T WANT TO KNOW!

I married a Minnesota gal and I know that culture very well. What Garrison says is so funny because it is so true. I think the cellars in the Midwest are the ones most full of fungi.

But it does raise a serious point and question. When is honestly healthy and when, if ever, is it not?

I constantly get myself in deep trouble by the honest things I say. I told the old pastor two weeks ago that I was mad as hell when he was screaming at me. He says he wasn't angry at all, but just doing God's work. I am confident that my words, about me being angry, will come back to haunt me. They will be used against me.

Denise has been approached several times by people (who have read this blog) thinking that we are having marital difficulties based on what I've said. I know that I'm fair to her here at times and I wish she would come on and comment to give her side.

I marched right down the middle of our old church a month ago and said stern words to Denise in front of everyone. I had gone out to the car after church to wait on her and she never came. I waited 50 minutes before I went back inside (she often talks after church) to discover that she was in the middle of an impromptu choir rehearsal. I said in a slightly louder than normal voice, and with just a twinge of irritation in my tone, "Where have you been? I've been waiting out in the car for you. I didn't know you were having a rehearsal?"

I saw the look of horror on her face as of those of the 20 people in the sanctuary. That was an out-outrageous thing to do. But here is the irony, I treat Denise exactly the same in Church as I would in the privacy of our home or bedroom (she speaks sternly to me sometimes too, and it is well deserved). But the pastor would only treat his wife with smiles at church while he screams at her (Denise said it was the most violent tone of voice she had ever heard a man use with his wife) in the privacy of their home on a regular basis.

I've known many other perfect surface marriages, only to have the husband beating the hell out of his wife in the cellar. I've known Christian leaders who treated their kids and wives (in the privacy of their homes) like crap, but in speaking engagements you would think they were faultless saints.

But where do you draw the line? Is there a place within Christiandom where the safety of love, the full acceptance and dependence on grace allows people to crawl out of their cellars into the daylight? Or do the cellars need to be preserved for that private life that is discongruent with the surface life? Does life work better, like in Lake Wobegon, when the messy stuff is kept out of sight?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Swine and Pearls

Matthew 7:6
Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.

The very first book, which I read as I was starting my journey away from Evangelicalism, was Frank Schaeffer's Sham Pearls Before Real Swine. It is a hard book to find. Indeed, I was lucky enough to get my copy directly from his mother. It had been one of the author's copies that he had sent to her. He had not yet fallen out of LAbri's graces so they had mentioned this book . . . although they didn't carry it in their bookstore. It intrigued me. Edith had one under her arm, which she had just received from her son. She gave it to me, having only read part of it . . . "Frank can be an angry man at times," she said in an apologetic voice.

That was 20 years ago. But the book took a very candid look (and in Frank's sometimes angry, sarcastic voice) at the insanity that is sometimes cloaked as America's Evangelicalism.

Of course, Jesus was referring to the Gospel in that passage. To those who understood it, it was a great treasure. To those who couldn't understand or appreciate it (like swines to pearls) it is like throwing something inedible at something (pigs) who are desperate to eat.

Of course, the same analogy can be applied to anytime that someone is trying to present something to someone who doesn't understand or care about it.

I've played the swine before. A couple of years ago, Denise took up with some Jehovah's Witnesses, who came by our house every week. She wanted to be neighborly and kind and sat for hours to listen to their spiel. Then they asked to meet with her husband (their usual strategy).

When Denise told me one afternoon that a group of JW were coming the next day (which happened to be a Saturday when I had a lot of chores to do) to meet with me, I felt really irritated. Denise sees the world through somewhat pure and naive eyes of relationships. I see the world, unfortunately too much like a Holden Caulfied, knowing that these people were up to convert me . . . and that's all they really wanted. All their smiles and compliments were bait on the trap.

So when they showed up, I was a little rude to them. I said hi but made it clear that I had not agreed to meet with them and had zero interest in what they had to say. Their pearls were being thrown to me and I was trampling them under my feet.

In my Evangelical days, I would have met with them, argued the Gospel to them ( which would be my pearls before their hoofed feet) just so I could then mention in Sunday school how I had shared the gospel with a bunch of JWs. I would of course embellish a bit, how they were deeply touched by the real Gospel. Maybe I would have thrown in a miracle or two.

But I didn't want to waste my time. I knew that I am barely a Christian on some days, and I (I know it sounds like a paradox) greatly favor Biblical Christianity over all other philosophical orientations. I would far more likely be persuaded to be an agnostic, a Jew, a Muslim, a Catholic or even and Evangelical than a JW. So why waste our time?

In my recent encounter with my Evangelical church, as I was leaving, the pastor was exchanging angry sounding e-mails with me. "I need to meet with you now! I need to bring this issue before the whole board on Oct 5th (which is tonight!) so I need answers now!"

"Leave me alone!" I begged. "There is no point in talking about it. I've made my decision to leave and it is final."

"You can't just walk away with being accountable to me. You have some answers to give!"

So, I made a huge mistake and started trying to explain why. I cast my pearls before the swine. I too was naive. I honestly was under the illusion that I could persuade him to at least think about my perspective on Evangelicalism. I even gave him the link to my book manuscript . . . which was truly my pearl. That book was a labor of intense feeling over a decade, a personal treasure.

As the Miranda Warning states, whatever you say can and will be used against you.

In the first Star Trek movie, there was this huge space ship coming towards earth to devour it (HUG may remember the details, I don't). Anyway, in the end they discovered that in the center of this huge space ship was a NASA probe, Voyager 6. In the movie that probe had been sent into deep space many decades earlier. Then it had evolved (can't remember if intelligent life helped it or not) and it came back to eat our planet.

My pearls, which I had sent the pastor over the two weeks leading up to our encounter, were regurgitated on my blue suede shoes when the pastor released his rage at me. My pearls had come back to me, but having evolved into hungry monsters.

My book manuscript was proof that I had turned my back on God, according to the pastor. But he had not read a single word (thank goodness) or even clicked on the link. But the fact that I had suggested that he would look at my treasure, my deep personal thoughts, my dreams and aspirations . . . were all deeply offensive to him (you would have to be there to understand the connection). All my other meager explanations for leaving Evangelicalism, not agreeing with the Ken Ham view that you must believe that the earth is 6,000 years old . . . or you are shit . . . each of them came back as proof to the pastor that I am really messed up.

But, this again is much bigger than my experience. As I am writing tonight, sitting here in Starbucks, four blocks down the street the Pastor is having a hearing about my leaving. If I were a fly on the wall, the things I would hear. He has no choice but to demonize me for leaving.

But, now I am wiser. I've always thought that those who give an answer without being asked a question is a fool. I think there are a couple of verses in Proverbs which suggest that. So, if someone has no interest in my views, I am the fool who offers them.

But I am the swine too. When my one last Christian friend on this island sees me, he is kind. He left this same church. He understands. But then he always tries to convert me to his denomination. That's when I tiptoe over his treasured pearls on the ground and make a shadowy escape

Spiritual Abuse II

I was going to write in comments in the previous post but I know I didn't have room. So here are some additional thoughts/questions.

Looking back at my own Christian "career" I can only say that I was in a cult-like experience once and that was a hard core Navigator training center, which I endured for almost five years. However, as we know, everything is an issue of degree. While the Nav situation was the only true (9-10/ on the 10 list of traits of a cult mentioned in the last comments) cult experience, I have been in many churches that may have 1-2 items on the list (haven't seen the list yet so this is speculative).

I would never have used the cult word at my recent past church. The pastor was the dictator, but that was the only trait. But my leaving has thrown back the blankets to expose a deeper problem and, yes, I used the "cult-like behavior" with my ex-pastor.

The issue was control. He, considering himself as anal about being "Biblical" came down with the position (regarding my leaving) that I am under the authority of his church (church is a surrogate for himself) and I couldn't just walk away. I didn't have the authority to do that. That is why he felt like he had the right, given him by God, to chew my ass out . . . in the name of God. That is why tonight the church board is having a board meeting to discuss the issue of my leaving.

I would like to be a fly on that wall. I am 100% confident that the meeting will not be about "What can we do differently to keep people from wanting to leave." But it will be a full frontal assault on my character, being led by the pastor. I had served that church faithfully for 7 years, yet my leaving is deep sin, according to the pastor.

So my point, before I digress into my own situation again, is that many churches behave with cult-like behavior at times, usually around control issues. Like my premise that we all are desperate to feel that we have value, some men (almost always men, sometimes women) only feel valuable (inside) when they dominate and control other people.

I feel really sorry to those of one who have been/are married to these people. Talking about a nightmare.

I'm late for a meeting and I didn't have time to proof-read, so sorry for any typos.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Spiritual Abuse

Okay, this is an odd posting, but really it is a question. I ask this question in response to recent commenters.

I've seen this book around but I've never read it. I've mentioned that someone (like a qualified psychologist) needs to write a book about the emotional games that can be played in a church setting, as within any human society. But within a church it takes on a spiritual flavor.

So, my question is, have your read this book and if so, is it one that you would recommend to others? I'm personally not interested in reading it right now because I still sting from my most recent encounter with my old church. I'm afraid if I read it now it would just stir up my feelings and I'm trying hard to move on. But down the road I would like to.

So, what's your thoughts about it?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Jesús, amigo de los pecadores

My new church had a special cross-cultural service today, the third of the sumer (I know, summer is now over).

It was a good event not only by hearing service in Spanish, but to see the entire church in one place at one time.

Maybe it was my state of mind but I was really touched by a song that we sung. I've never heard it before. It was a different tempo than the Petra song by the same name so I don't think it was the same.

We sung it in English and then Spanish. When I heard those words, "Jesus, AMIGO de los pecadores," I felt something deep. I don't speak Spanish but everyone is familiar with Amigo. Jesus is really the worthless sinners', messed up person's amigo? Wow. That's fantastic!

It was a day when depression is trying to seep in around the corners. Yesterday I went down to Seattle and had lunch with three of my children (all in college). Today, I am alone, save my Saint Bernard who is now too old to keep up with me.

I watched at the greet time at church. This is a normal thing to watch others embrace and talk. You can tell that many are old friends.

I didn't realize how many of my friends were at my old church. Maybe I did know but I didn't feel it until now.

I know it is my responsibility to reach out and to make friends at my new church. I came home and ran five miles . . . which is a huge amount for me. I've never been a good runner and have never found that runner's high on endorphins. I was hoping for a little today. I do think the distraction helped.

Friday, October 1, 2010

My Thesis Against Evangelicalism Part III

Thesis III: Emotional Dishonesty

When you believe that we are just spiritual beings (see my previous thesis item) then our personality, will and behavior are fluid. After all it is just a spirit which can turn on a dime. Therefore, all that we are (according to them) is based on our soul being created by God, our obedience or lack of and then possibly supernatural influence by the Holy Spirit or a demon.

But, in a monistic way of looking at ourselves, we have a very important physical part to who we are . . . precisely our brains. While the spiritual soul can turn on a dime, the physical brain can not. Basically, we carry the same general personalities and traits, once we reach grade school, for the rest of our lives.

Evangelicals believe that at the moment that we become Christians, we are suddenly changed. We have no lingering sin but can decide each day if we are going to be "spirit filled," which means really means being perfect.

If you value the role of our brains, change comes very, very slowly and with a great deal of effort. Sin has tainted our personalities and that tainting does not go away by jumping through "Christian education" hoops (or discipleship).

In my opinion, most of what evangelicals see as Christian maturity is socialization. As a new Christian you first learn to stop saying Christian-socially unaccepted words (damn, hell, shit, etc.). You learn to start smiling more, especially when you are around other Christians. You learn clichés, ways of talking, and it earns a lot of socialization points to speak a lot of "God stuff" or miracles. You can see your Christian friend's eyes light up, smiles come on their faces as a type of positive feedback.

In the meanwhile, our true natures are basically the same. We ALL are deeply insecure and are desperate to feel like we have value and to be loved. We would almost (and some do) kill to meet this primal goal.

Of course Jesus has solved that problem (having value) but none of us fully grasp it during our lifetimes.

So, when in reality, you are broken and want to desperately to be important, but on the surface, as an Evangelical, you think that you have "grown" past all of that . . . you have one choice, fake it.

I believe that Evangelicals create layers upon layers of facade to cover their real motives and to look more '"godly." That's what I mean by Evangelicals living up on the 30th floor, pastors up the the 50th and TV evangelists up on the 80th floor, just beneath the schizophrenics (who are totally out of touch with reality). It is what Jesus was referring to when he called the Pharisees white washed walls (simple surface facade over raw ugliness).

I'm sorry but I'm back. I started working on this, then accidentally published it rather than save it. Then I got busy. I cleaned up a few typos. I realize that I was about done anyway.

So, that is why it is very hard to have a real conversation with evangelicals. That's why I felt like I could not talk to my church board (they function up on the 30-40th floor). That's why the pastor screaming had me, made me mad as hell, but even though he was screaming with a contorted face . . . according to him he wasn't angry but only carrying our pastorally duties to confront sin (down on the 1st floor he really pissed because I left his church upon whose success his self-esteem is based.)

The worse part of is, just like in normal society, within the Christian fold there are plenty of people with psychological baggage. This can be from (possible genetic + plus early childhood trauma) people with personality disorders. I wrote extensively about this a couple of years ago. So people with narcissistic personalities often find themselves in positions of leadership. They are very skilled (because they are often very intelligent and articulate) in manipulating people with Christian guilt. Guilt is the cattle prod of dysfunctional church life.

Then you can have people with borderline personality disorders. They can wreck havoc in church life, and always come out as the saint (but they are desperate to make people love them and if they don't love them, they will make sure they have hell to pay . . . but do it in such a crafty way that no one notices that is is not of God.

I think I will end my thesis.