Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Ethical Maze and the Post Evangelical

The thing I enjoyed the most about being a hard-core Evangelical was that life was simple—pure black or white. Ethical problems were all textbook—or maybe I should say cookbook—and we were all on the same page. But now, in the way I view the world, life can be a bit sloppy at times. So, I will propose a current ethical situation and see what others think. My mind has mulled over this for the past few days.

I alluded to a high school play a few posts ago. I went just to support the kids as none of my own children were in it. Our high school kids preformed brilliantly. Honestly, I was a bit surprised by many of the adult themes of the play (The Wedding Singer) especially one dance number that was very provocative (a girl on a bed wearing very little, some kind of short nighty that looked like panties). The other things that some Christian would find offensive was God's name used in vain a couple of times, a very brief dance scene where several heterosexual couples in a restaurant took turns dropping onto one knee and proposing to one another . . . then two men (waiters) do the same (it was mostly for a humor effect). Lastly, one of the main male characters, who was quite effeminate, in the end confessed to liking boys.

I also mentioned in the previous post that some friends from our church got up and marched out after that early scene where one male waiter proposes to another. Honesty, I wasn’t surprised or offended by that scene in the slightest. The provocative dance scene came at the very end. I was a little perplexed by it and was surprised that the school would include that scene. They did have a sign at the door warning that the play was “R rated.” But at the same time I wasn’t offended nor ever considered walking out. However, if it had been my daughter doing that dance I would have been traumatized. But the lasting memory in my mind from the play was how talented the kids were. They had to memorize a huge amount of dialog, songs and dance numbers. I clapped at the end with great sincerity and enthusiasm.

So here is the issue. A pastor friend was one of the ones that walked out after that brief gay-proposal scene. He is now very upset at the school. He as met with all parties involved including the principal, music director (who is a member of a different evangelical church) and the director (mom volunteer). He went to the play only because his daughter was in the orchestra pit. His daughter is caught in the middle a bit.

His view is that we as Christians should oppose immortality in our society at every chance. I think he may have been in a march against same-sex marriage laws and pro-life marches.

He is also disappointed that no one is standing with him. The other evangelical pastors in town did not go to the play so they don’t feel that they are in the position to say anything. My wife and I are one of the few people who went, except for the pastor’s wife who when three time.

A long time ago, at the height of my evangelicalism and when I was in a Navigator training center, we did not go to movies unless they were G rated. Our leader thought that was tolerable, however, he didn’t believe that we should go to any movie. Even if we went to a Disney flick, then we would be supporting the theater (which did show R rated movies) and we would be supporting the Disney Corp, which hired gays (I know, we were a sad bunch) and even have a Gay day at Disneyworld. But now I can really enjoy an R-rated movie . . . if it is a good movie to start with. Life is R and even X rated at times. The Bible is certainly R rated.

But this brings me back to the local high school situation. My broader question is when do we oppose the society in which we live? In my current thinking, the culture wars are over and the Evangelicals lost. I also doubt the benefit in trying to impose Christian morality on the non-Christian. Moral non-Christians might live better (because they live closer to the way they were designed to live) but it doesn’t’ change the big equation.

So imagine that a group of concerned Christians did cause a ruckus at the high school, what would be the benefit? The pastor, I imagine, thinks that the school would be far less prone to put on a play with such adult themes. If the audience were not exposed to the visuals and story that they would be less prone to sin. Regarding the students themselves, by being involved with a play with couple of homosexual hints and a sexually provocative dance number, does that make them more prone to sin? Certainly no one is going to suddenly become gay because of being in a play that portrayed gays. Maybe, just maybe students would be slightly more prone to be involved in sexually activity by being part of the play or even watching it. It is the thing of making extra-marital sex more and more normal.

But there are negative effects to the protest as well. Will some students be more alienated to the Church? I can imagine that if you were a student who worked you butt off and did a wonderful performance, then to only hear from the Church that they were offended, it would be hurtful. They really deserve that greatest of praise for their talent.

So, what is the proper Christian response to such a play?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Victims of a Greater Devil

I know . . . that's a horrible picture . . . but it is latex.

I think it is only right to put a “book-end” discussion up about the opposite of having a lesser God (or not) and that is having a greater devil than what most evangelicals believe in.

It was about a year ago that Denise and I went out to dinner with friends, one a pastor and the other couple ex-missionaries. The story came up that the ex-missionaries’ (18 year old) daughter was working in a nursing home. She basically worked the night desk as the only employee in the nursing home from midnight until seven A. M. . She told her parents that she would start to feel spooked about three in the morning. It was dark and she could hear the heavy breathing of the patients, some moaning or talking in their sleep.

As I listened, I was thinking, “That sounds pretty normal. I think I would feel the emotion of “spooky-ness” in the same circumstances, as would most people.”

The pastor had a different take on it. “I need to meet with your daughter. This sounds demonic and she needs to protect herself spiritually from the forces that she may be facing.”

The missionary couple shook their heads in so much agreement that I decided, again not to be a jerk, to just keep quiet. I smiled.

The pastor looked at me, “Mike, you were a missionary in the Muslim world. You must have seen a lot of demonic activity?”

I looked surprised and shook my head to the negative. “Hmm. Not really.”

When most of my Evangelical friends talk of Satan’s influence they speak of these mystical spooky scenes. That’s why they think the devil dwells in the pages of a Stephen King novel, Harry Potter or in a horror flick. “Burn the Ouija Boards,” was a cry I heard from pastors in my Bible-belt community. “Satan is in them there (remember this was Tennessee dialect) weeegeee boards!”

I think the worse nightmare of those who think this way would be living out the movie The Exorcist, in real life. However, my devil is different. My nightmare is living out the movie Love Story in real life. That movie scares the hell out of me much more than The Exorcist. Why? The devil in Love Story is really much worse than the one portrayed in The Exorcist.

Love Story (for those over the age of 50 and who remembers it), tells how wonderful falling in love can be. Then, in the midst of the total romantic bliss, the one you love can is taken from you by cancer. There is nothing your love can do to protect or save them. That is real hell, far more than having a girl’s head spin around and her puking on you. This real hell on earth happens all the time. That’s what makes it so scary.

While, of course God is the victor and death has been conquered, still the fall is real as is the horrible pain of it. The devil that we must face dwells within that fall and its aftermath.

In the Love Story theme, I think right now of Denise Spencer. While there is comfort in the Gospel for her, the nightmare is still very, very real. I bet she would trade places with the priest in the The Exorcist on any given day. I know I would prefer to spend a thousand nights in the house with the head spinning girl than to watch my spouse or one of my children die while I stand by watching in tremendous, but impotent love.

I saw two patients this week that had lost siblings as teenagers due to car wrecks.

I remember attending a church in Marquette, Michigan. Our youth group just attended a big Christian Woodstock-type festival. They came back to church on an emotional high. They took turns at the podium, crying and telling about their experiences. Then one young man shared how he was having a great time clapping and being swept away in the spirit . . . when he looked down and he had chewing gum on his pants. He said it was a Satanic attack to distract him from the music. If the devil was just going around sticking chewing gum on my pants, I could live with that in a heart beat.

But this life is filled with the workings of a much greater devil than the one illustrated by the sermons and legends of many Evangelicals. This fallen life on earth is filled with a lot of real pain. Yes, God is the victor and all of life will be redeemed some day. Even now there are wonderful bright spots, a sunset, beautiful prose, the birth of a baby, a wedding of two in love, someone coming to Christ. Those wonderful things are equally real, yet we still on see in a mirror dimly the true redemption that we do not know yet.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Children of a Lesser God?

Mike, your God is too small.” I just heard that again a few weeks ago. It was in response to my statement that some of us don’t believe the universe is only 6 thousand years old. I was perplexed by the statement because I had assumed that a god who created a universe that was 14 billion light years across and did it over 14 billion years was a pretty, darn, big God.

But I hear this about once every six months and most of the time it comes in response to me questioning a miracle. But I’m not some kind of jerk who enjoys going around popping people’s “miracle bubble” with an Empiricist’s pin. I’m not the one to say to someone, who is praying for their dear grandma’s cancer to be cured, “Sorry . . . ain’t going to happen.” Actually, I only show my hand when I’m pressed into a corner and have no choice but to lie or show my skepticism.

One example of this figurative corner was when my Christian friend came over when I was looking for the buried electric cable that brings power to the house. I was digging a ditch and wanted to avoid it. He confidently told me that God had given him the gift of dowsing. After walking up the driveway with the copper wires in his hand, he said, “Dig here.”

Now if I dig into my cable, I could be killed. So I said I would go and get my metal detector instead. I think that this really offended him. I had to show my hand because I don’t believe in dowsing, certainly dowsing as a gift from God. The Great Randi has a million dollar award waiting for the first person to do dowsing that is more accurate than pure chance. No one has claimed the money thus far.

Another example is where I’m in a conversation at church and it usually goes like this, “That was certainly a miracle by God wasn’t it . . . wasn’t it . . . wasn’t it?” So I either stand there in silence with a smirk or disclose my doubts. I’m really not into lying as much as I use to be when I was a full-blown Evangelical.

Then the same comment usually comes, “Mike, you have a small God.”

These days I carry this perpetual feeling of guilt and spiritual-inferiority. It is most manifest when I’m with a group of Christians and I am the only one to question a miracle, like landing a plane on the Hudson.

But the other day I was reading something that David Hume (fellow skeptic and British empiricist) said. He, in my paraphrase, said, that the only rational basis for believing that something is a miracle is that all alternative explanations are even more improbable.

I don’t come at this skepticism from a philosophical or even a theological position.

An example of a theological reason happened when I was a sophomore in college. A charismatic wave swept through our campus Christian ministries. Weird things were happening left and right. Not only were we speaking in gibberish every time we prayed but people’s legs were growing right before our eyes, God was speaking to us with an audible voice from the flames in our fireplace and etc.

As this same movement swept through our Campus Crusade counterparts, it created an issue. Most of them attended a large Baptist church just off campus. The pastor of the Baptist church, in response, preached a series of sermons against the charismatic movement. I went to listen to it . . . partially thinking this man was trying to quench the spirit of God . . . and partially to see if there really was another way of thinking. He preached from strictly a theological position of being a cessationist.

In my humble opinion, you can argue from scripture until you are blue in the face, you can twist and manipulate passages (milking them for all they are worth) but you can not reach an absolute answer on either side, if miracles still do happen or stopped with Christ.

A philosophical reason would be the case if I were a Naturalist, thus not accepting that supernatural could happen. Well, that certainly is not my position.

My thinking is, like David Hume’s, based on my life experiences. I’ve lived over fifty years and I’ve witnessed hundreds if not thousands of weak miracles . . . things that can easily have other explanations. Some of them quite cheesy (like the pastor stretching legs to cure all aliments). However, I have never witnessed a Biblical-grade miracle.

For example I’ve never seen someone who had been dead for days, buried and stinking, suddenly come back to life. I’ve never seen a huge body of water split right down the middle. I work in medicine and I’ve never seen a healing that wasn’t logical . . . such as someone eaten up in cancer and the next day it is totally gone.

However, because we are all fallen (and the Christian is only a mouse’s eyebrow better than the most horrendous nonbeliever), we all lie, embellish and deceive. It is part of our nature. I really piss off some of my Christian friends when I suggest that a Christian, somewhere, has lied. I don’t mean to be judgmental as I am capable of the worse kind of deception.

So my position about miracles is that those in the Bible are true and certainly did happen. But, I haven’t seen any real ones in my life. The closes I’ve seen was in Pakistan 25 years ago. But even that story was subject to the person embellishing about what had happened to them.

So, when I hear about a super-natural event, I think that I should be skeptical. After all, according to Hume, what is most logical? That a Christian could lie or embellish (in the midst of intense social coercion to do so) or that the event really did violate all the laws of nature?

But does this make Christian skeptics like me the child of a lesser God? I often feel like it does. I know that am often viewed that way. I do sometimes envy those days when I was considered “godly” by so many and I would testify (falsely) about miracles left and right.

But I really don’t believe that we skeptics have an inferior deity. First of all, my God breathed and a 14 billion light year wide universe came into being right out of his nostrils. Along with matter, came energy, time and space. That’s a pretty darn big miracle in my book. I’m convinced that the same God is still there and He hasn’t aged and gotten weaker . . . like I have.

I also believe that this God is a God of truth and is so powerful and deserves so much respect that I tremble at the thought of promoting lying, especially lying for Him. So does this make us skeptics unspiritual? Are we really children of a lesser God?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Health Care Debate - Why is One Side "Christian?"

It is another one of those perplexing things in life. In my view, God has given us great creative freedom. Some of us love bluegrass music, some of us heavy metal. Some of us love collecting painted thimbles, some of us love rock climbing.

So, when it comes to politics, I believe that God has given us tremendous freedom according to our likes and dislikes. Because of this, I can have great respect for Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians.

Of course there are a few issues that are essentials . . . but just a few. Abortion may be one, but even that is not so black in white when it comes to politics. What I mean is, that while the Republicans might stand more in the defense of the unborn, sometimes the Democrats stand more in the defense of the born . . . including the moms.

But what I find scary is when people wrap their political views around the cross. That is sad. I saw the video on the news of people screaming against the health care bill. Some of these people are the home-schooling, very conservative Christian groups who see the health care bill as another plot by Satan . . . you know good guys Vs bad guys.

I really think, and Frank Schaeffer brought this to my attention first, that the Republican party has bought the Evangelicals. The price the republicans paid was being pro-life. But once they got the Evangelicals in their camp, they kept them. Therefore whatever view the Republican party has, becomes become the mantra of the Evangelicals.

I vote both ways. Most of the issues are the non-essentials. We have Titanic freedom to be completely for high taxes and comprehensive single - payer health care. We also have the freedom for wanting low taxes and a free-market health care system. It is about taste, not religious dogma. God is silent on those trivial matters. Why did this become a Jesus issue? Keep Him out of it!

I just had to say something because I've been very involved in the past few days about the health care bill. But all my involvement is about my personal views, my professional views and has nothing to do with Jesus.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spring is Divine

I absolutely fell in love with Spring when I was living in Marquette, Michigan. There the ground disappears beneath feet of snow, staring in late October. You start seeing glances of dirt or brown grass reappearing in late April. In other words, the winters were very, very long.

I can remember so clearly how spring would then burst onto the scene the first week of May. The piles of brown snow would melt rapidly and tulips and daffodils would be sprouting. The bountiful apple trees would blossom and our sheep would lamb. There is nothing more glorious than watching little lambs trying out their new legs to leaps and bounds here and there.

Here is the northwest, we are not buried beneath feet of snow for months, but beneath thick ocean clouds. That's not a bad thing as I like the melancholy of a gloomy day. and the sound of drizzle on our metal roof.

But I'm still a lover of spring. Here, spring comes earlier but no less glorious. Our cloudy skies abruptly give way to skies of total blue. Each year they seem a deeper blue than the year before.

In our valley we are surrounded by snow-capped mountains in almost a 360 degree circumference. The sea around our island, mimicking the sky above goes from a foamy gray to a brilliant blue. Now the sea is dotted with white triangles of sails.

Between the jagged, iced peaks the North Cascades, lies some of the flattest land I've ever seen. The contrast is profound. Our number one crop in this richly agriculture basin are flowers. The early Dutch settlers brought in tulips and daffodils. It is surreal to walk these fields that are so deeply purple, or red or yellow that it makes you dizzy. I would love to walk them with Van Gogh and then sit in silence as he worked his impressionistic magic on the canvas.

Spring does bring a feeling of hope eternal. Of God really being there and a future that is bright in this life and in the near more perfect earth. The worries of the winter, the pessimism all seem to melt away like that nasty brown snow of Marquette.

All this was to lead up to a poem about spring by Frost.

A Prayer in Spring
Robert Frost (1915)
clr gif

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How's Your "Christian" Video Library?

About two years ago I ordered the video series by Francis Schaeffer, How Shall We Then Live. The best source was a reformed (Christian) on-line book and video store. Well, now I'm on their mailing list.

About once every week or so I get ads to buy more videos. Once before I talked about the one about Global Warming. But I wanted to share a few more with you, and see if you think any of these belong in a Christian bookstore.

In case you can't read the titles on the photos, I will list them here:

(Wonderful stories about the founders of the Tea Party Movement)

Hillary Uncensored

Masculine Christian Leadership

Harry Potter Witchcraft

The Drugging of our Children ADHD

The Biblical View of Global Warming

Shakey Town/ Gays in San Francisco


Monstrous Regiment of Women.

So my question is, what the hell do these topics have to do with Jesus? I could see these videos in some right wing group headquarters or possibility a (conservative) Republican office . . . but in a Christian book store?

It is fine to align yourself with all kinds of personal interest groups. But whenever you mix Jesus with these interest/political groups . . . it is always a huge problem. This is what I think it is talking about in Colossians 2:8

"See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ."

Please understand that I'm not speaking against the right wing agenda . . . nor the left. I'm speaking against mixing Jesus with topics that are political and were NOT addressed in scripture.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Intellectual Green Zone and The "Dangers" Lurking Outside

Three things brought this to my mind over the week end. It all started Friday night when I came out of the gym and was listening to Terry Gross' Fresh Air.

The first part of her program had Bible scholar and author, Bart Ehrman (Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible ). I didn't know anything about him and still know very little. But apparently he was a conservative evangelical, graduate from Moody Bible College . . . who then, step by step slid away. He now considers himself to be an agnostic, but he talks like an atheist. What I mean, is he speaks with great confidence that God is not there nor is there an after life.

The thing that caught my attention and gave me a reason to ponder was something Mr. Ehrman said. While he was an evangelical, he allowed himself to question the "Christian un-questionables" such as, is the Bible true. This open-mindedness is what eventually led him to his present position.

The very next segment of Fresh Air was about the movie "The Green Zone." I didn't listen to that interview because I was on my way up to the high school where I was meeting my wife and son to watch a school musical, "The Wedding Singer." But I started thinking about this concept of a "Green Zone" of thinking, outside of which lurks incredible dangers (just like in Iraq's worst days).

I remember after my first great disillusionment with Christianity (and was a momentary-agnostic) I told my missionary boss that, "I want to go back home and think through my faith."

I remember sitting in his living room in Nicosia, Cyrpus. He was stroking his goatee and sipping some wine and he gave me this stern warning, "That's a very dangerous thing to do. I knew another missionary who tried to think his way through his faith and now he is an atheist."

But, I really had no choice. I was at a point that if I just simply stopped thinking altogether I would have been an Evangel-zombie for the rest of my life, or stayed in an agnostic purgatory.

But is there an intellectual Green Zone outside which, we should not allow ourselves even to ponder or disaster will come? I honestly don’t think so because the denial of knowledge never seems like the best way to preserve our faith. But I’m open to thinking about it.

The next event, which is connected to (loosely) to the above comments, was the play itself. I knew very little about the play except that is was a musical and based on the same story as the movie by the same name (staring Alan Sandler). As we entered, there was a sign that said on the door, “Warning. Content Rated PG.”

I have to say, the play surprised me by the sexual content and language. I wasn’t offended. But I did feel uncomfortable hearing high school students taking God’s name in vain as part of their script. The dancing was provocative too. Especially one number performed right in front of us (as we were near the front row) where a girl had the main character on a bed and did a song and dance that was just shy of a pole dance and wearing a little more than panties.

Okay, I’m speaking honestly here (and I am candid in what I write here) that I wasn’t tempted personally, but just felt awkward. I would be horrified to see my daughter performing that number. But we sat through the whole musical and I focused on the fantastic talent that the kids exhibited and I thought about the tremendous work to memorize the lines of dialog and the choreography. But even though I felt awkward, the thoughts of walking out never crossed my mind. I’m not sure what the point of that would have been.

However, it became a topic of conversation at our church yesterday. A couple of church members had family in the play (mostly playing music). Some church members walked out. They didn’t walk out at the G-D words or the pole dance, but much earlier than that. They walked out when a very brief dance number had two boys dancing together and then (as each dancing pair did) one drop down on his knee and propose to the other. There was another gay scene later in the play (just where one of the main characters confessed to being gay).

So, when it comes to behavior and tolerance of behavior is there a Green Zone, outside of which we are in trouble? I'm not talking about doing the behavior (pole dancing) but watching a movie or play with those things in it. The people who confessed to walking out on the school play were esteemed as doing the right thing and having greater than average integrity, such as ours (no one said that and they didn’t even know we stayed, but speaking in general terms).

My boundary has always been things that could make me, personally (or those with me) stumble. Nudity is the obvious one for most men. But I could imagine that if someone had been abused as a child, it would be outside the “Green Zone” for them to go to a movie or play that glorified (or even dealt with) child abuse.

But is there a “Green Zone” besides this?

I have more thoughts that I wanted to throw out but this is getting long and I have more patients to see.

I will mention that the third related topic was about our pastor doing a discussion on the book The Shack last night. He (which didn’t surprise me) opposed the book on most accounts . . . while he could see some benefit in extreme situations. He had three issues about the book that would put it on his black list. One of them was that the author, William P Young, has a very low view of the local church (not sure what he wrote that suggested that) and the pastor warned that “Anyone with a low view of the local church is dangerous, because God has a very high view of the church.”

His opinion left me thinking that the pastor probably thinks (and if he knew what I really thought) would consider me as a very, very dangerous man (outside the Green Zone). But I have a deep love for the Church. I long for the Church. That’s why imitations frustrate me so much.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Road Blocks to Jesus

Our Bible study consist of 3-4 couples and one single guy (in his 50s) Bob. In our entire church, only Bob seems to be on the same page as me on a lot of things.

Last night we were studying Hebrews Chapter Eleven, the Faith chapter. It is a long convoluted story, but our discussion led me to bring up the conversation I had with my friend, Chris (who everyone in the group knows), earlier in the week (see a previous posting about church attendance).

When I described to the people that Chris had an honest desire to know Christ, and even to be part of this church, but had a significant road block, his knowledge (as a geologist) that the earth is not just 6,000 years old. I didn't mention to the group that it is Chris's father-in-law, our church elder, that insist he believe in a young earth before he can be a Christian.

My point was that it is tragic that we would put insignificant barriers in front of anyone who desires to come to Christ. I said, "It is a sad thing when churches use the belief in the age of the earth as a litmus test on whether someone can be a real Christian."

I didn't say this last night, but it reminds me of ;

Matthew 18:6 (New International Version)

"6But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea."

I really thought my point would be a no-brainer. It was not. Bob and I both sat in silence while the two other men in the group took turns lecturing us on how people who believe in an old earth do so because they don't believe in God and that someone can't become a Christian unless they repent from their old ways, including believing in an old earth, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Bob and I just looked at each other. He actually believes in evolution (man from apes) which I do not, yet I completely respect him and wouldn't doubt his faith for a second.

So, if you listen to these guys, who represent our church and represent the heart of Evangelicalism, then not only should Chris stay away from Jesus (he shouldn't touch Jesus with his dirty old-earth hands) but Bob and I can't be real Christians either. This bothers me and you don't have to read between the lines to understand why.

Part of me feels angry, but I know that if I spoke back last night much more than I did, then the whole meeting would have deteriorate into an argument. So I quickly switched us back to the topic.

It is discouraging what we are up against. I know, someone will say, CHANGE CHURCHES! That is the real dilemma.

My wife is totally opposed to me changing churches, even if I go to a new one and she says with this one. Church, to her is about friendships and the women at our church are her best friends. She believes my reason for wanting to change is silly. She says, "I couldn't care less about the age of the earth." But that's my point too. I, personally, couldn't care less. But it is hard to be involved with a church when the majority of (men at least) say that I'm not a Christian. Speaking of barriers, that's a huge barrier!

So my choices are to stick it out and keep my distance (because every major discussion ends up with implications that I'm either a flake or a non-Christian) or I move over the Presbyterian church (were you don't HAVE to be a Republican, disbelieve in global warming, believe the earth is 6,000 years old. and all the other baggage that is attached to the Gospel in my church.) But if I do switch churches, then there will be some major marital problems and the issue will come up every single Sunday for ages to come.

But, I'm sorry if this sounds like another personal problem of mine. My honest point is to look at the broader question of Evangelicalism and what ails it. I do hope, as Michael Spencer has suggested, that this movement dies and in its place a much better Christian movement appears.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


I remember a poster I had in my bedroom my last year of high school, just after I became a Christian. If I remember right, half of the poster was yellow with black foot prints coming down it. Then at the bottom, one of the foot prints stepped off the yellow side into the black side (that foot print was white on the black background). The caption read, "Faith is walking to the edge of all the light you have and taking one more step." The word "step" was also the only word on the black side.

I tried hard to find that poster on line, but either it has been thrown into the dust-bin of the Jesus People or no one has bothered to upload it.

I've been thinking a lot about Faith this week. The reason is, our Bible study is on Hebrews chapter eleven tonight and I'm leading it. I used to have that chapter memorized . . . now I can only recall the first few verses by heart.

As I've mediated on "Faith" I have this gut feeling, like with so many other things, that I had seriously mis-understood its meaning years ago.

When I was a young Christian, the word "Faith" was a tool of manipulation. Your leader got you to do all kinds of crazy things for him . . . with the challenge "Are you a man of faith" or "Are you faithful?" The worst insult your leader could throw at you (if you didn't do what he wanted) was, "You have no faith." That was much worse than being told as young man, "You are penis-less."

The example I remember most was when our missionary boss saw me in Colorado Springs . . . just before our departure. I was married and had two young boys and one on the way. He told me, "I would really like for you to come and work in the Middle East as a single man." I was blown away and totally confused. However, this man was considered a giant in the Navigators.

I didn't know what meant. Did he want me to divorce my wife?

I remember as clear as it was yesterday when I told him that I could not obey him in this matter, that I had to bring my family (whom I loved dearly). "Curt," I said. "I can't come without my family."

We were in a breakfast buffet line at the Nav headquarters. He smiled. He paid for his breakfast and looked up at me. "Okay. Do as you have the faith to do. Those with little faith do little things." Then he walked away.

So, and this thought is nowhere near completion, I wonder what is Biblical faith and how has "faith" become a tool for manipulating others?

I may be back if I figure out the difference. Maybe you already know and you can enlighten us all.

Veteran of a Thousand Psychic Wars

Here's the lyrics via the suggestion of HUG in a previous post. It reminds me when I had the youth group for one month and wanted to review the lyrics of rock (or any of their favorite) songs. Tremendous messages there, or so I thought. Went over like a lead balloon with the pastor and parents. Most of those kids don't go to church anywhere now.

You see me now a veteran of a thousand psychic wars
been living on the edge so long
Where the winds of limbo roar
And I'm
young enough to look at
And far too old to see
All the scars are on the
I'm not sure if there's anything left of me

Don't let these
shakes go on
It's time we had a break from it
It's time we had some
We've been living in the flames
We've been eating up our
Oh, please don't let these shakes go on

You ask me why I'm
weary, why I can't speak to you
You blame me for my silence
Say it's time
I changed and grew
But the war's still going on dear
And there's no end
that I know
And I can't say if we're ever...
I can't say if we're ever
gonna to be free

Don't let these shakes go on
It's time we had a break
from it
It's time we had some leave
We've been living in the
We've been eating out our brains
Oh, please don't let these shakes
go on

You see me now a veteran of a thousand psychic wars
My energy's
spent at last
And my armor is destroyed
I have used up all my weapons and
I'm helpless and bereaved
Wounds are all I'm made of
Did I hear you say
that this is victory?

Don't let these shakes go on
It's time we had a
break from it
Send me to the rear
Where the tides of madness swell
been sliding into hell
Oh, please don't let these shakes go on
Don't let
these shakes go on
Don't let these shakes go on

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

If I Were Superstitious . . . More Thoughts About "Going to Church"

If I were superstitious I would start to wonder about someone trying to tell me something. It is about something else I often rant about . . . the centerpiece of our Christian culture . . . Sunday morning Church going.

Once again, I will defend myself as one of the most faithful church goers you can find. As I’ve said, I may miss once a year at best. My motives for going are multifactoral and too complicated to discuss here. But here is my story from yesterday with commentary on the other side.

So, I’m sitting in my coffee shop in our little village after work. I was stopping by on my way to the gym (to burn off the mocha’s I am addicted to). While I’m standing in line, in comes an old friend, Chris, whom I haven’t seen in over a year.

Chris has a PhD in geology and who use to come to our church. He is married to the daughter of one of our most conservative church members and head elder. This is the head elder who said in front of the entire Sunday school class (as we were discussing the Ken Hamm videos on creationism) that “You can’t be a Christian if you don’t believe the Bible. You don’t believe the Bible if you don’t believe that the earth is 6,000 years old.” He wasn’t just hinting that I wasn’t a Christian. This was a direct response after I said that I believed the universe was probably 13 billion years old and the earth multi billion years old.

This is where I see the modern Evangelicalism making a huge mistake. Chris has had many long arguments with his father-in-law over this issue. His father-in-law sets the same standard for him. He must “believe the Bible” and to do that he must believe in the young earth. So, to Chris, as a—geologists—believing in a young earth is a great barrier to him being a Christian. Chris wants to be a Christian but can’t get past the “mandatory” belief in a young earth which is ludicrous to a geologist. And it is not just because he has been “brainwashed by the secular-humanist pagans who rule our campuses.”

Chris and I had many conversations about this. My strong encouragement to him is that he certainly can be a believer and not throw away his geologist brain at the same time. I don’t think my words with him set well with his father-in-law.

After not seeing Chris for over a year I was so happy to talk to him. But literally, the first words out of his mouth were, “I’m really sorry I haven’t been to church lately.”

I was perplexed. Him not being in church service wasn’t even on my radar and I made that clear to him. “I don’t care if you haven’t been coming to our church service. I just was wondering how YOU are doing?”

We had a good talk, again about geology and earth formations.

I left the coffee shop at 6 P.M. heading for Thrive. I switched on the radio trying to catch the end of All Things Considered. We have four public radio stations and they are close together on the low end of the FM dial. You have to constantly switch back and forth between them as you drive because the signal fades in and out, depending on where you are in relationship with the local mountains.

But sitting right in the mix of the NPR stations is a very popular and (loud with a strong signal) Christian radio station.

The drive from the coffee shop to Thrive is only about a mile so, once I had the dial on the Christian radio station, I do sometimes listen to it, always hopeful that there would be something good on it. But I’ve been perpetually disappointed.

This time, as usual, it was a very loud pastor with a Texan draw. He was screaming about people making excuses for not being in church. He said, “When you put God first in your life, the way Jesus wants you to, then you are in your church door every time it is open.”

He gave examples of bad people who didn’t put God first and missed a church service because of a football game (and he added that he loved football more than anything . . . but God). Then, once that person misses once or twice, they just “go over to the devil’s side completely before long.” He made it clear if you don’t go to the Church service, you are not putting God first in your life.

If I were a secular psychologist listening to that program, one word would constantly pop in my mind . . . “M-a-n-i-p-u-l-a-t-i-o-n.”

Then I arrive at Thrive. In the locker room, I looked up and saw Dan (factious name), the son of the friend of mine who died from cancer a year ago this week.

Dan (20 years old) has been on my heart a lot. I’ve spoken to his sister and mother several times and it didn’t seem to me that he was doing very well emotionally (as if any of us could do well losing their father suddenly). According to his family he never cried around his father’s death but became very irritable. Also, if my memory serves me well, he attended church regularity up until the time of his father’s death and has not been back since. His mother told me that he had been, “doubting God” then she rolled her eyes.

So I care a lot about him and wish so much that we could talk about things.

The first thing I noticed was that he saw me, but then tried to get out of the locker room without talking to me. I stopped him, “Hey man, how’s it going?”

Dan, “Fine. I’m working a lot.”

Me, “I’ve been thinking about you and your family this week because I know it is the one year anniversary since loosing your dad.”

Dan, “Yeah.” He shrugged his shoulders.

Me, “So, are you doing okay?”

This is where things got really strange.

Dan (speaking in a defensive tone), “I’m sorry I haven’t been in church lately. I work late on Saturday night and it is really hard to get up Sunday mornings. I do see some Christian friends on Wednesday night . . . it is sort of like a youth group. I will try to get back to church when I schedule changes . . .”

Me, “I couldn’t care less about you coming to church, I was just concern about you! I knew that this would be a hard time for you and your family.”

Gee wiz I thought. Why is everything about “going to church?” Is that how we define ourselves? Who invented “going to church” as our practice of penitence?

I will speak confidently, and what I’m about to say offends 90% of the Christians I talk to, especially my own pastor. This is where I make the point that I, rather than being a liberal flake, am really more of a Christian fundamentalist that the most fundamentalist. Because, I think that we should go by the Bible and if it is not in the Bible, we should not make it Christian dogma.

So, as I’ve said before, “Church” is not: 1) A building, 2) A meeting, 3) A service, 4) a local organization or 5) denomination. I think to Jesus and the disciples, “going to church” would be about as odd as saying, “going to family.” Church is a loosely defined group of people called out of the world for a single purpose . . . period. It is community! It should be a safe group that you call up when you need them. Where you dine together on a regular bases and talk about your real, messy life. You can’t go to community. Actually, it is my impression that today’s churches do an extremely poor job of community. That’s why people, like Dan, disappear whenever they need help because they know that our culture’s concept of “Church” is all about programs and rituals and not about community. Who invented “worship” as a service? Does not the New Testament say that “Worship” is presenting yourselves as a living sacrifice? How did it become a program of singing and rolling your eyes in the back of your head followed by a lecture?

Another dogma that isn’t mentioned (at all) in the Bible is how old the earth is.

I rest my case. But, I believe that if you handed someone from another planet the New Testament, then immersed them into our modern Evangelical culture they would be very confused by all this madness.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Barnacles from a Night Sea

My mother says I get it from her . . . the inability to sleep well at times. Last night was one of those times. I awaken at 1:30 AM and it felt like 8 AM except with a foggy head and raw thoughts.

I don’t know what it is about the middle of the night, but it is a horrible . . . or who knows, maybe a good . . . time to think about things. Problems look bigger and more insurmountable. Sometimes I think the night-time prevents reality . . . sometimes I think it exposes it for what it really is.

I spent a few hours cruising the dark, black sea of the night with my wondering mind at the helm. It always seems that the most emotionally charged thoughts rise to the surface first, especially if they were from a recent experience, such as the previous day or evening. These thoughts stuck like barnacles to the hull of my ghostly schooner of the night.

It was cold last night (relatively speaking) and I didn’t have the motivation to do a lot before retiring. I tired to work on some papers I need to write. But I kept drifting back to the Internet, reading and commenting here and there.

I visited Imonk’s page and read about Mark Driscoll’s statement that Avatar was the most demonic movie of all time.

It was only about a year ago that I started thinking that maybe Mark’s Mars Hill Church was the church I had been looking for, if not his very church (70 miles away) then a church in its likeness.

But after reading the postings on Imonk, then going to the source (a Seattle newspaper story), I started to feel this great loss. I wasn’t so surprised to find that his thinking and mine are on different planets (speaking of Avatar). While I thought the script of the movie was corny at best, the visual imagery was worth the money, especially when viewed in 3 D. I sensed the presence of God in that film, not the devil. Of course not in the spiritual teaching, as if I would ever go to a secular movie for that. But in the beauty of the Pandoran world, created by men (and women) who were in turn created by God. It doesn’t matter what the screenwriters, director, special effects people believe about God and spirituality, they can’t escape God’s fingerprint on their creativity. When I see beauty anywhere, I feel closer to God.

To suggest that the movie was demonic sounds a little kindergarten-ish to me. Will demons actually crawl across the sticky Milk-dud coated theater floor, then up your ankle and sneak into your soul as you sit and watch the movie? Will you go home and start to worship the trees or switch to a pantheistic view of reality because of that movie? If so, then Mark’s church has done a horrible job in preparing you to think for yourself.

But with that said, I started to feel that Invasion of the Body Snatchers feeling again. Where, one by one, everyone around you is being replaced by plant-like clones. Then you find yourself alone in the world.

I’ve taken so many wild goose chases in my life looking for the ideal church. Each time, I’m greatly disappointed. I’m not looking for perfect people, just people with whom I can communicate with outside my own head without having to constantly be on the defensive. I know they exist. I’ve met many at LAbri functions. I’ve met them at Imonk and here. Rarely do I meet them in my own world of everyday life.

No, I’m not looking for a perfect church. Actually I’m not looking for a church at all anymore. I’ve given up on the task. Not because there is no hope of finding a better church home, but knowing of the marital conflict I would create if I did find another church.

I’m not looking for perfect people, actually . . . just the opposite. I’m looking for people who really believe in their souls that there is no hope for perfection in this world. That by going to the right movies, avoiding the right drinks, saying the right things, voting for the right party, will not make you closer to perfection because they know that perfection is unobtainable and is allusive as chasing your own shadow.

I did finally get to sleep . . . it must have been around 4 AM. But before that, my mind gathered more barnacles.

Once again I find a lacking of purpose in my life. There is no way I would admit that when I was an Evangelical because the number one caveat of our personal testimony was that “In Christ We’ve Found a Purpose.” Maybe that was true . . . but again, maybe we were lying to ourselves.

I don’t mean this feeling of lack of purpose in any more dynamic terms than Solomon’s observations about the vanity of efforts. It is easier to feel this way when you are done being a father of little, dependent children. Then, my “purpose” was forced on me every morning when I woke up. There was no time to wonder about it.

But this barnacle came as the result of another hard day at work. I knew that I had gone to bed with stress from a couple of nasty confrontations . . . which are typical.

I entered health care thinking it was about helping people to get better. It was my role in the master plan of God redeeming the world from suffering.

While I do see many patients who want healing and participate in their healing, the ones that leave me drained are those who have no desire for healing. They just want a primal chemical fulfillment of their opioid receptors (narcotic seeking), or they are mad as hell that I didn’t document their pain for their lawyer . . . seeking monetary fulfillment from their fall at Walmart. Or they want to use their pain as a permanent paid vacation . . . and they, once again, are mad as hell that I made them better and that I documented their good health. In the book The Singer (by Calvin Murphy), there is a statement that goes something like this, “For some people you can not wish for health and happiness, because for them, illness and happiness rest comfortably in the same bed.”

I say this in the spirit of Solomon . . . or maybe Caulfield. I come home every night drained and hand over my check to my wife. She pays the bills and there is never a penny left over.

So, this may be another fall-out from a midlife crisis thing, but I do wonder what I should be doing with my life. I don’t want to lay on my death bed with regrets and now I fear I will have them. But at the same time, I don’t have the idealism that I once had about a very specific calling on one’s life from God.

We were always taught that God had one very particular purpose for each person. If you weren’t squarely in the center of that calling, then your life will be made hell on earth. If you were in the center of that obscure calling, then your entire life would be filled with good health, perfect children, perfect marriage and complete Jesus-bliss bubbling over into a constant smirk.

And this brings me to my last point . . . the death bed. In the early hours of the morning (here on the West Coast) I saw the blog update by Denise Spencer. I already knew that Michael was dying so that was no surprise. But to hear her say that in the written word was startling. I’m about the same age as Michael. I care about this virtual friend very much. I’m sorry to turn this into a selfish pondering, but I think Michael would understand. I thought that once again I dodged the lighting bolt of fatality. Just a year ago this week another good (not virtual) friend who was the same age as me died. I felt the same way then. Why wasn’t it me? There is no reason it couldn’t have been me. It wasn’t like my friend was playing with bombs and had an accident. He, like Michael, had cancer. We all are vulnerable.

This always makes me think about our own mortality. If I were to leave a legacy, I would love (besides through my kids) to do it through what I love to do . . . write. I have three completed novels and one non-fiction work that I wish I could have others read. But in the strange raw presence, in the quietness of the dark, my emotions tell me that it is just a silly fantasy. Like those who desire to sing on the stage but never will, I’m just one of millions who long to write worthy enough to be read and to stir people to think about the human condition in ways they may never have before.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Movie Night and a Lesson About Personal Disasters

Okay . . . it is Oscar night . . . so it is a good time to talk about movies. I think I was about to talk about movies even before I realized that the Academy Awards were tonight.

We live in a wonderfully-unique island. I think it was Money Magazine that picked our island as the number one place in America for the healthy, active retirees to move to. Besides being surrounded by water, we have own mountain covered in miles and miles of trails, rock climbing cliffs and etc. We also have at least 5 major lakes filled with fish.

So we attract some interesting people . . . many who’ve made a fortune on Wall Street or Hollywood. One of the Hollywood types (spent years in the business) is leading a movie night at the public library. Denise and I decided to go Friday night. Once we were there, and I realized which movie it was (the Holiday) I was a bit disappointed. I recognized the movie from its trailers that I saw the year it came out. I had the impression that it was a poorly-written chick flick. After all, Jack Black was in it.

However, the man leading the night started telling “behind the scenes” stories about the actors (whom he had worked with for years) and the actually movie. My interest was stirred up.

I have to say, that I did enjoy the movie. I came away with the notion that Kate Winsiet is not just a pretty face but a tremendous actor. I was starting to get that ideal in Revolutionary Road but was confirmed in this movie.

I’ve never been a fan of Cameron Diaz and I guess I’m still not and I’m not sure why. I came away more convinced that Jack Black is a very limited actor. Once he gets out of his character (as in School of Rock) he is simply not very good. The last main actor, Jude Law, will also be to me, the robotic gigolo from AI with music coming form his head and some mechanical apparatus that drove women wild.

But the point that I took away from this movie was certainly subtle. I don’t if any of the million who saw it came away with the same thought.

In the movie, the charter played by Law was a widower. He made the comment that he was very emotional and could cry at the drop of a hat. He didn’t connect these dots, but I had the feeling he could cry so easily because of the disaster of loosing his wife (and the mother of his two little girls).

Cameron, on the other hand, told the story that she couldn’t cry no matter how hard she tried. And she did try, like when she found out that her live-in boyfriend had been causally boinking his 25 year old receptionist. But the Cameron character did make the connection between the unexpected divorce of her parents (and she was an only child) to her inability to cry.

This is where my mind began to wonder about how personal disasters influence us. I used to be like the Cameron character (I don’t know why) but I could not cry. I did not cry at my father’s funeral and I loved him very much. But after I went through a series of two personal disasters, I now cry very easily. I feel pain very deeply . . . where there is pain to feel.

I can remember a young girl, a patient, came into see me because she was acutely depressed. She told me her story. Her and her high-school sweetheart both came to Michigan Tech (where I was providing care in the student health clinic). They had gotten engaged the year before and she was very much in love with him.

She worked at the campus cafeteria. One night she had to go to work, leaving her fiancée and her roommate (also her best friend) playing a board game in her dorm room. When she got to work, she learned that the banquet that she was suppose to set up for had been cancelled. So went back to her room, opened the door and found her sweetheart and her roommate/best friend naked in bed together. Both of them tried to convince her that it was causal sex because they were bored . . . but that was a silly response. She was devastated of course.

As she told me the story, in tears, suddenly I began to sob uncontrollably. She must have thought I was nuts. But I do hope she knew that I cared.

But I’ve meet many people in life who have gone through personal disasters There are some who visit here (this blog) who have known far more pain that I have. Many people come out of these situations more stoic (Cameron character) and rocks. Many of us, however, are broken to the point that we will never be put back together again (like Humpty Dumpty). Maybe spending the rest of our lives broken . . . is a good thing.

I will be back to proof read this so I’m sorry about the typos but I have to run.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

In Other Words

Another way of saying what I was trying to say in that last post was captured in a paragraph I read this morning in As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner.

Faulkner is speaking through the mouth of Anse (Pa). It is a horribly dysfunctional family (like most) with layers and layers of psychological drama. When one son seemed to go more nuts than the rest and another son raised the question of the sanity of his brother (after his brother burned down their host's barn and then was picking a fight when someone commented that his dead mother was stinking) his father said the following (in his Mississippi dialect):

Sometimes I aint so sho who's got ere a right to say when a man is crazy and when he aint. Sometimes I think aint none of us pure crazy and aint none of us pure sane until the balance of us talks him that-a-way. It's like it aint so much what a fellow does, but it's the way the majority of folks is looking at him when he does it.

Can the Fall be Contained? Part III (last) The Sea of Lies

As an introduction, I would like to share the video below and I will discuss it on the other side.

When I’ve shown that video to lay-friends (those who don’t work in medicine) and even a few times I’ve shown it to medical people, I’ve had the response, “Poor thing. What a horrible condition.”

However, if you show to us who work in neurology, who deal with spells and movement disorders everyday, it takes about 3 seconds to know that the movement disorder that this young lady presents with . . . are completely fake. I am confident that if you showed the video to the top 1000 movement disorder specialists in the country that 99% will sake fake. However, unlike TV shows like House, theses majority are not simply arrogant and the really smart doctor will find the true organic (physical) cause. The few medical people who supports someone like this, giving a “legitimatization” to the disorder, usually has their own agenda.

I know that my perspective may be tainted a bit (but not in a bad way) because I see these cases every day. It is estimated that 1/3 of patients who come to a neurologist’s office are having fake spells or symptoms. We call these “psychogenic.”

When I’ve shown that video to lay-friends (those who don’t work in medicine) and even a few times I’ve shown it to medical people, I’ve had the response, “Poor thing. What a horrible condition.”

However, if you show to us who work in neurology, who deal with spells and movement disorders everyday, it takes about 3 seconds to know that the movement disorder that this young lady presents with . . . are completely fake. I am confident that if you showed the video to the top 1000 movement disorder specialists in the country that 99% will sake fake.

I know that my perspective may be tainted a bit (but not in a bad way) because I see these cases every day. It is estimated that 1/3 of patients who come to a neurologist’s office are having fake spells or symptoms. We call these “psychogenic.”

Lay people, especially Christian lay people (meaning again, non- medical people) are quick to believe these symptoms are real. They are also very hesitant to accept them as psychogenic. But when they finally do accept them as psychogenic, then they see it as simple, first-person sin. What I mean, is that they think this person sits around and one day says, “I’m going to start faking seizures or other medical problems.” Therefore they are just bad people. But it is far more complicated than that. Many of these people are lying to themselves and they actually believe the symptoms that their sub-conscious is faking.

The psychological reason for most somatization disorders (or what use to be known as hysterical, psychological, or hypochondriacal disorders) is based on our fundamental desire to have value. Short of winning America’s Idol, one of the most “convenient” ways to become very important . . . oddly . . . is to become very sick. You are very important when your spouse, your family, your friends and your church are very worried about you and are constantly praying for you. You can quickly become the center of attention. But this is on a very deep, psychological level. When I try to tell these patients that they are faking it, they usually become extremely angry as do their families. Actually, the only time I’ve ever been assaulted by a patient was when I told her that the seizure that she had just demonstrated was not a real seizure.

So my point in all of this is that we live in a sea of lies because of the Fall. In my opinion there has never been a person, except for Christ, who was completely sane. It is just the matter of degree. I think in one sense, all insanity is a function of lies. Much insanity is a brain problem, but even that brain problem distorts reality . . . thus is a form of lying. People (like me) who have a tendency towards depression have a mood disorder. But a mood disorder is a lie about reality. You can think, “It is hopeless because no one cares about me, I’m a looser, life sucks” and etc. So those things are distortions of truth.

The same is of course true with anxiety disorders where we have a distorted view of dangers. And then there is psychosis where all of reality is distorted or lied about (by our brains).

So, the fall has created this sea of lies that we must swim in. And, of course, Satan is the Lord of lies (John 8:44 44You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.)

But can we manage the Fall to the point that we can rise above the lies and always know just truth? I don’t think so. So, we can’t trust ourselves completely. So, in my opinion we can’t always speak with authority. This is not to say we can never know truth. We don’t have to reach the point of only knowing; Cogito ergo sum.”
To follow up on this point, so if we live in this environment of lies, it is not only acceptable or is our responsibility not to believe everything we hear or everything we tell ourselves. So when a Christian says, “God told me such and such/” Well, it is legitimate to think . . . maybe He did . . . or maybe He didn’t. I’ve talked about this before, but I do believe that doubt is a gift and a safeguard from drowning in this cold sea.

Here is a follow up video:

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Bart and Frank at Thrive

The older I get, the more hours I spend in Thrive (in the winter . . . the summer I exercise out doors). While I run on the treadmill, it gives me the chance to catch up on all the cable channels we don't get.

Honestly (and I know this sounds a little gay) my favorite channel is HGTV, especially International House Hunters. However (maybe my more masculine side speaking) I love to channel surf between the 8 TVs.

I had been working on my last post regarding "containing the fall" but I'm going to interrupt that work with what I saw on TV tonight.

If you ever watch MSNBC side by side with Fox . . . and you switch back and forth between them, they both seem like comedy. Why? Because they are each so over the top in the spin they try to put on the "issues." It really is ridiculous. I know that I may be stepping on toes but it appears that anyone who is a loyal fan of either Fox or MSNBC must not be thinking very deeply.

I had to turn away from HGTV when MSNBC's Rachel Maddow was talking about something, then she showed a photo of Bart Stupak. You see, I was living in Bart's neck of the woods when he was first elected (I was living in Marquette. Michigan and he is from Escanaba I believe). He was a highway patrol officer before he ran for congress. His brother was my lawyer in a professional situation. A good Catholic friend of mine was an advocate and friend of Stupak.

I wasn't going to switch channels until I next saw the same photo of the C Street house that I posted two days ago. I already knew that Bart was one of the C Street renters.

So I switched over from House Hunters. Rachel has such an agenda. She spends about 30 minutes doing a character assassination of Bart because of his support of the pro-life position. It was plain silly. As part of that attack, she also attacked the C Street House ministry brutally. It made me feel a little guilty for my statements. I stick by my statements but I certainly don't support Rachel's obvious agenda.

So I switch back to HGTV. After a few minutes I glance over only to see another familiar face, Frank Schaeffer. So, I had to switch back.

I've debated in my mind if Frank and I are on the same page or not. I think mostly we are. I certainly hear a lot of bad things about him. But, those bad things come from the same people who would say bad things about me.

One person is a good friend of mine and was also one of Frank's mother's best friends. She feels that Frank has gone over to the dark side.

Then, there are the people at church. Because I'm noted for being a fan of LAbri, I've had several people at church come up to me, shaking their heads and saying, "Did you hear about Frank Schaeffer? He's fallen away from the Lord."

I'm not so sure he has. I loved his Crazy for God as well as his fictional (semi-autobiographical) works. I think these people at church would assume that I've fallen away from the Lord if they all my opinions.

Anyway, I missed the main story that Frank was asked to comment on. But apparently, there is a group of men called the Operation Exodus, who believe in taking up weapons (machine guns and etc.) and creating some kind of army, a Christian army based in churches, with the goal of defending our boarders against the aliens and fighting the Muslim terrorists. Frank, in his emotionally charged voice (that sounds like his Dad's voice) lashed out against this group and right wing nut cases. I'm sorry, but with that I have to agree. I've always thought that Jesus and guns make strange bedfellows.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Can the Fall be Managed? Part II

I can always sense a real difference in my perspective and many of those at the Evangelical church I attend. For example, in once such exchange at our Bible study, when I commented that the church needs to communicate to its members and visitors that it is a “safe place” (as many of our families have left after they, or their kids got in trouble). Another man disagreed strongly. He said the church should not be a safe place but a scary place, where people sense God’s wrath. He also suggested that, in his opinion, we are far too soft on sin.

I heard from the pulpit and a couple of church leaders a few years ago that the reason that so many youth leave the church is because we cut them too much slack. It was suggested that if we banned our teens from getting tattoos, wearing baggy clothes (or low cut blouses) and require them to attend church every Sunday (while they are under our roof) that when they grow up they would be much more likely to stay in church.

I strongly disagreed with this notion and I was the only one in our Sunday school class who did. It is the same mentality that you can “beat the sin out of them.”

The same man who said that we are soft on sin, thinks that I’m especially soft on sin. But I think we are in different places in our lives. I don’t mean this in any kind of arrogant way, but he is a relatively new Christian (about 10 years). So I think he is still in that idealism that I had during my first 15 years as a Christian. That sin is manageable and I can grow the point that I’m no longer vulnerable.

Now to clarify what I am thinking a little further is that I am not advocating that we have a free pass based on the blood of Christ. I’m not saying, (as some in the early Church did) that we should sin freely now because there is no hope of overcoming sin. I’m not saying that we should grab a hooker and some meth and take off to a fancy hotel . . . hey, wait a minute . . . that’s exactly what Ted Haggard did! And Ted, if you listened to his messages, was in the camp that we all should “shape up” and over come our sin and be godly. He taught that sin was manageable. I’m sure he thought of himself as a “godly man.”

No. What I’m saying is that we should put every effort to do what is right, which is defined within Agape-ism. However, we must never believe that the Fall is manageable or that we can remove ourselves from its influence.

How many times I’ve see (pick your adjective; strong, mature, godly) Christians abruptly leave everything Christian. They didn’t have to slowly “backslide” over years. I think of Norm, people told me that he was the godliest father they knew (had 7 kids, 5 adopted handicapped ones). He instantly left his family and moved in with a co-worker who was half his age. He left and never looked back (he was literally voted the “father of the year” the previous year). Then I think of a good friend Carolyn, who, while in the middle of an extreme discipleship program (designed to mentally beat the sin out of us) abruptly, literally overnight (and this was after years of being in the discipleship program) returned to her drug culture. I think of a Baptist pastor in my small town who out of the blue, grabbed the wife of the Methodist pastor and fled to the beach to live.

So, a few years ago, when our pastor told me that he was to going start discipling us elders as his inner circle, I knew my days were numbered. I have been discipled almost to the point of having a virtual lobotomy. If 20 years of hard discipling by the Navigators (the modern re-inventors of discipling) didn’t take, I wasn’t clear what he could do with me. I know that tomorrow, lest I am careful, I could be capable of the most distressing sin. So I must pray, “lead us not into temptation lest we should sin against You.”

If you want any more proof of he condition of us "spiritual" ones, you can follow this Google search for the words, "Pastor Arrested." The pages go on and on and on.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Spiritual Elitism - - - Can the Fall be Contained?

(Pictured: The C Street House in Washington, DC)

I believe that a huge topic is at stake here and I don’t if I can put it into words. It has to do with how manageable is the Fall of Adam. Another word, which may or may not be synonymous, is sanctification. Can we, as Christians, ever escape the effects of the Fall?

Two things brought this to mind recently. The first was the comment by Alex after Feb 19 th’s posting. Alex put a link to this blog. To make a long story short is was about a family coming to the blogger’s church. The 7 year old adoptive daughter, Lydia, was accidently killed by her Christian parents. Her Christian parents were practicing a type of child-rearing techniques (including severe corporal punishment) advocated by a very conservative pastor in Tennessee. I personally know of another case that is like this one. The Tennessee pastor believes in “entire sanctification” or where Christians can contain the effects of the Fall to the point they never sin anymore. So, you can literally beat the sin out of your kids in other words.

Then that night I heard on NPR another story about the “C Street House.” I’ve heard of that place before. But, in case you haven’t, I will explain in brief.

The “C Street House” is a secret ministry set up to disciple, at a very elite level, members of congress or the Senate. The purpose was to help create godly leaders of this country. Very little is known about it except it is listed as a church for tax purposes and it is operated by the same people who set up the annual Prayer Breakfast.

This house has been in the news lately because three of these elite disciples have been behaving badly. Maybe you could call it, “Disciples Gone Wild.” One of the disciples is Mark Sanford, who was recently caught slipping off to Argentina to visit his mistress. Seven days before he was caught, another associate of the house, Mark Ensign (Senator from Nevada) was caught in an affair. Now put this in context with the fact that only a handful of men meet the standards of living in or associating with that house. These are the spiritual and power elite.

Now, I’ve read that Cal Thomas and others have defended the house in the aftermath of those scandals along the lines of not judging the entire work based on a couple of bad apples. Or, more like, Jesus is all about forgiveness.

But that’s not the criticism that I voice here. My criticism or question is, can we really manage our sin in this way? Is there really a ladder of climbing out of sin into “godliness” or spirituality?

I think that my personal fall from Evangelicalism started when the godliest men I ever knew . . . were guilty of some of the worst sins I could imagine. But it took me a while to believe it. I’ve told the story before about the most hard-core disciple I ever met (he was a Navigator staff guy) disappeared one year and returned the next year with a new wife who was half his age. None of us asked a single question about it, even though it was the elephant in the room. Then, there was my missionary boss. I had him on the highest human pedestal of spirituality. He did some bad things. Then there was myself, I’ve been capable of some bad things.

I want to think about this a little more and do another post or two. But in summary, I think the way you look at sin really determines if you are an Evangelical or not. Evangelicals believe that they can achieve spirituality. In the same breath, they can relegate the non-Christian, or even the “weak Christian” to a much lower level of worth and existence. That’s why Evangelicals don’t like non-Christians. They don’t like their music (like KD Lang) or their art, or their books (especially if they have words like shit in them). But when you see that not even a sheet of onion-skin paper couldn’t fit between you level of spirituality and that of the worst human, you are not only more grateful for the mercy of God in Christ. But you also don’t trust anyone. I don’t trust my own spirituality. I don’t trust that of any spiritual leader. Actually, the more they seek the limelight, the less I trust them.