Friday, April 30, 2010

So Much to Say, So Little Time to Say IT

For the previous two weeks I had scant access to the Internet, nor could I write off-line without offending someone in the family for ignoring them.

This week I'm back home, I have my usual Internet but . . . like what always happens when I've been gone . . . I come back to an incredible amount of work. I hang on barely with 10 hour days, coming home to total exhaustion. Once home, I can only muster up enough mental strength to watch a couple of brainless sitcoms before retiring. I've even had to put my Tale of Two Cities down.

I did read a USA Today the other day. It contained another survey showing that the millennium generation isn't going to church, considers themselves spiritual but not religious and even those who say they are Christians, don't go to church or etc.

Then I read an article by Mark Driscoll, who is touted as the Evangelical answer to the masses of youth leaving the church.

But this is the same Mark Driscoll that says that Avatar and Harry Potter are Satanic. So I see his solutions are re-arranging of the deck chairs on the Titanic. There needs to be a total rethinking by the Church if there is any hope. I wish I could say more by my first patient just showed up.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Communication


We are now cruising at about 28,000 feet, having just conquered the top side of the cold front which wrecked havoc in Mississippi just yesterday. The upper crest, I’m sure, was much more tranquil than the lower, yet it was one of the roughest crossing I’ve ventured in an airplane in a long time.

I wish I could have kept up the posting in the last 10 days of my annual family reunion on the east coast. It quickly became obvious that I could not. I had about 10 minutes in the coffee shop each morning in which I could download my e-mails. I attempted to write off-line, but each time I did, I would always end up inadvertently ignoring a family member whom was trying to tell me something . . . so I just put the computer away.

But now, in that stillness of the west side of the storms, I think I will do the smorgasbord approach again, and try to share some observations.

This family reunion is always a big production. I think I counted about 32 people involved with this trip. All either close relatives or dating one of them. In ten days, there was barely a quiet moment . . . save the present. Denise and I camped in three different bedrooms in three different towns and three standards of living. Among the group are a variety of philosophical perspectives from the harden atheist (but superstitious atheist—which is always a paradox to me) to the close acquaintance and employee of a famous TV evangelist (I will not mention the name here). In between are many who give lip service to the Christian-God of the country music world and common Christian clich├ęs but for whom has very little influence on their own lives or thoughts. I was being re-immersed in the old Bible-belt culture that I grew up with.

Observation 1: In the last two posts I was talking about Dickens. He continued being my private friend and confidant during these past days. I often found myself switching my focus (both of my eyes and my consciousness) back and forth between the pages of my book, the Tale of Two Cities, and the conversation in the room before me.

One thing that really stuck out as a sharp contrast relates closely to that quote by Dickens two posts ago. In that segment of his book, Dickens seems to lament over the fact that people’s souls are closed books and we each see only a glimpse even into the hearts that that lie next to us each night.

But the thing, which I noticed, was that the characters in the book speak, not only in poetic prose (thank you Mr. Dickens) but of substance and with candid directness, while those in the room before me were focused on the far more inconsequential. The topics in the room surrounded the issues of; 1) personal appearance, 2) weather, 3) jobs (in a superficial way), and 4) the personal lives of celebrities. Sometimes it would touch on the far more serious life issues, but only those that applied to family members who were not present.

Once, I attempted to bring up something that would have been simple small-talk in Dickens dialog . . . what would my 90 year old mother do if she could not take care of herself anymore? She quickly hushed me as if I was opening some locked vault of deep secrets. The springs of the book snapped shut like a bear trap.

But it made me wander about the question of personal alienation . . . if it is worse now than it was in early ninetieth England? Or, was Dickens, as an artist, simply writing brilliantly and of substance to exhibit his literary art?

For example, my wife and I use to watch Gilmore Girls. I admit, it is not very masculine nor intellectual to admit so. But their dialog was incredible. I don’t know anyone who is witty enough to talk that way. But I do think it allowed the screenwriters to show their stuff and to keep the watcher interested.

Another possibility was that Dickens was writing with wishful thinking. In other words he really did want the father and daughter to have these deep and beautiful conversations about her love for him verses her love for her new husband even though he knew it would never have happened in his Victorian England days.

But if people in that era or in other parts of the world today, really do speak more of substance, it makes me wander what the heck has happened to us? Or maybe it is just an aliment of my own family.

At least in the Bible belt, I really think that one issue is the effects of religious-Platonic-Dualism. In other words, that this world was considered of such insignificance for so long that it is hard to even discuss the important parts anymore.

But a much more likely possibility is that we, maybe just in the Bible belt, have drifted into such a cult of niceness that it is virtually impossible to speak of the reality, which can often and quickly get very messy. So we end up sitting together, eating lots of calorie-rich foods and talking about the superficial things I mentioned above.

I will end (and maybe I will include the Dicken’s dialog if I can find it). My question is, do any of us communicate on this level any more . . . save in the middle of an acute crisis?

There are many other things that caught my eye that I’m trying to figure out from the trip. Many strip-mall churches. What’s behind that movement? A guest, surprisingly considering the small talk, brining up the fact that she believes in reincarnation and that she was a princess in France . . . who was stabbed to death. But the thing that caught my attention the most was my reaction . . . complete silence. The other observation was that Denise engaged her. First I thought that Denise was just being polite. Then, it seemed to move into the courious and finally as if Denise herself was wondering if she too had been reincarnated. I left that evening feeling really puzzled about a lot of things.


In the sad moonlight, she clasped him (her father) by the neck, and laid her face upon his breast. In the moonlight which is always sad, as the light of the sun itself is—as the light called human life is—coming and its going.

“Dearest dear! Can you tell me, this last time, that you feel quite, quite sure no new affections of mine, and no new duties of mine will ever interpose between us? I know it well, but do you know it? In your own heart, do you feel quite certain?”

Her father answered, with a cheerful firmness of conviction he could scarcely have assumed, “Quite sure, my darling! More than that,” he added, as he tenderly kissed her: “my future is far brighter, Lucie, seen through your marriage, than it could have been—nay, than it ever was—without it.” (by the way, he is lying about his true feelings here).

“If I could hope that, my father!”

“Believe it, love! Indeed, it is so. Consider how natural and how plain it is, my dear, that it should be so. You, devoted and young, cannot freely appreciate the anxiety I have felt that your life should not be wasted.”

She moved her hand towards his lips, abut he took it in his and repeated the word.

“wasted, my child—should not be wasted, struck aside from the natural order of things, for my sake. Your unselfishness cannot entirely comprehend how much my mind has gone on this; but, only ask yourself, how could my happiness be perfect, while yours was incomplete?”

“If I had never seen Charles (her husband to be), fy father, I should have been quite happy with you.”

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Church - The Great Alienation - and Church

I was thinking more about that quote yesterday from A Tale of Two Cities. I read that part of the book again this morning before I started my long walk on the Jacksonville beach.

I think there is a fundamental difference between how I see the Church (and a few of us) and the mainstream views (both protestant and Catholic). This is where I feel so much tension.

In my view, God's work in the world is all about redemption. Total redemption. Redemption of our souls is the epicenter but not the place of completion. From there it goes out to touch all of what is.

Dickens described so well that great alienation between people. Where, in those clusters of homes, lies people who hold secrets in their beating hearts that they can't even share with those laying next to them. The books are all closed. This is the shadow of the fall and the great alienation . . . one from another.

Most people see the function of the Church as a continuation of Old Testament Temple. Even that was a man-made notion. But it was all about what we can do "for" God. But like God Himself said (in such words) what does He need from us? Does He need our "worship" as if He would feel blue if His ego wasn't constantly stroked? Isn't the earth His footstool?

No, just like the sabbath, the Church is God's gift to men and women and part of the great social redemption.

It is so hard to accept free gifts. I always want to pay-back.

So good Church is where that great alienation is reversed. It shouldn't be a place where more secrets are kept. In my experience, there are more lies told in the vestibule of an Evangelical church than about anywhere else in society. But the Church should be, as that act of social redemption, be a place where the lies are turned back and honestly prevails and the secrets within each heart begins to come out and the springs on the books become broken and the frost on the lake begins to thaw.

But why do we lie? We lie because there is a myth that we can be "good" and that everyone else really is good (because they are lying). So we can't reveal the truth about ourselves if we don't look good, because we will be alone. Being alone terrifies all of us . . . to the point that we do become alone. But when we all acknowledge that we are not good . . . but that we are human . . . we can all start to come out of our holes together.

So that is why I am often disappointed in the Church. I don't care for "temple." I long for social redemption.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Chuck and the Two Cities

Charles Dickens is nothing short of a literally genius. This is especially amazing considering that he was the product of self-education. I thought I knew him, but I knew him only as a cultural icon . . . most notably of the Jacob Marley variety. But he paints with words like those sand art kits of the 70s, where you lay down layer after layer of color creating this far more profound mosaic when viewed through the different facets of the clear glass of the bottle.

One of the many narrative facets is the contrast between the cities and the cultural orientations. As I mentioned last time, Dickens writes from the perspective of a Londoner but also the perspective of a Victorian Londoner 75 years after the events of the story. Even within this narrative there are sub-plots or micro-narratives. One, and I could be proven wrong by the time I get to the end of the book, the contrast of living insulated from our psyches and not. More like the thickness of the insulation.

What I mean by the psyche is the raw person (or id according to Freud) in all its glory, beauty and darkness (echoes of the fall). I don’t think it is possible to go through life living totally raw. If you tried, you would not have any friends at all, and maybe be put away in a mental illness warehouse somewhere.

So we all have to create some level of insulation from the core, as if the core of a nuclear reactor. The question is how much insulation do we create? This parallels my previous notions of living on different levels of a building. I would love to do some type of Biblical study on this concept. I do think the Bible itself takes place much closer to the core of real human nature than how Christianity is live out. That’s why Christians sometimes have trouble with, and have to re-write (figuratively) some of the brutal stories. David and Solomon are just a couple of the stories.

As I have said elsewhere, southern Europe lived with thinner insulation and I think the reason, in part at least, was the influence of Platonic (with emotions being highly appraised) thinking from the Renaissance while northern Europe was more under the influence of a rational Aristotle.

In Dickens’ Tale, he makes this contrast most acute (at least at this point of the reading). The French revolution was overflowing with raw emotion. The same emotion that brought the beauty and appreciating of the senses (taste, smell, feel, love) in France, also brought the ugly brutality. The insulation was very thin.

But Dickens was very intuitive. While as a Victorian Londoner, he was also an artist. Artists tend to live with thin insulations. So while he was a member of the thick-insulation society, he could observe it and give commentary on it with x-ray vision, seeing beneath the fluff. That theme seems to run through many of his stories.

I want to end with one more practical thought and then a quote from the book.

Ironically I was discussing the book yesterday with a family member (as you can tell when I start something I become obsessed with it) but I was speaking about a different narrative. It was about how the French doctor Manette was released from prison (after 18 years) and reunited with his daughter, Lucie. He is “resurrected” or as Dickens says, “Recalled to Life.” But later in the book (so I’ve read in the introduction) Lucie has a suitor and marries. After which, the father seems to die again, or at least to enter a time of self-imprisonment. She had been his breath of life.

I made the point that this is part of the human experience that is not talked about very much. That is the pain of loosing your child to marriage. The reaction I got was abrupt and showed signs of disgust with my raw thoughts. I was told that was a “horrible way to think.” That, “Marriage of our children is always a happy thought.” It was like I said I wanted to start killing babies or worse (in our society’s view) killing puppies. So I just retreated into my thoughts.

Now, I am NOT saying that we should lock our kids up in the basement. I am not saying that we don’t, at the same time, feel happiness for them. I certainly do believe that this is the way that God intended life to be, where we raise our children and then turn them loose into the world to be joined to another and to leave us. That is all healthy.

All that I’m saying is that there really is a human emotion of grief that must be experienced privately. It is hard to raise a child, be the center of their life and then, over night almost become superfluous to them. There is no hidden message here but expressing a true feeling of the raw id. But you can’t even have this discussion outside your own head . . . especially in Christian circles.

I think I mentioned that a good friend of mine stood up in church a few weeks ago and started to share (trying to put a positive twist on it) that his dear 92 year old aunt had died. Then he started balling so hard he couldn’t speak. His wife suddenly took over and expressed that he was not crying out of grief, but out of happiness for his aunt who was now in Heaven. Hell no! I thought. He is crying out of pure unadulterated grief . . . just as Jesus did at the tomb of his dear friend.

I remember balling at my son’s wedding (who I know will read this here). My wife was a little embarrassed and explained to people that I was crying out of happiness. I was not. I know it is selfish and I am truly happy that he did the healthy thing and moved on with his life, but I was crying because of deep sadness that an epoch of our relationship was over forever . . . or until there is this new world that God will make where these things are fixed.

I don’t know why but some of us live precariously close to our ids. I often wake up in the middle of the night with virtually no insulation. I feel the elation of bliss and the horror of darkness sometimes, simultaneously.

So I will end with a quote from Dickens. He is looking at London (I think, but it could be Paris) with its thick insulation, but speaking now as a fellow-Victorian, but an artist. But notice how that deep insulation that we put between ourselves and our id and even deeper insulation between our ids and our neighbors is part of the great alienation (which Schaeffer use to refer to) that is part of the Fall. Our tower of Babel isn’t a different dialect but the inability to share honestly how we truly feel.

This is from the chapter Night Shadows.

A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it! Something of the awfulness, even of Death itself, is referable to this. No more can I turn the leaves of this dear book that I loved, and vainly hope in time to read it all. No more can I look into the depths of this unfathomable water, wherein, as momentary lights glanced into it, I have had glimpses of buried treasure and other things submerged. It was appointed that the book should shut with a spring, for ever and for ever, when I had read but a page. It was appointed that the water should be locked in an eternal frost, when the light was playing on its surface, and I stood in ignorance on the shore. My friend is dead, my neighbor is dead, my love, the darling of my soul, is dead; it is the inexorable consolidation and perpetuation of the secret that was always in that individuality, and which I shall carry in mine to my life’s end. In any of the burial-places of this city through which I pass, is there a sleeper more inscrutable than its busy inhabitants are, in their innermost personality, to me, or than I am to them?

Monday, April 19, 2010

The French Revolution--A Tale of Two Cities--And Jesus Land

The title of this painting (by Charles-Louis Muller) is The Roll Call of the Last Victims of the Reign of Terror. The title is somewhat self-explanatory. However, to make it clear it is near the end of the French reign of terror and when the post monarch-deposing paranoia had reached a climax. This painting depicts the reading of the names (doomed for the guillotine). and the reaction of the different prisoners.

In the midst of this chaos, justice (which was the dream of the early revolutionaries) has become so abused and arbitrary that no one taken prisoner had a clue if they would be executed immediately or released as totally free people. It was all based on a quick trial and the judgement of a handful of men based often on nothing more than hearsay.

It is hard to explain how I got to this point, talking of the French Revolution, but I will try to explain. Then later I will be back to try and connect the dots.

I'm on a family reunion trip in Florida. It is becoming an annual tradition as my sisters live here. The first thing that happened was that I forgot all my reading material at home. The second event was seeing (from the freeway) a new amusement park "Jesusland" in Orlando. Actually the name is "Experience the Holy Land" but Jesusland sounds better (and is the title of a song by Ben Folds).

I was thinking a lot about that place. Something is so wrong with people that they would want to go to a fiberglass "Jerusalem" and buy plastic Jesus trinkets. But I will get back to that.

Then, in my sister's beach condo . . . which we have to ourselves . . . I laid in bed yesterday morning and surfed the TV channels. We only have about 5 channels on our home TV so for me vacation can be checking out those obscure channels (like the History Channel) which I only hear about. So . . . and it was on the History Channel . . . there was a documentary on the French Revolution. I've read a lot about it, but sill I know very little. This film gave me a new dimension to the saga. It was the feeling of total confusion and fear that gripped the country for a decade or so.

If you have read Animal Farm, you get the summary of the point. The people are fed up with the abuse of power by the monarch and church. They want a new, just, society. They take the power into their own hands . . . and at least for a while . . . create a monarch-free society that is far more cruel and unjust than anything they had ever known.

The example of the injustice leading up to the revolutions was a 10 year old boy walking down the street. He did not see the row of 20 monks walking down an adjacent street . . . so he didn't bow like he was required. So the Bishop ordered that the kid have each of his ten fingers cut off and his tongue removed . . . so that he would never forget how he violated the authority of the Church.

So, with the French Revolution on my mind, I did a morning run down the beach to a small village. Before going into a coffee shop I visited a bookstore. "Where is your classical fictional section?" I asked. As I looked over the titles, in my quest to read the top 100 novels. The Tale of Two Cities, caught my eye. I'm now on chapter three and that included a very long (30 page) introduction.

So, I'm starting to see many questions raised and worth digesting. Questions about the difference from the view of the Protestant London verses Catholic Paris. Questions about human nature. Questions about the Victorian view of Dickens as he looked back at the French Revolution. And then there is Jesusland.

I will be back but this post is getting too long. Now my family is starting to feel offended that I'm sitting here typing and not talking to them. So, I will have to come back to fix some typos.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What Does it Mean to be Spiritual (or Godly)?


I watch another Dateline episode about a pastor behaving badly. It caught my eye for a couple of reasons. For one, it all took place about three islands south of me. Secondly, in the promotions for the episode they showed an interview with a woman who kept saying, “But he was such a spiritual man.”

In case you didn’t see it (and I will put a link to it if you want to watch it with the title of this blog entry) it was about a Christian child prodigy. Apparently when he was a small boy, he either was injured or very sick and his father was rushing him to the hospital. His father prayed, “God if you save my son’s life I will dedicate him to Your service.”

The boy lives (unfortunately . . . I know that sounds cruel but just wait and see the damage he does). From an early age he was destine to be a pastor. I can’t remember his name while I’m typing this so I will just call him “Don.” I will refer to his wife as “Marry.”

Eventually Don became the youth pastor of a fast growing charismatic church. He was well liked. He married a local gal, Mary, who people deeply admired.

Probably the first strange thing that happened was that he started a marriage counseling “ministry.” In that ministry, he eventually started meeting with just the five wives (the husbands were not invited to come back.) He became very close to each of the women.

He started to confine in one of the women (I will call her Doris) that he was loosing interest in his wife because she had gained a few pounds (maybe 5-10). This was bizarre because Don himself was very fat. Then Doris began to prophesize that God was telling her that He was going to take Mary home and then she, Mary, would be with Don.

Mary was okay with that . . . assuming it was God’s will. She even told her parents that God had something big in store for her that would mean her death.

Doris told Don during their next meeting that God said that Mary was going to die on December 14th (I think). That night when his wife was still a live Don called Doris and was crying, “It didn’t happen. Why didn’t God’s will come true?”

Doris answered, “Well, sometimes God wants you to carry out His will.”

On December 27th Don’s house burned down with Mary in it. What a horrible death. (Later he would confess to Doris that he put a plastic bag over her face and killed her before he set her on fire. So maybe he was a spiritual guy, you know doing God’s will with compassion).

Then, within two weeks of his wife’s death, Don was having sex with all five of the women he was counseling. He simply told them that God wanted them to sleep with him to comfort him during his loss. Yes, Doris was one of the women he was sleeping with. I think it was when she found out about the others that she went to the police with the “rest of the story.” By that time, the death had been ruled an accident.

Lastly, when Don’s mother-in-law, that is Mary’s own mother, came to visit, Don persuaded her to sleep with him too. Sick.

Only one of the five ladies volunteered to be extensively interviewed by Dateline (although the mother-in-law did give a few comments). Let’s call this woman “Rose.”

The interviewer looked at Rose and said, “You are a strong Christian woman. You believe in marriage. You believe that adultery is sin. So, how were you so willing to have sex with this pastor?”

She said something to the effect, “He was such a spiritual man. He said that this was God’s will and I believed it.”

Here is my point. So I stand by my view that we Christians have a screwed up view when it comes to “godliness” or spirituality. I say this as someone who was considered “godly” by myself and others. It is a farce. I stand by my statement, “You should never trust a godly person.” Actually we should never trust anybody . . . in a naive way. I agree with Philip Yancy who basically says that there is virtually nothing different between the most godly person and the most evil (in his book, What’s so Amazing about Grace.)

We can respect one another. We can honor one another as tremendously valuable creatures in God’s image. We can even do the both for non-Christians as well as Christians. But when we start trusting someone because they say (or others say) that they are godly . . . then be careful.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Biblical Sabbath

May be the closest I've ever had to a frankly Biblical sabbath I've ever had. God did make the sabbath for man . . . for our rest.

I had an eye injury last night, woke up at 4 AM in severe pain. Went to the ER and, to make a long story short, had piece of glass in my cornea that they had a hard time digging out. I think today has been the most painful day I've ever experienced (more so than a broken foot I had once). So I came home and have spent most of the day in bed trying not to move.

Probably have more typos than normal with only one eye.

But seriously, I think this is how the sabbath was meant to be experienced . . . save the pain.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Bootstrap Spirituality

Another key issue that seems to be a line in the sand is this concept of spiritual self-reliance or "victory" over sin.

This one issue seems to be what separates Democrats from Republicans, social conservatives from liberals and etc. I think it too is a dividing line between evangelicals and Christian non (or post) evangelicals. But first I must give some background.

Most of my posts have their roots deeply planted in conversations I have with one of my evangelical friends. After all, I am a post-evangelical struggling to live in an evangelical world.

A friend of mine was describing a testimony he heard from one of the guys who attend the motorcycle church that meets in our church building. I can’t remember the details of this man’s life but it was rough. I think he grew up with a drug addicted mom and no father in a tough L.A. neighborhood. It seems like he was raped by some of his mother’s boyfriends when he was really young. Then he got involved with drugs and gangs. I think he became a gang leader and maybe even killed some people.

But some how, like Paul’s road to Damascus experience, he became a Christian. Immediately he left his old drug and gang life and became a new man. Now he is either a pastor or an assistant pastor, living a very “godly” life.

My friend, who was telling the story, remarked that this man is proof that you can recover from anything with God’s help. Therefore, he didn’t buy the “excuses” of PTSD.

I of course don’t agree. But it got me thinking about this. Like I said, I don’t have certainty in any of my positions so when I hear something that seems to challenge my presuppositions, I meditate on it for a few days to see if I am wrong (but I’m not a wishy-washy Olive).

When it comes to personality, weaknesses, addictions and mental illness, I’ve said before that the cause tends to be a mixture of nature and nurture. For some people (say severe schizophrenia) it is mostly nature. For PTSD, it is mostly nurture. Both of them can be the results of old sin (genetic flaws through the fall of Adam or abuse at a young age by the hands and sin of another). Of course our own choices (sin) can magnify them (choosing to use drugs etc.) However, I’ve stood my ground that for most people, who suffer from significant mental health problems, to be totally healed in this life-time would take a Biblical-grade miracle. Something along the lines of a life-long, cripple suddenly jumping up and walking or a blind person seeing. Not just a “card-trick” type of miracle that you hear in a typical Sunday morning sermon (landing a plane on the Hudson, grandma having cataract surgery and now she can see 80% better).

So my point, while mental health problems are treatable, rarely (especially if they are serious) can they go completely away.

My position is based on hundreds of patients whom I’ve worked with over the years . . . and my own brush with mental illness. My mental illness (which I’ve disclosed before) is not severe but significant. It is a generalized anxiety disorder. It has waivered up and down over the years. I knew I had it by age 5-6. I’m not sure how much of mine was nature vs nurture and it really doesn’t matter. I do know that I’ve fought this plague with every ounce of strength that I have for my entire life. When I was an evangelical, I jumped through every spiritual hoop that you can imagine. I can guarantee that I exceeded any spiritual trick that anyone could think of. I mean, I’ve fasted for days and I’ve fasted once a week for weeks or months. I’ve memorized hundreds of verses. I have attended enough discipleship programs to render me brain dead . . . and I have not been delivered. I’ve had charismatics laying hands on me including those who have all kinds of gifts of healing. The only time I was “delivered” was when I considered myself a “godly man” and I buried my terror so deeply so that no one else would notice. Then I could claim I was “healed.” The only thing I have not done is taken a lot of medications. I probably would be better off if I had.

It is hard for us (and I really think the majority of people make up the broken “us” that I’m speaking of) to have worked sooooooo hard on something, then to have a spiritual evangelical come up and immediately tell you how it is your fault that you suffer so much and that there is an easy fix, just like they’ve fixed all of their problems. PLEEEEEEEASE! This is either someone who has never, ever suffered from your problem, or they live way up on the 60th floor (away from reality on the ground floor) that they, like I’ve done before, pretend they are perfect.

But the question has to be begged—who are these people (like the motorcycle pastor mentioned) who do seem to recover fully? I mean, besides the ex-gang born again saints, I think of those great people who survived the holocaust. I can’t think of anything more horrible (psychologically) that living through that. But I don’t hear of many (of course they are old now and not as many left) holocaust survivors suffering from mental illnesses as a result. Maybe it was a huge problem and wasn’t mentioned.

I think it is an important issue. If we really can’t pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and over come completely these issues, then the Church must choose. Either it becomes the Grand Theater, where we all pretend . . . or it becomes a safe place. A safe place where we can talk about what ails us and we support each other but we don’t expect each other to ever reach that level of “victory.”

But still I wonder about that pastor. If he was raped over and over as a child, beaten, abused, drugged up, abused others . . . how does he live Godly now without the hang ups that I still carry? Is there still a balm hidden in some Christian self-help book that I haven’t done? Or,( as I am often tempted to think), am I just an inferior person . . . disgusting in God’s eyes for failing? I think that latter way often . . . but I really don’t believe it. I think it comes from the great accuser.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Michael Spencer has Left This World

Our friend Michael Spencer left this world yesterday. You can read more on his blog.

Ecclesiastes Three says that for everything, there is a season and :

4 "a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,"

The loss of Michael is real. The sadness acute. This is the season for weeping and mourning. He will be greatly missed.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Line in the Sand . . . and Olive Oyle


I digressed a bit on Popeye yesterday. I will try and finish my thought on this topic.

I was sitting in the large Presbyterian church yesterday and felt a kind of comfort or ease that I often don’t feel in my normal evangelical world. You know how it is, sometimes the reason for a particular feeling is ambiguous and it is hard to get a linguistic handle on it. I meditated on it during my drive Seattle and come up with one answer at least. And this answer is what reminded me of Popeye.

The pastor made a comment yesterday that I don’t think could ever be made from the pulpit in my own church. She alluded to a point that no one in the church had certainty in their beliefs. The way it came about was when she was introducing the teens who were finishing their confirmation class. She said one of the girls, Kate, came to her earlier in the week and said, “I can’t be confirmed. I don’t have total faith. I have sometimes have doubts.”

The pastor looked over the congregation of about 400 and said to us, “I hope that you don’t mind but I spoke for you. I told Kate, if you are required to have total faith, with no doubts, then we would have no members at all.” There was a soft chuckle that moved across the congregation.

But a statement like this would not be considered appropriate in my home church or even in my evangelical world. Within this world, faith equals certainty. This, I think is the crux of the matter and how I now feel more comfortable outside of evangelicalism. This “crux” might, (forgive the blending of metaphors), the line in the sand that separates the evangelicals from the true believers but who are non-evangelicals.

The problem with this faith equals certainty is twofold. First, I believe that our sense of reason is fallen, just like the rest of us. Therefore a fallen reason can never reach certainty. But this doesn’t lead to despair, as some philosophers have suggested. You can know truth and know it often . . . just that you can not know it with complete certainty.

The second problem is that the evangelicals have placed such a high respect for total faith, (and a misunderstanding of faith) that they have applied the same standards of belief far beyond the essentials. If you hang out in the evangelical world, you not only have to be 100% confident that God is there, the Bible is true, that Jesus is divine, that Jesus died on the cross for our sins (okay, just paste in the Apostle’s creed here) but you become certain in many non-essentials. For example, you have certainty that the earth was created 6,000 years ago, the Republicans are God’s party, that all American wars are justified, that Jesus’ return is eminent, that God does not want states to have Gay marriage laws, that life begins at conception, that dispensation is how God works in history, that tattoos are signs of the devil . . . and I could go on and on.

I personal don’t have certainty in anything, but certainly not those non-essentials.

Now, I will look at the issue of faith and doubt (and to get back to Popeye). Os Guinness did an excellent lecture series on doubt. I used it as the foundation of a Sunday school class, which I taught. The most important thing that he did was to define doubt and difference between the forms of doubt. When the Bible speaks negatively about doubt, it is speaking mostly of a doubt that means an act of unbelief. This is a willingness to go against God’s command, because we choose not to believe what He has said.

Another negative kind of doubt is what Os defined as “being in two minds.” The Greek word was very close to schizophrenia (meaning split mind). In the psychological definition, “schizophrenia” obviously means a split between the mind and reality. But in the meaning associated with doubt, the meaning has to do with a mind that wants to go in two different directions at the same time. Another term that might relate is “wishy-washy.” I’ve heard radio pastors speak of doubt being “like a ship on a stormy sea, tossed one direction and then the other.”

When my thoughts went there, I immediately thought of Olive. In the video I posted last time Olive is singing about Brutus’ accolades (I guess I should say “accolade” has he has only one . . . being large) and how he is a good catch for a husband. But at the same time, notice, she is packing her bag to run away from him. That is this kind of doubt. In a later scene, she is so confused that she literally tries to walk in opposite directions. Her big, brown, booted, clumsy, right foot pointed in one direction and her left foot pointed in the opposite. She spun around and actually fell down.

But this is the kind of doubt that the evangelicals bestow on you if you express anything less than certainty. I remember that any time I expressed doubts when I was a Nav (doubts ranging from God’s existence to doubts about orders, which I had received from my local Navigator leader) that I was told that it was a sign of spiritual immaturity. I was accused of being an Olive.

The problem with a church or Christian society that believes in certainty is that such a lofty goal is not obtainable. When what you believe does not mesh with reality, then you must choose to live dishonestly . . . or change your views. Anytime you build a paradigm based on an untrue, the whole social structure becomes a farce and true communication stops. I can’t discuss the pros and cons of the age of the earth with my evangelical peers. I have no certainty in what I believe but they do. So they are not interested in the cons to a 6000 year old earth. Psychologically they can’t accept any possibility of another way of looking at it. They have a fear of being an Olive! The opposite then, is to be certain.

So that’s the bottom line. The line in the sand between the two groups comes down to the willingness to doubt and to doubt in the right way.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter in the High Church and a Line in the Sand - Between Shelly and Certainity


Maybe this says something about me, but one of my top five favorite movies of all time was Popeye, staring Robin Williams and Shelly Duvall. Why that makes me odd is that it was a total box-office flop and I've seen it on lists of the worse movies ever made.


I thought I was really strange until I saw an interview with Robin Williams' mother. When she was asked, "What is your favorite movie that Robin has made?" She—without reservation—said, "Popeye." That surprised her interviewer very much . . . but made me feel a lot better.

I have to say that Robin is one of the most gifted actors of the past century. It is painful watching his talents wasted on cheap, poorly written movies of late (like RV).

I think one of the reasons the movie appealed to me so much that when I was six years old, the cartoon Popeye was my favorite show. There was a reason for that. Popeye was my savior-type.

Like Popeye, I lived in a world of cruel bullies (like Brutus). Inside my house was my brother, seven years older than me. He had some mental health problems. One of which was that he was extremely jealous of me, the "baby of the family." He tortured me for most of my young life.

Then outside, next door, was Les. He was about 4 years older than me, and looked very much like Brutus. As a six year old I could not tell the difference between Les in the real world and the animated Brutus. I don't know how tall Les was but he eventually played center for the high school basketball team. He was also fat. He, additionally, was emotionally disturbed. I don't know what made him that way, but he was the kind of kid that would put lighter fluid on a cat and set in on fire for the humor effect. Evan at age 10 he was hyper-sexual and—at least attempted—to molest every kid on the street, whether they were male or female.

Once, I came into our kitchen and mom was unloading a bag of Tupperware stuff she had bought from my aunt (this was my narcissistic aunt). Aunt Mary drove a “Tupperware car” which she had won for selling so much stuff. Usually she used extreme guilt manipulation to get all her relatives to buy much more than what they would ever need.

In the pile of plastic containers were two small round ones with semi-transparent lids that grabbed my attention. When I placed the lids on them, it became clear that they were salt and pepper shakers. The main lid had the holes in it. A second lid, connected by hinged plastic piece could cover the holes.

Since mom bought far more Tupperware than she could ever use, I turned many of the items into toys. I found the little shaker containers most appealing in this shipment, mostly because I too was little. But then I discovered the most amazing thing. With the lids on, I could squeeze the containers in my hand and the lids would pop off. It was just like Popeye squeezing a can of spinach and the lid popping open. This gave me a wonderful idea.

I had already tried eating spinach, to see if it would give me the strength to resist Les. It didn’t. But then I decided to put spinach in the Tupperware shaker and put it down my shirt. I had to tuck in the tail to keep it from falling out. The next time that Les messed with me, I planned on pulling it out, squeezing it until the top popped off, eating it in one gulp and then beat the hell out of him.

I loaded up the container and went to look for Les and the rest of the kids (all years older than me) which lived on our street. They were two houses up, at Garnets.

Sure enough, as soon as I showed up Les started to pick on me. Who knows what he was doing this time. But as soon as he hurt me, I pulled the shaker out of my shirt (now dripping with spinach juice) and popped the top and ate it.

The kids all looked stunned. “What are you doing you little freak?” asked one of them. I told them. They didn’t look scared. But like a typical group of adolescents, they began to belly laugh.

I flexed my muscles and put up my fists like a prize fighter from the 1800s. Then Les grabbed me and did something horrible. I can’t remember what he did that time . . . who knows, maybe he tried to force me to eat a dried dog turd. Anyway, my acute use of spinach didn’t work.

What does all of this have to do with Easter? Okay, I’m getting to that.

Easter weekend was a bit of confusing time for me. Denise asked me to go to a big ecumenical service on Good Friday. I had mixed feelings about it. I don’t enjoy a lot of religious pageantry. I posted about those feelings when I was in the middle of them . . . but then deleted it because I sounded like a crab again. I did decide to go, but could never connect with Denise and she went without me before I got home from work.

I was certainly planning on going to Easter brunch and service at my normal Evangelical church this morning. Then something came up. I won’t go into it here because it is too complicated (and this posting is already too long) but I had a very important meeting come up today at noon in Seattle. I wasn’t sure what to do. There was no way I could go to my church’s service at 10 AM and then make Seattle by noon. So, I asked my son if he would go with me to the large Presbyterian church’s early morning service then go with me to Seattle. He agreed.

We went to the service in the brick cathedral (I mean this positively; it is a beautiful church with a large pipe organ). This is the same church I’ve visited before and the one that my normal pastor, and many of the leaders of my church, consider as “liberal.” After all, the pastor is a woman. The church was totally packed with folding chairs around the old, oak pews.

But the thing I noticed, once again, was a great feeling of comfort. It is on a sub-conscious level that this feeling comes.

I spent some time meditating on this whole experience, trying to put into words what it is I feel. Well, it finally came to me. I will continue on with this story in part II. I will relate it (although loosely) to that video clip from Popeye.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar

My son Ramsey gave me this book for Christmas, actually in 2008, and I'm just getting around to reading it . . . and will finish it this morning. I can't sing it's praises enough. It doesn't matter if you are an expert in philosophy or a novice. If I ever teach high school course in philosophy this would be my text.

On the issue of "moral relativity" the book touches on the relativity of time. Each chapter is accented with humor. Here is one of the jokes from this section that hit my funny bone:


A man is praying to God. "Lord," he prays, "I would like to ask you a question."

The Lord responds, "No problem. Go ahead."

"Lord, is it true that a million years to you is but a second?"

"Yes, that is true."

"Well, then, what is a million dollars to you?"

"A million dollars to me is but a penny."

"Ah, then, Lord," says the man, "may I have a penny?"

"Sure," says the Lord. "Just a second."

Another joke reflecting the relativity of speed.

A snail was mugged by two turtles. When the police asked him, what happened, he said, "I don't know. It all happened so fast."