Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Curse of Aging

While I'm waiting to get my feet back on the ground (after being out of town) I wanted to continue in this thought about again by posting a poem by Longfellow.

I visited my boyhood home last fall and felt much of what he writes. I hope to be back to continue my own thoughts soon.

My Lost Youth

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Often I think of the beautiful town
That is seated by the sea;
Often in thought go up and down
The pleasant streets of that dear old town,
And my youth comes back to me.
And a verse of a Lapland song
Is haunting my memory still:
"A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

I can see the shadowy lines of its trees,
And catch, in sudden gleams,
The sheen of the far-surrounding seas,
And islands that were the Hesperides
Of all my boyish dreams.
And the burden of that old song,
It murmurs and whispers still:
"A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

I remember the black wharves and the ships,
And the sea-tides tossing free;
And Spanish sailors with bearded lips,
And the beauty and mystery of the ships,
And the magic of the sea.
And the voice of that wayward song
Is singing and saying still:
"A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

I remember the bulwarks by the shore,
And the fort upon the hill;
The sunrise gun, with its hollow roar,
The drum-beat repeated o'er and o'er,
And the bugle wild and shrill.
And the music of that old song
Throbs in my memory still:
"A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

I remember the sea-fight far away,
How it thundered o'er the tide!
And the dead captains, as they lay
In their graves, o'erlooking the tranquil bay
Where they in battle died.
And the sound of that mournful song
Goes through me with a thrill:
"A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

I can see the breezy dome of groves,
The shadows of Deering's Woods;
And the friendships old and the early loves
Come back with a Sabbath sound, as of doves
In quiet neighborhoods.
And the verse of that sweet old song,
It flutters and murmurs still:
"A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

I remember the gleams and glooms that dart
Across the school-boy's brain;
The song and the silence in the heart,
That in part are prophecies, and in part
Are longings wild and vain.
And the voice of that fitful song
Sings on, and is never still:
"A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

There are things of which I may not speak;
There are dreams that cannot die;
There are thoughts that make the strong heart weak,
And bring a pallor into the cheek,
And a mist before the eye.
And the words of that fatal song
Come over me like a chill:
"A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

Strange to me now are the forms I meet
When I visit the dear old town;
But the native air is pure and sweet,
And the trees that o'ershadow each well-known street,
As they balance up and down,
Are singing the beautiful song,
Are sighing and whispering still:
"A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

And Deering's Woods are fresh and fair,
And with joy that is almost pain
My heart goes back to wander there,
And among the dreams of the days that were,
I find my lost youth again.
And the strange and beautiful song,
The groves are repeating it still:
"A boy's will is the wind's will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts."

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Mere Churchianity Makes it Big Time

Okay, I will get back to my conversation about aging when I get the chance to put some serious thoughts down.

But I have to tell a story, albeit brief.

Yesterday I walked into the largest Barnes and Noble store I've ever seen. It was almost a full block and three stories high. It is also situated in one of the most media sensitive places on earth . . . in Hollywood (precisely in the "Farmers' Market" complex).

On the outside of the huge bookstore were huge posters of famous guest due in the coming week for book signings. First, it was Queen Latifah doing a book signing. Next was Kathy Griffin and her mother.

I walked through the big, glass automatic doors. There, right in the middle of the entrance was a shelve with the listing, "New Releases." At the center of that was Michael Spencer's Mere Churchianity. I had a warm feeling for Michael, since he is not here to experience it. He had "arrived" as an author. While I know that fame was not his goal . . . still I felt the warm and fuzzies for him. Way to go Mike!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Curse of Aging--Part I - Narrowing Places

I described in my opening post, about the has-been movie star having an epiphany about being old. The experience was abrupt and final. Her life was defined as before and after the event of the epiphany.

I think my experience has been more typical, where a serious of events happen that brings home the truth of the loss of youth.

I can remember clearly the first time this type of event occurred in my life. It was when I was of the young age of 26. Denise and I were watching the 1984 winter Olympics (Sarajevo) on TV each night and I suddenly felt the loss of the fact that I would never be an Olympian. I know it sounds silly and Denise certainly thought so at the time, but it was very real.

It wasn’t like I had been in training for the Olympics. I had just taken up Nordic skiing, but I never, even in my wildest fantasies imagined that could even ski competitively even on a high school circuit. But it was the realization that doors were starting to close as I got older.

When you are a little boy (and probably the same applies to little girls) you are often taught that the whole world is yours for the taking. You can be a brain surgeon, if you so want. You can be a pilot, start the next Microsoft, be president of the United States . . . or you can be an Olympian athlete . . . only if you set your mind to it and work hard.

But for me, the very first time that I realized that aging meant the loosing of opportunities, seemed to be a profound event.

Recently a study was published (and mentioned in the public media) that showed the lowest point in one’s life—in regards to happiness—is around age fifty. Oddly, it improves from that point until the end of someone’s life. The happiest people, so it seems, are those over seventy. The reason it was suggested that 50 is the most depressing age is because that is when the realization of the loss of dreams and fantasies . . . many will indeed go unfulfilled in this lifetime.

I know that I will be eventually relating this to evangelicalism; however, I once had a discussion like this on a secular, medical forum. I was a little surprised how disappointed in me some people were when I spoke this way. They quoted all kinds of modern clichés about “never stop dreaming,” (or was that a lyric to a song they were quoting?). But there is this motivational-speaker type of pop-psychology which gives society this false hope (if you wonder what I’m referring to, go back and watch Little Miss Sunshine again and listen carefully to Olive’s dad.)

I remember specifically saying on that forum that I had given up and dream of climbing Mount Everest but I did still have a dream of reaching base camp. This one gal lectured me how “You will always be a failure because you don’t dream for the top.” So secular thinking is a farce on this topic as well. At a time like this I would love to share a beer or coffee with either Solomon or Caulfield. But I did, to my surprise, almost reach Everest base camp last year fare before I thought I ever would (Nepal wasn’t even on my radar when I had that original discussion).

A number of years ago, when I first started to enter the mid-life crises phase of my life, I attempted to write a novel that captured what this struggle is like for men. It was about two friends, one verbally distressed about growing older and the other was the stoic guy who seemed to have no concerns about anything, yet deeply he was much more distressed. For their one last attempt of fulfill a juvenile fantasy, they attempted (on a shoestring budget) be the first to fly a balloon around the world. The only balloon that they could afford was an old “Underdog” balloon from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, which they bought off of E bay. Anyway, that manuscript fell into the trash bin of along with my many other writings.

The point is, when I tried to come up with the title for this novel, I chose “Narrowing Places” because this best reflects this process of growing older and seeing your options growing more and more limited. So the first point of growing older is the loss of opportunities. I think that is significant. It means, a point will come when you realize that you will never do X, or be Y or see Z. Somehow all of this fits into the concept of the fall. We are not living the way we were designed to live. We were created for eternity, yet we must live in the temporal and that is where the tension (a polite word for “shit”) exist.

This first area is probably the lessor of pains associated with aging.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Hell of Niceness - "The Way of All Flesh"

I know that I'm jumping around a bit, but tonight I had to post on an impulse. I will get back to my thoughts on aging later.

Tonight I had a glorious time sitting out in the warm sun up on the top food deck at Westfield Mall in Century City. I was hungry of stomach while being full of mind. I spent the entire day sitting in meetings about brain research. I was so consumed with the meetings that I had not eaten anything but an apple all day.

Denise and Ramsey walked over (about 8 miles) to Hollywood and I knew that they would not be back to the hotel until dark.

So I sat there alone, enjoying a wonderful spinach calzone, an iced tea--under the warm California sun--and the last pages of Samuel Butler's book. It is his autobiography--by proxy.

In one regard, I'm a bit surprised to find the book as number eleven on the list of top English novels of all time. The flow of thought seems broken and clumsy at times. The story also develops so slowly that I'm sure that many of readers gave up after first thirty (of eighty-six) chapters. The word craftsmanship doesn't rival Dickens at all, in my humble opinion.

However the book moved me in a very deep way. There is no way I can put it into words. It moved me because it expressed so clearly and deeply what I rant and rave about on this blog so often (speaking of writing clumsily).

The message can not be put into words so clearly. The point could easily be lost with a causal reading. It wasn't subliminal . . . more like supra-liminal . . . beyond what words could ever express.

But it brings up a question about hellish "niceness."

I remember my first exposure to human hell was the movie, The Days of Wine and Roses. I saw it at the theater with my folks. Looking up the date of release tells me that I was only six, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

I really didn't know that life on this earth could be so bad until I saw Joe Clay's complete psychological meltdown, dragging his beloved wife with him down the neck of a bottle. I was more scared then than when dad took me to see The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Through Jack Lemon's brilliance (being beat out from winning an Oscar by Greggory Peck in To Kill a Mocking Bird) I knew that their world was real, somewhere.

But now I know a greater human-created hell. That is the hell of Christian niceness as portrayed in the book. It is a place where the white-washed walls are only painted with the two-dimensional images of emotionally-frigid family. Where smiles eternally don the faces of people who hurt so deeply that they are not even cognizant of the pain. Fortunately Earnest Pontiflex (the main character) found a way out of the hell by going deeper into it, like on the back of Dante, until he met his total demise. He was taken to this deeper hell on the silver tongue of a 1840 equivalent of the modern TV Evangelists/con man.

The narrator constantly refers to Earnest as "my hero." He was such because Earnest was the only one in the Pontiflex clan to escape the insatiable pull of the niceness black hole.

If you have even been disillusioned by modern Christianity, I highly recommend the book. I don't agree with Earnest's final resting place (or at least the resting place that the author wanted for him) and that is a dichotomy of reason and faith, with faith being little more than wishful thinking and reason holding all real hope. That reason, unbeknown by the author at the time of the writing, would be quickly crushed in the gas-filled trenches of Europe, the gas-filled showers of Auschwitz and the nuclear horrors of Hiroshima.

The Pain of Aging - The Unspoken Experience

The name of this painting is "Dancing and the Art of Growing Old Gracefully" by Paola Catizone in Dublin. Her web site is here.

This is a topic which has been endeared to my heart but which I have not spoken of much, until now. I'm sure this topic will take many postings to cover.

Before I begin I must make a couple of statements. While we attempt to paint aging it the most positive colors, I do believe that it is part of the curse of the immortality of humans. To deny that curse-ness I think is to live in denial. When I've attempted to discuss my feelings about aging with some of my Christian friends, immediately they see me as "just being negative" once again. Or, not having an eternal perspective or, lastly, just being self-consumed. I think this is why I've avoided talking about it until now. But it is part of the human experience. It is painful (both emotionally and physically) and I think it needs a microphone in which to speak and to speak candidly. I will cut to the chase. Getting older sucks. You can put lipstick on it, but is it not still swine?

I think I gave myself permission to speak of the pain of aging when, a few weeks ago, I heard an interview on NPR. I can't remember who was being interviewed but it was a "has-been" actress. She lives here in Beverly Hills (yeah, I'm sitting in Starbucks in Beverly Hills right now). Her entire life had been centered on her beauty. She got everything by her looks.

Like a mummification, the technicians here really know how to preserve age. As she grew older and older, her beauty was well preserved. Until one notorious day. She was driving her BMW convertible, at a high speed, down the Sana Monica Boulevard and a cop pulled her over. She says, up until that point, she had never gotten a ticket . . . just warnings. The cop would recognize her, or she would simply flirt (which she admits being an expert at) and he would blush and let her go. This time though, it didn't work. The young cop didn't recognize her nor did her flirting work (as she was approaching 50). He gave her a ticket. But far beyond the $150 fine, she was completely devastated. Her youth, her beauty was at that line of demarcation . . . gone forever. Of course it had been insidious . . . but this moment was the chief milestone.

She turned around, drove to her Beverly Hills mansion and got totally drunk. She stayed drunk for the next twenty years to dampen the pain.

She was on NPR because she had written a book about her coming to grips with getting older and losing her beauty.

I will be back. I have a meeting that I'm late for. I will try to correct any typos later . . . thanks for your patience.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Kids - Between Jacob and the Jelly Bean

The painting is titled Jacob Wrestling with the Angel by French Romantic artist Eugene Delacroix in 1861.

When I was in high school there was a local mega, Baptist church (before there were such a thing as "mega churches") who had all kinds of tricks for getting kids in church. They had a very large bus ministry. To lure kids to their Sunday school program, they often gave away bags of jelly beans or toys, like balloons or spinning tops.

The church had an assortment of entertainment to try and capture the kid's interest. They had clowns and cowboys. Once my dad was brought in (he was an archeologist) when they did a big program about Cherokee Indians.

I think if you polled most Evangelical parents and asked them to choose one of two paths for their kids, I know the one they would choose . . . path one.

Path one, the Jelly Bean path, is where they go to church faithfully, support the pastor and elders in everything they do, they dress well, never get tattoos, never use a long list of words esteemed by Evangelicals as being bad. They never drink alcohol in case they might offend some "weaker brother" somewhere. They are very, very nice. On this path they substitute dogma for thinking. They believe what they are told to believe and never doubt it. They suppress their raw human frailties deep out of sight and never, ever mention them outside their silent thoughts, alone in their beds in the middle of the dark night of winter.

The second path is messy. On this path, they think and think and think. They don't grasp the 1,2,3 answers to every problem but feel confused, lonely, angry, horny, frustrated . . . and in distress. They encounter God and a deep visceral, almost animal-istic place. They wrestle with God . . . not disrespectful, but in the honestly of emotions. They are known to cry out, "Oh, God where the hell are you! I'm hurting down here!" Yes, sometimes they use unapproved words.

But in the end of this earthly life, those on path two do come to peace with God, having borne the scars of their struggle.

But I would choose path two for all of my kids over path one. I wish I had taken that path much earlier in my life than I did. It is best to feel and to hurt than to not feel at all.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Can You Beat Jesus into a Child? The Myth of Godly Child Rearing

This topic has really been on my mind as of late. I'm sure the real reason is the book, which I am reading; The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler.

In summary (and I know that I have mentioned this book ad nauseum) the author is a minor character in the book, who is trying to save his godson, Earnest, from his self-righteous parents. It is the kind of book that I would require all teens to read, if I were a Sunday school teacher, then spend weeks discussing it. But is also the kind of book that I'm sure many Evangelicals would want banned.

The other reason that I'm thinking about it is that my life has been consumed with child rearing . . . up until now. Last Wednesday, my last child finished high school.

Our experience in child rearing has crossed the entire spectrum of approaches. When we first had children, I was a hard-core evangelical and preparing to go overseas as a Navigator missionary. We (especially me) believed back then the following:

1) How a child turns out, spiritually, was completely in my hands.

2) Like forms, which hold poured concrete, the more rigid my boundaries were, the better the kid would turn out.

3) You could discipline sin almost out of a child. By discipline, I mean time-outs, taking away privileges and beating them. The Navigators, which we were around, followed the Bill-lunatic-Gothard approach of beating them with wooden spoons. This was based on the Proverb "Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child."

4) We must do our best to insulate the children from "The World" (whatever than meant).

We were always perplexed by the children of the godly people who completely rebelled. I've been told, and it may not be true, that Dawson Trotman's (founder of the Navigators) own children did not turn out so well. He was a strict disciplinarian. He had his kids memorizing Bible verses from the time they could talk.

In part of this spirit of protecting our kids, I had an honest thought that if we ever came home from the mission field, that we would try and recreate the "Wilderness Family" experience. This was a b-movie series about a family that dropped out of American society and went to remote Alaska (or somewhere remote) and lived off the land. I thought that would be best for my kids, you know, insulate them from anything that could be negative.

But I see things very differently now. First of all, I do think that God has given each child an independent mind and, while we do have a powerful influence on them, we can not determine their outcome.

Second, I really think many parents get caught up in their own self-esteem issues. One day, about 12 years ago, light went on in my head over this. One of my sons had on a very wrinkled shirt and we were trying to load up the five in our van to take them to church. Denise said to him that he must change his shirt because it would be disrespectful to God to wear a wrinkled shirt to God's house. Up until that moment, I might have agreed with her.

But I looked at my son and said, "You know, the real truth is that if you go to church with wrinkled clothes, it will make mommy and daddy look bad and we really want people to think highly of us. Just like you want to be liked in school. That is what this is all about. God doesn't care what you wear. I still would prefer you wear a non-wrinkled shirt but that is all about me looking good to other people."

In the Butler's book, the author makes it very clear, yet not blatantly obvious, that the motives of the parents are all about themselves . . . and looking respectable in their Victorian society (and feeling good about themselves in their insecure hearts).

I'm now at the conclusion that at least 80% of the motives of our child-rearing, when you look honestly, is about ourselves.

I want to come back and talk about this more. For one, I've had the observation that those kids who come out of the right end (meaning like Earnest's parents or the way I was 20 years ago) tend to follow one of two paths. They openly rebel or they are so fearful of disappointing someone (their parents, God) that they play the game of the quiet, good person for the rest of their lives. They, in other words, turn their brains off completely and become hollow shells of people.

I just got a notice that a friend of mine's son is going into the pastorate. I am concerned because he seems to be of the later group. I observed how he was raised and he was raised to never think outside the box his Evangelical parents had created for him. He never read anything but Christian things.

I have also observed in my own heart, that for some of my kids I can never see them in the traditional church. And, in an odd way, I don't want to see them there. The reason is, I would much rather them honestly encountering God on their own, than to go to church services (which I know they hate as much as I do) and faking it. Maybe in a perfect world there is a type of church that would encourage them to keep thinking, creating and yet be a Sunday morning type of church.

I want to come back to this. I've leaving on a trip in the morning to attend a scientific meeting in Beverly Hills (of all places) but I hope to write from there.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day

I wish I could say a lot about Fathers' Day, regarding my own father and being one myself. This year my own son celebrates this day as a recipient for the first time. However, as they say in Tennessee, I am dog-tired. Denise and I just spent the last few days exploring Vancouver Island's rocky and wind-swept coast by jeep, bike and sea kayak.

Last night we arrived back in civilization, camping in Sidney B.C. and waiting for our morning ferry home. The beach setting was glorious. However, I had the sense that a storm was brewing.

First, about six young attractive women were camping alone a few sites up from us. Then about dusk, several car-loads of young men, each with large brown bags under their arms (that had a jingle of liquid-filled bottles) arrived. I could see the writing on the wall.

All heck broke out about midnight when the inebriated group of about twenty came in from their beach campfire. They were out of control screaming, car racing through the campground, fighting, crying, guys and girls each shouting the "F word" as spacers between all other words. This and who knows what else, continued the next three hours. I was about ready to confront them (but I knew that would not end pretty) or call the police. However, my cell phone was dead.

During my on again, off again contact with REM sleep I had one dream from that insecure place in my soul. I dreamt that it was the end of Fathers' Day, and I had not heard from a single offspring as if it were just another day. But that turned out not to be true. I've heard from 4 out of 5 and the night is not over yet.

The lack of sleep was not a problem as I knew I didn't have to go to work today, plus I had a relaxing two and a half ferry ride ahead where I could catch few Zs. But I've already written more than I had planned and my eyes are slowly closing.

So, out on the very remote and craggy coast of B.C.'s Vancouver Island I spotted the old fir tree stump (pictured at top) acting as the "nursery" for five new fir trees. The tree and its relationship with its offspring captured fatherhood better than I can with words right now.

In honor of my own father here is the link to my old post about him.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Gift of Guilt - The Curse of It

Pictured is of course is Joran Van Der Sloot in his happier days, when he had maybe only killed one girl and wasn't facing life behind bars in a dirty Peruvian jail.

This posting isn't about him but the concept of guilt--both good and bad guilt. There have been comments made in the media, by experts, that Van Der Sloot seems to exhibit sociopathic behavior. I will make the assumption that he is guilty for killing both girls (as that is where the evidence is pointing) and I do believe that he probably is a sociopath.

Sociopaths, along with several other personality disorders (for reasons that are not clear) seem to have no conscience. Their brains (and we could get into a long debate about nature vs nurture) seem to be incapable of experiencing normal human characteristics such as empathy, compassion and guilt.

But of course guilt is a gift. Without guilt, we would all start to look like Joran. Our cruelties would be magnified many times over. I think God for the gift of guilt.

But the most difficult thing about guilt that it, as a sense or emotion, is vulnerable just like all other emotions in this broken world. Therefore, guilt is often misused and can be our down fall and albatross.

I was thinking about this issue for several reasons. Of course Joran’s face has been in the news of late every time you turn it on. I hear the chatter about sociopathic personalities. I just can’t relate. I feel so much empathy for the young Peruvian girl, and her family, that I just can’t imagine taking her life in cold blood for a billion dollars. I would much rather give my own (mostly spent) life in place of hers.

But then, I’ve had a rough week with my own personal guilt, which I do realize that it is the broken, destructive kind. I think the last catalyst in this thinking was Ester’s comment about comparisons . . . which are usually motivated by an unhealthy guilt.

I’ve done plenty of things in my life to be feel real guilt about. I have a lot of true flaws and sin. However, I’m also one of these people prone to false guilt. For example, if there was a guilt spectrum and on one extreme end were the sociopaths, on the other end are those, such as myself (and there are lot of us) who struggle with low self-esteem, social phobias and etc. We have a big guilt handle in the center of our foreheads (like a unicorn). People love to grab this handle to get us to do the things they want. Maybe the ring in a bull’s snout would be a better metaphor.

We are all like these guilt manipulators, some much worse than others. While this is played out in all aspects of life, I do think that within the church guilt manipulation finds a comfortable home. It is somewhat of a no-brainer to figure out why church life is so conducive to guilt manipulation.

I hear guilt manipulation language virtually every Sunday. Most preacher’s use it. Christian parents use it all the time. It is a way of life within the church. The pry bar of guilt is “Jesus.” With language like, “I love Jesus’ church. Therefore I support it whenever we have a program. It’s too bad that you do feel that way.” Or the Christian parent says to their child, “God is disappointed in you when you don’t do what mommy says.”

My guilt this week occurred completely outside of the church setting. I have nasty confrontations with patients virtually every day. Since I work in chronic pain, it is usually with patients who doctor-shop just to get more and more Oxycontin. I call them on it. They scream profanities and tell me over and over what a horrible person I am (this is part of drug-seeking-behavior). One almost destroyed the front of our clinic a few weeks ago. Now I’m not talking about patients who really have bad pain and want relief. Most of my patients are like that. But I do have many that could not care less about good treatment, but only wanting narcotics.

But, using the language of psychologists, I do “internalize” these verbal assaults. After such an encounter yesterday (and the patient was one of the worse drug abusers in the area) I woke up in the middle of the night with this strange hybrid of anger and guilt. The sharp words, which she said to me, make me really feel like a looser even though, on a rational level, I know better.

The last piece of the puzzle is again my latest book, The Way of All Flesh. It depicts the art form of Christian guilt manipulation at its best. A deeply devout couple (the father, a Victorian-era pastor and his pious wife, Christina) are much closer to Van Der Sloot—heartless, sociopathic end of the spectrum. They perform acts of extreme mental and emotional cruelty on their son Ernest under the disguise of righteousness.

But the hardest thing for us guilt-prone people is to see daylight between the false guilts and the genuine ones. I often have guilt over the things I post here. I can’t count the times I’ve made a post only to awaken in the middle of the night (guilt is always most acute in the middle of the night, both the good kind and the bad), and go and delete it. I have guilt about the photo I posted last time when Denise saw it and was disgusted and told me it was poor taste. I feel guilt when I share deeply personal things, as I have of late. I also feel a lot of guilt when these posts, as they often do, focus on myself.

But rather than being my own personal diary about nothing (to put it in George Costanzas’ words) I am really interested in the much bigger picture of human nature and how these things play out within Christendom.

This does also come back to a monistic view vs dualistic view. In the Christian dualistic view, the only things that are important are “spiritual.” Thus, if you feel guilt, it probably the Holy Spirit convicting you. The Dualists would never consider earthly matters such as personality traits, biology, genetics and etc.

I will rest my thoughts on this.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

For the Sake of the Gospel--Keep Your Damn Mouth Shut!

Yesterday I read through a four page psychiatric report of one of my favorite patients, whom I will call Paul. I think I’ve been drawn to Paul for several reasons. For one, he is about my age. He is also the graduate of the Christian seminary, which I respect most. He had been a pastor for about twenty years, the last decade of which was spent as an associate pastor in one his denominations largest churches.

I had also known that Paul suffered some type of emotional trauma as a result of his tenure under the senior pastor at his last church and that pastor is well respected throughout their denomination. However, until I read his report, I did not realize the hellish details of his experience. In summary, this senior pastor was very abusive to Paul in every way but physical. Paul is now sure, and the psychiatrist agrees, that his ex-boss suffers from both a narcissistic personality disorder and a borderline one . . . in case you are not familiar with the terms, neither are pretty.

Towards the end of his ordeal, Paul went to the denominational authorities. It quickly became very messy as Paul’s boss was well known, the author of many books and tracts and extremely manipulative and confident. He seemed to have the face of a dove but the heart of a jackal, a jackal with rabies. By the time the ordeal was over, Paul suffered a total psychological collapse and has been in such a state for the past five years, unable to work or hardly to function. Paul’s abusive boss . . . well, he was promoted to regional director.

But, reading the report, one of the last straws that led to Paul’s emotional demise was the secrecy in which the “trial” was held. The denomination did not want anyone to know of this problem. Paul felt that most of the congregation would have supported him if they had known, but, everything was done behind closed doors.

It reminds me of my own experience as a missionary. It was very similar to Paul’s (and the real reason I connect with him), however, I admit that my own messed up thinking had a part in my own personal demise.

However, I will never forget our re-entry into American culture. I had notified our mission board that I was resigning and that it was over some serious issues of spiritual abuse by our boss. The response to my provocative letter was complete silence. Not even a thread of curiosity. We sat in silence for months. After being with the organization for 15 years, it was we suddenly died and no one really gave a damn. This was one of my greatest disillusionment. We had been taught that our organization was almost perfect. Not that I expected them to be totally on my side, but at least I thought they would be interested in hearing about it.

Finally I called them (six months later). I will never forget that conversation. I spoke to the director of missions. He was a man that I had had a lot of contract with before going to the mission field, like he was a dear uncle or something.

So I called and asked, “John, are you interested in why we came home and resigned?”

John: “Hmmm . . . not really. I guess you just weren’t missionary material.”

Me: “John, there were some really bad things that happened. Doesn’t anyone want to hear our story?”

John: “I think you should just keep your mouth shut. For the sake of the Gospel of Christ, keep you big mouth shut!” Then he hung up.

I returned to my serious thoughts of suicide. Christianity had only been a myth . . . just a mirage in the urban desert.

Then I was thinking about the ordeal in the Catholic Church and the abuse of children. I think the culture has now changed. But, just a couple of decades ago, the paramount issue wasn’t the emotional state of these precious little children, nor justice, but appearance. They felt they must keep the church looking clean at all cost.

Something is very wrong with this picture. I’m not a big fan of the WWJD brand. However, I think if Jesus was here he would relate to this situation entirely different. Like with the woman at the well, He couldn’t care less about appearance, but about the honest place of human hearts. I could see Him sitting in a church congregational meeting and saying things so offensive (because they were deeply honest) that they would ask Him to leave.

I’m thinking about coming back and telling a couple of other stories but I will see. But to me, the "Gospel" isn't about giving an image to the world that we have all our crap together and we never have "issues." To me the Gospel is that Jesus has taken all our guilt and bestowed His righteousness on us. But, maybe I'm wrong.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The God Badge

I had to get up early this morning and drive my son Quentin to the bus station. It was a nice surprise having him home from graduate school for a couple of days.

I sit here in the ole coffee shop, now that I'm up way too early to go to the office, thinking about the "God badge effect." This is where we manipulate others while wearing the God badge. We all (Christians) do it.

I was thinking about it for two reasons. The first one is directly related to my (my as in owner not writer) book, The Way of All Flesh. While my other books have raised interesting questions, as it relates to this issue of Christian Monist Vs Dualism, this book is like the turkey to Thanksgiving dinner. It is central. It takes a very candid and transparent look at a pious family in Victorian England in the mid 1800s. But you could easily transfigure the story to modern American Evangelicalism and not miss a beat.

I won't expound on the story at this point (but hope to later) but you see two parallel universes. One is the raw, selfish and sometimes barbaric motives behind actions. Then, on the surface, are the godly "Christ-centered" pretense. The author does a great job leading you by the hand between the rows of madness and piety. I will explain more later. However, if you were the product of a deeply pious home (pastor's kid, missionary kid, or just a garden variety Jesus-freak's kid) you must read this book.

The other God badge issue is some subtle guilt I feel for missing an important church meeting last night. I mentioned it a few weeks ago. It was to discuss the acute shortage of elders and deacons at our church. It frustrates the pastor that no man is "willing to step up to the plate for God's church." That's where I feel the guilt, but it is a false guilt.

I didn't go to the meeting because I knew that it would make me very frustrated. Either I would sit and listen with a smile on my face as we talked about the superficial universe issues . . . or I would open my big mouth, talk a bit about reality, pissing everyone off.

The meeting, I'm sure, had a good 45 minute lecture by the pastor giving a very good Biblical support for eldership. He is a very good teacher. I would have no problem with that. But here is the other universe. I've been an elder and as I stepped down, I told myself, "never again." The tough situation is that in this church the pastor made all the decisions and put our names at the bottom as co-signers. When I had people walking up to me challenging the decision (which I found out about at the same time they did) I felt very awkward. I have been in chruches where you could approach the pastor if you felt they were overstepping their boundaries. Not here. It aways becomes us against the Pastor and God. I have seen it played out like that in other chruches too.

But I was thinking about this "God badge." It is like the sheriff (corrupt sheriff) in a small town who uses his badge to get sexual favors, extortion and etc because that sheriff is the "hand of the law." How can you argue against "God?"

I wish that we could approach the pastor. I've tried and he gets extremely defensive.

I've seen this badge used throughout my life and I'm sure I've worn it a lot myself. I remember in our early days of marriage me telling Denise she had to do such and such (which really had selfish motives on my part) "because God wanted her to."

We used God guilt a lot on our kids when they were little. "You know when you don't do what mommy and daddy wants, then this makes God very sad."

Well, my other excuse for not going to the meeting was that Quentin was home. Even if I really wanted to, I still would have stayed home to be with him.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Way of All Flesh - Butler, Part II

I really don't believe in petty destiny (or fatalism) however, I was quite struck by my latest choice of books. It was purely by chance as I am reading the top 100 novels and this one (number 11) was the only one that the used bookstore had two weeks ago.

I've been too busy to read much, but this morning I reached the 1/3 way mark in the book. If you look on this cover (the people donning the masks) you will see how this book dovetails so close to what I'm always harping about.

I think I explained before that Samuel Butler was NOT a celebrated writing during his life time. He did write this book about decade before he died. In the book he commented (coming out of a character into the first-person author's voice) to say that people will not like him when they read it. But, by the end, he was so concerned about a negative social view that he asked his sister to publish it after his death.

As I read it, I am amazed how close his perspective is to mine and to many of us who visit these blogs. It is true that there isn't anything new under the sun.

Butler grew up in Victorian England. The point of the book is to tell a story of typical Christian life. He is looking at that life, way up on the 40th or 50th floor, however the floors are made of glass. You can see down through the layers (becoming more opaque as the layers accumulate).

I want to come back and discuss it more. I understand that Butler eventually left the Church, just like today, because he couldn't handle the farce factor.

Tomorrow I want to discuss some of the story.

Jesus and the Total War

(The painting represents Dali's view of war.)

I found myself once again in a debate on another (medical providers), forum. On that forum, there is a section about non-medical practice issues, which often become political.

The debate started about the Gaza relief flotation interception last week. I really try to stay out of these discussions because I get too emotionally involved (even loosing sleep over it). However, with several provocative statements I had to jump in with both feet.

When these discussions tackle Islam, Iraq, Afghanistan or Gaza usually a line of demarcation quickly develops between the hawks and doves. I tend to be a dove. The hawks tend to be a combination of the ex-military grunts and . . . Evangelicals.

My view is simple. While I find myself defending Muslims or at least Arabs, frequently, it is more about human rights . . . all human rights. I would not hesitate to defend Jews, gays, handicap, or any category that I sense is being bashed. As I said on the medical forum, my philosophical perspective is simple. I believe that God is there, and that all people are created, equally, in His image. Therefore, all people deserve justice.

This is where I stand perplexed. In these debates, I find myself shoulder to shoulder with the most liberal people. My partner in the defense of the Gaza Arabs is a very vocal atheist and another is an outspoken gay leader.

So I started to scratch my head yesterday. I really, honestly,
am perplexed about how you can mix Jesus with hate. It doesn't add up.

The perspective of some of the Evangelicals is that the terrorists are evil and deserve the hammer of God. In the case of Gaza, Israel is God's chosen people. Therefore, we should wipe them out. Not only does the hawk group want to tighten the blockade (as one said, "we need to bring the Gaza people down to their knees) but the last straw, which got me most confused, was that one Christian said the he believed in "Total War!."

My point to him was that in Gaza, maybe .01% of people have done terrorist acts (launching rockets into Israel) so then we starve the innocent women, kids . . . and men? Some have suggested to me that we should not only starve them but bomb them.

I honestly don't understand this view among Christians. I feel shaken . . . like I' m from another planet. Is there a guilt by association? Is there a collateral hate? What I mean is, if someone got drunk and drove, hitting and killing one of my kids, I can certainly see me hating them (to speak honestly) but I don't think I would even be tempted to hate their wife, their brother or their children. Maybe if they where the ones who supplied the booze.

I don't know if there is a question in this post but more of a venting from my well of confusion.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Pface of Phonies

"All the world's a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts . . ."
(William Shakespeare - The Monologue)

I've spent a lot of energy over the last three years talking about honestly, candor and . . . as our friend Holden Caulfield would say, "phonies." Yes, much of that talk about been about church phonies.
A couple of comments ago, someone referred to my statement that my son made (in regards to the church) that it is a farce. But, while I am often critical of Evangelicalism, I wanted to make the point that it does not have the corner on farceness. That is the same thing I told my son.
So, wherever you go in life, there is the farce factor. We don't have to reach the point of Caulfield and assume that everyone is a complete phony. Actually, I've met plenty of people who are surprisingly candor, not in just what they say, but how they live their life. I've found these people both inside and outside the Church.
So, when people talk about leaving the Church, because of the farce factor, I really don't belief there is a safe, farce-free, place to go.
I had a conversation recently with one of my son's (different son) friends. He said he couldn't believe in Christianity anymore because he didn't think it sounded reasonable. But it wasn't 20 minutes later he was showing someone a new skill-set he had learned, I think it was Tarot cards, or palm reading (can't remember now) where he could tell someone's future. I looked up and asked, "Now are you serious about this?"
"Yes!" he said. "This really works. You really can tell someone's future this way because your Zodiac sign determines who you are and where you are going."
I had to say it. "So, you gave up Christianity because it didn't sound rational . . . for this?"
So, in the same way, I think people leave the church because of its farce factor, only to enter the Caulfield world where all is a farce.
The reason I am not gentle with the Church and its farceness, is that it should know better. If the Christian Church represents the God, who is there, and who created reality . . . then it should be the most honest place in the world. Honest, but not with cruelty. The reason is simple. Each time you lie, you take a giant step backwards from God, because He is the author of realty.
This doesn't mean just bold face lying, but implying that you are something that you are not. It means being transparent with you true faults.
The other reason that I am sometimes harsh with the Church is this very problem of people leaving because of the farce factor. I assume it is the number one reason people leave. It has touched close to home. Most of my kids' generation have walked away. If it had really been the one place in the world where there was complete candor and yet loving (as it claims to be) then you couldn't keep kids away with a stun gun.
I look at our church. It drives me crazy that out of the 20 or so teenagers, who have graduated from high school and moved on in the past 7 years, I think about 3 are going to church anywhere. This is a huge issue. I also get tired of the same ole solutions (at least the ones that come from our church). "We should be harder on them. Once you let them get tattoos then they have one step out the door." Or, "We shouldn't let them go to college." Evidence suggest that those teens who do go to college, even the most secular schools, are a bit more likely to stay in church.
But, as I've said all along, we knew new wineskins. I new way to do church and not just re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic to find a "safer place."

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Word About My Marriage . . . Clearing the Air

I know that I make comments now and then about my wife, my marriage and the fact that we are on two separate pages at times. I know too that this makes some people uncomfortable, especially if you have been around the evangelical church for some time. But I thought it was time I addressed this directly.

In the typical Evangelical setting there is a myth about marriage. The Christian marriage is virtually perfect and there is harmony because both sides have their eyes on Jesus and love each other with agape love. So you never hear a peep about any kind of disagreement . . . unless it comes just before a total collapse of the union.

This happened in my present church about 4-5 years ago (and since). Then, one of the key families suddenly—with no warning—imploded and the parents divorced. They used to sit up near the front with their three blond, little boys. To everyone’s shock they announced that they were divorcing and they have never been back to church since.

I was in Sunday school class with the dad and Denise with the mom. The only chink in their armor may have been the Sunday before their marital demise when the mom mentioned to the women’s Sunday school class that her husband was going to be really mad when he finds out that she had booked a cruise without asking him. Then . . . wham . . . they leave each other and the marriage is over. The cruise issue couldn’t have been the cause . . . maybe the “last straw.”

I go to a church where the culture is that people are more private than most. I’ve been there for about seven years and I have never heard anyone say anything negative about their marriages. It is simply not done. Maybe a joke, “You know men, they spend all the money on their toys, ha!” But no one says offers a serious comment about a real issue.

Now I, in my desire for candor, am the exception. I don’t say negative things about our marriage relationship often, but if it is an issue, and related, I don’t hesitate. I mention fights, which we’ve had. I will say that Denise doesn’t like this or that about me. I admit, I bring up the negative far more than she does . . . but I try to bring up the positive equally.

I have seen people’s jaws drop . . . especially if they don’t know me. They frown on my negativity. My comments also worry them a great deal. Like the fore-mentioned couple, in our church you never say anything negative about your marriage, except for the warning flare shot high into the sky as the ship is sinking. I suspect that many speculate if that is what I’m doing . . . you know the flare. Some probably expect for Denise and me to announce our divorce any day . . . or like the other couple, just never show up again and they hear through the grapevine that we have divorced.

But there is a lot of silent suffering going on in our church. The pastor’s wife as slipped over on more than one occasion to vent that she is near her breaking point in the marriage . . . but only in a very private setting and only with my wife, who is her best friend.

But I don’t think our marriage is worse than others. Actually, I think it is much healthier. We agree on 90% of issues. If you read this blog you know just about the entire 10% of our conflicting views.

I’ve mentioned before how I started a Bible study about 5 years ago for couples at our church and it was on marriage. It was frustrating because I could not get anyone to share anything negative about their perfect marriages. I knew things about the five couples who came. But all the information came via the same convoluted course. The wife of the couple had told their non-Christian friend. That non-Christian friend had told my wife and thus I knew. So, I knew that couple A was having serious issues because the husband owned a business and was spending many hours away form the family and it really frustrated the wife. The couple B was plagued by the husband’s on and off again relationship with the bottle . . . meaning of course the Jack Daniel’s bottle. He was a mean drunk. Couple C had some of the most serious conflicts within the household. In couple D’s situation, the husband lived and worked in another state and their marriage was suffering a great deal from it. Plus there was a conflict between the husband and his father-in-law, who is an elder at our church, and who told his geologist son-in-law that he could not be a Christian because he believed in an old earth.

So when I asked poignant questions each week, no one would volunteer an answer but squirm in their seats. So, inevitably, I would share what Denise and I were struggling with. I can remember clearly that wife from couple C sharing, just once, shared about a struggle she and her husband were having. He looked at her with a subliminal rage.

It was during that same meeting that the husbands from couple A, B and C (the husband from D wasn’t there) confronted me during snack break. “We don’t like you trying to dig up dirt on us. We have great marriages.” Then the husband from couple C gave me a book about “looking for God’s fingerprint in nature” and told me that we should study that book.

Gee-whiz I thought. So, gave up on the study.

Denise and I have a marriage that is far from perfect, but it is honest. About 12 years ago we were through a very rough spot . . . so rough that divorce was in our vocabulary. It is nowhere near that now.

Most of our 10% of disagreement now comes over the very issues I blog about . . . honestly, candor and me going to an Evangelical church. Regarding church, she doesn’t see my point. To her, church is about tradition and personal relationships. She does have some good relationships with other women, such as the pastor’s wife. But men, at least in this church, treat each other differently. While Denise is down in her woman’s class, sharing cookies and kitting secrets, and laughing, I was sitting upstairs with the men. I would be watching a Ken Hamm video and being lectured to about how we should force our children to believe in a young earth. If I dared to disagree with them (somewhat like Johan was referring to in his comments two posts ago) I am quickly pointed out as compromiser with Satan. So our church experiences are very different. To her it is silly to change churches. “There is no perfect church,” she will yell at me. And of course she is right. So, to keep the peace, I am staying here and trying to make the best of it.

The other issue that is hard for us is my desire for candor. I’ve said before that is has always been a natural desire of mine, even though I spent 20 years as an Evangel-lair. Maybe it has to do with my upbringing verses hers.

I grew up in a somewhat dysfunctional family. My father became an alcoholic in his later years. My siblings have been into a lot of wild things and remain unstable. Yet, and I know this sounds funny, but my family’s dysfunctionality was in harmony with Bible-belt fundamentalism. I’ve mentioned before that my pastor, growing up, had a pretty mistress on the side, (which my mother helped to cover for). Our Sunday school director was having sex with as many young boys as he could (thank God he never got his hands on me). So the two opposites were compatible . . . sadly.

My wife grew up in a Scandinavian-Lutheran culture. There is a huge contrast between the two cultures. I see her culture being much more refined . . . but also much more Victorian. Her family never, ever talks about emotional issues. They never talk about faults of their own . . . never, ever. They, like most people in their society, keep a façade of perfection. But it is very different than the Evangelical pretense of godliness. The difference is, the Scandinavian-Lutheran culture allows for mischief deep down below the surface. I mean there were some bad things going on down there, but you would never, ever talk about them. Evangelicals believe their own lies about their goodness.

So, when it comes to candor, Denise and I are not on the same page. No, she is not a phony, but my candor makes her very uncomfortable. I’ve mentioned that she does not come to this blog. I wish she would. I would love to have her come and comment. But this blog scares the hell out of her . . . like when I use words like, “hell.” It really embarrasses her. There was a time when I was begging her to come here. It isn’t like she doesn’t read blogs. She followed my son’s blog with great enthusiasm. She follows two niece’s blogs daily and even friends of friends. But she would not come here any more that I would want to go to a Jesusland amusement park. I know it is not fair for me to reference her views and she is not here to defend herself . . . but I wish she were here. I wish she would blog every day about things I do to piss her off. I would read it faithfully because then I would know what they were. If she had a hard time thinking of my faults I could give her a laundry list of suggestions.

She doesn’t like my writing in general for the same reason. She has asked me to only write privately for my own benefit, not allowing others to see it. You know, like a diary that I lock up each night and put under my bed. But, we are different people when it comes to this perspective. If I don’t write and if I don’t “shout” my thoughts from the rooftops . . . I think I would die inside.

So, I think I’ve said enough and the air should be clear.

It is late, and I had to type fast so I hope I can proof-read this tomorrow.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Candor w/o Cruelty . . . is it Possible? Part II

Okay, sitting in church this morning I quickly realized that I had an example of a real life dilemma and example of this issue of candor without or with cruelty. Now while this is a very practical example, I’m not looking for any advice for my personal situation but I’m raising the question of how does this apply to the whole of church experience everywhere. I think what I will share is very common.

Our pastor has had a problem getting elders for our church. He preached on eldership from Titus this morning and he announced that in two weeks we will have a special Sunday evening discussion and dinner about the role of eldership.

I will be candid (as usual) and say that our pastor is gifted in teaching and studying scripture and a lot of leadership qualities. I’ve heard he is excellent in dealing with major life events, marriage, divorce, diagnoses with cancer, death and etc. However, in my (and others) opinion he has some significant handicaps. Primarily—and I think it is part of his personality nature—he is an extreme micro-manager, authoritarian and not approachable. I am the proverbial pot calling the kettle black. I would make a horrible pastor for a long list of reasons.

With that said, I have strong mixed feelings about going to this meeting in two weeks. I already know how it will play out.

The pastor will do an excellent job and exposé on the Biblical description of the elder role. He will then do an organizational chart of our denomination and how we use elders. Then he will challenge men to step up to the plate and be an elder (or suffer the guilt of not obeying God). So we will all sit and smile. Some, overwhelmed with guilt, may cave in and join in.

So all of that looks pretty on the 30th floor level where most church issues work themselves out.

Now, let’s go down to the tenth floor.

I’m speaking from experience as I was an elder for two years. During those two years every elder meeting was preceded by a letter from the pastor listing the agenda items that would be discussed. Once we arrive and endure a 30 minute devotional, the pastor would go through each agenda item, do a lecture on it and include his decision on that agenda. It could be getting a sign, a new roof, giving himself a pay raise (which he deserved but still . . . giving yourself a raise is quite odd and unethical in my book) and, two hours later, open for any discussion and have us sign off on the decision that he has already made. It was extremely difficult to raise any question about his decision.

Once, some guest church members came in and voiced a disagreement with one of the decisions that the “board had made” and left. He exploded in a moment of rage and attacked us for allowing them to speak against the pastor. I knew then that it was hopeless and that was the night I decided to resign.

I told him the reason I was leaving the next morning via e-mail. We were only a token board of elders who were castrated of power. He never responded to me and our friendship has been shaken since.

So, if I go to this meeting do I sit and smile and play the church game? My wife certainly hopes so. If I have a voice of candor and share the reality of what I just said, the shit will, indeed, hit the fan (okay, we are talking about church here so the dung will hit the windmill).

I’ve talked to a couple of other elders, back when I resigned, and they strongly opposed me making an issue of this problem. The Dutch (at least those transplanted here to America) do not believe in causing trouble. They prefer to “wait the pastor out.” He has been here for 10 years and they think that it would just be best to wait for the next pastor.

So, if I’m honest, I will stand alone. I will be seen as a trouble maker and cruel. This is where my wife says that I shouldn’t be honest at the expense of being cruel. This is also the reason why several families have left our church.

Years ago I would be willing to start such a war, but now, it is not important enough. If other elders felt like I did, then maybe. But if I stand a lone, it would be a declaration of war . . . a war I can not win.

So we all sit and smile and no one volunteers to be elder. We let the pastor rebuke us of no being the Christian men we should be.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Candor w/o Cruelty . . . is it Possible?

As typical for me, there was a chain of events that brought this issue to my thoughts once again. I know the issues, which surround honestly and candor, are complex. I also realize I’ve written about this many times before . . . but here it is once more . . . if anyone is listening.

If you have stumbled onto this blog as a novice observer I must give a brief background.

I think I was someone who was drawn to the concept of “honest truth” or “true truth” from childhood. While an Evangelical I was always aware that what we said and reality had a strange disjointedness. I wasn’t the only one who lived dishonestly, but I observed it among my fellow Christians. But we all lived the myth. I saw my fellow Navigator trainees and roommates spend four hours in Bible study during the week and then report at the meeting that that they had spent eight. We lied about miracles and did everything we could to cover up our moral frailty and to potentiate the pretense of our godliness. We were always happy and nice . . . on the exterior.

But when I became disillusioned with Evangelicalism I faced tremendous pressure to start lying again. If I had lied, life would have been so much easier. But I was determined to try the Christian faith without the lies . . . like trying pizza without the cheese (which I've had once).

The last piece of this puzzle was watching my own five kids grow up and start to question the Christian paradigm. As my son Quentin voiced, “Not only is the Church a farce but the sad thing is that they don’t realize it is a farce.”

So this is why I’m committed to trying to speak and live honestly. It is for the sake of our youth if for no other reason. But there are other reasons.

My major philosophical view is that if God is there, then He must be a God of truth. Okay, maybe He doesn’t have to be . . . but the Christian God certainly proclaims to be truth. Then this should be truth in everything . . . including emotional truth. That is the hardest. Additionally Christianity teaches very clearly that lying is sin.

I’ve used the illustration many times (and I’m sorry for redundancy if anyone is here who has read this before) of a building. The basement is total honesty, meaning psychological and moral honestly as well as factual honestly. In my view, the building is about 100 stories tall, like that of the Sears (I think AKA “Willis”) Tower.

In the penthouse are those who have lost all grips of reality. This includes the mentally ill with psychosis (usually due to no fault of their own). As I’ve said, the problem with schizophrenics isn’t their sense of reason. They seem to reason clearly. But they have tremendous failure in their ability to perceive the real world around them.

Only a dozen or so floors below those who are insane, are the TV Evangelists with the big hair, Botox, stages of plastic flowers and plastic lives. Near them are many people in public life, like politicians, who live a life of what people need to believe about them in order to vote for them. Who knows what really lurks in their souls.

But not far below them are some of the professionals, and I will explain.

About ten years ago I wrote a (somewhat funny but honest) autobiography about my professional experiences. While many related and liked the book, I had some professionals slam me for “looking like a fool” and “being a bad representation of our medical profession.” So there is a professional myth where you are not human but a perfect, confident robot and are never caught making a mistake. I think of the Donald Trump, Inc. here. He and his children look to me as if they are made of fiberglass . . . maybe they are.

So I think most of Evangelicalism is lived out between the 30th and 50th floors.

Now my question this time around (and I will have to make a series about this) is can you really live honestly and can you do it without cruelty? I don’t think so anymore. I have lost my aspirations of living completely honest in this world. I do expect that in the new and improved world God will bring that there will be absolute candor and that world will be able to live within that paradigm, which it can not now.

The chain of events, which brought this to the forefront of my mind again, started with a conversation with my wife a few weeks ago. I made the statement, “I really want to live honestly!”

To which she replied, “But you don’t have to be cruel to people!”

I’m not sure what we were talking about but I’m sure it had something to do with church.

Now understand I have never advocated the type of cruel honestly as portrayed in the movie, The Invention of Lying. In that movie people would walk up to a stranger and tell them that they are fat and ugly.

But what do you do if you have absolutely no desire to go to a church meeting to watch a movie about the myths of global warming. Someone asks me,"Are you coming to the movie at church tonight?”

I say, “No.”

They then say, “Oh, do you have plans?”

I will say, “No. I just have no desire to watch the movie because I really do believe the science behind global warming.”

The people inviting me become very offended by my response. This is where my wife says I am cruel. My goal wasn't to be cruel . . . but to be honest.

So what do you do? You are left with two options. Smiling big and saying, “Oh, I would love to come.” Then you go and keep your mouth shut. Life is played out much easier this way. Or you say, “I’m sorry but I can’t come because we are expecting guests,” which is a bold-face lie.

But that is only scratching the surface. I've talked a lot about motives behind what we say and do. How honest can we be about it? I’m not sure. I don’t think I can speak with complete candor in my life time . . . without risking total alienation and becoming more of an object of hate.

I will close this beginning thought on my next event, which brought honestly to mind once again.

I’m presently reading Samuel Butler’s book, The Way of All Flesh. I read about him before I started this book. Apparently he was an un-celebrated writer during his lifetime. He started this, his most famous work, about eleven years before his death. He says in the book itself that his honestly will cause all people to hate him. The reason? He was living and writing in Victorian England. The thesis of his story (and I didn’t intentionally chose the book because of this subject matter) is revealing the hypocrisy of the Victorian, Christian society. I’m only a forth of the way through and already he draws a very distinct contrast between the real motives for decisions of a pastor and his family and their surface motives (like God called me to do this or that). By the time he completed the book he was too scared to even publish it and asked his sister to publish it after he was dead. He knew that his candor would go over like a lead balloon in the Christian society.

I will be back and deal with the issue honestly as it relates to flirting and deep personal insecurities . . . and how hard it is for any of us Christians to acknowledge either.


(P.S. I will come back and look for typos tomorrow)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Christian-Controlled Marquee and a Need for a New Church Division

There are two Christian marquees that I encounter every day on my way to work. One is owned by a very conservative, King James Only, Baptist church. The second one is outside a Christian owned business (hair salon). Both of these signs are very visible.

I will mention the church one first because it seems, of late, to be the lessor of evils. For a while the Baptist church has provocative sayings such as “Thank God for Global Warming” as well as anti-gay sayings. For the past year or so their sign has been rather benign (“We are a Family of Families”) and doesn’t’ change that much, but it is very visible as it sits on the main highway.

The business though is a different story. It is held up, on our island, as the ideal integration of Christ into a business. I know nothing about the owners but like everyone else on our island, I know clearly their positions on a number of issues. Unlike the Baptist church, they change their sign at least once a week.

This morning the sign read, “We would love to change our Governor for the one in Arizona.” When I saw the sign, my immediate thoughts went out to the very large Hispanic population on our island. How do they feel about the sign?

Now, I honestly believe that good Christian people can have a variety views on immigration and there is not one clear view that is “Biblical.” But there is a tendency among Evangelicals to want to “keep the foreigners out of my country.” They attempt to wrap Biblical concepts around this view, but we all know it is personal and selfish. Not to say that the other sides aren’t the same.

However, I personally am perplexed by this America Fortification view.

I use to teach a Sunday school class on world missions. We prayed earnestly for missionaries willing to go to all parts of the world. We studied about great opportunities missed in history, when the church did not send missionaries to countries, like China, who were begging for them. I watch all kinds of TV preachers crying and telling how they are brining food to the poor in the developing world (with 50% going to support the up keep of their many vacation homes). Yet, when the people, whom we suppose to care so much about, want to come here . . . we hate them.

Before this sign, the beauty salon had up signs about the myth of global warming. I am still perplexed why Evangelicals are opposed to that. Is there some obscure verse that says that global warming is myth? There’s been signs by the Christians about defending our right to own guns, pro-life (which is more understandable), anti-Obama, anti-Arab, anti-electric cars and etc.

So seeing the sign this morning started me thinking again. The evangelicals, which I am no longer part, have defined themselves so precisely, from a cultural stand point, that I think a time must come where there is a major split between them and us simple Christians, “simple” meaning without a lot of cultural beliefs wrapped in Jesus.

Right now there is a huge abyss outside the door of the Evangelical church. That is why, when most people walk out, they fall into nothingness. Some do find people of like mindedness in the Catholic, Orthodox and some of the old-mainline churches such a Lutheran. Those can be good places for us, but they are not consistent. What I mean is, I attended a pretty good Episcopalian church when I was in college. But I tired to attend one last year and it was 90% New Age spirituality wrapped in Jesus the same way that the Evangelicals wrap the right-wing agenda in Jesus.

Mike Spencer talked of the demise of the Evangelical church. I do believe that something will grow from the stumps like mushrooms. I don’t know what it will be. I tried a house church and I had great hopes for the house church movement at one time. But now, every house church I’ve visited or been part of has one foot in the cult grave. Bizarre things can happen there. We are talking about spiritual manipulations, weird experiences (used to manipulate). I’ve known a couple of house churches that seemed good on the surface, but it turned out to be dens where the confident, charismatic (not literally but in terms of personalities) have secret orgies among the pretty girls under their control.

Now I know that I could find good places in some house churches, good places in some Catholic or Orthodox churches, but there is always a gamble.

But this is not about me. I’ve resolved that I’m not going anywhere right now as a gift o my wife.

But I’m thinking about the Church in general. I think there has to options to capture those exiting the back door and going nowhere. I do believe that there is a Bible mandate to meet together and to hold each other accountable.

I wish I had the confidence and talents to start a low-key “safe house” for Christians who can’t stand all the “plus” stuff. You know, Jesus plus this or that. It would be as much as a church as any. It would a way station to catch those who were on their way to nowhere.

The sad thing is that most of those leaving, who have not put the years of thought into it as I have, really do believe it is the Evangelical church or the devil . . . so they finally choose the “devil” rather than put up with the farce any more. To suggest that they could meet with me in a coffee shop or a bar and be real seems so bizarre to them they would never think it was possible. To them, it seems so wrong that not going to church at all seems better.

Just a few more spontaneous thoughts.