Monday, November 29, 2010

Wiki, Westminster and Waiting

Anything I say tonight is superfluous to the fact that Denise, her siblings and mother are waiting, keeping vigil at the bedside of her dying father. It could be tonight, it could be tomorrow. It is surreal for whoever has gone through this as I, and millions (if not billions) have. An awful suspension hanging loosely between what was and the inevitability of what will be no more. Of course the no more is simply the being in this physical world as it is or was. Those with souls go on and will be again in a more perfect form . . . yet it does not dampen the grief which gazes warily from behind the slowly opening door—ever so slowly, opening to the full vent of its content. Grief is the normal, healthy, human greeting that we must lay down before that terrible loss. I will say more when the time is due.

This segues into my experience tonight here on the west coast, far from removed, unfortunately from Denise.

I just returned from a men’s prayer group, which meets at the home of one of the men of my new church, Westminster. This is only my second meeting, outside Sunday morning, with my new church. It was a gift. I haven’t been in a group of men like this in many years and I was hungry. There were no lectures and no domination of the conversation by a single person. We seven men came, shook hands, sat down and did the work of prayer for ninety minutes. We prayed earnestly and honestly. I prayed for my wife and her family. One prayed about his grief of loss of a wife taken far too soon and now his wrestling with God over that unfortunate fact. I’ve been where he is (not loosing a wife, but having a great disillusionment), and I had to give him a hug. I felt quite comfortable there among strangers.

On Sunday I noticed an amazing thing. I’ve never been much of a Sunday morning church person. I had always looked for an excuse not to go to the service (which was rare). I don’t believe that the present concept of Sunday morning church is meant for everyone and I do believe that there are emerging forms from which many (maybe including myself) will be better suited. However, Sunday, I had a clear excuse not to go. My kids were with me and we were having a marvelous time at the coffee shop. Two of the three didn’t want to go. It would have been natural for me to stay. But, I actually wanted to go. I wanted to hear the classical choir, the pipe organ, the message about world peace and God’s mercy.

I reflected back on my decision to change churches a few months ago. I did the right thing. Those were/are good people at my old church. But I had come to a dead end. I think back through life and all the big decisions that I’ve made. Every single one had people who stood in opposition. That must be one of the cardinal sins . . . trying to block someone from making the right decision for their life. I hope that I’ve never done that.

All the media outlets today were talking of Wikileaks and their . . . well, leaks. As I’ve listened to the “cables” I had to chuckle about the absurdities of life. There are bad things about the release, especially when it comes to endangering the lives of people. However, the silly comments made by one diplomat about the other was what made me laugh. The reason is, the cables of course were expressing their true feelings . . . which they thought were private. So, I’m sure that the leaks were far closer to the truth than the “public statements” which the diplomats say. But quickly they are scrambling to put the best face on their very true statements. I just wish we could live on that level of truth.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Holidays Means Reflection

The holidays have always been for me, as most people, a time of reflection on life. It has to do for a couple of reasons . . . okay, maybe three.

The first reason is that it stands as a marker for the passing of time. If September 22 has no meaning to you (for example no one's birthday) then there are no memories to conjure up by the date. But of course, Thanksgiving and such special days create an experience that is like holding a mirror in front of another mirror. If you align them just right you can see a tunnel of repetitive images dimming back the further you go.

The second trigger for life reflections is that the fact you have family around. As I’m typing here right now I am surrounded by three of my five kids and none of them live at home anymore. You can’t be around family without thinking of the past.

The last factor of the perfect storm is having time. In normal life I don’t have time to reflect much. I think that is why most people are addicted to busyness . . . because they don’t want to remember. If the old times were good, it is painful to know that they are gone forever. If they were bad, you want to forget them.

Pictured here are my aunt Helen (the smaller girl) and her big sister Rosa. Helen has been like a second mom to me. She lived with us for part of our life and was always very close. She is 82, lives with my 89 year-old mother now and she (my aunt) is in poor health. But recently I came across several photos of her and her big sister.

I never had the chance to meet Rosa. She, like her mom and other sister, succumbed to TB and die a slow and painful death in the 1930s (as teenagers). My aunt Helen watched each one disappear, almost literally. I don’t know how she has such a positive attitude on life with so many losses under her belt (many I haven’t mentioned).

Another marker this season is the fact that my father-in-law is quite ill. Denise flew home last night to be with him. He seems to have improved from death’s grips to being communicative again this morning. But one can not think about him without thinking about the memories of his better days. Denise of course has much more than I do. But I watch my dad die ten years ago and I know how it is to go through this.

But at times like this, as you sense your own immortality and the passing of time, you pause and ask, “Am I on the right path? Am I doing what I should be doing in life?” These are hard questions to answer. I’ve known men who asked them, then bought a Harley Davison and took off . . . literally, never looking back, never coming back to their families. My desire to do that right now is quite low . . . although when life was difficult a couple of times (a decade ago and before that, two decades ago), it was tempting.

But this brings me back to today and sitting her with my kids and cherishing ever second that we have. I can smell them, reach over and touch them and talk to them. Someday, they will be flying home to either my deathbed or my funeral. The time between now and then will fly by.

On a closing note, I stayed awake last night in my big empty bed. It is harder to fall asleep when Denise is not there. So I checked my e-mails and started to explore the world of the Internet. When I was forced, by a snow storm, to stay on the mainland earlier this week, I had the same problem with sleep. That night, I spent two hours studying the entire geological history of the earth. I never knew that they believe that they were three super continents, rather than just one.

Last night I went back and tried to catch up on Imonk a bit. I read Jeff Dun’s Saturday ramblings. Once again, he brought up Keith Wheeler, the guy who has been carrying a cross around the world for the past . . . I forgot, 10-15 years? So then I jumped to Keith’s web page and read his entire story and looked at all of his photos. I know that for the majority of Christians, Keith is a hero. I have some trouble with the story, especially when he joined forces with Benny Hinn to make a DVD.

In my opinion, I put Benny Hinn (in the spirit of Dante) in the inner most circle of Hell, as one of the most despicable people who are alive today. A year ago, my old church had a fall campaign using material written by Benny’s right hand man. I sent an e-mail to the entire church that I was having a very hard time taking the project seriously knowing that the author worked closely with Benny. There IS guilt by association. No one else in the church saw a problem except that I was being a trouble maker. But there were other things that Keith says that troubles me. I was going to blog on it today, but, to avoid sounding like the negative person again, I will just let it go. If you know me, I will simply say that Benny lives up on the 80-90th floor above reality. I had the sense that Keith lives on the 40th. I admire people down near the ground floor the most. I will let it rest at that because I may be alone in my perspective.

Speaking of Jeff, I guess he is one of those people who communicate via silence. He asked for my manuscript a couple of months ago. But if I e-mail him about it(and I have his private e-mail address now) he never responds. If I ask him a non-manuscript question, he immediately responds, so I know the address is good. But I’ve never understood people who use silence to communicate. I have no idea what that means. But after our disagreement over the nature of the call of God, I have a sense, like all other publishers and agents, we are not on the same page either.

Lastly, I added a new program on this blog. The most frequented posting appears at the upper right hand corner. It can change from day to day. This is an automatic function. I was a bit surprised when my very personal story about my anxiety appeared and stayed. It is the most read. I wonder what that means. It is not the posting that I would want most people to read because it does paint me in a bad light. But maybe it says something about a hunger in Christians to hear stories about other Christians that aren’t so successful.

I wasn’t planning on writing today, but I wanted to savor this moment in Starbucks with my daughter on my left, Ramsey across from me and Quentin sitting diagonally from me. I wanted to sit and savor their smells (between the smell of espresso) their voices and their presence.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Really Nice People

I was talking to a really nice person this week and it started me thinking about another one of those great paradoxes of life. I know I’ve talked about “niceness” before, but usually in a negative light. I’ve described the “cult of niceness,” as some have called the Victorian age. Equally I’ve mentioned the fa├žade of niceness that exist in many evangelical circles. But this time, I’m referring to real niceness, or so it seems.

In my old paradigm of spiritual life, I (like many Christians) believed that before I became a Christian, I had many not-so-nice traits. I attended many workshops a few decades ago on “developing your personal testimony.” In those workshops, we would go mining for those bad things which had plagued our non-Christian self. Sometimes we were encouraged (implied) to embellish them, in the spirit of a Mike Warnke, to highlight the contrast. Then, in our post-meeting-Jesus self, we would focus on how nice we’ve become.

But now I realize this line of demarcation is not so crisp and doesn’t not come down precisely where we would like to imagine. It seems to come down between people who have been born (or raised) nice, and those who were/are not.

I wish I were nice. But, I often get frustrated . . . more so than the average Christian, or so I think. I’m not downplaying what I mean. I don’t yell, scream or say hateful words to people. But things like plumbing problems frustrate me and I don’t hesitate to say I’m frustrated. It’s been a few years, but I’ve been known to scream and pound a leaky pipe with a hammer to vent that frustration. I would have done the same before I became a Christian. Maybe my threshold of “loosing it” is higher now . . . maybe a little higher.

I was describing my frustration this week to this nice person. It has been a rough five days and just got worse as I was typing this (just got word that my father-in-law is gravely ill. I will come back to that as I gather my thoughts but I will first finish this thought).

Earlier in the week, I left for work with the temps around 33 and a little drizzle. I’ve been so busy lately I haven’t watched TV where I could have heard a weather report. To make a long story short, the drizzle quickly turned to snow and I got snowed-in over on the mainland at my office for two days. Denise likewise got snowed-in at her job at the hospital on our island for the same 48 hours. During this time, the temps plummeted to 8 degrees (in a place that it rare is below 28 degrees) and set a new all time record.

When I was finally able to climb my way back up our little island mountain in my studded four wheel drive, I found our poor pets in panic (our neighbors had let them out once during the span). I had dog poop in the house, which I expected. What I didn’t expect is that our guest cabin’s pipes were all frozen and broken.

I didn’t expect it because they froze and ruptured a couple of years ago when we had a desperate friend gradually extend her “4-week” summer stay into a 20-month one. The cabin was never meant for winter use. After the pipes ruptured on her, I literally laid on my back in a 14 inch crawl space, in 30 degree mud, no light but my headlamp, for seven nights as I completely replaced the plumbing. I also carefully wrapped the pipes in electric heat tape and insulation, so that would never happen again. But now it has.

What really frustrated me was the dumb thing that the electric tape had become unplugged. I have no idea how. Maybe I did it. I don’t know. But now all that work seems ruined.

But this post is not really about that unfortunate incident . . . it is about the frustration I feel in those situations, and more so, how nice people seemed immune to. I’m only sharing about a difficult week to illustrate a much bigger picture.

The nice person was with me and I showed them the pipes. I simply said how frustrating the situation was. I showed emotion but didn’t raise my voice. Inside I wanted to kick the pipes as hard as I could. The friend was appalled. They could not relate how an inanimate object would ever upset me, even if it meant a huge amount of hard work and money to repair. In this season of being thankful, they pointed out how wonderful my life is right now. Four of my five children are home. I have plenty of food, cars that run and I live in a place which I’ve dreamt of living in for a long time. I really am thankful but I still get frustrated even with my abundance of blessings. Hey, many people in the world don’t have a roof over their heads and here I am being frustrated by my empty “guest cabin.”

This is how this posting is different from my previous ones. I think this friend was sincere. They really couldn’t relate. They almost never feel mad, frustrated, depressed or anxious (by their own confession and my observations). Yes they are a Christian, but I think they would be the same if they were a Buddhist or even an atheist.

The paradox is that the story doesn’t follow the narrative. “I was so bad . . . then I met Jesus . . . now I am so good.”

One of the things that shook my evangelical faith so deeply a couple of decades (besides the most godly man I had ever known, also turning out to be the most cruel) was my own failings. I had covered them over with Jesus Bondo for a long time. But the Bondo cracked. I knew in my heart that I wanted this missionary boss to die a painful death for what he had done to me and my family. What happened to the good, post-Christian Mike?

I know of several people whom have visited this blog and have likewise concluded that I’m not a nice person. I’m cynical, cruel and seem to always look at the dark side (I don’t see myself like that at all). The nice people, sincerely, only see the positive side of things and are never cynical. They only share praises for other people . . . including evangelicals.

But for now, I need to quickly change my focus, help my wife get an emergency flight to Minnesota and support her with all my strength.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Kinect, Minority Report and the Evangelical Church of Tomorrow

It’s really inevitable. The Church, sitting in a pool of culture, will eventually absorb some of that culture like the smell of smoked salmon sitting open in the refrigerator tainting the Jell-O. There is nothing wrong with that and in many ways can be a good thing. But it can also be a bad thing . . . depending on which part of the culture that is absorbed. The big problem is, while the first generation (the one doing the absorbing) may see it as innervations, by the time it gets to the next generation of believers, it is fused with the few simple doctrines of scripture and becomes an essential.

I was thinking about this last week as I listened to NPR’s Science Friday. The computer scientists and engineers behind the Microsoft’s Xbox’s Kinect described how they developed the system and what the future may hold.

Already the system, that is the system sitting on the shelf ready for Christmas, can recognize your face and match it to a data bank about you. It may soon be able to do that with your voice as well. Once the match occurs, the possibilities are endless. The software can record your voice and habits . . .and get to know you much better than you can imagine. In the future, your little Xbox, sitting in your living room, may be able to communicate to vendors (via the Internet) of your habits, wishes, vocalizations . . . so those vendors can tailor-make their products for you.

Not too far fetched, you could be sitting in your living room, Xbox off (or so you think) and you say something about needing to buy a new washing machine. Then, you go to check your e-mail and there is a letter addressed to you, offering you a “special” discount on a washing machine down at the local box store. It could happen, sooner than you think. It wouldn’t be big brother because in the five-page, 4 pt. font, contract (which you signed when you bought the Xbox) says that they can sell your information to the vendor.

Of course product placement has been around for quite a while. I remember when I first figured this out. I felt so deceived.

But to my point. I was listening to Christian radio this week again . . . in that dead zone between NPR stations. Sometimes I am positively surprised. But then I noticed some product placement. A sermon about a topic . . . then a commercial came on advertising about a book (written by someone totally different) on that same subject matter and I wondered what the relationship was (speaking of $$$$) between that pastor and the publisher? Of course authors are expected to market their own books, but paying a pastor to speak on a subject, just to get a book noticed (a book, which the pastor had nothing to do with) is different.

Someday, I predict pastors will sign on to “product placement” within their churches. It may start out simply as message from a publisher, “Preach about the gift of mercy this week, mentioned our new book “God Have Mercy, the Neglected Gift of the Spirit” and we will give you a gift card worth $100 of books at our online bookstore.” Now if your church has more than 500 people, the gift card might be $200. If you have a TV ministry, you might get . . . a new BMW. Then down the road, it gets a little more scary where it is more than product placement but thought placement. For example a pastor is asked to preach on the good idea of giving money to the Red Cross, then the Red Cross cuts him a check for the placement. Far fetched? We will see. As my Jewish friend David tells me (and he’s in publishing in Manhattan), “Mike, all human behavior boils down to money . . . just follow the money.” I disagree. I would say that 95% of human behavior boils down to me trying to make myself feel significant. Money is just one means to than end. Fortunately, in that remaining 5%, there is a little room for altruism.

It is Thanksgiving Eve and I need to get home. Sorry about the typos. Have a great day of rest and being with your family!

Monday, November 22, 2010

When Bad Things Happen to Good Christians Part II

I heard an interview once with Rabbi Kushner (the author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People), I think it was on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. He made a very remarkable statement.

You see, tragically, his son was born with an incurable and fatal disease. He watched the son, whom he loved dearly, suffer and slowly die. At this juncture, he began to wrestle with God. Then he said he came to a very logical point of divergence. He knew that God could not be both omnipotent and loving so he would have to choose. He said, like most people, he preferred a loving God when given that choice. So his conclusion was that God does love us, but He can not cure cancer or reverse the laws of physics or other natural processes.

Evangelicalism still holds firmly to both characters of God, plus, that God does micromanage all parts of life. So, not only can God cure cancer, but you can not even get cancer unless God wills it or plans it. But still, defying logic (at least on an emotional level) He still loves us tremendously.

I do think that there is another option. Maybe some of the intellectuals and well read people who visit here (and I mean this in the most flattering way) may know of some of the great men and women of the faith (talking about Luther et. al.) who have written about this. In my opinion this topic seems to be missing. I am very familiar with Schaeffer's writings and I don't think he really deals with it carefully.

Here is my view of the matter. God is loving as the New Testament describes Him. He is also Omnipotent. He has to be or he can not be the creator of the universe. Anything less and we are left with the gods of the Greeks. However, I don't see Him as the micro-manager. Scripture is clear that we live in a fallen world. One of the most theological sound-bites I've ever heard was simply . . . "shit happens." God doesn't shit on you. You do not have to create your on shit. But, we live in the fall out of the consequences of sin (others and our own). God could erase all the bad stuff, so it is not an issue of power. But, in my opinion, He is patient and is allowing things to take their course. This is some of the mystery. But I do remember Schaeffer saying that Christianity, if understood right, is the only religious system that allows you to hate evil without hating God.

So, in Joe and Karen's case, a % of men are pedophiles. And % of the pedophiles choose to live a double life. Karen just happened to be caught up in that percentage. God didn't do it to her. She didn't fail in her approach to making the decision, but shit happened. In her case, it was terrible shit. I was good friends with Joe and I never, ever saw it coming. Mostly because I believed that all Christians were above such darkness.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Snow White, Prince Charming . . . and When Bad Things Happen to Good Christians

This is a recurrent theme here at Christian Monist. This time the provocation was a conversation, which I was having over at IMonk. The position I want to expound on is somewhat divergent from Jeff’s original point, about (the merits) of being a fool for Jesus. So the chain of thoughts went like this. I asked the question, how does one know the difference between being a fool for Jesus and being an idiot (not a positive trait) for Jesus? Jeff’s answer was that the fool for Jesus is being called by God. So I asked, how does one really know if they are “called by God” because there have been many people who thought they were called and/or who convinced others they were called by God . . . but in the end did some horrible things or had terrible outcomes.

The answer to that question was that we Christians we have the Holy Spirit and it was implied that this sets our thinking apart from the non Christian. I will expound (with good intentions but without the answerer’s permission) that would mean that we have a supernatural ability which supersedes the normal human frailties of misjudgment, psychological factors, misinterpretations and etc. It would be like having an antenna inside and the Holy Spirit fine tunes that antenna to the will and voice of God. Maybe another example would be how dogs can hear sounds that humans can’t. Thus Christians have an ear to God’s will which mere mortals don’t.

There is nothing outrageous to those statements. I would say that most Christians consider Jeff’s points deeply woven into the Christian narrative . . . but not all of us.

The last point of the discussion was an illustration of how we Christians can be assured that we know God’s will by following a particular formula. It consists of; A) reading the Bible, B) seeking godly counsel, C ) prayer and D) waiting to see if the door opens. I am very familiar with that formula because this was the same one that we used in the Navigators. I taught a workshop using that formula at conference and years latter I taught a Sunday school class on the same. On top of that, the very last phase of a decade-long process of becoming Navigator staff, was doing a serious of really intense Bible studies. One was almost a whole year (spending many hours a week) on “The Calling of God.’

Now all of this was hunky dory until I started to notice some disturbing trends. It was hard to spot them at first. It is where “good Christians” (meaning very sincere and diligent people, who wanted deeply to follow God’s will) followed the “discovering God’s calling, or will” for their lives with great skill. But then, the calling or action ended in disaster. As I mentioned on IMonk, these situations are quickly swept under the Christian carpet. The situation falls into that area I was speaking of recently about Christian weirdness. Where reality doesn’t mesh with the idealized Christian narrative and then it is erased as if it had never happened.

Now that my introduction has eaten up all my time and your attention span, I realize that I will have to continue this thought on subsequent postings. But before I leave, I want to illustrate this with a real life situation. I have many of my own failures to draw from, but I feel like I’ve shared them all before. So I will pick one that happened to two friends of mine during my Nav days.

A man was involved with our Navigator group, whom I will call Jim. Jim had just finished graduate school and the time was right for him to find a wife. People in the Nav ministries in those days didn’t date. They just decided it was time to get married then would go through this tedious process of determining God’s will for their perfect soul mate.

While Jim was a friend of mine, I will tell the story through the eyes of his eventual wife, Karen. She is the one for who this narrative failed.

Karen was a “godly” woman in another Navigator ministry. She was very, very sincere. She, as we used to say, really loved the Lord. She (like all of us Navigators) also had her eyes on being a career missionary (we all did because we considered a career missionary as the highest position on the spiritual hierarchy).

Jim and Karen met at a special conference (I know it sounds odd now) that was sort of set up as a mass match-making endeavor by the regional Navigators. Singles, who were in the position to consider marriage (meaning having graduated from college and had jobs) were invited to a weekend at Columberland Falls State Park. During that weekend there were a lot of “spiritual” activities, such as hours in prayer and workshops, but also a square dance and formal (so-called romantic) dinner.

Jim and Karen started corresponding. Karen liked Jim. Jim liked her too, so it seemed. Jim was a “godly man” and had a heart or missions. Karen wanted, and I mean sincerely wanted, a Jim Elliot-type of husband, and Jim seemed to fit the bill. He had studied medicine and wanted to be a missionary in the Philippines (having already spent one summer there).

Jim started to talk marriage. Karen met many times with the Navigator staff women to talk this over and to seek Godly counsel. All of them gave her 100% support for marrying Jim. She did a long Bible study over several months, trying to determine God’s will for her and Jim. All the verses she studied seemed to be God talking directly to her . . . Jim was the man. Then she entered a period of prayer and fasting for several weeks (fasting one day a week).

The last “fleece” which Karen was waiting on, was to see what God was doing in Jim’s heart. Then one night he called and to her surprise, he proposed. Karen raced to the two Navigator staff women’s homes. She told them what had happened. They confirmed that this had to be a “God thing,” no question about it. Karen called Jim back and said that she would marry him.

The brief engagement was nothing short (in Karen’s eyes) of a fairy tale. Here was the man she had always wanted and God certainly had brought him to her. She was ecstatic.

Before I flash ahead a few years, I will comment that Jim seemed like a great guy to me too. We were pretty good friends for about a year as we were in the same graduate school program. The only odd thing I ever noticed was a casual comment he made once about which porn shop was the best. I assumed it was some kind of strange joke (because if any of us Navigators ever visited a porn shop, we certainly wouldn’t talk about it unless we were weeping and gnashing of our teeth.) Another time I was with Jim and he ran into some of his non-Christian friends. They commented that Jim really knew how to party. Again, I thought that was odd (we Navs never “partied”) but I didn’t think much about it at the time.

So Jim and Karen had their Snow White and the Prince wedding at huge Evangelical church in Knoxville, Tennessee. All the Navigator staff were there with glowing smiles and to give their blessing of this marriage . . . literally . . . “made in Heaven.”

To make a long story short, the honeymoon period ended and Karen started to sense some oddities about Jim. She lived in denial for a couple of years. Time went on and they still talked of going to the mission field. They had a little girl, then a little boy. A couple more years passed. I knew, through Jim, that they were experiencing some “sexual difficulties” in their marriage and Karen wanted to seek counseling.

I lost touch as I went to the mission field. But, the bombshell hit a few years later when Karen caught Jim sexually molesting their six year old daughter. Karen was devastated. She forced Jim to go to counseling. During which, it came out that Jim had a second persona. He had been habitually molesting children (mostly relatives) since he was about 12. He was addicted to child porn and didn’t seem to be repentant. He hung out with other pedophiles in his other persona.

Karen’s fairy tale marriage seemed to have drifted into a nightmare. She divorced Jim. Then, suddenly, in her pain, she started to get hints from her spiritual leaders (mostly church people now, although she was still loosely involved with the Navs) that, besides Jim being an evil man, that SHE had done things wrong too . . . not listened to God carefully about marrying him. Karen became very disillusioned as her daughter continued to suffer tremendously from the abuse. Had she missed God's obvious will, you know, her internal Holy Spirit antenna for truth? So, was it her fault? Or, was God some time of cruel jokester? None of it made any sense to her . . . but, "for the sake of the Gospel" she had to push her story and feelings under the rug so no one would find out that all Christian fairy tale weddings don't end in bliss.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Vulnerability and Sharks

I was attending an "Exploring New Membership" class with my new pastor this week. She made a very candid comment about herself (can't remember what it was now). Later, she, in attempts in giving a realistic view of this church, she tried to explain some of the criticisms she faces. For one, which surprised me a bit, is that she is accused of "always getting her way" when it comes to church business.

But the next criticism was very different. She said that her candidness, and, in her words, "vulnerability" is offensive to some. Some people think it is unbecoming for a pastor to talk so easily of personal failures.

I relate to that. How man times I've been told that I'm an embarrassment to my profession, to be an elder, to being a Christian and even to being a man.

This uncomfortable-ness with self-incrimination is certainly not limited to Evangelicalism. If I have a criticism here of the evangelical church, is that it should be above this "put only your best foot forward" mentality. I mean, aren't we all on the same page? Blood of Jesus covering us . . . or we are totally (not a percentage) lost?

But I watch this scenario play out on many stages day after day. I'm on a medical blog and those (medical professionals) tend to be quite arrogant. God-forbid that anyone should saying something that doesn't put themselves in the most (inflated) positive light. But the same thing happens in many church settings. I may be wrong, but it is especially true with men.

So you say something honest, which shows your vulnerability for stupidity, or laziness, or sinfulness. Something like, "I should have gotten up to run Saturday morning, but that bed felt so good that I slept in until 9." It is like you are in a school of sharks and you just picked the scab on your knee. There is a little blood in the water and the sharks start swarming around you.

One takes a bite. "Nine AM! You must be joking. I haven't sept that late since I use to party all night, before I met the Lord." Then the next shark smells blood and swims closer, "Hey bro . . . I'll call you next Saturday at 5 AM. That's what time I get up. We can run together . . . that is if you can keep up with me (wink, wink)."

I dream of a world where we could say anything and the only litmus test was if it was true or not. No test if what you said makes you look godly or not. No test if what you said made you look manly or not. No test if what you said made you look like a professional or not . . . just simply, was it honest or not. Not if it fit some very precise theological position (that's why most people hold very precise theological positions, say in eschatology, just so they have a place to put their teeth in case you waiver from it.) Occasionally these people swim to the surface over at iMonk. I'm sure it is much more common on evangelical forums and blogs.

I've had a few friendships over the years where I knew that I could say absolutely anything and there would be no blood in the water, no search for a bite-hold in my flesh to tear me apart. I think our mothers (most normal mothers) fit that role. I have a sister like that. I could tell her that I robbed a bank and she would think that there must have been a good reason. But those are the kind of Christian friendships we all must envy.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Why Do We Christians Have to be so Weird About Imperfections?

Pictured is Dr. George Rekers, the country's (previous) most outspoken critic of homosexuality. He is at the Miami airport in May with his . . . paid . . . gay escort.

Now why am I bringing this up now? Honestly, it had completely slipped beneath my radar back in May. Apparently it was big news with the story broke. After all, he was James Dobson’s right hand man and his chief architect for programs to persuade people from becoming gay, and to re-convert them to heterosexuality. He had credentials. Besides being a Baptist minister, Dr. Rekers, is a Harvard graduate in neuropsychology. If you want to know more click on the title above and it will lead you to an excellent NY Times article.

Two of my sons were home this weekend, Ramsey and Quentin. Quentin is a very smart guy (PhD student in math and computer science). He’s the one who has made comments about what drives him away from Christianity is its farce factor. Quentin is the one who told me about the Reker story. So, I do take these things very personally . . . because they are. I am always haunted by the statistics that 85% of kids raised in “good Evangelical homes,” leave the church by the time they are 25.

But I hesitated bringing this up here. It seems that I’m always out to criticize Evangelicalism. But my point isn’t really about the hypocrisy of preaching against homosexuality, while renting “toy boys” for your own sexual gratification. This story sounds reminiscent of Ted Haggard doesn’t it?

It also reminds me of something one of my psychology professors described to me. He referred to it as the “St. Paul factor.” I think this was a layman’s term he used because—although he was teaching at a state school—it was in the Bible belt. What he meant was that those people who fight the hardest against certain moral vices . . . are themselves most tempted. I’m sure there is a more clinical term for the phenomenon.

What bothers me the most is a far more troubling and pervasive problem within Evangelicalism than simple hypocrisy . . . it is weirdness. I’m not sure if I can even put a handle on it right now but I think you know what I mean.

So when the Miami Herald sighted Dr. Rekers and published the story, he gave a couple of statements in the media (and on his blog). He tried to explain that he had surgery and he needed someone to carry his luggage during a vacation to Europe (notice in the photo the good doctor seems to be handling his own luggage pretty well thank you). So, he found this young man (and stranger), whom he paid, to travel with him an assist him in carrying his bags. The young man’s only advertising, though, was on a very graphic (may I say pornographic) web page. The page was explicit about its purpose, renting young, gay men for sexual favors.

Dr. Reker’s next statement was that he shared Jesus with the young man during the trip and that was the main purpose. However, soon after those clumsy explanations . . . Dr. Reker vanished. He stepped down from Focus on the Family. He stopped blogging the next day as well.

I’ve searched the web and I can’t find a single statement by James Dobson . . . not in Dr. Reker’s favor or against. This is the weirdness, which is the greater sin.

Say, that you completely believe Dr. Rekers. After all, we Christians are brainwashed—er—I mean taught to never question other Christians, especially if they are in a position of leadership. It falls under the “judge not least you be judge” misinterpretation. Even his story (if it was true) is bizarre. Would you really go online and rent a boy from a graphic gay porn site, not realizing he was an escort, just to carry your luggage on a European vacation? Who are we kidding here?

I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt. Then I thought of the most extreme situation. I knew a Dr. Black. He was handicapped with a spinal cord injury. He was also wealthy as he was a department head of a very famous medical center. Dr. Black couldn’t carry language very well. But he did travel a lot as he did medical talks all over the world. He never rented strange men from the Internet to carry his bags. I’m sure that colleagues helped him, the airlines helped him, his wife helped him or his medical students helped him. Dr. Rekers also taught in a medical school. As a leader of Focus on the Family, he was surrounded by capable people who could have helped him, especially if he was willing to pay their way. It not only doesn’t add up, but it is such a stupid explanation that it assumed that we are all idiots. Maybe the Christians buy such nonsense but those on the outside, and those like my son (whom I care dearly about) aren’t that stupid.

It is very much like my recent leaving of my old church. It could have been a healthy leaving. I wrote a very flattering letter to all my friends explaining that I love them, respect them and am not leaving mad. But, that letter was canned by the pastor. My leaving was instead swept under the rug . . . like a scene from bizarre-o-world. They now pretend that I never existed. It is the same bizarre behavior as James Dobson sweeping Dr. Rekers under the carpet. So, if Dr. Rekers does have a gay side, that isn’t the biggest problem he has. No, it is the strange world that has developed around the Evangelical kingdom . . . where all hands on deck are smiling . . . with smirks, while who knows what the hell lurks below deck.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

More About Honesty

We were talking here of candor yesterday. Then, this morning I had the perfect real-life situation that illustrates how difficult this is.

About 20 years ago, as I was coming back from the mission field, burnt out, disillusioned with Christianity, I made a personal vow . . . I would never lie for Jesus again. I never knew how hard that vow would be to keep. I really do think that many people consider me a jerk. I think the number one reason I come across as a jerk are my attempts to be honest. I don't do it cruelly. I try my best to avoid those situations. But . . . they happen.

In the coffee shop this morning I was approached by a lady, whom I know well. Her husband, my wife and I, all sat on the board of directors of a local parachurch teen ministry. While I respect the full time workers of that group, and I do think they are doing good things, I became a bit disillusioned with them and eventually stepped down (after two years.) For one, they had an anti-intellectual approach with the kids. Their activities were going to tracker pulls, monster truck rallies and cage fights. The made fun of "book worms" and deep thinking. We still give them some money.

This organization has a major fund raiser once a year. It is a formal dinner. Each table has a "captain" who invites six other couples. Then, at the end of the dinner there is a long "shake down" for money. A lot of moving videos, testimonies and begging.

The first time I went to the dinner, six years ago, I was invited by my ex-pastor. He simply told us about a free dinner where we can catch up on the local youth ministries. We had no warning it was a shake down. I was a little red-faced, by the end (knowing that we had been set up). But eventually I agreed to go on the board . . . in my naivety . . . thinking I could have an influence in the direction the ministry was going. Turned out, the board was only involved in fund raising and nothing else.

So this is how the dialog went this morning. I will call my friend, "Megan."

Megan: Hi Mike. You know last year we had invited you to be table captains at youthministry's banquet and you were going to be out of town. Are you going to be in town this year, and if so, can you be table captains?

Mike: Hmm. We are probably going to be in town.

Megan: So you can do it?

Mike: Honestly, I could . . . but . . . I don't want to.

(Megan looks taken back)

Megan: Oh Really?

Mike: I know how hard it is for you to recruit captains, and having been on the board myself, I know it can get frustrating. However, we are already giving as much money as I want to. Also, I can't think of a single couple which it would be appropriate for us to invite. I mean, the couples I would invite would feel violated. The reason, some are good friends and they already give out the nose to groups and I really don't want to try and get them to give more.

All the other couples I could think of . . . well, it would be offensive if I invited them. I mean, they might come. But, I've hardly spoken to them for a year and for me to invite them to come to a shake down would hurt our relationship.

Meagan: We don't like inviting our friends either . . . but it is something we feel that we should do for the Lord.

Mike: I respect that, and like I said, I know it is hard for you, but I don't sense that calling from God that we should do this.

I could tell from her body language and further conversation that we had that she sensed me as a jerk. I had a wave of intense guilt come over me . . . a false guilt.

I just wish it didn't have to be so hard.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Chasing the Wind

I was in that Solomon mood again this week. It is not to be confused with depression or even a sour type of mood. It was reflective and it was the accumulation of several factors.

For one, it was the second week in row which I had invested at least 60 hours towards my profession. It wasn't intended. It was exhausting. But I had to ask myself, for what? Maybe, in about 90 days from now, I will be about $300 richer for putting in 40 extra hours (over two weeks) . . . as that is how the math works out. Maybe, I hope, some of my patients suffered a little less because of the work I put in for their behalf. But sometimes I wonder. Chronic pain patients have a way, in their desperation, of sucking the blood out of you and leaving nothing behind.

With such a busy week, I ddn't have the time or the energy to write here. I wanted to participate over at imonk a time or two. But that blog reminds me of trying to jump on a merry-go-round in grade school. I can still remember standing and begging the kids on to slow down so I could jump on. Any attempt at the high speed would usually end with my face planted in the red clay.

I was especially interested in the take on women in the pastorate on imonk. I try not to comment until I've read all the previous comments. I had a minute here or there. I would read a few comments and come back later to find out that there had been ten more. I never caught up to the point I could post. Then, suddenly they changed horses again in mid-stream.

I am going to a church with a woman pastor. I never thought that I would because I too, thought it was un-Biblical. I've enjoyed Steph since I've been coming to her church and having gotten to know her even better, over the past two weeks, through a workshop for potential new members.

But back to chasing the wind.

My favorite TV show, during this season, is the Discovery Channel's Storm Chaser. I'm not sure why. I'm confident that my interest will dwindle over time. But I was deeply shaken this week when one of the main cast members (it is a reality show with real people) Matt Hughes, died. He didn't die from the chasing. As a matter of fact, during that last episode, Matt has his best chase ever. For the first time he was allowed to lead the IMax film team's truck (more like a tank). And, for the first time in 10 years of chasing, they actually got the truck in the middle of a tornado (their holy grail). Matt was as happy as any person could be on that night. He died a couple of days later.

How he died has never been made public. However, close friends say that the 31 year old father of two small boys, hung himself at home two days after his most glorious event. It just didn't make sense. The friend said he had suffered from depression for a long time.

I was shaken for a couple of days. He seemed to have everything, or at least those things that we assume would lead to happiness. He had a career. He was becoming a TV star (sort of). He was handsome. He had a beautiful wife and two wonderful sons. Depression is such a trickster, making someone who has everything think they have nothing. So much wind chasing, and I mean that more why than one. Matt had chased after the wind . . . and caught it. But, it was still all in vain.

Lastly, we got a call last night that my father-in-law was near death. It made me reflect all day on his life. I can remember the first time I met him, (and he wasn't much older than I am now) and he seems like a week ago. He is about 89 now. Man, how time does fly. Life is a vapor. We did hear tonight that he was doing a little better. Denise and I are trying to make plans to go to Minnesota . . . or not.

I'm about to go public with this blog. It started out three years ago being totally anonymous. Then, I went more public with who I am. Now, I'm about to share the site with my local friends. I still hope I can write with the extreme candor, which is characteristic of this site. But time will tell.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

When The "Gospel" is Used to Devalue the Self

Denise is a nurse at the local hospital. Frequently they have patients who enter a phase of crisis (like facing death) and they ask for (or the staff recommends) a chaplain.

Like the on-call medical staff, a large group of ministers take turns covering "chaplain call." This spectrum covers from the most conservative evangelical to the mainstream churches, new-age spiritual churches to Catholic and Buddhist groups.

Denise commented that it is sad, but when she sees one of the evangelical chaplains on call, she knows that by calling him, it is worthless to the patient or their family. He comes in, hands them his business card. Asked them if they have any questions about Jesus and leaves. He spends 5 minutes with them, that is, if they are not interesting in hearing the gospel.

On the other hand, the Buddhist chaplain is their favorite. He is soft spoken. Has no message or product to sell anyone . . . but he deeply values the life of the patient and their family. He sees his time as his gift. So he comes into the room, pulls up a chair beside the sick person (who is often alone) and sits with them . . . for hours. He is willing to listen to anything they want to say. He will get them a Kleenex or help them, but no big message. There is a lesson for us Christians to gleam from this . . . an important one.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Ecclesiastical - Prenuptial

I know that this whole concept might sound odd. But, based on what I recently went through as I tried to leave my old church, I felt like it was the smart thing to do.

I am attending a two week "Exploring Membership" class at my new church. At the end of the first 2 hour meeting the pastor asked if there were any pressing questions from the group that she could answer then, or work on for next week. She gave the example that many new people wants to know how the church stands on certain theological issues.

I thought for a while . . . but then I had to ask the following question;

You know, I hate to even bring this up. Here I am getting ready to join a new church, but I must ask, what would happen if I decided to leave in a few years? In other words, how does this church see my commitment to join? You see, some in my last church perceived my joining as the same commitment of a man marrying his wife. Therefore, this must mean my leaving is the same as divorce, and the leaving for another church is the same as betrayal (or adultery).

The pastor looked at me oddly, then she answered.

Oh. Good heavens no. I just had lunch today with a couple that said they were leaving. The hard thing was that they were also leaving The Church, never to attend anywhere again. I would have been delighted if they had chosen another church in town to attend and that wouldn't have bothered us all all. Certainly a church membership is nowhere near the same as two people getting married.

I did want to have lunch with them and I wrote them an e-mail promising if they would have lunch, that I would not, in any way, attempt to talk them in to coming back. But I just wanted to communicate to them that I love them and support them and that they are leaving in peace. I didn't say this as not to put guilt on them, but I am concerned about them because they don't want to go to any church and I will be praying for them.

It made me feel better. But it was an awkward question to ask, the same as asking a woman to marry you, but then talking about the congruency plan if later you want to divorce her.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Art of Self Deception

The Temple of Apollo at Delphi supposedly had the Greek inscription above the door, translated simply as "Know Thyself." It is certainly a goal worth pursuing, even though unobtainable.

One of my favorite verses (to illustrate this point) is Jer 17:9,10 describing the human heart (psyche, mind, etc) is unknowable and deceitful beyond anything else on earth.

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

10 “I the LORD search the heart
and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.”

I am reminded of this on a daily basis, as I see many patients who have no insight to their, rather serious, psychiatric disorders. There is a saying around medicine (the practice of) that those who are most seriously mentally ill . . . are usually the last to know.

Depressed people might go through denial, at least at first, then their depression becomes the inescapable fact (unless they blame the world, perpetually). Anxious people tend to deny their flaw longer, often converting their anxieties into physical illness.

But the really mad people, the sociopaths, psychopaths, personality disorder sufferers, will never know themselves because the very nature of their illness prevents it. This is the real darkness of the Fall. These people make life hell for those around them (even more so than for themselves). The same number of these people exist inside the church as outside. Inside (because Christians tend to be naive about psychological disorders, blaming everything on "spiritual issues") it often goes "undiagnosed."

Why am I talking about this again? Two reasons have brought this topic to the forefront of my mind.

I think in the lead up to Halloween, a local cable channel showed the psychological thriller, Hide and Seek, several times over the past couple of weeks. I saw the beginning on one day, then finished the story by reading it online the next day.

In the story, David (Robert De Niro) is a psychologist, who's wife commits suicide leaving him and his daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning). They move from the city to upstate New York. There, Emily seems to create an imaginary friend, Charlie. But before long it becomes apparent that Charlie is real because he does things that little Emily could not have done, from opening a stuck window to pushing a woman out of her window . . . killing her.

To make a long story short, David finally realizes that HE is Charlie. That like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde scenario, David (because of a multi personality disorder) transforms into Charlie. Indeed, it is later revealed, that his wife never committed suicide, but Charlie (David's alter ego) murdered her because she was having an affair. But, David knew nothing about his dark side until the end.

Now, I will take the story into the real-Christian context.

I've always enjoyed the true mystery shows, like NBC's Dateline and ABC's 20/20 especially when they deal with these psychological dramas (and even more so with it is about supposedly good people, doing horrible things). I think it is the same reason I like archeology programs, or some kind of science mystery. It is the intrigue that drives me, wanting to know more.

Last week 20/20 did a follow story about Matt Baker, a former Baptist pastor, whose wife died of "suicide" or so they thought. As the police investigated the story, there were many suspiciousness things coming to the surface, especially his friendship with a beautiful woman in his church. He was openly dating her within two weeks of his wife's death. He had 17 phone calls a day to her, starting well before his wife's death.

The new development was that the "other woman" finally came forward and described how her and pastor Baker had been sleeping together well before his wife's strange suicide and, in fact, he described to her in detail how he had suffocated his wife.

After that long introduction, here is the main point. Matt Baker swore, in his quiet, convincing, kind voice that he had never had an affair and had not killed his wife. A group of his closest friends stood by him saying he was a deeply kind and godly man.

By the day of the trial, he had to admit that he had been sleeping with the woman, although he still denies killing his wife.

Watching his very sincere, convincing video interview . . . any person in their right mind would believe him and trust him. But that's the way with psychopaths. They lie so well, that I think they can even start to believe their own lies.

On a much less serious level (than being a secret murderer) It leaves one to humbly ask God, "Search my heart and know me." It also gives me justification to trust, only with caution, the stated motives of other Christians. We are all warped . . . some, like Pastor Baker, seriously so.