Saturday, December 31, 2011

GERMFASK CHAPTER XI




Debra pulled out of Munising in her little, black Jetta, going up the steep hill to the top of the Peninsula plateau.  She turned out and left onto M28 for her drive to GERMFASK.  It was a lovely early autumn day. The sky was a deep, sapphiric blue. Far below the Pictured Rocks Cliffs she saw glimpses of Lake Superior in all her glory, a paler blue than the sky but stretching out to meet it at the northern horizon with a feathered edge. Debra noticed for the first time that the golden Autumn-fairy had lightly touched her magic wand to the tips of the maples, aspens and birches on the higher hills.  Soon, from these points of origins, gold would melt down across the hillcrests and then the valleys with such intensity that a prolonged look could make you go blind.  Even Vermont’s  mountains of October revert to greenness  in envy of this remote and obscure Autumn delight.

Debra was feeling stable on her feet once again after a scare just a week earlier. She was huddled in the ICU of the Flagstaff Medical Center, praying for her dear friend Father Randy.  The two of them had a wonderful, and long-planned, mule ride to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. However, in the middle of the night, in the bottom of the abyss, Father Randy awakened with crushing chest pains. It seemed like hours before the rescue helicopter could make its landing at clearing to pick him up.  Since there was only room for the patient and the medics, Debra had the torturous task of waiting until daybreak, without any cell tower coverage, to make her way back up the canyon wall to civilization. By the time she reached the hospital, Randy had already been evaluated, diagnosed and treated . . . with a stent to keep his circumflex artery open. 

But now they were both back in the Upper Peninsula.  This morning’s breakfast would be the first time she had seen or talked to Randy since they left each other at the Marquette airport four days earlier. He did ask her not to share his story with anyone. It was his sense that a priest has the calling to be the caregiver . . .  and not the cared-for.

Pulling into the graveled parking lot outside the inn with the sound of cracking limestone under her rubber tires, Debra noticed that all the cars of her fellow breakfasteers were there, including the mysterious stranger.  During her hour drive, she had meditated on how to pigeon-hole her views on the Gospel. She felt torn between what she questioned in her heart and what her church expected.

 She also felt this great uneasiness about the fact that she wasn’t prepared to answer the stranger.  Even after a BA degree from a Christian college and a Masters in theology and ministry. Even after having prepared for and delivered a thousand sermons in her career; too many Bible studies, funerals, weddings and other extraneous Christian ceremonies to count, she still wasn’t sure what the Gospel really was.

She would soon find out that it didn’t really matter.  Debra said her hellos around the table and took her usual spot between Father Randy and Greg Landis.  Everyone else were in their traditional seats, with Tom Hans just to the right of Greg, going counter-clockwise was followed by David Smith, then Mike Monroe and back to Father Randy to complete the circle.

As Debra slipped off her jacket and reached to her left and gave Randy a little hug, Sharon appeared and took her order . . . “I’ll try your mushroom and spinach omelet. That’s new isn’t it?” asked Debra.  Sharon smiled and nodded.

Debra looked around the table and saw the faces of each of the men for the first time with consideration.  Mr. Han’s cheeks were quite red, like sunburned, if not that, then wind burned.  The stranger then spoke while she was still studying his form . . . as if to help her made a judgment if he really could be extra-terrestrial.

“Friends, I hope you had a wonderful summer vacation.  I’ve spent the time in study and contemplation. I know on our last meeting I was trying to get you to define the Gospel. This is very important to my people and a clear definition is imperative. However, and I shouldn’t have been surprised, that we got nowhere fast.  There was a spectrum around the table as what constitutes a ‘true believer.’”

Tom continued, “I think, that despite my years of study from a distance, I under-estimated to what extend that you earth-dwellers reason from emotion than logic.That emotion, of course, is deeply fused with your sense of value. As I told you before, and I don’t want to offend you in any way (reaching out and touching David on his left arm and smiling at him) but our people discovered a long time ago to separate those two parts of our brain’s processing. We reason and make decisions from logic. We save the emotions simply for personal enjoyment.”

David looked almost angry, “I have to disagree with you.  I think we are very logical.”

Tom smiled with a kind smile, “Hmm . . . I know that you think that, but it isn’t true.  Here is my point. We couldn’t have a logical discussion around this table about what is the Gospel, because each person’s position on the topic has been set in concrete . . . or at least a thick mud. That setting has to do with your personal up-bringing and your social context and not about logic.  You can't speak against what your group thinks, or it would take away your sense of value . . . and emotional issue.

Tom paused for a minute and then continued, "You would like to think it was through a logical process, but it wasn’t. Therefore, when it is set in hardened emotional-congregate all you have left to do is to defend that position to the bitter end.  So, to save a lot of time, I simply searched the electronosphere . . . woops . . . I mean what you call the Internet, and read what your churches teach.  I read both your denominational views and in some cases, such as Debra’s here, I read you actual church’s web site for that information. So, now it is a moot point because I know that none of you will sway from those positions.”

David spoke again, “I still disagree with you and am a bit offended that you think that we reason from emotions. If I didn’t believe exactly what the Church of God, Cleveland, Tennessee to be exact, believed, I would be out the door tomorrow. But it is my personal study of scriptures that has led me to my position, using logic and inspiration from the Holy Spirit.”

Tom smiled again, “Nope, it isn’t true. You wouldn’t change your position no matter what someone else said or what you read in scripture because to do so would have tremendous emotional consequences to you. You would have to leave your church. You would be unemployed. You would lose your insurance. You would have to find a job or new denomination that would accept you as a pastor and lastly, and where most of the rigidity comes from in your concrete, you would lose your friends. They would think less of you if you didn’t believe like they do. So the consequences are just too great for you to change your mind.”

Sharon showed up with three plates, two of omelets and one of an assortment of tomatoes, fresh ones, fried ones and even a special tomato pudding that she made just for Tom. He smiled and thanked her.

Then he continued, “This is very different among my people. We figured this out a long time ago. We reach our positions of thought, our decisions of life, based on the logic God has given us . . . then we enjoy the emotions that come later. We never put emotional pressure on others to think like we do. It is not political or emotional.  We do not feel threatened when someone doesn’t think like we do. We enjoy logical dialog and that dialog has real consequences. If there is enough logic presented, we do change our minds.  This is why we have never had a Dark Age. This is why we stopped the very illogical thing called war a long time ago.  But don’t be offended, all your society thinks from emotions. Your atheists are just as bad or worse about it. They conform to those they study and work with on an emotional level, not on a logical level. You could not thrive very well emotionally if you had a deep conviction about Christianity being true and getting a higher degree in a program where atheism is highly esteemed.”

Tom slipped two freshly cut tomatoes into his mouth and smiled.

“So, back to what I was saying, Uh . . .”

A voice came from Tom’s left, “I think this is one area that I might side with David on,” said Greg.  "I started out a long time ago as a Baptist, then I became a Methodist minister and now I’m attending a Unitarian congregation as a retired Methodist minister. So, we can change our minds.”

Tom answered, “Oh, I never said that you don’t change your minds, but you earth dwellers convince yourselves that you reach certain positions because of logic, or as David was saying, that God speaks directly to you with certain facts, which are not evident through the senses.  But that isn’t true most of the time. Greg, I challenge you to go back and review your changes in course. I suspect that those changes happened on emotional factors. You met people who you liked and who thought differently. You wanted to be their friend, so you started to think more like them. I suspect you left the Baptist church when you figured out you were gay and that might be why you like the Unitarians so much. Once you people make a decision on an emotional level, you go back and support that decision with some logic to continue the illusion.”

Father Randy spoke, “I’m not sure that is so bad. God works though society and teaches us from one another and sometimes that teaching comes through conformity to those whom we love.”

Tom seemed to me more confrontation than before their August break as he looked intensely at Father Randy, “Father all due respect, but as a man of the Catholic cloth, you are closely bound by your church’s teaching. You could not publically say that the Protestants are right in their view of the Gospel because to do so, you would have to step down from your position, maybe be excommunicated and it would have a profound change in your life. Your views on the Gospel are strictly limited by the concrete restraints of your church. So, I don’t need to put you in the position of trying to explain to me what you think the Gospel really is, I just will take one of your church’s manuals on the Gospel.”

There was an uneasy silence around the table.  No one noticed that Mike had left to take a phone call on his cell and had returned.

Tom spoke once more after downing a teaspoon of his pink pudding.  “So I will end this topic by summarizing that there are two views of the Gospel. One is that God gave it as a gift to completely cleanse us from our guilt and allow us to stand boldly in His presence. However some of you, such as you Father and you, David, believe that the Gospel is not enough in itself but must be combined with other rituals.”

“I do not believe such things!” said David in almost a shout.

“David,” said Tom, “Did you not define the true believer by many terms of rituals?  They are the ones who watch certain TV, read certain books, aren’t gay, aren’t Democrats and etc.?”

David just stared in silence.

Tom continued, “So here is the question I really want you to think about for next week. This is very, very important to my people. What is the Church?  What is required of us for being a Church?  I would love to hear your honest opinions and base it as much as possible on logic and what you read in scripture.  I give you permission to say things that your church or your Christian friends don’t believe. “

Tom cleared his throat and continued, “You see, our people don’t have any type of meeting that you would call church. We are in some sense a theocracy because we don’t separate our government from our belief in God. So when we meet to do the business of our society, well, that is as close as we come to what might look like a church. But now that I will be taking the scriptures back with us, we want to know what they really say about church.”


It is New Year's Eve and I had to type in a rush without proofing. I hope to come back and fix the errors, bare with me please.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

GERMFASK PART II, A REINTRODUCTION

I will begin with a quick review. You may also do a site search on this blog for "GERMFASK" and all previous chapters will appear.

Synopsis: GERMFASK, is the name of a tiny, isolated village in the eastern end of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The major town business is the Jolly Inn, which is a restaurant and inn with two rooms for let. The proprietors are Arnie and his wife Sharon, transplants from Chicago.

 In this restaurant an impromptu ecumenical discussion group formed when the local Catholic priest, Father Randy, and Mike Monroe, the pastor of Manistique Community Church, bonded over a dying perisher. Later two additional pastors had joined the group including David Smith, a Church of God minister and Gregory Landis, a retired Methodist minster from Grand Rapids. The men met each Wednesday morning over cups of coffee and Sharon's famous omelets. They didn't meet to discuss theological issues. To do so, they knew would quickly drive them apart. Instead they met just to be friends, friends who share a common experience of leading (or had led in the case of Rev. Landis) congregations.

One Monday morning a new, odd stranger (who went by the name Tom Hans) came into the restaurant. Not only was his face new, but he seemed strange in many other ways . . . in both behavior and looks. He was tall and very thin.  Sharon was totally engulfed in curiosity about the man. When he started asking theological questions, Sharon invited him to be part of the Wednesday morning discussion group.

The traditional members were somewhat hesitant to allow the stranger to join them . . . at least they didn't share Sharon's enthusiasm. The main reason that the breakfast was at time of peace for the me and trying to answer someone's theological questions they knew would dig up some controversy.

Mr. Hans did join the group. While the usual members expressed great curiosity about him, Mr. Hans tired to redirect the attention to his own questions. Finally, at an impasse, Mr. Hans revealed that he was from another planet. He was a descendant of a lost tribe from Babel.  His tribe was made up of the engineers of the tower, so when God dispersed them, as Tom's story goes, he sent the actual tower designers to a different planet, Teyvat (meaning ark in old Hebrew). Tom's people are called Hanserians, meaning the engineer tribe.

While the Hanserians had their traditional history, and knew their origins well, they didn't have scriptures to teach them specifics of human history and God's interactions with people. They were a far more advanced civilization than earthlings. They based their great advancement on the fact that they had learned to rightly divide reason and emotions to their proper places . . . decisions come from reason, emotions are for personal enjoyment.  Humans, on the other, make most of their decisions from emotions.  In their advancement, Hanserians figured out how to travel long distances and including visiting earth.

Their tribal history told them that they were from earth and that is where they would find the answers to their destiny.  For this reason, they had studied earth, from afar, for decades.  Tom Hans was one of the "spies" sent to study humans on a more personal level and to learn what they know of God and His Gospel.

Debra, a good friend of Father Randy and a Presbyterian pastor from the town of Munising.  Because she too became intriged with the stranger, she, by Father Randy's invitation, drove the 100 mile round trip to join the Wednesday morning round table discussions.

By the time Part I ended, most of the people were still skeptical of Tom Hans.  Some thought he was crazy, a con man or someone with a wild imagination.  However, because of Tom's uncanny ability to read people, Greg was starting to believe him.

It was the beginning of August and several of the group's members were taking trips so they adjourned until after Labor Day.  It is now September 7th and the group is being reunited.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Scriptures Revisited

One of you said the other day that they don't even read the Bible anymore . . . nor do I.  I do read our passages in church, but that is about it.

For the twenty years I sought to be a disciple, I read scriptures daily, usually for at least an hour. I believed . . . and was led to believe . . . that if I missed one day of reading, then God would be mad at me plus I would probably be in the ditch with a bottle of Jack Daniels and a hooker by the next day.  We were taught that the Bible is the bread of life, so miss it one day and you starve to death spiritually.

But I disagree with that. Sometimes I think it is even healthy to get away from scriptures, for a while.  The reason is, we can become so indoctrinated into what scriptures mean that what we are really doing is looking at words on a page and our minds are "reading" what we  have been told it means . . . if that makes sense.

I remember years ago when I was in the thick of Arabic school in Cairo.  It was the hardest think I had ever done. It was called "Intensive Arabic Studies" and it was.  My mind was so overloaded that I couldn't even remember English grammar anymore. So, the first year ended.  We ( my wife and our three small sons, ages 1-5) flew to Switzerland and lived in a pup tent for a month . . . because my wife and I were both near an emotional breakdown (things you can't say in a missionary news letter).  It was soooooooooo refreshing.  Backpacking down to the village below us once a week to buy groceries, then back up on the mountain.  I never gave Arabic one thought during that month.

It was the most amazing thing that when we landed back in Cairo, I came out of the airport, into the busy streets . . . and I could speak Arabic . . . for the first time. I wasn't fluent, but I could speak, put together sentences with proper syntax and conjugated verbs.

So, I actually think it is a good thing to get away from scriptures for awhile. But I feel poised to go back.  Our pastor asked for volunteers to read through the Bible in 90 days. I was tempted to sign up.  But, like Johan said, I am so busy right now. I'm still trying to get a business off the ground and keep itt afloat.  I did make a financial pledge to my new church and am failing that badly so I don't want to make a pledge to read the Bible in 90 days.

The thing is, I'm looking forward, now that my mind has been emptied from all the Evangelical socialization, to try and see what it really says.

I'm also poised to get back to my GERMFASK story, which I promised to finish. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lackadaisical Spirituality

Okay, this thought will be a little hard to follow . . . yet I will try.

A long time ago in a university far away, I had a roommate that had a brief obsession with miniature furniture.  I never figured it out. But he sanded, glued, even nailed with nails smaller than a stick pin, for hours.  Maybe, years later, when I was trying to restore a real piece of antique furniture did I get it. At least the miniature version would have taken a lot less time and money to complete.

But I was thinking today how we come up with hobbies, interests and obsessions and sometimes loose them.  Maybe I've lost a few. I used to be an avid backpacker. But I haven't been since . . . oh, that's right I went last summer. Hmmm . . . and the year before that I backpacked in Nepal for three weeks. But it doesn't obsess me like before.  I think part of the reason is that I now live in the woods.

So this is the season of Christmas . . . and the Republican primary.  Because of the two aforementioned things, one theme keep showing up on the news . . . the life of Christians and Evangelicals in particular. So it is really strange, hard to put into words, but I have virtually no interest in the things I once thought were the essence of being spiritual.

Sometimes I find it scary.  Am I spiritually dead? That would have been my conclusion if me from 15 years ago was to judge me from today.

But, one way to look at it, is that evangelicalism use to be my hobby and obsession.  Now, I have zero (with a big Z) interest in going to a Bible conference, a Christian concert ("contemporary Christian music"), or anything that smelled of religion.  I don't even feel motivated to visit Imonk any more. I do rush over now and then to check out the topics. Some of the more philosophical or cultural issues interest me. But I have no interest in the more "religious" conversations, even Advent. I think Mike Spencer use to deal with more of the non-religious issues of Christianity. But I still like that community.

So, I'm not sure what's wrong with me.  But, I have a sense that it is not spiritual dead-ness, but the typical loss of interest in the hobby of churchianity or whatever you want to call it. What gives me this assurance (that I'm not spiritually dead) is my great interest still in topics of real philosophy (what I mean by "real" is not just the history of philosophy, who said what, but the real questions of life).  While I would not want to go to a Christian concert, I would love deeply to go to Handel's Messiah, with a full orchestra and wonderful choir and we swept away by its (actually pointing to God's) grandeur.

I have also never been more sure of God, the Christian God that is, being there . . . but, like I said a few post ago, I still don't have certainty. But fifteen years ago, when I did have surface certainty, I had deep and dark doubts in my private world.

So, just like when you were in a miniature furniture making club and then loose interest, it is hard to strike up a conversation with those who were once part of that club.  I feel out of place when I run into my Evangelical friends. The things they want to talk about, "God blessing the Denver Broncos with wins because of Tim Tebow's faithfulness to the Lord." doesn't interest me. However, I could sit, spell bound, for hours discussing a good book, a great film or piece of art  . . .  and how it relates to us being human, and God being God.

I have the feeling that others are in my shoes. Loss of the hobby of Christianity, but wrapped up in the essence of it.

In conclusion, I wanted to watch a very interesting film on PBS last night . . . Lord Save Us From Ourselves, by Don Merchant.  I wanted so much to follow it, but I kept falling asleep.  But it seemed to me that Mr. Merchant also had this strange outsider view of people of his faith.

Okay, I'll shut up for now.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

I Really Do Like My Church

I know that it may be strange hearing this coming from me, but I thought it was time I made such a statement While I know that not everyone who comes here is a "post-evangelical," for those who are, I do respect the variety of ways you have come to terms with it.

I know a couple who just simply don't darken the doors of any organized church anymore, and I respect that.  I know where you are coming from and I came close to choosing that path. I also know that 99.9% of evangelicals would scream how un-biblical it is to not go to church. But I believe that has nothing to do with the Bible, but much more to do with the centuries that the various church organizations have used guilt as a tool of social coercion to force people to go to church, organized church that is.  What the Bible simply says is that it is not good to be a Christian and to be alone.  It is good to meet with other Christians.  That could be in a bar. For me, my best church has happened in a coffee shop.

I also respect the choice that some of my good Evangelical friends have made, like David, one of my best friends from my Navigator days, to join a old church ( meaning Catholic or Orthodox). I could easily have seen myself joining an Orthodox church if one was in town.

But a year and half ago, I joined the big, old Presbyterian church. It is in a smaller version of a cathedral and no that isn't it pictured.  I wrote very candidly about the process of making the switch. It was very, very ugly.  The pastor of my old Evangelical church was mad as hell about it, but he puts on the front that he only opposed me leaving his church because he sees it as me leaving God.  He came to my  house and chewed my ass out like it had never been chewed . . . in a very long time. I still have bite marks on my buttocks.

So with that said, I am SOOOOOOOOoooooooo happy I made the switch.  I enjoy going to church service on Sunday mornings, the first time in a decade or more.  I love sitting in the brick cathedral (I know that Protestant churches aren't "cathedrals") and listening to the pipe organ. But the thing I like the most is the space.  The geographic space inside the church is one thing. I mean, if you wanted you could have a pew to yourself even though two hundred people were there.

But what I really mean is the spiritual, intellectual and emotional space.  In my Evangelical churches, I was constantly being told what to do, what to think and how to act . . . to be a good Christian.  Not so here. When I met with the pastor, before I joined, I asked her about this freedom.  This church is theologically conservative, however, she pointed out that there is a complete rainbow of people who come.

There are probably (I don't know of any but they certainly would feel comfortable) open gays who attend.  There were plenty of cars with Obama stickers on the bumper.  On the other side, I have met a couple of people who are extreme right-fundamentalist types. One I felt sure was an escapee from a mental institution.   He made Jerry Falwell look like a New Ager.

But I have freedom to think. I can raise questions, as I do here, and find that others have raised the same questions. I couldn't imagine an entire Sunday school class, like in my old church, suggesting that I wasn't even a Christian because I believed that the earth was very, very old.

But I will let it rest here.  I just wanted to point out, as critical as I often am, how much I enjoy my church. I must end because I'm late for the 11 AM service.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Blessing of Holiday Depression

Most of us feel depressed, at least at times, during the holidays.  There is a good reason for that. Thanksgiving and Christmas are time capsules.  They carry vivid memories of holidays past. For some of us, those memories are of childhood.  I've always said that childhood is the most idealized time of life, and for many of us the happiest. As children (unless we were abused) we see the world as a place of wonder, a place to explore and learn. We had not yet tasted the disappointments of life, sickness, death  and betrayal.

There are also memories for some of us, of our own children during their wonder years.

Then those are memories of those we loved and are gone. The holidays seems to have a special place for those we've lost.

Time is the great thief, stealing our wonder years, those we've loved and our own health. The holidays are a great reminder of that which was stolen.

The blessing of feeling depressed, is the glory of being human.  There is a time for laughing . . . and a time for crying.  All are on the spectrum of being human and in that we are blessed.

I haven't decided yet if time is a result of the fall of Adam, or a twisted gift from God.  After all, time also steals our sorrows. There is no doubt that it hurts much more right after the loss, than after the passage of a lot of time.

The false Christian message is that we must always smile, always look at the bright side, and feel guilty about having moments of sadness.  But sadness is part of being human, of being real. The grief testifies to the value of the person we lost, or the value of those special times when we were small, or our kids were.  The loss is real and deserves real sadness in its wake.

Of course I'm not talking about clinical depression. That is piece of hell on earth. I'm speaking here of garden variety sadness. The sadness in the back ground, or of that which overwhelms you for a few minutes, or an entire morning. But enjoy your grief, for a brief season and feel no guilt about it. It is living in reality.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Art of Shadow Boxing

The first time I ever heard this term . . . I'm sorry to say . . . was being applied to myself (regrettably).  To be honest, I didn't know what it meant for two reasons.

The first reason is simply I didn't understand what the term was referring to in general. Secondly, I didn't know what it was referring to in my own personal life.

This line "Mike you go though life shadowboxing" I eventually realized, was spot-on.  I've said before, the only thing that is more disturbing than someone criticizing you falsely . . . is someone criticizing you correctly.

This letter was written by my previous missionary boss, Curt.  It was in the middle of an extremely difficult time in our lives, living in a slum in Cairo, alone and cut off our our missionary group and with some sick children.

What led to this statement, was that I had just exploded at the boss, via letter. He was like the Wizard of Oz, never seen face to face and I couldn't talk to him. But he was dead right about me.  This was at the event horizon, that thin line between what once was, but to never to be again.

Up until that point, I was the ideal evangelical, even more so than my boss.  I had just finished ten years in a Navigator training center.  I wanted to be perfect, and I thought I was almost there.  Part of perfection facade was the belief that I was never angry, smiled all the time and thanked Jesus all the time.

But I had just exploded at my boss.  How do you go from no anger to instant rage?  You don't.  I had been pissed at him for a couple of years . . . and the piss-y-ness had been growing and growing. I hated the man in the deep places of my real heart.  But on the surface, I was shadow-boxing . . . smiles, thanking Jesus, talking about my wonderful boss.

This was at the very start of my journey for honesty.  I was a very dishonest person.  I'm still not completely honest but I strive to be. The striving is what is different, not the arriving. Honestly is not well received in Evangelical circles.  My old pastor would have loved the old Mike, smiles and praises to Jesus constantly.

I may have told this story before, but a few years ago a old college friend was corresponding with me. She was the campus president of a Christian ministry. He husband was leader of the Evangelical community. They, like us, have five children, all seemingly perfect on the surface. Star athletes, in all kinds of Christian ministries and etc. But one day, completely out of context, I got this strange letter from her.  She voiced how much she hated her husband. That in their private world they fight all the time about money.  She despised him for his porn addiction, she hated him for his womanizing and the list went on and on.  But what concerned me the most that she finished that e-mail by saying that she is in a constant thought about either trying to murder him or kill herself.

Okay, this isn't about  her, but the principle.  I was very concerned.  I didn't know what to say, but I e-mailed her about it . . . that e-mail was met with silence.  I e-mailed again . . . silence.  I begged her to respond, to get into therapy.  She was so silent, that I thought her e-mail wasn't working. But then, one day, she picked up e-mailing me and our other college friends just like nothing had happened.  She would say things about how happy she was, that her husband was her hero and a real man of God and etc.

I always feel puzzled by these things.  It seems to be all around me.  I know of terrible things going on in people's lives, yet, you have to pretend you don't know. You have to live in the Platonic (on the cave wall) type of shadows.  You have to pretend goodness and smile.  Oh, if only I could be the shadow boxer I once was, how well life would be.  The avoidance of conflict. The life of peace, even though that peace would be only shadow thick. But once again I'm faced with this dilemma of the fact if God is really there, then He is a God of truth. If truth is good, then pretending is false. I should seek truth. But that doesn't work out in reality.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Knowing Part VI - Finale

If I had a philosophical motivation, it would be towards total honesty, meaning honesty on an intellectual and emotional level. The reason that I pick honesty as a philosophical centerpiece is that, if God is there, and I believe He is, then He is the essence of truth. Therefore the more we see truth at all levels, including the emotional level, then the closer we are to Him. It is that simple.

Secondly, and this is somewhat of a no-brainer, as a Christian, I believe that God speaks truth through His historical narrative (scripture) and through created reality.  If there are inconsistencies between the two, then one of my interpretations must be wrong.  If the Bible clearly said that the earth was six thousand years old (which it does not) and the geographical record screamed of a much older earth, then my interpretations of at least one must be wrong.

For decades, as an Evangelical, I also sought "truth."  I put the quotes there intentionally because that "truth" was not honest truth, but dogma.  It is were I was taught the "right" way to think. My process of seeking truth was opposing all that was inconsistent with that teaching of my Evangelical sub-culture. So in some ways, it wasn't seeking truth at all.

Okay, now back to knowing, which is much more fundamental than Christian dogma vs honest truth.

I've established that in my humble opinion there can be no certainty in the minds of fallen people. Those who profess certainty,  such as the Evangelicals or the absolute Atheists-Materialist, are the ones most dishonest.

So, and I think I've said this before, there is no single, easy path.  All possible paths have built in absurdity at some point and that includes the Christian path.  My answer for this is easy . . . once again, I blame it all the Fall of Adam.  In this Christian paradigm, if we were not fallen, our senses could be fully trusted as could our brain's reasoning and interpretation of those senses. But that's not the case.

So, because all roads have absurdity, then it isn't like most of the paths are uphill except for the one true path and it is clear and smooth. All paths are uphill. So that puts your starting point in the bottom of a crater.

But first you must have the starting point.  I spoke about this two posts ago.  You can make the argument that we are not here . . . such as we are a butterflies dream, or that we are not here for other reasons. Even some of the materialist are starting to make this argument through the notions of string theory that we are not really here. We are at least points of energy (strings) rather than mass . . . or, the most bizarre, we are holographic projections from the ancient contents of black holes. But I won't even waste anymore time with that thought.

So then, we move from the far left one notch to Descartes.  At the nadir of the crater, rest the position we are here because we have consciousnesses.  If you take the path up, along the materialists' paradigm, some of the path is easy, flat and smooth.  You can explain the old age of the universe and many strictly scientific facts about the universe.  But then you come to the steep sides of being human.  The only position that a materialist can have is that we are protein and carbohydrate constructed robots, that self-constructed through enormous periods of time with only chance being the guide. Therefore, you suddenly loose all meaning, all sense of ethics, all hope and etc. The steepest part of the wall is that no human can live this way.  Even the greatest of the materialists can't live this way.

Now, the fact that we can't live this way doesn't prove that it is not true, but it creates a conflict that we would be a certain way (having consciousnesses, a longing for meaning) but where there is none. I became a Christian as a teenager afer laying in my bed for months thinking about the fact that I am real, inside my head. I could touch my face and feel it.  Everyone else could be a bio-robot, but I knew that I wasn't. The late Francis Schaeffer said it is an evolutionary failure. It would be as if fish evolved lungs on a planet where there is no free oxygen, only water.  That is the point of absurdity.

The other great absurdity of the strictly materialists is the "prime mover" issue. How can all that there is, come from nothing, without a prime force?  I beg you to meditate on this for days and you will find the absurdity. But you do have to start from nothing. You can't start with some laws of physics or quantum mechanics.  If matter and anti-matter suddenly split (or energy and anti or even dark energy) making the universe . . . there HAD to be a process to cause the enormous divide or big Bang.  Honest scientists know that this is a point of absurdity and they escape it by trying not to think about it.

I won't talk about my views about pantheism because I'm running out of time. I will just briefly mention that their major point of absurdity comes in some of the same areas.  There is no personal God, but god is everything and everything is god. So the steep parts of the crater is that there can be no real meaning and no morals.  Now a good Hindu, Buddhist or New Ager  (and I think of Gandhi as one example) can have great personal morals . . . but they are build on tissue paper philosophically. That same system has created the greatest racism on the planet, in the caste system.

I will differ from my personal idol Schaeffer on this next point, and this the absurdity of Christianity.  As an Evangelical I was taught that it is the only smooth and rational path. But it has it's problems too.  I will pick one, which the atheists point to all the time, and that is the fact that God IS silent.  I know that one of Schaeffer's greatest books was He is There and He is Not Silent . . . but us be honest about it folks, He is silent in the present age.  This is not a theological position. It is not a truth I've gleamed from scripture, but a simple observation of reality.

Now you can twist the issue. You can say that God is not silent because we see His beauty all around us. That is true and I think an un-fallen mind could full appreciate that. But, it is not a strong argument that God is behind it rather than chance.

Most Christians say that God is not silent because they can "hear" his voice, or "feel Him" in their hearts. Some claim they have seen His supernatural miracles.  It is extremely unpopular (and the main reason that many of my Evangelical friends no longer like me very much) to doubt these things. But I'm just being honest that all of these can be explained away through psychological factors.  I've witnessed as many "miracles' as any Evangelical and I can now, that I'm more honest, attest that none of them seem more than psychological wishful thinking.

As a side bar, I do think Christian apologetics are helpful . . . when they don't exaggerate. Christian apologists are notorious (just like their materialist counterparts) for exaggerations. Josh McDowel is an example.  But I am helped by archaeological finds that support scriptures. I am helped by historical and philosophical arguments  So they certainly do have their place.  But we can never reach certainty by them.

But, in my final statement, I personally believe that the Christian path up the steep crater is a little less steep than some of the others and that is why I am a Christian.  My point of this entire series is that Christians should be given the freedom to doubt, to be less than certain, to explore and think . . . yet have a dynamic relationship with the God . . . who we feel pretty sure is there.

I also have something to say in support of us "Uncertains."  If Biblical faith is the act of the will, to step out and trust God in something He has said (think of Abraham here), then who exhibits that most admirable faith?  Is the person who abstains from sexual relationship with their girlfriend (I pick this example not because I'm obsessed with the topic, but because sexual abstinence is one of the most difficult test of faith I can think of) because they are certain that God is there and sex is sin that will make God angry at them.  Or is it the person who is not absolutely certain God is there but abstains because they think that He is there enough that they are willing to discipline themselves not to, because if God is there, then his design of total commitment between two people makes sex much better and in its proper place?  Okay, maybe that wasn't clear to you, but I think the second person exhibits the greatest faith. Because in their 10% area of uncertainty, they could easily rationalize away and say, okay if God isn't there, it doesn't matter . . . so I might as well do it. Did I loose you?


Friday, December 9, 2011

Knowing Part V - So?

So the teens get back from their regional youth conference. They are invited to lead the next Sunday morning service.  Some sang.  A few do a skit. Two are lined up to give testimonies, and one preached.

James it the first to speak during testimony time.

"Thank you for letting me come.  I really had a good time at the conference. We got to hang out a lot, play paint ball and do some rock climbing. It was a lot of fun.  I got to hear some interesting talks which got me thinking a lot.  I love God and I am so thankful for the Good News of the Gospel. I'm quite confident that the whole Christian story is true and that gives me great hope and I'm ready to live consistent with those beliefs."

He hardly notices the extreme quiet in the room and how many of the congregation were even starting to squirm in their seats a bit.

Britney comes up next.  She starts to cry (she doesn't realize why she is crying. She is crying out of nervousness and performance anxiety).  In her weepy voice she says, "God is sooooo real to me! I feel the Spirit of God on me." The tears flow. "I knew the day I met Him the first time that he was there and I've never doubted that for a second." Amen's break out.  Her self-confidence grows.  "Jesus was there at the retreat.  I could feel his arms around me and they were as real as any real arms I've ever felt . . . even more real than  my mom's arms and I know  my mom loves me a lot."  She continues to cry as bright smiles are everywhere in the church.  She goes on, "I saw so many miracles and people these days don't say miracles still happen but they do!"  Amens continue. "I watched as Amanda, who could never swim before, swim across the deep end of the pool.  It was just like the water was holding her up . . . but we all knew it was Jesus."  Amen! "One boy said he actually saw the arms of Jesus beneath the water."  The people are smiling.

As tears continue down her face she adds, "I don't understand why James just THINKS God is there, I know He is. I feel him in my soul in a very real way. I know exactly what He is saying to me in His Bible.  When I read it the Spirit tells me exactly what God wants me to know.  I just know that God said it, I believe it and that settles it!"  Cheers break out.

Later the senior pastor approached the youth pastor and asked, "I think James was a poor choice for a testimony.  However, I think the Spirit moved the whole congregation through Britney.  She is a tremendous gal. It sounds like James went just to have fun."  The youth pastor felt bad.

So, down on the honest level, James took the conference very seriously.  He spent a lot of his time studying the scriptures between the  meetings to check the validity of what the speakers were saying. He did enjoy the games and hanging out with his friends too

Britney had as much fun as James.  She did all the games and even cut out a couple of the talks (which was against the rules) to hang out with her friends.  During one of the afternoon sessions, she sneaked out to meet her boyfriend, Nate.  While everyone was in the big auditorium, Britney and Nate found a cabin that was closed up for the winter. They got a window open, sneaked in and . . . as Nate had been strategizing for a while, to close the deal and have sex. That was the real highlight of her weekend.

Discussion:

I don't mean any disrespect in the above, fictional, story . . . but I have been a youth and have been around many youth (raising five kids) and I wanted to tell the story, and the irony of the story in graphic, honest detail . . . consistent with reality.

The point is, we Christians value certainty (not certainly as I mis-typed before) above all else.  This puts tremendous pressure on lifting up the kids who are certain and demishing the value kids who think and ponder, but are never certain.

The great error in certainty is that, in my humble opinion, it is never possible for fallen brains to reach true certainty.  Therefore, two groups, the Christians and the confident materialists both claim certainty.

I must explain how I'm using the term "materialists" here. I mean the atheists who are atheists because they believe that they have reached certainty through logic, however, they ignore the fact that logic starts with the premise that if it can't be examined empirically, then it doesn't exist . . . which defiles logic.  So both those groups, who express great certainty  . . . are really like two peas in a pod rather than totally opposites.

Often I've seen kids who were brought up in Evangelical worlds and taught that intellectual certainty is the only moral position to have.  So, when they start to learn in college that some of the things that they learned in Sunday School, were lies, then pitch all of Christianity and flee to the materialist position because the two are so similar.  This was especially true decades ago.

Now, it may be more common to them to take the other extreme of total ambivalence to truth.  They give up their search for certainty altogether because when you become a materialists and you are honest about it, you MUST give up all hope, all morals and all meaning.  Most materialists don't give up these things because they are dishonest and allow cracks in their seams for meaning to sneak in. Carl Sagan did this all the time. Even his TV show set looked very similar to a TV evangelist's set . . . screaming meaning.  This ambivalence is translated into the new (or what we use to call New Age) spiritualism or a twist on eastern mysticism.

I will do one more  posting describing where I personally stand in this area and my final conclusions.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Knowing Part IV




The strictly empiricist-materialist (what I mean by this are those who only believe in the visible world and only believe that truth can be reached by observable research) start to snicker at this point. After all, their truth is based purely on observation of reality and processed through logic . . .  or is it? That, they think, puts them intellectually, if not morally, above those of faith. But even their world starts to soften if they are honest with themselves.

The problem with these empiricist-materialists is that their observations are completely dependent on their human sensory input and deductive processes of those senses.

At one point I thought that they had the safest position. But then as I matured and started seeing more of the world I met the paranoid schizophrenics, who—based on their observations of the world and deductive logic—concluded with absolute certainty, that they were radishes in Mr. McGregor’s garden.

Without going to that extreme of mental illness (schiz or split from reality), you start to find people who were almost normal, but paranoid. They function in society but believe that their scientific research was sabotaged by a competitor . . . when it just failed on its own. You will find others, such as us who suffer from social anxiety, who believe that we are un-liked by others when actually we are not. All of the above are examples of either defective senses or, more likely, defective processors in our brains.

Then to really play it safe, you try to avoid all dependency on either the senses or the brain’s logic. That is exactly what Descartes did when eventually reached the point where he made the most famous quote in philosophy, “Cogito ergo sum.” That, in some ways, was like the bumper-post on the very end of a railroad track. It represents the dead end of pure empiricism. He fortunately used that as a starting point rather than an end point.

If you push beyond empiricism where you have no trust in the senses or thoughts, you can enter the “Matrix” type of doubt of all perception. Are we in comas and what we perceive is being sent to our brains via a complex network of input cables? Taking the same idea into the more philosophical route you reach the thinking of the Chinese philosopher/writer Zhuangzi, who shared this story;



Once Zhuang Zhou dreamed he was a butterfly, a fluttering butterfly. What fun he had, doing as he pleased! He did not know he was Zhou. Suddenly he woke up and found himself to be Zhou. He did not know whether Zhou had dreamed he was a butterfly or a butterfly had dreamed he was Zhou. Between Zhou and the butterfly there must be some distinction. This is what is meant by the transformation of things.

My point is the act of knowing is not categorical, meaning a group A (faith only) vs a B (empirical), but is more of a continuum. On one end, say to the far right, you have the notion that knowledge is somewhat Gnostic. What I mean by that, is that the “knowing” is purely subjective. God is there because I feel Him and you can’t argue against that statement. They are the only ones who claim absolute certainty but that certainty is built on tissue-paper mâché. It is the same mentality that allows a Taliban to chop someone’s head off because they have absolute certainty that the person deserves to have their head chopped off and that is what God wants. This type of certainty is often touted as the Christian ideal . . . but is it?

If you keep going on this continuum you pass through the partial mixture of the empirical and gnostic. As you move further to the left, you move into pure empiricism, where you trust only your sensory (physical) perceptions. Then if you continue moving to the left, you seek an even greater certainty of knowledge, so you start to doubt even the empirical observations. Eventually you reach the Cogito ergo sum point. If you introduce even more doubt and you move on to the complete uncertainty and absurdity of the Zhuang Zhou position.

In a simpler labeling of the spectrum, you start on the right with certainty in all you know because it is Gnostic in nature. You end on the left with complete uncertainty in all things.

I think my point in this post is two-fold. First of all, it is to understand that in the process of knowing, we must reject the categorical model of some of the materialists (and some Christians), that you are either a strict empiricist or you are a complete anti-rational, Gnostic (or pick your terms; New Ager, Existentialist). 



Secondly, it is to point out that there are no safe places along this continuum. It is a farce to believe that we can reach certainty. I can say this, not because I'm not a good Christian, but because I do believe scriptures when they reveal the fallen nature of humanity. A fallen person can not have intellectual certainty . . . but that doesn't mean that all that is left on the table is the despair of uncertainty. You can have a choice in what you believe to be true and you can have hope . . . even in the absence of certainty.  The problem has been, we have required certainly of our kids' faith . . . thus we force them to the extreme right of the spectrum where the foundations are made of mâché.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Knowing Part III


When you are a little kid, the process of knowing isn’t even visible or self-evident. You just know some things, but mostly you live in a state of complete wonder about the world around you.  It is a unique time in your life. I suspect we are most happy before puberty . . . except for those, of course, who have grown up in abusive homes.

But as you step out of your shell of a life you start to discover that other people live in different universes . . . philosophically.  My earliest remembrance of this was Amanda, the little girl in third grade who didn’t celebrate Christmas because she was a Jehovah’s Witness.

It was easy to resolve this at first, as my father and mother explained that they reason they believed differently from us was . . . because Amanda’s whole family were very stupid people.  I accepted that . . . for a while . . . until Amanda aced all our classes.

As you get older, such challenges to your own world view gets tougher.  Within our little Baptist culture (and I expect it was the same for most Evangelical groups) we were taught that the process of “Knowing” was a spiritual issue.  God revealed Himself to us and spoke deeply into our spirits.  That gave some comfort.

We could bypass the complex process of logical discovery . . . just knowing that God (that is the Christian God) was there because there was this “God-shaped (that is Christian God) vacuum in the middle of your heart” which proves that He is really there. It was a lazy way to know anything . . . although the concept could fit on a Hallmark card, or in the Billy Graham movie Time to Run.

That works for a while.  The longer you isolate yourself from deep friendships with Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Atheists, the longer this can work for you.  However, as soon as you really get to know one of the above mentioned folks, and a nice person at that . . . then your paradigm starts to soften like a ice cream cone on the fourth of July.

You meet wonderful Muslim people who are at least as sincere as you are.  They too, believe that there is an Allah-shaped vacuum in the middle of their heart.  That’s when you start to sweat.

Besides this very personal threat to your beliefs on an emotional level, you are exposed to answers from the scientific community, which sub-plant your more simple and supernatural answers.  The really tough part, is that if you spend any time within that scientific community, you will quickly find that, in many ways, they are more honest and have more of a hunger for truth than their Christian counter-parts.

Then you are left without any framework for "knowing."  You consider the pure logical approach. It depends on which rules of logic that you apply, but if you apply those of pure empiricism, then by default you become a materialist.  The only other option left on your table is the existential projection of faith built on faith.

So how do we know with any certainty? This is why I think our kids are lost in the sea in a shroud of fog.

Knowing Part II

What They Teach You About Knowing In Sunday School

The other main reason I was thinking about this lately was something my wife said.  A good friend of hers, an Evangelical Pastor's wife, said that she and her husband were somewhat distraught over their (22 year old) daughter saying she is having some doubts about her Christian faith.

I was having coffee with my daughter at Thanksgiving. She is the same age and a good friend of this girl. I told my daughter, "Amy, if you came to me and told me that you were having doubts about Christianity, I would say that is a good thing. It is good for two reasons. The main reason, is that it means that you are thinking. The second reason is that you felt safe enough with me to tell me."

I've observed in my own rearing in the Bible belt, and how my kids were taught in the various evangelical churches we attended over the years, that it is believed that thinking is a bad thing. That it is much better to submit to brainwashing, smile and go through your life not making any trouble for anyone.

So here are some of the messages I've heard (and I don't have to read between the lines very far).

1) Faith is in opposition to reason.  Faith is of God and reason is of the "flesh." This implies the dualistic view that anything from the physical, such as the mind, is in opposition to God.  The more irrational we behaved, but imagining it was spiritual, the more highly esteemed we were.

2) Doubt is a sign of spiritual immaturity.  This social pressure is a cornerstone to any cult.  It goes like this, Believe everything we tell you without question . . . and if you don't . . . you are a bad person and we will not like you."

I remember it as clear as yesterday a conversation I had with Tom, the Navigator who led me to the Lord when I was 18.  I was struggling with tremendous doubts about issues of science, why is there pain and etc. (the typical questions).  I remember him putting his hand on my shoulder and saying, "It is all about maturity. As you grow spiritually, you will never doubt God again.  I haven't doubted God since the day I gave my life to Him."

When you have honest, intellectual questions and they are forced to go underground, they will come back to haunt you. They usually raise their scary heads (like prairie dogs) the moment something bad happens to you. It could your girlfriend dumping you. It could be your wife leaving you. It could be one of your children being diagnosed with cancer. It could be loosing your job. But those old questions will start to come up.

Tom, and the most of evangelicalism delights in the young person who embraces Christianity and turns off their brains. They smile, they sing, they talk about miracles left and right. That is the model that we have pushed our kids towards.

For me, now, I would much rather have kids who struggle with the big questions of life . . . and wrestle with the meanings.

So, if this is my introduction, I will just say that we were never taught, objectively, about knowing, reason, logic, choices and finding resolutions. We were taught to give it all up, and then just step out in "Faith" and be the Christian that everyone wanted us to be.

I will share one more candid bit.  I tread cautiously because some have seem me as being critical of my wife when I talk about her.  But you see, she is normal . . . I am not.  She is loved . . . my friends are few.  Her (my old) church, see her as saint . . . me as the devil.  But I was talking to Denise when we were on a hike about this whole situation of the pastor's daughter's doubts and etc. (once I get something on my mind I think about it for weeks).  I told her what I said to Amy.  She remarked that she would much better not know if any of her kids were having doubts.  She says life is much better when you pretend that things are the way you want them.

She is right.  Life is much better when you pretend.  I have this terrible habit of wanting to take the red pill.  I would rather know that I'm dying of cancer and spend my last weeks in depression and wrestling with my thoughts . . . than to be lied to, and only find out I'm dying a moment before it happens.

So, I see the church as wanting to avoid these tough questions, about knowing and doubts, because they would much rather have their teens up front, smiling, doing a skit  . . .  and us pretending that all is well. So we don't want them to know about the process of finding truth. It is TOO DANGEROUS!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Terrence Malick, And What they Didn't Teach About Epistemology in Sunday School

There is something I want to say here that is really important, but I don't know if I can be clear about it.  The problem isn't with the "listener" but with me, the speaker.  I want to talk deeply about philosophical matters. The bottle-neck of getting my ideas from my head into your head is my limited ability to use language.  I don't have a degree in Philosophy. My vocabulary of expression is limited. It reminds me of going shopping in Cairo (for a lot of different things) and having an Arabic vocabulary of just a couple hundred words.

First I will state my premises and define my terms. Next I will describe how I got here (talking about this topic) and then dive into the actual discussion.

My premises are; 1) That epistemology is a very important topic, 2) We (Christians) make many wrong assumptions about knowing and we minimize it as a subject and 3) We do a very poor job of teaching our kids about epistemology.  Now if you will patient while I talk in theoretical terms, I will get down to the nuts and bolts of the practical in the end.

I must start by defining "epistemology" in the way I'm using it here.  I am using it as strictly a philosophical term, not a theological term.  Epistemology is of course the study or science of knowing.  When it is used in theological settings, it usually means the science of knowing what the Bible is really saying. That isn't what I'm talking about here.  What I'm talking about is the fundamental philosophical study of knowing the very basics about reality and how we know or the process of searching for truth.

Okay, why am I talking about this?  It has to do with my movie club.  I've started a movie club and my new church, enthusiastically, signed on to "sponsor" it. That's a good thing. My old Evangelical church was very doubtful about my movies clubs . . . seemed secular to the pastor at least. Our first movie, last month, was The Adjustment Bureau.  Our film this Friday is The Tree of Life.

Before I show a movie I spend some time researching the writers and director.  For The Tree of Life, it is one in the same, Terrence Malick (pictured above).  As I was just starting to do my homework I came across this article by R. Greg Grooms (an old LAbri guy whom I had met years ago) about the movie.  At my club, we always have a time of discussion about the movie afterwards and that is the whole point, to understand it at a very deep level.

The thing that caught my attention in the Grooms article was the statement about the writer/director Terrence Malick, "He is a philosopher who makes movies."  That was profound . . . and it sent me on a journey to find out more about the man. I'm not going to waste a lot of time here discussing Malick, but, I do want to explain how he is related to how I started thinking about this topic of knowing.

The other reason I want to take on this topic in my blog, is that I want to get away from talking about Evangelicals misbehaving in a sexual context. I know that Trevor was asking me why I see so much misbehaving and he hasn't (my words not his).  I don't know.  I think it is common.  If you google "Pastor arrested" you come upon page after page of either A. Christian pastors arrested in the Muslim world for proselytizing or B. An American pastor arrested for sexual crimes. But it starts to seem like I want to continuously beat up on Evangelicals for being frauds. So I want to talk about something else for a while.

Malick is a brilliant man. He graduated (per Wikipedia) summa cum laude from Harvard in Philosophy in 1965.  He went on t study philosophy at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.  However he never finished his PhD because he had a strong disagreement with his professors at Oxford over their understanding of the Austrian philosopher Wittgenstein.

I know it sounds a bit strange that you couldn't finish your PhD because you didn't agree with the dean or professor.  But I know it is true. I studied psychology before I moved into medicine. My psychology program has greatly influenced by B. F Skinner.  There was (ironically) tremendous social coercion to agree with Skinner.  I know that I was Bs instead of As at times simply because I didn't agree with Skinner.  So I can see how Malick could have been limited by his personal views.

So I'm almost at my point.  You see, as Greg Grooms describes, Wittgenstein was a Logical Positivist. My simple definition of this philosophical movement is taking epistemology and putting it under the same rules as natural sciences (empirical science). So, you end up with a situation that it is complete nonsense to ask any question about reality that can not be answered definitively with empirical data. So they would see the old, basic philosophical questions such as; 1) What is reality? 2) What is the meaning of life? 3) Does God exist? 4) What is right or wrong? as complete silliness.

Malick, while raised as an Orthodox Christian,  certainly has no claims of being a Christian now. But his view was that these non-answerable questions were worthwhile to ask.  To to arrive at definitive answers but asking them, contemplating them and living by what you think the answers are, does add significance to life.

Now I must add in closing, that I read somewhere that Malick saw this process of asking and answering as cyclic.  He would work through, say a ethical question, and arrive at an answer. But years later, he may cycle through that same question and arrive at a totally different answer.

So now you know, how I got on this topic of knowing. But here is where I want to go next time.  I want to talk about this whole issue as it applies to the Christian.  We are taught that we can know with certainty all the basic Christian truths.  I oppose that view. My point will be, that if you teach that you must know with certainty,  but in reality you can not, then it because a farce.  You learn to smile and say the cliches about how "I've never doubted God for a second, because He revealed Himself to me, " while, in the middle of the night, when you wake up a lone in your bed . . . you know in your most secret places, you do doubt.  I just think it is much healthier to be honest about it.

I'm at the coffee shop and I was just told that I have to go. So, once again, no proof reading. Sorry about the typos.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

"Epilex", the Psychological Concept of Being Above the Law

I was thinking today as I was in the gym running on the treadmill while the cold rain was coming down outside. I was trying to watch Kentucky (my old Alma mater) play North Carolina in basketball when it was interrupted with Herman Cain announcing that he was dropping out of the race.  I will state right now, I wasn't there with Herman, so I have no idea if he sexually harassed women or had a long affair with one. If he didn't then surely it is scary how the truth could be distorted in the press.

I know that I switched my channel to Fox for a minute or two and did hear that opinion expressed by a few. You know, a DNC conspiracy. I guess the way it would work is that they pick an actress and pay her a million to make up the story.

I can still remember during the Bill Clinton-Monica mess, that Hillary was talking about a right wing conspiracy to frame her dear husband.  But we know how that ended.

So, when we try to deal in reality, we know where there is that much smoke, there must be fire.

Then there is the view that it doesn't matter. Just like with Bill, Herm the worm could fool around with women left and right and it would matter . . . as long as we have the three 9's.




But it does matter.  If he sexually harassed women, then that means that there is something fundamentally wrong with how he values them. If he could shame his wife so much in public (with an affair coming out) then he must not respect his wife either. It also means that he has lied through his teeth to her (the one he suppose to love the most).  Women are more than half of our society, so to disrespect them is a huge issue for their president.

But I'm getting off topic. I didn't come here to talk about Herm.  I even went to look for a picture of him and stumbled on the one of the original "Cain" as he killed his brother. He was the first to believe that he was above the law. So I posted that "Cain" first.

But connecting the dots again was Bernie Fine.  He of course is accused of molesting boys.  The thing that really struck me was the secret recording that a victim made of his wife.  She seemed to talk about the horrible crime in a nonchalant way.  Then she said what I was already thinking . . . "You know, Bernie thinks he is above the law."

Then the previous dot (which I think I already mentioned in another post) is "coach" Sandusky.  I heard a little of his most recent interview tonight. Again . . . lots of smoke . . . must be some fire somewhere.

So my main point, and where my thoughts led me, was this psychological phenomenon of feeling immune to the law. For us, who wrestle with guilt on a daily basis, it is hard for us to conceive of that guiltless good night sleep after doing such a horrible thing.

Now, I'm not suggesting for a moment that we have it better.  Guilt is a horrible way to live. It doesn't protect us from doing bad things either. I've done plenty of bad things in my life. I hope I've never hurt anyone to the level as these men have . . . but I probably have.

It is my original premise that, because of the Fall of Adam, we all have psychological baggage. For some of us it is anxiety, fear and guilt. For some it is the type of arrogance that makes them feel immune to guilt.

I was thinking of a previous close friend who leaned in this other direction.  He was this confident type, leader in his church and business. He held a leadership position in a national organization. He had that leadership quality . . . which most people who run for offices carry. This friend confined in me (in the context of me sharing with him some sin in my life and how I was feeling so guilty about it) that he had molested his daughter years ago, and he had been caught.  But, while my jaw was still on the floor, and my heart breaking, he  added another twist.  He was having sexual meetings with other men and his wife didn't know about it.

But before I could say anything, he added the strangest statement, "I know that sexual experimentation is part of who I am and I'm okay with that. I've never felt guilty about it nor has God convicted me."  Keep in mind that he was the elder at an Evangelical church at the time. It was the first and only time in my life that I walked away from a friendship. But I didn't walk away thinking I was better than him. I just couldn't get my head around this non-repentant spirit and frankly lack of guilt.

I am always curious about human behavior . . . including my own. This concept of guilt freedom puzzles me. I'm sure to them, someone who wrestles with chronic guilt puzzles them . . . but then again, they probably think I deserve my guilt and they don't theirs.


Friday, December 2, 2011

An Interesting Perspective on Monism . . . at Least the Way I Use it Here

I've run into a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to my point on this blog about monism.  Here is how one Evangelical site, which looks for cults, describes it:
Monism is the view that reality consists of one fundamental, ultimate essence.  It comes from the Greek mono, which means one.  All is one.  Therefore, in monism God and the universe are the same thing.  This would mean that energy, motion, matter, thought, consciousness, etc., are all of one substance but are perceived differently.
Monism stands in opposition to the dualism and pluralism but is often defined the same as pantheism, the teaching that God and the universe are the same thing.
Monism is unbiblical because it denies the distinction between God and creation.
While I recognize that one term can have many connotations or distinct meanings, I wanted to make it clear how I use the term here. I get private messages now and then how I'm being un-Biblical.  I won't take that bait. If you want to create in your own mind what I'm saying, I can't stop that. But I can try to do my best to explain what I mean.

I absolutely do not believe that God = Creation.  That IS clearly a pantheistic view.  I certainly believe in the trinity . . . Unitarianism is very, very different then monism. I clearly believe that God is there, He is personal, He created all that what we see . . . outside of his being.

My point is simply this; God created the universe, therefore, unlike the Dualist, I do not believe that the physical universe, the laws of nature and etc. are in opposition to God who made all this stuff. He made it wonderful.

Also, I am not a Christian Rousseauian, meaning that I'm not saying that Nature is intrinsically good the way it is. It is dangerous. It is rough, It is fallen.  Nature causes cancer and death and destruction . . . as as part of the Fall of Adam. But, despite that, it is still beautiful. It also still has meaning. You don't have to spiritualize reality to give it meaning.

That's all, just a word of clarification.




Thursday, December 1, 2011

Ecclesiastes Revisited --An Epilogue


So, I went by the big, stone cathedral. I admired the architectural beauty of the building, the deep hums of the pipe organ. I listened careful to the words.  I wanted to make sure that I wasn't hearing the empty words of the pantheist dressed up in Christian robes.  In this cathedral, I heard the simple words of scriptures and nothing else.  I felt it was a safe place to enjoy God without being caught in the webs of a purpose, which usually meant the pastor's personal search for meaning.  I still hungered for God, intensely.  I felt that this would be a good home.

Pastor Fisher's emails kept coming. "We need to meet. I am giving you this opportunity to be discipled by me.  You can't pass this chance up to be the man God wants you to be."

I knew that he had not heard a word I had said, how I had been discipled for a decade by the best. That didn't make me the man God wanted me to be, but a brainwashed puppet . . . which became a disillusioned puppet.

"Thanks pastor for the offer.  I've been doing some soul searching and I think I am finally where I need to be and I will pass on the offer."

He responded, "That really grieves me . . .  and the Lord. There is nothing that God wants more than for me to disciple you."

"Pastor Fisher, no disrespect, but for the first time in my life I think I am hearing God's words clearly, and He is telling me something very differently. So, I don't think the voice you heard is from God."

He replied, "I am your pastor. God has put me over you in his kingdom. God works through His church and He speaks to his people through his pastors and teachers.  I discern that there is something dark in that voice you are hearing."

I decided to drop the argument . . . but I couldn't drop the opportunity to explain my departure.  "You see Pastor Fisher, while I'm deeply grateful for this past year at your church and the help that you have given me, I feel led by God to go to the big, stone Cathedral."

"MEET ME!"

"For what?"

"I'm your pastor and I say meet me."

"You sound angry?"

"I'M NOT ANGRY!  I'M YOUR PASTOR AND I HAVE DEEEEEEEEEEP CONCERNS ABOUT YOUR SOUL . . . MEET ME!"

"I don't like that tone of voice. I've made my decision and I will go to the stone cathedral."

A week later I came home from the Charles Schwab office and noticed two cars in my mom's driveway.  I came in the door and there sat pastor Fisher and two church elders.  Mom was in the kitchen whistling and baking cookies.

"Uh . . . hello."

Pastor Fisher spoke, "We called your mother and voiced our deep concern about you. She invited us here for cookies."

I sat in my dad's old chair, loosened my tie.  I wanted to walk out and run away.  "Pastor, I have nothing to talk about and I don't think you are here for just cookies."

Pastor Fisher looked at the elders and back at me, "This is a matter of serious concern.  Once you have had these fine men lay hands on you and welcome you into membership, you can't, out of the flesh, just walk away. What God has done, man can no undo."

I sat and imagined I was laying in the grass somewhere, looking up at the clouds, waiting for this to pass.

"So, we are not releasing you from this church, but we do have a discipline for you. God has spoken loudly to us that you have dined with the devil.  Anyone who would want to leave the fellowship of God's people and then turn away and want to go to the big, stone cathedral . . . well, it is a clear sign that Satan is at work."

"Satan?"

"Excuse me!  Your pastor has the floor!  We will allow you to continue with us be we have serious concerns about your soul.  I have a list of 27 sins I've observed in your life. I will read them and then we will discuss repentance. Sin 1 You did not come to our work day when we painted the parsonage. That is a sign you are lazy. Sin 2 You have not been giving 10% of your money to the church. Sin 3  - -- ---- -- - --- --- - --------  --------- --- - ------ ---------- ---------- ---- -- ------- ---- -- -- - ------- -- - ------ - - - --- - ----- ------ - -    "


I was feeling a deep pain in my soul when I felt the arm of Sophia around my shoulder.  "He's scared.  His church is declining and the district leaders are on his case about that.  He feels that he has no value when his church is not growing.  He is very angry at you for threatening his feeling of value.  He will find rest someday.  But don't let this discourage you.  God is always welcoming when you seek him with a pure heart."




Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ecclesiastes Revisited -- A Modern Take on an Old Search for Meaning -- Chap 8 Conclusions


The fact that Sophia was actually the Holy Spirit was certainly credible. It seemed to fit. She was there the whole time trying to point me away from mental dangers. So, I decided for once in my life to sit at her feet . . . rather than brushing her off my shoulder.

“So Sophia, how does one find meaning in this world?”

“Hmm. You see meaning is not for the finding . . . it is for the taking.  Meaning is not in your doings but in your making.”

That sounds interesting but . . . I didn’t understand the full meaning at that juncture.  So I had to ask, “So, what does that mean in practical terms?”

“You, son of Adam, grandson of the earth, you were in breathed with the very essence of God . . . which is alone sufficient for giving you infinite meaning, even in your rest.”

“But God didn’t put us here on this earth just to take up space. We were intended for a purpose.”

“You were?”

“I wasn’t?”

“That’s were the problem is . . . the celestial misunderstanding. That is what the scriptures are about, from the beginning until the very end. That is the Gospel, the complete rest in Christ. Solomon, with my help, figured it out.”

“So it sounds like I suppose to just sit around in my boxers and watch sit-coms.”

“If you like. You still have infinite meaning if you do.”

“But, I thought it was a Christian virtue to avoid becoming a sluggard and to be industrial in all we do.”

“But not to find meaning. Meaning is in a different dimension than doing. There are two different things at stake in being the sluggard.

The first is injustice to other meaningful people. If one doesn’t provide their own subsistence, and they are capable of doing so, then it diminishes the meaning of the others who work to provide that subsistence for them. So doing to find subsistence is different than doing to find meaning.

In the second area, doing is for the doer, to enjoy all that which was made by God for their pleasure. An artist paints for their own fulfillment, not for to find the purpose of their existence, and if they do paint just to fulfill a purpose, they will be miserable.  This great universe was created for you and you were created from it. You have an infinite connection to it and to the earth from whose dirt you were conceived.  The beauty, the tastes, the smells, the experiences are all given to you by a loving God for you good pleasure.”

I sat in a contemplative trance for . . . a summer. On the other side, I became a new man. I learned to rest in my intrinsic meaning. I learned to savor the taste of a coffee bean, sloshing across my tongue, back and forth until it is spent. I relished the complex tapestry of words so woven by the great novelist. I learned to sit contently at a table for hours, listening to an individual, whom previously I would have considered as insignificant to my life, but now the most important person . . . even be they a complete stranger.  I learned to gaze at a work of art for an hour while I breathed in and out softly, being totally enthralled in the emotions—so projected by the artist through the end of a brush.  I learned to walk a trail through the mountains, not to buffet my body, to make me a better person, but to inhale the scents of the fir, the loam and to hear the sounds of the wood pecker and the marmot. 

I learned to lay on my back on back on the soft grass and watch the clouds move in the troposphere like colliding icebergs of foam and to do this for hours.

I became a student of wines, a disciple of herbs and an apprentice of textures and fibers. I completely immersed myself in the senses, not to over-indulge, but to savor. I finally found my meaning which is to be in that form in which God has created me.