Thursday, April 28, 2011

Lessons from the Harlot . . . Part II

I woke up scratching my head a bit. I sort of regret taking this path of trying to make sense of what I'm trying to say and even the notion of saying there is some good in the whorehouse from which the Church could learn, that it seems repulsive. But there are lessons. I was tempted to just delete the post before going on, but I will try to unravel this.

I must admit, as I thought about it, I've never met a prostitute (at least where it was made known to me what she was). Thinking back, I can only remember meeting one "John," again at least one who admitted to it. This was in college and I was leading a Bible study where one of the guys confessed that he had hired a prostitute the previous week. Oh, that reminds me, I did have a great friend who was the campus leader of Campus Crusade, who later it was discovered that he was using prostitutes on a regular basis while at the reigns of CCC. I shared a couple of years ago about how he had just been arrested for child porn charges, yet he was the most "godly man" I had ever known . . . but that's another story.

While I personally have been tempted in all kinds of things . . . maybe even murder . . . and have even done a lot of bad in my life (no murder though, except in my mind), I've never been tempted to visit a prostitute, it has never even been on my radar. So, I'm saying all of this to make the point that I really don't know that culture, but I'm making assumptions.

As I try to unravel this, I will say that I think there are two reasons that a man would want to visit a prostitute and I suspect that it is the latter reason, at least in previous times, that is the main one. The first reason is the obvious, sexual pleasure. The second reason, however, is where I think we could have some take-home thoughts. Many men, I believe, do so because it is the one place they feel they can open up and share their true selves. The reason is, the man knows he is doing something terrible by being there, she (the prostitute) of course knows he is doing this terrible thing. So, what do you have to loose by being vulnerable.

I heard an interview on Oprah or one of those shows a few years ago with a "high end" hooker. I think it was around the time of the Eliot Spitzer affair (pun intended). She was talking about having these extremely rich, makers and shakers, on Wall Street, renting her for the night, and what they wanted her to be to them, more than anything, is a mother. They would curl up in a ball and cry like a baby. It was the only place in the world where they could do that. With the hooker they could talk about their fears, failures, and pain. She, being paid well by the hour, would sincerely listen. She too was in the same boat. She was vulnerable because the man was knowing her too at her worst.

So, when I listen to Leonard Cohen singing about the comforts that he gets from the "Sisters of Mercy" I really think he is alluding to the second part, finding real mercy at their sides. This is the lesson that the Church could learn from. If the Church was known for being a haven of mercy, where you could reveal your most vulnerable self, warts and all, and not only be accepted, but comforted, then the strongest gates could not keep the younger generation away.

This is how Steinbeck describes what I'm trying to say. Faye is the "Madam" of the most recent brothel that came to town:
Faye was the motherly type, big-breasted, big hipped, and warm. She was a bosom to cry on, a soother and a stroker . . . Her house became the refuge of young men puling in puberty, mourning over lost virtue, and aching to lose some more. Faye was the reassurer of the misbegotten husbands. Her house took up the slack for frigid wives. It was the cinnamon-scented kitchen of one's grandmother. If any sexual thing happened to you at Faye's you felt it was an accident and forgivable.
The image I get for her is the "God" character in William Young's The Shack. I didn't even mention that Faye is African-American as was the "God" character in The Shack (if I remember correctly).
So, what we can gleam from Cohen and Steinbeck is the great longing that we all have for Mercy.

I know that I haven't even touched on the woman's role in all of this. I just listened to a follow up on the NPR program. This was a discussion on Talk of the Nation. I ate lunch as I listened to the women share how they were able to get out of prostitution. But I also listened carefully why they got into it.

It seemed almost to be universal that it started with childhood abuse. They were taught as vulnerable children that they were worthless . . . save the pleasure they could give a man. If the first reason for a man to be a "John" is sexual pleasure, then the first reason for a woman to be a whore is the money. But then it is much deeper than that. The biggest draw, from what I heard today, is the intense desire to have value. The value comes a little from the "Johns," but even they can further insult the woman's feelings of significance. The woman's biggest confront seems to come from the "family" which is made up of the pimp, the madam and the other girls. The second confront, that seems always to be there, are the chemical confronts . . . usually in the form of crack.

So the lesson we gleam from the women's side, is a church that is a family to the family-less, and a church that gives significance to those with a bottomless pit of feelings of insignificance. But somewhere we went wrong. Some how we've thought that we needed a church that had the "answers." But the people weren't asking any questions. We thought we needed a church which taught people how to be "godly," like my CCC friend. But the church I dream of is one that is overflowing with mercy, giving comfort to the comfortless, and family to the family-less.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lessons from the Whorehouse to the Church House

I know a sacrilege to put the two "houses" in the same breath.

I've said many times that I'm not very superstitious. A Calvinist at heart, but not a believer in "all things happen for a reason." However, if I were superstitious I would have thought that God was behind this thought. I will not incriminate Him though, as I take the blame for this unholy "marriage."

But it started yesterday when I was on a 4.5 (have to add the .5 to gloat) mile run. I used my cell phone to play my lame music "Play list." When I wear earphones I hear things in music that I don't normally hear. I like to focus on what I'm listening to to distract myself from the pain in my knees and ankles and the heart within me, which is about to burst.

I listened carefully to a few tracts by Leonard Cohen. One of those songs was his Sisters of Mercy. I've listened to that song many times. The first time I was certain he was singing of nuns. Then, last winter when I was out in the cold rain building my wife's greenhouse, I listened with earphones. Then it became clear he was talking of prostitutes. If I can figure out how to do it, I will post a link below to the performance of the song and one to the lyrics.

As I listened yesterday, I appreciated his playful use of words (he is a poet in his night job) to created an intended ambiguity.

So, I spent the rest of my run meditating on this odd topic, how are nuns like or dislike prostitutes (I mean this respectfully). They each are "angels of mercy" in their own right.

Later in the evening I was still thinking about this juxtaposition of the celestial and the fleshy, or the saintly and the sinful. I looked up the lyrics and watch another performance of Leonard of the same song.

This is where things become a little more strange. I got up early this morning and started my commute, first to our island's fishing village to where I was to have coffee. During the commute I had my radio tuned to NPR. I catch the very end of a story about a farm (Magdalene/Thistle Farm) to help whores get a new life. See the story here. It of course reviewed the horrors of prostitution from which they indeed needed to be saved. It goes without saying that these women are exploited to the full degree, abused and often killed or left for dead. So, I want to make it clear here that there is no "good side" of prostitution, while there are plenty of "good things" about a prostitute, just like everyone has value and brings God's gifts to the table.

The third thing was the book I'm reading. As I continue (once again, now that I have time) to work my way through the top 100 English novels. Right now it is Steinbeck's East of Eden.

I had no clue to the narrative's direction with my last reading, which I like about Steinbeck. So, I was blown away when I got to the coffee shop and picked up where I had left off reading yesterday. In this section (beginning of chapter 19) he makes a very deliberate discussion of prostitution and how it is similar to churches. You have to listen before you make judgement of what I'm trying to say. I'm not implying (nor did he) some type of discrediting of the church, calling Christians whores. My eventual point is how similar their role is within society and what the Church can learn from the prostitute.

So here I will quote what I read from Steinbeck this morning and then pick up on my thoughts in the next post:

Setting: Salinas Valley, California cir 1915.

A new country seems to follow a pattern. First come the openers, strong and brave and rather childlike. They can take care of themselves in a wilderness, but they are naive and helpless against men, and perhaps that is whey they went out in the first place . . .

The church and the whorehouse arrived in the Far West simultaneously. And each would have been horrified to think it was a different facet of the same thing. But surely they were both intended to accomplish the same thing; the singing, the devotion, the poetry of the churches took a moan out of his bleakness for a time, and so did the brothels . . . (several paragraphs here worth reading but too long to quote) . . . While the churches, bringing the sweet smell of piety for he soul, came in prancing and farting like brewery horses in bock-beer time, the sister evangelism, with release and joy for the body, crept in silently and grayly, with its head bowed an its face covered.
So, I will try to make it more clear tomorrow the point I'm trying to make. But please don't misread this as me justifying prostitution or trying to speak evil of the Church. There is a more healthy point to be made.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Passion and Lack of

This will be one of those posts that I will probably later regret. There is a high probability that my intentions will be misunderstood and it will rub the majority of Christians the wrong way. I’m also not posting as any type of critique of the Church or of people other than myself. It is simply and observation, without a moral judgment as to how things should be. I just haven’t figured it out what the answer is yet.

I must give a caveat before I even start this story. Even though I’ve always taken my Christian faith very seriously, I’ve never been a very religious person. Even in my most Evangelical of days, going to church and participating in ceremony was never my favorite past-times. Why I’m this way, it is hard to know. I suspect it is related to growing up in a small Baptist church (and culture) where “religion” was all pretend. We all went through the motions of Christianity, but at the same time the youth director was habitually sexually molesting children, and the congregation looked the other way. The pastor himself kept a mistress on the side for decades (and the good people of the church covered his tracks so his wife wouldn’t find out).

The present story starts with Holy week. While for most Christians, this is a week when they love going to church and participating in a variety of services, I did not look so forward to that. Actually, I did attend a community-wide Good Friday service (which is the focus of this post . . . if I ever get around to it) and Yesterday’s normal worship service. I will honestly admit that I did enjoy yesterday’s service. The choir at my new church is very good. They had a small orchestra and of course their pipe organ. I actually like good music and good art. I don’t like poor music even if it is about Jesus.

So, there was an interesting development on Friday when my new church and my old church (plus two other churches) went in together for one large service. I thought it would be a good chance to see my old friends from my old church at a mutual place (which was the Baptist church building).

I think the first thing that happened, as we were pulling into the parking lot my wife mentioned that some of the people of my old church were talking about me a couple of Sundays ago, and how sad it is that I chose to attend an unbiblical church (she probably agrees with them). So that made my emotions of fond anticipation quickly evolve into a strange awkwardness. But that’s not the point either.

The point is, the Good Friday service went exactly as I, or anyone, expected. I stepped back from being caught up in the emotion of it and put myself in the roll of a psychologist, or even my skeptical son, who Denise really wanted to come with us, but he choose (thankfully in my perspective) not to.

The service was ninety minutes of rubbing our emotional noses into the graphic horrors of the Roman crucifixion and how it was all our fault. The chain of pastors tried very hard to work us up into an emotional state of grief over the pain we had caused our dear savior. It was a guilt manipulation exercise in my opinion.

Before you read this in horror and think that I couldn’t be a real Christian, let me explain my point. The point is, it is true that the crucifixion was brutal and horrible. It is true that it was our fault, either directly or indirectly by our sin. I also believe that very new Christian should, at least once, look brutally at the reality of this. But what gave me a creepy feeling is that we do this over and over . . . mostly at Easter, but also throughout the year.

Mel Gibson’s, The Passion of Christ, was a prime example of this psychological self-flagellation. I felt very uncomfortable in the movie. Maybe it did make the crucifixion more real to me than ever before and that could be a good thing. But at the same time, I sensed that Mel had an agenda to stir up these same feelings. But is that healthy? I think we do it as a kind of penitence, to feel better about ourselves. It is the same feeling the Filipino chaps must get when they literally nail themselves to a cross each year.

Imagine this in another way. I will tell a true story but taken out of the religious context.

I knew a man who, by his dumb mistake, accidently shot and killed his six year old daughter. He was trying to be cool with a pistol he was cleaning. You can figure out the rest. Anyway, this man loved his daughter more than you can imagine. As an only child, I think the consumption of his life by hers, was even greater than the typical parent.

Yes it was brutal. Yes, it was his fault and he knew it far too well. He almost went insane in the subsequent years. He had constant intrusive thoughts of the horrors of the event, playing like an endless loop of a movie with the bullet hitting his little girl in the face. He also had constant intrusive thoughts of how much he despised himself. He constantly flirted with suicide, as a self punishment for his crime. The only way he able to go on, was to try and not think of those horrible events.

Can you imagine if he was intentionally led through exercises to remember and focus on those horrible events? I’ve had patients where one spouse likewise caused the death of their child (usually in a car wreck or other accident) and the other spouse, in their way of grieving, spends the rest of their lives rubbing the “perpetrator’s” face in it. I had a girlfriend in high school whose little brother drowned while not being watched carefully enough by he mother. Her father literally drove her mother insane (spent many months for the subsequent decades in a mental hospital) by his anger and grief over the loss.

I know each person has different spiritual needs. As someone who lives with a constant, haunting guilt. I have guilt about everything. I have guilt if I accidently hit a bird, if I offend someone, even if they deserved the offending. I have a huge amount of guilt right now because I’m leaving an old job, where I’ve served the not-so-grateful employer for eight years. He hates me right now and I feel very guilty about that, even though I had taken a 40% pay cut to come and work for him. I have guilt every time I post a controversial post here. But I must push on and try not to dwell on it.

So, what I need I think, somewhat like the father with the gun mentioned above needs, is a constantly rubbing my face in the forgiveness that comes through that cross and the hope of the resurrection that life can go on and there is hope. But that’s just my opinion.

Rip and Back from the Long "Sleep."

Well, I haven't been sleeping for a hundred years, but I've been working myself to death for eight months. Those days have just ended and my head is coming above water. Actually, for the next few weeks, my schedule is suddenly light.

I've been working on creating a brand new medical clinic and it has been all consuming. But the start up is over and now I'm drifting into a normal life.

I'm looking forward to having more time to think, and to write and to discuss the important things that us, who struggle with trying to find our place within Christendom. Now, where were we?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Reluctant Hero . . . or Maybe Not So?

Oh Greg, my goodness! Many of you may know that my personal hero (so claimed here a few months ago) is under investigation for misinforming the public about his work, and worst possible accusation--financial fraud.

I must first give an obvious disclaimer . . . I have no real clue as to what the real story is. I have no personal insights more than the average person.

With that said, I think, like with most of life, the two extremes are most unlikely. On the evil side, I think it is unlikely that Greg is a "complete fraud" from the same mold as a Benny Hinn (or 99% of TV evangelists).

On the saintly extreme, I don't think that Greg is perfect and all the criticism is part of some satanic plot to discredit his good work (or if you are not so spiritually inclined, an opportunistic reporter trying to destroy a good man just to get attention).

Like the complexities of life itself, I'm sure that the truth is somewhere in the middle. I suspect that Greg is a decent man, but like me, is prone to self-promotion and seeking a boosting of his feelings of self worth by the praise of others. I suspect, on the financial front, he is simply rather sloppy. I could be proven wrong later.

I've said before, that when I've gone on "philanthropic trips," I suspect that 10% of my motives are purely for the good of the people I've come to serve. The other motives are made up of a personal desire for adventure and the lifting of my feelings of self worth by the praise of others.

I can remember when our small town newspaper did a front page story (and it covered most of the front page) about me going to Pakistan after the earthquake. I gloated. I drove to work that morning with a spring in my step and my chin a little higher. I wish that the photo of me had been a little clearer as I was dying for someone to run up to me and say, "Hey, aren't you that guy who went to help the poor Pakistanis?" However, that never happened. But I did know that everyone who knew me would know it was me. I got to speak in front of my church. That was a double self-worth boosting experience. They thought I was a decent person and more godly too.

So, my experience (newspaper story) is <.01% of the attention that Greg gets. So could all his praise have gone to his head? Of course. We are all human and far more deceitful, self-centered than any of us would readily admit.

For now Greg is still my hero, even if only 10% of what he has done was true. I still believe in his cause, even if he has exaggerated his accomplishments by a hundred fold. I hope that he has not lied about the money.

But our heroes must be broken, fallen and vulnerable. If he turns out to be a complete fraud . . .yeah, I will have to take him off my pedestal.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Way, The Truth or the Life? A Perplexing Gospel, Which One to Share?

This is going to be one of those difficult postings. It is difficult to find a handle on which to grasp it, so I can make sense of what I'm trying to say.

I find myself in the situation of not knowing how to feel or think when a wayward relative or friend (meaning no interest in God at all) decides to turn to, or return to, the Evangelical world. Of course I want them to know God, the God who is there and I want them to pattern their lives around the way that God says that life works best.

But it doesn't answer the question. In my old days, it was a no-brainer. If a relative (talking here of siblings, nephews or nieces) joined an Evangelical church it was always a time of rejoicing. I can clearly remember when my niece (raised by my sister as a pure heathen) joined this very fundamentalist church. I was so happy that she had "come to know the Lord." But she has been involved with this church now for two decades. It is run by a famous TV evangelists. She is now on his staff and travels the world with him. How exciting.

But even today, I tuned into his program for a minute. My niece is behind the camera. I couldn't stand it. It was horrible. He was using intensive mind and spiritual manipulation to get people to send him $300. He is very, very rich with at least one (but I think two) private jets. He has several mansions. So was it a good thing that she went from no spiritual interest to being in this cultish mess? I'm not so sure and would probably feel better if she were an intellectual agnostic . . . or even a self-proclaimed atheists. Why? Because she may have more hope of finding the truth than she does now.

I'm thinking about this because yesterday my mother told me that my sister (this niece's mother) had "rededicated her life." Of course to my dear-ole (and I mean this with love) Baptist mother, that is a very good thing. But again, I'm not so sure.

This sister lives in the world of glamor and pretend. We are talking plastic surgery, fast cars, lots of rich men suiters. This is a world of pretend, and when she rededicates her life (as she has before) it is part of this complex script. To hard to explain here. I would, however, feel better if my sister became obsessed with the writings of some great (and truthful) author, say George McDonald, and never visited one of these bleached-blond, lots of make-up Southern Baptist churches . . . do you know what I mean? I think I'm saying it is about sincerity.

It would be very, very hard for me to go out on "evangelism" like I use to. I now know that 90% of what I would be doing would be recruiting people to a subculture of Evangelicalism. What I really want for them now, is a sense of the true God who is there.

Please don't take me wrong. I'm not opposed to them going to a church. But I think I would feel better if my sister (or her daughter) was going to a Catholic church, something total new to them . . . because it would seem more sincere. But, the fact that my sister was raised in Baptist-pretending culture, when she goes back to it (usually for a couple of months when she is in crisis) I am dubious about the significance of it.

The same applies to some of my own kids. I would not be happy if they went from agnosticism (as a couple might be right now) into an Evangelical church. My wife wishes that they were part of Campus Crusade or the Navs. I don't because I know it would me them giving up their brains.

So, how do we pray for the lost? Maybe I'm not making any sense but my mother was a little shocked when her "religious son" (meaning me) was not excited to hear that her wayward sister had rededicated her life once more. Maybe this time it does mean something.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Another Day After

(The Painting is The Day After by Edvard Munch, 1894)

Recently on Imonk they re "played" an old narrative from Michael Spencer. The point was the day after . . . the personal tragedy. It could have been a cancer diagnosis, a wife who left or a loss job. It was an excellent article.

But since then, I've been thinking about another type of day after. Whether or not this too is after a tragic event is in the eyes of the beholder. The event is the loss of one's faith. Not to mean, being a Christian and then not. But what I mean by this is being a normal Evangelical Christian . . . then not.

In the days before, all the world made sense. It was well planned and organized like it was set up on a celestial grid. There was a well demarcated line between the good guys wearing the white hats and the bad guys. My personal sin was observable and manageable like warts. You could count your sin. You could zap them enough (like with liquid nitrogen) until they faded a way over a few weeks. You could remain wart free for months or years until one slowly reappeared and then you could zap it again.

In the old world, God was at your beck and call to do your work for you. He also protected you from any harm so you have this good feeling of safety, like you're married to Superman (or Superwoman).

The day before, there was a community in which I clearly belonged. I didn't always like hanging out with that community, but it was the place I "suppose" to be. I knew the language well. I knew very well what to say and do to create an appearance of godliness and high esteem.

The "Christian" brand also implied a supernatural goodness, far above the average. For example, I could hire a "Christian plumber" and then I know I would get the best work for the lowest price and I could trust my house to them completely. If a car carried that brand on its bumper (IXOYE fish), then I knew that I could trust the occupants with my children, even if they were compete strangers.

I also knew that I had an answer book. It didn't matter what question arose, the answer was clearly there . . . but sometimes, in a contradictory way, abstruse. But the right superstar (pastor) could conjure up clear meanings for my life, right out of that smoky hole like a charmed cobra.

There was also the tradition of ritual which I knew I liked, even if I hated. Long pointless sermons Sunday after Sunday. Gospel Hymns in a style of music I would deplore in any other setting.

I also knew that all that opposed my world were liars. The scientists who made up the fossil record and didn't understand carbon dating like my pastor did. It was just one big conspiracy run by the gay democrats . . . who wanted to rape our babies and turn them gay too, unless they could abort them first.

Beneath it all, were these tiny fissures with the width of a bunny's hair, in which my doubt neatly couched out of sight. In the middle of my amazing stories of miracles my doubts would whisper beneath me, almost in silence . . . "you know that's a lie."

Then one day the looking glass crashes to the hard ground. It was those tiny fissures that brought it down. Maybe an earthquake in my life shook it hard enough for the fissures to unify into a powerful force.

Now, it is the day after. All has changed. You know nothing for certain anymore. You still sense strongly that God is there and the Christian way is the right way. But it ends there. There's no white hats or black hats. One carrying the Christian brand is just as likely, or more so, to betray you, molest your children and steal your money. The answers are now seen in their abstruse light but with strings running up to the puppeteer's hands, the master manipulators who lead congregations to give more and to honor themselves like a stainless saint.

Now, everything has changed. If you find the place you suppose to be in, you must smile and keep your mouth shut. The first words out of your mouth will incriminate you, making it clear that you don't belong to that tribe anymore or if you do, you are worthy of the lowest esteem, the bottom run of the ladder.

So there are those days, those days after, that you look back across the abyss. In the sense of envy, you would be tempted to take the blue pill in order to go back. At least there was a pretense of bliss.

I had a friend who did that once. He was a brilliant psychiatrist and a man of science. Then one day, he went to the most fundamentalist church, people literally turning somersaults down the isle and the pastor pulling bloody tumors right out of the chest (probably chicken gizzards hidden in his pocket ) of the members who had cancer. My friend jumped into the church with both feet and it became his bread and breath. I asked him why? He answered that it didn't make any difference if it was real or not, just as long as it was real to him, then it gave him meaning.

There are days that I'm tempted. But once you've crossed over, once the day after is . . . the day after, there is no going back. Now it is a place where you must know God without knowing all about Him. There is mystery that I can not answer. Life doesn't fit into the Lego block holes like it use to. I know Lesbians whom I wouldn't hesitate to trust my children with (if they were still young) and I know pastors whom I wouldn't trust my turtle to. The grid of order has fallen. The tall hats are gray.

I look within myself and I don't see corals of warts, isolated and countable. I see confluent patches of melanoma . . . no clear boundaries, no clear cure. I can't count the flaws. I can't inventory my failures nor herd them into a vault to keep myself and others safe. No amount of religious exercise can rid me of them like a spray of liquid nitrogen. I can cover them under the white cloak of Christ but the term "godly" has no relevance as it once did for me, used the same way a wart-less.

As Michael called it, and I've called it . . . it is a wilderness on this side of the day after.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Back to Eagle's Questions

Eagle asked:

1. Can a Christian be disappointed in God? Can they ever be angry at God? If not…then why? Why do Christians always attribute positive acts to God and negative acts to Satan? Why don’t they ever hold God responsible? Why don’t Christians ever get frustrated publically about God? Do they believe its a sin…and if that Biblical?

I will start giving my views on the above and others can chime in. I certainly can't take on all those questions without making this post too long.

Can Christians be disappointed/angry in/with God? I don't know if that word "Can" means possible or allowed in this case. Of course it is possible as all of us are at times. No human has ever lived on this earth that has not been disappointed in God or in at least our image of God. Most Evangelicals believe that God is in control and predetermines all life's events so they can't be angry at anything or disappointed in anything without it reflecting the same towards God who, in their eyes, holds the puppeteer strings.

When my mission experience failed, and I still believed that God held the strings, I was mad as hell. I had done everything but self-flagellation in my idea of obedience, yet everything went wrong. What made me the most angry was the fact that everyone assumed (when we failed) that it must be my fault. So I felt a deep betrayal by God.

So, this is where I finally realized that God chooses not to hold the strings to these things, but allows our sin and the sin of others to play themselves out in the real world causing real suffering and harm. I don't feel angry at God so much. I still get pissed.

One could easily then say, if God had the power to intervene but then choose not to, that would piss you off too. Sometimes I might flirt with this idea. I'm sure if I were diagnosed with cancer I would go through this phase. But now is where I fall back on that mystery of God that I don't understand. Why does He allow the crap to happen, which He didn't cause, but He didn't interfere with either?

If you meant "allowed" for can, well, I hate to put artificial barriers on reality. What I mean is, if you are pissed, you are pissed. If you are pissed at God, then the reality of it is that you are pissed at God. By saying you are or are not allowed to be pissed is irrelevant. But is it sin? I would put it this way, if we all lived in a perfect world where sin had never entered, where things went well . . . always . . . then there would be no need for anger or being pissed at God or anyone. So it is the consequence of sin in the world. But, as you know, Ephesians 4 it says (as a directive) to be angry. There it makes the point of bitterness being the sin and not the anger.

I think the reason that Ephesians makes that distinction has to do with free will. What I mean is, anger is instinctive. If some one cut me off on the freeway, and then gave ME the bird (happened the other day) I feel angry. I think all humans feel angry in those situations. All humans feel angry when they are betrayed and they have no free will in the matter. A lot of Evangelicals do live in denial about their angry. They stab you in the back, while smiling and say that they were never angry at you.

With that said, even blocking bitterness is not an easy free will exercise. I mean, when you are really, really angry, it is hard to block its flow into bitterness. It can be a constant struggle to fight the intrusive, and highly emotional, hateful thoughts. The fighting has to be 24-7 for days, weeks . . . or even years. Those who say that instantly they forgive and forget are usually in denial. True forgiveness, and the loss of personal anger and hate, is more like a long process of trench warfare within the soul. But I'm talking about true forgiveness and true loss of anger and not just the pretending of such.

I hated my old missionary boss for about three years. I fought the hatred every single day. Yes, I was bitter. I honestly don't know what I could have done to have ended the bitterness any sooner. So, yes bitterness is sin, but it, in my opinion, can't be stopped by simple human will very easily. Most evangelicals know that bitterness is sin, so they fix the problem by pretending . . . lying to others and to themselves that they are not bitter.

Those are some of my opinions and others may have better answers.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Era of the Denial of Our Brutal Nature

(This painting is "The Sack of Rome" by Johannes Lingelbach)

Okay, I want to explain my point and why I am even thinking about this . . . and do it briefly as I have about 20 minutes to put down some words.

I've alluded to the fact that I just got back from Florence, where I immersed myself in the Renaissance, in general, and in the Medici family specifically. I read two books about the Medicis and today I've spent about four hours watching the PBS special miniseries about them.

As I read about this period (thirteenth through the sixteenth centuries) I was appalled by the brutality. The acts of cruelty were cataloged graphically by Christopher Hibbert in his book, The House of Medici, Its Rise and Fall. I listened at Christopher's feet as he told story after story of murder, torture and cruelty beyond belief and these descriptions were only a side bar to his main points.

Towards the end of the Medici empire there was a chain of murders of best friends, brothers, wives . . . all by the most cruel of methodology . . . but added to that morbid resume was the rape of children, torture of dear friends for the pure pleasure of it, not just practical jokes. This was real torture that often ending in those friends' deaths. This was also mixed with gluttony beyond belief, the hooking up with countless syphilitic whores, the torture and murder of countless animals . . . all for fun. And this, which I just described, was among the Cardinals and the Medici Pope, Clement VII (born Giulio di Giuliano Di Medici). So it was the most spiritual of people on earth who were doing such horrible things. Having grown up in the protestant-Bible belt, I was taught, yeah, these Catholics were capable of some really bad stuff.

But then, the Lutheran Germans marched on Rome in 1527. The Pope and his cronies were so fat, sick and minds altered with the syphilitic bacterium that they didn't know what to do. They didn't negotiate with the Germans. They didn't run, except for Pope Clement and his body guards. They also didn't fight . . . at least not much. So the good Lutherans came across the walls an decimated the city. Eight thousand people, most of them defenseless such as old people and children, were killed the first day by the good Lutherans. The good Lutheran Germans raped so many nuns that they lost count. Once a nun had been raped by about a hundred godly Lutheran solders there wasn't much left of her frail broken body but it throw it in the river for the dogs to eat (sorry about speaking so graphically here). It was horrible and the streets ran with the blood.

So my point is, how are we different from them? These were all people who claimed to be of God. This doesn't even touch on the pending 5 or 6 "Christian wars" including the Thirty Years War, which swept Europe soon afterwards.

I have two theories . . . and this is my point. The first one is, according to my view of eschatology (Post Mil as they say) the world is actually getting better and evil is gradually being overcome by good. But the second reason, I think is true and it doesn't matter what your eschatology is. It is that we are now living in an age (maybe ushered in by the Victorians, I'm not sure) were there is a denial of our personal brutality. We think we are much better than we really are. It is my opinion that this myth of godliness has taught us that we grow and grow until we are really different and holy.

However, I think we would murder, rape and commit adultery if society would allow us to. It is society which has raised its expectations, that society which was influenced by the reformation. What I'm trying to say, if we were really, really honest about who we are, we would admit that there are days we would like to flee off to that romantic cabin with someone who is not our spouse. Or, we would feel some pleasure if that person, who wronged us, had an accident and died, maybe even a brutal death. I know that this sounds horrible and if I said this in an Evangelical group (and I have before) they would think I'm the devil himself. Yet, out of those same Evangelical groups I've had these friends, like Norm and Mike, who did suddenly shed their wives and run off with girls whom they had been sleeping with even while they were telling me how horrible I was for saying such things were remotely possible for me.

So I was asking myself, how does this fit into what I was saying a few weeks ago, how the Evangelical has such a low view of the self . . . the whole "I'm a wretch" thing? They seemed contradictory . . . at least on the surface.

But as I thought more, I realized that it is part of the same syndrome and denial of our brutality. Because, when we stand shoulder to shoulder in church and sing loudly in our old-fashioned hymn falsetto voice, "who saved a WRETCH like me!" we are really viewing ourselves in this grandiose view of humility. We really aren't that humble either. Saying we are a wretch is part of the game of portraying ourselves as humble. In other words, if you actually treated the person who calls themselves a wretch . . .like a wretch . . . they get really pissed off. Because, part of that dark nature (which our spirituality doesn't chase away overnight) knows that we are not wretches but more important than anyone else.

So, for people like myself, who deal constantly with guilt, the guilt is real. I can see, only a glimpse, into that darkness inside me. We though, must keep thinking about how dependent we are on the cross of forgiveness. We must also pity those who think of themselves that they are good Christians because . . . their assessor . . . he is a fool.

My twenty minutes are up!

Friday, April 1, 2011

In The Shoes of the Medicis

Pictured is yours truly standing in the middle of the Signoria Palace in Florence. It was build as the center of city (city-state) government in Florence and became the personal palace of the early Medici family.

I'm still suffering from jet lag and feel fuzzy of mind. However, looking back, this was a tremendous experience. I became obsessed with the Medicis and the Renaissance (which they almost single-handed ushered in) when I was working my way through the collapse of my Evangelical beliefs.

The story is too long to go into here, but I describe it in details in my manuscript. Simply, history tells us that the early church struggled deeply with Platonic Dualism, via the way of the Gnostics. The early creeds were the Chruch's response to that threat.

But, until I had done my research, I had never understood what the Renaissance did to that philosophical orientation. Francis Schaeffer use to explain it as giving up Platonic Dualism (believing that this physical world was just a shadow . . . Plato's words not mine . . . of the real, which is the heavenly.) In exchange to that, Schaeffer said, the humanist of Florence adopted Aristotelian reason. But I learned that was not true. The Medicis became obsessed with Plato, not Aristotle. They (mostly Cosimo) adopted pure Platonic and shedded the old Christianized Platonism. So, instead of having Heaven as the ideal of human existence, they held up human emotions (beauty, love, and all the senses) as the higher and more real realm.

I will get back to this later and how it profoundly influences what's wrong today with Evangelicalism. My point with this post is that while I was in Florence, I read the book "The Rise and Fall of the House of Medici." What an experience! I would get up in the morning and go to a coffee shop with my son and drink espresso and I would read my book. Then, in the afternoon, I would go to the very churches, streets, palaces and plazzas where those events (in my reading and in the 1300s) took place. I highly recommend reading a geographically fixed book (historical novel, nonfiction or even a traditional novel) while staying in the city where it took place.

I'll be back, but once again I must rush off to work awaiting. Sorry once more about typos as I'm late and can't proof read the above.