Monday, May 30, 2011

A Memorial Day Post Possibly Irreverent in the Eyes of Some

Okay, three posts in two days must be a record for me. But actually, I'm the least busy . . . just for a moment . . . than I have been for a year. I'm starting a new clinic. The opening day is Wednesday. I've worked my butt off to get to this point. But now, everything is in place and I actually have a moment's peace. It's like a big Broadway production where everyone knows their lines, the props made and now . . . there's nothing to do but wait.

What I want to say has a very good possibly of being misunderstood and equally the risk of pissing off a lot of people. I know that if I wrote this in the local paper or, God forbid, in the Church's newsletter . . . I would probably have death threats. But here goes. I will see if I can communicate what's on my heart, that if really understood shouldn't offend anyone.

I watched a Memorial Day story on the news last night. It was about the quarry in Vermont where virtually all the tombstones of Arlington National Cemetery are made (not to mention about every memorial in DC). This story moved me deeply, but not in the way the producers intended.

My sister lived, literally, on the edge of Chickamauga Battlefield. Since she was over 12 years my senior, she was something like a second mother to me. I used to spend weeks at her house in Georgia during the long hot summers. I spent many hours playing in Chickamauga. As I grew too old to play, it became my jogging route.

Besides its big cemeteries it also had random tombstones scatter throughout the grounds, presumably where the blue capped, or more likely, gray capped young man had fallen. As I would stop and look at the worn out tombstone I would feel a connection to the soul (or the remains of) beneath my feet. The tombstones, made of local limestone, rather than Vermont marble, showed their age. Under the influence or wind, fingers of those passing by over a hundred years, and acid rain the stones looked like a sick of butter left in out of the refrigerator too long. But between the grey-green lichens and the worn out letting, you could still read the dates. Many of these men were in their teens, early twenties . . . and a few my present age. On Memorial Day, the local boyscouts put flags on each grave. I think they use to put Confederate flags over the heads of the gray-capped bones . . . until that was considered politically incorrect.

Being a Southern, we were often told glorious narratives about the necessity of the Civil War. We had to show the North who we were so they would respect us . . . or something like that. But that has been true of every war that has ever been fought . . . since Cain slayed Abel.

It is estimated that 700,000 American men and boys died during that war, more from disease and malnutrition than bullets, as if that mattered.

My family, like most American families, have known war. My grandfather, who died when I was a kid, crawled the trenches of WWI. My dad lost a chunk of his soul on the beaches of Normandy. That day took part of my dad away that I never got to know. My cousin was in the Korean conflict. My brother cruised the Mekong River for two, long years. I hate to even mention the fact that I served during the first Gulf War (I hate to mention it because I never left American soil during the brief conflict).

I do deeply respect those who have died. They are all heroes in my book. The fact that they even went to war makes them a hero. It must have been terrifying. I have no problem with that. I feel their loss and I would not hesitate to place flowers or even a flag on their grave.

The man I'm closes to at my new church has said to me twice, that his biggest struggle is the fact he has two sons in the Navy Seals, both have seen lots of time in Iraq and Afghanistan . . . many tours I may add. His frustration is that other Christian families have not given their sons like he has. When he says that, I never know if he is directed it towards me or it is just me being paranoid. However, I do have four sons of military age . . . plus a daughter. None of them have served. I haven't prevented them . . . except maybe in attitude.

Here is the issue. In my perspective, there is no good war. There never has been nor ever will. War is the climax of sin in this world. Human souls, created in God's image, being turned to meaningless meat. Now, I'm not saying that we never should have entered into any conflict. I feel that WWII was clearly justified. Who else would have stopped Hitler? If anyone was trying to hurt my family, I would probably take up arms. So, I'm not a pacifist.

But, every nation, which has ever had an army (since Babylon or before) must create a super-narrative of glory to justify the total waste of decent human life. Good guys Vs bad guys. Fighting for freedom. Fighting for America, God's nation . . . thus fighting for God.

But war is Satan's Mardi Gras. War is his dream fulfilled . . . God's creatures hating and killing each other.

I am troubled when I see the Church buy into this narrative. I think Evangelicalism is by far the worst for it, far more than the mainline denominations or Catholicism. They have wed the glorious notion of God, country, military, fighting the sinners and doing God's will around the world.

I love my country. I love our freedoms and our rights, which most of the world doesn't have. However, American Nationalism is a secular philosophy, just like any other secular philosophy. When you mix Jesus with ANY secular philosophy, it is horrible.

There is more I wanted to say, to clarify my point, but I must continue on another day. I will end by saying, when I see those graves of those young men (and women) I feel grief of what could have been but what was lost by the horrors of Satan's reign of a brief time and place on this earth. I sense no glory.

Do I Still Believe in Prayer . . . What do You Think?

Once someone was listening to my typical rhetoric and in response said, "So you don't believe in prayer anymore?"

I do. My point is, most of what people say is answer to prayer I have serious doubts about. I have several reasons for this doubting. Tying this to the previous post, at this point in the discussion I'm almost always consider to be nonspiritual or not seeing the world through God's eyes . . . etc.

Besides my observations about reality, which tell me that if God works outside of nature, He does it rarely, there is also the philosophical consideration. I believe that the Christian world has a very skewed view of the physical world (which is the theme of this blog). They actually see this physical world, and the laws of nature (some of which you would call Newton's Laws of Physics) are all "worldly" or inferior. Therefore, for anything to be good, it must be above that . . . thus supernatural.

In my opinion, when something works out exactly according to all the laws of nature, at that juncture, I can give God honest praise, because God made nature and the laws thereof and He has made them good.

Now to my point.

Saturday night Denise and I went to bed. We were fast asleep when the phone rang. It was one of those phone calls that all parents fear.

On the phone was my son, Daniel's, girlfriend, (Maddie). Daniel is 24 and is in a PhD program at the University of Washington. The two of them were at a concert in downtown Seattle. Actually my third son, Tyler, was performing with his band at the concert. Once it was over, Maddie went to catch a bus and Dan jumped on his bike, in heavy traffic, to head home. During her bus route, she saw that the road was closed ahead. As the bus crawled by, she looked out the window and in disbelief, she saw Daniel laying in the street surrounded by paramedics.

I'm not sure how Maddie found out the following information, but I assumed she yelled out the bus window asking what was going on. The medics told her that the man had been hit by a car and they were loading him up to take him to a trauma center.

It was at this point Maddie called us. We all were in distress.

I began praying my heart out. It took about an hour to get any more information. The trauma center's ER at first could say that he was there. They could not say if he was alive, dead or with severe injuries.

To make things more difficult, Seattle is two hours away and my son, the one in the band, had our only car that could make the trip. We called Tyler and told him what was going on and urged him to get home ASAP.

We called the trauma center again. We spoke to the nurse. This time she could tell us "Daniel is stable and in CT right now."

It was about another hour before we actually got to talk to Daniel. To make a long story short, he was discharged in the morning with a lot of road rash, but no serious injuries. He was knocked unconscious, so we think, and doesn't remember the accident at all.

So, did God do a supernatural miracle and spare Daniel from death. I doubt it, but it doesn't matter. I still prayed. I still do believe that sometimes God does step into nature and change the laws of physics. But the old Mike would embellish the story at church and make it look like a miracle for sure. But I can equally praise God in the way He has made the world, the wisdom to use bike helmets (Dan's was destroyed in the accident), the coefficient of friction of the car's brakes and the way God has made our bodies, resistant to injury, quick to heal. It doesn't matter why Daniel survived with only scrapes. I can praise God that he did.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


There's a place for us,
Somewhere a place for us.
Peace and quiet and open air
Wait for us.

There's a time for us,
Some day a time for us,
Time together with time to spare,
Time to look, time to care,

Someday!Somewhere.We'll find a new way of living,
A time and place for us.
Hold my hand and we're half way there.
Hold my hand and I'll take you there. We'll find a way of forgiving.

Somewhere. There's a place for us,
Some how, Some day.

In West Side Story, Maria and Tony longed for a different world, a world in which their love for one another made sense and was highly esteemed rather than seen as deviant and an outrage.

I dream of a place within Christendom where we could fit in. A world, behind the looking glass, where your thoughts were esteemed as good . . . rather than deviant, worldly, liberal or a host of other labels. But what do I mean as "we?" That itself is hard to define, but what I mean in a broad way, is those of us who still believe that God is there and that Christ His divine download (don't mean to be disrespectful) into human flesh. That the Bible is true as it was intended, however that we don't subscribe to much of Evangelical culture. For me I define it best as being of a monistic perspective rather than a dualistic one. That seems to sum it up. But for others in this clan of misfits, they may choose to define it differently.

The reason I'm thinking of this, and there is always a reason, is last night I had a long talk with my Alter Ego. It was exactly like talking to the old Mike, from 15 or 20 years ago. I will call him "Pete."

Pete and I grew up only a mile apart. We were best friends by the first grade. We lived through our non Christian years together as well as our Bible belt upbringing. We actually became Christians at the same time, through the small Bible study and got involved with the Navigators together. We went our separate ways when Pete continued dating, which was seriously discouraged, so I moved into the inner circles of the Navs. Meanwhile Pete took a different path getting married and going to seminary. We both went to the mission field about the same time, however he remains on the field until this day. We don't get to talk very often, with him residing on the other side of the planet. However, I did see him and his wife last summer. But recently I knew that they were having some trouble and I spoke to them on the phone briefly this spring.

I must pause at this point to explain my spirit of this post. This is not a criticism of Pete and his wife. I have the utmost respect for them. This is not at all the same spirit of the post when I was mad at the TV evangelist group, who I spent the afternoon with. I find those people disgusting at times, or at least their narrow world view.

My point discussing this conversation with Pete, is emphasizing how different we now see the world, he and his wife far more normal-Evangelical, than I. I quickly confess that I'm the one who has moved.

Pete and his wife have been under a tremendous strain for a few years. Some of it has to do with the grade-school types of games that Christian groups (like churches and mission groups) seem to play, "My soul is grieved because you went above my authority to speak to so and so without my permission. I feel grieved not because you hurt my feelings, but because you hurt God and He loves you and died for you." So they live in that world of spiritual manipulation and shadow boxing, which is as common as rain in all Evangelical organizations. Every time we talk they have me swear to secrecy . . . and I do, and that's why I don't use their real names. But it is a shame that you have to hide the most important part of your life. Pete and his wife have also faced some tragedies in their lives over the past two years. Between the couple they've lost three parents and a sibling, who committed suicide. There's much more to this, but I've said too much already.

The point is, both of them are now dealing with some mental health issues and it is to be expected. As I talked to Pete, he is struggling with some severe anxiety issues, much like my own. The very reason I called him was because I had sensed this and wanted be an ear to him.

But I knew that he and I now reside in different universes, mine down the rabbit hole or behind the looking glass, his comfortably in that same Evangelical world I was in some time ago. As we discussed the problems, he feels that all his symptoms must be either physical illness (vitamin deficiency) and/or demonic attacks. To discuss the "laws" of psychology, how emotional trauma can have a powerful influence on the physical brain, would make no sense to him. It must be "spiritual."

When Evangelicals reach this conclusion, they are left with profound different way they approach mental illness. The answer to them means more time in prayer, more time reading the Bible . . . and possibly an exorcist. In the monist view, the brain is real, and not just Styrofoam to keep the skull from caving in. Mental illness is real. It must be treated by addressing the root of the problem, which is usually a wrong way of thinking.

But I shared none of my views, except for a whisper here and there. After all, I called him to be an ear, not to lecture him on my way of seeing things. But here is a human being who was closer than a brother and we don't communicate anymore. I can't say that I think his problem, just like mine, is a mental illness and the solution could mean medications plus cognitive therapy over a long period of time. Immediately I would be seen as dancing with the devil.

The other thing he said, which reminded me of myself, was everything here on this earth is going to burn, and sooner the better. That seemed to be a reference point to many of his conclusions. I, on the other hand, believe and hope that the earth is here for many more thousands of years.

So, my point is not his views, but the fact that his views and mine are so different that there is a loss of communication.

I've found the same thing with my wife. Denise and I have a wonderful marriage, and I'm sincere about that. When we started down the marriage path twenty seven years ago, I was the hyper-Evangelical. I wanted to model our marriage and child-rearing on Bill Gothard's teachings. I pulled her in my direction.

But now, she is more evangelical than when she grew up (Lutheran) but now I'm at a different place. I'm very skeptical of most of what I hear coming from the mouth of an Evangelical. They live superstitious lives. I don't say this out of any intellectual arrogance, but the matter-of-fact that I can't live that way anymore. If I tried, I would be just like the TV Evangelists with the puffy hair and are extremely poor actors. But there is a loss of communication between Denise and I, at least about spiritual things. We are still very close emotionally and in other way. But there is a loss there, and I am the one who had moved.

I've very happy with new church. It is far better than my old one where the pastor dominated and controlled everyone, especially the pretend elders' board. But even this new church, I must keep it at arm's length. As I've tried to move closer in, I am met with the same Evangelical views such as "all things happen for a reason . . . destine by God for a specific purpose. There is no cause and effect chain of random events. That if anything goes bad, I must have not done something right. The pastor doesn't preach this and there are many who don't hold these views. But I sense the same culture.

So, what I'm saying, is that there must be a place for us misfits. A part of the church, maybe a foot, where we can be honest and still be perceived as normal and healthy rather than very spiritually inferior if not Satan's little brother (or sister).

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Why Does the Pit Narrow . . . As it Descends?

I was watching the poor souls of Joplin, Mo over the past couple of days, and feeling a bit of their pain. I can't imagine the shock of seeing your entire world (as well as friends and family) vanish in a moment.

I thought too about the couple of times in my life that I was in deep despair. It was hell. Fortunately that last such experience was more than a decade ago . . . yet the echoes of that devastation still reverberate in the deep hollows of my soul somewhat like a shock wave moving across the darkness of space from an exploding supernova which happened a billion years ago. A brief recall of the emotions or events send a brief chill up my spine, and a fear that some day I may find myself in the pit again.

But, of course, I'm not alone in this experience. Almost every human has been in the pit at least once in their lives.

On the CBS Evening News, they showed a photo of a circle of women holding hands and praying in the middle of the terrible destruction in Missouri. They may have been close before this . . . or have been complete strangers, until this event brought them into a perpetual sisterhood. If there is a silver lining (and I feel ashamed even suggesting so), when a disaster comes to a whole village, there is a community in the suffering. A bonding bred in tragedy.

But now I think of those millions, who have experienced deeply personal and isolated loss. That is the way that most losses come. The worst part of it is the alienation from others. As you descend the pit, the walls close in, eventually leaving no space except for yourself . . . and your pain. The world, in which you shared the vigor of life slowly becomes two dimensional, or maybe even of another, parallel and unrelated, universe. You are alone in the suffocating universe that collapses around you like heat-shrink plastic.

My theological hero, Francis Schaeffer, described the Fall as the alienation of man (meaning mankind) from God, from fellow man . . . and eventually from himself (a psychological fall). In personal suffering, the alienation finds its pinnacle in that pit.

The pit can come from the death of someone close. The loss of someone you love. The pain of losing anything of great personal worth. A depression for depression's sake. But why does it have to be so lonely? If your suffering is allowed to continue, you eventually must become mute. There is no one to listen. You start to speak a language that no one can understand.

Now, that I'm enjoying a long season of being topside, I ask myself where can I find those who are suffering and how can I be one who listens? Why does the pit have to be so lonely? Why is it that when a Christian suffers, they must immediately go underground with their suffering? Isn't the essence of the Gospel connecting to those in pain?

I am a very selfish person and maybe once I'm out of the pit, I want to keep away from the dark orifice, far enough away that I can not hear the echoes of those poor souls trapped in the melancholic labyrinth. I pray that God would change me an make the listener the ear that was not there when I so needed it.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Boundaries of Truth . . . When Honesty Goes Too Far

My wife set up our Netflix queue a few weeks ago. It is somewhat like a tug of war. I will go on line and set up 5-6 movies, none of which she likes, and then when those run out, she will go on an set up hers. We are in the "season" of Denise movies right now.

It is a standing joke that I say her movies are always the same thing . . . someone slowly dying of cancer. Well the latest Netflix movie, One True Thing, was exactly about that.

I had a lot of chores to do today, but I decided to sit and watch now and then. After all, I think Zellweger and Streep are tremendous actors (and of course Zellweger is cute).

The jest of the movie reminded me of something I've been thinking about since Christmas (at least). I'll start with the movie then bring it to our lives.

In the movie the mother is dying from cancer. The adult daughter (Zellweger) comes home to live (from NYC) to live and help take care of her mother. She starts to notice some things, which she had not noticed during her idealized childhood. The centerpiece of that revelation was the fact that her father was self-centered and everyone in the family had always existed to serve him, while he pursued his own career (and possible girlfriends on the side). She also learned that one of those "interests" of her father, was being a closet alcoholic. This really frustrated her because her mother should be the center of attention with the fact she was dying.

The Zellweger character started to confront her dad, as in the background, her mother was getting sicker and sicker. Finally one day her mother said something profound. I will paraphrase. "Hun, I'm not dumb. I know of all the shortcomings of our family and your father's selfishness. But leave things alone. Some things are better left alone, and not talking about. Life can be better when you pretend things are well."

Once I posted about the fact that Evangelicalism works best when it is lived dishonestly. You know, never bring up the tough things. I shared it in a frame of thought that I opposed that way of living (back to the red Vs blue pill choice). But I wonder if there are boundaries to honestly.

The reason I was thinking about this at Christmas was I had 4 of my 5 children with me. In the back of my mind, I had several questions I contemplated about asking them . . . but I didn't. I wondered why it was so hard to carry my zeal for honestly to my own family's level. What they currently believe about Christianity? would have been the first one. Denise was wanting to make sure they went to church on Christmas Eve. I didn't care if they went to church (and they did eventually go to please her) but I was deeply interested in what they thought about God. Other question I could have asked them if they are sleeping with their girlfriends, getting drunk, smoking pot? But emotionally, I knew that I would rather not know the answer to some of those questions. If they say that they presently don't believe in God, I know that I would have to respond to that some way, and I'm not sure how. Sometimes knowing can break that facade of peace, and bring in stress. Pretend Christianity is so much easier. Well, at least I'm aware that I intentionally avoid the hard questions many people don't realize that there is a game going on. These kids are all in their 20s. When they were younger, certainly these were topics that we discussed. Even now, if they asked me, which one son and his friends (band) did when they were in our home a year ago, then I wouldn't hesitate. But part of that awkwardness, is knowing that they hope and pray I don't ask those questions.

But I see, like in the movie, so much of the time that the obvious goes unsaid to maintain the appearance of peace. For me, I'm taking my barefoot and running my foot in semi-circles accross the ground, in the dark, trying to find the edge of honesty. So much of myself desires to live in raw reality . . . but some of me doesn't.

Already, I'm known in our circle of Christian friends for not being nice. I don't say hateful things (the abuse of honestly) such as telling someone they are fat, ugly, smelly or stupid. The reason is, I sincerely know that I live in a glasshouse. I would get mad if someone told me those things, even if they were true. But my lack of niceness comes out when pressure is placed on me to lie . . . and I try to refuse to do that.

So where is the balance? If we serve a God of reality, truth and honesty, shouldn't we live in that realm? But to fully live in honesty, where I can say to a extended family member . . . "Okay, let's stop asking the silly questions about when you are getting married . . . we both know you are gay," creates so much tension.

I do want to be nice. If my Christian friends knew my heart, how humble I feel and how dependent I feel on grace and forgiveness, and how I see great value in everyone, they would know I'm nice. But when a pastor orders me to do such and such, because this is God's will and everyone, but me smiles and agrees, I'm the trouble maker and not a nice guy.

Just for "research purposes" this morning, I watched Joel Osteen for about 15 minutes. Now there is a nice guy. I can see why so many people love him. He stood with his pleasant smile and told the crowd of tens of thousands (millions if you include TV) that really good things were coming their way. I want him to be my friend. I want to be like him. But if I were to tell people that I know for sure that they will succeed in business, family or life in general, I know I would be lying. So were is that edge between truth and not being cynical? That's the challenge.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Eden, and East of, A Primer on Human Nature

After a glorious month, I finished East of Eden last night. I feel that I must speak. But remember, I have no claim of being any type of literary critic. Actually, I'm more like the high school sophomore who read it for the first time (which this was the first time) and am blown away by it, in a very naive and basic way.

It of course is a long book, with many nooks and crannies. I won't even attempt to explore them. But I have an overall deep impression. I think Steinbeck has captured the human nature better than anything I've read in a long time.

He has captured the full spectrum of human personality, just like in real life. On one extreme is Cathy, the sociopath. Then in the middle are many people for whom evil and good are in flux and constant battle . . . like for most of us. Then on the other extreme are Samuel and Lee, who are as saintly as any human can aspire to. Not perfect, but to looked upon in deep respect. But also represented are the "good," like Aaron. Not good in the true sense, but a facade of good that has roots in a deep (think of the subterranean primal flow of consciousness I alluded to in my Oklahoma post) emotional and spiritual discord. I've know many Christians, and have been such a one myself, who ascribed to the "good" on the surface as a substitute or balm for the deeper pain.

Anyway, I had to sing the praises of this book. I wish I could teach a Sunday school class on books like this. They go so far to reveal reality much better than the material that most Sunday school classes handle. The problem is, I feel that most would misunderstand. The Evangelical churches, where I've attempted to do classes on books or movies, if they are not blatantly Christian, say The Lion, Witch and Wardrobe, then they don't get it. The first time they get to a word like "damn" the book becomes an outrage. What a shame. On the other extreme, I'm sure I could lead such a class at the Episcopalian church on our island (not all Episcopalian churches are like this) they would miss the point on the other side, as they don't see the Bible as relevant to real life. I think the only place where a book like this would get the respect it deserves and yet yield Biblical insights is maybe somewhere like LAbri, and that rare church which carries such balance.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Evangelicalism is Intellectually . . . AND Morally Bankrupt

It's back to the ole-cynical Mike. It happens everytime.

Once a years, so it has become a tradition, that I have an extended time with my extended family. This means my siblings, their children, my mom, my aunt and etc. It has become somewhat of a blended family when it comes to theological orientation . . . or lack of. I mean in this case, there is a part of the family who is on staff with a famous televangelist. I won't say who, because it could cost this family member their job.

Other family members, including some from the same branch as the televangelist members, are more comfortable with Hooters, strip joints and a long association with avoiding church at all cost. Yet, this diversity is not so pronounced. All of us share the same Southern Baptist roots. The Bible-belt Christianity, which I've alluded to many times, is . . . well, a game. So, when you get this mixed crowd together, depending on which group dominates by number, thus goes the conversation. The Hooters crowd is very comfortable talking "Baptist" when such dominates the mood. Likewise the Televangelist crowd can, chameleon-like, speak a little raunchy when the mood so dictates.

My cynical point is the evening that the Televangelists took control. What happened was that the family member, which works for the famous TV evangelist, had visitors from back home. They were nice people . . . and I sincerely mean that. All three were Evangelists and worked closely with their more famous counterpart. But what was disturbing was the conversation, which I heard during the evening, that left me with the feeling that Evangelicalism is about in the same moral fortitude as the Qaddafi regime.

First of all, the three were traveling through on their way to a natural supplement convention. The convention, so I understand, is where they preach Jesus and sell cancer-curing natural supplements. This is a big money maker for them. Lots of testimonials of people who threw away their chemotherapy and other medical treatments for their cancer, and bought their supplements because this is what Jesus would want them to do. Now, if these evangelist actually believe those "cures" then their failure is being stupid. But I think it is worse than that. I think they know in their hearts that they are selling snake-oil. This makes them murderers. Murder for money. Disgusting! Being snake-oil salesmen is really the oldest profession, not prostitution.

The next thing I heard was in response to the TV blaring in the background (actually, it gave me something to look and listen to so I could avoid hearing more things that would upset me). The news showed Obama making a speech. The one member of the Televangelist crowd said something that made my hair curl. "Someone should have assassinated that man a long time ago."

I turned to them in total disbelief. "I can't believe you could say something like that."

A few minutes later, after a Sponge Bob commercial aired, I got a long lecture about the show. You see, so I learned, that Sponge Bob was created by two "flaming homoooosexuals" who actually created it for a gay, adult TV channel. The show is full of constant symbolism. Bob himself, as they told me, is a vaginal barrier sponge (contraceptive). A couple of the characters apparently wear condoms as hats. Much of the narrative is metaphor for the delights of gay sex. According to them, a deliberate decision was made to air the show on kids' TV to recruit more kids to be gay.
I felt like I was talking to the Taliban. Maybe very little daylight stands between the two groups.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

In Praise of the Singer

NPR did a series early this year on the top 50 voices (singing voices) ever recorded. Some of the singers I certainly recognized . . . many I did not.

Just like I, coming out of my personal dark ages, am working my why through the top 100 English novels, I decided to get to know these voices better.

I went to Amazon's MP3 downloadable section and bought a single song from about 20 of these singers. It certainly ended in quite an eclectic "playlist." On it are singers which range from Karen Carpenter, to Khaled, to Freddie Mercury, to Yossele Rosenblat, to Asha Bholse.

I'm on vacation this week, I guess you would call it that, actually it is an annual family reunion. So, with my many beach walks, I've plugged my MP3 player's ear buds in and listen to the music turned up clearly above the crashing waves. I've been blown away. I've never focused on the singer like I have this week. Another great gift from God, the artistry of the music of the voice.

My two favorites, thus far, are Khaled's Aicha and Eva Cassidy's Fields of Gold.

Just like with the visual artist, I hope that in the new world, which God will remake, that besides having the ability to paint, I dream that I could sing. This I desire far more than angelic wings or halos. I long to sing and sing loudly of not just praise to God, but of the pain of personal sorrows, the elation of romantic love . . . you know, the stuff of most songs.

My voice, however, in its raw state in this mortal body is imprisoned within the concrete and razor wire confines of limited range, untrained or talented precise note placement. I dream to have the voice of a Willy Nelson, a Khaled or Leonard Cohen where I can, without effort express what wanders in the hollows of the heart.

All I can say, is how much I've enjoyed the talents that God has given those who sing, and the gift that I have . . . the ears and feelings to enjoy them immensely.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

"Oklahoma" and Missing Social Cues and the People of the Red Pill

I think I’ve said it before, I believe Freud was right about some things. Actually, most philosophers, psychologists and theologians seem to start with nuggets of truth. The only problem is when they become obsessed with that nugget, taking to the extreme, to the exclusion of other facets of truth. But that is not my point.

I haven’t slept well for a while as I’ve been under a lot of stress. The stress is abating and the other night I had a wonderful 10 hour-night of blissful sleep. I apparently needed to catch up on a lot of dreaming as well. The entire night I felt like I was being led from room to room (or dream to dream) by some invisible guide. The most vivid dream occurred just before awaking, or at least the one I remember the most.

In this dream I was with a large group of family and friends from my past. The friends seemed to be same as they were during the time that I knew them. I think I even remember some characters appearing simultaneously at different ages and from different periods of time, somewhat like Marty meeting himself in 1955 in Back to the Future. The strange thing was that—spontaneously—members of this group (and different characters faded on and off the stage all the time) broke out into well-choreographed songs and dances over an over. I, on the other hand, was the proverbial bull in the China shop with no clue what was going on and, like in reality (rather than a musical), I couldn’t follow the steps, music or lyrics on the spot. My lack of talent was pissing everyone off. So the dream was quickly becoming a nightmare for me.

Getting back to Freud, I really do believe he was right that we have this subterranean flow of consciousness, which can rear its head in dreams and other thoughts and, of course, those infamous slips so named for the man. But that well-spring of thought must be dressed in symbolism once it is above ground, to make the (sometimes disturbing) thoughts palatable and understandable. So they flow in those deep caverns because they are either primal or complex.

What I mean be being too complex is that every (above ground) conscious thought has to be squeezed through the fine-mesh filter of language to even think about them logically inside our heads. Some of this subterranean flow can not be expressed in language so it must remain in the unconsciousness because it is too complex for language. I do believe that elite group of people; poets, song writers, novelist and other artists, have the ability to express some of those complex thoughts through their mastery of language at least more so than us mortals. It could also be the meaning behind the kind of the gift of tongues mentioned in Acts 14, an intimate language between your spirit and God’s. In that case you draw from that deep well and it is expressed directly to God, bypassing our logical, language-based consciousness. Sorry, but I seem to be on another tangent.

So I awaken in this cold sweat. I didn’t have to get up to go to work that morning because I had just completed my last day at my previous job. So I had the luxury of lying on my womb-like “memory-foam bed,” listening to the birds and feeling the cool Puget Sound breeze waffling through the screened window above me. I got to think about the dream, which was so real, that I was honestly surprised when I discovered that the crowd dissipated like semi-transparent fog on a sunny day and I was suddenly in the house alone.

“What was that all about?” I asked myself. I had a strong sense that the dream was from the subterranean aquifer of serious consciousness rather than a simple collage of random memories (which I believe, differently than Freud, is usually the case in dreams). It didn’t take me long to figure out that the “felt board” on which the images were being arranged did come from a recent memory. It was the musical Oklahoma, which I had seen about a month earlier. It was a wonderful production by talented actors from our island, although I did fall asleep and almost fell into the aisle during the second act. But I have an excuse because I was suffering from severe jetlag, having arrived home from Italy that morning.

Once I realized it was the musical, I searched to find the emotions of it all . . . those too complex for simple language. My pondering soon bore fruit with the realization that it is the fear or, or more accurately the reality of being rejected because I fail to follow the social cues. I’ve felt this rejection my whole life.

I want to make it clear that the only reason I decided to blog about this very personal introspection is because I think I’m not alone. I think there is a fairly large group of people who feel like social misfits and have so their entire lives. For me, and I think it could be for most of us go-it-aloners, it is because we have this insatiable desire to live in reality and truth (we are the “red pill” takers, as from the Matrix). So for us, in our minds we aren’t constantly thinking, “What ought I say?” “What ought I do?” Or “What ought I think.” But we are constantly contemplating, “What is the true reality here?”

Because of this personal conspiracy, we intentionally miss the cues and don’t fall in line with the dance steps. This really frustrates those who want conformity and are leading the dance. We mess everything up.

Before I sound heroic, I must add that I am not always true to this longing. I’ve spent moments, hours and even decades forcing myself to look for and act on the cues. Actually trying to learn the cues is not the problem, we know them. The issue is following them. What I mean, is that I sometimes I catch myself mouthing silently the words that I know the person (who does want, desperately, to follow the social mores) is going to say next. We do know the scripts, the dance steps and the timings . . . but we chose not to follow them. The words fall like a chain of clich├ęs. During those long decades of conformity, it was the act of me silencing the voice of reality within me and forcing me to conform to what I knew wasn’t reality or true.

Once again I’ve let my “introduction” eat up the entire blog space. But I want to leave one thought before I try to pick up again next time on my main point.

It was during my Evangelical years that I was the most conformist. Ironically, we Evangelicals convinced ourselves that we were society’s only nonconformists. We took great personal pride that we were “not being conformed to this world but being transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2 I think). In a very dualistic way, we saw us as being heavenly minded and everyone else worldly-minded.

But my point is, we Evangelicals did not understand the rules of social conformity. We were simply conforming to one subculture, while rejecting the other. The mores were even more strictly controlled in our group. We were more conformed to this world (meaning a human-generated subculture) than our non-believing counterparts.

I don’t know why we are the way we are. I know from a very early age I had an intrinsic desire to know truth at all cost and very early one saw through the dance. I remember the coolest girl in my high school telling me, “You could be the coolest guy in this school if you wanted. But instead, you are a fool.”

But this place of nonconformist is a very lonely place to be. I am hated by more Christians than non-Christians. I don’t use the word “hate” loosely either. They would use the language “disappointed in me” or “I’m not Biblical” but those are code words for hating me for rejecting or evening questioning the cues. I saw murder in the eyes of my ex-pastor. It’s hate and they hate me even more for calling it hate.

Again, I don’t mean to sound heroic. I’m not a very good non-conformist. I don’t speak boldly with conviction like a Wilberforce did. He was a heroic nonconformist. I sneak away to myself to avoid the confrontations.

I will try to make more sense about this when I come back. Sorry I rambled too long and probably had my notorious typos.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Perplexities of Proselytizing

It was ingrained int0 my soul and mind a long time ago that I must have my evangelism radar on at all times and a missed opportunity, could send someone to eternal hell.

The paradigm even went as far as to say that the ONLY reason that I was alive was to share the gospel with people, on their way to hell. It was even implied that if you stop sharing your faith, then God just may take you home because you have out-lived your purpose on this earth. Of course I don't believe in this reason for existing anymore.

But I do know how complicated evangelicalism has come for me. I've alluded to this before.

This time, it was a situation Friday night. I'm starting a new medical clinic and Friday was our launch meeting. It was the first time that my office manager, my psychologist and the physician I'm working with were all in the same place at the same time. We had a photo session and then went out to dinner.

It was a truly "working dinner" as we signed contracts, discussed the details of running a medical practice. But the conversation did drift in and out of personal stuff. We would pair off around the table in those conversations. It could be the physician and me talking for a while, then the psychologist and me while the physician was talking to the office manger.

It was during one of those times that talking to the psychologist beside me when I overheard the conversation across the table between the physician and the office manager. It had drifted to books. While I'm reading the old classics, it sounded like both of them were in contemporary best-selling books, the kind you would find on the New York Times top 10. Then I overherd the physician say that he recently when back and read Darwin's Origin of the Species. There was certainly nothing wrong with that and I would like to read it some day.

But then he went on to say something that did surprise me (I didn't listen closely because the psychologist was talking to me about something totally differently and I was trying to listen to her). He said something to the effect that if anyone read it, it would convince then that they don't need to think of a god being necessary for creation. Then he looked surprised at the office manager and said, "Oh, I hope you're not religious and I offended you."

"Oh, no," she said. "I was Lutheran, but then in high school I read the Bible from cover to cover and soon after that Origin of the Species. Darwin made the Bible look silly."

Then the psychologist, catching the end of that conversation said, "Oh, I used to be Lutheran too. But I'm not religious anymore."

That's when I stood like the deer in the headlights. They weren't expecting me to comment as really the center of that conversation was across the table. But I had this conviction that I should.

But that conviction was deeply seated from many years ago. As I thought about it, I knew that anything I said would mess things up. If I were gifted in communication, I'm sure I could have turned this into something good. I could have confidently challenged them on their present philosophical presuppositions.

What I would end up saying is that I was a Christian. Then, without a doubt, in their minds a sudden, and complex, lexicon of assumptions would be made. I would live behind the label of "evangelical" in their eyes from that moment forward for years. I wouldn't have been surprised if they immediately apologized for drinking beer, for having used words like, "hell," "damn" and "shit" during the evening. Then the assumptions would only get worse.

I so much didn't want to go there. But then I had the thought (and all this happened in a matter of about 3 seconds) that I should try to explain what kind of Christian I was, "I use to be an Evangelical Christian but now I'm not. I'm a different kind of Christian who believers differ things. For one, I think that questions are good and doubt are healthy and I don't mind alcohol are saying shit." About this time their eyes would gloss over with, "I don't give a flying f*** what strange religious sect you come from."

So, I just smiled as the psychologist turned back to me and resumed her conversation.

In my present job, everyone knows that I'm a Christian. But they got to know the real me first. They knew I drank beer and, if I was really mad, say "shit." In that way, they didn't make these huge assumptions. Get to know the real me, then you will observe what I believe.

So, it is complicated. I do feel guilty about those conversations. I'm sure a Josh McDowel or many others would have communicated with great authority and clarity. However, if God permits, I will be working with these folks on a daily basis for many years. I do hope I can communicate in things far more meaningful than sound-bites and cliches. But I still feel guilty, like Peter denying Christ. I know that my old Nav-staff leader guy would be very disappointed in me. He had an act for speaking the Gospel whenever he could and you could cut the cloud of social awkwardness around those conversations with strangers with a butter knife. But it didn't matter to him if he made strangers feel even stranger. God had put him on this earth for only one reason . . . to share the Gospel. But, I wish I could be a better wordsmith in those situations.