Sunday, May 29, 2011

Somewhere

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

Somewhere.
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).

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Really loved this post.

For me, I have given up trying to find it. I'm getting to the point where I'm thinking, "If the sub-culture created by this belief system is *this* unhealthy...what does that mean?" I've stepped back from the whole thing altogether (evangelical Christianity) and am trying to take a good honest look. My hope is that if God is real and is Love, truly Love, then God understands and can't fault me for asking some really hard questions of a belief system that pretty much demands a *lack* of growth in order to belong to it.

M

solarblogger said...

Some congregations like you wish to see are out there. At least in the sense where the evangelical views are far from dominant. You get the wrong few people around, and you might be in trouble. But it will be a surprise, and likely, someone else standing around will come in and join on your side of the discussion.

That said, even if you find such a place, you still run into situations like you describe. Some Pete from the past makes contact. That remains a challenge.

One resource that might take the conversation with Pete in an interesting direction is a book from a century ago, The Medical Language of St. Luke by Hobart. Luke's language is evidence that he was well-schooled in the medical knowledge of his time, even describing symptoms of mania (a label we take from the ancient world). Perhaps St. Luke's use of secular terminology could give your friend permission to think more broadly.

Eagle said...

MJ...love the post. As long as we're alluding to West Side Story have you seen this parody called "Web Site Story?"

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtPb8g8Jl6I

Also if you can find a way to base a blog posting off the song "Dance 10, Looks 3" from A Chorus Line...well I'll buy you a beer!! 8-O


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3x09R5DKWYo

(just kidding....)

Eagle said...

MJ on a serious note I understand what you are saying. Here I am in my mid 30's, burned out by evangelical Christianity, not knowing what I believe (though I feel more of my views are asociated with agnosticism) and trying to move forward. I'm kind of sitting on the sidelines watching people I know subscribe to what derailed me - moving forward, having no problems, (meaning they are hidng it..) etc.. And I don't know what to do.

There's something that for me has been most disturbing. In my effort to find answers to my questions which have haunted me I befriended a guy who has been having discussions with me over a host of issues. He subscribes to much of what Mark Driscoll, John Piper, says etc.. However in an effort to be more "reformed" this guy and his wife have gotten involved in an evangelical church in the area that is frightening. This church is part of a denomination that has scores and scores of web pages by former members detailing problems of sexual abuse, Biblical discipline leaving people psychologically scarred, strict courtship that harms teenagers, authoritarin leadership which discourages questions, etc.. I can't believe some of the stuff I've read on the net and the number of hurt people. And I'm really concerned for my friend.

I'm afriad he's going to end up like me...burned out, cynical, and unsure of what he believes in. Yet I'm the one who wants to believe in God, but at this stage of my life...I just can't. Yet when I consider my own fundgelical experiences, what MJ says, and watch a freind dive head first into a denomination that has such a storied record with spirtual abuse, yet is known for strong "reformed theology" I guess the safest place for me is to remain agnostic nad remain on the sidelines. There's nothing in modern Christianity that I find attractive. It's too superficial. Yet I wish that wasn't the case.

Why is evangelicalism so toxic? That's what I want to know....

jmj said...

I think a lot of human endeavors are toxic. Christians get by with more toxicity because they can play the game, "God says" for a long time until the people come to their senses or become fool-fodder.

Solarblogger, I don't know where people keep finding these interesting books. I still haven't had the chance to read NT Wright. I'm working on the Invisible Man right now.

solarblogger said...

The Invisible Man sounds promising. H.G. Wells or Ralph Ellison? If Wells, I loved The Time Machine. I recently finished a second reading of Dracula by Bram Stoker. Not all my reading is serious.

I found the book I linked when I was teaching an adult Bible class on Luke. I was paid for the series, so it was easy to spend time researching. The book is not one I would plan to read through, anyway. Take a look over it when you get a chance just to see the type of material in it. You can learn an awful lot quickly. I was amazed at what sharp observers the ancient doctors were. Their remedies may or may not have been very effective, but their descriptions of illnesses were intriguing. Luke offered all kinds of medical detail in cases where the other evangelists did not.

Herminator said...

Hi I have to say that - like many of your posts - this resonates with me and my life! But I not only come from an evangelical background, I still belong to an evangelical church and would still describe myself as evangelical.
There are places for you, brother, sometimes in churches you would´t expect it. I can question and doubt as much as I need, my pastor and many others in my church are - at least - willing to listen, to think with me and then sometmes we agree to differ!
Wht you describe seems to me like a veery extreme fringe evangelicalism seen from Germany, we have these here too, but wew have a lot of evangelicals who are thoughtful and honest, able to differentiate and not see the world ssolely in b/w.
So I will be praying for you, that you have the strength to walk your path with GOD, a path that leads you nearer to HIM not an evangelical picture of him, HE is so much greater!

Shalom
Hermann

jmj said...

Ralph Ellison

Yeah, forgot that there are two, totally different types of books with the same title.

Anna A said...

This posting resonates with me, also. Even though my group, this time, was my high school classmates. Reunion this weekend, and I went. I was hoping to see if maturity on everyone's part would enable some connections that weren't there 40 years ago.

Wrong: I was still the smartest girl in class, and being a chemist didn't help either. No chance to see how others had grown up. Yes, lots of marriages, kids and grandkids, but nothing deeper.

Yes, I was expecting too much, but one can hope, can't they.

I'm just glad to be home, and thankful that home has changed.