Sunday, July 24, 2011

An Observation from a Men's Retreat

I am often accused of being an Eeyore . . . you know, looking at the negative side.  Maybe I am, but, there is so much negative within the Evangelical movement there is certainly a lot to not be happy about. Secondly, those who accuse me of being an Eeyore are usually Evangelicals and it is part of that subculture that you are never to be negative (or critical).  That's why I think they are so vulnerable to getting things wrong . . . the lack of critical thinking. I call it the Pollyanna syndrome. I actually watched about 30 minutes of Pollyanna on the Hallmark channel (where else) a few weeks ago. After watching her as a kid, she was presented as a heroine to emulate.  Now, she (the character of course not Halley Mills) appears to be a bit emotionally unstable.

But with that said, as I look at my men's retreat, I will put some angel wings on my Eeyore.  Over all, I will say that the men's retreat was 70% positive.  It was better than I had feared but there were still issues I will talk about later.

This men's retreat was different than many of the ones I've attended in the past due to one major issues and that was a higher appreciation of the intellect.  In this group of 25 men, I think there were three PhD s, one MD, and ten with masters degrees. Of the remaining ones, four were engineers.  Now I know this sounds arrogant and high brow but that is not the way I mean it.  It has more to do with attitude than raw IQ or level of education.

One of the brightest people I know is my friend . . . (did I say "friend"?) . . . Bob.  Bob is a good friend (which I forgot in my last post about not having any friends) but he lives in Italy for 8 months out of the year and I don't get to see him. But Bob doesn't have any advanced degrees.  He spent his life as a fisherman.  But, he has a very high value on knowledge and reads nonstop. He also speaks four languages fluently and knows much about a wide range of topics from current ideals about behavioral science to sub-atomic physics and etc. Bob is also a Christian and the only other man on my island that I can have the same conversations as I do here (save my own kids).

This is in contrast to the last group of men I was in Bible study with (at my old church) where the men believed that Satan's great tool in our society was the university.  They, like I use to do, avoided all "non Christian" books. They believe all scientists are in some grand conspiracy to make our babies atheists. Their scientific knowledge comes from the likes of Ken Ham and other pastors who are self-proclaimed science experts. Their psychological understanding comes from people like Bill Gothard and Dr. Laura.

I will also say that there was a higher level of candidness at this men's retreat than I expected.  I will confess that I didn't just sit in silence but pushed the envelop of honesty by questioning, out loud, things that seemed to be disingenuous. Lastly, I think I got to know many of the men much better and that was my real goal.

Now Eeyore takes off his wings and halo.

There is still part of the men's retreat that disturbs me and a piece of that uneasiness has to do with the profound conformity of the perspectives of the American brand of evangelicalism.  What I mean is, here I am in a church that is far different than my last church, yet I hear the same cliches, the same (extra-Biblical) views on all matters of life.  It is surprisingly homogeneous.

Having had the opportunity to live and travel around the world, I see the exact same views (and once again, this has nothing to do with the simple, black and white of scripture, but a cultural belief system) wherever the Christians have the fingerprints of American Evangelicals on them. For example, I saw the same in a French, Dutch, Pakistani and Egypt evangelical church congregations . . . which were planted by Americans after the Second Great Awakening. Those churches in those countries, which do not have American roots, do not share the views. I make that latter point (about being after the Second Great Awakening) because I did visit an old Presbyterian congregation in Egypt which has its roots in the American Presbyterian Church prior to the Methodist circuit riders and Scofield Bible toting pastors took over the pulpits of America, creating this modern culture of Evangelicalism.  That church too did not share these same political belief systems.

Then, without question, those church traditions which never shared a common trunk with American Evangelicalism had profound differences in these cultural views. Here I'm talking about Palestinian Orthodox (whom I stayed with briefly), Egyptian Coptic and of course Catholics. But if the Catholics have had revival, which started in Evangelicalism, then of course these cultural beliefs do creep in.

I'm going to next express my concerns about this cultural issue and then, if I have time . . . meaning that I'm not feeling like I'm boring you to death . . . I will describe what those beliefs are. But simply the problem I have with the Evangelical cultural beliefs is that they do not recognize them as a product of culture.  The Evangelicals build their wall of universal, Biblical truth, outside these cultural beliefs, thus enclosing them and making them equal with true Biblical truths such as God is there, and He created the universe. That's the real problem.

If, in humility, they recognized that their view that Israel (the nation) was created by God in 1948 to usher in the last days was a cultural belief rather than a clear-cut Biblical mandate . . . that would be different. The Palestinian Orthodox have radically different views of the creation of the nation of Israel, not as God's gift to the world but some of the worst part of the curse of the fall. But you have to read these beliefs within their personal experiences.  If we stuck to the pure Biblical truths (which are few and simple) then the churches throughout the world would truly  have a common ground.

So, in one last illustration and I will have to save the specifics of this men's retreat for next time because I see your eyes glossing over, I will point out why this universal evangelical concerns me.

When we first moved to Cairo in 1988 and my tongue was still fine-tuned to the American cuisine, I learned a difficult lesson.  Egypt, at that time (which is very different today as I visited there three years ago) had no variety, especially when it came to nontraditional foods.  I visited the little market about 2 miles from our house and the only cereal they had was Cornflakes. That's it. They didn't even have Oatmeal.  The ONLY soda they had was Pepsi.  They had only one brand of milk sold in a liter box.  So, I started to take the buses to other parts of Cairo to shop.  Every store I went in had the exact same arrangement. One spot on the shelf was set aside for Cornflakes and their one spot for Pepsi.  All the other foods were exactly the same.  Even the Egyptian-made foods were exactly the same in all stores.  This was so profound that when we got back to the states and friends took us to a huge American Supermarket for the first time, Denise literally had an emotional breakdown and we have to leave. The choices were overwhelming. Rather than one chunk of cheese, in the same wrapping in every store, there were 200 choices in cheeses alone.

So, when I go to a men's retreat in a very different church but I hear the same cliches and beliefs (again nothing to do with the Bible, type of beliefs) I feel disappointed.

But in closing this segment, I will restate that it was over all a positive experience and I'm glad I went.

I will do one more posting about those beliefs and attitudes that I wish I could make fluid (I respect you if think Obama is a madman but also respect you if you think he is a saint, knowing that neither view is "God's view" but your own, personal one). But when I attempted to oppose them I could see in the response of some of the men, that I was opposing God Himself. The socialization process is as profound as in middle or high school where there was intense pressure to dink your first beer or loose your virginity.  It is the same social mechanics and I just wished the Evangelicals would recognize that it human nature . . . and not the "Word from the Lord."  That's why, when my the pastor of my old church said that he was "anal" about  making that church Biblical, I knew that he was anal about putting up the walls of God's certainty, around and enclosing his personal views and manipulative behaviors. Who can resist anything, with a clear conscience, if you believe the thing you are resisting is from God.


Anonymous said...

It's not fair to keep us hanging like that! :-)

jmj said...

I'm sorry but I know tend to ramble too much. I know that my personal attention span is short and it is not fair for me to assume other wise for the readers of my ramble.

Anonymous said...

I would like to be your friend. I am tired of Christian professors and pastors extrapolating from the Bible, and then acting like their extrapolations are just as infallible as the Bible itself. I recently left a church because they were pretty condescending and indignant when I began to ask them WHY they felt certain things were necessary when the Bible never says as such.

jmj said...

I think the best case in point and litmus test is if you were attending a church and said, "I think we should do away with the Sunday morning service because I have a better method for meeting together to encourage one another." There would be complete outrage and 99% of the church would stand up and quote obscure scriptures "proving" that meeting in a big hall on Sunday morning is mandated by God and nothing less.

Jaimie said...

You mention a differing view of the creation of the modern-day Israel... do you have a book or article that you can recommend that would further discuss what that view is? I just want to be more educated on that.

jmj said...

Jaimie, I think my main point that the views can vary and that's okay. In the US it proclaimed that Israel was part of Biblical prophecy and the fact that it came together in 1948 is proof that we are in the last days.

For the Palestinian Christian view I strongly recommend the book "Blood Brothers."

My personal view, and this is ONLY Mike's view and I have no claim to say, as the other side does, that this is the one and true "Biblical" view is the following:

It was a horrible thing what happened to the Jewish people during WWII. About the worst thing that has ever happened to a people group. In the great (and good) compassion that the world felt for the Jews after WWII Wilson, Churchill and the others, with great influence of American Evangelicalism, decided that the best solution was to give the Jewish people a homeland, even though the Palestinian people had been living and owning that land for 1800 years.So I see it as people butting in and trying to create prophecy fulfillment.

Jaimie said...

Thanks! Just sent the first chapter to my Kindle.