Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Subtle Art of Spiritual Abuse Part III Scene One

Okay, I must give a caveat before we move on. As this story develops, I don't want to create good guys and bad guys. My point is, like in real life (Steinbeck expresses it well in East of Eden) we all have our baggage, some more than others.

Scene I. The setting is in the church's break area, off the side of the main vestibule, which has been named "Son Bucks." The purpose of the large alcove is a place for people to gather and fellowship between services. They even have one of their teenagers working as a Barista. Tom is over in the corner sipping coffee and talking to his 13 year old son Calvin, who is asking once again if they could go home early. Out of the corner of his eye he notices a group of people coming in his direction. Soon Tom recognizes a common denominator of the group and is the fact that they all live in his "cell." The church had divided up the suburb into 5 square mile cells and had set up a small discipleship study in each cell. Tom and Sandy had led their cell group's study several times.

Brenda Pullman spoke for the group. "Tom we have a request for you."

Tom sips his coffee and raises his eyebrows to show interest while he blows softy across the lip of his Styrofoam cup. "Yes."

"Well we've been talking. The fall Bible study will be starting in a few weeks and a topic that all of us are interested in is about parenting teens. Virtually every family in our cell has either a teen or will soon have a teen in their household. It is tough. We admire the way that you and Sandy are raising your boys and we think you would make a great leader."

Tom, "Well that's an interesting idea. Certainly I'm no expert" looking over and smiling at Calvin, "But I can facilitate a discussion."

George Way (standing with Brenda), "So you'll do it?"

Tom, "I'll at least pray about it, do some research and bring it up at our next ministry meeting."

Brenda, "Tom, I hope you understand how important this is. Each family in this group is struggling. You know as well as we do that within this small group we've had one teen pregnancy, a drug arrest, a serious car crash and several kids who have dropped out of school and/or church."

Tom with a sad frown, "Yeah I know. We do need some help."

Over the subsequent weeks Tom did some research trying to create a curriculum. His wife gave him a couple of books such as "Raising Children Who Love God" and "Discipleship Starts at Home."

Tom read those books, but also read a couple of, what Sandy called "secular," books written by psychologists. He was starting to get pretty excited about the idea. Being a father of two teen boys, he really had a heart for such discussions.

The following Tuesday night was the monthly elders meeting which was expanded to include all the ministry teams. It was their tradition to take this August Elder's meeting as a time of getting direction for their big Fall ministry strategy.

Side Bar: Pastor Pete has a style of leadership that was confident and full of life. One of his downfalls was they he seemed to have great enthusiasm but a touch of ADD. He would launch a great ministry endeavor, convincing the entire church that this is exactly what God wanted them to do, but in three months he would be going in an entirely new direction.

Pete was also a micromanager and had a habit of making confident decisions to suddenly replace a program director without any discussion or warning. During his, now two year, reign there had been several families who quietly left out the back door after Pete had run over them like a steamroller. However, he didn't feel bad about that. Actually, he didn't really feel bad about anything he did because he was always so confident that he was doing the right thing. He had twice as many new families coming in the front door (switching from other churches), being drawn by his charismatic persona and strong convictions about having a "Biblical church."



Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Subtle Art of Spiritual Abuse Part II - Meet Tom Ledbetter

Tom (sorry Bob Newhart) Ledbetter is a 48 year old man who has been active with CBC since moving to the Kansas City area fifteen years ago. He taught Sunday school many times both for the kids and adult programs. He became an elder and served in that role twice. He was just re-elected elder, the first time since Pete came to the church 15 months earlier.

Tom is married to Sandy and they have two teen-aged sons, Robert and and Calvin. Tom is a quiet man, some see as humble and some (like Pete and maybe Sandy) read as timid or lacking leadership qualities.

When you peel back the layers, Tom does struggle a lot with feelings of inferiority and self-doubt. Part of those feelings may have been created when his dad walked out on the family when he was ten. Deep inside he always felt that it was somehow if was his fault. His dad liked baseball and had been a Pee Wee coach and Tom never could play that well. But in almost unspoken words, deep down he has this unfortunate notion that if he had only played baseball better, his dad would have stayed. But he is a sincere man, without many aspirations to get a lot of attention.

Sandy Ledbetter (played by Patricia Heaton), grew up in the perfect family. Her father was a conservative Baptist minister and she had seven "perfect" siblings. She was very devoted to church work from an early age and attended a very conservative Bible college in the Southeast. She met Tom when the two of them worked together at an insurance company in Saint Louis. They lived there for six years before moving to their present place. Sandy has always pushed Tom to take highly visible roles in the church and frequently voices her disappointment in him. Her level of godliness intimidates Tom further. Also, in her secret places she is awestruck on Pete and at times feels like he is the kind of man she wishes she had married. She would never even talk about this with anyone outside her own head, or even "verbalize" to herself that she has some romantic feelings towards Pete . . . but as a good Christian woman, she is devoted to Tom.

Jeremy Steffens (played by a young John Mayer) is a 26 year old recent Bible college graduate and at his first church as a youth/assistant pastor. He has been married to Ann for two years and they are expecting their first baby. Jeremy loves working with youth, going to concerts, ski trips and doing game night. He is delighted to have a decent paying pastoral job after looking for over a year while he worked odd jobs. He is the son of TEAM missionaries who had
just retired from Kenya. His family has always expected him to go into the ministry. He feels like it was his destiny, although to him, having grown up around missionaries, can hardly take it seriously. He learned at a young age what to say to really impress people. Yet, it did not bother him to take the bus into Nairobi with his fellow Christian boarding school friends and get plastered.

He met Ann at a bar, which no one really knows. She had some Catholic background and honestly, deep in her heart, is somewhat agnostic . . . favoring new age spiritualism . . . but would never talk about it out loud. While Jeremy feels very comfortable in Evangelical circles, it has never come to her easily. She does try very hard to be the good pastors wife, however, before she was pregnant, and with Jeremy's blessing, she use to go clubing in Chicago with her friends knowing that no one in their church would ever find out. That is Jeremy's main condition for her, that she not get caught drinking or dancing . . . if so, he could loose his job.

Jeremy, feels a little intimidated by Pete and jealous at the same time. Yet, he knows that he has to be Pete's yes man or he could loose his job and his health insurance.

But all on the surface, CBC is a wonderful Evangelical church filled with Godly people whose only motives are to do God's perfect will.



Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Subtle Art of Spiritual Abuse

Okay, what does Rob Lowe have to do with spiritual abuse? Nothing that I know of. But I'm going to borrow the man's persona and confident looks to fill out the flesh of a fictional character, Pete Sorensen . . . that's pastor Pete Sorensen. But before I continue this saga, as usual, I will share why I am going there.

I had just a few moments this past week to visit Imonk. I stumbled onto the discussion about girls being the victims of Christian patriarchal mindsets. The thing that grabbed my attention was the sidebar discussion of what constitutes "abuse." Like art, I think it is in the eyes of the beholder. But I do think that think that spiritual abuse is not the exception but part of the fabric of Christian society.

Of course Evangelicals do not have the corner on abuse. It is my thesis that we all are desperately insecure (an that's why the grace of the gospel should be so appealing) and in that desperation, we each have the capacity to manipulate and even abuse those around us. If Evangelicals have a disadvantage it is because they believe and are taught that through spiritual growth, they leave behind all that nasty self-centeredness and move on to a world where all their motives are "Jesus centered." So, Evangelicals often become more vulnerable than those on the secular side due to their naivety.

So, I thought I would make up purely fictional story to illustrate how this plays out in the typical church. It will take a few posts to finish this. So tonight I briefly introduce you to Pete. He is a 42 year old pastor of the Community Bible Church (CBC) in a suburb of Kansas City. He was a basketball star in high school and even played on his Bible college's team. He was always very confident, articulate and aggressive, some would say a true "Type A." He also had a bright smile that won people over in a second. He was a good catch for the CBC, which was poised to experience a period of rapid growth from its present congregation of 500, with their eyes set on possibly becoming the next mega church. In his previous church he had tripled their Sunday morning worship in a matter of eight years.

More to come.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Moving Ahead . . . and A Midnight with the Legends of the Pen

Here's my problem. I had been gathering some interesting thoughts over this past week . . . thoughts about the same old issue, trying to be a Christian while living in reality.

I had the notion that I would spend my Sunday afternoon typing out a well-thought-out essay. But instead, I've spent the last four hours working on my new business and now, once again I'm typing like mad just to put together a few loose thoughts.

The reason I decided to start this business (headache clinic if you are curious) was because last fall I was becoming an empty-nester, and I knew that I was destine to be empty myself. That means, spiraling downward in depression and loneliness.

Having worked in headache clinics for most of my life, I had always had a dream of creating a better one in the back of my mind. Last fall, when I committed to doing this, it was like grabbing the horns of a rabid (and add Mad-cow disease infested) steer. It has bounced around between a hellish nightmare of financial ruin to euphoria and back again . . . but always, consuming. That's why I've felt frustrated that I could not put my thoughts together here in a coherent way, nor could I feast on the thoughts of other bloggers the way I should.

The good news is that my plan worked! I never had time to drown in the melancholy wasteland that I'm so familiar with. Where I sink into the muck up to my waste and can't walk out. Besides, Ramsey, my last (of five) child is sitting with me right now and has been almost every week end since he "went off to college."

Okay, enough of all of that. I will say I have some thoughts that I wish I could express to someone.

It was an interesting night last night. On Friday night I worked in Bellingham, where my clinic has a second office. I noticed that the small theater down the street was showing Midnight in Paris. I first heard of this movie through my third son, Tyler. He is the one that got me turned on to fiction. Two years ago he was playing in a band called Caulfield and the Magic Violins. Since then it has been shortened to just "Violins." Their theme song (and biggest "hit") has the chorus about saving the children who were falling off the cliff while running through the rye field. Believe it or not, I didn't know what that meant. After all, I grew up in the Bible belt where the very wise (dualistically speaking) school board had banned most great novels. Any novel that had words like damn, shit, suggestions of alcohol, sex outside of marriage and certainly "sonofabitch." So we, even as high schoolers, were left with Winnie the Pooh and not much else. So, in the past two years I've been introduced to more Christian truth by the likes of such word-smiths as Joyce, Faulkner, Lawrence and Butler than by a thousand Baptist preachers.

So my fifth child, Ramsey said to me (actually at this very table where I'm sitting right now but two years ago) "Dad, if you really want to get inside Tyler's head, you've got to read a Catcher in the Rye. I read it . . . and Holden changed my life. A boy who wanted to see life as it really, really was . . . and realized that we are all a bunch of phonies.

So, to make a long story short (or at least shorter) I gave Tyler a call. "Hey, Midnight in Paris is playing in Bellingham, want to go?"

"Certainly."

So at 6 PM, Tyler, Ramsey and I loaded up in the topless Jeep (which I had cut the top off with a Bowie knife when the windows broke) and drove the cold twisty road, which hugs the cliffs above Puget Sound, up to Bellingham.

It was very enjoyable movie in the typical Woody Allen style (it reminded me a lot of Purple Rose of Cairo). A surreal and causal journey across realities. But it was a lot of fun to ease-drop on Fitzgerald, Picasso and Hemingway during their Paris "artist gang" days.

Afterwards, the three of us (at 10 PM) went out to dinner at a nice Asian restaurant overlooking the bay. We had a wonderful talk about art, novels and music. Tyler was saying the same thing that Jeff Dunn was saying the other day on Imonk. basically the music world has collapsed (like the literary world) around corporate hype. As Jeff said, deep thinkers who are good writers and have something to say, are invisible to publishers. However, the famous are stalked by publishers for their name . . . so they can get a ghost writer to create a book for them.

So, in the Christian world, the big sellers are Jon and Kate Gosslin teaching people how to have a Christ-centered marriage. Sad. Tyler was saying that the music world is reflective of the same mindset. So, Lady Ga Ga can make millions . . . woops, I mean billions, for someone, but does she have anything to say?

Hemingway certainly couldn't get published today or virtually any of the top novelist . . . not unless they had had sex with a senator first.

But I will end this now as I must, unfortunately, go do the books at my business and see if I have enough money to keep the doors open in July. I hope to work in a kayak paddle before the sun sets.

I will try to come back tomorrow and start what I wanted to post. After reading on Imonk the debate about what is "abuse," I thought I would like to create a narrative of deconstructing what spiritual abuse looks like at the local church level. Not whining about stuff I've been through, but creating a totally fictional account.

Sorry about the typos but once again I'm late.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Another Cross Roads

Well, I haven't been around the Internet in many months . . . at least not for reading or writing posts. I've been in the process (and I think I've mentioned this before) of starting a brand new medical practice. The practice has been off the ground for a month now. It is still busy, but not as busy.

I'm thinking about whether or not I should continue this blog or not. I feel I write quickly, not so clearly and in a confusing tone.

If I do decide to continue, I hope I can once again give it the attention I need to.

I was over at Imonk tonight for the first time in weeks. I miss this community of questioners with whom the echos of my own thoughts come back to me and tell me I'm not alone.

I'm not sure why I am writing this but just to express some thoughts . . . outside my head, so I can read them for myself.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ghostland

Friday night I was at an annual end-of-the-school-year music festival. The origins of the festival, some ten years ago, was a conglomeration of Christian entities, youth groups and etc. I don't know for sure what goal was envisioned by the founders . . . although I did sit on the board of one of the major current supporting organizations. Maybe it was just to enjoy all types of rock music and have fun and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.

Actually, I like that purpose much better than the ole switch-n-bait type of programs Christian groups are famous for. That's where you go around and tell a bunch of high school or college kids, "Hey dude, we're having a great party down at the rec building all the cool people will be there. We have some great bands and there's no cover charge." So then you get all the people there, expecting a good time of drinking, smoking a little dope, hoping to hook up with the opposite sex . . . but instead, they have a big surprise. The doors are locked (almost) and a youth pastor, who is obvious trying too hard to be hip takes the mic and introduces a list of Christian bands, each trying to out-do the other with intensely emotional and manipulate experiences . . . trying to get the kids to make a confession of faith in Jesus.

So none of that happens in this music festival, and that's a good thing. You wouldn't even know it was a Christian event if one of the youth leaders hadn't come up to the microphone and mention it. I was there for the simple reason that my son Tyler was playing in one of the bands.

As I looked out over the crowd of about two to three hundred people spread out on a Puget Sound beach with the beautiful San Juan Islands in the background, I started to get this eerie feeling, like it was a ghostland. Shells of people walking around like holographic projections above a very different reality.

Now, before I completely loose you with this obscure though I want to do my usual disclaimer. I am not writing to say there was something wrong with this concert program or it should have been different. I'm certainly not writing from the angle that I have my crap together and everyone else is messed up. Once again I'm writing from the perspective of a Holden Caulfield or a Solomon.

So, I look out over the crowd and dispersed among the crowd were Christian leaders from around out community. Just behind me was my old pastor. He smiled, as did I and we waved. Beneath the surface we can't stand each other. The last "meaningful" conversation we had was now a year ago when he was sitting at my dinning room table in a fit of pure rage and hatred for me . . . because I was leaving his church. But we smiled. We pretend to forgive each other or to act like there is peace, when I know there is not. I still feel deeply hurt. I know that he hates me, but getting him to admit it would be impossible as he lives far up the holographic scale.

Then that brings me to myself. There I stand as a proud father and Christian husband, who in his secret places sometimes feels damned depressed, confused and uncertain about anything. Sometimes I harbor anger (like what I just mentioned) and the list personal failures goes on to infinity.

Then I look behind me. There's Bob. Strong Christian man and elder in the big Church of God. He and I served on the board of the youth organization. We had a bizarre turn in our relationship a few years ago. When it came time to set up the youth organization's annual fund raising dinner, he said that he was friends, or at least had contact, with a famous Washington state sports hero (and known for being a Christian) and he could invite him to speak. We agreed. Over the subsequent months Bob gave frequent reports of meeting with the sports hero and how excited he was to be coming. Then the night of the banquet came. The sports hero wasn't there. The director called him (or his agent). Oddly, they said they had never heard of Bob or our organization. I didn't want this to rest because I was confused. At the next board meeting I asked Bob what happened. He mumbled something about famous people aren't very reliable, especially when they are football players. That didn't satisfy me. My wife wanted me to hush and I did.

Strangely, I had the opportunity to meet the sports hero's girlfriend a few months later. I brought up the situation. She, of course, didn't know anything about it but she assured me that if her boyfriend had committed to speak, which he often does, that he would not have stood the people up. She pointed out that he is just not that arrogant. Yet, we live in this land of mist and mirages without ever knowing what the hell is going on.

Then I see a staff couple of another Christian group. For reasons that I have no clue about, even though I've spoken to them many times, they always pretend not to know me. I've seen them avoid me in the coffee shop like the plague . . . and I have no idea why. Then, one day, they acted like I was their long-lost best friend. But within a week of that wonderful encounter, I get a letter asking for financial support. So what is that all about? Since I didn't give, they are back in their avoiding me mode and pretending they don't know me.

As I look at the list of bands, I see a pattern. Like my son's band, they each have some odd connection to the church, although, without exception, they have all left Christianity.

In my son's case, he met most of his fellow band-members in youth group. They are in their twenties now. The band leader and I have had very honest conversations. He is clearly an agnostic with some pantheistic influence. He still plays "Christian" when he needs to. I think my son is in a similar place, although he is far more hesitant to talk about it with his dad.

So I stand and look out across ghostland, my son's band is playing one of their most popular songs. I think that Mike, the lead singer wrote it. I've read the lyrics and discussed them with him. It is clearly a Caulfied type of perspective on Christianity . . . we are all phonies. The song says that no one in the Church could give answers to why his brother suffers, no one gave honest answers about any real question, so he doesn't believe any of it any more.

But the music was rock and typical of rock, you can't hear the vocals well enough (or at least us middle-agers can't) to understand what they are saying. But it was surreal. Here was this anti-Church song being rocked out across the Puget Sound waters and the Church people (who only made up about 10% of the audience) smiling with the beat.

Sometimes I just want to scream. I want to say . . . "Doesn't anyone hear what they are saying? They deserve a discussion! These are real thoughts from real kids and no one gives an answer." We all think we must have peace at all cost, even if below the surface the pastor hates me, I despise him in spite of my best intentions, everyone is playing games with each other. Weird things are happening and no one ever gets below the surface. It is a ghostland. Holographic images of smiling people, me included, superimposed on the Fall.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Komodo and Sin, Part IV

(Pictured is my grandson and the bronze Komodo Dragon outside the real Komodo exhibit . . . which got me started thinking about the beast.)

What I'm really trying to say is that the Christian Gospel is the remedy for guilt . . . not for sin. As we say in medicine (when we are talking about a drug) is that it has the FDA approval for, or indication for, a certain disease. The Gospel is indicated for guilt. Using it for sin is what we call using it off-label, or for purposes that it was never intended for. Those who say, "Become a Christian so that you can grow and be righteous" don't understand the Gospel. That's why Mary Magdalene understood it the best of all the close followers of Jesus. That's why her love was misunderstood by so many, from Andrew Loyd Weber, to Dan Brown. She knew the Gospel like few others. I bet she followed Jesus wishes after that point better than anyone because of her grace-spun love for Him. The Gospel is not a license to "Go Wild" but as the source of comfort for her marrow, that deep place of shame, guilt and inferiority.

The big misconception is that the gospel sets you free from sin, but really it sets you free from the poison of guilt. The dragon still bites, but the septicemia doesn't take root. The real problem of the Fall is the pandemic guilt that corrodes society and the Gospel is spot on for dealing with that problem. If the church had been known for being the grace dispenser, then you couldn't build them big or fast enough. They would all be over-crowded. Instead the churches are dying a slow death as the young people escape to find oxygen and the freedom to know truth.

When I talk like this, my evangelical friends start to roll their eyes and suggest that I'm being soft on sin. They imply if people listened to me, they would just go wild. You've seen the X rated videos haven't you, "Evangelical's Gone Wild?" That's a joke of course. I'm not saying that at all. I promote the raising of the standards of obeying the rules to the point that Christians stop lying, even if they are lying "for Jesus." That they stop lying to themselves (manipulating people for personal gain and thinking it is for God's glory.)

When you believe that the Gospel makes you, practically (not just legally) righteous, when it doesn't, then you start to pretend you are. The more you pretend, the more you drift out of reality and into the sea shrouded by mist, self-deception and shadow boxing with true motives. With the more loss of the real come the more loss of true guilt. Then you really do go wild in your morals but under the pretense of smiles and working for God. You control people, use them, abuse them . . . all for God while hiding your women, whiskey and stolen money in the closet.

I will admit that there is a place in secular society where there is a lack of guilt too. The most notorious is among the true psycho and sociopaths. These people (speaking of the psychopaths) can take a kid, rape them, torture them, kill them . . . even eat them, and sleep like a baby that night. They can even go to church the next day (thinking here of Dinnis Rader, the BTK killer who did just that, and at the same time served his Lutheran church and the Boy Scouts as an outstanding citizen).

But the milder side of the guilt deficient, and the more common, are people with various personality disorders. They can secretly plan to destroy you completely, all the while smiling big. A lot of them reside in the church.

But these guiltless people are the minority. The under-girding of human life is guilt, lots of it. We all feel inferior. Those who say they don't, well, it is part of their game of pretending to be above it all, in order to bury their deep insecurities and guilt as deeply as they can.

But there is a balm in Gilead

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Komodo Bite and the Bite of Sin, Part III


Here is my perspective on this back-drop to sin. Not saying that it is correct but it makes more sense to me, when I think honestly.

God, eternal being, always existed and always will. Where he resides, no one knows. It could be in another dimension. It also could be in another dimension-less realm, beyond our imaginations. Maybe it is super-reality. Nonetheless, because creativity is part of His nature, He decided to create a universe, of substances that we call space, time and matter. Within that universe, He creates beings (persons) . . . once again because creativity is part of His nature. There is, additionally, a mystery of motives, things that we can not comprehend or even speculate about.

Love is not an attribute that God decides to have, but it is simply the very essence of His nature. The concept of love would be meaningless without God, as the concept of clocks would have no meaning if there was no such thing as time.

Because God wanted his created beings to enjoy life in the material world, out of which they were made and for which they were made, He gave them some instructions. The instructions are not arbitrary, but reflect the reality that is there, in the same way a Boeing 747 looks symmetrical not arbitrarily but because it reflects the nature of reality . . . speaking of the laws of aerodynamics.

For example, God instructs us that sexual relations works best within the framework of mutual commitment. Children conceived in sexual relations are best raised within that same framework.

Society functions most fully when there is no stealing. As a matter of fact, if all forms of stealing would absolutely end today, the entire world would experience an economic boom that would blow our minds. Even in the developing world, poverty would end within months if not weeks. It would take too long to explain that here, but the need for security, keys, codes, bars, watchmen, police and the list goes on and on and one would be superfluous.

If all lying would cease, the psychological welfare of the human world would be a hundred times healthier. Mental hospitals would be mothballed in places. The mental games would end. The deceptions would end and we would all be thrust into reality . . . mostly the good of it.

So, Satan, the great accuser steps in. I will not even attempt to explain HIS existence. Any attempts would quickly put me back into the Hansel and Gretel camp . . . which I would like to avoid. It is a mystery why Satan exists, but certainly not simply to test us to find out who deserves Heaven or . . . who does not.

So, a person fails to fulfill the rules for healthy living. He or she lies. Yes, it does have consequences in reality. We each, who live in the sphere of that lie, suffer psychological damage from it. We know reality a little less. However, that lie is not catastrophic. God doesn’t beginning sobbing uncontrollably, and differently from what is often preached at us, we alone did not cause the crucifixion of Christ because of that single lie.

Like the bite of the Komodo Dragon, that lie breaks through surface of utopia and scars it. But it is the poison of that bite, which, when goes to seed, does the most damage. It is the accuser who uses that inconsistency or failure (what we would call sin) to try and destroy the individual. Sometimes the pastor joins forces with that effort, “you nailed the nails in our loving savior’s outstretched hand (any psychologist would tell you that is master guild manipulation).

“You did what? You are disgusting! No other decent human being lies.” That’s the message of Satan . . . as the bacteria starts to cause septicemia of the soul.

Death comes like through the proverbial thousand cuts. After lying, comes lusting. “You really had a sexual thought when you looked at that bikini-clad beauty walking by? You are truly repulsive! No decent Christian man would never have thought that way. What’s wrong with you, you pervert!”

“You were angry? How could you be at this point in your life? You’ve been a Christian (or just a person as this applies to non-Christians just as easily) for how long? And things still piss you off? Man, something is wrong with you! You make me sick.” And the accuser continues his taunting and he rubs his hands together in his conniving strategy to destroy you.

The thousand cuts eventually come to the point of feeling, really down deep in your soul, that you are inferior. After all the fa├žades, which is all you see when you look at other people, is perfection. They don’t lie, lust or feel angry, or do they?

Then your feelings of self worth start to crumble, from the inside out. It is almost subliminal. You wake up one morning and the world is different. You are in the minor league, everyone else is in the major league. To compensate, you stop loving other people. You’ve failed God, your creator, so you have no value anymore. You want to push others down to your perceived level, so you hurt them . . . secretly. You start jumping through hoop after hoop looking to win back the God who, according to the accuser, is disgusted in you. This feeling of worthlessness is the root of all anxiety disorders, of all depression and those are only the tips of the iceberg.

The thousand cuts fester and you collapse and fall. Worthless, worthless, worthless . . . the bite of simple sin, under the influence of the great deceiver, has taken its prey! You are now dead.

Meanwhile God says, “Wait a minute! I made the rules FOR you, not to test you. You know, the sabbath is for YOUR PHYSICAL AND MENTAL REST! Not for proving that you love me by doing, or not doing, X,Y and Z on that day. Sure, failing the rules diminishes your quality of life . . . a bit. But it is recoverable. It is not the end of your world. You have the same value as before! I’m not looking for the top 10% of rule followers.

Okay, so you still hate yourself? I’ll fix that. Regarding the legalities of the rules, when I look at you, I see the perfection of Christ, if you are covered IN HIM. What I’m really looking for is for those who have not been swept up in this downward spiral of self-hate, which always leads to the hatred of others (as you push down on them to give yourself lift just as a drowning victim often drowns the one who is trying to save them).

I think I’ve made myself clear. I will add one more post. There are certainly those for whom the guilt does not take root, anymore than a stone sticks to Teflon. These are the sociopaths and the psychopaths and the more normal people but with those tendencies. However, I bet you find more of these guiltless (in feeling not reality) with religions than without.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Lessons from Komodo . . . Part II, What is Sin Anyway?

Like in every important discussion, you must start with a premise, which I did last time, namely, the guilt of sin does more damage than the bite of it.

But the second phase is defining terms. While we in the western world assume that when we talk of "sin" we are speaking the same language or on the same page. But I beg to differ. So, I must define "sin" as I was taught in my culture, the Bible belt of the deep south. As usual I will attempt to speak in real, colloquial, terms not the official positions put out by theologians at the Southern Baptist Convention.

Growing up we were taught what I would call the Hansel and Gretel version of metaphysics an spirituality. It starts with God always existing in the real world, which is the non-physical or spiritual world. Then, God got lonely so He decided to create soulettes (or mini-mes), in His image. But He didn't want just any soulette as his friends and subjects. He only wanted those who had proven themselves somewhat like the Navy Seals look for a few good men and weed out the weak ones through extremely hard training. However, God thought that most of his created soulettes would made the grade. If a soulette didn't make the grade, then not only would they be banned from coming back inside the real spiritual world, they would be quickly scheduled to eternal torture of the maxim kind. The Presbyterians down the road believed that God created these soulettes specifically for this eternal torture chamber.

To test the soulettes, God spit out a three dimensional universe of matter, rocks and dirt, as His testing field. He put these soulettes on the round dirt clod, which we call Earth. However, back in the real "world," the spiritual domain, one of God's most faithful servants rebelled, taking with him a huge crowd of spiritual beings (but not soulettes). They also continued possessing their original supernatural (or outside the matter-world which God has spit out) powers.

In this testing field God had given some arbitrary rules. He could weed out the bad guys if they did not follow these special rules, which He created just for this occasion.

In our Bible belt culture, the rules were in hierarchical order. The failure to obey these rules was what we call "sin." This is how we ranked the sins in the Bible belt starting with the worst and going to the least.

1) Murder
2) Homosexuality (not homosexual acts but being homosexual)
3) Adultery
4) Fornification
5) Not Going to Church
6) Drinking alcohol
7) Smoking under the age of 40. Over 40 people were exempt because they had fought the Germans in WWII.
8) Gambling.
9) Saying a list of forbidden words, picked randomly by God to test us. These include of course damn, hell, shit and a few others.
10) Hating someone (which was always hard to prove or disprove)
11) Lusting, feeling sexual aroused in any situation where you were not having sex with your spouse.
12) Lying
13) Gossip

Did I forget any?

And as I said, these were considered purely arbitrary and just as easily could have included such "Cider House" types of rules as not touching aluminium with your left hand. Actually, some of the fine print rules were that specific (Levitical law). However, those rules didn't apply to us because we were Southern Baptist . . . not Jewish.

So, rather than just a few failing the test, with the help of the rebellious supernatural villans (Satan et al) the whole dirt clod went to hell (literally) from the very beginning. God was very confused and scratched his head. "What am I going to do?" Then He comes up with the idea of Him coming to earth through his hybrid offspring, half of the spiritual realm an half of the matter-world. This hybrid would be the first matter-soulette to live their entire life and never disobeying one of the rules . . . so, he immediately would win direct permission to come back inside. However, rather than coming inside, he took the eternal torture for top 10 % of the rule keepers, so that they could come back inside and not face the torture, which they deserved.

So, back in our real world of the Bible belt, we kept score of our sin, hoping that we would be in the top 10%.

Certainly I see the perspective of those in my old Sunday school class. When you look at the world of the 1950s ( speaking of on-the-surface) it certainly looks like the world today is collecting those personal sins (listed above) at a much faster rate. Therefore, it would make sense that they have less guilt about it.

I've said enough this time around. I will continue this in the next few days.


Saturday, June 4, 2011

Komodo . . . the Aftermath is Worse than the Bite . . .As Guilt is to Sin

The Komodo Dragon was my favorite animal . . . now it must be my least. I just watched a group of them at the Jacksonville zoo a couple of weeks ago.

When I was a kid, I was fascinated with reptiles. I had a series of Iguanas as pets. Then I saw a real Komodo Dragon at the county fair. In those days, I'm sure it was kept in horrible conditions and paraded around like a freak. But the MC played up the "giant, man-eating lizard" to a frenzy.

It wasn't until the last few years I understood how brutal the dragon really was. I know in nature, you really can't judge an animal on its survival techniques. However, within the animal kingdom, I don't know of many who inflict such punishment on its potential food.

You probably know that the Komodo kills its prey through a long (lasting many days) process. I watched a documentary recently, on either public TV or The Discovery Channel, which showed this process in vivid detail. The forked tongue beast followed a group of water buffalo for a day or so, keeping about 20 feet away. When it spotted one buffalo in a vulnerable spot, stuck in the mud, it simply walked up to the much bigger animal--in a nonchalant way--and nipped its hoof. The bite barely broke the skin enough for a few drops of blood to run down and into the mud. The water buffalo jerked, but otherwise didn't notice too much.

Then, the roughly 60 different bacteria in the dragon's mouth, starts to do the work. Slowly the water buffalo gets sick, then sicker and sicker. For the subsequent week, it grows weaker and weaker as the septicema takes root. In the meantime, more and more dragons join the waiting party, just laying in the shade watching the lame and suffering animal going downhill. A few days later, the beast stumbles and one of the dragons takes another nip at its other ankle . . . the one the bull has been favoring because the other one, bitten by the first dragon, is so swollen that he can barely stand on it. Eventually, after about ten days, the young bull falls to the ground and the dragons surround it, each taking bite-fulls of flesh as the bull moans and cries. Eventually it dies.

A year and a half ago, I was sitting in Sunday school at my old evangelical church. I can't remember what we were talking about, but I made the comment that I think that guilt is a bigger problem than even sin itself. The entire class looked at me like I was from Mars. Quickly, they all voiced their harmonious opinion that it was the lack of guilt which was pandemic, not the presence of it. After all, just look around. Boys and girls sleeping together without any thought. Porn, alcoholism, and the list goes on and on.

But I really think, like the Komoto Dragon, sin is the simple bite . . . but the guilt is the deadly poison that destroys the person from the inside out. Furthermore the focal point of the Gospel is solving that guilt problem, not to rid us of sin. I want to take a couple of posts to explore this whole idea and try to make my point.



Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Nice Smile . . . Still Thankful

My son just sent me his photo. Road rash, but a big smile . . . and that makes me happy. I don't have to embellish and explain that except for one tiny miracle he would have been killed. I can should glory in the way that God has made the natural world . . . wonderful, but not completely safe.