Saturday, August 25, 2012

Behind the Looking Glass

I know that I've used this metaphor ad nauseam . . . but it's been a while.  The point that I want to make is that life seems to be well demarcated between those majority of people, who live in a hope-yet-betrayed world of wishful thinking and the minority of us who have gone through the looking glass to the other side. The passage through the looking glass isn't of the will or an intellectual exercise. It doesn't come through study . . . but through some horrific life experience that destroyed the Hallmark world of wishful thinking. It doesn't have to lead to cynicism but must lead to some place different.

This experience comes into your life intrusively and never invited or planned for. It is totally destructive, like a star being eaten by a black hole where it is dismantled not just down to the atomic level but even the subatomic and were matter is converted to energy and vaporized.

Once we have gone through this portal, you are changed forever.  The mirror is a one-way passage. There are three choices on this side. You can be numb on the inside and cloak yourself with normalcy on the outside . . . so at least you can still communicate with the majority who still live on the other side in the hope-yet-betrayed world.  That's what most try to do and like the movie, the Invasion of the Body Snatchers you can't tell the real hope-yet-betrayed people from the make-believe zombies.

A second choice is total despondency which can translate into eternal depression and self entombment in isolation or even literal entombment through suicide. This is the minor path, but one soul going into this self-imposed hell is one too  many.

The third is where we refuse to allow the pain to go numb, because if it goes numb, we know that we will stop feeling at all and are thus no different than the android. Yet, we try to function and live in a world that makes no sense anymore.  This is the great paradox.  The first time I noticed this dichotomy was when I was at my most severe state of acute suffering and was invited to a Christian dinner party. The main topic of discussion was whether or not the host should put mother of pearl chips in their paint when they redo their dinning room ceiling.  I was smiling on the outside, pretending to listen (I was still flirting with the zombie path at the time) yet on the inside while the voices were ricocheting around me . . . yes mother of pearl or no mother of pearl . . . I was in deep thought planning my own suicide.  If I hang myself, and my wife finds my body, would it traumatize her for life?  Would it be better to jump off  bridge where she would only see me in the morgue or funeral home?"  Yes, I was also flirting with the second step at the time.  But I eventually, by God's grace, choose the last path.

So it is a strange world in which we must live . . . aliens in a land of Oz.  We sit and hear the same ole cliches about if you have a good devotional life, God will bless you and you will be protected from any harm, and you will have perpetual happiness yada . . . yada . . . yada.  I know that I always sound cynical at times like this but I'm really not.  I am content in my emptiness knowing, like those in Hebrews 11, that our hope is yet realized.

During our recent Mountain Climbing experience, it was a Christian group and there was "ministry" woven in around the strenuous physical efforts of approaching and climbing the big mountain.  I loved the people and am eternally grateful that they pulled my tired ass up the mountain. Yet, the times of Bible study were like so many I remember prior to my fall down the rabbit hole, or transformation through the looking glass. I withdraw in solitude. I can't play that game. We are aliens.

Now and then I do run into those who have hoped and have lost. Who have met the Fall of Adam and met it with great intimacy. With those I find a great kind-ship. We are aliens from the same land.  It reminds me of the movie The Doctor (1991) where this arrogant asshole doctor suddenly finds himself with probable terminal cancer.  His world is shaken and he meets the Fall as an unwelcome friend. He finds himself as an alien in a place where he can no longer relate to even his own wife and certainly not with his old friends and colleagues. But he does meet a young woman who also is dying. With her, they speak the same language and live in a world that is of a different stuff.

I am at least happy that my wife and I have shared the same experiences of loss and in that we have an unwavering kind-ship. Maybe she has taken a different path of coping that I have, maybe the first path . . . I'm not sure.

While I would reverse the acts that pushed me through the glass in a millisecond, they were evil and of the Fall, yet I feel more alive now than ever before. Feeling, even feeling that which hurts, is betting than not feeling at all. An still we share in that great hope that some day, some how, all that is wrong will be righted.  That is the true Gospel.

Sorry once again about the typos.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Honestly Dilemma

I'm faced with a real dilemma. You see . . . early this week the pastor of my church sent me an e-mail asking me to give a testimony as part of the main service in a few weeks. I know why she did it. I've been a member of this church for almost two years, yet many people hardly know my name. The main reason is that I'm not very involved. The reason that I'm not involved is two-fold, maybe tri-fold.  The first reason is that every time I start getting involved with a church, I find myself in the same bs. That's too complicated to explain here.  Maybe this church is different, but I'm too afraid to find out. The second reason is that my wife goes to a different church so it makes it hard to to a lot of things with this church. I will add one more reason and that is because I'm so busy with work.

As I've started thinking about what I'm going to say, I immediately find myself at a mighty bifurcation. It is like being on a knife-edge ridge or a continental divide.  Down one side is where you put together a sweet presentation that would meet all the expectations of any congregation. You know, a place where you were bad and then Jesus came into your life, through a miracle occurrence of course, and things have been bliss since then.

I could write such a testimony, but 90% of it would have to be embellishment or even right out lies.

My testimony is messy. It is up and down.  The worst sins I ever knew were learned at church. The worst sins ever done to me . . . weren't done by some Hell's Angel gang . . . but by the most (self-proclaimed) godly people I ever knew. That's what makes it messy.

The other parts that make it messy is knowing that a big chunk of my Christian life was spent in a masquerade ball, where we all wore masks and faked everything.  So this is where the dilemma comes in. If I were to ask my pastor if I should be honest, I'm sure she would say, "Of course you should be." But I also know, if I allow the water drop to run down the honesty side that when I'm done, some people will be mumbling . . . "now that was a strange story."  I know for certain this is one of those areas that my wife would insist that I tell a sweet story and keep away from any "controversy."

So what do I do?

I'm not talking about sharing gross details or a long convoluted story . . . but just skimming the facts.

The last time I was asked to share my spiritual journey was at an "All church camp-out" and it was just after we had returned from the mission field. I had just gone through a time of a terrible situation. I was seriously depressed and uncertain of God's existence anymore. I would never have offered to share my story but it happened spontaneously.  A crowd of about fifty were sitting around a huge bonfire and the pastor, who was trying his best to speak great spiritual words, was fizzling out. So he turned to me and asked me to share about our experience.

I was really hurting at the time. I didn't get into any details. I simply shared facts. We did x, y, z.  Our boss did a, b and c. Then we came home. I'm confused and depressed right now.  The silence around the campfire could be cut with a dull machete.  No one knew what to say . . . they just stared into the fire speechless.  I had the feeling that the pastor was very embarrassed for us and regretted his impromptu invitation.  In a few minutes a chubby kid near the fire roasting his marshmallow for his 5th s'more accidently farted really loud.  To which many of the adults reacted in anger . . . "Jaaaaason! Good Heavens!"  If it hadn't been for the boy breaking the wind . . . I mean ice, we may still be sitting there 20 years later, frozen in total Christian-social awkwardness.

That was our home church and that was the only time anyone asked us about our hellish experience. It was never brought up again.  Soon after that we moved away . . . trying to start over in a new city were no one knew us. It was better to be completely alone, than to be with friends where you couldn't ever mention the most important things in your life . . . your ever present struggle.

So this is the dilemma screaming at me . . . tell the honest, messy story of my spiritual journey, or fabricate the Jesus Cliche one, which would make every one smile?  I hate being in the center of social awkwardness but I hate dishonestly even more. 

I've thought before what would I do if I found out I had a year to live. Part of me would want to try and achieve 100% honestly. I try now but still live at the 30th floor (of a 100 floor building where the ground it absolute truth).  But I would be offensive and ugly and have no friends. I'm not speaking of being cruel.  I wouldn't be telling fat people they are fat (which they already know) or dumb people they are dumb. But I would try to speak totally honestly in what I think.  "I know that you think that God choose Mitt to run for president, I think Mitt choose Mitt and he is manipulating Christians to win their vote.  Obama is doing the same to other special interest groups." Things like that would really piss people off at me . . . even if I were dying.

I digress.

I will mention one more tangential issue before I close.  As I was climbing the mountain last week I had some downloaded books and music to try and distract my mind from the terror.  One book, oddly was about anxiety.  It is the book, The Monkey Mind Chronicles. So here are my thoughts (and I'm on the last chapter).  The book is brilliantly written and researched by Daniel Smith. It is raunchy in places . . . but it is worth the read, especially if you suffer from anxiety. But I was amazed at his writing ability in the same way I'm amazed at the work of a water-color artist.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Observations from a Mountain Climbing Expedition

There is a classic scene from an old Clint Eastwood movie, The Eiger Sanction (cir 1975) where George Kennedy is looking up at the Eiger with a telescope and a woman walks by and ask, "Why do they climb mountains . . . because they are there?"  To which Kennedy replies, "Lady, go &$&% yourself!"

I use to call that movie one of my favorites. I had only seen it once, when I was about 19.  So one day I got it off Netflix to show my sons. It was terrible. It was so corny plus, as the above line implies, quite sexist which was typical of the 70s era Eastwood.

Tuesday I climbed a mountain . . . a real mountain.  This was real mountaineering. It was very, very hard, and by far the most dangerous thing I've ever done. We had to cross about 20 50-200 foot deep crevasses to reach the summit.

The reason I did it was two-fold. First of all, I actually do love mountains and the sport of mountain climbing. But I love the sport in the same way a heavy, out-of-shape, middle aged man loves football. For me to actually climb mountains was a hard concept. I did climb Mount Saint Helens once. It was hard . . . and scary.

I do have a general anxiety disorder.  Acrophobia is one of my main fears.  I decided to do this most of all to face my fears. I decided to do it with a pretend boldness.  I have a sense that no one on the team knows of my fears because, while I usually crave deep honestly, in this case thought it would be best if I completely hid it. I so reasoned, imagine I was a brave man who didn't fear doing this. Then pretend I was this man.

One great help was the confidence the leaders instilled in me during our day of training.  I was roped to an experienced climber and he helped me feel safe. Behind me were my wife and my son, for whom I was taking full responsibility.

It was beautiful. I did it with minimal anxiety. It was glorious. I'm move anxious now as I reflect back on walking across 2-foot wide snow bridges (full of holes where previous peoples' feet had gone through) above 200 foot, certain death, crevasses.  I am thankful for God's strength. In a true monistic style, I will add that Ativan helped a bit as well. The Ativan at least helped me sleep.

Here is our slide show.

I want to come back and talk about my other observations as this was a Christian-group sponsored trip.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Why Christians SHOULD Want to Explore the Universe

I would have to say, watching a live feed from the JPL control room last night was one of the greatest hours I've ever spent watching TV.

I guess it would be an overstatement for me to say that I was surprised this morning when I saw the debate raging on my Facebook connections about the merits of spending 2 Billion on this mission. Virtually everyone I saw, some evangelicals some not, were opposed to the "wasteful use of money."  Maybe my son and I were the only two to differ . . . at least in my Facebook universe.

So, I spent some time today between patients thinking about this topic.  I really think it comes back to the perspective of being a monist Vs  a Dualist, when it comes to thinking Christianly. In some ways it is like a litmus test of monism.  Not quite to the degree that one of the elders in my old evangelical church said that believing the earth is 6,000 years old is a litmus test to being a true believer. Also not to the extreme that Republicans have stated that being pro-life is the litmus test to being a real conservative.

But this is why.  Imagine this.  You created this three acre playground for your kids. It was full of castles, bridges, monkey bars, swings, see saws and sports courts.  Yet your kids stayed in the 20 square foot corner where you first placed them. They had no curiosity (pun intended)  about the rest of the playground. As the designer and creator . . . would that make you feel good . . . or not?

I have a great a compassion for the poor of the world, having spent time with them and tried to help them. Many make the argument of how could we spend 2 Billion on a Mars mission when millions are starving?  I say, if you want to give the 2 Billion for food, take it from some other huge waste of resources . . . such as wars, luxury items and corruption. But don't take it away from the exploration of reality . . . the cosmos which is there, which was made by God.  By knowing Mars, or the far edges of our cosmos, we know God better.  It the same way my kids would have known me and my love for them better if they had taken the courage and priority to explore the whole three acres.

I sense, hidden deep between the lines of conversation, that the Dualist Christians (which is the majority of Evangelicals) that they don't give a rat's ass about the solar system, or the Cosmos because that they think, when compared to the "spiritual," that it has no meaning. It is trash, It is all going to burn up. That even God doesn't like the Cosmos.

But I find the heavens glorious and enticing. We must go. We must learn. It is good stuff to want to know God and His character is expressed in that which he has created. This material world is not the Devil's sad domain.

Psalm 97:6
The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all peoples see his glory.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Hiding Places

Click on the art to find the artist
I am searching to find the words to express what I'm thinking. First I will tell the story of what happened and by the time I'm done with the narrative I may have connected the mental dots.

Randomly, about two weeks ago I got an email from an old friend who now lives in back in Europe.  We were roommates for about four years. I rarely see him anymore and he isn't the greatest of communicators.

The e-mail was a virus that had taken over his address book and was replicating itself and spreading through contact list like spores thrown into an April breeze.

I contacted Tony to let him know.  He thanked me. A few days later, Tony's wife sent me an unusually personal e-mail. She said that Tony had longed to speak to an old (and mutual) friend Bob, but Bob had seemed very evasive.  Tony and Bob's friendship goes back even longer than Tony and mine. But Bob had disappeared off the face of the earth abruptly about 15 years ago.  Bob and his wife had been missionaries in China for almost ten years before they suddenly vanished.

Maria pleaded with me, "Please! Can you find Bob? This would be so helpful for Tony . . . just to know how his friend is doing."

I do have some act for finding people so, I thought I would try.  I had tried to find Bob for my own satisfaction and had failed. I mean I knew were he was, but all his contact information had been erased as if he was in a witness protection program.

To make a long story short, I started my investigation and within three days found someone who speaks directly to Bob. However, this friend said, in so many words, that Bob wanted to be left the hell alone and all his contact information was private. He did promise to contact Tony if I would send Tony's e-mail via this friend to Bob.

But here is the thing that has been on my mind ever since.  You see, Bob was one of the most jealous Navigator disciples I had ever known.  He was "hard core" if you know what I mean. He gave himself no breaks.  He was tough on himself as he had been tough on others as a Special Forces drill Sargent.

I don't know what happened on the mission field. I have to read between the lines to try and make sense of it all.  I did hear that he had some type of mental breakdown and became a recluse afterwards.

I ache to talk to him. I had a failed missionary experience myself so I think I have something to bring to the table. But there seems to be hostility in attempts to speak to him and the writing on the wall says let it be.

Somehow, there is this great awkwardness and even weirdness within Christendom that is hard to put into words. I saw it a lot when I was a Navigator. Where a great leader would disappear and then reappear a couple of years later with a new wife half his age. But we weren't allowed to ask any questions because somehow that was God's mystery and pyramid of authority . . . where only a small inner circle has the gnosis of what the hell is going on and everyone suppose to act like they don't care.

I've seen these weird things play out in numerous churches . . . secret whispers between the power-brokers about things that seem to make no sense. Like the speck of dust at the center of a convoluted snowflake I have the feeling that something not so good sits at the middle of these confusing pictures. Then those specks of dust are wrapped up in so much spirituality that it looks like the glaze of lace fanning out from that snowflake. It is that strange mystery. The more "spiritual" the people the more weird the stuff is around them.

Somehow this friend of Bob and mine, the one who delivered the message to Bob (not Tony), told me that Bob has to be let alone and I should never try to contact him again. It is like there are some spiritual principles at work here . . . but none make any sense except one . . . and that is Bob is hiding. He is hiding because of shame. He has shame because he totally had misunderstood the gospel that he was sharing with the Chinese. He wasn't godly afterall . . . nor was I . . .  nor is anyone.  

I won't try and reach this old friend again. I will just let it go. We will each grow old and die in our own towns in our own states far apart and we will never communicate again. It is a crying shame. I want to comfort him.  But we Christians are taught to be perfect . . . or to hide . . . and nothing in between.

On another note, this week is our big art festival and I've missed the entire thing. It was due to other obligations, too difficult to explain here. But I find refuge in the web of the artist.  For it is the artist that can express what we mortals can not though our meager words.  I can look at an incredible painting, a sculpture or even hear music that speaks to that place that is inexpressible. It is sort of how Charismatics think of speaking in tongues. But even the novelist are the same type of artist because, while they use words, they spin words in ways that we can not.  I am less rich for having missed the art and I hope that I make it a priority next year.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

More Entanglements

I am left scratching my head again . . . I got myself in trouble once more. Just like the characters in many of my stories . . . saying things that offend the masses, while speaking truth for the sake of truth.

I think that I need to purge my computer of any Facebook connections.  I only joined when my grandson was born and it was the best way to see his photos, which my daughter-in-law were posting each day.

I don't understand the magic of Facebook . . . and it is Pixie Dust . .  50 billion dollars of pure magic.  But somehow, long lost friends were asking to be my friend. Now you don't have to go back very far until you enter the Evangelical Epoch of my life. But suddenly old college friends were appearing from 30 years ago.

It amazes me that as much as I have changed, my old Evangelical friends are were I was at that time, but they have not changed . . . maybe become more hardened in their views.

I had this bad feeling about this. I knew it would only be a matter of time that I would have my foot in my mouth.  The last time I tried to re-connect with this group of college evangelicals, it was a mess.  When one of them, a pastor now, started a very crafty manipulation of getting the people on that forum to buy worthless nutrition supplements from him, because this was what God wanted, I kept my anger to myself. But when he suggested that a breast cancer sufferer stop her chemotherapy and take his supplements (MLM program) instead, I became verbally livid.  I demanded that he come clean.  Then he started this process of sending me letters of how I had grieved God. Then what the hell was he doing to God?

Anyway, that was a long time ago.  During this recent "Facebook epoch," I've sat quietly as people did their posts about Jesus saving the day and how many wonderful works they and their children did for Jesus today. I just ignored those.  I also ignored that boundless postings of conservative political shit, you know, proof that Obama was born in Kenya stuff.

Now that Romney is the Republican nominee the pages are covered with pro-Romney crap. The other one is the Chicken-fil-a issue. One of the owners recently made a statement that he supports the Biblical model for family, one man married to one woman. It would have gone un-noticed but the Gay community went berserk first. Then the Evangelicals followed after.  The Gays are wanting to boycott the restaurants, the Evangelicals want to eat every meal there from now on. So, I just ignored those postings.  After all, weren't the culture wars fought in the 90s . . . and didn't the evangelicals loose that war?

So this is how I got myself in trouble. We each have our issues of priority. One of mine is human rights, especially when it comes to Arabs.  I have a strong connection with Arab people. I've shared many, many, glasses of tea with them. Many are dear friends. I've spend a day with a Palestinian in Israel and witnessed how he was abused over and over.  I know their history.

I know that this can't be everyone's issue. But my starting point is simply all people are created in God's image. It seems elementary to me that you do not judge a whole people group based on your stereotypes.

So this week, Romney said the most unforgivable thing (in my eyes).  While on his fakey publicity tour overseas, he spoke to a group of Jewish people and told them that they had more income than the Palestinians next door because of their good culture (vs the bad Arab culture).  If you know how much the Palestinians are discriminated against, this is an outrageous statement.  I posted on Facebook that I would not vote for Romney because of his racism . . . and when you judge any people by their culture or color of their skin . . . it can be nothing but racism.  My point isn't that Arab blood is better than Jewish or Christian blood. But that blood is blood. People are people . . . all, each and every one, created in God's wonderful image.  I'm also not a big Obama fan and that's not my point either.

So now all my evangelical friends have circled their wagons and seem to agree that Arabs are part of dark, evil culture and we and the Jews are "life-affirming" cultures.  I could go ballistic at this point. None of my evangelical friends see the great sin of bigotry in this kind of talk. They don't see that this is the same attitude that allowed all the good-ole-boys in the churches of the south, during the Civil War, who believed that God wanted them to have slaves because it was "good for the Negro."  NUTS!!!

So, here I am again, alone and in hot water.  I must find a way to rid myself of all my dear evangelical friends because it is like trying to mix water and gasoline. I think of myself as the water.  So the world in the post-evangelical wildernerss is lonely. But again, I could stay as the lone voice and fight it out.