Tuesday, January 31, 2012

GERMFASK XIX

"Where is he?"  Asked Tom

Mike flashed a kind smile, "Actually, at this moment he is meeting with his discipleship team.  David felt that he heard the voice of God and God was calling him to reach this whole area of Michigan with the Gospel.  He's selected six or seven of his best men. They are committing themselves to discipline and total obedience to God and they think that God is going to do something amazing through them." He paused to sip his coffee while witnessing the doubt written on Tom's face. So he added in David's defense, "I have a good feeling about this. I think God is about to do something big here and it might be through David and his men."

"Won't work." said Tom, shaking his head.

Mike seemed more irritated than ever before, "How do you know it won't work? We serve a big God and the right people, humbled in submission to that God can change the world . . . I just find it unspiritual to dismiss such acts of faith out of hand. You don't know what God can and can't do!"

Tom shook his head, "Michael. This isn't about God, this is about David. It won't work. He can't fill that hole in his soul by doing some great campaign for God. That's what doesn't work. It is always about the man . . . or woman. The campaigns, ministries, movements, crusades are all the same. God is the bystander in the feeble attempts for one person or a group of them, to try and patch up those huge, gospel-shaped, cracks in their soul . . . using the innocent as chinking. It is emotional reasoning at work again."

There was standoff of silence as the rest of them ate their breakfasts. In a moment Tom spoke again, "So he's never coming back?"

Mike smiled again, "Apparently not. He and his men are spending the first hour of everyday in prayer over this. They are laying the groundwork, through prayer for the coming revival."

Tom shook his head again.  "It's all my fault and I regret being too sharp with the man."

Greg spoke up, "Tom, I don't think this has anything to do with you."

"Certainly it has everything to do with me," said Tom.  "It was something I said . . . and as quickly as the words were out of my mouth . . . did I realize that I had gone too far."

Michael added a word of agreement with Greg's words, "No, it wasn't about you. I spoke to David yesterday and he really felt that God was speaking to him. He didn't say anything about you."

"Of course he didn't bring it up. He is trying to put as much space between himself and reality as he can. To say it was connected to what I said would be far too close to reality." Everyone was silent and looked confused. "So, I'm the only one who sees what's going on here?"  Tom sipped his coffee again and made that bitter frown, the one he always makes after coffee. "I will miss David . . . but I still have a mission to fulfill and my time is drawing short."

Debra, Greg and Mike all looked at Father Randy.  He cleared his throat and wiped his mouth with his napkin. "Tom, we were talking this morning before your arrival.  We don't see the point in going forward. It seems that you are not satisfied with the answers we give. So why don't we move on. Maybe you want to tell us more about where you're from."

Greg smile, "I would love to hear more about your world and what you know, which we don't, about ours."

Tom shook his head. "You have taught me far more than you realize. I'm really here for one purpose and we have only scratched the surface on that. So, please, I beg of you, let's continue our discussion."

Disappointed looks bounced between the earthlings, like wayward balls on a billiard table. Finally Father Randy spoke in a subdued voice, "Okay, if we must."

Tom's eyes lit up, "Okay, so moving on beyond a written charter and doctrinal statement, what is the Church?"

Michael was realizing that the only way to put this to rest was to complete it. So with earnest, he moved into the topic with a full intent. "I can only speak from the Protestant traditions, but the next step is to define the congregation and that is done through a membership roll. We must clearly define who is with our church and who is not. Then we must move on to order of service. Since the early Christians met on the first day of the week, it is ours, as well as our Catholic friends' tradition to meet on Sunday mornings for our key meeting or worship service. The worship service must encompass all Biblical aspects for the Church, including teaching, preaching, singing of hymns, prayer and praise. There must be opportunities for each of the gifts to be manifest, including the gifts of being a deacon.  The sacraments must be practiced, including the breaking of bread and the sharing of the wine. The church structure is the decisive body being the elders, and the pastors is one of the elders. The purpose of the elder board is to give the church and to apply the discipline of God onto those of the body who are in sin or teaching false teachings. Then there are . . ."

"Hold on!" shouted Tom with his hands raised in the air.  He then grabbed his Bible and slid it across the table in Michael's direction. "Show me!"

Saturday, January 28, 2012

GERMFASK XVIII


Tom took his reading glasses off and stuck the temple piece in his mouth and looked out the window. Everyone sat quietly not knowing what was coming next.  The stranger looked serious, so serious that “distraught” might be a better adjective. Finally the stranger spoke.  He put his glasses back on and pointing at Mike he said, “So you, pastor Monroe, do you agree with David here that the fundamental starting place for the selected is a written, organizational charter and a doctrinal statement?”

Mike thought for just a moment then started to nod, “Sure.”

Turning counter clockwise Tom then looked at Father Randy, “How about you father?”

The priest nodded as well, “I think I could agree with Mike on that.”

“Debra?” Tom asked.

She responded, “Sure. I think this is one point where we might all agree.” Then she looked to her right, “But I don’t want to speak for Greg.”

Greg smiled, “No, I think you’re right. Even David and I are on the same page here.  I did once plant a Methodist church down in Petoskey and the very first thing I had to do, with the area Bishop’s supervision, was to write an organizational charter and doctrinal statement.  The character dealt with not only the business structure, but the exact roles of deacons, even who could use the copy machine and who couldn’t.  It gave guidelines for the hymnals that we were to use and the translation of the Bible.”

Tom’s distraught look melted back over his thin, dark face.  He took his glasses off again and rubbed his eyes and looked back at the group . . . his eyes following the circle back counter clockwise. When he got back to Greg, he spoke, “I’m afraid this is going to be much more complicated that I had anticipated.  First of all, if you did a detailed search of scriptures you would find absolutely no mention of a written charter or a doctrinal statement . . . even if you studied the original languages and used your imagination.” Looking to his right, “David, those passages you shared have absolutely nothing to do with charters and statements.”

A look of skepticism moved around the group like "The Wave" at a football stadium.

Tom continued, “For you to read those verses and conclude that we must start at that point would be the same if you said we were sitting in Paris, France right now.  You would say, ‘There's a river down the road, Paris is on a river. There're trees in the forest, Paris has trees.  There're buildings around here, and there are buildings in Paris.  There’re people sitting here . . . and Paris has people.  There are even towns with French names around here, like Marquette and Sault Ste. Marie, so there's no other explanation but that we are in Paris.’”

David was shaking his head. “That isn’t at all like what we were saying. We take true Biblical principles, which are expressed in those verses, and we use logic to reach the conclusion that the starting point of a church must be those two items.”

Tom smiled, “I’m sorry to lecture you Earth dwellers again, because I know I rub you the wrong way, or I guess the other phrase is ‘pisses you off,’ although I’ve understood what that means.  But please bear with me.

Imagine that you were one of the Spanish conquerors of the Aztecs. You arrive and observe that they do human sacrifices of their children in order to produce better crops of maze.  You see the great sadness of the families, which are giving up their children.  You scream, ‘Stop!  Killing your babies has nothing to do with the weather and rain.  It is a total waste of human life.’  Well, that is the seat I’m in.  I don’t mean to offend you, but the Earth Dwellers logic is just as flawed and you can’t see it because it has become so much of your culture.”

Greg didn’t seem offended but actually interested. “Mr. Hans, I’m all ears. I'would find your perspective fascinating.”

That statement gave Tom a bit more consent to continue talking.  “As I’ve said many times, you Earth Dwellers reason emotionally, not from logic. You see, God has given us the sense of logic in order to find truth. It isn’t perfect anymore so we are never intellectually satisfied with absolute certainty. We are given emotions, however, for our personal enjoyment and enrichment.”

Tom grabbed Greg’s half-eaten omelet.  “I’ve noticed that Greg here splatters this red, Cajun sauce all over his omelet each week. I tasted it on the tip of my finger. While the rich tomato taste is wonderful, the hot pepper burn is not appealing to me or anyone from where I’m from. But I understand that Greg has developed a taste for it.  Now the eggs’ protein gives Greg the nourishment he needs for the day, it is the sauce, the butter and the salt that makes it palatable . . .  even enjoyable. So it is with finding truth. It is the protein, meaning logic, that leads us to truth and the spice of it, the thing that makes it enjoyable, are the emotions.”

Debra looked puzzled, “But not all emotions are enjoyable. Sadness, depression and fear are some that aren't.”

Tom smiled, “But they are!  They make us human.  I’m so glad that I get, as you say, ‘damned depressed’ at times.  I would rather feel these uncomfortable feelings and know that I’m alive and I’m not a flesh-based robot which is pre-programmed to act.  Just like the red sauce hurts Greg’s mouth . . . and I’m sure of that, some emotions sting badly. But this is a tangent that’s going to take us too far from discovering what the church really is. So, back to my omelet metaphor, you Earth Dwellers sit and eat bowls of the red sauce with just a sprinkle of protein on it.  You reason from your emotions, and attempt to find pleasure from your logic!  Don’t you get it?”

Father Randy spoke up, “Tom, with all due respect, I would have to speak for myself that I’m not sure how what you are saying is related to the simple response that David made about the essence of the Church.  I, personally, am lost in this."

David added, “Without due respect Tom, as I’ve said before, I am offended that you keep harping about us being emotional. We are not emotional! We are very logical, probably more so than you or your kind, whoever they are.”

Tom took off his glasses and looked David in the eye, “My friend, and I say this out of empathy and not arrogance, at least I think so. As I said weeks ago, on my planet there hasn't been a war in two thousand years.  It isn’t because we are good people. It is because we learned to reason with logic rather than emotions.  War makes no sense. Those who go to war are all insane! Everyone looses in all wars. No one gains. All wars were started with emotionally reasoning, not logic. Logic would never lead to war. It is the most illogical thing and the most anti-God. God is the God of creation. War’s main mission is destruction.”

David was shaking his head even harder, “You are wrong. There're just wars and unjust wars.  I am proud to be an American, and we only go to war when we have to. There's real evil in this world, which we must fight. In scriptures, especially the Old Testament, God honored the warrior and the hero.  He used wars for His purpose.”

Tom added in a quick response, “You just don’t get it. God allowed wars because He knew the people He created were very stupid and reasoned from emotions. So, He let their actions play out in the cruelty that their emotions begot.”

Greg had a happy look on his face and was nodding rapidly.  “Tom, I think I’m starting to see exactly what you are saying. I’ve never looked at it from that direction, but it makes perfect sense. But to wrap this up (pausing to look at the time on his cell phone) please relate this back to how this applies to the character and the doctrinal statement.”

“Good idea, so I will.  So, here’s my point.  The reason that all of you agree with David’s statement, that a church must begin with a charter and a doctrinal statement, is because you are reasoning from emotions. The emotional part is the fact that you, each, are deeply invested in your churches’ culture. Your paychecks come from them. Your identity comes from your church positions.  It would be huge problem if anyone of you chooses to differ from your own church’s dogma . . . with maybe Greg being the only exception. So your culture, your church’s dogma is that you must have a charter and a doctrinal statement to form a church. I bet if you studied church planting, this would be in the very first course taught.”

Mike spoke up, “But why would our churches teach us that if it wasn’t true?”

Tom set back in his chair and gave a sigh. “I really wanted to keep this simple but I see us entering more and more complexities of human nature. Realize that where I come from, I am what you would consider an anthropologist. I’ve spent my life studying humans, the way we think and behave. That is why I was chosen for this mission. So let me try to explain in a way that I hope won’t offend you.”

Tom finished off his coffee and he noticed, for maybe the first time, his little audience was spell-bound, each and everyone, so he continued, “The essence of all human behavior is rooted the deep-seated desire to be of value. There are no exceptions to this.  Your philosophers have danced around this truth for millennium, because it is so simple. This disruption in our sense of significance came with the fall of Adam.  This was actually part of God’s complex strategy, but that’s another story.  But you see, this is the beauty of the Gospel. This is why we have come one and half light years to get here . . . and maybe to discover tomatoes (then he smiled). But the Gospel is God’s simple statement that due to Christ’s work, we are extremely forgiven and our infinite value has been completely, I should add COMPLETELY, restored.  But you Earth Dwellers, because you reason emotionally, don’t feel valuable so you don’t get it. Instead, all of your behavior has one goal, to seek value here in this life and on your terms. That is the exact reason that all of you became pastors . . . because of the craving for value.

Now, I’m not saying that the Hansians are perfect in this. But we have moved much further along this path.  So as we got the scriptures and started to reintroduce them to our people, they immediately fell in love with the Gospel because they understood how it applied to the central problem of value or meaning.  But here, on Earth, you have wrapped the Gospel in so many layers of complexity that it is not palatable to anyone anymore. That's why you, the bearers of the Gospel, are not loved like the lone doctor in the slum, but you are hated as the taskmasters of the slaves. Your Gospel, so it seems, is a yoke. It is a mustard seed wrapped in the hull of a coconut.”

Mike interrupted him, “But Tom, I’m sorry but I feel that your little sermonette has taken us far off the topic and I frankly don’t see how we will ever discuss what the essence of the Church.”

Tom smiled and shook his head, “But it is related and in closing I will, as you say ‘connect the dots’ to these points.”

Tom had a moment to collect his thoughts has Sharon showed up and wrote out their checks for breakfast.  In a kind gesture, Father Randy quickly grabbed them all, saying, “This morning is on me.” There was a brief, friendly protest but they succumbed to the inevitable.

“Okay, so you see,” lifting up his worn copy of the scriptures, “here is your charter and your doctrinal statement.  However, throughout your history, your forefathers said this was too vague. It really was too vague to them because God is not the master manipulator we want Him to be.  As Hebrews points out, the Levitical law in the Old Testament wasn’t given to be taken seriously as law. It was satirical, to show how ridiculous it is to try and manipulate behavior on a, as you say, ‘micro-manager’ level. But you people don’t get this. You, reason emotionally, from that pit in your souls where you feel worthless, you have this insatiable desire to manipulate others to make yourselves feel more worthy. When you manipulate others, you push up your own emotional position from part of the worthless herd, to a master level, the one who controls others. So, in that spirit, you create layers and layers of regulations and micro-managing of others. From what I’ve studied, more than 90% of the Church’s efforts in history have been towards this useless cause.  Now, to come back to our original point, to control people you set up a charter and doctrinal statements. It goes like this, ‘We will meet at this palace at this time, use these hymnals, the person of this position can use the copier but this person can't.’  Then we move on to doctrines, ‘you must believe this precise doctrine and not that one, because if you do . . . or don’t . . . you are not a real Christian, I need the power to determine if you are a good Christian or not . . . or maybe not a Christian at all . . . because that power makes me feel a little better about myself and helps to plug that back hole in the center of my soul, the hole of feeling worthless.'”
   
Michael was shaking his head. “It sounds to me like a receipt for disaster.  If we have no rules to live by, Christianity becomes anarchical and we are no different from the non-Christians. We need to live a godly live to demonstrate who we are. We need rules and order.”

Tom seemed a bit sad, “Michael, my dear friend Michael, you see, our people have only had the Gospel for months and we have already figured it out far better than you who has had it for two thousand years.  ‘Rules,’ as you describe them, are tools of manipulation.  The true Gospel is healing and doesn’t yield to chaos or anarchy. You see, virtually all sin is the result of humans trying to fill that bottomless pit.  We want money, because money—and all that comes with it, nice cars, nice houses and nice clothes—all represent our attempts to feel valuable. So, if we don’t need to fill valuable, we stop stealing and we stop walking on people to get advancements in our careers. Lying is 100% tied up in this process of trying to give ourselves value. Even sexual sins are tide to it.”  Tom did the strangest thing and reached over and grabbed David’s hand and looked at him. “Even downloading pornography on your church's computer late at night is tied up on this longing.”

David’s face turned a bright red and he avoided eye contact with anyone . . . but he didn’t speak a word.

Tom continued, “So you see, if you really, really understand the Gospel and that the bottomless pit has found a bottom . . . and a lid . . . and a complete filling, the need for sin goes away. If your really grasped the fact that we are extremely forgiven, that we have an absurd value and that we now please God with unquenchable pleasure . . . the need for sin becomes extraneous.  You guys have it all wrong. You see it as God having set up a bunch of rules. To obey them, in your eyes, you are godly. To not do them, it is sin. But what I’m trying to tell you, sin is simply God’s name for our attempts for revaluing ourselves on our own. He says ‘stop it! I’ve done it for you.  That's why I hate sin.’”

“Hoooooooly Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!” Came the whisper from Greg’s mouth. His eyes were watery with tears.

No one noticed that David had quietly gotten up and put on his jacket and was at the cash register paying.

Father Randy spoke up, “So, you believe that all our rich history and Church traditions are a bad thing?”

Tom smiled, “Oh no! I don’t mean it that way. It’s your culture. You can wallow in it all you want. Culture is amoral by itself. But my point is, I have no desire to import your culture to my planet. We want the simple and pure meaning of the Church. That’s all I’m trying to say.”

Tom stood and smiled, “Okay folks, thanks so much for your time. Think about it some more and I’ll see you in a week.”
  
They were left with these puzzling and disturbing things.  It became their krytonite, each feeling weaker as the days shortened towards winter's solstice.




Wednesday, January 25, 2012

GERMFASK XVII

Tom turned slowly to his right. He put a hand on David's shoulder and said, "Why don't start here with pastor Smith.  So, what is the essence of the Church . . . what do we need to know?"

David thought for a moment, "Well, if you boil it down to very simple concepts, those that apply to all cultures, I would say that the Church is the bride of Christ, and His body."

Tom smiled. "I'm sorry but that won't do. Those are artistic metaphors, things of beauty, but not material or practical concepts. We need the nuts and bolts, as you folks say, to know where to begin."

David seemed irritated. "Well, you must start with that spiritual concept and it isn't vague to us. Ask anyone in my church and they would know exactly what we mean by those ideas."

Tom said nothing but sipped his bitter coffee and made a sour face and sat in silence looking at David.

David continued, "If you want nuts and bolts then you must start with a group of true believers and a structure or organization, which means a well-defined church charter and doctrine."

Tom was thumbing through the pages of his church scripture paraphrase.  "Hmm, where is that?"  Then he looks back up at David. "The other thing, David, is that term true believers is loaded or as you say, pregnant with meaning.  This is why exploring the idea of the Gospel was so important, as the first step. But you couldn't do it without conflict so we had to move on. So we did. So here we are. So once again, where is it?"

"Where is it? Do mean where is what I just said in those papers that you put together?

"No, I mean where is it in those verses. If you prefer, use your own Bible . . . but just tell me which verses say what you just said."

David looked around the table and gave a smirk as if everyone else would be seeing things from his same angle. "This is somewhat of a no-brainier.  Christians must have some structure to have a Church. They must have a well-defined doctrine and hierarchy of authority and leadership."

Tom was sincerely thumbing through the pages of verses and looked up again, "I can't find it."

David gave a sigh, "Oh good grief, I'm not sure what kind of point you're trying to make but somethings are so obvious that it goes without saying."

Tom stared at David . . . in a quiet but respectful stare.  Eventually David pulled out his own Bible and flipped it open. He thumbed threw several passages and came to Acts and then he read, "'Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom  they had put their trust.'  That's from Acts 14:23."

Tom started to speak, "Hmmm . . . "

"Wait a minute! There's more." spoke David as he continued looking through his Bible. "Now back in the previous chapter, verse 1, it says 'Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.'"

Tom had a confused look on his face, confused enough that David knew that wouldn't satisfy him . . . so he started flipping through more pages of his Bible. "Now look here at I Corinthians chapter 14, 'What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.' Then in verse 27, 'If anyone speaks in a tongue, two--or at the most three--should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God' then in the next verse, 'two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weight carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.  The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of the prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace--as in all the congregations of the Lord's people.'"

Tom put up his hand to stop David, "Okay, that's enough for a minute.  Honestly, you've completely lost me. You told  me that the church must have a charter and a doctrinal statement.  I heard neither of those mentioned the the scriptures you just read."

"Dammit Tom!" Shouted David and three jaws dropped around the table. "I'm sorry, but I didn't mean that. What I meant was Tom, it is so clear from those passages.  You will have chaos without a charter, a hierarchy and a doctrinal statement . . . total chaos. It is clear from those passages that the church must have some form, some type of order."  

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

GERMFASK XVI


Two weeks had passed since Tom passed around his unofficial rewrite of church-related scriptures. The previous Wednesday, the area had experienced a rare ice storm. Not only were the roads a skating rink but the Jollly Inn was without power. Sharon had called Father Randy that morning to let him know that breakfast wasn’t possible.  The roads were so bad that none of the crew ventured out . . . except Tom.  He walked in to find a closed inn . . .  except for Arnie out chipping away ice from their steps.

Tom had never had a serious conversation with the man before, but he didn’t want to pass the opportunity.  Tom gave him a hand with an old Ice Axe, which Arnie had saved from his more adventurous college days. Arnie continued to Sweep away the crumbled pieces with a broom.

Arnie looked at him, “So what’s your story?  What are you up to here? These men are my friends and if you trying to swindle them out of anything, well for one, you will have me to answer to.”

Tom engaged in a lengthy conversation trying his best to assure the inn proprietor of his innocent intent.  His words were a bit more palatable, being framed by the fact that Tom was giving a good effort of helping the man clear ice. Little did Arnie know that part of Toms drive with the task was his fascination with naturally occurring ice. He has never seen it before coming to earth.

But the next Wednesday, despite being far behind the lines of autumn, with October deeply entrenched, they had a warm sunny day. It must have been sixty by the time the morning group had dispersed . . .at 1 PM.

Tom had started the conversation that morning with some ground rules.  “I’ve thought about this very carefully and before we start down this path, I want to clarify some principles.  Please realize that my purpose here is to discover and understand what you have learned about the selected. We now have the scriptures, which I’m taking back with me, but we have no history with them. I want to be able to take back the knowledge that your cultures have accrued over the past two millenniums.  However, as you well know, there are two parts to this. There’s the clear mandate from the scriptures, and there are the human institutions.  The way I mean human institution is that . . . I guess you would say amoral . . . natural adaptation to an idea.  I want to fillet away your culturally-based, human institution from the scriptural mandate. Simply, we have our own culture and we will create our own way of doing things. While I respect your traditions and culture, I have no desire to import that to my planet your culture anymore that I want to import some of your viruses . . . which we don’t have.”

Tom smiled at the group and waited for a response.

Father Randy spoke first, “Tom, I think that we might need to define even that statement more clearly. You see, in my church, we believe that God works through His inspired word but also through the working out of history, the wisdom of church leaders, namely our dear church fathers. So to separate our culture from the scriptures would be as complex as trying to unscramble this omelet” (pointing down has his 3/4s eaten smoked salmon omelet).

David cleared his throat. “This is one area I would differ very much from the father.  We are a Bible church, as is Pastor Monroe’s church.  We don’t believe that God speaks through men in the same way that God speaks through scriptures. We are pure Bible and nothing else. So it is easy for us to define the Church based on scripture alone.”

Tom paused for a moment while he stared out the window at the brilliant blue skies over the leafless trees. “But David, I’ve heard you many times say that God told you so and so or showed you so and so.  Are you not referring to the same thing as the father?  That God speaks through scriptures and through people or at least people’s interpretation of experiences.”

While David studied his own words carefully, Mike spoke up. “Tom, I think what David is trying to say is that we put the scriptures on a much higher position than maybe the father, Greg or Debra would. We believe that the scriptures are without flaw and are the only absolute source of truth. The individual experiences are the spice of the Holy Spirit, which clarifies scripture, but it must agree with scripture. It doesn’t add whole new concepts that were never there before . . . like the deification of the Virgin Mary.”

Father Randy was quiet so Debra spoke for him. She seemed a bit upset. “Now Mike, I think I’m a bit offended by that.  I mean, I take scriptures very seriously, although I may not take this as literally as you do. You must also acknowledge that it was Father Randy’s church which gave us the scriptures.”

David let out a grunt, “Or rehabilitated them into their own, new religion.”

Tom seeing the conversation breaching the walls of his intent and  just beginning to chase off into the wilderness he immediately took back control. “Gentlemen . . . and lady, I must insist that we pursue the topic at hand. With the parameters, which I’ve laid out, let’s step forward and pursue a clear understanding of the simple truth of how the scriptures teach us, the selected, to live together and nothing more.”






Sunday, January 22, 2012

Beauty in the Midst of Darkness

I'm deviating from GERMFASK, obviously.  I'm not sure if anyone is reading it anyway. But before I take a more complex turn in that story, I wanted to take this detour into my thoughts of the week.

Two things have put me in is frame of mind, the book Lolitha by Valdimir Nabokov and the movie, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I'm almost to the end of the book . . . and I just saw the movie.

There's several issues at stake here . . . so many I don't know where to begin.

The first question to raise, is there a limit to art?  Is there a boundary line over which Christians should not pass when it comes to art?  I think there probably is, but it is more of a dotted line than a solid one, meaning the line is in one place for one individual and somewhere else for someone else. No one can judge what is good or not good for someone else, not unless they know that person very well.

In my Evangelical days, we had a solid line. It was not only solid, but thick, 27 pt, line that was universal.  In my Navigator days, our rep had the view that we shouldn't (nor anyone for that matter) watch a movie that is not rated G, nor read a book that has any sex in it period and certainly not sex between unmarried (and Godly) people.

But that's on the extreme edge of self-censorship.  It also reflects a very poor understanding of art and the belief in a Satan that is more powerful than God.  I say that last part because we literally believed that if someone saw The Exorcist, they would immediately be demon oppressed.

I don't want waste anymore time on that issue, although it deserves it. I want to talk about the specific art that I mentioned.

If you don't know, Lolitha is a very graphic story about a man in his forties obsessed, sexually, with teenybopper girls . . . ages 12-14.  Indeed his obsession leads him on a narcissistic journey to marry a women, in order to get his hands on her 12-year-old daughter.  Fortunately (for him) his wife dies and the girl is all his to manipulate, rape and possess to his dark heart's content. Could this book be edifying?

So why am I reading it?  I've mentioned before, since being turned on to good fiction by my sons, I've been reading the top 100 English novels and Lolitha is number four.  I hesitated at first.  I didn't really know the subject matter for sure. Here are my thoughts why it is a good read.

First of all, the reason it is number four, because Nabokov is a literary genius. The book is written with incredible layers of meaning and richness . . . despite the dark content.  Yes, you can admire the beauty of an artist, who is created in God's imagine, and reflects God's creativity, even though the content is dark. But Nabokov didn't just pull the story from some dark place in his evil mind.  I'm known hundreds of people (if you include my patients) who have lived the life of Lolitha. They were sexually molested, raped and possessed by their fathers, stepfathers, mom's boyfriends or, in some cases, complete strangers.  Nabokov enters that world and more than that, the deep chambers of the mind of the perpetrator.

I could write 20 posts about that book, but the thing that sticks out to me the most is the complex rationalization that we all are capable of.  The perpetrator weaves this mental narrative that makes himself out to be the victim. But it is an insight to the human condition that is worth exploring. It comes back to the parable of the log and the speck.  Mentally, we judge others more harshly than they deserve and ourselves more lightly.  The thinking goes like this, "Yes, I did bad thing X, but you have to  understand why.  I'm not a bad person, but I did X because of these circumstances."  Then we look at the other person who did X and we have the notion that they did it simply because they are evil.

Reading the book did not tempt me to become obsessed with teeny boppers.  Now, if that was a weakness in someone, then maybe that's where the dotted line falls down. Maybe they shouldn't read it.  Maybe I shouldn't read books that try to convince me to stop working and to sit in a coffee shop all day reading and writing.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo can be appreciated as well for its artistry.  If I were to pick the highlight of the art, it would be in the acting ability of Rooney Mara, who plays the key role Lisbeth Salander.  I don't have any clue what Rooney is like in her real life, but unless she is really like Lisbeth, she is a remarkable actress.

It is a dark movie. My wife, who is an addict of Hallmark movies, hated it. She closed her eyes during much of it. It does though teach us about the human condition and that fine line between brilliance and insanity.  I don't have time to say much more, but that I was swept away by the talent.  It was so intense that I would only want to see a movie like that no more than once a month.




Thursday, January 19, 2012

GERMFASK XV


In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the demarcation between Autumn and Winter is crisp.  One day the leaves are at their peak and suddenly a heavy, wet snow brings them down . . . all of them.  In some years, the first snow is the prelude to the last, meaning the ground is never clear in between. In better years, the early snows act as a teaser with a brief Indian summer wedged in before the real snows engulf them.

It was such an early, wet snow that occurred on the following Wednesday.  It was the kind of snow that forms to the soles of your shoes that you can clearly read “Vibram” in the bottom of each step.  Oddly, Debra, who had the furthest to drive on icy roads, arrived first.  She had to choose a new table as a snowbound family were sitting at their usual window table. Actually they weren’t as much snowbound as what Debra called flake-phobic. These are usually people from below the Mason-Dixie Line, who have come up to see the leaves not believing it could possibly snow on them in late September.  She could tell from the accents as they ordered their breakfast that was the case.
 
But soon Father Randy, Mike and David arrived.  Greg was helping an elderly neighbor shovel her sidewalk and had texted Father Randy that he would be late. 

The tall stranger seemed to always arrive last and so he did.

Mike pulled up a second, small, round table to accommodate the five . . . soon to be six . . . of them. Tom started with his big, bright smile, “Okay gentlemen . . . and lady . . . I hope you’ve had a fair week” (he still didn’t have command of the American colloquial enough to understand that “fair” had not been used in that context for at least a hundred years).

After a moment of chatter about their weeks, orders taken and Greg in his place, Tom moved into his more somber mode.  “Friends, I will be candid and tell you that I am growing homesick and tired of this whole matter.  I feel that I have barely scratched the surface of my intentions and I really want to see this through. So, I was thinking, that is time that we get down to business.”

Mike broke his month-long quiet mood, “I totally agree. Why don’t we see if we can’t answer your questions today and resolve this once and for all (Mike was growing tired of the stranger and his uncanny ability to read them all. Mike’s personal life was becoming more unraveled and he really didn’t want it brought up again).

Tom reached into his briefcase and pulled out papers. He laid them on the table. Then he put on, what looked like cheap, reader glasses, and started to pass the papers around the table counter-clockwise, starting with David.

When each breakfasteer had their papers in hand, Tom spoke, “I came here to learn from you, a proper understanding of two deeply related issues. What is the Gospel and what is the Church. I think I see the Church as a balloon and the Gospel as the air which suspends its sides against the lower pressure of the atmosphere. So, while I grasp the point that the Gospel is God’s blanket of snow covering the brokenness of the world, with not only smoothness, but real and extreme purity, the only remaining question is who are the ones covered? I think I could arrive at four, if not six possible answers from the sources around this table. So, I will put that question on . . . what I’ve heard you say . . . the back burner.“
 
Father Randy shook his head, “I think that’s a good idea. It’s hard for me to imagine how we could define it any better without creating conflict where there was none before.”

Tom took off his glasses and shook his head, “That’s what seems so strange to us, it is beyond our comprehension that searching for truth and conflict should reside together on the same thought, but that is the only way you people think. One really has nothing to do with the other.  If you folks could dislodge your belief systems from your sense of self-value, you would have total freedom to discuss things.  But it is what it is and I can’t change your culture in one simple blow.”

He sat back and put his glasses back on. He looked at the papers in his hand.  Then he pushed the glasses down on his nose and looked above them at the group, “So, what I have here is the bulk of the New Testament verses about the Church. I’m sure I’ve missed a couple here or there.  I want to use this as our basis and then explore what you’ve learned about the Church beyond what is obvious.”

Tom looked back down at his papers and then up again, “What I’ve taken the liberty to do here is to replace your English word ‘Church’ with a more simple word so we can try and shed your cultural connotations.  Since the original, Greek word was ‘Ekklesia’ I wanted to find an equivalent. The word means of course 'called out.' The best picture in Greek times would be someone walking down the street and stopping at each home and calling out a couple of names. Those individuals would come out of their house, to the outside, and follow the crowd down the street.  These ‘called-out’ ones, would be a mixture of all kinds of people. I first thought of the word ‘volunteer’ but that didn’t fit, because it was more deliberate by the caller. I could say the ‘elect’ but even that word has too many connotations. So the word I chose to replace ‘Church’ is ‘selected.’  I’ve also taken further liberties of replacing the word “Elder” for the more simple and appropriate word, ‘senior’ or ‘older person.’  Lastly, I’ve replaced the word Deacon, which is proper and seems to be an office here, with a word more closely to the original, ‘assistant.’  So now that I’ve changed those words, trying to find the pure meaning and description of the Church, please read these verses, let’s start at that point, then you teach me how we should construct our Church.”

The pastors looked down and skimmed the paper. David looked up and commented, "This is a huge amount of reading. We can't cover all of this in one morning."

Tom responded, "Let's do this. Take this home and study it. Then next week we will start our discussion. So this morning, we will enjoy our breakfast and talk about our private lives."  The group looked in horror.  

Here is what was written on the strangers' papers.

Matthew 16:18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my selected group, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
Matthew 18:17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the selected; and if they refuse to listen even to the selected, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Acts 5:11 Great fear seized the all the selected and all who heard about these events.
Acts 8:1 And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day a great persecution broke out against the selected in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.
Acts 8:3 But Saul began to destroy the selected group. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
Acts 9:31 Then the selected throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, the group increased in numbers.
Acts 11:19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews.
Acts 11:22 News of this reached the selected in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch.
Acts 11:26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the selected and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. 
Acts 12:1 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the selected, intending to persecute them. So Peter was kept in prison, but the selected was earnestly praying to God for him. 
Acts 13:1 Now in the selected at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.
Acts 14:23 Paul and Barnabas appointed seniors for them in each selected and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust.
Acts 14:27 On arriving there, they gathered the selected together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.
Acts 15:3 The selected sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad.  
Acts 15:4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the selected and the apostles and seniors, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.
Acts 15:22 Then the apostles and seniors, with the whole selected, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers.
Acts 15:30 So the men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the selected together and delivered the letter. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the selected. 
Acts 16:5 So the selected were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers. 
Acts 18:22 When he landed at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem and greeted the selected and then went down to Antioch. From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the seniors of the selected.
Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the selected of God, which he bought with his own blood. 
Romans 16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, an assistant of the selected in Cenchreae.
Romans 16:5 Greet also the selected that meets at their house. Greet my dear friend Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. 
1 Corinthians 1:2 To the selected of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:
 1 Corinthians 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.
1 Corinthians 3:1 Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ.
1 Corinthians 4:17 For this reason I have sent to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every selected.  What business is it of mine to judge those outside the selected? Are you not to judge those inside? 
1 Corinthians 6:4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the selected? 
1 Corinthians 7:17 Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the selected. 
1 Corinthians 10:32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the selected of God— 
1 Corinthians 11:16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice—nor do the selected of God.
1 Corinthians 11:18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a selected, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 
1 Corinthians 11:22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the selected of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter! 
1 Corinthians 12:28 And God has placed in the selected first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 
1 Corinthians 14:4 Anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the selected. 
1 Corinthians 14:5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the selected may be edified.
 1 Corinthians 14:12 So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the selected. 
1 Corinthians 14:19 But in the selected I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue. 
1 Corinthians 14:23 So if the whole selected group comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind? 
1 Corinthians 14:26 What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a song, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the selected may be built up.
 1 Corinthians 14:28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the selected and speak to himself and to God. 
1 Corinthians 14:34 Women should remain silent in the selected. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 
1 Corinthians 14:35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the selected.
 1 Corinthians 15:9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the selected of God.
1 Corinthians 16:1 Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian selected to do. The selected in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the selected that meets at their house.
 2 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the selected of God in Corinth, together with all his holy people throughout Achaia: 
2 Corinthians 7:2Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one. 
2 Corinthians 8:1 And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian selected. 
2 Corinthians 8:18 And we are sending along with him the brother who is praised by all the selected for his service to the gospel. 
2 Corinthians 8:19 What is more, he was chosen by the selected to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help.
2 Corinthians 8:23 As for Titus, he is my partner and co-worker among you; as for our brothers, they are representatives of the selected and an honor to Christ.
2 Corinthians 8:24 Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the selected can see it. 
2 Corinthians 11:8 I robbed other selected by receiving support from them so as to serve you. 
2 Corinthians 11:28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the selected.
2 Corinthians 12:13 How were you inferior to the other selected, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!
Galatians 1:2 and all the brothers and sisters with me, To the selected in Galatia: 
Galatians 1:13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the selected of God and tried to destroy it. 
Galatians 1:22 I was personally unknown to the selected of Judea that are in Christ. 
Ephesians 1:22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the selected. 
Ephesians 3:10 His intent was that now, through the selected, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.
 Ephesians 3:21 to him be glory in the selected and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
 Ephesians 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the selected, his body, of which he is the Savior. 
Ephesians 5:24 Now as the selected submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
 Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the selected and gave himself up for her. 
Ephesians 5:27. .  and to present her to himself as a radiant selected, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 
Ephesians 5:29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the selected.
 Ephesians 5:32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the selected. 
Colossians 1:24 Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the selected. 
Colossians 4:15 Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the selected in her house. 
Colossians 4:16 After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the selected of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea. 
1 Thessalonians 1:1 Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the selected of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace and peace to you. 
1 Thessalonians 2:14 For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s selected in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those selected suffered from the Jews. 
2 Thessalonians 1:1 Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the selected of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: 
2 Thessalonians 1:4 Therefore, among God’s selected we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. 
1 Timothy 3:5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s selected?) 
1 Timothy 3:15 if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the selected of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. 
1 Timothy 5:16 If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the selected be burdened with them, so that the selected can help those widows who are really in need. 
1 Timothy 5:17 The seniors who direct the affairs of the selected well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 
Philemon 1:2 also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the selected that meets in your home. 
Hebrews 12:23 to the selected of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect. 
James 5:14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the seniors of the selected to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 
3 John 1:6 They have told the selected about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God.
3 John 1:9 I wrote to the selected, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. 
3 John 1:10 So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the selected. 
Revelation 1:4 John, To the seven selected in the province of Asia: Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne,
Revelation 1:11which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven selected: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” 
Revelation 1:20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven selected, and the seven lampstands are the seven selected.
 Revelation 2:1 “To the angel of the selected in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. 
Revelation 2:7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the selected. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. 
Revelation 2:8 “To the angel of the selected in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 
Revelation 2:11 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the selected. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death. 
Revelation 2:12 “To the angel of the selected in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. 
Revelation 2:17 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the selected. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it. 
Revelation 2:18 “To the angel of the selected in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.
 Revelation 2:23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the selected will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. 
Revelation 2:29 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the selected.
 Revelation 3:1 “To the angel of the selected in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 
Revelation 3:6 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the selected.
Revelation 3:7 “To the angel of the selected in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.
Revelation 3:13 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the selected.
Revelation 3:14 “To the angel of the selected in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 
Revelation 3:22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the selected.” 
Revelation 22:16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the selected. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”




Friday, January 13, 2012

GERMFASK XIV



After quickly devouring his fried, green tomatoes, the stranger reached his long, slender arm beneath his chair and pulled a big leather-bound Bible from his briefcase and laid it on the table with a thud.  It was much more worn since they last time they had seen it. Bookmarks made from bright yellow and orange aspen leaves jutted from the bottom of the book like the wings of giant locusts being pressed between the pages.

Tom looked around the table at his extra-stellar friends. “Okay, are we ready? Is it time that you explain to me what the Church is?”

David wiped his mouth with his napkin and looked up at him, “I thought you knew everything?”  He sat up straight and stared with anticipation to make it clear this was not a joke.

Tom put his hand on David’s shoulder, “I never said I know everything. We know a lot, but there are gaping holes in our knowledge. We have a detailed history of humanity that you don’t have, but we have never had the scriptures to explain the gospel.”

David picked up Tom’s Bible and flipped through the pages until one of the leaves fell out. “Sorry,” he said as he picked it off the floor and stuck it back between the pages. “So now you have the scriptures and you people are so smart—a lot smarter than us emotional-thinkers—what then do you want from us?”

Tom smiled, “But you see, we have no tradition of the scriptures to draw from. We want to learn from you. After all, you’ve had the chance to study the scriptures for over two thousand years.  I guess we just don’t want to start from scratch . . . so please teach us.” 

Greg was to Tom’s left and scratching his head. His mind was pondering something and the pondering was written all over his face like bold print. “Say, Tom. Before we go down that path, trying to explain the Church . . . well, I’m intrigued. What do you know about us that we don’t? I mean about human history?”

Tom had wished that he had never mentioned that point, because he really came there that morning to learn about the Church.  He rubbed his face. “Okay, I will do this. I will indulge in some history but I won't answer any follow up questions . . . at least not until you answer my question about the nature of the Church.”

Tom looked at Greg, who was all ears, and smiled. Then he continued, “Hmm, ok we know that the earth really is very, very old and the earth scientists are not that far off. It is about four and a half billion years old.” 

David was shaking his head . . . but remaining quiet.  So Tom continued, “The dinosaurs died off because of a pandemic of the bird flu . . . as they were in the bird family after all.  The pandemic spread quickly and that’s why you have the piles of dead animals.  It wasn’t due to an asteroid hitting the earth. Actually the huge crater, beneath the water off Yucatan, is a huge volcanic caldera. There was no asteroid. It did erupt a few times, creating a couple of the ice ages. Let me see, we also know what happened to the Neanderthals.  They were genetically different from humans, but not completely different.  Actually, the homo-sapiens didn’t kill them off . . . but they were cursed by beauty.  You see, the Neanderthals were in Europe and other areas first. When the homo-sapiens arrived, the Neanderthals dominated them by not only mightier physique but bigger brains. The Neanderthal men had one downfall and that was that they found homo-sapien women irresistible.  They were as Venus to them. They left their own kind and bred only with the homo-sapien women. This led, like in the case of the Mule, a sterile off-spring. So, in the meantime the homo-sapien men were continuing to multiply with their natural mates and the Neanderthal linage came to an end.”  Tom noticed the totally uninterested looks on everyone’s face but Greg’s.  “So that’s that. Now to the topic at hand.”

Tom turned to David and slid his Bible in his direction.  David didn’t pick it up but looked at the group. “This is easy. The Church is the Bride of Christ. She is the organization of His people.”

Tom smiled again, “But David, you have to do much better than that. Those are only poetic words. We are serious about this. This information is crucial for an entire planet of people.” Tom slid the Bible even closer to David until it was touching his belly, “So, David, what really is the Church? How would you define it?  Are we (pointing to the group around the table) a church?”

David had a little frown, “No, I wouldn’t call this group a church. That would be somewhat of a sacrilege to the true church.”

Tom saw sifting in the seats of Father Randy and Debra out of the corner of his left eye. Then he asked David, “So how is that?”

“Well, for one, we have different beliefs here.  I think Greg and I have profoundly different views of what it means to be a Christian and we covered that before. The same is true with the Father here . . . and Debra. So we can’t be part of the same Church.”

“So there is more than one? Christ has two bodies? So He is a polygamist?” asked Tom.

Father Randy seized the opportunity, “That would be one area of historical disagreement.  The position of my church is that indeed there is only one Church and hopefully, one day Christ will restore the Church to one body. But for now it is divided.”

Tom looked at David, “So do you agree with that?”

David thought for a moment, “I don’t agree that the Father’s church is the one Church.  His church took a powerful detour hundreds of years ago and there are plenty of people in my church that would say that his Church is not real, or they are not even real Christians.”

Tom looked cautiously at him, “Do you believe that yourself?”

There was a minute of awkward silence then Mike spoke up, “You see Tom, before you came here we would never have these type of dividing discussions . . . and that was a good thing.  I think you are going to stir up trouble and people are going to get their feelings hurt if you’re not careful.”

Tom shook his head. “But this is insanity!  What is the Church is a very serious topic. It should be discussed by a group of people, each with a passion for the truth. But you people of the earth—and don’t forget that we are people of the earth too—only have emotional reasoning.  You wrap your discussion in layers of emotional factors and it is because of that, you get easily offended. Where I come from, we have these discussions all day long and no one would ever dream of getting offended because we each are obliged to the truth and not to just maintaining our own personal systems of feeling valuable.”

Mike seemed lost, and then he spoke again, “All I’m trying to say is that Jesus was the Prince of Peace.  It is wonderful that four or five people, with very different perspectives, can enjoy each other’s company once a week for breakfast. That is a breakthrough. That is all we really want.”

Tom, still shaking his head, “But the way you people do it is by pretending that all is well. You bury your disagreements because your longing isn’t for truth but for maintaining your own belief system at all cost. This fellowship of breakfast is what you call a farce.  The only time you debate a topic, or it seems like the only time, is to try and prove yourself right and the others wrong so you can feel better about yourself. It has nothing to do with finding the truth. I’m really surprise that you are not still in your Dark Ages.”

As soon as the word “farce” had come out of Tom’s mouth, Mike’s mind instantly turned to his daughter Ashley’s tough words the week before, what were they, “fucking charade?” He felt a pain in the pit of his stomach and it wasn’t the Tabasco on his Cowboy Omelet.

There was a tense feeling around the table. Tom looked around the restaurant. It was almost empty with its low point at eleven AM, too late for breakfast and too early for lunch.  Sharon was in the corner watching carefully.

Tom, turned back to David, “So where were we? Please be open and honest . . . what is the Church?”

David thumbed through the Bible in front of him. “As I was saying it is the body of Christ. God set up the church for a system of worship, fellowship, the sacraments, accountability and the Great Commission of taking the Gospel to the world.”

Tom shook his head, “You’re being a poet again.  Pick up the book and show me!  This is very important.  I’ve read your scriptures over and over during the past six months and I know it doesn’t use any of those words. Roughly there are about one hundred and ten times that the term, translated to English as ‘church,’ is used in the scriptures. It only refers to the church as a movement, group, congress, collection of people, loose association.  I just don’t see this highly structured thing with such clear cut marching orders as you describe.”

Father Randy, looking at his watch and obviously wanting to move things along, spoke up. “God has spoken to us in His scriptures, but sometimes, giving us more details through our traditions and history. It is in those traditions that we have created more of the structure of the Church . . . according to God’s will and good pleasure.”

Tom sat back in his chair and put his chin on his hand. He could see David’s disapproval to his right. He turned and looked at him, “So David, do you have trouble with that?”

“I wouldn’t put traditions and church history on the same level of the Bible. I pastor a Bible-centered church and everything we do is based on the Bible.”

Tom started laughing, “David, I’ve almost pushed the scriptures here into your lap and you’ve never looked at it once, at least not seriously.  Your beliefs seem to be totally based on your traditions more so than the Father’s. So, do we put the same value on traditions as scriptures?”

“No,” came Mike’s quick response.  “We don’t ignore our church’s traditions, but we don’t base our beliefs on this . . . say like the Catholic Church would.”

Tom said, “I have to disagree. I think you base your knowledge far more on your traditions than even Father Randy, and he admits that he bases his truth on traditions and church history.”

David stood up, “Folks, it is eleven thirty and I have a million things to do.”

Father Randy said, in an accommodating way, “Tom, I think your discussion deserves more time . . . so, next week?”  He then looked around the table to several nods. 

David spoke up, “I’m not sure. This is my busy season and our church has a fall ministry campaign that I’m in the middle of. I may or may not be back.”

Tom stood up and reached out to shake David’s hand (David was assuming it was a goodbye shake) but then the stranger said to him, “David, this topic seems to be as essential for you as it is for us. So, please be back next week.  How can you have a church fall campaign if you are not even sure what the church really is?”

As they walked away, Greg caught up to Tom and said to him, “Hey, could I have a word with you?”

Tom looked at him and gave a positive nod.

“Hey man, I want to hear more about the unknown human history.  Are there other people on other planets . . . oh, apart from your people?”