Tuesday, February 28, 2012


HUG brought this to my attention the other day. By now it is headlines. I didn't plan on commenting on it but it fit into this discussion about apologetics.

Ricky said over the weekend that Obama wants all our children to go to college, where their religious faith is taken away.

Now, lots of people, including good Christian blogs are looking at this statement head on. But I wanted to take the tangential look.

You see, the blame doesn't rest on the back of our friend Mr. Santorum. He is, by profession after-all, a politician. The job of a politician is to get elected and to stay elected.

Rick is a smart man. I don't blame him for this statement. It is part of his strategy to steal the most vulnerable Republican votes away from Romney. Mr. Romney's weakest side, within the Republican tent, are the Evangelicals. The evangelicals would only vote for Romney while pinching their noses because he is a Mormon.

So the question isn't what was Rick thinking?  The real question is why is Rick right in his belief that such statements, about education, will attract more Evangelicals?

Just before I left my old Evangelical church, and the event that led up to that (in a long line of things) was a film series by Ken Hamm on evolution and creation. It was horrible. I felt like I had been zapped back to the Dark Ages. Rev Hamm is a Rev and not a scientist. He is also a mind-entertainer, where he fools you into believing that he is teaching you something.

At the end of that series, we finally had an hour discussion time.  I was so disgusted that I wanted to keep quiet. I knew if I spoke, I would be the minority and seen as spiritually inferior.

But then something happened. As Ricky mirrors, our head elder and football coach (whom I do love and admire as a man) spoke up.  He said basically what Rick said. Something to the effect, "The reason that we are loosing all our kids today is that we are sending them to college where they are learning evolution instead of Jesus. We also have been too soft on them, allowing them to pick their music and books and stuff."

I spoke up.  I said, "The reason the kids are leaving the church is that they have an intrinsic desire to know truth and when we lie to them, and they figure it out, they want nothing to do with church anymore."

Of course people were instantly disgusted with me. The coach then added, "My Bible agrees with Mr. Hamm, that the earth is 6,000 years old. God said, I believe it and that settles it. If you (looking at me) don't believe the Bible, then, I'm not sure how you can say you are a Christian."

I was depressed.  I knew that day that I had to leave that church. It was killing me.  I discussed it with my wife over lunch. She was equally mad at me for being the trouble maker that I am.

But here is my point.  There is something seriously wrong with any form of Christianity that believes that the way we win the souls and minds of anyone is by keeping them ignorant. This is the same thinking as the Taliban. The Church wasn't always that way. Remember the Ivy League schools, with their very high standards of learning were started by thinking Christians . . . some ministers.

This takes me back to my last post. If God is there, then he is real. If He is real, then learning and knowledge (different from brain-washing) will bring us closer and closer to Him.  I wish that all Evangelical kids could get a PhD from Harvard. It wouldn't make them worse Christians but better Christians. However, if we lie to them . . . telling false things about science (as Mr. Hamm is fond of doing) and then they find out the truth . . . yeah, they will walk.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

An Ingenuous Apologetic (. . . or why I still believe that Christianity is true . . . or more true) Part I

I've been planning on tackling this topic for a while. I've had a few false starts, like the issue of "conversion disorder" and Alvy's Dying Star.  This time, I will see if I can get the momentum to get over the hump. It is a daunting task . . . putting it into words. If only I were a poet at a time like this.

First, like with any scholarly paper, I must begin with a few definitions.  I will start with "Ingenuous."  I'm not exploring the literal, Webster, definition but as the thought is defined in my experience and intent. So, the definition must start with a background story.

I knew that something was different with me even in elementary school.  I'm not sure what it was. It wasn't intelligence as there are plenty of people more intelligent than me, especially when it comes to language (vocabulary, articulation and the memorization of facts).  But I had this deep sense of reason that my friends didn't seem to have.  I also had, meshed with the reason, a deep desire for and insight into brute honesty.  It is hard to explain.

But jumping ahead to my Evangelical days, I knew that we were pretending a lot of it. I knew that the true motives of what we did were much less attractive than the ones on the surface. I also knew that it wasn't just me. Sigmund had figured it out a long time ago.

For example, back in college days, when I was deeply involved with a para-church group, I knew in my . . . what they call the heart of hearts place . . . that the reason that I went to Bible study wasn't just because I loved Jesus so much, as we all claimed. But it was multifaceted in origin. Yeah, part of it was to learn about the Bible and to feel closer to Jesus, but that was about 10%.  Other factors included, getting to see a girl that I thought was cute. Maybe I could impress her with a prayer request or an insight into the scriptures. Sometimes it was to sit next to a cute girl so our shoulders would touch  . . . or worse than that, sit across from her so I could get a glimpse up her skirt.  But I knew the other guys were just like me, but if I ever alluded to those motives, they would say I was disgusting and if I applied my insight to them, they would react in rage . . . righteous rage.

I also knew that the reason the 50 something staff leader gave all the girls a full frontal bear hug, saying, "Praise Jesus . . . sister," was so he could rub the girls' boobs against his chest.  He mostly hugged the cute girls like that.

Then, to continue on a Freudian path, a lot of our non-sexual motives were to impress and dominate one another, all veiled under the loving Jesus mantra. And the greatest motive of all was the anti-gospel motive of striving to feel clean. We wanted so much to do things that would make God like us . . . and He rarely did.

Now, I'm saying that we were all depraved animals all the time. Like I said, we had some sincerity mixed in.

But beyond that, I knew that all of Evangelicalism was built on stilts, above the fray of reality.

When I finally suffered my great disillusionment with Evangelicalism, I pulled the desire for honestly out of the closet and place it at the center of my quest for meaning.  My conclusion was, if God is really there, and I wasn't sure anymore, then He wasn't on the stage as another prop. He would have to be real. Thus the more honest I was, about myself and others, the closer I would be to finding Him.  You see, a God that plays the same games of hide and seek with motives as we do . . . then he is a god at best.

I've shared this before but I created in my mind this mental image of reality where the ground is true-truth . . . or brute honestly . . . or total ingenuousness. Above that ground are layers of pretending, which I've placed like floors in a building.  My imaginary building has 100 floors. In the penthouse are the Psychotics, borderline personality disorder people whom have lost all touch with reality.  Residing with them might be people like Col Qaddafi, who was saying how much him people loved him . . . as he was running for his life like a wounded dog.  Maybe Bashar al-Assad is up there as was Marie Antoinette.

Not far below them are the TV evangelists, like you see on TBN.  Mixed with them, on the 80th floor, are many politicians, whose reality is what is popular to get them re-elected (with a total disjointedness from their personal reality).  I think when Bill Clinton sat and said with great confidence, "I did not have sex with that woman,"  he actually believed it. He was so out of touch with the ground. His little liaisons took place in the basement of the building.

Most people can't put it into words but the reason that Mitt Romney can't get more that 30% of the votes among Republicans, is that in their hearts they know that the man they see is a puppet on the 70th floor stage . . . so far out of touch with reality that he believes his own lies.

But, because they reside on the same higher floors, popular evangelism (including the TV evangelist) have always made good bedfellows with the politicians.

But enough about politics.

So, on this path to find reality, it has been a struggle. Once you try to dip below the 30th floor, you are hated. If you speak of your own, true motives . . . "Oh, I wasn't at church last Sunday because I really don't like church services and I give myself a break now and then" evangelicals will despise you. If you dare apply the insight to them, they will hate you like the naked Emperor hated the mirror.

But in this hunt for reality, my own kids opened the doors for me.  I knew that they were drifting away from the Awana-World, which we had raised them in.  On their own, they had discovered reality . . . ground floor stuff.  It was the world of the poets, the novelists, the song-writers, and strangely, the world of the actors.  The movies, while blatantly pretend, portray the realities of being human and a brutally honest way, except for Hallmark . . . and Christian movies.

So, with that term under our belts, I will just say, that Christian Apologetics, the Josh McDowell type, are played out up on the 30th floor (or higher). So they involve a lot of cliches, smoke and mirrors . . . and a blind faith in the pseudo-scientist presenter. The church people aren't taught to think, but are pressured to pretend they have absolute certainty. "God said it, I believe it . . . and that settles it." That certainty is propped up on the backs of the cliches and mis-information.

So, this apologetic, which I want to discuss, is different. It is down on the ground floor . . . or as close to the ground floor as I can get. (Getting to the true ground floor is like the great quest to created absolute zero Kelvin, the closer you get, the harder it gets).

I will lay down one premise that is different than the traditional Evangelical approach . . . the hope for certainty must be abandoned.  While this might sound strange, it is consistent with the essence of what Christianity teaches as well as what we know about ourselves psychologically. That is frankly, that we are self-deceived. Scriptures say, apparently based on the concept that we are fallen mentally, spiritually and psychologically, that the heart is most deceitful than anything else (Jer 17:9). So the word "heart" there would be the same as mind or soul.  This was what I was alluding to when I discussed "conversion reactions," and the problem of trusting our own minds.

So it is odd that Evangelicals teach that you must have absolute certainty about God being there and about specific doctrines . . . and if you don't . . . you are a immature Christian.

On the other hand, I've known evangelicals who came to grips with this concept  but immediately flew into complete hopeless despair. That is one of the reasons the youth are leaving Christianity. They were taught in Awana and Sunday school that good Christians know for certain, that the moment they realize that it is humanly impossible to know for certain (another reason the hard-core atheists are also up on the 80th floor), they throw up their hands and walk away from Christianity forever.

But I will close by saying, while we can't be certain about anything, we can have enough assurance about a world view, that we can base our life on it. It is at this sinkhole that faith must sustain us. But not a blind faith. There isn't a path out of the sink hole that doesn't require faith. As I said before, there isn't a default position, which rest on pure reason and nothing else.  More later.

Had to type fast to get home and watch the Academy Awards . . . sorry about the typos.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Running From . . . Not To

The photo is from What Dreams May Come, which was the subject of our most recent film club discussion. If you haven't seen the movie, the main character (played by my look-alike) Robin Williams is on his way to Hell to rescue his wife.

I was thinking about that movie this morning while on my drive up the coast to Bellingham.  I was listening to NPR and they were talking about the economic situation in Portugal. They consider it to be the next Greece.

There is a mass exodus of young people out of Portugal out to the previous Portuguese-speaking colonies, such as Angola.  The interviewer asked a young Portuguese man, "Do you really hope to find your dream in Angola?"

He answered clearly, "Oh, we're not trying to find a dream . . . we are running from a nightmare."

I think that statement sums up something I've been wrestling with for a while.  When I first started getting disillusioned with Evangelism, now about 20 years ago, I searched and searched for Heaven on earth.  I just knew that there was a right way to live Christianly, a way I had not found up until that point.

This chasing after the true church or the Christian utopia led me down many blind allies, such as trying to start a house church or finding LAbri (not a bad experience at all).

I knew the paradigm had changed, but I had not put it into words until now.  It has been a year and a half since I left my last evangelical church.  This time my leaving wasn't to find that better spot, but to escape the hell of evangelicalism.

I do like my present church much better but I have to keep her at arm's length.  We dance but we don't slow dance. Part of the reason is that I am so busy right now that I can't attend many of their activities. The fact that my wife is still very involved with the old church adds to that difficulty. But the other reason, as I move towards the inner circles of this new church, I start to find the same cliches the same blue-stained lips of the Cool Aid sippers. After all, this is still Protestant Christianity in America.

I'm not saying this to be cruel.  I am the one who is the lost sheep.  This new church is much better than my old one, where it was concluded that the biggest reason that the young people were leaving was that we had not been tougher on them. You know, screening their music, screening their textbooks and keeping them, for God's sake, away from college.

My point here is not to criticize evangelism as I've beat that poor horse to death. My point is, and I don't think I'm alone, that when we escape the madness . . . there is no place else to go.  With my great imagination, I can't conceive of what that better place would look like anymore.

I've talked before that my utopian church (if I have any hope of that anymore) is where a group of Christians meet at a coffee shop, or bar, and have real conversations about real life and relate that to the God who is there.  But I am 100% sure that if I ever attempted to create that space I would only have; a) Those totally pissed off by the Church and are now claiming to be atheists or some twist to New Age Spiritualism or b) the old Evangelism re-wrapped into "cool or neat" packages of contemporary ministry.

In the later situation, the conversations would be sprinkled with the same-old emotional dishonesty. They would speak with certainty, "God said to  me this or that," and the thinly veiled self-praises. They each would try and manipulate you to stroke their egos . . . covered with smiles and Jesus talk.

So, it is part of that Hebrews 11 experience, that discontentment with what is, but hanging on, with both hands, to that hope that somehow, somewhere it will be better.  In the same way, as I get older and my joints ache more each year, my hope is in a new body some day. A body where I can run or fly . . . much like the Robin Williams character did when he found his version of Heaven.

It is faith that must sustain us. A faith that all broken will be fixed some day. That the madness will be replaced my true-truth. It is like I have spoken of the "Gospel" all my life as a linguistic exercise. But now the true Gospel is the air that must sustain me. The awareness that I am clean in God's eyes, even though I'm a miserable disappointment to my Evangelical friends. Even though absurdity surrounds us, there is a sanity that awaits or coming.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Journalist . . . the Prophet-type

As an evangelical, I was taught the hate the liberal media. I won't go down that path. But this morning I was awaken to the news that another brave journalist (and photographer) died in the line of duty.  As I heard her colleagues describe her, Marie Colvin had a passion to get the truth out and to be the voice of those suffering.  In that way, she was doing God's work.

I think of the people of Homs, Syria and how we have no clue how much suffering is going on there . . . as I sit in peace and safety sipping my coffee.  Thanks to Marie and those like her, we knew a little bit of the evil unleashed on them.  Godspeed and thank you for your courage on the behalf of God's children who are suffering.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Alvy's Dying Star

This might seem far removed from my previous post, but that one was written a week ago. I will make a loose connection in the end.

Here is how it all started. I was driving home from the office on Thursday . . . or was it Wednesday?  Anyway, I have this beautiful drive, up from our fishing village across a small mountain pass, up a steep road, looking down on two lakes and the face of the mountain behind me. It was about when I got the one flat stretch just before the last turn to my house that I had this strange epiphany. Maybe that's a bid of melodrama, more like a thought. Because that part is flat, it has been clear-cut around it for pasture land. This opens the sky up for the stars to shine through.

When the darkness of winter being rolled back each day, there was still plenty of light out over the sea to the West, which accented the sky and Venus shining brightly.  As I was driving, I was listening to NPR's Stardate, which is a five-minute layman's astronomy program. The narrator said something that struck me powerfully. She made the comment, to the effect of, "That star (the one they were talking about) will die a slow death, much like our own sun in about 4.5 billion years."

This is hard to put into words but it was the finale of the universe that grabbed me. We are on a conveyor belt to oblivion. Now, it wasn't as if I didn't know that already. As I'm getting older, now 56, I think more and more about our final destiny.

This brings me to young Ilvy Singer's (Annie Hall) dilemma. His mother takes him to see the doctor and she, being the Jewish mother that she is, is worried sick about him. He is depressed. "Go ahead and tell the doctor what you told me."

Young Ilvy wasn't very happy with the situation but he squirmed and then said (my paraphrase), "I just found out that the universe is expanding. Therefore it will spread out and go cold and everything will die. Therefore everything I do is in vain so I'm not doing anything anymore."

The chain-smoking doctor looked confused. "Well, that's not for another billion years, son. There's time to do a lot of stuff now."

I think the boy's mother is shaking her head and saying, "Tell him that's crazy thinking, doctor."

Now, many will see that scene as just funny. But knowing Woody Allen, he was serious about that. He always raises serious questions about life.

My point is the absurdity of life, without the concept of God. Now, I'm not saying this in my cocky smiling way I use to as an Evangelical, in a "Gotcha" moment.  No, as I mentioned before, evangelical apologetics has its own points of absurdity that they like to cover up under a pile of cliches.

But imagine the universe is hopeless. It is expanding and inevitably it will spread out and grow cold and dark.  That future is endless.  The statues of Ghandi, Mother Theresa, Abraham Lincoln and the rest will slowly dissolve as the atoms separate, and the subatomic particles loose their energy and die into absolute darkness. That darkness will last for eternity. So, my life, even the hundred of thousands of years of human life, or even the millions of years of biological life itself, won't even appear as a millisecond in the grand scheme, not even a nanosecond.  As the great king Solomon shouted . . . it is all in vain, totally meaningless.

So, what is my point?  I guess what I'm trying to say is that there isn't a clear default position. In other words, if you say that Christianity is silly, or other religious world views are crazy, you are left with the greatest absurdity of them all.

How does this fit with "conversion disorders?"  My point with that is about knowing.  If our minds have the power to change our perspective of reality, of projecting illness around us . . . when there is none, how do we trust our minds about anything?

I'm not a nihilist. I have hope. There has to be hope. While the mind can't know with certainty, it can know with enough certainty that we can live within a framework of a belief system.

I'm going to move on next time to talk about a more honest Christian Apologetic.  Most Christian apologeticists are incredible dishonest.

I know that his had been a convoluted path but I will hopefully clarify it as I move forward.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Other "Conversion" and What We Can Learn From It

The issue of the power of mental illness and specifically "conversion reaction" has been on my mind of late.  There are several factors for that.

The first thing that brought this to mind was the case of the teenage girls in LeRoy, New York.  If you didn't catch the story, this group of girls suddenly developed a Tourettes-like syndrome.  When I watched them on TV, I knew within a second that it was a conversion (or what we now call "functional") disorder.  It's not being judgmental. For us who work in medicine, especially neurology, we have seen this so many times, usually on a daily basis, that it becomes a no-brainer. It also represents one of the most difficult situation we face. It is a sum loss . . . damned if you do . . . damned if you don't type of situation.  The reason is, virtually always bonded with this form of mental illness is the absolute certainty, on the behalf of the sufferer, that it is a real-physical disease.  So, if you try to tell them the truth, they react in rage.  The only time I was ever assaulted in my career was when I told a patient that the seizure, which they had just faked, wasn't real.  I didn't tell her to be cruel but . . . it's a long story. Just I had no choice in that situation.

I watched a school board meeting with the parents of the teenage girls in that small town. The parents were screaming in rage that no one is finding the chemical . . . or whatever . . . that they believe is causing their children to be sick.  The poor school board in between a rock and a hard place. I can understand the perceptive of the parents, especially if they don't know a lot about psychiatric illness, that someone is accusing their sweet little girl of faking it.

But this is where it gets complicated.  In true conversation reactions, you don't consciously decide one day you will start faking a physical illness. It is a deep, self-deception. That's why it is offensive to them to be told that they are having a mental illness rather than a physical one.

Now, for most of us, to be told that something we perceive as physical was really mental, I think we would at least be open to that idea, but to them, they totally reject that possibility.

The lay person may think, or ask, maybe we are the ones messed up. You know, the great Medical-Industrial-Complex where we either are not smart enough (like House, MD), don't care enough or are paid off by the Medical-Industrial-Complex, that we miss it. That it really is some strange environmental toxin that is making people sick.  Sorry. In cases like this that is never true. We do, collectively, have almost certainty because human psychological phenomena have been well studied as have the true neurological diseases. But I'm getting entangled in a side-bar and I want to move back to my main point.

The other reason that this has been on my mind is that I've spent a lot of time with several patients with "conversion reactions" or what we mostly now refer to as functional illness or somatization disorders, in the past two weeks. But this thought is much more than about those specific mental health issues. There's a lot to think about here regarding psychology in general, and back to epistemology.

First to the psychological. Why are we (and I sincerely mean "we") so prone to the hologram of physical suffering being projected around us by the inner id?  It's simply because there is so much reward riding on it. As an adult, the only way that we can enjoy child-like nurturing . . . is to be sick. For many, they never got the nurturing which God intended for us to have . . . as a child.  A quick way to inject meaning into our lives, and value, is to be innocent victims of suffering . . .  especially if that suffering is dramatic.

A couple of years ago, the hiccup girl made national news. Later, after she was arrested for murder-related charges she talked about how addictive it was to be on the main stage of national news in her 15 minutes of fame. It is part of that insatiable hunger for re-valuation of ourselves.  So, being unable to stop her hiccups (or so it seems) made her a hero-type, which gave her a sense of value.

On a less grand scale, I've been a part of many church prayer chains over the years. Invariably there are those people who are frequently sharing dramatic prayer requests, often they consist of--thinly veiled--self praises. "Pray for my dear friend Ann. I've shared the gospel with her many times over the years and she says that I am her greatest friend and God has allowed me to be such a good example of godliness for her. Pray for her salvation."   But more often they are about strange medical problems. They have concerns about serious and strange (local doctors can't figure it out . . . so they are flying in experts from all over the world to figure it out) medical problems. I've made huge evangel-o-blunders when I've spoken up and gave much more simple explanations for someone.  I know that I sound cynical . . . but I know that I've done the same behavior when I was an evangelical. It is groping for that attention, some massaging of the ego, to let me know that I have value. But isn't that what the Gospel is really for? I am not talking about the sharing of prayer request for real serious illnesses, cancer, heart disease, seizures our you name it. I'm talking about when those things are embellished.

I wanted to take this conversation about conversion to the last level, and that is the level of knowing. But I'm running out of time. But I will end this posting with the question, if we can mentally induce medical disease (even blindness), how can we trust our minds about anything?  I will pick up on that . . . but I'm late to work. Sorry, no time to proof read again.   

Sunday, February 5, 2012


Greg was the first at the table the following Wednesday. Michael arrived soon after. Debra and Father Randy rode in together and came in at the same time. There was an eerie silence that morning as each one gave Sharon their orders. She asked, "Is Mr. Hans coming?"

Greg gave a quick and confident, "Oh, he'll be here . . . he is usually late you know."

Silence continued to dominate with just the sound of metal forks hitting ceramic plates and the occasional slurping of coffee. Greg looked at his watch. It was a quarter past eight and Tom had never been this late. He looked out the window and the snow, which had been falling softy, was now coming down more steadily. "Maybe the weather is slowing him down." Mumbled Greg.

Michael spoke up, "I don't think so. Arnie said that even on the morning of that terrible ice storm, Tom was the only one who made it, walking the 15 miles round trip to get here."

Greg was getting restless as he finished off his flat-jacks covered with syrup, distilled by Arnie during the previous spring from the maple trees just across the road. Greg laid down his fork and announced, "I'm going to look for the man . . . any takers?"  He jumped up and put on his coat.  He walked towards the door.

The rest of the group just looked at one another. Debra jumped up, with her plate in hand and whispered, "I'm in."  She passed Sharon on the way out the door, with her plate of eggs still in her hand, "I'll be right back with the plate."

In a moment, Father Randy and Michael followed in suite.

As the three of them gathered in the parking lot, Greg was in his 1975 VW camper van, the engine running and him leaning out the window scrapping off the windshield. "Jump in!"

The father, Michael and Debra climbed in. The mini bar table was put to good use to set their plates on.  Greg pulled out on the highway.  "Hang on back there!" shouted Greg. "It's getting a little slippery and I have rear-wheel drive."

Debra, sitting with her back to Greg, twisted around and said, "I've got my Subaru."

"That's Okay. My Tin Lizzy has never let me down."

They drove south on 77 past the GERMFASK Cemetery on the left, where many of the early settlers were burred. They turned left on Lustila Road until they got to Needle Pointe. Another left took them by the shore of Manistique Lake.  The road narrowed after they passed the Needle Pointe curve and the snow grew deeper. The Tin Lizzy started to fish tail and then just spin.

"I'm confident that his place is at the very end. It's only about a 1/4 mile, so is it okay if we hoof it from

No one answered but they just bailed out. Debra still had her Jolly Inn plate in her hand as they continued walking. Their caps were becoming white with snow. Before long they came to the end of the road the last cabin on the lake. 

Greg led the troops like a General in the trenches of World War I. Over the snow drifts and up to the porch.  He knocked on the door. There was no response.  Father Randy walked around to the picture window that looked out on the lake. He wiped off the window and looked in. "Hey," he called. This place looks completely empty.  They stood side by side peering through the glass.

Greg walked around to the back door and knocked. "Tom!  Hey Tom, it's Greg!" Still there was silence, save the wind in the Aspens and Birches and the crunching of the ice beneath the Sorels of Father Randy.

The kind priest put his arm around Greg's shoulders.  "He's gone.  The mystery man has left us."

Greg mumbled almost beneath and audible decibel, "But we weren't finished. I had so many things to ask him."

Back at the Jolly Inn, Greg collected the empty plates and coffee cups and carried them back inside. He waved farewell to his breakfast friends.  He motioned to Debra and she rolled down her window with the power button. "Yeah?"

Greg asked, "Will you be coming back?  I mean, you said that you were coming just to meet this interesting stranger . . . now that he's gone?"

Debra nodded. "Sure, I'll be back. It is quite a drive for me, so I may not be here every Wednesday, especially in the winter, but I'll be back.  I think Mr. Hans opened several cans of worms that would be worth discussing."  With that, she rolled up her window and pulled out on to 77 and headed north. Greg looked around and the others were already gone.

When Greg got back to his cabin, he found an envelope and a parcel. He opened the letter and read it out loud, "To my Earthing friend, thanks so much for patience with me, and your imaginative trust.  In the package you will find the complete, what you would call 'Encyclopedia' of our people and our planet, which I have translated into my imperfect command of English. Enjoy." 

Saturday, February 4, 2012


Debra seemed to come alive after appearing quite subdued for most of the morning. She looked like she wanted to speak, yet the words didn’t come at first.  She looked up at Tom and back down at the papers in front of her. She wasn’t reading them but playfully rolling them up and then unrolling them.  “Mr. Hans, I’ve remained quiet here because, like I’ve said before, I don’t have a dog in this fight. I was invited here by my good Friend Randal because by nature I’m a courious woman.  However, having sat here for a few weeks and listened to you making the same points over and over, I felt like it was time I spoke.”

Tom smiled and sat back in his chair, “Of course . . . please do!”

“Well, maybe saying I feel hurt is an over statement. However, I do feel that I must defend all those sincere people in my congregation, the ones who come each Sunday morning and worship God from a pure place in their hearts.  I think most of them have grasped His mercy correctly and they don’t come as some futile exercise in trying to win their own salvation. I don’t think you've give us enough credit. We aren’t that dumb herd of sheep, as you portray us. Secondly, it was my understanding that you were here to learn from us . . . but instead, week after week we have endured some pretty sharp lectures from you.  I guess those are my main points.”

Tom stared out the window and up into the bare trees as if he was expecting line of crows to fly in . . . bringing him the appropriate words in which to respond to Debra, one by one. Eventually finding the words inside his own head, he spoke, “Debra, I am sorry that my language was harsh. If you know my intent and my perspective you would know that most of my motives were as a scientist, not an arrogant buffoon.  It may be hard for you to believe, but I actually have a tender spot in my heart even for David and I deeply regret driving him away.  I guess I under-estimated the Earthlings' preoccupation with shame.  However, we Hanserians speak rather frankly to each other and I’m sure I’ve been wrong in my lacking of cultural sensitivity.  For this I do ask your, as we as Randy’s, Greg’s and Michael’s forgiveness.”  He paused to look around the group and he smiled at each member until thy nodded a subliminal notion of forgiveness back in his direction.

Tom continued, “I will have to say that motives in general have a hodgepodge of origins.  For example, while I have a deep passion and fascination with this mission, I also am looking forward to the limelight of success when I return home. On my planet, I will be esteemed, at least for a short time by my peers, as your Jane Goodall, Gandhi, Neil Armstrong and Billy Graham all rolled up as one person.  There is nothing a man longs more for than to be seen as a hero by the woman he admires.  My wife, while missing me terribly, will welcome me like your sports hero . . . and nothing can be better than that.  With that I seek my own revaluation and I admit it. With that out of the way,I will return to speak about the dear people of your congregations.  I wasn’t attempting to demonize them. I was just pointing out the fundamental basis of human nature, and it doesn’t matter if the humans were reared here on Earth or on my planet.  So, while I understand that I came across . . . as you say . . . judgmental, I didn’t mean it that way. It was an exercise in honesty and logic.  People, Earthlings and Hanserians, are hopelessly (or near hopelessly) addicted to self revaluation. It is futile of course. I am confident that 90% of the people who attend your Sunday morning church services do it out of 'ought.' To miss a service, makes them feel less value in God's  eyes as well as their Christian peers. The real meaning of it was lost a long time ago. So, I will stand by the words which I’ve said.”

Father Randy looked had his wristwatch and responded, “It is getting quite late and I’ve observed the beginnings of the lunch crowd filtering in. Maybe we should adjourn until next week.”

Tom had a wave of panic sweep across his face, “Oh damn!”

Michael always flinched with a look of disgust when Tom used words which he thought were inappropriate.

Tom continued, “Friends, I ask for your patience as I think I’m near a breakthrough in my searching and if you would give me thirty more minutes I will try to wrap this up.”

Greg looked alarmed, “You don’t mean wrapping up this whole journey do you?”

Tom didn’t say anything but shrug his shoulders. Then he looked sad and seemed to have difficulty making eye contact with the group for a second or two.  He played in his tomato seeds on his plate with the tip of his fork.  He then took a deep breath and continued, “Let me rephrase things a bit.”

The group listened in silence.

“Imagine that on my planet if we took a very different approach to the Gospel and the Church.  First of all, we would see the Gospel as God’s act of complete purification, open to everyone who wants it. This means imagining that whenever God thinks of us, He jumps into the air and clicks His heels with a big grin on His face not looking angry at us, and always watching us for screw ups. Then, to keep our focus on this severe mercy, we get together whenever we want, to share the joys of our humanness, art, music, food, drink. But part of that getting together would be watching each other closely, looking for signs of doubts about other's absolute forgiveness.  If we see those signs, we would strongly encourage that person to refocus on God’s satisfied ledger and thus encouraging them and helping them to live the enriched lives God wants us to have.

Additionally, we would have no buildings to support, no memberships to define us, no order of activities for us to demonstrate to others how good we are, no schedule for which we become enslaved, no grand ministries or crusades, no collection of money, but the sharing of food and shelter.  We would listen to the older people who have had much more life experiences and maturity, but no charters, no doctrinal statements that dice up the scriptures and glue them back together into complex configurations for which they were never intended.  We would have no organizational charts, no name for the group, no efforts of a pastor to control or manipulate us to pump up his futile efforts at gaining self revaluation,   Do any of you seen any problem with that?”

Greg was smiling, “All I can say is it reminds of a John Lennon song . . . but with a Heaven . . . and a Hell.”

Michael shook his head, “It sounds incredibly dangerous. It also sounds like another sorrow excuse not to go to church."

Father Randy asked, “What about the sacraments?”

Tom sat up straight revealing his tall, slender frame (which seemed to have become taller . .  . and more slender since starting this breakfast ritual five months earlier), “Michael, it seems that the greatest danger of all . . . is ending up like you earthlings have. And Father Randy, baptizing one another would be a useful illustration of the great spiritual cathartic. When we ate our meals and thought how Jesus gave up his body and his blood for our lives, it would be a good thing . . . but not a routine or a ritual. Jesus and His disciples were eating a full, regular meal when Jesus said, ‘When you do this remember me.’ It wasn’t a religious ritual neither to them, nor for the Church for a couple hundred years.”

Michael stood up, “On that insulting note, I must depart.  I have a lot going on and I really need to get going.”

Tom also stood up and walked around the table. In a move, which was out of character for him, he shook Michael’s hand and then gave him a big hug.  “Tell that daughter of yours . . . that she’s a smart girl, she is loved dearly by her father. Tell her too that her father is a decent man . . . and both she and him are totally accepted by their Heavenly Father.”

Michael gave him a strange look and walked towards the cash register.

Tom looked back around and Father Randy was putting on his sheep-shearers jacket and Debra was stuffing the crown of her head into a Norwegian wool cap.  They parted as Tom hugged them each.

Greg was still sitting and watching. Tom sat back down beside him and started to gather his things. Greg spoke, “You’re leaving us aren’t you?”

Tom smiled, “We each have a home and there comes a time when the calling of it becomes irresistible.”

Greg’s eyes filled with tears. “But we must get together . . . uh, do you like beer?”

Tom smiled, “It’s the only thing I’ve found more disgusting than coffee.”

Greg reached out and grabbed Tom’s sleeve, “Is this really the end?  I have so many questions for you. I’ve got to ask them or I will go mad.”

Tom smiled again, “I’m not the decider about my leaving.  I hope, in a way . . . but not in every way . . . to see you next week.”  Tom hugged the man with a bear hug, did an about face and was out the door.

Friday, February 3, 2012


Michael paused for a moment . . . then he picked up the book.  As he thumbed through the pages he looked at Tom, "You see, the scriptures are so full of descriptions of the Church, how to organize, how to meet that it is hard to pick out just one passage."

Tom was focused with his hands resting on the table. "I think it is quite the contrary.  Stepping in from outside of your culture, I see virtually no mandates for the parameters of the Church.  There's a word here or there, but even if you sew them together on the threads of magical thinking, you still can't create any kind of mandate that is anywhere close to the complexities that you call the Church."

Michael seemed to ignore him as he stopped the flipping of pages and was reading in one place. "Okay, let me read from Hebrews chapter 10."
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Michael looked up from the book and smiled, "So this is the mandate for us to meet on a regular basis. That meeting, by tradition, is Sunday morning. It is logical that if we follow the other passages that we have a time of teaching, thus Sunday school, a time of preaching, the sermon, worship and the sacraments. You sew them together, as you say, with careful thought and you arrive at the church we have today." 

Tom was shaking his head again, "But pastor Monroe, listen to what you are saying.  You are making the 'we are in Paris' argument again. We don't want your culture . . . we want the essence of the scriptures.  You are a generous giver, always wanting to give me your culture . . . but we don't want it! It wouldn't work with my people. We must make a clear line of demarcation between the scriptural mandates and your culture and traditions."  Tom thought for a moment and when he noticed, written on their faces, that no one was following him, he added. "Let me paraphrase that same passage so that you can dislodge it from your cultural connotations.
Hey, my fellow selected ones, since we are totally saturated with this overwhelming cleansing, we should be very confident that God accepts us just as we are and that we have a perfect validation in Christ. Therefore, we should be confident and stop trying to make ourselves feel valuable by the things we do, nor should we feel any shame when we approach God in all His glory. With that in mind, we have tremendous hope that in the end we will live with God forever and in his perfect acceptance.  Now that we can set aside all our efforts to make ourselves pleasing to God, each other and ourselves, we can move on. We should then encourage one another and remind one another that we are perfectly clean and we can stop all these efforts for self-revaluation and focus on loving each other, and all of God's creation. I know that some of you see no point in getting together with other selected people, while I understand that (now that the yoke of religion has been broken) I think it would be good for you to get together, to remind each other that we are completely forgiven, so that we can continue on in that fulfillment. As the end of your physical life on this earth and our cooperative lives on this earth draws near, we shouldn't become more isolated, which is tempting to do, but hang out with one another even more. We need to be constantly reminded that we are good people, perfect . . . because of the Gospel. When we are alone, we start to feel devalued. That, my dear fellow selected ones, is the Church.
I know that was a bit long and maybe I got carried away, but nowhere in that passage do I see a mandate to meet every Sunday morning at 10 AM, to endure a Sunday school teaching session, a sermon, a worship exercise and on and on. If a mandate resides in those verses it is simply, don't avoid each other, you need to remind each other of the great benefit we have in forgiveness."

Father Randy spoke up, "Tom, I think one big difference between my Church tradition is that we do accept scriptures as God's word, but we also accept our traditions as being from God, as our forefathers and Church father's have interpreted them. So, I recognize what you are saying, that you can't come up with our system just from scriptures alone, but we relay heavily on the wisdom of our forefathers. Truth comes via them as well.  So I stand as a bulwark in defense of our Christian traditions and the great men of faith who went before us."

Tom smiled and sipped his coffer, which of course was followed by the bitter frown. "Dear Father, I apologize if I have offended you in anyway. I have the utmost respect of the great men and women of courage and deep thought which sprinkles the path of your Church's long history. I'm sure in the Protestant traditions there are many great men and women of faith. I don't mean to criticize your culture . . . but simply to point out that it is culture we are talking about and not mandates from God Himself.  While you have these great people to look up to, you and I both know that your history is also filled with much evil."

Tom then looked across the table at Michael, "I'm sure that your traditions are also littered with men and women who have done horrible things in the name of God.  My point in saying this isn't to make you feel bad out of cruelty. It isn't to put your culture down. But to demonstrate that culture is not pure. Because things are a certain way, doesn't mean that it should be that way and, by hell, it doesn't mean that we need to import it into other cultures as mandates from God."

Tom took his last drink of coffee and sloshed it around in his mouth and swallowed.  "I don't see how you people grow to like this stuff. I've tried. I still don't like coffee but I have gotten myself a caffeine dependency."

Tom paused then continued, "So, after studying your history and knowing human nature, I think what happens in the context of what you call Church, isn't what it should be.  My metaphor would have people arriving at the doors of the church with outstretched hands and empty cups. They're not just hungry, they are starving to death . . . starving for righteousness.  In the same way we were created for the oxygen that fills Earth's atmosphere, we were also created to be righteous, meaning having the acceptance of God's good favor.  The Church has the opportunity . . . rather the obligation . . . to fill those cups so that the people are satisfied to an infinite degree. But instead, the Church has often seized on the pilgrims' vulnerability. They draw the people in with the scent of good food, but then put a ring in their snouts instead of a meal in their mouths. We hold the food, the prize, at the end of a stick to entice them. You tell them, 'just do this and that, THEN you will be fed with righteousness.'"  

Tom looked around the group and saw that they were listening carefully so he continued, "For your Church, Father, it was the evils of the Medici Popes, their longing was for wealth and power not to pour God's righteousness on the masses. The longing was in their personal passion to have value.  The indulgences were the apogee of that mis-directed longing."  Tom quickly rotated to his left and looked at David, "In your churches, pastor Monroe, it is the myth of godliness or godly living that is the ring in the snout. It's the books of how-to Christianity, how to be the perfect Christian wife, the perfect Christian son, the perfect Christian business owner, or perfect pastor. Those books are written by people who believe in perfection in the same way that the children believe in pixie dust."

Tom was quiet for a moment and everyone was speechless, but he wasn't finished. "I've visited your worship services. You teach that this is what God wants for His people, to worship him Sunday after Sunday, singing your songs, rolling your eyes, raising your hands. But don't you see the truth in this?"

Greg and Michael both shook their heads slowly and Tom answered his own rhetorical question, "It is really an exercise in futility for the pilgrims with the empty cups. It isn't about God. It isn't about us telling God how much we love Him. It is all about us, telling ourselves, that we are pretty good people because we are good at worshiping God.  I challenge you to do an honest word study of 'worship' in the New Testament.  To God, our worship is a stench. It is a stench because we replace the simple, free purity, which a loving God wants us to relish in . . . with exercises, in which we hope that our own skill will redeem us."

Tom sat back in his chair and there was nothing but silence . . . except for Greg's sigh and his whisper, "Makes sense to me."