Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Different Christmas Story

So, I have a rare day off and for a blessed couple of hours this morning my time is my own . . . so I attempt to write.

I do love Christmas in the same way I love spicy Indian food.  It is over all pleasant but can be painful at moments.  This, I think, is true for most people . . . actually all people.  For some the pain is so intense that it is a sum loss.  For myself, at least this year, it is clearly a sum gain.  I have all five of my children home plus my two grandsons and the people my children love, in my home and this is as good as it gets.

I heard two things this week worth pondering with one source, NPR.  The first was the actual broadcast where they were talking about sad Christmas songs.  The person doing the piece talked about how Christmas is this strange mixed bag of the glorious and the profoundly sad.  The second point was my pastor preached on this same radio broadcast.  The reason I like this pastor is the way she handled this topic.  I've sat in front of many evangelical pastors over the years that would scold the liberal NPR saying that we Christians should not be sad about anything because we are "saved" and we have the hunky dory abundant life.  So the evangelical preacher would have said that there is no place for sad songs at Christmas, or even sad thoughts. But my pastor and I think alike on this topic, she preached that Christmas can be quite sad and that is okay.  The point is that all the problems we endure here, will be fixed someday, but they have NOT YET BEEN FIXED! Therefore sadness is real and we should embrace it.  The song of her text was the song from South Park, "Dead, Dead, Dead.

When I was an Evangelical I spent much of my emotional energy trying to live in pretend world of 24-7 "blessedness."  It was the same type of denial that a psychopath lives in, the one that tortures people and feels no guilt because then live in a pretend world where that is okay. So much of the Christian story is part of that plot to cover up the real pain.  It is the happy Norman Rockwell, or that pretend super-real world of the art of the late Thomas Kinkade (whom Christians adore for that reason).  However, the Christians who moved to live in the real life town, which was based on his paintings of the perfect American life centered on the church (little white church) would be the last who would want to talk about the fact that Mr. Kinkade died of an alcohol and drug overdose.  But I digress again.

In my journey into honesty, which began a decade or two ago, has taken me to some interesting places.  I find myself constantly deconstructing the statements and actions of myself and others. I do think this is overall healthy because the more we live in reality, the more human we are.

One example of this is when I met with some "church-based" investment advisers earlier this year.  I deeply regret ever getting involved with them but I sort of married into it.  They wanted to meet with me to talk about a new investment "product" for my meager retirement account.  I did my home work and the experts, whom I trust, each said that any investment guy that offered this program does it for only one reason, to make more profits for their company and more commissions for themselves.  So, during our conversation, I brought up this simple fact.  The investment guy seemed very offended and asked, "Do you think I'm doing this for my benefit?"

"Of course," I answered.  "This is how you make your living and there is nothing wrong with that." The man seemed angry.  Then I asked him, "So if I buy this product, you will make more money this year, correct?"

He answered, "Yes, but that is not my motivation."

I added, "And if I buy this product there is a greater chance I will have less retirement money in 10 years than if I don't buy it . . . correct?"

His anger seemed to be worse. "We are a Christian organization and we work on Christian principles."

I added, "Can you answer my question?"

"Yes, most likely you will have less money but this is a good product that is safe."

"So," I said, "It sounds pretty simple that you want me to buy this product so that you make more money and you company does as well."

I will summarize that this didn't go well and he saw me as a jerk.  But, this is reality. Of course he is in the investment advising business to earn an income for himself and his family.  That is a fact of life and I wasn't saying he was a bad guy.

Coming back to Christmas it is a glorious and difficult time for one basic reason and I will attempt to explain below.

Freud tried to take this deeply honest journey and boiling down all human behaviors into the concept that all men long to have sex with their mothers and feel jealously and threatened by their fathers.  I disagree. I believe that all human behaviors boil down to the fact that we all have an insatiable appetite to be significant.  Everything we do is towards this goal.The investment guy wants to make more money so that his company and family sees him as more significant. The great preachers who build the mega churches and evangelical empires do it for this reason alone, as do the drug dealers.  Now this problem is solved for us in Christ, but none of us really believe this solution . . . not in this life.  The more we believe in the solution the more content we are, but the best of us only believes in the solution of Christ by a small margin.

But I believe the closest we ever come to this goal of feeling significant is in early childhood. At this point (and I'm speaking of the healthy childhood, not those where abuse was the norm) everyone loved us.  We were loved because we existed and no other reason.  I tell my two grandsons all the time that there is nothing they can do to stop me from loving them because the reason I love them is because they exist.

There are no expectations of us as small children, except maybe we poop in the pot rather than in our pants.  Our entire day is spent in leisure for self-pleasure.  We have no tasks that we must fulfill to try and futilely obtain significance, such as jobs or relationships.  In many ways, early childhood is the climax of our lives and from that point forward we don't have penis envy as Freud would teach. But we have childhood envy. Now for those who have had bad childhoods, this makes it even more tragic because it should have been the climax of your life and you were robbed.

Christmas is woven into this dilemma by the fact it can be the zenith of an already wonderful time of our lives.  But it can never be reproduced again.  If is snowed just right, the perfect gifts were selected, we had all our love ones under one roof and there were no problems . . . we still cannot reproduce the magic of Christmas through our own childhood eyes, and thus we have disappointment.

At this juncture we have three choices.  The most appealing and common one is denial.  Get caught up in the Hallmark movie version of our Christmas and block out all the troubles of our real world.  We smile and roast the turkey imagining that we see a Rockwell or a Kinkade painting our world as a realism.  The second choice is to become damned depressed and many do.  Suicide rates are very high during the holidays. I've had two patients in the past two weeks attempt suicide. I had one complete that awful task last Christmas. The third is the most healthy. It is where we lower our expectations and savor what we have but knowing that it can never be as it was for us once.  We can embellish in the magic world of the young around us now and be actors in their universe, but for us adults, that magic has been eternally ruined by the roughness of reality and the Fall.  But we look in a mirror and see dimly that the debt of significance has been settled in Christ, so there is hope.


Monday, December 2, 2013

I'm Still Here

I look over this blog like looking over one of those old auto plants in the outskirts of Detroit or an old steel mill outside of Pittsburgh . . . before it went through a major metro-renaissance. I see a "ruins" of many postings that were started but never finished and rest in the purgatory of  "draft" state.

But I don't feel sad about it. It is simply a state of life that I'm in right now.  I am still thinking. Reading and thinking. But I'm tired of trying to write because of my lack of time.  As soon as I have two sentences down I have an interruption.  A patient calling.  My wife making a comment that that I'm buried in my laptop rather than talking to her.  She is already giving me dirty looks and I just started.  So, I type as fast as I can with no proof-reading. Then I come back days later to read it, only to feel horrified about silly typos.  But my horrification  [sic] is deeply seated in this eternal quest that we all have to be significant.  Typos make us look dumb. In our society dumb people are insignificant. But I digress again.

The other thing that left so many writings hanging was when I did get the chance to proof-read them, they started to come across as complaining again.  I don't feel like a complainer.  I am a pilgrim who is just trying to find that ledge on the cliff that is stable enough to sit on.  The rock that holds one up and makes some sense in a world that doesn't.  Actually the world does make sense when you see its underpinnings but those are totally inconsistent with the ideals that we hold as the purpose of actions. The world is a masquerade.  But honestly can endure but to seek it will marginalize yourself.

I love movies as an art from. One of my favorite is Revolutionary Road. There is a scene in the movie, which is so classic, that I hold on to it.  It reassures me that the screenplay writer, the novelist (Richard Yates), the director, all have made the same observation as I have.  The one character, who society says is insane, John Givings, is actually the most sane one of the group.  He lives in a pure honesty while all the other characters weave such complex psychological coverings that is all fiberglass and paint.

I hope to be back, unless I've already said everything I need to say. I come here tonight only because I checked my stats and see that about 100 people per day still visit.  Most stumble on it by accident I'm sure. Some are reading things I wrote years ago like some time of time-warp.  They read because they are at the place I was then.  Coming out of evangelicalism but wanting to keep the baby without the bath.  Then there are the evangelicals that come here to send me messages that I've said something "unBiblical," which might send me to hell. To them "Biblical" really means conformity to their small world.

I am still comfortable in my skeptical Christianity.  I was told once by a Christian leader that skepticism  rest on a slippery slope that quickly pitches off into hell. Maybe hes was right.  But so far I've been sitting on this ledge very comfortably for at least a decade.  I love doubting.  But it does make you lonely.

I am happy to say that my business, which has totally consumed me for three years, has had a sudden turn for the better.  I can see light at the end of the tunnel where I can work 40 or 50 hour weeks instead of the >60.  Then I hope I will have time to write again . . . if I have anything to say that is worth writing.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Now the Suffering Part (Part II)

The thing I use to love about Francis Schaeffer lectures, was his ability to simplify complex concepts. In my simpleton undergrad days, I saw the man as an intellectual giant.  But now, I don't think that was his fortitude.  His gift was taking typical philosophical concepts, those discussed in any community college level philosophy class, and translate them into a language that the lay person could understand. Sort of like chewing up a little steak for the evangelical community,  which was only use to intellectual Sweet-tarts.  He would often say something to the effect of, "When things are said and done, there are really only a few people left standing in the room."  I think his style appealed to me because he too suffered from dyslexia and had a great challenge in organizing not only letters within a word, but words within a concept. So for his own sake he had to structure things in an orderly way.
Red Square: Painterly Realism of a Peasant Woman in Two Dimensions
      There really are only two basic questions of life, the metaphysical and the moral.  Within the metaphysical question rest the universal problem of existence . . .  why are we (or why anything is here for that  matter)?  You can't escape the question. The fact that you exist begs that question and creates a real dilemma that is hard to answer.  What I mean by "why" in this context isn't the purpose of life, but more basic. How did we get here and does that existence have a meaning?  As I've said before, there are NO easy answers.  So the real answer must have great difficulties.  Those atheists who claim that they are the only ones who don't put their brains in neutral and take the most logical approach are as much fools as the evangelicals who think that their answers are the only logical ones.
But  now that I've wasted so much time on the introduction, I want to think about the question of morals and (related) the problem of evil.  Again, this is the very basic question of morals, not discussing ethics in detail, but the big question of why is there evil . . . or suffering?  So the film, Blue Like Jazz, started me thinking about this . . . you know, the confessional booth scene.
With the problem of evil there are only a few people in the room . . . actually four.  They are like the four corners of a box, like in Malevich's painting above.
In the first corner are the pure atheists, those who take atheism seriously and not like the claims on a middle school playground of pop-culture atheism. These are mature atheists who have taken their belief to the full meaning.  In this corner, the problem of evil and suffering, like everything in their world, is meaningless.  I say this factually and not as an accusation. It is irrational (and middle-schoolish) to inject meaning where non can possibly and rational exist, except in a Star Trek or Cosmos episode. 
If the universes, with its physical laws and idiosyncrasies, happened purely by chance with a spontaneous (absolutely spontaneous) explosion of something out of nothing, then all within the sphere of existence has no meaning . . . by definition.  So, the fetus that gets terminal cancer in utero and is born and lives a tortuous week and dies a terrible death is no different than the gifted genius who lives a perfectly healthy life until he/she is 110 and dies peacefully in their sleep, after changing the world in a profound way.  In the same thought, there can be no difference between Mother Theresa and Hitler. The two are interchangeable, and balance the equation when they rest on each side of the "=" sign. Living or dying is indifferent.  Those middle school atheists, such as Carl Sagan, know that they cannot live that way, so they cheat and inject meaning . . . "The Universe wants . . . "  Or the sociologist would say, "What is best for the herd is what is good."  No. If all life forms disappeared today, it would have no meaning.  If the entire universe would implode into nothing the same way it exploded out of it . . . would have no meaning.  We are all, absolutely ( and infinitely) insignificant in the model. This is the corner of pure nilism and that is the only real choice of atheism, unless you take an irrational detour into existentialism meaning.
Within the second corner, I will combine the animists and polytheists.  Within this framework, the gods and spirits are as much victims of evil as we are.  Bad spirits or bad gods can ruin your day and your life, in the same way they might ruin the life of the weaker good god.
In the third corner is the escapism of pantheism.  Here evil (as defined by The Buddha) is the manifestation of desire or wanting. If we transcend this world and suppress the personal wanting then evil goes away.  While on the surface, the American translation of pantheism is appealing ( all religions lead to the same sea so us all hold hands and get along in peace and harmony), on the deeper levels it presents some real problems with evil.  In its definition ("Pan" = everything) then within the bosom of the god-force must rest everything, the wonderful and peaceful people as well as the most hideous evil. The worst racism in the world is practiced by pantheists, who suppress and abuse people based on skin color (being justified by the notion that they deserve it for doing bad things in a previous life). 
In the final or fourth corner rest the monotheists, but that corner actually has at least two, very different slopes. On one side is what I would call the Moslem + colloquial  Christianity + orthodox Judaism.  What I mean by "colloquial" here, is the common beliefs of Christians in the street, not true, theological Christian positions.  In this framework, God is seen as the infinite-micro-manager.  Nothing happens without, not only, God's stamp of approval, but His intention.  So then evil becomes part of God's plan, often as either a punishment for personal shortcomings or as a test to improve one's character (or to guide someone in a certain direction in the same way a cowboy uses a cattle prod). Less often evil is seen as the devil who sneaks in while God is not watching (the Why Bad Things Happen to Good People scenario), to ruin your day. But most of the time, the fault resides in you and your personal sin. 
In the second slope of the final corner is the "Biblical" Christian view. Now I use the term "Biblical" with great hesitation because that word is mostly used to manipulate people into a very precise and ego-stroking theology. But what I mean, is the basic Christian theology that most Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants would agree with, even if they don't practice it in their own homes and daily living.  Now that I've reached my corner, you would expect me to smile and say that this corner is a no-brainer, and the only logical place to be. But it isn't that easy.  The Biblical Christian corner has its own problems . . . and they are not benign.
In this corner's slope, we see this world as created by a perfect God with the intention of being perfect. But then evil (an inferior-to-God evil) was allowed to enter into the world.  This evil (for reasons that no one knows and is just one of many difficult parts of Christianity) became congenital.  So, in the Christian story, if a human was born and lived a perfect life, he/she would still suffer the consequences of evil as a punishment for the sins of the fathers. At this point Christianity appears unjust.
But part of some confusing plan, God allowed evil (even though He had the clear power, unlike the polytheistic gods, to smash it) to penetrate the world and making it only a shadow if its intended perfect self. Then of course, God took the punishment for the sins of man and will one day restore the universe to the intended perfection. But the logical questions, which we often surpass in our junior high Sunday school classes) is why did it have to happen that way?  Why did God allow evil?  Why did he set up this strange plan where He had to become a man and die a human death to take the punishment away from us and then one day recreate a perfect world?  There are a thousand legitimate questions being begged in this story . . . all of which we have no logical answer here, but a hope that beyond our intellectual ability there are answers.
I don't think the choices are equal as I do subscribe to the last . . . but it is no a slam dunk.  Most who subscribe to the last are under the false impressions (just like those in all the other corners are) that there way is the only logical way.
With this said, I come back to my original intent on suffering.  We "Biblical" Christians believe that evil entered the world and much of it was not caused by us . . . although some of it was.  So, there is a place for the evil to seek forgiveness of the sufferer.  It would not be appropriate for God to ask for this forgiveness as this was not a mistake, at least not His mistake.  Yes, like in the movie, some of the suffering was caused by the Church, and as part of the Church, I can ask for forgiveness from those who have been harmed by her. However, much of the suffering was not caused by the Church or any entity that I'm personally associated with.  Maybe it is Satan that should be the one asking for forgiveness for these things . . . but don't hold your breath.  So, in a fictional exercise of the soul, imagine that I am the perpetrator and I set up my booth where you come in, not to confess, but to hear a confession. So here goes.
We knowledge that God loves us and intends for us to have a perfect life of fulfillment, so anything less than that is wrong and you do deserve perfection, because that is how God intended things to be..
I'm sorry that you were born with imperfect bodies. That you have the tendency to gain weight, are not as tall or handsome as you want to be. God loves us and we deserve (because this is the way that God intended us to be) to look beautiful or handsome. I'm sorry that didn't happen.
I'm sorry that you were born with a genetic defect that interferes with a pain free life of strength and ability.  You deserve the later because God loves you and intended for you to be whole. I am sorry for that.
I am sorry that your parents were not perfect. I'm sorry that they didn't laugh with you, but used you to fill the whole in their own souls.  I'm really sorry that they physical or emotionally abused you. No child deserves that.  All of us deserve (once again because God loves us and intended perfection for us) the perfect parents, who loved us deeply  nurtured and protected us.
I am sorry that you didn't have the right personality or physical gifts to be popular in high school.  I'm sorry for you having emotional baggage, either from genetics or from your upbringing, that made you socially awkward.  You deserved to be the most popular person on the planet because God loves you and wanted perfection for you.  I'm sorry about that.
I am sorry for the physical injury that happened to you, that has left its physical mark on you. That mark may be pain and/or limitations.  You deserve to be whole because God loves you and wanted perfection for you.  I'm sorry for that.
I am sorry that the person you loved intensely, didn't love you back the same way.  That you suffered intense heart ache that seems to never heal.  God loves you and intended perfection for you, meaning that those you loved intensely, love you in return even more. I'm sorry about that.
I am sorry about those you loved being taken away from this planet and from your touch.  You can't hear them, feel them, share the same air with them anymore, and you loved them dearly. You can't show them in a tangential way your love and that is the worst part.  It is not fair that they were taken.  God loves you and intended for you to be side by side with the people you love for all eternity. I'm so sorry for your loss and you didn't deserve this because God loves you and intended perfection for you.
I'm sorry for the way our biology works, that as we age, we loose. We loose our beauty, our strength, our freedom from pain, or ability to think and remember. I'm very sorry for that. God loves you and intends for you to live forever with a healthy and pain-free body.
I'm sorry that you have a terminal illness, even if that illness is simply aging and natural death.  Of course I'm sorry much more if it is an illness that will lead to a pre-mature death, where you will be the one that will leave, missing the pivotal events in the lives of those who you love.  I'm am so sorry about that.
I'm sorry that you had to struggle financially your entire life, even though you are smart and have worked very, very hard.  It is unfair when others have put in much less effort but have done so much better . . . due to chance. That is unfair and I'm so sorry for that. God loves you and intended a perfect justice for you, where your labors would be rewarded appropriately.
I am sorry that you feel unfulfilled.  That you question the paths you have taken in life and now it may be too late to change.  I'm sorry that the information that you based your decisions on were erroneous and deceitful. You deserved a fulfilled life of success and happiness and anything less is not what originally intended.
I am sorry for those who have sinned against you in a variety of ways. Maybe they stole from you. Maybe they mistreated you, lied about you, took rewards intended for you. Maybe they took love that was meant for you.  I'm sorry about that.
I am sorry for the fact that answers to all the questions of life don't come easily.  That you have to struggle to find truth and even if you think you've found it, it is not a slam dunk. I'm sorry that in the state of the fall, truth is not always obvious.
I am sorry for you being hurt by the Church. It could be something as grossly wrong as being sexually abused by a priest or a youth pastor, or it could have been a manipulative pastor. Maybe it was simply the people of the Church who mis-judged you.  I'm part of that Church so I personally do ask for forgiveness.
For all these things, imagine for a moment that I was responsible for all of them, and in a token gesture I tell you again that I'm very, very sorry and I ask for your forgiveness.  I'm sorry we live in an imperfect world, where true evil does exist and bad things do really happen.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Suffering Through . . . Blue Like Jazz Part I

I host a movie club that meets at our house.  We watch good films, for entertainment's sake, and discuss them for artistic value and meaning.

This is not a Christian film club for a couple of reasons. First of all, most "Christian" movies are not very good.  They tend to be low quality in all their artistic parameters. They are often corny and most of all, propaganda. Any movie with an agenda, be it Christian or some of the Michael Moore flicks would not be a good fit for that reason alone.

I was in haste to set up this month's meeting.  I usually start with film festival winners.  But as I was reviewing one (of many) list of "best discussion films of the year" one stuck out to me, the film version of the book, Blue Like Jazz.  I decided to go with it for a couple of reasons. The first reason was being ranked as one of the top 25 discussion movies of 2012.  The other reason I decided to go with the film is how much the book impressed me when it came out in 2003.

I, like many in my shoes at the time, made the book a best seller. It was because it was one of the first voices that I had heard of serious criticism of the Evangelical mores . . . while still subscribing to the Christian belief system. There were plenty of non-Christian critics and ex-Christian critics. Before the publication of that book, in recent mainstream Evangelicalism, there were not many loud voices that took that inside critic position.  I liked the book, but that was at a time in my spiritual evolution (hate to use that work because it is so over-used these days) when it hit a cord with me.

I will have to say the movie was a big disappointment.  It was a disappointment for the same reason I mentioned that I don't like Christian movies.  I didn't sense too much of an agenda, but all of the broad artistic compilation, that which is required to make a film, can be assessed by the fact that they were a spectrum from bad to okay. The movie seemed like a bunch of bright colors of cloth all sewed together with clumsy stitching.

The other disappointing thing for me was that I now realize that I may have misunderstood Miller the book author (if different from Miller the screenplay writer) and maybe he wasn't the post-Evangelical "Joan of Arc" that I thought he was.  I could write many paragraphs about this point, but I will summarize with just the title.  I understood in the book he said that he choose the title because true Christianity is like genre of Jazz because it doesn't resolve things (which music theorist I'm sure would debate).  Traditional Evangelicalism of the time (and now) resolved everything. There was a right way, no only to pray, to sing, to think . . . but a Christian way to wear your clothes, a Christian way to pick a car and so on.  It was must summarized under the yoke of WWJD (what would Jesus do), a question you were suppose to ask yourself at each decision point . . . do I buy Supreme Gas or Regular . . . "What would Jesus do?"  The sad this is that we thought we had an answer to each of those questions because Christianity resolved everything . . . so we thought.

But in the movie, it was Miller's non-Christian father, the Christian antagonist that came up with the notion the Christianity didn't resolve and in the story, Miller fell for that idea. But in the film, his disillusionment was not perpetual.  In the end, a beautiful women was a lure (think a worm on a hook to a fish) him back to the fold . . . where once again, he did seem to believe that Christianity did resolve everything and he had only been rebellious.  So I don't know if I had misunderstood him back in 2003 or that he went through his own evolution by the time he got to the screenplay rewrite. The other, more cynical, thought is that he did have a hard time raising money for the film and maybe they had to compromise the message for the sake of donors.

But I'm going to end this posting (and as a prelude to the next) with one thing that I did like about the movie, and which was consistent with the book, was the last scene.

It was at the end of the year on Reed College campus. It was a college known for their freedom of morals (and from most morals) but presented in the movie as more restrictive than a Nazi regime. If you tried to think differently than the mores of the campus (book burning was a common past time) you would have hell to pay.  The campus had a satirical "Pope" who, beside making fun of the Church, did token things like "take confessions" from the students. At the end of that year, in the middle of a campus-wide drunken orgy, Miller was crown the new Pope and his first task was to take confessions.

About this time he was having a change of heart. While donning the Monty Python version of the Pope's attire and sitting in what looked like a real confessional booth, he decided that rather than hearing the graphic S&M stories of the students, that he would, instead, confess to them.  He first confessed to them about his personal rebellion against Jesus while on campus but also confessed to them the sins of the Church and he asked their forgiveness.

I'm going to end at this point only to say this leads to my next thought, and it is quite broad and deep and that is this whole issue of suffering.  The way it relates to the film (in my mind at least) is that a row of students, each with their own personal demons, were lining up to hear Miller's "confessions."

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Christian and the Comedian

As always, there is usually an eclipse of things that get me thinking about certain topics.  In this case, a week ago I was at the Bumpershoot art/music festival in Seattle. I went with one sole purpose and that was to see the band FUN. (sic) live.  So, I decided to get in line early, almost four hours before their performance and two hours before Tegan and Sarah (sort of their warm-up band) played.  To our mistake, because it was confusing, we got into the Comedy venue line.

Now, this doesn't have an happy ending.  I mean I wish I could say we had a wonderful time in the comedy club prior to the concert, but that didn't happen. The guy behind us threw us out of the comedy line because we had unintentionally cut in.  It is a long story but apparently they had numbed the line and cut it off at the point the seating capacity had been met.  Then we walked up and join the line in the middle.

But that's not the point.  I honestly didn't even know they had a comedy venue.  But I got a program for the "Comedy Pass" and read through it as we were sitting in the arena for four hours waiting on FUN..

I've been thinking about comedy since then.  The first thought that got me thinking was the fact that the comedy venue had warnings with about every performance that it was "adult in nature and not appropriate for those under 18."  I think that might be in accordance to the law that they have to give that disclaimer.

But the other thing I was thinking about was that the first part of my life was lived in comedy.  I was voted "The Wittiest" as a senior in my high school because I was the school clown.  In my college days and during grad school, I continued doing comedy with skits I created for our Christian organization and performed in them on a local and regional (conference for the entire Southeast) level.  I think I was pretty good at it.

But two things happened over time.  Like the picture depicts, I became sad.  Now, sad people can do great comedy.  Actually I've heard several great comedians self-report about their suffering intensely with depression. But the next thing that happened was that I was in constant conflict with Christian sub-culture over "inappropriate material."

I will give a simplistic examples.  Take the classic joke set up, "Two men walked into a bar . . . "  Immediately you see the disappointed faces of your Christian audience. "A bar?" they ask.  Is it appropriated to be talking of bars, when it has been the ruin of so many people?"  So that is the kind of straight jacket I see on real comedy by someone who is also a Christian.

I can remember these conflicts starting even in my under-graduate years.  In one skit, which I had written, I was playing a Wayne's World-type kid who was into reefers and rock (and to make the skit palatable, was going to be converted at the end by a somber, sharp Christian student). But when I appeared before the production and I was dressed in sloppy clothes and a "roach clip" on my pocket (for those who are too young for this concept, it was usually a hemostat stolen from a hospital that people used to hold their marijuana by the very tip so they could get each draw down to the end) the leaders of the Christian organization scolded me and told me that it would not be "edifying" and would be "promoting sin" if I appeared before the 200 students like that.  So I had to quickly change to give the appearances of a clean cut, nice, wacked-out on weed-student, which was not a believable character.

About 15 years ago I put together a men's retreat. The first night, Friday night, was a Monty Python marathon.  We laughed our heads off and all woke up singing the "Every Sperm is Sacred" song. I thought it was going great and was a blast. But then things got bizarre. None of the men came to my planned (Francis Schaeffer Video) lecture series but all skipped out.  So the rest of the retreat was a bust.  At the end of the day, and when the guys came back together (ignoring the schedule) they blamed me for "quenching the spirit" by showing degrading movies the night before.

Years later I attempted to do a couple of comedy routines at churches and each time had offended someone so I gave up on comedy at that level.

On a personal level, my wife has never found me funny . . .  crude, childish, but not funny.  I watched Airplanes, Trains and Automobiles and laughed until I peed in my pants (not literally) and she thought it was stupid. We simply have a very different taste when it comes to comedy. She laughs at a scene in a Hallmark movie where a beautiful (adjective intended) man and women,who you already know will get married at the end, are washing a car and he sprays her and they have a brief water fight. I think that is scripted and stupid. But my saving grace was that my four sons did . . . at least to some degree share my sense of humor, and my daughter her's.

About four years ago I was sitting in the most the most surreal of places. It was a 900 year old tea shop clinging to the side of a huge, misty mountain in remote Nepal. At my table were four other medical providers, none of them Christian. Two were a lesbian pair.  I like gay people, especially when it comes to letting your hair down and laughing.  We each at a quart of "Everest Beer."  We began to tell stories, one after the other after the other after the other.  I laughed harder than I had in 20 years.  I not only laughed until I cried, I laughed until I (literally) vomited out the open second story window beside my chair. . . which caused a roar of more laughter in the group.  But no one was drunk.  It reminded me of how we use to have laugh orgies when I was a Freshman in college, until our campus ministry leader scrolled me quoted the follow verses from Ephesians, in his King James Bible:

3But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; 4Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. 5For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

The next day, after the laughing session in Nepal, my throat hurt so bad and my neck hurt so bad that I could barely move.  Now can you imagine laughing until you vomited within a Christian setting?  People would immediately say something like "Gross" and be repulsed.

The next thing in the eclipse that got me thinking about comedy was Facebook. I need to get off. I only joined to see my out of town kids and my grand sons.  But, because I don't know how to navigate FB, I have friends from my old college Christian organization (many are still at the same place in their thinking as I was then), my old evangelical friends from my old church, my siblings (some a little rough around the edges), professional acquaintances and others.  So it is a strange mixture of people. I just can't help myself but to make a joke about some of the things my friends post.  We have all seen the Walmart people with poopy spandex pants on.  I find that funny.  I usually make a witty remark about many things people say.

So, my old college friends and my old evangelical friends don't find this funny at all.  It has to be turned into something serious. You know the 400 LB man in spandex and poop stains in his pants is one of God's creatures and isn't funny that he goes shopping at Walmart wearing his wife's bra . . . there is nothing funny about that.  Really, are you kidding me?  So, now most of the evangelicals are blocking me of FB.

I think I sense the seriousness of life as much as anyone and probably more . . . even to a fault. I do see all people created in His image. But I see a world filled with absurdity and that absurdity is hilarious.  What about the Dante?  He was graphic, gross, not gentle at all, and was FUNNY -  divinely funny.

I do think that secular comedians cheapen comedy when it is purely sexual.  It is so easy to make people laugh (for some strange reason) when it is sex.  I could walk out onto a stage and say, "I saw a huge man . . . with a tiny penis . . . the other day" and then stare and they would laugh every time. But if I said, "I saw a huge man . . . with a tiny foot . . . the other day" and no one would laugh and think I was bizarre.

However, sexual things are funny at times because they are such a part of this life.  Men are paranoid about having small penises and that can be funny.  But good comedian can make you laugh without sexual comedy, but I don't think they should avoid it either because it is part of real life on this planet.

No one knows what eternity will be like, but we each have our own projections based on our wishes and longings.  For some Christian people, they imagine spending eternity in a Heaven were we all live in hideous mansions with plastic chandeliers, marble walls, huge polyethylene plants, streets of gold and where all your neighbors have big hair, constant smiles and all wear pure white polyester leisure suites and live forever where they pretend that everything is, and always has been, swell.  To me that sounds more like hell.

In my sense of eternity, we are living high in the new Himalayans, on the new earth, sipping beer in 900 year old tea shops, with carefully carved wooden panels, that cling to cliffs in a precarious fashion, and laughing with lesbians until I vomit.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Syria . . . Thoughts in the Middle of the Night . . . and Emotional Reasoning

One of my favorite verses, and one I've used many times here is Jeremiah 17:9.  Basically, my paraphrase, it says that the emotions are deceitful, not trust worthy and are impossible to fully understand.

I've been thinking about he complexities of emotions for several reasons.  The main one starts with myself.  I will summarize by saying that in my business world there have been some issues of personnel, as with any business.  A key employee has good days, great days and terrible days.  It was after one of those terrible days that I awaken in the middle of the night with thoughts of frustration and frankly anger (a world I was told to avoid and pretend didn't exist when I was an evangelical).  The aftertaste of those middle-of-the night thoughts lingered in my mind after I had awakened.

I often start my morning at 6:30 at the coffee shop where I start to work on business things with my lap top. That morning I keyed out a letter to that employee.  It had a long list of their failures built on the framework of anger.  I remember asking myself over and over if this was the right thing to do . . . and my rational self (or so I thought) said yes . . . it was time I did this. 

By the time I left the coffee shop I sent the letter to the employee via our interoffice  communication system.

But as the morning progressed (and the employee, to my good fortune, called in sick that morning) I felt my emotions shifting.  Things ALWAYS look worse in the middle of the night.  But as the sun came up over the mountains and the caffeine made its way through my bloodstream and into my brain, I had second thoughts.

In our communication system, and since I'm the administrator for it, it was easy for me to open the letter and to read it again.  I was horrified. I was horrified by the tone and the fact that I had listed several failures in a row.  This reminded me so much of the night my old evangelical pastor sat at our dinning room table yelling at me and going through his long list of my moral failures, and he was numbering them.  It was when we got to number 8 that I lost my temper with him.  So, here I was doing almost the same thing, but not face to face and not with a screaming voice.

I was able to move the letter to the "filed" box on this employee's system, but it can't be deleted because this is part of a medical office and all communications are considered a legal document, and thus can't be deleted.  I just hope she never finds it, and I have to remain prepared in case she does.

But the bigger picture was that I was thinking about the power of emotional reasoning.  What made perfect sense and seemed very rational in the middle of the night or early morning, seemed to me to be a horrible mistake a few hours later.

I've spoken before that the way I see it is that our senses collect data. Our rational minds attempt to make sense of that data, but then our emotions act like a lens to either focus our attention or distort reality.  It makes it very hard to know if our thoughts are good thoughts or not.

I do believe that our emotions are God-given and not just the effects of the fall.  Emotions are usually re-labeled by evangelicals into spiritual terms (the spirit moved me, God spoke to my heart, I felt God saying, the Holy Spirit pointed out to me and etc.) because of the dualistic view that all things of the brain (a physical entity) are bad and only spiritual things are good.

But I do believe that the emotions are part of the physical brain and in themselves are not bad.  They are the spice of life.  The emotions can take the notes of an orchestra (as I was talking about in my last post) from a mathematical formula into a feeling of beauty to the point it can bring tears to our eyes. Thank God of emotions!

But the second issue is hearing the debate over Syria. The fool is the one who things that choice of what to do is simple or obvious.  There are no easy answers in that situation.  Either action or no action will each create its own nightmare.  Within Syria, there are no easy divisions between the good guys and the bad guys.  You can't look for white or black hats.

I watched a fantastic report on Frontline.  They were able to penetrate both sides of the war in one village and the thoughts and attitudes were almost identical.  The side they happened to be talking to only wanted peace, but they were willing to fight to keep the other side from raping their daughters and killing their children. They each said the same thing.

As I listened to the arguments, rationality was refined by emotion.  The emotion was deeply rooted in the person speaking's own sense of self worth.  The Republicans just wanted to argue that acting or not acting (take your pick) each point to how terrible the Democrats and Obama are. And it played both ways.

Then you interview those in Syria. One side begs for action from the US while another side argues that they have proof that the rebels are the ones who used chemical weapons just to draw the US to their side.  You head starts to spin after awhile. If we were dealing with rationality deprived of emotion, that would be one thing. But when you wrap it up with emotional reason, it is hard to know anything for sure.

There are no simple answers but to have the humility to ask the question, is this real or my emotional mind speaking?

Saturday, August 31, 2013


I didn't grow up in a musical family and I regret that.  My father, or so I've heard, use to jam with the Carter Family at a local store when he was a teenager.  But then Hitler stole his soul when it was sucked out of him on the beaches of Normandy.  I never knew the man he had been or could have been, including his musical self.  I did catch him a time or two alone, in his bedroom, strumming on his old Martin Guitar but he would stop playing when I walked in.
Like any teenager I had a brief affair with music when I used it as my surrogate feelings during the years of puppy love, love lost, love found again.  I found Bread as my outlet while my friends found CCR.
Once I was past that phase my new avenue of expression was John Denver and that was after I fell in love with the mountains.
But those were only brief and chance encounters with music.  The voices were my poets to say what I felt but didn't have the words to day . . . but it wasn't really the music that got me.
I will get back to my story but I wanted to say that the reason I'm writing about this is right now is that I'm about to embark on a huge music festival in Seattle starting tomorrow. I'm going because I've discovered the band FUN and they are the main attraction.
So, back in college we were required (thank goodness) to take music appreciation.  Most saw it as a class to sleep in and an easy "A."  I may have had those intentions . . . but I became swept away with the notes and orchestration in the same way that the first draw off a crack pipe can turn a soul inside out.
The professor led us through the history of music, touching on virtually all genres.  The sound system in the auditorium was superb. We covered the classics, the Renaissance  composers, Gershwin and Jazz.
I was totally enthralled in music for several weeks.  I borrowed a huge "Time-Life" collection of orchestral music and listened to it on my LP in my dorm room constantly, only being replaced by Pink Floyd's The Wall album as soon as my roommate came into the door.  I was too dumb and narrow minded to recognize the same beauty of music, arrangement and lyrics of Floyd.  I had already been taught that rock, at least rock at that level, was from the devil.
But it wasn't long until I was taught that classical music was from the devil as well.  After all, unless music had lyrics and those lyrics used the word "Jesus,"  then we thought it was a waste of time in our dualistic thinking world.  I know, it was a sad day when I gave back my classical albums.
I was told that if you really want to listen to music, then God has provided us with His own good music.  I was introduced to Larry Newman, Second Chapter of Acts and Amy Grant  I wanted to sleep with Amy Grant as did all my male evangelical friends, but of course we never revealed that's why we liked listening to her.  Then there was Evie.
But, the sad thing here wasn't that those aforementioned entertainers weren't good. It was just a sad day when I narrowed my world of music down to the .05% of what was available. It was like a man dying of thirst and trying to drink through a straw  . . .  not the plastic kind, but the literal, straw of hay.
It is said that mathematics is the language of nature or reality.  I totally agree and only wish I spoke more of the language.  But it may have been Pythagoras who first realized that music and math were the same.  I guess you could say that music is like cutting across the grain of math and seeing the array of fibers in a beautiful way.
Music, good music (not meaning evangelical music) is the greatest apologetic in my opinion.
A long time ago when I was first disillusioned with Christianity, I was wrestling with which path to take out of my dark hole. I wasn't sure for a year or two. But like any human story (except maybe in  a Hallmark movie) there are not clear points of solution.  My story also was a process. But I do remember one key moment when I felt most confident that God was really there.
I was attending a medical conference in Boston. I had gone to a Christian Medical Society meeting earlier in the week at the conference. . . out of habit, and hope.  I had a hope that I would find something.  I found nothing.  It was morally bankrupt.  I was nauseous by them circling their wagons to fight the gays at the conference (this was during the height of the culture wars) and everyone was constantly using thinly veiled self-adorations.  For the rest of the week I avoided those evangelicals like the plague and just kept to myself.
But one night I was walking down a street in Boston and overheard a deep base sound.  That's all I could hear at first.  I followed the sound.  It let me to a smoky bar that was half empty.  But in front was a baby grand and a guy playing it, beside him another man on an upright acoustic base wearing a tux.  Then in the corner was a tall, thin, black lady in a red, evening grown singing jazz.  She sound exactly like Nora Jones does to me now . . . with the rusty vocials.
I dropped into a wooden seat and was totally taken away. I don't think I had ever sat at the feet of a jazz singer before, not on the level or with this intimacy.  With her beautiful  and expressive smile (and frown) I felt that she was singing only to me.  Maybe she was.  I looked around and the other 4-5 people in the bar all seemed drunk.
But when she was finished and I realized it was now late and very dark, I walked out into the cobble stone street.  I felt breathless.  The music had spoken to me in a profound way.  Not the lyrics, but the spectrum of human emotions that the singer had led me through . . . and the notes of the piano and the strings on the base.  The stings of different weights, which responded mathematically according to mass and the laws of Newton.  I sensed the harmony of the universe in a way that I knew that God was there, really there and I felt that with confidence.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Garden Variety Despair

Thank you for your encouraging comments. I don't want to turn this blog into a self-loathing sounding board. I try not too. I have often discussed the human condition of pain and many assume I'm talking about my own pain . . . which I'm usually not. Often I am thinking of pain because I encounter it daily in others. But this was never suppose to be about me in the way some blogs are or Face Book often is, which they discuss their battle with . . . whatever.  I'm not saying that is a bad thing, but just not my intentions here.

With that said, I will  try to make sense of my world, but only as it helps to define that larger world. I'm ashamed to say that I'm on a rocky crag (emotionally) right now out of stereotypical and one may say, classical reasons. There is nothing extra-ordinary about it.

 I know many people who have encountered remarkable suffering . . . tragic loss of a child, personal diagnosis of cancer and they are in their thirties and many more examples of such suffering. In these extraordinary shadowy places, those people have earned the right (not saying it is the healthy thing, but the reasonable thing) to shake their fists at the universe . . . which means at God . . . and declare the big "WHY?"  They also have earned the right to say also "Why me?"  A normal, decent person who has absorbed such an intrusion into their lives must wrestle with these things.  The only path out is through this questioning place.  Those who never ask the question, I suspect, choose the zombie world that remains captive within the suffering.

But I have neither earned the right to either of those questions.  My suffering is so classical that it is pandemic but often unspoken.

I turned 58 this summer.  My life is passing far faster than I had expected. Part of this journey, and typical for this age, my mother and aunt, who live together, both began to suffer dementia this spring. They live 2500 miles away. I flew down and spent time with them in June. I worked hard to set up care for them. That care is no longer viable and now we must, against their wills or understanding, kidnap them and bring them to live, with either my sisters, or myself.

Being in that sandwich age, I also had the un-pleasure of moving my youngest son 1500 miles to start graduate school just two weeks ago.  Since he was my last (of five) children I am now a father without a purpose. I find myself aging and almost friendless.  In the midst of the loss of my fatherhood (not to insult people who have lost children through death, which of course is much worse), I had left the evangelical church and all my adult friends two years ago.

I also have some modest health problems . . . that too is typical for someone of may age.

So, for the past few months I have felt myself sinking in this depression.  I'm not quite clinically depressed . . . yet . . . and, while I totally agree with the need for antidepressants at the right time, I'm not a candidate . . . not at this point for medications. I want to feel, even though that feeling isn't pleasant.

So, before I get into "wallowing" I want to take this discussion to a broader level.  I do think that we Christians have had very little direction in how to relate to and deal with these forms of depression.  The tradition has been to say as Monty and friends did, "always look on the bright side of life." We were taught that disappointment is, well, sin or at least the wrong way to look at things.

But disappointment, I think, is the most "Biblical" way. In being disappointed, I'm saying to God that I agree that I should live forever, but certainly will not. That I had done the job of raising my kids . . . therefore, they should be mine . . . to keep. But they are not. That we deserve a life without pain, but will not have nothing of that.

So what is the solution . . . my solution, or the solution of humanity?  It certainly doesn't lie within the inward pointing convolution of positive thinking or the other form of denial, the upward flow of transcendence, be it meditative Christianity or pantheism. These are all "blue pill" living, or the imitation of living.

I choose to embrace reality as it is. You can not know the pain of aging and painful joints if you had not tasted youth, where you ran and leaped over small trees on the mountain side and tumbled down green meadows . . . bouncing to your feet without an ache. You would not know the sting of the loss of a child, be it geographical and emotional loss like mine, or the horrors of metaphysical loss of death, unless you had known the joy of holding a helpless but warm little body next to yours. You would not grieve the loss of a mother who can barely remember your name unless you had heard that mother call your name a hundred thousand times before . . . to check on you . . . to make sure you are safe. Now how do I keep her safe?

But I'm not agreeing with the positive thinkers that God did all of this, the blissful embracing of the good and the taking away of it, as a lesson or purpose.  It has no purpose but pain and there is no glory within it.  The only hope is not in mental gymnastics and there is certainly no hope in nilism. The only hope lies with the great saints of Hebrews eleven . . . looking into the haze before us and knowing that somehow it will find a remedy, a remedy that we can't imagine.  In the meantime, to bridge the gap of faith that I lack, I might find a psychologist.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

On a Personal Note

It took me a long time to spit out my last two posts.  The reason for this is that I remain overwhelmed with work to the point that I feel worse than the hamster on the spinning wheel.  I can not work more than I am, 60+ hours per week, yet I feel that I'm surrounded by people who are perpetually disappointed in me for not doing enough.

I feel myself drifting deeper into depression which greatly influences my posting because part of that first level of depression is always "what is the point."  So while I think I've had some of my most creative thoughts while I was depressed (which I've observed among the writer-artist . . . a damned depressed group) there is a phase of it that leaves you with this feely of total futility.

But depression isn't always a bad thing. It is a state of feeling, even though that type of feeling isn't palatable.  But it is feeling and I prefer to feel than to be dead, or worse, alive and trained that feeling is bad.

But depression is playing with fire.  I've been in the depths of it and I would agree that place is not a healthy place to dwell.  The best visual example I can find of that place is in the movie What Dreams May Come and the main character's wife was dwelling in the bowels of hell . . . a dark place in the pit of an upside down church. 

The other part of depression that is not healthy is that it always estranges me from the world. First, it makes me irritable and hard to live with. Secondly, people don't like to be around depressed people.  I'm not sure why, except that it is contra intuitive to their notion that we suppose to always be smiling and pretending that life is swell.

The last part of depression is that it creates distance between my wife and me and she is my last friend standing. My depression irritates her and makes her frankly mad at me. So, I intentionally pull away from her to not be that irritant.  But there is no place left to go but to the inner shell of your own thoughts.

I always share these things here, I think, for different motives than my evangelical friends on Face Book who love to talk about their trials and ask for prayer as an attention-seeking device. I'm not doing that here, I don't think. I share these things not looking for pity or prayer (which wouldn't hurt) but because I think these things are part of the normal human condition and by talking about them honestly, helps others to know that they are not alone. That is my only point . . . unless of course I'm self-deceptive.

"Supernatural-Natural-Chemical" Part II, A Christian Perspective

As I said, it is really hard to know where to start this discussion because the headwaters are so convoluted. But I will start with one man, Jean-Jacques Rousse, the French philosopher.  I'm going to grossly over-simplify his views.

You have to imagine the times in which Rousse lived. He was born (I think) around 1712.  He grew up in a Europe where there was a corruption of power (as there is most of the time during the history of humanity).  The Church still had its strong grip on people by controlling the destiny of their souls (or so they thought). The government and wealthy societies, which became known as the aristocrats, dominated the physical side of the people.  The vast majority of people were dirt poor and totally submissive to those two entities.

It is interesting that the aristocrats justified their minority dominating the majority through reason.  It was Aristotle, the father of modern reason, that promoted the concept of the philosopher-king. But what he meant was the most educated and rational people should lead society. But the French aristocrats (so named for the philosopher), while being the most educated, did not merge that with morality. There was very little compassion as exemplified in Marie Antoinette's famous line (when speaking about the starving masses) when she was told her subjects had no bread (meaning no food, period), "let them eat cake."

It was this moral corruption that drove Rousse to try and figure out the more perfect society.  He was building on the philosophical backs of many others, such as the rationalist Descartes (who died about 20 years before Rousse was born) as well as the English rationalist, Hume et al.

But Rousse came to the philosophical conclusion that humans were most moral, and civil, while they were still animals.  This was in stark contrast to the Church, which had been quite dualistic, seeing nature as not only fallen, but evil. Therefore, man (speaking of humanity) was evil in is most primitive state.

Rousse believed that when man rose from the dirt, where humans dwelled with the animals, that man became arrogant seeing himself above nature. When this arrogance took hold man also began to be controlled by comparisons (with each other, thus the social classes and wars between nations).  He thought that if civil authority was removed and humanity would be allowed to return to it primal roots, that order and morality would return (what was later labeled, by others, the "noble savage" state).

Rousse's thinking was part of the ground swell that fueled the eventual French Revololution.  They had the notion that if they threw out the authority figures, that bliss would come. But of course it didn't as exemplified by the Reign of Terror or say if you've read the book or seen the movie Les Miserables . . . or if you have read the book Animal Farm, you will get the jest.  It was a horrible exercise in returning the free, wild and natural.

But the thought of "natural" began to take root in writing, art and in culture in general. It took almost 200 years for the thought to reach its zenith in American culture.

But "natural" isn't a scientific term or any type of natural (pardon the pun) division within reality. It is an artificial division reflecting the simple notion proposed by Rousse, that if man (meaning mankind) touched it, then it is inferior. In its non-human touched form, it is superior.

But Madison Ave. (meaning of course the advertising world) has cashed in on this notion of "natural" being super, good, clean and "chemical" meaning harmful, inferior or even immoral. 

But the bigger issue is the fact that throughout history the Church has embraced secular philosophies and incorporated them within their theology.  But this is true of all human endeavors and not just the Church. As you are doing this incorporation, you are totally na├»ve to the process.

So I find it interesting that many of my Christian friends advocate organic farming, natural health care and the list could go on, as Christian virtues. 

My point here, once again, is that all is created, man, the things that people refer to when they say nature, the universe, the spiritual, the psychological, the intellectual . . . all fall into the same category. They were all created good. Then the fall tainted things so nothing works quite right, but none of it became evil.  So when you contrast one part of creation . . . than part touched by man against the other side, the untouched or what Madison Ave. means by "natural" one is not better than the other.  If the fall is real, then the course of Christian history should be to restore all, including nature.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

"Supernatural" - "Natural" - "Chemical" Part I

I knew it would eventually happen . . . the word "natural" taken to its extreme absurdity.  The pendulum of every philosophical movement, inevitable, moves the absurd, then the counter swing always moves to the absurd in the opposite direction.

This kicker was a commercial on TV for a "totally natural" and quick facelift.  They don't explain that the way this quick and "natural" facelift is done is by cutting a small hole beneath one ear, tying a string to a muscle, treading the string through the subcutaneous fat layer to the other ear, pulling the string tight and then anchoring it there.  It is quick, easy (from a surgical standpoint), reasonable priced for the patient (while the plastic surgeon still earns about $2,000/hour for doing it) and really does make most people look 10 years younger because it gets rid of the sag beneath the jaw.  So how in the hell is this natural?

The next question you may ask, why am I even talking about this on this quasi-Christian blog?  The reason I'm writing about this or anything here illustrates the fundamental point I hope to make with this blog.  If Christianity is true, and I think it is, then EVERYTHING is part of Christianity, meaning all parts of reality (you can argue the metaphysical point if acts of evil are "part" of Christianity or not but that isn't what I'm talking about).  So, when I talk about the Mars Rover, I'm discussing Christianity. When  I write about emotional pain or elation of the snow-packed mountains in the spring time, I'm talking Christianly.  There is no line of demarcation, as I was taught during my evangelical days, that divides the spiritual (meaning good Christian) and the "worldly" (meaning the vast network of other things that were not blatantly Christian). In this example, I want to talk metaphysically and look at philosophical history as it applies to this topic of natural vs unnatural.

But the other thing I want to illustrate is that we humans do not live in an intellectual vacuum.  There is a convoluted flow in human history of "styles of thinking."  While it is not simple, like one flowing creek, it is nonetheless real.  Thoughts can have thousands of starting points and merge and interact in the most complex of ways, before shaping a culture's belief system.  Evangelical Christians, like most people, see themselves immune from this river of human thought. But they are not. An Evangelical Christian in America thinks radically differently from a Greek convert to Christianity living in Asia Minor in the first century.  We modern folks read our thinking into scripture and we assume they thought just like we do.  But we have absorbed two thousand years of human history, which shapes our thinking, just at that Greek person had two thousand years of thinking before them.

Now back to my topic. The first time I remember hearing the term "natural" was when my Navigator leader was selling Shaklee Vitamins to supplement his income. There was nothing inherently wrong with a MLM scheme in this case.  But he told me that Shaklee vitamins were better than other vitamins because they came from a natural source.  I was studying medicine at the time and my background had been in the natural sciences, so this didn't make sense to me. I remember saying to him, "So, ascorbic acid is ascorbic acid and it doesn't matter if it was created in a test tube by combining carbon, oxygen and hydrogen in the right order of C6H8O6, or if it were made by an orange in Florida."

He chuckled and looked over his reading glasses . . . "There is a huge difference where it comes from. We are natural so we should take from nature not from chemicals.  Natural is much better for us than chemicals."

I continued to argue, "But C6H8O6 is the exactly the same no matter if it came into the lab as a bottle of pure oxygen, a cake of pure carbon and a bottle of pure hydrogen and then mixed under the eye of a skilled chemist or, if those same elements are mixed inside the cell of an orange tree. They are exactly the same."

He seemed a little puzzled that I was continuing this argument as no one else in his years of selling the stuff had made such an argument. Secondly he was surprised, I believe, because we were taught never, ever to question the knowledge or authority of our spiritual leader. Then he decided to rest his case by saying, "Well the real difference are the trace compounds that come with natural sourced vitamin C than that made by a man.  These are the essentials of good health."

Now I was perplexed. "What trace compounds?"

He smiled and answered, "They have no names because they haven't been labeled or discovered yet, but we know they are there and they come along with vitamins from natural sources and are essential for good health."

Then it finally dawned on me what he was really talking about . . . Pixie Dust!  But I too rested my case because the last thing I ever wanted to do was to disappoint my spiritual leader by being a trouble maker.

But the terms "natural" "supernatural" and "chemical" are philosophical terms and have absolutely no base in science or reality.  The term "natural" is the number one handle on Madison Ave. for selling products with the second most seducing word is "thin" and the third is "young" and fourth "sex."  These are emotional terms built on a long course of philosophical evolution.

I'm running out of time and space but I will try to put some origins on this. But it is hard to nail it down, about as hard as trying to nail down the exact starting point of the Mississippi.  I know people in Minnesota who claim they have . . . but there are people near the continental divide in Montana that would disagree. But I will go back to these roots with my next post and trace them down to the present.

I will close this opening thought with the notion that sooner or later Christianity will merge with "natural" philosophy. Christianity always merges with other philosophies even though the New Testament extorted Christians not to. But there will be a Natural Christianity.  My Evangelical friends on Facebook already argue that eating organic, natural foods is God's will for everyone. So the thoughts of my Nav leader 30 years ago is still mainstream.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Steamroller Blues -- And Novocain for the Soul

I'm not an artist, but I wish I were. I'm not an artist but I think like one . . . or should I say, I feel like one.  My hallmark as even a young kid was that I felt things deeply. I do feel things deeply, both elation and the depths of pain. I wish I had been born a poet where I could express these things but I'm an emotional mute. But sometimes "feeling deeply" is a significant liability and must be shed or numbed.

James Taylor is an artist and a poet.  He makes a reference in his song Steam Roller Blues that I wish to hang my hat on. He wrote this song in the midst of her personal dark years (or so I believe) where he was injecting heroin.  In the song he speaks of injecting someone's soul with sweet rock and roll.  He was far too familiar with injecting.  But the reason that people inject, snort, smoke is usually to numb their feelings from things that have become unbearable.

I just finished a road trip from Seattle to Minneapolis. During this trip we listened to the book Into Thin Air. It is a personal account of a disastrous climbing expedition on Mount Everest by Jon Krakauer.  It was his attempts to tell an amazing story that needed to be told, but also his emotional exercise as a journalistic cathartic and in a spiritual penitence.  He made one statement that was paramount in his emotional journey.  On May 11th 1996, the day after the worst day of the cataclysm, after about six friends had died in horrible deaths, he self-observed that he was in this strange place of total detachment.  It was wired. But it was s self-protective defense system of the brain, where the autopilot takes over and makes us and the world in which we live . . . totally inert as a two dimensional black and white drawing of stick figures.

There is a time that injecting the soul with Novocain has its place.  I choose to do this at this time, not a chemical blockade but an emotional one.  Today I experienced the last in a string of losses and I don't want to feel anymore. I inject my soul, willingly, not as a automatic self defense measure of the brain.  I could feel if I wanted . . . but this time I don't.  This year I feel I have drank of sorrows like they were being shot out of a fire hose and I am weary. But these sorrows are normal. It is part of the terrain of growing older in this mortal life.  These are not even in the same league as those I mentioned a few weeks ago when I talked about the lady loosing her daughter and my friend who has had a Jobian season.

But I pity most, more so than the aforementioned sufferers, are those who have an IV stuck right into their hearts, where there is a perpetual dripping of Novocain, injecting their souls to keep them in a constant state of numbness.  Some of these people entered the stunned world at a point like Krakauer, where the pain was so overbearing that they choose to never feel again.  But the really sad ones who were born with congenital catheter for reasons which are not clear . . . genetics?  Taught by a numb mother, perhaps?  These are people who live robotically and never feel.

So, this time I smile and I don't suppress the pain . . . I simply choose not to feel it.  I think there is a healthy place for this approach, while standing on guard that the Novocain would take hold . . . entrapping me into its icy grave.

Monday, July 29, 2013

"Victorian Houses Have Tiny Closets"

We had this wild idea. First it was my wife's. Then I finally got "on board" with it . . . about the time she got cold feet and has seemed to back out. The idea?  Moving.

This time we were only thinking about moving into town.  Why not?  Our kids are grown and now moved out. We don't need our big chalet anymore.

We looked at one home that was surprisingly old.  I actually fell in love with it. Not only did it have a glorious view of the mountains and sea, but it had lots of character. The reason it had so much character was that it is one of the oldest houses on our island . . . over 100 years old. So it was built when this was a little fishing out-post.

But one thing about the house was a deal-breaker for Denise . . . the closets were very small.  The realtor remarked, "Of course, all Victorian era houses have tiny closets."

That is true and I've thought a lot about it since, probably more so than anyone should.

All art forms are visual expressions of a philosophy, usually started somewhere else in the culture.  Architecture is no different, but maybe a little slower to adapt because it also serves a real-life function, obeying the laws of physics, load bearing and shelter from weather.

Part of the reason that Victorian homes had small closets was that they had less clothes than our present consumer-society. They also made more use of free-standing wardrobes.

The Victorian age was that time when the Second Great Awakening in England and the US had gone to seed as malignant respectability. It was vital that you appeared to be the perfect example of all that is Christian. It was during the closing days of the Victorian age that Eric Liddell was a Olympian . . . surely giving up a gold metal because the race was held on a Sunday and he refused to run because it was the Sabbath.  Of course that story was told in the Chariots of Fire movie, which was the darling movie of my early evangelical days (and it was a strange bedfellow as the actor who played the Christian hero was an out-spoken gay activist who died from AIDS and it was during the time the evangelicals hated all gays). But looking back, I really think the issue for the real Liddell was more of one of appearing respectable than some great deed for God. It was the age that good Christian homes became museums of goodness . . . but possibly wax museums at best. But I digress.

I've owned a couple of Victorian homes and they do have character because they are for show. But virtually all of these homes have one narrow door on the second floor, that looks like a linen closet, but when you open it, it leads up a steep set of stairs, sometimes to a second, locked door, and to a huge attic. In both of my homes I had plans of turning the attic into a giant bedroom or family room . . . but never had the time or money.

In the Victorian days, those attics, unlike closets, were rarely visited.  At least they were locked if not nailed shut. Of course as written about in countless of children's stories, where the children wonder up into that dark attic, full of steamer trunks, and discover some great mystery like a Jumanji board game.

But the attics really were full of mystery . . . hidden away from all view.  These were the ghosts of broken humans, who were downstairs in their button up shirts and tiny-waisted dresses and pale skinned faces living in a world of make-believe perfection.

In those dusty steamer trunks were things like old bottles of whisky, some empty, some half full, where father came late at night to tame the alcoholic demons within his belly.

In one you might find the box of pink ribbons that mom wore in her hair when she was a little girl and who grandfather carefully would untie and let fall to the floor as he prepared to molest his little girl decades ago.  Mother never wanted to see them again and would scream in horror and swoon to the floor if her little girl had discovered them and came down the attic stairs with them in her  hair but words unspoken.  But still she kept them . . . up in the old trunk as if giving them up would have been an act of disrespect to her father . . . now aged.  She still will kiss him on the cheek at the home where he stat on the porch, slumped down in his wooden wheeled chair as her kids watched on and he would look up with red-sagging eyes and smile and wink at his daughter,"my little butterfly." She never became the woman that she was meant to be because she had to loose the ability to feel.

Up between the trunks is where the boy and his friend, all alone, would experiment with their exposed bodies trying to understand what they were feeling.

In another trunk might be red and blue silk scarfs tied in Gordain knots so tight  that no mortal could untie. They once belonged to the father's mother.  Her, un-named, narcissistic personality had donned herself in robes and gowns and glitter and her own son became inanimate in her eyes . . . and he hated her for it. But he didn't know he hated her. How can a son hate is mother?  How can a human be infatuated with themselves? Grief too convoluted for words . . . so, as a man he only felt comforted in numbing arms of he evaporate of barley, and oats.

But the attic doors were closed and locked . . . sometimes nailed shut, while the music played downstairs and they were all respectable.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Absolute Boundaries of Jesus

I read a CNN review about Reza Aslan's new book Zealot.  To put it in a nutshell, Aslan was raised as a culturally Muslim in Iran, then came to California.  There he because an Evangelical.  He eventually went to seminary to study world religions and, left Evangelicalism . . . but not Jesus.  The point of the book is that the historical Jesus is a pretty neat guy, worthy of us following his example . . . and you don't have to be a Christian to do so.

A long time ago I sat through a wonderful lecture (via tape) by Francis Schaeffer on "The Absolute Limits of Christianity."  He tried to stake out the boundaries, outside which, you are no longer a Christian.  He placed the boundaries, on each side, in places that might surprise many. They were simplistic.  For example, you didn't have to adopt all the major Church (evangelical Church) doctrines.  But certainly you must believe that Jesus is divine. 

I caught the old movie Oh God on public TV the other night.  One of the questions asked of "God" (aka George Burns) was, "Was Jesus the son of God?"  To which he answered, "Yes . . . Adam was the son of God, you are my sons too."  So that is not what Dr. Schaeffer meant.

With this said, I have thought for a long time if we could take the historical Jesus, take away the layers and layers of religious packaging, you would end up with a very palatable personal hero and person that most people of our society would adore.  Eventually, it would beg the question . . . could he really be divine?

Yes Reza goes too far . . . but he makes a point that is worth considering.  Remove Jesus from the trappings, the eyes rolling in the back of the head, the incense, the halos, the WWJD bracelets, and the narcissistic "I'm at the center of Jesus' universe . . . he finds me parking places" thinking and you might find something wonderful.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Non-Resolute Christianity

I am sitting under a jealous sun in an empty, robin-egg blue sky.  I'm sipping a cappuccino with soft jazz swirling over and around my head.  The morning could not be more glorious . . . for me . . . unless I were sitting outside a coffee shop somewhere around the Mediterranean.  Italy would be fine . . . as would Morocco or even Libya.

But life is this odd mixture of the constant glorious and the repugnant pain of complexity.  There seems to be no middle ground unless you are in a coma.  But who knows what dreams may come even in the midst of a coma.

I'm still thinking of the family I observed yesterday at the memorial. I saw the brother of the deceased (horrible and inorganic word) here at this same coffee shop yesterday.  I tried to talk to him.  He was a shell and I'm not sure why.  I mean, not that it is not justified, but I just don't know if he were a shell prior to this or if his shell-ness is a factor of loosing his sister.

I just watched the film, "A Screaming Man" last night.  It is the film I will be showing at our next film-club.  I've gotten out of the habit of previewing them, but this time I thought I would. It is a complex film of human relationships and it takes place in Chad.

So I sit soaking up the glory of the morning with the gentle sea breeze reaching out and touching my nose with a kindness.  But I think about the complexities of life . . . even this side of the cross.

In the Bible belt I had the corny bumper sticker on my jeep of "Jesus is the Answer." I remember a student on campus asking the rhetorical question . . . "so dude . . . like, what is the question?"

In our minds, Jesus was the answer to all questions.  The problem was, we didn't mean that just figuratively but literally.  He is not.  I can say that without guilt because I don't think that was His intended role as the fill-in-the-blank answer to everything.  He is the hope that the complexities will one day be resolved in ways we can't even begin to understand.

On this side of the cross there are many questions that go unanswered.  Life is complex and very messy and it comes full to the brim with loss and grief, yet without casting a shadow over the equally prominent glory.

Denise is not coming directly home tonight as she is stopping by a friend's house . . . who is dying of cancer.

The persona of my mother is fading week by week behind the veil of dementia. At what point do you say goodbye?  When will she forget me for good?

My marriage can achieve the ideal . . . but only on the surface. My wife is satisfied with that, as I use to be. But I know that there are irreconcilable  differences between us as there are in ALL relationships.  We came from different cultures, different ways of looking at the world, and I've lost hope that we can be of one mind as had imagined that Jesus would be the answer. So, we suppress the differences the best we can. She stands perpetually disappointed in me that I don't follow the norms and conform to her world. I stand perpetually disappointed in her that she can't understand me.

But I'm not talking about me, but the human condition.  The only perfect marriages are those who are perfect with the veneer of perfection.  Most settle for that.

So, Jesus didn't resolve all, nor did He intend to. But I sit and soak up the sun a minute longer . . . under the robin egg blue sky.  The metal table beneath my laptop is in cyclic humming like a bee with the repetitive vibrating of my cell phone.  The hospital is calling, my patients are calling, my staff is calling, my vendors are calling. The first call I return will be greeted with anger . . . "Why didn't you pick up!  I'm in pain and you weren't there for me . . . asshole!"  So once again, I will leave this 8 minutes of thinking and typing and fall back into that imperfect world . . .and once again without the luxury of proof-reading and without the luxury of universal answers to anything.