Wednesday, May 22, 2013

I Just Learned that Edith Schaeffer Pass Away On April 7th

I don't have time to write right now but I just heard today that Edith Schaeffer passed away April 7th.  Warts and all, she was a fine woman and I had the privilege of knowing her for a short while.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

New Boobs for Jesus, and Other Superstitions Part II

I promised I would come back to this thought and it has taken until now to get the chance.

I love the history of philosophy. If I had a Mulligan at life, I think I would choose philosophy as a major.  Of course the crux of the study of philosophy is the study of the history thereof. You can't speculate about the big questions without first building on the backs of others and avoiding asking the same questions that others have already answered.

So, back to the boob thing.  On the Discovery Channel was another hillbilly program, this one on drilling for oil in your backyard.  I've seen one episode and like I was saying, I focused on the superstition in general and two Christian drillers specifically. One, a Baptist church, believed that God spoke to them that they were going to strike oil and get rich. But God made a mistake in His message and they struck (equally as valuable) water.

The second was a lady who God had spoken to and Jesus was going to show her where to drill to strike oil, so that she could get a boob job . . . and a new butt.

When I see things that are so wrong and I can't just shake my head and walk away, I must dwell for a while.  My mind attempts to build handles around the whole cultural phenomenon that sets up such crazy ideas so I can grasp what is going on here.

I love intelligence. I love highbrow things.  I don't know what my own IQ is, but it isn't extra-ordinary. I'm probably below average in language skills . . . maybe math.  So, I don't think that this is any type of arrogance to say I love to listen to people who think.

Superstition drives me crazy.  I am bombarded by superstition everyday because I work in health care, and I was bombarded with superstition when I was an evangelical . . . even more so.  But ignorance and superstition are usually choices one makes.  To think that Jesus wants you to find oil (and the superstition that He spoke to you in a cloud) is a moral choice, yet I don't blame the hillbilly folks.  I will remind you that I'm speaking of them from the inside because I am a hillbilly.

But let me drift back to the philosophical roots to the "boob job for Jesus" mentality for a moment. I sincerely think that if you map out the rise of the Bible belt, along the ridges and rivers that the old Methodist circuit riders rode, a couple of hundred years ago, you would see the outline of the territory where this choice of ignorance is playing out in today's world.

Not all parts of the country are this way.  You might fight someone one in Boston wanting to drill for oil because Jesus told them they would find it so they could buy new boobs . . . but not as likely as in eastern Kentucky.  Now the Jersey Shores is a different story but they think that Jesus (maybe Mary) wants them to have new Boobs for a different reason.

But when the Gospel entered the hills of Kentucky and Tennessee (my home state) it didn't come in with a simple purity but is was wrapped in layers of baggage. One of those concepts (and the theme to this whole blog) is that this world is not as important as the next.  That Heaven was the purpose of all that is . . . not art or complex music.  Sure, the hillbilly tunes have great value in expressing the heart. But I say this music flourished in spite of the dualism that penetrated the area, not because of it.

I can remember growing up and people talking about "learning" as a bad thing.  "He's done got too much of that dag gone learning to do any body a damn bit of good. They ought to just take that boy out back and shoot him fer he is good for nothing."  That was the view of college educated people rather than those that worked in the mines.

So when you believe that this world is superfluous at best, nothing matters here.  Sure make some money. Buy some tacky things.  A house make of plastic that looks like stone is just as good as one of those stone houses that has stood in Italy for 800 years.  Jesus is coming back any day so it doesn't matter if the plastic oxidizes and warps under the sun after a couple of years.

The Gospel here also becomes so narcissistic that it is like a beautiful mountain lake that, through acid rain, becomes so corrosive that only bacteria can live in it. Maybe what John and Charlie Wesley thought of when they considered a deeply personal religion, was a good thing in the beginning. They were reacting to the horrible religious wars of Europe, where large, deeply thinking, institutions were slaughtering one another in cold blood.

But when, over time, the personal gospel becomes so personal . . . you don't wear a cross around your neck anymore, you wear a tiny capsule around your neck and God lives inside it.  He becomes your personal charm, your genie.  Maybe like the cat in Men in Black, with a whole universe in a capsule on its collar.  It is this type of God that fits comfortable in the hills where we were taught that this world was insignificant. Where we were taught that learning things was bad.  And were we imagined a God that is so much our servant that, not only is He in the business of making us rich, but He makes us rich to buy new boobs to try and fill that insatiable longing for a "proper" body image.

After all why would God be interested in saving the children being slaughtered in Syria, or those buried beneath the tornado, or under an Iranian earthquake? Why would God be interested in answering the aspirations of a lost generation?  Aren't my boobs (speaking theoretically here) more important?

A Voice from From My Home Town (or could have been)

I watched just the beginning of the Billboard Mag Awards Show this week.  One of the first performances was by Kacey Musgraves and I admit I've never heard of her before.  But the lyrics quickly caught my ear.

I grew up in a small southern town, deep in the Bible-belt and I can say that virtually the last two generations have been lost from Christianity.  Preachers (those that still do believe) like to blame the evils of this world and the poor choices of the kids for the leaving.  I say, the kids were given nothing to stay for . . . but pretending or "out of ought."  Those that stay are often the most pretentious ones. Which brings me back to Boobs for Jesus (two posts ago) and HUG, I will get back to that thought.

But listen to Kacey's voice and look at the lyrics below. She captures the hopelessness that I see in the backwoods of where I grew up.  Bible-belt Evangelicalism having gone to seed . . . as the great migration out or the Boobs for Jesus pretentiousness.

If you ain't got two kids by 21,
You're probably gonna die alone
At least that's what tradition told you.

And it don't matter if you don't believe,
Come Sunday morning you best be there
In the front row, like you're s'posed to.

Same hurt in every heart.
Same trailer, different park.

Mamas hooked on Mary Kay
Brothers hooked on Mary Jane
And Daddy's hooked on Mary two doors down.

Mary Mary quite contrary,
We get bored so we get married
And just like dust we settle in this town.
On this broken merry go 'round and 'round and 'round we go,
Where it stops nobody knows...
And it ain't slowin' down, this merry go 'round...

We think the first time's good enough,
So we hold on to high school love,
Say we won't end up like our parents.

Tiny little boxes in a row,
Ain't want you want it's what you know,
Just happy in the shoes you're wearin'.

Same checks we're always cashin',
To buy a little more distraction.

Cause Mamas hooked on Mary Kay
Brothers hooked on Mary Jane
Daddy's hooked on Mary two doors down.

Mary Mary quite contrary,
We get bored so we get married
And just like dust we settle in this town.
On this broken merry go 'round and 'round and 'round we go,
Where we stop nobody knows...
And it ain't slowin' down, this merry go 'round...

Mary Mary quite contrary,
We're so bored until we're buried.
And just like dust we settle in this town.
On this broken merry go 'round...
Merry go 'round...

Jack and Jill went up the hill,
Jack burned out on booze and pills,
And Mary had a little lamb,
Mary just don't give a damn no more.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

God Bless the Neanderthals

I love the Neanderthals and I don't mean that term figuratively  I think I love them so because I'm so curious about things and they are so perplexing.  When I was a kid they were pigeon-holed as a bus stop on the evolutionary trail (as taught by a few brave evolutionists in my Bible-belt society).

Years later archaeologists/anthropologists figured out that they were not in the Homo sapien chain at all.  Then we learn that they actually lived along side Homo sapiens.

Now the latest findings suggest (more than suggest) that we (Europeans and Asians but not Africans) all have Neanderthal DNA, thus inbreeding must have happened between them and us. So, were they human or not?

The other perplexing thing is that they are not in the Biblical narrative . . . at least in a recognizable way. For this reason, evangelicals have always tried to dismiss them.

In the Bible belt (and thanks to some Chick tracts) we were taught that the whole concept of the Neanderthals came from one tooth . . . or was it someone who died in the 1700s but had severe rheumatoid arthritis?  I think I heard both stories. Boy, those scientist who came up with the idea of Neanderthals must be pretty stupid . . . you think?

But of course neither of those stories were true.  There is an incredible archaeological record about them.

More recently I've heard all kinds of stories from evangelicals to justify their existence.  One was that it was a demonic race that had fought with Israel and God had cursed them (I think they pulled that story out of their holy butt hole).

But I love a mystery. Loving mystery is, in my opinion, the way we were created.  That's why we go to the moon and want to go to Mars.  The universe is God's playground and who wouldn't want to explore it.

Think about this.  The Neanderthals lived on this earth for 170,000 years. That is a freakin huge amount of time. Their technology evolved over that period of time of making better spears (by 25%). Maybe a few other improvements in their lives.  In contrast, we modern humans (with smaller brains) went from riding horses and reading by whale oil to walking on the moon and quantum computers within 100 years.

But I can't wait to ask God to explain this to me. Did the Neanderthals sin? Did Jesus die for them?  He must  have.  I mean, if I carry Neanderthal DNA (and I'm sure I do) this has to make sense somehow.

A few years ago I was trying to lead a couples' small group Bible study at my house.  I think I  made a comment about watching a program about the Neanderthals (as I did last night on Nova and that is why I'm writing about this tonight).  When we took a snack break one of the guys from my church, an elder, came up and put his arm around my shoulder and said, in a condescending way, "Mike . . . don't believe all you see on TV.  The atheist scientists make up all this crap just to make people believe in evolution so that they will leave God. Its all there in Revelations. We are in the last days."

I just shake my head and feel that I belong on Mars more than I do on Earth.  But I yearn for the unknown, the mystery, the unimaginable, the perplexing . . . and when we do, I think it makes God smile.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Headlamp (in the post-evangelical wilderness)

I will be back to  Boobs for Jesus part II as soon as I have more than 10 minutes to think and type.

I was recently part of a FB group and was impressed by the dynamics.  It, as you can imagine, was much different than a blog.  It is a conversation that moves rapidly and not one person like me posting long articles.

I'm not very savoy when it comes to FB.  I think if you do a search for the title (listed above) you can find it, send me a request to join and I will add you.

I want people to feel free to come incognito if that would help them feel safe enough to be extremely candid.

The purpose of the group will not be to persuade people to rejoin the church or anything like that. If anything, I want to help people to understand that there is good Christian life outside the subculture of evangelicalism.

So here is a brief description.  Please pass the word to anyone you know that may have questions, doubts or interested in this topic.  Thanks, Mike.

As many as 88% of kids raised in evangelical homes, leave the Church altogether by their twenties.  The evangelical church has often used a strategy of retention composed of a) trying to entice them to stay via entertainment, b) frank guilt manipulation ("Jesus is sad when you aren't at church") and keeping them from thinking (as I've heard at churches, "don't let your kids go to college because they will be brainwashed by the atheists").  These tactics are a little more effective than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. I grieve that those that leave were never engaged honestly or given the chance to have a meaningful conversation.  They were never given options. Either they had to drink the Kool-Aid and accept the entire American-Christian subculture, or leave entirely.  But there is life outside evangelicalism . . . even Christian life.  We are creating a FB group were people can come and honestly talk, question, vent and seek a very candid conversation (and they are welcome to come incognito if it helps them feel safe).  It will take weeks for such a group to reach critical mass, if it ever does. You are welcome to come and to pass the word to people of any age who have been disillusioned with evangelicalism and who may be wondering, "What's left?  Where do you go from here?" The group is called "Headlamp (in the post-evangelical wilderness).

Saturday, May 4, 2013

New Boobs for Jesus . . . and Other superstitions

The extreme is often an example of what is wrong within the norm, so I will go there.

So we only have about six cable channels by choice. My favorite two are Discovery and Public TV.  I heard that America has become obsessed with the hillbilly culture and that there are many reality shows based on southern backwoods folks.  I'm only exposed to those on Discovery. A recent one was one about making moonshine. I only saw one episode but did watch it to the end because it was filmed right around where I grew up.  I could understand everything that the characters said and I didn't need the subtitles that Discovery provided.

I've been seeing the new one Backyard Oil advertised.  I was intrigued because I went to graduate school in Kentucky and had to do a lot of clinic rotations in the back hollows of Eastern Kentucky.

So, in summary, some people can drill in their backyards in this part of Kentucky and hit oil.  I'm not sure but I think it is about 1 in 10 wells that produce. It can cost $10 K to $25 K to sink the well (depending how deep it has to go) and if you hit a good vein (right word?) of oil, you can pump out about $ 25 K per MONTH.  So this is a big gamble. Most of these people only earn about $ 25-35K / year.

It is part of human behavior that anytime there is something that happens somewhat randomly but with very high stakes, superstition becomes very, very important. You will see it in sports, in casinos, in health (trying to please God so mom's cancer gets better) and of course in these types of high risk business ventures.

It is quite interesting in this Bible belt country how powerful of a role superstition plays.  Some men paid, I think $5,000 for a rooster because they heard rumors that it could find oil.  Others use bloodhounds (I am amazed by the ability of bloodhounds to smell things, but no bloodhound can smell crude oil 1500 feet beneath the surface) and of course there are several people using diving rods.  There was one man with webbed toes that, in their view, proved that he was a warlock. He was paid a good sum of money for picking a well site.

Two of these characters really grabbed my attention. One was a Baptist church.  The pastor said that Jesus told him that they should look for oil and that Jesus promised them that they would find it and get a butt load of money.  After all this is just like the Jesus of the New Testament who went around Galilee making people rich . . . or is it?

But the one that really grabbed my attention was a middle aged woman (who dressed like she was 20) to whom God came in the middle of the night and told her that Jesus wanted her to strike oil.  She walked and prayed all over her property until Jesus showed her the spot.  Why did she need to get rich?  To get a boob job.  I thought her boobs were normal size the way the were. But I guess Jesus wanted her to have Dolly Parton sized boobs.  I'm not sure why. It makes about as much sense as Jesus wanting the church to strike it rich.

I've actually heard of a couple of churches striking it rich (one was oil in CA).  Both churches ended up going through nasty splits and lawsuits as they brothers and sisters fought over the money.

In this TV show, the Baptist church did strike an artesian well . . . which many predicted would bring them more money than oil (artesian wells are more rare in those parts than oil wells). But I predict that it won't be long until that water is bottled and those nice church people will start to spread rumors about healings for those who drink from it.  Any time you mix special water and church stuff it ends up being miracle water . . . just wait and see.

I since now that I will need to make this a two part post as it is getting long and I haven't made my point.  I will just add one more part of the introduction.

I work in headache medicine.  This past week a very interesting study came out.  Thirty years ago we use to teach patients about triggers that brought on migraines, like chocolate and red wine. Many books expanded those trigger list as TV shows like Dr. Oz. Virtually every patient I see tells me of clear triggers. Some are as odd as a particular brand of pickles . . . or the smell of dog farts.

For a while the science has been suggesting that these things don't trigger migraines at all.  Indeed, a group in Iowa have found that daily chocolate might even help prevent migraines as well as a group from Argentina have found the same good benefits for migraine with red wine.  However, with this big study, they took thinks that patients swore triggered their migraines.  They followed the patients for months where they strictly avoided those triggers. Then they exposed them daily to those triggers. In the end . . . the headache count was about exactly the same.

The article got into the role of superstition in migraines.  Migraines are random (expect for the few know triggers such as woman's menses).  The consequence is great. So when you have a random event that has great consequences, as I mentioned before, superstition grows up around it.  It is human nature.

One book that I read a long time ago and I love it is The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (I think I said it correctly as this computer will not let me open a new search page without loosing this page). Mark Noll (the author I think) gave a quote from a contemporary of the early Church.  This Greek author said that these so-called "Christians" were unique because they were very non-superstitious (when compared to usual Greek culture of the time).

I think that snap shot of the church was a wonderful time, but makes up a tiny majority of Church history that has been deeply entangled with the psychology of superstition.  I will pause with that thought and pick back up on it tomorrow.  Sorry, I'm being summoned home and I don't have time to proof read once again.