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.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Too Baffeling for Words

I'm at one of those points where I feel an ocean of words that want to come out . . . but my time to type is limited to a thimble's measure.

I just came from a memorial service for the young girl I mentioned a few weeks ago.  Too many feelings to express. I see her mom, several rows in front of me, doing the horrible dance of her terminal neurological disease. I see her brother across the aisle in a numb despair (me imposing my intuitive feelings upon him . . . and they my be accurate . . . or maybe not).  I feel the trough of the fall, the pain of being human it is total rawity.

It is such a mixture of emotions as I sat in the sanctuary of my old church, the first time in over two years.  I felt the choking of social anxiety.  I feel hated towards me there but had to remind my selfish self that none of this was about me. I left as soon as the service was over and am waiting over coffee and a computer for my wife, who stayed behind.

But I focus on those whose grief is beyond measure and I want to, willingly, splatter their pain all over me as a kind of baptism of empathy. I, of course, cannot imagine what it is like to loose a child or a sister because I never have. But I can allow my imagination to take me in that direction in the same way climbing a mountain, as I did yesterday, was moving me in the same direction as the sun.  I do this because if I suffered such loss, and the memorial room was filled with people, that is what I would request of them.  Not the cliches of "God doesn't make mistakes" but I want to see a tear that tells me that they at least want to understand my pain.  That is what would satisfy me.

I will have to stop with that thought before I even begin.  I will add that I sensed a strange awkwardness in this memorial that was beyond my own, personal one.  Evangelicalism seems to loose its voice like a opera singer with laryngitis at such convoluted morality that is involved with this tragic story.  I think how much better the memorials in the high church, where a few verses are read, a burning of candles, a ritual of grief and submission to God without any mortal trying to "make sense of it all" or to say the right thing.

Speaking of high church . . . moving on to a much less difficult topic . . . my church is again exceeding my expectations for a Sunday school program. We are studying Shakespeare for a few weeks.  I never imagined that I would be dissecting the prose of Hamlet in a Sunday school class . . . but it is a wonderful way to spend an hour.  My wife came with me today to my church.  There is no hope that she would ever join me there and I respect her decision to stay with her friends at the other church.

Our pastor spoke on forgiveness+reconciliation.  I did some soul searching. I know that when I'm hurt I can hold a grudge.  I think of this old church situation.  While I know that I reached out to the old pastor and he never did me, is that enough?  I have forgiven him . . . I think. But I don't believe in magic forgiveness anymore. I use to think, as an evangelical, that someone could rape and kill my family and then I could "forgive them" and never feel a negative emotion towards them again. But real forgiveness is more messy.  The boundaries of the emotions are not well defined, between the real and normal . . . and the pathological. But I had to ask myself, have I done enough?

My wife believes that if I really forgave her pastor, I would return to his church and feel no emotions when I see him.  I ironically came out of the bathroom at the hospital this week and ran right smack into him.  I shook his hand and we talked about family as we walked in the same direction. So is that reconciliation?  I don't know, but I must go.


Friday, July 12, 2013

Signs of an Abusive Church

I simply copied and pasted the following article from The Wartburg Watch because it was too important not to share. The book sounds great.  The only reason that I may not buy it is that it could conjure up too many bad memories for me.  But people who are entrapped in these abusive-spiritual relationships, the book would be a great empowering tool to help people have the ability to leave.
How can you spot an abusive church? Do you know the “red flags”? Dr. Ronald Enroth, is a leading scholar on cults and cultism, and his special perspectives have proven beneficial to both the secular and the religious society. Dr. Enroth is a professor of Sociology at Westmont College (Santa Barbara, California) where he has taught since 1965, beginning as a sociology instructor. In 1992 Enroth wrote Churches That Abuse, and it continues to be an important resource nearly two decades later.
Margaret Thaler Singer, a clinical psychologist and emeritus professor of the University of California, Berkeley, provided her hearty recommendation on the book’s jacket. Here is an excerpt:
“When does a church cross the line between conventional church status and fringe status? What is the nature of the process by which any given group devolves into a fringe church or movement? What are some of the signs or indicators that a given group is becoming abusive of its members and is headed for the margins? When should a member consider bailing out?
Churches That Abuse answers these and other important questions about abusive churches and groups that operate in this country – organizations and churches that are not necessarily characterized by doctrinal deviation but have particular traits that make them behavioral and sociological outsiders. It also helps readers identify and beware of abusive tendencies in more “normal” Christian churches.”
In his classic book Dr. Enroth identifies distinctive traits of abusive churches which should serve as “red flags”. Pat Zukeran, a research associate with Probe Ministries, has written an excellent review of Churches That Abuse, and we will be sharing excerpts from his article “Abusive Churches”, along with quotes from the book, to explain some of these identifying traits or “MARKS”.
(1) Control-oriented style of leadership
Pat Zukeran explains: “The leader in an abusive church is dogmatic, self- confident, arrogant, and the spiritual focal point in the lives of his followers. The leader assumes he is more spiritually in tune with God than anyone else…. To members of this type of church or group, questioning the leader is the equivalent of questioning God. Although the leader may not come out and state this fact, this attitude is clearly seen by the treatment of those who dare to question or challenge the leader…. In the hierarchy of such a church, the leader is, or tends to be, accountable to no one. Even if there is an elder board, it is usually made up of men who are loyal to, and will never disagree with, the leader. This style of leadership is not one endorsed in the Bible (emphasis mine).”
“Control-oriented leadership is at the core of all such churches. These spiritual power holders become strong role models, and their dogmatic teaching, bold confidence, and arrogant assertiveness become powerful forces of influence. They use their spiritual authority to intimidate the weak,” explains Ronald Enroth in Churches That Abuse (p. 80).
(2) Spiritual elitism
Abusive churches see themselves as special. In his book, Enroth explains that abusive churches have an “elitist orientation that is so pervasive in authoritarian-church movements. It alone has the Truth, and to question its teachings and practices is to invite rebuke.”
(3) Manipulation of members
“Spiritually abusive groups routinely use guilt, fear, and intimidation as effective means for controlling their members. In my opinion, the leaders consciously foster an unhealthy form of dependency, spiritually and interpersonally, by focusing on themes of submission, loyalty, and obedience to those in authority,” explains Dr. Enroth on page 103 of Churches That Abuse.
According to the Probe Ministries article: “Abusive churches are characterized by the manipulation of their members. Manipulation is the use of external forces to get others to do what someone else wants them to do. Here manipulation is used to get people to submit to the leadership of the church. The tactics of manipulation include the use of guilt, peer pressure, intimidation, and threats of divine judgment from God for disobedience. Often harsh discipline is carried out publicly to promote ridicule and humiliation.
Another tactic is the “shepherding” philosophy. As practiced in many abusive churches this philosophy requires every member to be personally accountable to another more experienced person. To this person, one must reveal all personal thoughts, feelings, and discuss future decisions. This personal information is not used to help the member but to control the member.”
(4) Perceived persecution
To explain this identifying mark, Zukeran writes: “Because abusive churches see themselves as elite, they expect persecution in the world and even feed on it. Criticism and exposure by the media are seen as proof that they are the true church being persecuted by Satan. However, the persecution received by abusive churches is different from the persecution received by Jesus and the Apostles.
Jesus and the Apostles were persecuted for preaching the truth. Abusive churches bring on much of their negative press because of their own actions. Yet, any criticism received, no matter what the source–whether Christian or secular–is always viewed as an attack from Satan, even if the criticisms are based on the Bible.”
(5) Lifestyle rigidity
Zukeran explains this mark as “a rigid, legalistic lifestyle of their members. This rigidity is a natural result of the leadership style. Abusive churches require unwavering devotion to the church from their followers. Allegiance to the church has priority over allegiance to God, family, or anything else. There are also guidelines for dress, dating, finances, and so on. Such details are held to be of major importance in these churches.
In churches like these, people begin to lose their personal identity and start acting like programmed robots. Many times, the pressure and demands of the church will cause a member to have a nervous breakdown or fall into severe depression."
On page 135 of Churches That Abuse, Enroth writes: “Life-style rigidity in abusive churches often manifests itself in a curiously reactive mode with regard to sexuality. Proscriptive measures reveal a sometimes bizarre preoccupation with sex that mental-health professionals would no doubt conclude gives evidence of repression.”
(6) Suppression of dissent
Abusive churches discourage questions and will not allow any input from members. The “anointed” leaders are in charge, PERIOD!
Enroth explains in his book that: “Unwavering obedience to religious leadership and unquestioning loyalty to the group would be less easily achieved if analysis and feedback were available to members from the outside. It is not without reason that leaders of abusive groups react so strongly and so defensively to any media criticism of their organizations.” (p. 162)
(7) Harsh discipline of members
Virtually all authoritarian groups that I have studied impose discipline, in one form or another, on members. A common theme that I encountered during interviews with ex-members of these groups was that the discipline was often carried out in public — and involved ridicule and humiliation,” writes Dr. Enroth (p. 152).
Enroth also states: “In my research of abusive churches, I never cease to be amazed at the degree to which private and personal concerns are made public and brought to the attention of the congregation.”  (p. 137)
“The ultimate form of discipline in authoritarian churches is excommunication or disfellowshipping, followed by strict avoidance procedures, or shunning,” writes Enroth (p. 157).
(8) Denunciation of other churches
According to Zukeran’s article on Enroth’s book, “abusive churches usually denounce all other Christian churches. They see themselves as spiritually elite. They feel that they alone have the truth and all other churches are corrupt…. There is a sense of pride in abusive churches because members feel they have a special relationship with God and His movement in the world. In his book Churches That Abuse, Dr. Ron Enroth quotes a former member of one such group who states, “Although we didn’t come right out and say it, in our innermost hearts we really felt that there was no place in the world like our assembly. We thought the rest of Christianity was out to lunch….A church which believes itself to be elite and does not associate with other Christian churches is not motivated by the spirit of God but by divisive pride.”
(9) Painful exit process
Finally, Zukeran explains that abusive churches have “a painful and difficult exit process. Members in many such churches are afraid to leave because of intimidation, pressure, and threats of divine judgment. Sometimes members who exit are harassed and pursued by church leaders. The majority of the time, former members are publicly ridiculed and humiliated before the church, and members are told not to associate in any way with any former members. This practice is called shunning.
Many who leave abusive churches because of the intimidation and brainwashing, actually feel they have left God Himself. None of their former associates will fellowship with them, and they feel isolated, abused, and fearful of the world.”
We want to conclude with these important words from Dr. Ronald Enroth in Churches That Abuse (pp. 174-175). He explains:
“…leaving an abusive church can be extremely difficult, calling into question every aspect of life members may have experienced for the period of time they were involved. I want to discuss the range of emotions and issues that ex-members may face when they exit an abusive-church situation. Then I will provide a general overview of the changing experiences, feelings, and needs that emerge over the course of weeks, months, and even years after departure.
Leaving a restricted and abusive community involves what sociologists call the desocialization process whereby the individual loses identification with the past group and moves toward resocialization, or reintegration into the mainstream culture. There are a number of emotions and needs that emerge during this transition process. How one deals with these feelings and affective experiences has a significant impact on the overall healing that is required.
Many have described the aftermath of abusive-church involvement as comparable to that of rape victims, or the delayed stress syndrome experienced by war veterans. It is recovery from what might be called spiritual rape. You feel like something has been lost and you will never be the same again.
Initially, victims may have a total lack of feeling regarding their experience. They may not evidence pain, anger, sadness, or even joy at being free. Such lack of feeling may be a protective mechanism from the strong surge of emotion that is sure to come. Victims need a safe and secure environment in which to vent their emotions. Such venting was often labeled as “sin” in their previous environments, and it may take some time until they give themselves permission to allow these feelings to surface.
Whether or not they show any emotion, victims are in great need of empathetic, objective individuals who will not treat them like spiritual pariahs or paranoid storytellers. The events they have just been through are as unbelievable to them as they are to their listeners. They have experienced great social and psychological dislocation. An open attitude on the part of friends, family, and counselors greatly assists the healing process.”
Dr. Enroth has made Churches That Abuse available in its entirety online.
You can also access Churches That Abuse at the Apologetics Index website.
Lydia's Corner:   2 Kings 10:32-12:21   Acts 18:1-22   Psalm 145:1-21   Proverbs 18:1