Of Anchors and Ships

10 10 2011

Occasionally, we might encounter the avid gossiper, who always seems to have some nasty tidbit of information about someone, and our ears are itching to hear.  Sometimes, that gossiper is clever enough to choose the right people to gossip about, and sometimes that individual is left quite lonely and wondering why no one wants to talk.  For example, a good target is some jerk whom no one likes and always seems to be stepping on other people’s toes.  A bad target is someone who gets a lot of attention, the sort of person whom everyone seems to like and everyone wants to be.  The insecure gossiper usually aims at the second target, if only because of pure envy.  While the aim may be a simple matter of bringing down a person of higher esteem, boosting one’s own rank in the process, the result is usually quite the opposite.  The gossiper is ground under a thousand heels, and the hero, the person of high esteem, is loved all the more as an undeserving victim.  The fact is simply that some people cannot effectively have their characters assassinated by certain other people, no matter how hard those people try.

Therein lies the principle of the ship and the anchor.  Both are enacting an opposite tension to the anchor line.  We might call it a battle, or a tug-of-war.  To some extent, the ship may move the anchor, but for the most part, the anchor has the advantage.  While the anchor is firmly nested into the floor of the bay, the ship is not-too-firmly nested in the water of the bay.  It’s not too hard to see why the anchor holds the greater influence.  Its place is more firmly grounded.  In any given conflict, some people are more like anchors, and some are more like ships.  Take, for instance, a certain co-worker of mine, who happens to be great friends with my boss’ boss.  I hardly ever talk to that boss, but he has been to her house, to parties and a funeral with her.  He’s not just an anchor.  The man is a cleat on the dock.  Let’s just take a hypothetical situation, which, thankfully, has never happened.  Let’s say that boss calls me into her office and asks me what I think of my coworker, who happens, I might add, to be very new to our group.  I’ll admit that I can’t stand the fellow.  He’s an irascible fool.  I’ll admit it, I say, to anyone but her.  She has already made up her mind about him.  Anything I say can and will be used against me.  Anything I say will be used by the listener to shape her opinion of me, and it will have absolutely no effect upon her opinion of my coworker.  The effect is guaranteed.

Now, a wise audience can always discern truth from lies, and a wise audience could take the word of a stranger or even an enemy against that of an ally, if the evidence and reasoning demanded it.  Even a wise audience would still be tempted toward bias, and I’m still unconvinced that I’ve met more than a handful of wise people in my entire life.  No matter how true or virtuous or obvious my campaign, my standing with my audience versus my opponent will, more often than not, determine whether my argument gets my opponent trounced, or whether that argument gets me lynched.

It’s not just a matter of opposing people, either.  Sometimes it’s a matter of opposing ideas.  For example, in this day and age the idea of creationism is weak and Darwinism so widely accepted, that, more often than not, any randomly selected person or group of people will disregard anything further that I have to say if I suggest that the popular one is a fable and the unpopular one is truth.  It’s a nepotism of ideas.  Never mind that Darwinism really is a glorified Aesop’s fable.  If I promote what you’ve already embraced, then you will think highly of me, and if I denounce what you love, then you will disregard anything else I say.  If the roles were reversed, say, and I were the anchor and the ideology the ship, then I could sway your opinion on the ideology.  That would require you to already hold me in high esteem and have a weaker, less firmly formed, opinion on the ideology.  What are the odds of that?  Most people reading this are going to be strangers to me.  The others won’t even realize they know me.  The effect is that anything I say will do more to affect how people who read this think of me than it will affect how people think of the topic at hand.  To remedy this, I could use the bully pulpit to send that point home, maybe speak from the authority of a scientist…and then I could lose my job.

The first rule of speech-making is to always know your audience.  In this case that is impossible.  Recklessly, I throw my thoughts, in all their naked honesty out for the world to see.  I do it because, by chance, some people will discover it with the prompting of God already at work in their lives, and this will be just another of the many ways that God uses to bring that message home.

More often than not, it will earn me a boatload of ridicule.  It is what it is.  Sometimes the anchor gets dragged through the mud.

The weakness of thinking in our culture is this propensity to let the experts do our thinking for us.  The experts will not suffer the consequences of our choosing to follow them.  We will.  For thousands of years, humanity has been led like sheep by the experts.  The experts were pagan priests, mollifying the many polytheistic gods.  Then the experts were Catholic priests, killing Christians for trying to build their own faith directly from the Bible, or, like that one famous Christian named Galileo, threatened with death for claiming that the Earth was round.  The experts love their power, and they fight like mad dogs to hold on to it.  Today’s experts are the Darwinists.  It’s the same story as always, just a different fable.  They show you a bone and tell you a story and all is well; only now, we are no longer expected to kiss that bone.  Perhaps even that will change.

Fighting the experts, today, is the same as always.  They are the anchor and we are the ship.  They carry more weight, and their reputation is more firmly grounded.  All we can do is struggle as we might, perhaps moving that anchor a little.  In the end, those of us left unsullied and unabused are simply not trying hard enough.


Everyone a Pastor

13 10 2010

Following a man has always been easier than following God.  Even so, he is still only a man.  If we closely emulate his strengths, then we may closely emulate his faults.  But, choose whom we will to follow, our leader never goes to Hell on our behalf.  He goes there for himself, and we go to our own fate.

Following a man has always been so much easier than taking responsibility for our own faith, that we have an innate tendency to venerate our spiritual leaders, as though they were anything better than just another lost soul.  He is but one man among peers.  We sent him off to get his education.  He returned to impart his wisdom to us.  If he taught us for an hour every Sunday, then we sat through fifty-two hours of sermons per year and five-hundred-twenty hours each decade.  By our early thirties, we would have listened to 15,600 solid hours of preaching.  If there were anything left for him to teach us that he had not already discussed, then we ought to dismiss him for his negligence.  We ought, by all rights, to have learned enough to be our own preachers.

Can you say “amen” to that?

To borrow the cliché, our man of the cloth is all too often more cloth than man.  He looks good in the pulpit, but his character tends to be shallow.  It is his fault for expecting to be the shepherd of his flock.  Only Christ is the shepherd.  It is our fault for putting him on a pedestal, as though the platform were raised for his honor, and not merely so that we could see him better.  We should call no man “father” except our Father in Heaven.  A pastor is a peer among equals.

When a layman commits adultery against his wife, we condemn him, but we are not shaken.  When a pastor does such a thing, our church splits, some leave that church, and some leave all church, entirely.  When a pastor falls, we are shaken.  Yet, a pastor is just a theologically educated member of the congregation.  But, so are we.

He distances himself from his people.  He needs that air of infallibility.  If he related to us as one of us, then we might see his faults.  We hold him in such a critical esteem, that his would be the first faults we found, even before our own.  Yet, he is only a man, and he is only human.  Considering the pressure, considering the lack of moral support, and considering the lack of mentoring, one might conclude that the pastor lives an act.  He must, even if he is sincere.  He lives the best that he can, and he hides the rest, or he loses his job.  Such is the fact of the matter.  In this, there grows a weakness.  Quite possibly the shakiest faith in the church is the one that stands behind the pulpit.  The weakest in the group stands to be the backbone.

The disparity between the pastor and the laity is a two-part problem.  Firstly, the pastor has no pastor.  The second problem is like the first, that the congregation has no congregation.  We do not work on Sunday, but the pastor might only work on Sunday.  We turn to him for guidance, but he has no one.  He does not sit in church every Sunday and listen to anyone’s sermon.  He is alone.  God is his only guidance.  Even so, God should be our guidance, also.  He is called to speak the truth, but so are we.  He is called to reach the lost, but we are, also.  We are pastors to a lost world, but we act like spectators.  Our message is as bad as our worship, being nothing but lip service, and only a lip service within the walls of the church building, at that.

We are the preachers who do not preach.  He is the laity that does not listen.  We have led him through his fear for our approval.  We have failed to follow, because we have not emulated him to the world.  We watch him like a television.  We sing a few songs.  We chat a little, and then we go home.

We are only peers among pastors.  No man is above us.  No one is beneath us.  We are all responsible for working out our own faith, with the fear and trembling of a man tottering above the flames of Hell.  Only one man has paid the price for us, and he isn’t the pastor.  Only I am responsible for finding my salvation.  We are in this together.  We are judged separately.

Every single one of us has some insight that you lack.  Every single one of us needs support that only you can give.  We are all pastors.  We are all laity.  We were all lost.  We are all found.

The Soapbox and the Train

16 05 2010

True story: a woman dropped her coat on the ground, just below a platform.  She climbed down to retrieve her coat, and some complete stranger jumped down and rudely shoved her, attempting to force her back onto the platform in a hurry.  Several bystanders stood there and watched.  In the next moment, he was dead, and she was critically injured, but alive.  All of this, because of a mere coat.  To save that material article, she climbed onto the subway tracks.  Then the man climbed onto the tracks to save her.  Most would say that the coat wasn’t worth it.  Some might even say that the woman wasn’t worth it.

But that was just a subway, and he tried by physical means.  It was only a matter of life and death, nothing more.  In another time and another place, a man stood on a soapbox and preached at a passing crowd.  This is also a true story.  He told the world that they were sinners and needed to repent.  He said that they needed Jesus.  He warned them that they were going to Hell.  A man with good intentions stopped to argue with him.  In fact, the man who wished to take him to task was no less than a pastor.  He asked the man on the soapbox why he was being so mean-spirited, why he didn’t just show people the love of God.  Fortunately, the man on the soapbox ignored him.

Let’s take the two true stories and merge them for the sake of analogy.  A woman drops her coat on the train tracks, and in a moment of carelessness, she places exceedingly high priority on a temporary piece of property at the expense of something far greater.  A coat is until the next paycheck, but death is forever.  A man on the platform yells and screams at her to abandon the coat and move to safety.  He warns her of impending doom.  The other people around him mostly do nothing, same as before.  One man stops and accuses him of being unloving, harsh and overly critical.  According to the detractor, all of this yelling and screaming is only bound to chase her farther onto the tracks.  “She’ll never come to safety if you keep on like that,” he says.  At some later time, we might even make the suggestion that the police come and arrest the shouter for “hate speech.”  The liberal says that a loving God would surely not let a train come and crush a person flat, simply because she followed her own tendencies.  What harm did she do anyone?  How did her actions justify the punishment?

Yet, God’s moral laws are no more flexible than his physical laws.  She stood on the tracks when the train came, and she was to be crushed by it.  We don’t fault the train.  We don’t fault God.  We place the blame squarely on the woman.  She should have known better.

There’s a popular little lie that makes its rounds among believers that we should, “preach the gospel to the world, using words, if necessary.”  Faith comes by hearing, and hearing comes by people speaking the message (Romans 10:17).  If no one speaks it, then no one is going to hear it.  Somehow, we are expected to simply be nice people, without ever really getting to the marrow of what we believe to be not only the truth, but a dire truth, at that.  In any other dire situation, we would be expected to go out of our way to convey the danger of the matter to the potential victims as quickly and as loudly as we possibly could.  Yet, somehow, when it comes to the only thing more important than life or death, being Heaven and Hell, we are expected to simply show people the love of God, without ever broaching the subject of the other person’s future of burning in Hell for all of eternity.

Focus on Heaven, they say.  Don’t scare them with the stuff about Hell.  So our victim is bending over to pick up her coat, and the man on the platform is calling to her seductively, telling her how wonderful it would be if she could stand up there on the platform with him, instead of being down there on the dirty old tracks, like that.  Her response?  Yes, of course it would be nice to stand on the platform, instead, but she’s going to get her coat first.  Yes, it would be nice to get into Heaven, but I’ve got time, and I’m going to enjoy life first.  In the end, the woman still gets crushed, but at least the man didn’t get hurt in the process.

That’s what it’s all about, anyway, isn’t it?  We try to win people to Christ in the way that is least likely to get us hurt.  The train comes.  We don’t mention it.  We act like there’s no hurry.  We behave as though there were no threat.  We even pass laws against telling people that they are going to be utterly destroyed if they don’t get out of harm’s way.  That’s hate speech.  But, love is not always polite.

Jesus was often rude.  He spent much time railing against the teachers who led people astray.  In his case, he was so determined to save a person, that, like the good fellow who tried to rescue the woman, he died trying.  As in that case, more often than not, Christ’s own attempts to save people are for naught.  In the end the train comes, and there is Hell to pay.  Even so, he still hopped down from his high place and died in the attempt.  Futile effort is better than the nightmare of having done nothing.

It doesn’t have to be futile, though.  There was always some slim chance that the person might be saved.  In fact, sometimes the hero is rewarded with another soul rescued, a life saved from imminent doom.  We are not that hero.  We are only asked to speak the warning from our place of relative safety.  Our job will not always be this easy.  For now, the bystanders only ridicule us for speaking of the train and the danger.  For now, we are only made to endure a little scorn.  The time is coming when the masses will drag us away and put us in prison, that the woman may remain on the tracks until her execution.  That is, they will do so if we continue to warn.  As it is, we mostly stand and stare, like an audience at a horror film.

And we think we are virtuous for our gentleness.

A Blaze for Glazed Eyes

7 04 2010

It’s a memory burned into my mind.  I was a little kid, watching television with my older brother and sister, when I noticed that I was the only one laughing at the punchlines.  I could imagine that the humor may not have been their style, but it begs the question as to why they were even watching it if they were not being entertained by it.  I glanced back at them and did a double-take.  They stared at the television in a hypnotic state.  Their eyes were glazed over, and they did not respond when I tried to talk to them.  This was a very creepy moment in my life.  I don’t know what it is about television that shuts people’s minds off, but I’ve heard it said that brain activity is actually greater in people who stare at a blank wall.  I have no trouble believing that.  People who watch comedies rarely laugh.  Even the laugh track is fake.  What impact does this have on us?

Every now and then we hear about how someone was brutalized in public, and no one even called the police, or how a beaten individual was left lying in the street, only to have people veer around the victim without stopping to help.  Life is just one big television to us.  No response is required.  At least, that’s a habit that we have developed.

So much so, when it comes to helping others.  More dangerously so, when it comes to helping ourselves.  I remember the first time I saw smoke in the distance, rising in the east.  There was nothing between our home and that smoke but an endless expanse of dry brush.  I wondered what could possibly stop its advance.  We made no preparations for escape.  Had it reached us, we could have lost everything.  Fortunately, it never got close.  But, we did not learn, and we were not ready the next time, either.

My next memory of that ominous cloud was to the north.  We speculated that it was a controlled burn.  We thought nothing of it.  The cloud got a little bigger, at first, but looked like it might stop altogether.  Near midnight, my mother woke me from bed, panicked.  She was telling me that we needed to evacuate.  I got up and wandered to the living room, lit eerily by the light of a fire, creeping over the nearest hill line like a blanket of lava, creeping toward our home.  Nothing lay between us but the only road out of there.  What did we do about it?  We sat there and watched it, of course.  We watched it come down to the road and stop.  Then we got in the car and drove around the perimeter of the fire, watching its advance.  At the time, the blaze was considered huge.  A mile west, it crossed the road that served as our fire break and started toward us.  For some reason, it just stopped.  Maybe it was the work of the fire crew, though they were almost entirely tied up with protecting some mansions directly in the path of the blaze.  We did not evacuate.  We were not even packed.  We had no plan at all.

The next major fire struck after I was married and moved away.  It passed my parents’ home narrowly on the south, way down at the bottom of a valley, with nothing to guard them but a two-lane highway.  The fire crew were absent.  They only stopped to warn my parents that they would not be able to do anything about it if it should come up the hill.  This was the scariest fire by far.  If the tiniest spark had crossed that road, it would have raced up the steep hillside and devoured my parents home in a moment.  And they were entirely unprepared.

All it would take is one careless driver, flicking a cigarette out the window, and there would be nothing to stop the blaze.

They were the hobby ranchers.  When disaster struck, they were left to beg friends to cross fire lines with horse trailers to save their horses.  They were left to pace and wring their hands and scramble to load their chickens, pig, rabbits, goats, sheep, dogs, parakeets, etc. into one minivan, plus whatever they could borrow.  It must have been like loading Noah’s Ark without the benefit of God’s guidance, or, for that matter, an ark.  The fire roared toward them, and it raced by them, and they watched it pass while talking on the telephone.  Nothing was ready to be saved, not even the humans.  In that same fire event, a similar woman died while waiting for someone to help her rescue her horses.  That could have been my parents’ fate, but for the mercy of God.  For that matter, it could have been my fate at one time.

The next fire that visited them was the one that got them. For the first time in their lives, they were finally prepared…mostly.  Their fire insurance company dropped them like a viper, and the next insurance agency was diligent enough to make them clear a wide swath around their home.  My father complained at the huge loss of plant life on their property, that such a large clearing would be required.  For the first time, ever, they had enough clearing to save their home and their barn.  They purchased a horse trailer.  They loaded the animals at the first sign of trouble.  They sorted and packed their most precious memorabilia.  They were ready, for once.  The only thing they had not accounted for was the fact that one horse was not accustomed to being in a trailer.  They still had to recruit the help of friends to force the horse into the conveyance.

They survived.  They got out before the blaze ripped through their property, burning everything flat for miles in all directions.  The most important structures survived.  My father laughed when he saw it, remembering his chagrin at having to clear so much brush, before.  It was all cleared, now, for miles.

The next blaze….

The next blaze will be an even bigger blaze.  No fire line will stop it.  No water will quench it.  It will burn forever, and hardly anyone will be prepared for it.  The preparation is simple.  The safety is reachable.  Yet, I somehow think that we will still all find ourselves staring at the approaching disaster, like we stared at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, or the earthquake at Haiti, or the tsunami at Sri Lanka.  We watch the world go by like we watch television.  We have become accustomed to the idea that no response is required.  The next blaze comes for everyone, urban and rural, in all manner of terrain, in any season.  The next blaze is Hell, and it will catch, is catching, the entire world unprepared.  A physical fire can destroy an entire town, yet people do not think that the spiritual one is any threat to them.  At least, they do not think it a threat to them, in particular.  So scary is the fire that destroys the body, and so fictional seems the fire that destroys souls.  When it comes, there will be no time to prepare.

I know people who get an external hard drive with automatic backup, and they think themselves prepared.  I ask them if they know how to use it, and they say they use it regularly.  I tell them that it’s fine that they know how to use it when nothing is going wrong, but do they know how to use it when their computer crashes?  Then, when the computer actually crashes, they have no idea how to recover their data, even with it all stored right there on the backup drive.  The disk is boot-able, but they don’t know how to boot from it.  In the end, surprisingly, they seem to “lose” their data just as though they had not safeguarded it.

Get ready.  No, seriously, get ready.  The barn will burn and the animals will roast.  Are you going to be ready for that disaster?  Are you really going to be ready, or are you relying on a false sense of security?  Every land has its natural disasters.  Every person gets to stare into the pit of Hell.  So few are ever ready for it when it comes.

Life is a hobby ranch and we are the ranchers.  Life is a television and we are the viewers.  We do not take it seriously enough to be truly prepared.  We hardly take it seriously enough to be truly entertained.  God, help us, for we gaze upon the blaze with glazed eyes.

A Mirror Among the Ugly

16 01 2010

How do you tell someone that he’s ugly?  You do it very, very gently.  If you’re his friend, then you’ll probably never tell him.  If you’re his mother, then you’ll lie.

They live in a house without mirrors.  Over the bathroom sink hangs a picture of the Mona Lisa.  On the bedroom door hangs a full-length picture of Audrey Hepburn.  They brush their teeth and shave in front of these images, making believe that they are really seeing themselves in a mirror.  They eat breakfast with tarnished silverware, and they drive to work with the rearview mirror adjusted away to avoid accidentally seeing themselves.  Unfortunately for them, their workplace is an uncontrolled environment.  They can’t help but occasionally glimpse themselves, reflected in the bathroom mirror or a shiny surface.  They are the ugly.  They are everyone.

 Within everyone grows an innate evil, an ugliness that we try not to look at.  We do not, cannot, see ourselves for whom we really are, because we live our lives from the inside out.  A thing seems right because we want it.  A thing seems wrong until we do it.  Our house has no mirrors.  At work, people see us, and they react to what they see.  It shows us some reflection of ourselves.  But they only see us on the outside.  They are the reflection of our fully clothed selves, and we look away from that image, even.  We are as beautiful as we like to think we are.  So long as we never see ourselves, we can live in that fantasy.  All who know us may see us as arrogant jerks, but we remain unaffected.  We avert our eyes.  We break the mirror.  We try to buff the ugliness out of the shine.  We blame the lighting.

 God has sent to us a full-length mirror, and we stand naked before it.  It is the Holy Spirit, and it shows us what we are.  The fools among us shudder and walk away, trying desperately to forget what they saw.  Some of us stand and stare in shock for a while, only to convince ourselves that what we see isn’t so bad.  Others accept the image, realizing that they do not rise above the ugliness of the world around them.  Your Mom was ugly.  Your Dad was ugly.  You followed the trend.  Your friends are ugly.  Your dog is ugly.  At least the whole world is ugly, too. 

 But God has not sent this mirror simply to make us feel bad about ourselves.  We need that mirror in order to change what we can.  We use it so that we might not walk out the door with toothpaste in the corners of our mouths.  We use it to improve ourselves.

 Cooper’s Looking Glass Self is the principle that even when we look in a mirror, we do not see ourselves for what we are.  All we see is some person staring blankly at a mirror.  We use other people’s reactions to us to shape our self-image.  They see us in a natural setting, smiling naturally, reacting naturally.  Unfortunately, our friends usually don’t tell us everything we need to know about ourselves.  They’re often not brave enough to tell us when we’re behaving badly.  Worse yet, our ugliness gets filtered through theirs.  All we see is any extra ugliness that exceeds theirs.  Anyone who shows us the wickedness of our ways we malign and ignore.  We refuse the image they show us of ourselves, because we do not like it.  It does not fit what we’d like to imagine.

 Christians are often accused of being judgmental.  This, more often than not, is a complete lie.  We have been through that fire, are still going through it, being shown our flaws in painful high-definition by the mirror of the Holy Spirit.  We don’t have the luxury of living our fantasy.  Those of us who haven’t gone through it are those who do not have the Holy Spirit, and, therefore, have not really accepted Christ.  If you want to play that role and be that Christian, then you’re going to look in that mirror, and you’re going to go through that fire.  You get to peer into that image and see that wart, that pimple and that crooked nose.  You get to see your arrogance, your selfishness and your shallowness.  On the plus side, you get to work on fixing it.  You don’t have to stay that way.  On the minus side, you can’t pretend you’re beautiful, when you’re not.  It’s no wonder the world calls us judgmental.  In us they see a reflection of themselves, shining off of the sheen cast by the work of God in our lives.  They will look upon us, and they will hate what they see.

 We did, too, at one time.  Some of us still do.  No one is perfect.

 So, how do you tell a man that he’s ugly?  If you want to be his friend, then you don’t.  He won’t brush his hair if he doesn’t know it’s a mess.  He won’t pluck the dangling booger from his nose if he doesn’t know that it’s there.  In fact, anything true is potentially useful.  People don’t use truth to hurt themselves.  We reflect upon people by hinting at them what they really are.  The Holy Spirit reflects like a mirror, abruptly and plainly, holding nothing back and sugarcoating nothing, but neither does he mean any of it for harm or insult.  Likewise, we should speak the truth in love, gently, not to insult but only to help.

 In return, we can expect to be thrown to the floor and stomped on.  Such is the life of a mirror among the ugly.

Tilting at Windmills

17 11 2009

Mr. Buck was a brave fellow, to be commended for his vigilance, warding off impostors and guarding the herd.  One should wonder what would happen if he had used his seven-point antlers to defend against actual predators, rather than other elk.  He fought off the weaker bucks, those endowed with fewer points and a lower crown.  He tolerated nothing but the best for the does: himself.  Then he encountered a defiant one, a buck made of concrete.  They fought through the night, neither acquiescing to the other.  At dawn, the morning’s sunlight found them both lying on the ground, dead as a doornail.

He is the vigilant Christian, defender of the truth, the one who sniffs out heresy and exposes it.  He is dutiful, a credit to his faith.  We can hardly criticize such a person.  He does the Lord’s work.  But while he spends his hours weeding out the so-called Christians who use indelicate language or misread scripture, the world lies in wait.  They are the predators who seek to destroy us.  They are the greater threat, who seek ways to marginalize us, hide us, outlaw us, or even kill us.  While the world picks us off, Mr. Buck uses his seven points of theological prowess, not against the predator, but against other believers.  May the strongest theology prevail.

No, there is no wrong in the refinement of our understanding of God’s word; quite the contrary.  No, there is no vice in seeking to banish those who would poison the faith.  It is a virtue that most do not have.  However, as with most things, such vigilance can go too far.  Not only can it narrow our focus to those who profess to be believers, blinding us to the larger threat, but it also stands to pit us against a false threat.  Once in the habit, we can find fault in anyone.  This Christian used the word “piss,” when he should have said, “pee.”  Nay, he should have said “urinate.”  No, he should have used a code word, like “do number one.”  Bother, he should not have mentioned it at all.  Never mind that he’s trapped in the back of your car and barely holding on to his dignity.

This person baptized his infant.  Why, that’s not Biblical!  These people celebrate Christmas, a Catholic holiday that good protestants should avoid.  The Charismatics force acts of the Holy Spirit that have an eerie disturbing nature.  The Northern Baptists have emasculated God, giving him no room to work a single miracle.  The Calvinists blame God for everything.  The Lutherans act and talk just like Catholics.  The list goes on and on.

I did a little experiment, once.  I wanted to see how much evil one could pin against my blog if a person wanted to make a pariah out of me.  I was rather startled at how easy it would be.  Am I cutting my own throat in mentioning it?  I probably am.  Any of those people whom I am describing would certainly take this and run with it.  Therefore, I would start by saying that none of the following was intentional, nor does it imply anything about me.

1)  The name, Nonaeroterraqueous could be abbreviated to NATAs, or Satan, spelled backward.  I’m serious, folks.  This was never my intention.

2)  The name is eighteen letters long.  Eighteen is the sum of the digits 666.

3)  The symbol looks like three sixes put together (again, that was not the original intent).

4)  The symbol resembles the binary number 1110, which translates to the number eighteen, the sum of the digits 666.*

5)  The author’s name is Mark (that’s me), which sounds a lot like the mark of the beast.  Didn’t Revelation mention that the mark could be the Antichrist’s name?

Hopefully I didn’t just kill myself.  In fact, I probably did.  In truth, I’ve just given ammunition to the very people I want to address today.  If you found these reasons sufficient to condemn my site, then you are tilting at windmills.  You are clashing antlers with a concrete foe.  The enmity is purely imaginary.  There is nothing to it.  I know, because it is my own site.  I know what my own meaning is.  But you know what I’m getting at.  We’ve all encountered people who could read an evil meaning into every symbol and every mysterious word, and extract and twist condemning evidence from anything a person says or does.  I know what it’s like, because I used to be such a person.  I could be very good at this.

Christians come in two extremes.  There are those who would permit anything, and those who look to condemn almost anything.  The first group is wrong, but it isn’t what I’m discussing at the moment.  The second group is among my friends, and I don’t want them to self-destruct against imaginary enemies.  Our religion can either explode or implode.  Either we can destroy ourselves by including doctrine from every external system, or we can destroy ourselves by ripping apart anyone who believes anything unscriptural, or anyone who does anything even remotely questionable.

Argyle socks?  How worldly!  It’s the dress of heathens.

Saxophones in church?!  Those are the instruments of brothels!  (and how do we know this?)

Your skirt shows your knees!  That woman is wearing pants!

That preacher is a Post-Tribulationist!  That deacon thinks we have to be baptized to be saved!

Heretics!  The church is full of heretics!

Forgive me for my heresy.  I humbly beg it of you.  I cannot, nor will I ever, have a theology that is anything but wrong to some degree or another.  No one on this planet has a perfect theology.  No form of Christianity is entirely correct.  That which unites us is Christ, and no other.  It is his death and resurrection that brings us everlasting life, such that anyone who puts faith in him will not ultimately perish but have everlasting life.  He didn’t come into this world to condemn us.  Don’t do what Christ would not do.  He came that the world, through him, might be saved.

Lead the world to Christ.  Let Christ be the one to complete his work in us.  I humbly beg it of you.

*Correction: 1110 is binary for 14.  10010 is binary for 18…not that it matters much.

Losing Face

26 10 2009

facesIt was the springtime of hope, when the curtain of despair was promising to lift.  A near decade of depression was on its last leg.  I found myself sitting on a short wall, enjoying the warmth of the morning sun on my back as the sparrows chattered wildly in a nearby hedge.  It was a great day to be alive, and I thought nothing could spoil it.  As fate would have it, along came one of those people I call by the title of Hostage Taker (but never to the person’s face), for whom conversation is a performance art, requiring nothing more than herself and an inanimate telephone pole.  Such people never seem to notice or care whether the person with whom they are speaking is actually engaging in the conversation.  If one wanted to be left alone, such people would continue prattling heedlessly.

On this day, my self-appointed hostage taker was otherwise known as Anna.  She was a rather energetic individual with an overzealous enthusiasm for all things positive.  On her first day at college, she was probably the most noticeable person in the chapel service, bouncing and singing with more force than anyone else.  Being the cynical, negative person that I was, I looked upon this as odd, at best, or downright silly, at worst.  See, for the previous nine years, I had developed this theory that, deep down inside, all people in the world were really just miserable unhappy wretches.  I wondered if more people might be apt to kill themselves if the process weren’t so horrible.  Now, of course there were people who seemed happy.  To the people who were only occasionally happy, I attributed a temporary case of serendipity.  The others, I figured, were complete frauds.  Deep inside the heart of every person I imagined a gnawing hungry angst.  It didn’t help that a friend had scolded me for being unhappy and insisted that I act happy to make other people feel good.  She was the daughter of a rather important political figure, so I chalk it up to her warped upbringing.

This Anna, though, was a different case, altogether.  Her perspective was that God wanted all Christians to be ecstatically happy, mostly to the point of apoplexy.  Non-Christians were supposed to look at us and see our joy and want to be just like us.  I didn’t say a word for the entire conversation, hoping that she would leave me to my sun and sparrows.  Okay, so I have a stoic disposition, even when I’m happy.  I’ve been in a state of bliss, only to have someone ask me what’s wrong.  So, I don’t wear my emotions on my sleeve.  Even so, I felt rather insulted that she would imply that I looked downcast, or that I should fake it and act happy.

“…so even when I’m sad, I put on a happy face, because God rewards a cheerful person, and pretty soon he’ll make me happy inside, too.”

And in the meantime, you tell a lie to the world with your face.  See, there are more ways to lie than with direct verbal contradictions of truth.  In fact, there are more ways to lie than with words.  I don’t know anyplace in the Bible that says that God will make us insanely happy all of the time, or that we should trick the world into thinking we’re happy.  The Bible does, however, tell us not to lie.  Jesus didn’t dance for joy on the mount of olives as he waited for his execution.  He wept and wailed, and he probably gave himself a degree of  heart failure while he was at it.  He was a man of sorrows, visiting a fallen world.

The world does not need to see another smiling face.  It needs to see the truth.  The truth is that, while I haven’t met an unbeliever who could adequately differentiate between joy and happiness, I haven’t met a Christian who couldn’t.  I have been sad, yet felt the abiding joy of the Lord.  There’s a distinct difference.  The joy goes deeper.  Yet, we are all occasionally sad.  To be otherwise is to be insensitive and uncaring.  It is to be a pretentious fraud.  Once people get wind of the idea that the smile is just a façade, then there is nothing stopping the imaginations of the despairing from believing, as I did, that all people are really miserable, if the truth be told.  Prove yourself a liar, and everything you do will be suspect.

But, why lie?  Do we have this notion that God instills an overflowing happiness in everyone who puts their faith in Christ?  If this is true, then we don’t need to lie with our faces.  If this is false, then we need to change our doctrine.  But the individual doubts himself.  An individual woman looks at her mundane state of existence and thinks that she has fallen short, having failed to achieve that bliss.  The smile is the bandage that covers the gaping wound of which she is so ashamed.  In that respect, Anna was trying to help me, like telling a man that the zipper on his fly is down, or that he has toothpaste stuck in the corner of his mouth.  My unenthusiastic demeanor was showing.  I was letting slip my failure as a Christian.

Now, the most ironic thing happened just a few days later.  Anna awoke one morning with a palsy in her face.  The entire left side of her face went limp as a wet rag.  I don’t know about anyone else, but I would be in a state of uncontrolled panic if that ever happened to me.  Without a doubt, this would be a test of her resolve to put on a happy face, even in times of trouble.  She declared with half a smile that God would heal her.  She was determined to stay happy and trust God.  While half of her face lied, the other half, the one that no longer worked, told the truth.  One side had a foolish grin, and the other side was the picture of despair.  We were sitting at a table in the college cafeteria, and everyone at that table froze in the middle of eating to stare at the half-happy half-sad face.  It was very disturbing.  Anna let loose with a sigh, like the truth was bottled up inside her and the pressure had to be released.

In the days that followed, she slowly lost her resolve.  As time marched on, the two sides of her face began to match each other.  She had lost face.  I can only imagine what it must have been like, waking up each morning to that discouraging image in the mirror.  She couldn’t even fool herself with a forced smile.  The one trying event had come that she could not smile her way through.  Slowly, she was learning to express an honest emotion.  God had not decreed that all Christians be happy all of the time, but he had stated that we must be honest.

I was told at an early age that God uses adversity to teach us his ways.  Consequently, I tried, or thought I tried, to learn and understand these things so as to avoid the impending trouble.  I know that he has used hardship to teach me, and I can see clearly how he used it to teach Anna.  We science students, especially those of the pre-med disposition, looked upon her as a case study.  Though I was not around to see her recover from her ailment, I do believe that she probably recovered fully in a month or two.

From then on, I decided that I would never, unless posing for a picture, and maybe not even then, fake a smile.  I want the world to see me happy, but, more importantly, I want to be honest, and I want to actually be happy.  Incidentally, I consider my life to be a very pleasant experience, over-all.

At the moment, I am happy.  I could use an apple fritter and a cup of coffee, but otherwise, I’m doing just fine.