Stony Soil; of Love and Listlessness

4 02 2012

Alda is the nicest little old lady I know, and, honestly, I have trouble even calling her a little old lady, even though she is little, and she is, technically, old.  She’s got the liveliness of someone years younger.  One day, while we were in the kitchen chatting, she told my wife and I that though she had loved her late husband for many years, she never was really in love with him.  They treated each other lovingly, but the emotional appeal wasn’t really there.  She told us that she wanted to remarry, to have a chance to be deeply in love with someone.  She said she wanted a marriage like ours.  Now, my wife and I have been married for years; we are definitely not newlyweds, but I would certainly say that we are still very much in love.  It’s really just a matter of emotion.

Some couples are just married and some are just married.  Either they’re just married, as in recently married, or they’re just married, as in not living life to the fullest, content with just being married.  It’s a rotten stereotype, and it’s not always true.  While I’ll grant that the happiest married couples are generally the ones who still have rice in their hair, marriage really does get an unfair treatment.

First comes the infatuation, then the disillusionment, and then comes the “mature” love, which essentially boils down to treating each other fairly and raising kids together, without all of that emotional impetus that got them together in the first place.  In other words, marriage has a nasty habit of turning into something more like a business agreement.  It’s a convenient way to have a warm body in bed, and it’s a stable arrangement for rearing children.  It would seem that romance was nothing but a bait-and-switch trick of the hippocampus.  Does marriage always follow this course?

You see, I have to ask, because the relationship of the church to Christ is that of a bride.  The nature of a marriage parallels our relationship with our savior.  Consequently, Christians often go through the same stages in their pursuit of the faith that many couples endure over their years as spouses.  Jesus likened faith to a farmer casting seed around his land.  Some of the seed landed on the path and never took root.  Some landed on the stony soil and sprouted quickly but never took deep enough root to survive.  Some seed grew among thorns and got choked out by the weeds.  Then, there was the successful seed.  In the application to marriage, the seed that lands on the path is the unrequited love.  You courted her, but she was not interested.  You flirted with him, and he moved on to greener pastures.  Likewise, God courts some of us, and he is shunned outright.  The love is never reciprocated.

Then, there is the seed that lands among the thorns.  You fell in love.  You married and raised a family.  Then, the effort of raising kids, maintaining two incomes, maintaining outside relationships, maintaining the house, etc. all worked toward alienating you from the one you married.  The weeds, the distractions, grew between you, and you found yourself married to a stranger.  Similarly, the act of being a Christian and doing Christian things, coupled with all of the other distractions of life can add up to finding yourself a stranger to God.  You find that you’re still going through the motions, but that romance, the initial emotion that drew you into a relationship to begin with, is gone.

And then…there are the stony marriages.  The infatuation is there.  The feeling is intense, but it goes no deeper than a feeling.  After the initial thrill wears off, there’s no substance to hold the marriage together.  It withers and dies.  This is, really, the three-step marriage cycle most commonly described by the psychologists.  Just because you found a way to get along and keep the marriage going, doesn’t make it a success.  The romance is dead.  You love, but you’re no longer in love.  The common belief is that this is truly mature love.  This is correct.  It is mature love, but that doesn’t make it ideal love.  The common parallel to spiritual life can be found among charismatics.  The charismatic church is, by far, the best at evangelizing, at bringing unbelievers into the fold.  The non-charismatic or even anti-charismatic church seems more largely composed of those who either grew up in that kind of church or switched over from a more charismatic church after becoming disillusioned.  Their view of the charismatic faith is that such faith is shallow, lacking in substance, development, commitment and wisdom.  Very often, they’re absolutely correct.  Charismatic faith is saturated with feeling and emotion, and it is very often not backed up by anything more substantive.  The seed fell on the stony soil and sprouted rapidly, but it never found any depth.  They fall in love, and then they get bored or fall out of love.  Then, very often, they leave.

Contrary to the anti-charismatic opinion, though, the emotional appeal of charisma is not a weakness.  That’s actually the strength of it.  The weakness is the lack of depth.  The seed was not faulty because it sprouted quickly.  The seed was faulty because it never gained any depth.  Charismatics are not to be faulted for their emotional drive.  The lack of emotion is the weakness of the other side.  We ought not to curse the stem for the lack of roots, when the stem is the only thing going right.  Similarly, disappointed and cynical failures at romance ought not to criticize the young lovers for being  infatuated.  The young lovers are the ones who really have a good thing going.  There’s really no reason to aim for unfeeling marriage.  The real fault of young love is that it often does not have the depth to remain in the beautiful and glorious state that it’s already in.  Emotional love is the goal, the thing to be aimed for.  It is not the error of the immature.  Falling out of that state is the error of the immature.

The real aim of a successful marriage is to sprout that romance and grow it, keeping it alive and well by developing the depth necessary to weather good and bad days, the ups and the downs in life, and yet never cease to be in love, not just loving.  The aim is to be permanently infatuated.  After all, some seed does fall on the fertile soil.  It sprouts up like the seed among thorns and the seed among stones, but the difference is that it stays that way.  The other two don’t.  The former charismatic looks back on the emotional thrill ride of that former life as an empty shell.  He thinks he is wiser, and he’s right.  He is wiser, but he lost the romance in the process.  His marriage to the faith is still loving, but he is no longer in love.  He went through all of the stages of marriage, from infatuation, through disillusionment, to “maturity.”  But he is now a cynic.  Those three stages are the phases of the stony soil faith.  He won’t pray for healing.  Why?  Because he no longer believes.  He won’t seek out prophecy, because he no longer believes.  It’s in the Bible, quite clearly, but he still rejects it, and he rejects it on the basis of being a Bible-only believer, ironically.

The former charismatic says she was not saved because of the charismatic church, but in spite of it.  That’s like saying she didn’t get married because she fell in love, but in spite of it.  This is patently false.  She could blame the charismatic church for not giving her the tools to become strong in the faith, but she could never claim that the passion and excitement of faith, of real mountain-moving faith, repelled her from that faith.  We all come to Christ by falling in love.

It’s not common, especially these days, to find an old married couple, still holding hands and casting adoring sidelong glances at each other after half a century of marriage.  It’s not common, but it happens.  I wish it would happen to us all.





Dipolar Christianity

9 01 2012

For those who weren’t paying attention, over the years the Christian faith has largely split into two camps, the highly charismatic, and the cessationists.  It used to be that we identified ourselves along the lines of protestant and Catholic, but in places where that battle has come to a truce, more or less, we’ve come to divide ourselves along the line distinguishing ourselves between those who expect God to work miracles every day and those who think that all miracles died with Jesus and failed to rise again.  Unbelievers like the first group, because they’re easy to mock, and they like the second group, because that form of Christianity is so dead that it poses no real threat to secular normalcy.

Before the old protestant-Catholic battle, there was the Catholic-orthodox conflagration.  Before that, it was the Christian versus the Jew.  With the earliest split, the Jews were the persecutors, and the conflict ended when a third party, Rome, trampled all over Judea and made the Jewish divine privilege look like a bankrupt gentleman’s club.  Then the Catholics split from the Eastern Orthodox, and the Catholics became the persecutors during the crusades.  Then the protestants split from the Catholics, and the Catholics were still the persecutors.  We can thank Napoleon for confining the Vatican to a tiny little plot of apolitical territory.  Since that emasculation, we’ve only found our nemesis in the Anglican Church (the other papacy), which persecuted people as power in England shifted back and forth between the Catholics and the Anglicans between the times of Henry the Eighth and Queen Elisabeth, and the Episcopalians (the other Anglican church), which brought us the glorious Salem witch trials.  Are we done yet?

One would think that we could be done with dividing ourselves into fundamental opposition.  Here, in the United States, the Catholic church has no power to persecute.  The Orthodox barely exist.  The Jews control the media (just kidding).  Actually, Jewishness has lost its cultural identity to such an extent these days, that they could hardly be considered a social force at all, anymore.  These should be the golden days of Christendom, but we apparently seem addicted to culling the herd and refining our social set to the true faith.

On the one hand, we have the Vineyard, the Assemblies of God, the Foursquare Church, etc., along with some really wild charismatic offshoots, doing their best to promote glossolalia, prophecy and miraculous healing.  On the other hand, we have all of the old-school mainstream churches such as the Methodists, Wesleyan and the Northern Baptists taking the tamest and safest route to faith, which is to say that God ignores you until you die (until he kills you), and then suddenly he becomes your benefactor and your very best friend, ushering you into Heaven.

If I had no clue which were true, I would have to say that I would rather be a Charismatic and be wrong than be a cessationist and be wrong.  I would rather live with the hope and faith that God still intervenes in our lives and performs encouraging miracles along the way, even if I’m wrong, than believe that Christ abandoned us when he ascended into Heaven, and be wrong.  At least, if I’m a charismatic, I have hope.  If I’m a cessationist, then I lean upon the arm of an apathetic God.  I would least want to be a cessationist and be right.

If nothing else, at least the charismatics have the guts to stick their necks out and make themselves an easy target.  The other extreme believes in little more for this life than does the unbeliever.  It’s easy to say that we can expect nothing miraculous until after the grave, because it can never be tested or verified.  This is really just a lame excuse for faith.  The faith of the believer approximates the faith of the unbeliever, and that’s nothing to live by.

On the other hand, because the charismatics do stick their necks out and stand for the miraculous, the result is that we’ve had a lot of rolling heads over the years.  We have the miraculous speaking of other languages (glossolalia), and those languages often don’t exist, and often, just based on what’s being articulated, the person could hardly be speaking more than repetitive gibberish, anyway.  We have notorious cases of miraculous “healing” that did little more than prevent the victim from seeking conventional medicine, even to the point of death.  We’ve had outrageous preachers who blaspheme, distort and self-aggrandize.  In short, charisma has come to be synonymous with sensationalism.

The truth of the matter is that in a side-by-side comparison, the charismatic movement will always provide plenty more fodder for debunking.  They get it wrong and they blunder several times a day, globally.  The cessationists never prove wrong, because they never stand for anything.  Claims can’t be false if they’re never made.  The positive assertion is always the riskiest assertion.  The skeptic’s position is the easy one, in all respects.  It’s always easier to sit back and poke holes in the opponent’s claims than to stand up and make a positive assertion about anything.  Ambitious people fail more often than the lazy, because they try more often.  Professional sportsmen fail more often than the armchair quarterback, because they play more often.  Hence, charismatics make fools of themselves, and the cessationists do not.

If we take the Bible at its word, then miracles do still happen.  It’s exactly as the charismatics say, but it is not necessarily as often, or under the same circumstances.  Of a thousand prophecies, one may actually be true.  Of a hundred-thousand speakings of an angelic language, maybe one is genuine and useful for teaching a person of the gospel.  All it takes is one example of a genuine miracle, and the cessationist is proven wrong.  He is not proven right every time the charismatic offering comes to naught.

Personally, I understand both sides, and I respect both to a great degree.  One is hopeful, and the other is rational.  One runs blindly, and the other convinces himself that he sees nothing.  I would love to see both sides in the same church, waiting patiently and expectantly for the move of the Holy Spirit, not daring to make it happen by their own will, and not daring to condemn it out of hand.

My brother, a charismatic preacher, once asked me if my church was the kind where the Holy Spirit moved, or whether it was one that didn’t believe in the work of God.  I said, “Neither one.”  Then he asked me if it was the kind that believed in the work of the Holy Spirit, but was essentially dead, waiting around for something that never happened.  He believed it to be the saddest kind of church.  Oh, but it was not that at all.  It was the most honest kind of church.  It was the kind that refused to prevent the work of the Spirit either by faking it or by dismissing it before it even happened.  It was a church that remained on the verge of something big.

What the church needs today is not a hyper-rational sect of witch-hunters tearing down the charismatic movement.  It would be better to die young than to discourage and dismay the body of Christ, first.  What the church needs is not a three-ring-circus miracle roadshow, condemning the cessationists for their lack of faith.  The only thing worse than a lack of miracles is disillusioning believers through exposed farce.  Personally, I would love to see more miracles in the church, today, but I want it to be real, and nothing less.

What we really don’t need is another religious split, but that’s what we might get if we don’t treat each other with gentleness and respect, not for having perfect theology, but for being a child of God.





Invalid Syllogism; working backward and getting lost

19 04 2010

If you follow the stream downhill from camp, point A,  then you get to the same place we got to, point B. We followed the stream downhill from camp, which is why we are here.

It stood to reason that following the stream assured a predictable path of travel.  If they followed the stream away from camp, then they could follow the stream back to camp.  While it is true that anyone who followed that stream with the current would eventually end up where they were, it was not true that anyone from where they were could follow the stream against its current to arrive back at camp.  Traveling downhill, the tributaries were all convergent.  If the stream split at all, then it always merged again a little further down.  Thus, one could reliably follow that stream and overtake anyone else who also followed that stream.  They would not veer from the path.  However, while the tributaries are convergent on the way down, they are divergent on the way back up.  What this means is that a person not paying close attention to the forks in the stream might not remember which one to follow going back.  In fact,  two members of our camping group did that very thing.  Traveling downstream was deceptively easy, as there were no decisions to make.  There is always only one downstream.  However, traveling upstream has its alternatives.  There are often multiple ways to go upstream.  The result of this was that at the end of the trip, when the pair never returned, Search And Rescue had to be called.  In attempting to work their way back to the beginning, they got hopelessly lost.

In social interaction, this very same kind of mistake is often made regarding the interpretation of other people’s actions.  For example, if I do not like you, then I will be reluctant to spend any time with you.  Let’s say I do not like you.  Therefore it stands to reason that if you invite me to your party that I will do my best to avoid going.  This is a valid line of reasoning, but I am already privy to my own motivation.  I didn’t really need to reason it out to know what I was going to do.  The real deduction comes from the person who is trying to figure out why I did not attend his party.  I was invited, but I said I was busy.  I was invited again, but I was still unable to attend.  Yet again, I was invited, but I still found a reason to decline.  The other person observes that I seem reluctant to attend his parties.  He knows very well that if I dislike him, then I will try to avoid attending his parties.  Therefore, he concludes that I do not like him.  However, working forward was like traveling downstream, and working backward was like traveling upstream.  While one motivation yields a predictable result, the motivation is not necessarily predictable from the result.  I don’t attend his parties, because he serves alcohol, and I am uncomfortable around it.  I don’t attend his parties, because he plays the music too loud.  I don’t attend his parties, because I have really bad flatulence, and I’m afraid of embarrassing myself.  I don’t attend his parties, because I’m infatuated with his sister, but I’m so shy that I’m afraid to be around her.  I don’t attend his parties, because I’m a very busy person with very many obligations, and I really have no time to attend.  Working backward from the response to the motivation, our lines of causation are divergent.  We may never really know why a person seems to avoid us, unless that person tells us, and maybe not even then.

But we put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, and we imagine the circumstances that would have gotten us from the motivation to the outcome, and we use that to determine what the motivation was.  Generally, we choose the conclusion that involves the fewest specifics, the details that we could never guess, or else we choose the conclusion with the most egocentric basis, the one that pertains specifically to me.  I don’t know what goes on inside your head, and I don’t know what goes on in your life, so my understanding of you is limited to generalizations that could apply to anybody.  I don’t have any way of knowing that you are overwhelmed with the burden of raising your kids.  I might have guessed it, but if I am not, or have not been, in a similar situation, then I might not understand.  What I can apply to anyone who knows me is that they have an opinion of me.  Add to that the fact that my whole world revolves around myself, I’m far more likely to assume that your behavior has something to do with me.

Tracing back a person’s behavior to that person’s motivation is tricky, so long as that person is not me.  It gets trickier if that person is from a different culture.  In Japan, the open expression of anger is greatly suppressed.  Therefore, it finds its way out in very subtle ways.  This passive-aggressive behavior often tries to say, “I hate you,” through the little things in life, like a drawer left open, or a dish left unwashed, or a task performed slowly.  Understanding the Japanese mindset requires amplifying their actions.  An American missionary to Japan once told me that her roommate confronted her for hating her.  She was shocked that her roommate thought she hated her.  The evidence for this animosity amounted to a number of trivial things that had nothing to do with the American’s feelings for the Japanese friend.

In contrast, the Russians are known for being painfully blunt with their feelings.  If a Russian hates you, then that person will likely tell you.  You simply don’t need to guess.  Consequently, I find that Eastern Europeans are generally easier for me to get along with, as my reticence does not cause them to wonder if I dislike them.

A Japanese man once invited me to dinner for the sole purpose of deliberately making wrong turns on the way there, spending the entire time trying to tell me not to be a racist (I couldn’t convince him that I wasn’t), and making me pay the bill (which I could not afford).  I barely knew the man, but he had decided in the few minutes that I had known him that I simply did not like him.  The dinner was his way of getting back at me.  For the life of me, I cannot fathom what I did wrong.  All I had done was sit in the same room with him for a few minutes without engaging in conversation.  He took that as an expression of dislike, I suppose.

Relating to different cultures is relatively easy, compared to relating to different species.  Sometimes people get bit by their own dogs because they hug the dog around the neck, putting themselves over the dog’s shoulders.  To us, it is an act of affection, but to the dog it is an assertion of dominance.  Some dogs don’t mind.  Some retaliate.  When dogs fight, the winner proclaims its victory by putting its head upon the other’s shoulders or over the other’s neck.  When a dog does it, the motivation is one thing, but when a person does it, the motivation is another.

Relating to other species is easy, compared to relating to something as vastly different as God.  What goes on in the mind of an omniscient God is an endless enigma.  The reasoning behind any action could have such a vast array of possible causes and motivations, that understanding him becomes an almost hopeless Gordian knot.  Most often the best answer to why God did something is, “I don’t know.”  As is generally the case, we tend to overlook the many details that we could never guess, and we opt for the explanation that relates most directly to ourselves.  A bad thing happens to me, and I conclude that God must not like me.  In so doing, I may have followed the stream uphill, and been misdirected to a tributary that went another way.  The fact is that I don’t know why bad things happen to me.  I might never guess the feelings he has for me, unless he tells me.

I used to think that the Bible was a form letter.  It seemed like a generic letter of love written to everyone, in general.  Then, it seemed like a store-bought greeting card, written by someone else for no one in particular, given to me by a God who loves me.  People are very egocentric.  If a speaker gets on stage, smiles and says, “I like you people,” they take it personally and impute that the speaker really does like them.  In truth, no such assessment could hold any meaning.  The entire group cannot be evaluated like an individual.  The same seems to hold true for God’s love expressed to us in the Bible.  In this we are at a crossroads.  If we ask, “Does God really love me?” we are left with life’s circumstances, which tell us nothing, and a Bible not written specifically for any particular person.  Tracing God’s actions backward to his motivations is an impossible task.  Without the moving of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, without God simply telling us in his own way, we are at a loss.

Jesus loves me,

This I know,

For the Bible tells me so.

Jesus loves me, this I know, because he told me so, himself.  The Bible tells me that he loves the world (John 3:16), and I need his Spirit to make it personal.





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.





Epignosis

14 11 2009

bowlby's monkeyIf I had not known better, if I had to look at this world without the aid of scripture and verse, I would have likely been sucked into the brainwashing influences of atheistic public education.  Then again, perhaps not.  The complexity of life on this Earth is amazing.  It screams of an intelligent designer, especially when disorder is the juggernaut that trumps all.  I do make arguments for the existence of a Creator, but it is not a very intellectual pursuit.  I might as well make arguments to show that the sky is blue.  It’s what I write about when I have a bad case of writer’s block, but I feel the need to put something down.  It’s too easy.  Evolutionists have inadvertently resurrected the old mythologies, that the Earth spontaneously formed out of chaos, that life just happened to appear all by itself.  This is all fine for a work of fantasy fiction, but it doesn’t belong in any serious text about real life.  My finger is far more sophisticated than the computer that it types on.  Both demonstrate design.  There’s no getting around it.

 If I had not known better, if I had to see this world without any Christian background, I would have seen that humanity has a need for a god, or God, whichever the case may be.  Seemingly every culture throughout all time has worshipped something.  In desperation, they have even carved out gods from wood and stone, just so that they could have something to which they bow down and worship.  It’s not unlike a man stranded on a desert island, so desperate for companionship that he draws a face on a soccer ball and talks to it.  In the absence of the real thing, we forge a pathetic substitute.  Even the atheists, who claim to have no god, waste so much good paper to write about how Evolution “designed” the eye, or what “purpose” it had in “making” colorful feathers on a tropical bird.  If I were a new observer, I might wonder who this Evolution god is.  He sounds very much personified.  With time, he might evolve into an idol.

 A scientist named John Bowlby cruelly experimented with macaque infants, giving them wire mothers to cling to.  The young monkeys desperately needed the affection of a mother, so they sought this relationship even from a cold inanimate substitute.  This is remarkably similar to the creation of a cold lifeless god of stone.  What becomes abundantly clear is that we have a desperate need for God.  If we can’t find a real god to worship, then we make a sorry imitation of one and bow to it.  However, every need has a solution.  We hunger, because there is food, and we need it.  We thirst, because there is water, and we need it.  We need friendship, because there are other people in the world, and we benefit from being with them.  Not one single human need is without some means of fulfillment.  Truth is, we need God so badly that we’ll foolishly worship a mannequin, if need be.  We need friendship so badly that we’ll talk to thin air, if it comes to that.  We need food so badly that we’ll eat a boot, if nothing else is available.  We needed our parents so badly that we would have clung to a wire mother draped in terrycloth, if that was all we had.

 Our need of God testifies to his existence.  Our intelligent design testifies to an intelligent designer.

 If I did not know better, I would say that God had abandoned us.  In some respects, the deists are not at all unreasonable in their claims that God does not interact with this world.  This world, ingenious as it is, is winding down like a spring-loaded toy.  Entropy is only increasing.  No external source of life seems to be entering this world.  All of nature is busy cannibalizing itself, one animal devouring another, scraping up every last available source of life and burning it for fuel while it lasts.  God apparently loved the sparrow enough to make it with a stunning complexity and the ability to sustain itself in an environment not made for that express purpose.  The seed was meant to become a plant, but the bird was equipped to use that for food.  Unfortunately, the hawk was equipped to use the sparrow for food.  Every creature, as it exists, is a marvelous creation, made with loving care, but God seems to sprinkle no flakes into our fishbowl.  We are left to devour other life forms, until the system burns itself out.

 There exists an unmistakable chasm between God and us.  Whatever activity God had in the world in times past, it appears to be a one-time event.  The colossal act of creation appears to have stopped.  Forget what they taught you in school; we are not evolving to a better state.  In fact, we are gradually accumulating genetic flaws, and none of them have ever improved us.  The very fact that priests of old had to make idols in the first place is a minder of our want.  People who have chicken sandwiches don’t eat leather boots.  The problem with any need is that we cannot let it remain unquenched without disastrous consequences.  Bowlby’s monkeys were so maladapted and insecure, owing to the uncaring nature of their false mothers, that they were terrified of other monkeys.  It’s like us, spiritual beings, trembling at the sight of an angel, or quaking at evidence of a demon.  The monkey screams at the approach of its peer, as if to say, “Oh, my gosh, it’s moving!!”  Take away its wire mother and it curls into a ball and hides its eyes.  Without affection from its mother, its emotional state is permanently in ruins.  It cannot cope with life.  So, too, without God, we suffer our own consequences.  Our behavior is massively affected.  Our development is thwarted.

 The atheist asks why there is so much evil in the world, and he concludes that there must be no God.  In a sense, there must be some truth to that.  God, apparently, has cursed this world and turned his back on us.  However, the atheist fails to acknowledge that, while God has clearly forsaken this world, he evidently had a hand in its creation, and we desperately need him.  Buddhism, on the other hand, fails even to recognize the problem, while attempting to provide a solution.  It gives us some eight-fold path, tells us to live right, and sends us on our way, without addressing the real issue.  Islam sees the problem, but fails to provide a solution.  In the end, we are still cut off from God, and we have no idea if we will ever find our way back.  We can’t even know if we’re good enough Muslims.

 Every philosophy (they say) seeks to answer these questions:

 Who are we?

 Why are we here?

 Where are we going?

 We are children lost in a crowded shopping mall without our mothers.

 We are here because our mothers brought us here for one reason, then lost us before fulfilling that reason.

 We are slowly going insane.

 If I didn’t know better, I would say that we have a supernatural soul.  It’s one of those things you don’t need a Bible to know.  My body is a machine, and nothing more.  There is no earthly explanation for why I am living life through a machine.  If I could explain that, then I would know what it is that prevents me from living life through some other body, yet enables me to live life through this one.  Therefore, we have something, or, at least, I have something that goes beyond the physical world, something that is the most defining characteristic of my identity.  I have a supernatural soul.

 We are physical beings with a spiritual essence.  We are cut off from God.  We need God.  We were created by an intelligent mind.

 I applaud Christianity for addressing all of these issues.  It sets the stage with a divine creator.  It quickly identifies the pervasive problem that leaves us groveling before teachers, priests, statues, televisions and rock stars.  God created us, and we turned against him.  Our sin separated us from him, and he cursed our world.  It satisfies that need by providing us with the Holy Spirit and communion with God.  It also gives hope of future reunion with God.  To go even further, it identifies the supernatural human spirit, which continues to exist even beyond the grave.

 Who are we?  We are the children of God, made lovingly in his image.

 Why are we here?  We were separated from God at birth, and we need to use this scarce time to find our way back.

 Where are we going?  To Heaven, if we succeed in finding him.

 In the meantime, the world self-destructs through wars, greed and silly superstitions, progressively losing its collective sanity in its efforts to fill the gaping hole that gnaws at it.  But I do know better.  I do have the complete picture.  I have epignosis.

troubledsig





blasphemy and Blasphemy; Of Ignorance and Malice

31 10 2009

You were betrayed by a close friend, once, maybe even recently.  I feel your pain.  We’ve all been there.  Even the friend who betrayed you was probably betrayed.  The rude comments from some stranger in an internet forum were annoying, at worst, but the day that your friend turned on you still eats at the back of your mind like a weeping sore.

 The world is full of critics who blast the President of the United States with insults of the vilest sort.  He probably needs the skin of an alligator to hold his job.  But the rants of a thousand critics are nothing, compared to the passing remark of a close friend or a spouse.  The difference is in the closeness of the relationship.  Insults from someone who actually knows me hold more water than the snide remarks of someone I’ve never met.  The difference is in the knowing.

 Contrary to what you may have been told, no one actually knows Jesus.  No one, despite the abundance of statements to the contrary, actually has a relationship with Christ, directly.  He walked the Earth two thousand years ago, and I prefer to think that no one who knew him is still alive to make any reliable account of the man.  Judas knew the man.  Now, there was a man capable of true betrayal.  He was one from the inner, inner, circle.  Somehow, though, he found that a few gold coins were worth more to him than his friendship with the messiah.  That betrayal was a cut of the deepest kind.  He was driven by the Devil from the moment he decided to turn, to the moment that he jumped from the cliff and spilled his guts all over the ground.

 Don’t worry, friend.  You can never be a Judas.  We’re long past getting Jesus killed.  There’s so much that we never knew about Christ.  What jokes did he laugh at?  What little thing annoyed him?  Yeah, Christians say all the time that they know Jesus, but, in truth, one could know him about as well as one could know Abraham Lincoln.  Read all you want.  Research every thesis written for the last two thousand years, but you never knew the man.  You only know about him.

 However…the Holy Spirit is among us (Ah, yes, that other person of the Trinity who walks the Earth, even now).  If we know the Spirit, then we know Jesus, for he is to Jesus what Jesus was to the Father, in Heaven.  You can mock and ridicule Jesus all you want, but you never knew the man.  You speak from ignorance.  Your comments have no merit.  The Holy Spirit, though, is another matter.

 The Spirit stands available to everyone.  He’s like the person that’s always in the room; you may not have made his acquaintance, but he’s always there.  You may not have noticed him for the crowd of people you’ve spent your time with in conversation, but you have probably made eye contact on more than one occasion.  He looks like someone who has something to tell you.  We all have an open invitation to engage in dialogue with the maker of the universe.  Well, most of us do, anyway.  The fact is that some people have actually been Christians, knowing the Holy Spirit personally, but, everyone who has ever lost a friend to betrayal knows, once that relationship is rejected, there’s no great risk of going back.  I’m not talking about the kid who grew up in a Christian home but never really got it.  I’m not talking about one who got distracted by temptations and trivialities along the way.  This is not the prodigal son, here.  What I’m talking about is that breed of atheist who says, “I used to be a Christian, but…(I’m wiser now).”

 In theory, even the apostate former Christian could turn back to Christ, but the draw isn’t there.  The tug of the call of the Father in Heaven just isn’t what it used to be.  In reality, any true conversion is a miracle.  It goes against our very nature.  It simply won’t happen without an act of God.  The apostate man, though, does not walk away from the faith for want of understanding.  No amount of witnessing gets to him, because he already knows as much about God as the average believer.  He didn’t leave God because he didn’t know any better.  He left God because he was evil, and he chose evil over his friendship with God.  A genuinely apostate former Christian spends his life writing posts slamming Christianity.  When he’s not overtly trying to tear down the faith, he’s looking, like a wooly wolf, for believers, with some hope of sparking discouragement or doubt.  In short, he is as fallen as the Devil, with the same intentions and the same destiny.  Beware of such people.  In a position of real power such a person might try to kill us all.

 Apparently, you, too, can be a Judas, after all.  I take back what I said, earlier.  You can betray the Holy Spirit.  You can malign the God that you do know.  The danger is real, because, unlike Jesus, the Holy Spirit is accessible to all people.  Jesus was confined to a small area on the East coast of the Mediterranean, but his Spirit is global.

 Blaspheme Jesus, and you can be forgiven.  Blaspheme the Holy Spirit, and God will turn his back on you.

 somekindofsig

 Justin was his name.  I knew you were wondering.  One does not write about betrayal without someone in particular in mind.  I first met the kid in kindergarten.  We fought back-to-back on the playground through the first half of elementary school, back when we were too young to do any serious damage.  We played with G. I. Joes and plastic toy guns.  We dreamed of being spies or soldiers when we grew up.  We were always at each other’s birthday parties.

 Justin’s father was a chain-smoking mostly-unemployed alcoholic, who loved his pornography and hung it on the wall next to the bed, opposite his wife.  He had the temper of a pit bull with rabies, and he seemed to think that romance involved raising his voice and griping at his wife like she was an unruly cur.  With time, his son came to be a reflection of his father, an insufferable wretch.  Father and son both took turns grinding Mother into the ash-fouled carpet, verbally.  Yet, both swore they would pound anyone who dared speak ill of her.

 By junior high school, my childhood friend was my worst enemy.  He was still, technically, my friend, but his methods had changed.  He took to bossing me around and insulting and threatening  me, .  If he didn’t like what I was wearing, then he kicked mud on it.  With his severe under-bite and his thick black hair, coupled with his less-than-charming disposition, he earned for himself the nickname of “Fred Flintstone” among those who were lucky enough not to be his friend.  I never called him that, but that didn’t stop him from pointing his finger in my face and accusing me of thinking it.  When we were sitting at lunch outside at school, and he spit in my face, I chased him out of the lunch area.

 The next day, I wondered if he would dare come back to join us at the lunch table, having dared to do the unthinkable to a friend.  He did.  He told me, in no uncertain terms, that I was a nerd (I was…am), and that I was blemishing his reputation among the other students.  The last thing he ever said to me was that if it weren’t for him, I would have no friends.

 “Really?”  I said, “You think so?”  Then I got up and joined a student who was sitting by himself.  Our mutual friend, Jeremy, went with me.  The new friend’s name was Gus, which reminds me; I should be writing to him instead of writing this post, but I digress.  The endeavor was so successful, that I made it my mission to seek out students that had no friends.  There were more than I had, at first, realized.  The last one to join our group was Doug, who thought I was mocking him for the first few weeks that I said hello to him.  The last day of school, we sat on the lawn and congratulated each other for overcoming the enormous crushing pressure of trying to belong.  It goes down as one of the brightest, happiest days of my life.

 Justin sat alone at lunch, all the way into high school.  He never looked at me for the remaining years that we went to the same school.  He never said a word.  I was there when he made his next friend.  I was standing right behind him when that friend cast him off as a crazy control freak.  His own father even found God, and turned his life around.  His father, now a meek and inspired fellow, looks nothing like he used to be.  He finally quit his vices, and he treats his wife like a doting newlywed.  Perhaps, eventually, this will wear-off on Justin; perhaps not.

 I won’t know if it does, because I won’t be there to see it.  I turned my back on him years ago.  He went his own way, and I’ve never tried to get his friendship back.