Sunday, 27 September 2009

My Latest "I'm a Christian, but I just don't get this about them" thing

All the old hymns that we were raised with seemed to be about "Life is hard.  Trials,  troubles, temptations.  Nothing good or nice that can be trusted or enjoyed.  Don't worry though.  We'll all be dead soon enough and won't have to worry about that stuff anymore."

Here are some examples: "All my trials, Lord/soon will be over" "One glad morning when this life is o'er/I'll fly away...Just a few more weary days and then/I'll fly away "Faithful 'till death said our loving Master/a few more days to labour and wait" "Then when all of life is over and our work on earth is done" "Now little brother has done gone on, but I'll rejoin him in a song/we'll be together again up yonder in a little while" "there, close by the side of that loved one/'Neath the tree where the wild flowers bloom/When farewell hymns shall be chanted/I shall rest by her side in the tomb" "Through many dangers, toil and snares/I have already come/T'was grace that brought me safe thus far/and grace will lead me home" "There's a better home a'waiting/in the sky, Lord, in the sky"

It was like the emotional focus of the bible was one thing, the focus of the "teaching" of it at church was quite a bit different, and the emotional heart of the hymns was ever farther in that direction.

Now, I am kinda used to the idea that we are to view the onerous human life and the horrible world in which it takes place as "nothing but trouble and work and saying no to temptation."  I was raised to that.  

When I read the New Testament, though, I don't see that monochromatic, sit-down-and-shut-up-and-do-your-work-and-you-can-fall-down-dead-if-you're-good spirit in there much.  Most tellingly, the attitude of "life is so hard, but soon it will be over and I'll be dead and can just go to Heaven and not worry about that stuff" was not apparently held by Jesus himself, who of all people could have been forgiven that attitude.  

His life was more about hardship, duty, obedience, temptation and sacrifice than ours ever will be, yet he seemed to want to treasure his moments with his friends, he seemed pressed for time, I believe he viewed not only bearing sin, but going through death with absolute horror and loathing, and he never once was heard to say "Well, the son of man is going to be finished with his labours and can rest very soon, thank goodness.  Won't that be nice!"  Not only did he not say that, I find nothing to suggest that he felt that way either.  The closest I think I can come to finding a New Testament attitude like this one (and discounting emo Old Testament people like maybe Elijah who just wanted to be dead and were therefore from that point on useless as servants of the Lord) is Paul, toward the end of his life, saying he was serene about both possibilities, whether he lived a bit longer, or died.

Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, has a pretty strong rant against the "Christian" (in the sense of  "being after the manner of Christians" rather than "after the manner of Christ Himself) preoccupation with and "life hope" of finally being done with this life.  He points out that the Jewish and Christian hopes alike are (in my words) "more life/bigger life/perpetual life" or "Life 2: The Sequel," (the resurrection) and not "just two more months until 'retirement'." In my book I tried to echo his views on what the bible is actually saying by the wording "the afterlife will be more like graduation than retirement."

See, my life isn't the most exciting or rich one.  Even I know, however, that drinking with friends is good (and Jesus made it a sacrament right before he died, after having done that all along, including at a wedding where he supplied more wine when they ran out).  Friends are good to have.  Jesus was at Bethany with Mary, Martha and Lazarus and it sounds like "down time."  He even kinda scolded Martha when she wanted Mary to stop the chitchat and get the work done.  Having a spouse or a child is good.  Food is good, nature is good, pets are good, laughing is good.  Even sneezing is good.  Life, you see, is good.  The only thing that can make life not good, is people who (and situatuions which) are impeding your ability to enjoy it.

I think one of the key errors inherited from ages past by the religious system I was raised in was in labeling as "evil" and "temptations, blandishments and wiles of the devil" many of the best things God provided in life.  

If you thought a girl was stunning, someone quoted "Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain" or the hymn "life at best is very brief" or warned how quickly looks fade, and how what you wanted, if you were a young man, was to find a hard-working, sensible, godly young woman who would keep you on the straight and narrow, not an exciting, fun one.  If a young woman dressed in such a way as to delight young men in any way, these same verses would be quoted, or, as in the case of my sister, her mother might just say "Oh, you look AWful!"

If you were at a church social event for teens and twenties, there would certainly never be any alcohol of any kind, except on Sunday morning, and if you laughed a lot Saturday night you would often be warned "Tomorrow is the Lord's day..." as if to say that Saturday nights not alright for anything but solemnity, and that we needed to avoid the temptation of foolishness.  Whenever I "laughed too much" my father quoted "foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction driveth it from him."  I am unlikely to forget that verse, as it was written in black magic marker on the wooden paddle I was punished with, growing up.  

Any form of spectator sport, drama, comedy (or entertainment of any kind) was "temptation to avoid."

I could go on and on.  I really could.  My point is, the system of Christianity I grew up with created a miserable human life by asking members to dutifully remove from their lives anything that might make life bearable, and then tell ourselves that "all my trials, Lord, soon will be over."  Oh, and "rejoice evermore" and stuff about how happy we should be to be Christians.  Can YOU say "mixed messages"?

So my thoughts on all of that is that perhaps there is something screwy with a system which demands that you make yourself miserable, avoid enjoyable things, repress all urges to enjoy anything, and try to instead, through willpower and this joy-starving thing coupled with a continual exposure to hymns and the bible, remake yourself into the sort of person who would find joy only at the prospect of being done with this life, and perhaps in singing songs about being done with this life.  It was so death focused.  Even Jesus' life was all made solely about his death.  We were far less interested in what he said and what he did, and just that he died and it was our fault for wanting to enjoy things we shouldn't.

My Christian upbringing, my "participation in a Christian community of faith" made me want to be dead.  Very strongly it made me want that.  This reached a peak when I was 17.  Most of my peers either said "Screw all this noise" and "ran off and joined the world" (like "the circus") if they reached this point, or got kinda insane, broken apart and split down the middle inside.  Many of those who "ran off" in their teens lived lives that were purely about "What can I enjoy?  What can I indulge in?  Can I declare victory over my past by giving in to every 'temptation' and not dying?" and then later "came back" and having had a good taste of it all, repented and "saw the error of their ways" married sensible people who would keep them on the straight and narrow and worked with youth, harassing them about stuff they enjoyed but didn't know was dangerous and wrong.  

The idea that, if you indulge in some bible, in some prayer, and let that compete with TV or beer for your life, that Jesus can actually win out as more enriching and deep and answer-providing quite easily, this idea was never entertained, as it were.  We were always told that, of course the bible and church could never compete with "the world" (movies and concerts) and that we therefore needed to keep from those things lest we become involved in world to the exclusion of them entirely.  It was always a black and white, this or that thing.

I think a lot of people have figured out that it isn't like that.  Sure, at any given moment you can be deciding between "I think I'll go read a bit more of Matthew's gospel" and "I want to watch a rerun of House right now though."  But in my life at least, I can do both.  And they "talk" to each other.  Points, questions, issues, discussions and themes in the one echo when raised in the other.  It's cool.

What hope do the life, death and resurrection of Christ give me?  That my life can mean something besides temporary work and "I didn't sin today!" sacrifice, and that after I die, I have the hope of resurrection, with a human body phase II existence, and stuff to do and things to enjoy and people to meet.  This is, I agree with Tom Wright, a Christian hope, rather than "It will all be over soon."

Thursday, 24 September 2009


Religious people "praise" God. Something in the modern heart is revolted by the notion of a being who approaches people so He can be praised by them. The modern mind confuses recognizing the primordial, surpassing excellence of He Who is Responsible For All That is Excellent, with abasing one's self ("We're not WOORthy!") and pretending one has not been built with any redeeming qualities or merit whatsoever (WHO made us again? WHAT quality of work does He do?) "How big is God's ego?" it wonders. "Why does He need the validation of others?" it continues. It's not like that. The praising of God is like (unto) a girl with gorgeous breasts, who is alone with a man she cares about and who is seriously commited to her. She opens her shirt and removes her bra, and the man touches her eagerly and lovingly and says over and over how beautiful he sees that they are (and she, of which they form only a part, truly is). A strong connection between the two is formed. It's like that. God = girl with gorgeous breasts. Praise is what the man is doing. What is she doing? What God does. It's not a question of "How big is her ego that she needs validation like that?" Is it weird to compare God to a beautiful, partly naked girl? No. The beautiful, partly naked girl is perfect for understanding God. God put a part of His own position and essential nature into that girl. To appreciate her is to see God's signature on and in her flesh. The bible more than once uses this kind of comparison. (the bible is full of things about "breasts like clusters of grapes" "breasts like towers" and other such talk) Because, the males in the room "get" what that means. It is close to their hearts, to their psyches. I think the girls get it too, albeit more from God's side of things. Or, it's like God is Tobey McGuire. Tobey is tired, he wants a smoke, and he doesn't want to do it at first, but there is a room packed full of excited children and teenagers who will, if they get to see "Spider-man" in the flesh, talk about it for the rest of their lives every time celebrity, comic books or movie actors are mentioned. So Tobey presents himself, and they freak out and are in ecstasy, and he's glad to be able to make them feel that way. It isn't (though it can be) an ego thing. It can be just about making people happy because you can. The praising of God isn't something done because God demands it. It is done because, given that God is not only the Coolest Thing In The Whole of Existance, but also the Source Of Everything That Is Or Ever Was Excellent and of Value, any true grasping of what it means to have Him taking steps to make us happy will result in Him getting what He wants, which is us getting happy like that. God doesn't always get to make us happy, any more than parents always get to give their kids whatever the kids want. Praise is when God and people who seek Him both get what they want.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009


I decided to publish the "demon emails" in my book ]The Screwtape Emails: Lessons in Ecclesiastical Mincing on a blog of their own.
So I'm into the swing of things now, the days are getting grayer and colder and nothing much besides school is going on unless I am careful to set stuff up.  Obviously, when the hilarious things that happen in a school happen to and around me, I can't really put it up here, but suffice it to say that one of my "out there, totally random theoretical examples" was coincidentally 100% untheoretical for one kid. Played at an open stage last week.  Seems like a good idea to do more of that.  Played this.  Except a lot better.  I'm now much more nervous to sing into a microphone hooked to a recording device, than to a P.A. in front of a room full of people.
Thought House's premier episode was a daring and decisive break from formula. Just what a show going into its sixth year is not normally allowed to do.  I thought it worked.  Hugh Laurie said in Season 1 that it was very important that House never learn better, never improve.  They're messing with that a bit.  I suppose so long as he's bad at it, it will be fun anyway.
Mallory put me onto some awesome time-waster websites:

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Getting School Stuff Ready

This evening I previewed a possible contender for "Modern take on Macbeth for possible showing in school."  When I show a Shakespeare, movie, I want it to be very good or very bad (it really doesn't matter.)  This one turned out to really be both, so might qualify, though the nudity is giving me pause.  My thoughts while watching it went like this:

a 2006 Macbeth movie set in present-day Australia with Macbeth, a rising figure in the street gang scene, working his way to the top, aided by his zoned-out, coke-snorting wife and the drug-induced visions of the prophecies of a hissing trio of high school wiccans in private school uniforms, including berets and kneesocks.  

It seriously looks like all of Jesse Spencer from House's third and fourth cousins picked up a used video camera at a pawn shop and said "Jisse's doing OwKuy in Americah, ind thet Baz Luhrman fella did olroight with thet blowke Shikespeah's Rawmeoh 'n Jehwliut, sow lit's mayke owre awn McBith videow ind sill it! OlROIT! We kin edit it et Mick's ind put loads a guns ind hot noikkid sheilas innit!" It's like a very slow-paced, very hip hop/rock video version made with handheld video cameras, dutch angles, and all sorts of riced-out cars and extras from Fallout Boy videos. The Australian accents make the quietly mumbled (and growled) Shakespearean dialogue hiLARious, but I think school kids might absolutely LOVE it. (Mcbith stabs Dunkin with a pair of bowie knives, and clearly feels the need to stab him about 28 times to moike sure e's comploitly did.)

The thug who kills Macduff's family and Banquo looks EXACTLY like Peter Jackson. And the witches deliver their prophecy about Macduff completely naked with occult-looking sigils painted on their bodies, 'rooting' Macbeth and thrashing around as they declaim their lines. And Lady Mcbith's freakout occurs while she is wearing only diaphanous panties ("Kin thou nut MINistah to a moind disOIsed?"). And Macduff takes a silenced, nickel-plated automatic and kneecaps both Peter Jackson and his co-thug so's he can shoot them through the back of the heads while they're trying to crawl away. And "Birnam wood comes to Dunsinane" in the form of Macduff's men storming MacBeth's house in a fully-loaded logging truck which has, not "Birnam Wood" painted on the door, but "Birnam Lumber."