Sunday, 17 June 2012

Other People

  I was raised with the usual stuff about "other people."  Don't upset "other people."  Don't do anything "other people" might not like.  Well, we know you and what you're like, but what about "other people"?  Mightn't they get the wrong impression?  Didn't Jesus live in fear of someone, somewhere getting the wrong impression?  Our lives were lived in fear of giving the wrong impression.

  It's 1994 and I have a problem. I know that the way my church group works, we are supposed to be attending church several times a week if we want to maintain Gold Membership status.  It isn't codified, but we all know how it works.  If you come to every church thing each week (that's three on Sundays, and two during the week), this means you are Serious About God.  It means you have a right to an opinion. It means you can hold your head up and aren't hiding anything or needing to feel any shame. Once you start only coming out to maybe two services, though, your status starts to wobble.  It might be negotiable, with work, of course.  If you abstain from the right things (movies, alcohol, swearing, dancing, television, fashion) and look very business casual/cleancut, then you might still have a right to an opinion.  If you are male, you might be able to help out at church too, which is what I want.  But no one's going to let me do anything. 
  It's 1994 and I have a problem.  I believe strongly that I should attend Sunday morning (worship) service, but only if I feel in my heart a genuine 'desire' to go.  If I don't feel some divine urge to go worship God, then I don't think I should go.  I think it's like lying.  If I show up out of duty, or to humour "other people" (because they collectively take it as a personal insult on behalf of God Himself if we don't show up, if I (to use their language) "pass up a single precious opportunity to honour our Lord's dying request that we remember Him"), then I am cheating.  I know it.  I know that if I don't feel like going, and I go anyway, that this will be just fine with them.  My Plymouth Brethren Brownie Points will continue to tot up.  I can keep my accounts in the black with them so long as I made the weekly appearance, whether I mean it or not.  But I won't let myself do that.  It's cheating.  I know I don't deserve that group recognition as someone who is Serious About God.
  It's 1994 and I have a problem.  You see, increasingly, I don't want to be there.  They've had a division. Everyone of a certain type (young, alive, open-minded and hearted, wiling to listen, to bring about change) has moved on and gone elsewhere.  I'm left with the serious people. They just purposely executed a cull of the unserious, and I miss them and feel that they (we) have done something really wrong and that no one cares.  We all pretend they just died.   I'm no longer allowed to attend Youth Group activities because I "have questions" and "am confused."  I am having a huge allergic, toxic shock reaction to the place, and one which has been coming my whole life.
  Most Sundays I wake up with my alarm and sit in bed, trying to find deep within me some tiny spark of wanting to go out.  Increasingly I can't.  One time I've missed a record three Sundays in a row and have shown up before the dire "entire month without showing up" has passed.  I'm sitting in the Meeting Hall, looking uneasily around, and I pray "I'm here.  Are we cool?"
  And I don't hear a voice, but there is a thought in my head that sounds like it got put there.  The thought is "Don't even pretend this is about Me.  It's about them.  It always is. You know that."
  And I am rebuked.  I know that Sunday morning is supposed to be about Him, but it's about me and this group and my slowly losing my grip on membership within it, as I indulge myself in hanging out with unapproved Christian friends of the "asking questions and seeing the foibles of authority" type, reading nonBrethren Christian books, getting a nonChristian roommate, drinking the occasional alcoholic beverage, and going out to public entertainment like concerts and movies.  For me it isn't rebellion, it is trying to do the bible the right way. The freedom is the point of the exercise.  It's why Christ died.  But it's a point none of us are allowed to make, neither "by lip or by life."

  It is 1998 and I work most Sundays.  I go out every couple of months.  I know SO much crap about the people there and what they have done to each other and to "other people" that I can hardly look at them.  I know what they've done to people's hearts, to minds, to bodies and bank accounts.  I know about all kinds of horrible things being done, and it's not about whether I can forgive them or not. It's about them still doing the same stuff, and the system becoming a tool used to hide these things and punish discussion of them.  They know I'm not willing to play ball.  I know things and though I'm not blabbing, I know them and think they should stop.  So they call me into a room and question me.  They question me about my other Brethren friends, they question me about how I can not want to attend on Sunday. They question me about my doctrine, about my beliefs, about my occasionally drinking alcohol.  (how can I do that when younger people with less willpower than me might imitate it?)  It's all a sham.  They kick me out.  

  It is 2000 and I sometimes show up on a Sunday.  A few times a year.  I have to sit at the back with the nonmembers. I can't take communion.  I can't take any role in the goings on. I am now like a woman there, required to sit silently and let the men who are Serious About God run the show.  Unlike the women, I do not have a proxy (husband, brother, father) who brings back news.  More than one husband or son was used as a puppet for his wife or mother's views being taken to these all-male meetings. The ones I may no longer attend either.  But I show up on Sunday sometimes.  There is no pastor.  The service is collaborative.  I am not allowed in it anymore. I'm audience.  Now I can watch people worship God.  But I'm not allowed to take communion, because they say I don't care about Him.
  I'm not going for God at all.  I'm just checking things out.  Seeing if there will ever be any forgiveness for me.  I don't see a real point in showing up (which nearly kills me) only to not be allowed to take the communion when I get there anyway.  I have asked them to readmit me and they have smiled like sharks and informed me that they don't understand me.  How can they feel right about taking communion with someone they don't understand
 I tell them that they have created a situation in which, as they are shunning me and not reaching out to me, forbidding me to attend any form of social function, and never phoning or otherwise checking up on me to see if I am alright, they have guaranteed they will know me less and less.  I point out that me showing up on Sunday, sitting at the back, and then leaving if there is any food or social stuff going on, isn't going to help them know me either.  They acknowledge my logic, but stick to their guns.
  But I show up sometimes.  Everyone either pretends I'm not there or smiles brittle smiles and tells me they're SO glad that I've come back to the Lord.  Many of them shake my hand to greet me, in direct disobedience to the traditional withholding of the "right hand of fellowship" to people like me.  There aren't many there anymore.  Maybe a third of how many there were when I was going to school.
  And in the intervening time, I've been thinking.  I've been reading and talking to other people, Christian and not so.   I feel like my head is full of thoughts and if I so much as allow my brain to think (just once) in that room, it will blow the roof off.  It's a room filled with people carefully not thinking any number of things.  The deal is that everyone help everyone else not think.  Group unthink.  Just saying the wrong thing will cause thought. I feel like the whole place is packed from wall to wall with towering houses of cards.  Simply my walking around or breathing can knock some bit of it over, resulting in a wail of confused anguish going up.  Don't I know how it works?
  An old lady comes up to me, shakes my hand and says "There are SO many places we could choose to be on Sunday morning... it's it nice to know that we are here, that we are where THE LORD is in the midst, and not just at a human church group created by men?"
  This is a shibboleth.  It's a test.  A password is being sought.  The password is "Yes.  You are right.  It is lovely.  So much better than being anywhere else.  Good to know we're in the Only Right Place."
  And I fail it.  I say what pops into my head.  Before I have time to think, I look at her in the eyes rather speculatively, pause for a moment and then say, as if I'm looking at a particularly unusual specimen of giraffe,  "It's really important to you, isn't it, that this be the only right place for Christians to be..."
  She gives a stinkface and mumbles something and moves on.  Shibboleth failed.  My heart scented and found reeking of "them."  It's the "Us or Them?" test, and I haven't changed. I am still Them. And they don't understand me, so they're not admitting me. I am not ever going to be part of "us."
  And I know that they're wrong. I know that they are worse things than wrong. I know they are silly, closed-minded, afraid, uninformed, in denial, any number of things.  And yet, I can't feel good about not doing what they want.  I was raised to that and I have never beaten it.  I can't even pretend my church attendance is about  God yet. It's about them.  It always is.  And any church I go to, I can find a new them to make it about.

  It's 2002 and I'm at my grandmother's wake.  People who've been shunning me for five years come up, shake my hand, and show genuine regret that my troubled, dark, paranoid grandmother has died.  I feel their concern.  I decide that maybe it's worth another chance.  They're not monsters, right?  I phone one of the guys who kicked me out and leave a message on his phone asking if they will reconsider my case, if there is any way I will ever be allowed to worship God and take communion there again.  A couple of days later, when I am standing beside my grandmother's casket in the the cemetery, waiting for the funeral service to begin, he walks up to me and says they aren't going to meet with me. He walks away, leaving me looking at the casket in the rain.
  I phone him later and he says the feeling of them is that I am not broken enough in spirit, that I haven't shown enough remorse for writing the parody of their gospel pamphlet ten years prior.  I tell him that it's been ten years.  I tell him in ten years, even loses like dead grandmothers will heal.  I tell him he knows very well I felt remorse for what I had done, back when they first confronted me about it, claiming my mocking the church pamphlet was "a grave dishonouring of the name of our Lord."
  He agrees. He says he knows.  He says "I'm just saying what I was told to say.  They are a hard lot, collecting a debt in full, even unto the last mite."
 There is a they which isn't him nor me, and they don't like me, and not a single one of them will admit to being they. They is bigger than any one of them.  Each one is just doing the will of them. And them?  Is still not God.  But to me, I still feel horrible about myself if they're upset with me, if they shun me and mark me a wicked person to send loose into the world so that Satan may have his way with me, to use their verses.  God and me? We're fine, mostly.  The only real things I wrestle with are why I don't get to have a full-time teaching job, a girlfriend and a place to go Sunday morning where they accept me. I've tried other places. I've been trained.  They don't fit.  And they've never met anyone like me either.
  I take a new tack.  That church in Ottawa is never going to let me in.  In fact, they seem to be gearing up for another big split. There is hardly anyone even still going out to the little group where I attended when I was growing up.  I start showing up there on Sundays.  I have to sit at the back.  I come four weeks straight.  At first everyone says they're glad to see me.  Once I've been out once or twice, they start ignoring me again.  Gavin's sister comes up to ask who I am.  I am someone who knows her brother, and we are both working part-time for the same school board.  Knowing who I am, she nods and never speaks to me again.
  After I've been coming out this long, I ask an older guy if I could talk to him about maybe worshipping there, or about them putting in a good word for me in the Ottawa church that kicked me out?  He's not having any of that. He's going to direct me to the guy who used to teach me Sunday School. I start to try to ask that guy, when the two of us are the last two left in the room, and he shouts at me and kicks me physically out of the church I grew up attending. 
 "You know that's not how it works!" he shouts.  "I don't know what you did, and I don't WANT to know!" he continues. 
 The fact that what I did was write a parody of a gospel paper ten years previous, and the fact that no one in Ottawa will return my phone calls or letters is news he doesn't want to hear, and he kicks me out.  My dad is unhappy about the new division they're having over wanting to do another cull, to kick another crop of undesirables out. This makes my father one of the undesirable troublemakers too.  He's out also.  After part of a year in which if he doesn't attend church, he's not even able to recognize that he is even a Christian, he and someone who was part of kicking me out of the Ottawa church form a new church.  But it's not a new one, they tell themselves. They weren't kicked out.  They are the original.  The "old" one departed from the truth, and is not a wrong, new one.  They are the OG (original gathering.)

  It's 2010 and I'm at Ahren's church. There are hands in the air, electric guitars and almost no people.  My sister has been "triggered" by this experience and has run out in tears.  The whole thing makes me want to sneer nastily.  I've been trained to do that.  At one point in his bite-sized 35 minute sermon, Ahren sings a line of "Jesus Loves Me."  It gives me a cold, empty feeling, conjuring Sunday School and Mr. Wood pinching our ten year old knees if we didn't give him eye contact as he stammered his way through obscure old testament prophecy.  Afterward, everyone is saying how awesome it was, and how great it is to be them, and how no other church is so groundbreaking, free, honest, open and new.  They say "You know what I like most about us?  We're so divERSE!"  (there are no people there who aren't white. Pretty much everyone is between 30 and 50 too.  All middle class. All with kids.  All dressed business casual.)  And it all feels the same to me. Ahren's sister says to his wife and me "Didn't that just give you chills when Ahren sang Jesus Loves Me?  Brought me right back to those days!"
  "Me too," I said.  "But not good chills. Brethren flashback chills."
  Ahren's sister grabs my arm carefully, as if there is a snake in my shirtpocket.  "You're got to get HEALING for that!" she cries.
  "This is healing," I say.  "Scars are MADE of healing."
  She walks away and never really has anything much to say to me again.

  It's 2012 and I'm driving in my car.  I realize something for the thousandth time.  I can't feel good about myself and what I'm doing if anyone (them) have a problem with anything at all about me.  I judge my success and get my comfort not based on what God (the source of all, and ultimate standard as to what is excellent and worthwhile) wants, but based on if any idiot at all has any critical, mean-spirited crap to toss my way, or not.  That, my friends, is spiritual immaturity.
  The bible says to obey our earthly masters, but work for God.  As a teacher, this gives me permission to do what I think is good, what I think helps, what I think works, and work around the bureaucratic, mechanistic, unthinking them of the system so long as I'm not outright disobeying it.  I realize all seasoned teachers are doing this.   NONE of them believe in the system once they've worked for it for five or ten years.  But I realize that I never feel okay unless they are happy. And they're never happy. They don't pay attention, and if they do, they don't understand, and they try to tidy things up without understanding that people are involved.  People I'm teaching day in and day out. The kids and I?  We're usThey are a machine. A money-making, vote-swaying, propaganda-spewing self-promoting machine.  It doesn't know us.

  And I realize that one of my central personal lacks is that God (excellence/worth) needs me to say things people won't like, and do things that work, things that no one else has thought of, or doesn't see the need for.  Yet if anyone judges or criticizes or disrespects me, I am a wreck.  A fighting, hissing, spitting wreck.  Leaving social wreckage in all directions in a society and an environment where all significant violence done by adults is social.
  There's no way I'm going to be able to do what I need to do in life if I can't get over worrying about what theoretical "other people" think, what "they" think.  I need to really deal with people one at a time and pry them out of their them identity and make them look me in the eye and see that I'm a person and look at them and know that they are too.  If I can't make them us, and join with them in leaving them out of the discussion, we won't be able to get anywhere.

The Parable Of The Faithful Son: A Father's Day Story

 A certain man had two sons:
 And the elder of the two spake little unto his father, but spent his time in increasing his inheritance by working in the fields.  But the younger of them, knowing the generosity of the father, said to him, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me.
  And the father divided unto them his own living.  And the elder took what was given unto him and sought to increase his inheritance further.  He had not thought him to ask his father for it, for he had not known the father's heart, nor that he would have given it unto them.
  And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.
  But the elder worked each day under the sun. He did not drink wine, nor did he feast, and cared only for the money his father had bestowed upon him.  And he said unto himself, surely my father will bless me and curse the name of him my brother, who hath wasted his inheritance on wine and whores!
  But when he had come to the end of himself, the younger son, knowing the forgiving heart of the father, arose, and came to his father's house. And his father forgave him, giving him new raiment and shoes and a fine ring.  And he made unto him a great feast.  But the elder son knew it not, nor did anyone invite him unto the feast, for it was known throughout the land that he was not such a man as feasted nor drank wine or strong drink.
  Now as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing.  And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.
  And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.
  And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him to come in.
 And he refused and answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf!
  And the father said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.   It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.
  And the elder son, having his entire inheritance, and flocks and fields and herds, killed not a fatted calf that year, but preserved it for the money he could earn in selling it., And he worked each day in the fields.  And his heart was filled with hatred against his brother and wrath against his father.

False Positive

  I'm a Christian, according to any sensible definition, but I find I don't quite get along easily with a huge number of Christians.  I have narrowed it down.  I don't get along with Christians for whom Christianity has been a successful, rewarding adventure. It's like they're selling something and I am a dissatisfied customer they want to send away so as not to sour their milk.
  Our stories don't match.  For the purposes of this discussion, let us invent Steve, a guy like many I have known.

   Steve grew up in a Christian family.  It was fairly warm and safe and although it could be boring, nothing particularly bad ever really happened to Steve.  They went to church once or twice a week, and at church, much time was spent in trying to "reach" young people like Steve, trying to appeal to them, trying to give them stuff that might matter to them.  Steve knew that church and the people who ran it, cared that it "work" for him, that he enjoy himself and want to keep coming out and take an interest in it. 
 When Steve was a teenager, almost every time he took an interest in some activity, either to help out or change it, his opinions often were listened to, and were treated like they mattered. In time Steve's interest started to translate into him being given responsibility over stuff.  He chaired things. He organized things.  Above all, he was allowed to start things.  The more he wanted to give of his time and energy to create things, the more things he was usually allowed to create.
  A few crusty old guys complained about this or that (too much noise, a video they showed on Games Night that was thought to be too risqué, that kind of thing), but Steve had by now entrenched himself in the community.  He was valued.  He was the main singer and guitarist in his church's worship team.  He was the one who took the church funds and updated the multimedia setup, and was the main one who knew how to use it.  Not everyone liked him, and sometimes people disagreed with stuff he said or did, but Steve got through high school without incident, and was valedictorian of his graduating class, having made connections to Christian and nonChristian students there, playing sports and doing well in his classes.  He made a small, but tasteful mention of his Christianity in his valedictorian speech.  His class didn't mind. And he was going off to bible school.
  Now a youth pastor while attending bible school, Steve, started an Outreach Team, and he chaired the committee which facilitated joining the outreach and social efforts of his bible college with the intervarsity Christian fellowships at the secular schools in the area.  He got pats on the back, cakes were baked in his honour, and he graduated bible school with a large collection of pictures of him surrounded by other Christians eager to hug him and make bunny ears behind his head.  He also had a collection of Christian books, some signed by their authors, if they'd not, in fact, inspiringly lost their lives in the cause but where, rather, making money on their book and lecture series tours.
  Steve worked a secular job throughout his early twenties, soon marrying the best-looking, most cheerful and fecund of the girls he'd met while working with the Intervarsity Christian fellowship group at bible school, and he soon had three kids and a dog.  At first he worked in large, exciting new churches.  Almost any time he showed an interest in something, he soon got put in charge of it.
  If there were any strong objections to what he was doing by the inevitable strict, petty folk who infest the corners of any human group, he would either ignore them and trust in his warm personable demeanour to win out, or failing that he would simply move to a different church, where he was soon in charge of something again.  If anything he thought would be good wasn't already going on at his church, he'd start it.  Eventually, he got tired of the strict, petty folk in one of this churches and started church planting in earnest. Soon he was in charge of all the churches in his area.
  A couple of troubling medical scares relating to his family aside, and some petty, strict pastors doing odd things in churches under his jurisdiction aside, things went pretty well. Steve went about his week and did church stuff, church people generally accepted and supported both his efforts and him as a person, and when things weren't going his way, he asked God to fix it, and as far as he could tell, God generally did.  This didn't surprise Steve, because he knew that God loved him and supported his efforts.  Steve didn't have a lot of money, because he was honest and believed in the The System and wouldn't steal from it, nor take advantage of the opportunity to go on a lucrative lecture tour.  And he never wrote a book.
  I will, for the sake of objectivity, call myself and people like me "Dave," for this part.

   Dave also grew up in a Christian family.  They were afraid anyone might forget for one moment that they were Christians, and therefore different/better.  They went to church five times a week, and at church, much time was spent in speaking out against and stopping any kind of modernizing the routine that went on there.  Young people were expected to like the old stuff. The Dickensian-sounding language, the Elizabethan-sounding bible translation, and hymns so old no one was sure who wrote them, in many cases.  The modern translations of the bible were forbidden, as was listening to Christian pop music, let alone bringing it into a worship context.  No guitars or keyboards allowed in the building.  No time whatsoever was spent in trying to "reach" young people like Dave, trying to appeal to them, or trying to give them stuff that might matter to them.  Dave knew that church and the people who ran it cared mostly that it never change, and that this simply had to "work" for him, or that he could succumb to the temptations of more enticing, less scriptural and God-pleasing churches, wander off to one of them, losing all the respect of those who sacrificed joy for what they felt was obedience.
  When Dave was a teenager and young adult, every time he took an interest in some activity, either to help out or change it, his opinions were shot down and he was warned to be quiet and not interfere.  The youth leader was carrying on an adulterous affair with Dave's aunt.  Most people knew this.  Various of the elders were embezzling money.  Most people knew this also.  The more Dave expressed any concern or interest in what was going on, the more he was judged "contentious," "negative," "unsuitable" and "unwanted to be allowed to do anything."
  A few crusty old guys complained about everything all the time, and Dave took any such criticism very much to heart, even if it was over a pair of shoes, a haircut, a bit of slang or not tucking in a shirt.  Dave and many others were viewed with suspicion. Many of the younger Christians led "double lives" in which a bit of social drinking, going to movie theatres or dance clubs and live concerts of public sporting events were clandestinely carried on.  Dave didn't do any of that.  He obeyed the rules, and resented them.  Dave didn't really have friends in the church group, and once his school friends started partying, he increasingly lost touch with them as well.  Dave did not play sports, but passed his classes through a haze of depression, and went off to a university in his area.
  At school, Dave wondered about the Inter-varsity Christian Fellowship that he'd seen a poster for.  He was completely unfamiliar with Christian activities which joined people from various churches together, and didn't know anyone who was involved in this, so he called the contact number on the poster.  For two months he got no response.
  Then he one day saw a guy taking down the poster.  He asked about the group and was told "We're having some problems getting ICF off the ground this year, but we're TOTALLY going to try to get it going after Christmas."  Dave saw no further posters and didn't know if this ever happened. If it did, no one knew him to let him know.
  One of his fellow students decided to hook Dave up with a Christian girl he knew.  Dave and Patrick and Danielle went out for coffee.  Danielle wanted to know about Dave's adventures with the Holy Spirit.  Dave hadn't had any. Danielle showed very clearly that, as Dave hadn't spoken in tongues, he was not Truly Saved, and needed to go to her church and get saved.  At Dave's own church, people also wondered at his obvious lack of salvation.  Where they had collected lists of "Answers to Scriptural Questions," Dave had a list of his own questions about stuff that he didn't understand, was trying to work out, that bothered him. And none of his questions matched their answers at all.  He graduated from University without knowing anyone there who he'd ever hear from again.  He had thousands of pictures he'd taken of groups of youth group teens who'd left when his church had a huge division/split, none of whom were any more interested in hearing from him now than they were then.  He had the addresses of various girls he'd written to and not received responses.  He also had a collection of Christian books, almost every one of which he'd read precisely one third of, and then figured out the central message of it, and gotten annoyed with where it was headed.  He still hadn't found what he was looking for.
  Dave's sister went to a different school and introduced Dave to a Christian guy who had the hots for her.  Jared didn't believe in the rapture.  Dave had been taught that it was kind of "the point" of everything.  Jared and Dave talked about this once, but really couldn't connect, with this difference in their way.
  Then Dave tried to start a bible discussion group for young people in his church.  No young people at his church discussed the bible, so he thought it would be great to try to start that.  The young people in his church only sat and zoned out while old people lectured them as to how important it was to listen while they lectured about the bible.  Dave had a particular handicap.  He completely lacked the ability to zone out, and failing that, forget a word or tone of voice in these interminable lectures young people had to sit through before they went and played equally tedious, interminable games of volleyball or hockey.  The old people forbid a youth bible discussion just like they had a woman's bible study.  In this case it was because Dave was young. For their part, the young people said they would not do it for the same reason.
 "We need be in charge of this so he could tell us the right answers," one said.
 "But I want to make it a discussion, not a lecture," Dave responded.
  "I really don't like the sound of that," the other person answered.
  They were in their twenties at the time.  This was too young to study the bible unaccompanied.  After all, they might think something in error, and then where would they be?  (Women who read the bible even had to wear protective head gear.)
  One time Dave invited all the Christians he knew from out of town to come visit and have a young person's event.  It involved paintball and a bible discussion.  He also invited everyone local.  Almost everyone local boycotted it.  Almost everyone from out of town came.  Some relatives were willing to put up everyone for the weekend, but being 24 years of age, he was forbidden to have a bible study of any kind, so he secretly had one in the woods behind his grandfather's house.  He got found out and told off for this.  Dave was also forbidden to attend any church youth group activities from this point on.  Inconveniently, he'd arranged for a girl from out of province to come to a local church event so the two could meet and hang out.  When she arrived, he had to tell her that he wasn't allowed to attend.  Obviously, at this point she lost all interest in hanging out with him.  He must have done SOMETHING, right? Clearly he wasn't a good bet to marry and raise church-adherent children with.
  Dave worked a secular job throughout his early twenties, wrote to and phoned any Christian girls he met that he liked, but as he was a malcontent rather than a "strong, on-fire warrior for Jesus" church advocate (and he was eventually kicked out of his church and shunned by every affiliated group in the world for the rest of his life for bad attendance, writing a parody of one of the church's outreach pamphlets, and for having a bad attitude) none of them felt he was husband material.  Also, he was lonely, and no one like a lonely guy. He lived alone but for a cat.  Most of the girls married guys who weren't Christians, or who went to churches as far removed from the one in which they were raised as possible.
  Dave wanted to be a teacher and worked several jobs that involved teaching handicapped people.  Some Christian home schoolers randomly approached Dave and told him they wanted to start an outside-the-home-homeschooling-school.  They wanted Dave to babysit the kids, and press play on each grade's VCRs, all of which were playing video tapes which taught History (of the church), Mathematics (of grace), Science (is bad) and other subjects.  They worried that Dave, with his joyless church background, but university education in school-type stuff, might be too joyless and strict.  Dave worried that they were sheltering their kids and raising them in a fake little bubble-world of church-only stuff that would ill prepare them for anything more real.  They assured Dave that he was not helping them do this. It soon became clear that he was. There was a falling out.  Dave was let go.  The school was shut down that year.
  One of the parents from this not-at-home homeschool school told everyone in the community that, as Dave had not shown proper homophobia and disgust at the fact that the man's brother-in-law was engaged in a gay lifestyle, that clearly Dave was gay also and shouldn't be allowed near teenaged boys. Because all gay men are pedophiles, as we know.
   Dave tried to meet christians outside his own church background whenever he could.  You see, he wanted to talk to them individually and compare notes.  But every time Dave spoke with a church person, they demanded that he go to their church, or they wouldn't talk to him, with his questions and concerns, and worse still, his ever-growing collection of stories which all seemed to point out the inarguable fact that "The Christian Church Lifestyle Doesn't Seem To Work For Everyone and Might Have Problems." If Dave went to their church, he didn't like it, and it didn't like him, and no one wanted to talk to him there anyway.
    Every christian Dave ever met wanted to get him to join them to help trumpet the wonderousness of their church.  Dave was interested in the other people. The people the church paintjob was missing.  The people who were falling through the cracks.  He knew there were some.  And it was like they were being hidden from view and not discussed.
  Increasingly, every christian person Dave had ever met became so cumbered about with child-rearing and church-related family activities, that he was further shut out of their lives.  He had questions about Calvinism.  They only spoke of diaper rash.  Some of his single, dissatisfied Christian friends died.  Several killed themselves.  One killed his own sister.  The churches which had produced these individuals continued to take pride in their ability to soldier on through such hard times, and took no responsibility whatsoever for not having been able to deal with the situations until death had actually occurred.  Clearly, the Lord was speaking. And He was saying "Don't watch Ghostbusters or read the New International Version of the bible."
  All through his thirties, Dave felt that God was sending him people who needed someone to talk to about their abusive husbands, cheating wives, miscarriages, abortions, rapes, mental illnesses and other uplifting things.  He didn't seek them out, but they came, one after another.  Christian and otherwise.  Dave listened a lot. Dave found that most people wanted to somehow blame these individuals for their problems.  Dave found that many were not being helped in any way by churches, pastors, social workers, parents or any of the conventional avenues for help. Dave found that people sometimes get into tough, dark places, and need someone calm and unjudgmental to talk to.  Dave found that these people all had lists of names of pastors and church elders who hadn't listened, had gossiped, had sought to blame them, had avoided any lengthy, sincere or deep conversations about anything but how much God and Our Church rocked.

  Dave and Steve met, eventually.  Dave was trying to meet all the Christians in the area.  Steve was open to meeting any Christians who were interested in attending his new church.  They kind of liked each other.  And they really didn't exactly get along. It usually went rather like this:

  "I think there are some serious things wrong with how Christians 'do church' in general," said Dave.
  "I think that's just your own bad, past experience talking," replied Steve.
  "Maybe, but it's not like the community is only full of people who either have no church experience whatsoever, waiting to hear from you, and then others with only mostly good church experience.  There's a third kind.  People like me who have been rather thoroughly messed up, and mainly by churches and church officials.  People who need to repent of their own attitudes toward and idolatrous reliance upon a human church system.  I'm unconvinced you have a hot clue how to deal with people like us," replied Dave in his abrasive fashion.  "And we are legion.  Don't demonize us?"
  "I'm just a guy," Steve replied.  "I'm not magic.  I can't fix everything, despite my experience and my credentials and my current post as Executive Pastor in Charge of Oversight For District 9 of the Blood-soaked Spiritfire Breath of God Churches of Manitoba, which post I am humbled, honoured and excited to fill.  But I know this: if you could just get over yourself for long enough to come out to my church, you'd soon be on the path to healing."
  "You're on," Dave responded.

 And he went to Steve's church.  And he didn't get it.  And it all seemed like a 'happiness only, satisfied customers only' kind of place.  Steve was on a raised platform, amplified rather unnecessarily, backed by a rock band, with a huge screen he could play PowerPoint slides of 7-11 worship songs and clips from The Simpsons on.  The Sunday morning celebration of the crucifixion seemed bloodless, painless, sweatless, odourless and death-free.  It seemed like a Jonas Brothers concert.  It seemed to be about happily singing about happily singing about happily singing.  Dave wanted to talk about that.

  "What? You didn't like it?  How could you not?!  I'm telling you, what you need is a real good positive church experience to help you get rid of the baggage from your experience, which you claim was kinda negative!" continued Steve.
  "Can I help at yours?" asked Dave. "I want to do something. And I've lived and know stuff."
  "Well, no, sadly" replied Steve.  "Frankly, I feel I have to protect my guys from your negativity. You're not safe for them to be around at this point."
  "Am I messed up?" asked Dave.
  "Well, yes, you are," replied Steve. 
  "That's exactly what the church that kicked me out for life said," Dave answered.
  "But you just need a really positive church experience..." Steve continued.
  "Is that what I need?" interrupted Dave rudely.
  "Yes. Clearly it is."
  "So I'm messed up.  In this relationship, I'll play that part.  And you're the educated, accredited, experienced, salaried pastor. That means it's your job to help messed up people, right?"
  "So help me," Dave said.
  "How?" asked Steve.
  "Do you have any ideas besides me coming out to your church?" Dave asked.
 "Do you know any single Christian women between the ages of 25 and 45?" Dave continued.
 "Well, all of the women at our church are pretty much..." Steve began.
 "Married to innocuous guys in khaki pants and golf shirts, with a dog and two kids which they drive around in a minivan?"  Dave responded, in his rude fashion.
  "Well, that's a generalization," Steve answered.  "But I kind of see what you mean. And with your very closed and negative attitude to Christian community, I can't imagine introducing any..."
  "Do you have any groups where people who have already read the bible can talk about it?" asked Dave.
  "Well, we have small groups on occasion. Haven't had one like that in a while, now that you mention it," Steve replied.  "But most of our activity is, I agree, focused on sharing the bible with people who are new to it."
  "So, no real discussion for people who need grown up food and iron to sharpen their iron," Dave said.  "Thing is, that's what I need.  Can I help talk to new people about the bible, then?  I've read it and remember what it says."
  "Well, we have a system of pastors in place whose job oversight of that key initiative is focussed most..."
  "So, that's a no," interrupted Dave again. (Dave interrupted a lot.)  "And you think that what I need in order to get over my obvious issues (inability to hope, inability to trust, difficulty in groups, trouble connecting with others, particularly other Christians, the assumption that I never get to help because my value isn't seen by others, the assumption that I'm going to be sidelined, impugned and dismissed), which issues were mainly caused by lots and lots of church attendance, is lots and lots more church attendance, but good church attendance this time?  At a church with, as far as I can tell, nothing for me?"
  "The solution to your problem with negativity, yes, is a positive church experience with on fire for the Lord Christians who can lead you in the healing of the Holy Spirit," Steve said.  And he meant every word.
  "Do you realize that what you're doing is pretty much like taking an embittered, paranoid middle-aged woman who was repeatedly sexually abused as a child, and now has a strong negative response to men and dating and physical contact, and you're essentially saying 'What you need is to just really get laid properly'?" Dave replied. And he meant every word.
  "Do you really expect to keep any friends with that attitude?" Steve replied. "I can't help you if you won't help yourself.  It's no wonder you don't have any friends."
  "I've introduced you to many of my friends.  I would go so far as to say you're manifestly inept at helping me, them, and in fact anyone with any kind of seriously bad experience of Christian community," Dave continued.
  And it went on like that. Steve was someone it was very hard to anger.  All that stayed inside.  But Dave had a special God-given talent.

  They had several conversations of this kind.  Dave was aggressive where Steve was passive-aggressive.  Dave was spiky and nasty on the surface, always looking and failing to let out his warm, gooey feelings past a trust barrier, and Steve had a warm, gooey surface and hid the spikes and nasty underneath it.  But they kind of liked each other. They didn't hang out, and they didn't really like each others friends, but still...

  I think you get the idea.
  Steve has a weekend Men's Retreat which helps men deal with their wives.  Dave doesn't have a wife.  Steve holds a Saturday seminar about how to give up addictions to pornography, prostitutes or promiscuity.  Dave has no such addictions.  (Steve doesn't either.)  Dave isn't going to be allowed to talk to anyone about any of it, though his best friend has struggled with alcoholism for ten years, after being raised in a church that forbid any use of alcohol by anyone in it.  Dave's going to be asked to listen while Steve does all the talking, and the thing is, Steve doesn't actually know anything much about it.  You see, Steve's qualifications are that he attended a seminar one time that actually had an alcoholic at it that everyone could look at and everything, and he saw a PowerPoint on the subject.  He purchased a book called "Spirit-Cured!: Overcoming The Horrors Of Addiction Through God's Precious Mercy" but he's never read it.  And one person in Steve's church has been fairly publicly struggling with alcoholism.  But Mary isn't going to be talking this weekend.  She's not an anything pastor.  It will be Steve.  Steve's church is clearly all about taking people who are completely untouched by church and Christianity, and telling them the answer to it all is church attendance, reading church books, and doing very little but stuff that involves church people. Isolationism.  Dave was raised like that.  Thing is?  Not all problems are outside trying to get in.  Some are inside trying to get out.

  Dave and people like him have a specific sort of problem. They include:
-too much church from a very young age.   The whole week revolved around it.  Nothing unchurch-related on Sundays, right down to not being allowed to run, at all, all day Sunday, from a toddler upwards.
-Dave was raised as isolated as a Quaker.  His problems are partly caused by too much toxic church.  The idea that what he now needs is more and more and more church people and activities?  A bit silly, even if you think your church is Magic.
-not being able to relate to the chipper, chirpy, Disney pink plastic Barbieness of these other churches he'd been raised to disrespect.
-no one wants to admit there are problems, and if they are forced to admit that evil can even exist inside a church, they warn Dave about the error of actually wanting to talk about it or deal with it
-everyone says they will invite Dave over for stuff to do outside the church, or come with him to do stuff outside the church, but they don't actually do much stuff outside the church, and when they do, it's carefully with a group of friends more sincerely connected to them than the people they merely attend church with.  It's mainly with blood relatives and in-laws and the parents of friends of their kids.
-the sum total of the efforts of the kinds of Christians you can find all gathering together in a room, satisfied with themselves and one another, is directed firmly away from both helping Dave, or in letting him help with anything.

The real crux of the matter?  The Steves of the Christian world don't have a hot clue what it is even like to be a Dave, let alone how to deal with all the many Daves out there, let alone how to offer advice on how to be a Dave better than the Daves are being.  And guess who's in charge of everything? A Steve, every time. (with a few examples of a Joe, who overcame a life of crime and addiction to become a youth pastor.  But Joe doesn't work in the suburbs, and attend church there like Steve.  He's in the inner city.  When he occasionally is asked to speak at a Steve church, everyone loves it, precisely because it is the testimony of a satisfied customer, who is now also selling what they're selling, only with more street cred.)  There is never a weekend long retreat which addresses primarily "Who are we not reaching?  What do we need to fix?  What's not working?"

Now, we the Daves of the Christian world are each made to feel that we are the One Weird One.  It is demanded that we justify and explain ourselves.  Are we not On Message?  Are we not On Board?  What good comes of trying to distinguish between actual excellence and false positive? These people really think everyone else is either a) completely innocent of church, or b) loves it.  What about c) raised in it and broken in that vice or d) raised without it, tried it, had a really bad experience?  Each one of us is treated as if we, and we alone, are the only one who seems to have been shoved between the cracks and gotten wedged there.  Well, we aren't.
  And when they're done denying our existence, we are not respected or treated as useful at anything much. If you screwed up your life and embraced heroin addiction before repenting and embracing Church, that's seen as a wonderful, incredible thing that God will use.  If you didn't screw up your own life, but your church just barely failed to screw you up entirely, and the life God seems to want you to live, that's different.  It is assume we will ruin things when people are busy Selling Jesus (available on Amazon.  Special discount for orders of ten books or more intended for small group study use).  We are beaten routinely with whatever parts of the bible seem handy, and failing that, bits of hymns or shards of John Piper.  We are sent away to not foul the waters of the chipper churches, and told that the fact that we are walking away is evidence that we're in error.
  That's how it is for an uncounted number of us.  And we all think we're alone.  Every time we try to connect with Christians one at a time, they either have a strong allergic/panic reaction to the taste of our thoughts, our feelings, our essential selves, or else they put on a wry look and say something along the lines of "Oh, I hear ya alright, but still, you gotta play along if you want to get anywhere, right?  I mean what's the good in being negative?"  The assumption seems to be that believing in and working toward a false "positive" is wiser than thinking and talking about a genuine "negative."  There is a strong Disney belief in the eventual payoff one can expect from imagining things are positive and thinking happy thoughts and then flying to Never Never Land.

And they're dealing with those people who have had a positive church experience, for which continued church experience seems like a great idea.  And they're open to the idea of people who've had no experience of church, being introduced to it as a good, new idea.  And for people who were raised with no spirituality, no routine, no structure, no rules, no boundaries, no aspiring to anything greater than "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die," church might be a revelation alright.  But they're not dealing with another two kinds of people: those who have had significant church experience and it has been bad, and those who, having church experience introduced later in life and not getting it, have moved on.  And I would be willing to go out on a limb and say that there are more of the other three categories than the happy churchgoers.  This makes church a thing that is liked by those who like it.  Like antiquing.  I guess I was raised to expect Christian community to be more.  In the "good Samaritan" story, the church seems to be comparable to an inn, a resting place, a refreshing place, and somewhere injured, beaten travellers can heal.  So most churches are, at least in theory, into the idea of wanting to provide that for people who've been beaten around by drugs, alcohol, crime, gangs, poverty and that kind of thing.  And they're used to people shopping for a new church which is more the colour they're feeling like this year.  But people who've actually been beaten around by church experience?  They don't even really want to talk about that, in my experience, nor are they equipped to deal with it.  Do they have books on that?  Do they get educated in that?  Would be nice to think that sometimes they are.

But that's not what I'm seeing. How do they 'cure' a negative, critical, judgmental, lonely person?  Standard church approach seems to be to lecture him, wall him off, isolate him, send him away, and be negative, critical and judgmental about him because he deserves that now.  After all, he's negative, critical and judgmental, right?  And unsurprisingly, we feel alone.

We aren't alone.  None of us is the only screwed up one.  Everyone's screwed up.  Some of us can't ignore it as much. Some of us have had as much and more than we can stomach of chipper church solutions.  Some of us don't work well in groups.  That isn't a mortal sin, is it?

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

This Is A Test Of The Recording Equipment...

I had a major problem with my recording computer and had to start all over with that system, getting a new operating system install and a new version of Pro Tools that would work with it. I've been without recording equipment for a few weeks.  This is an attempt to test out a simple recording with it. It's a creepy old hymn called Wayfaring Stranger.