Friday, 26 July 2013

Contest Again: The Sequel!

A summer book contest? Well, this is exciting!  The first three entrants who send an email to mike_mooreATsympaticoDOTcom, explaining why they want and should receive their very own copy of The Songs of Peter Grey will each receive one, free of charge!  And the first respondent will also get his or her choice of Peter Grey art t-shirt*.  Of course, if you want to just anonymously buy your own copy without me knowing who you are, you can just go buy it here.
  Don't delay.  Servers are standing by.

*If you want something else from CafePress, like a Peter Grey Kindle, iMac or iPhone case, or a coffee mug, hat or something like that, substitutions will be allowed.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

A New Formula

I realize that clichés are annoying.  I realize that usually, if you see the point of them, you no longer have whatever problem they are supposed to address.  Or else they just point up what the problem is in the first place without you being able to fix it.
  And you should realize that I don't tend to see things in "math" terms.  But, for the sake of communicating, I am going to express what the pants-wettingly enthusiastic propaganda writers and poster designers at Nortel used to call "a paradigm shift." (value-add for the whole virtual team, rolling out and ramping up as soon as feasible, folks, with synergy and increased effectivity for all)
  I wrote some books, and I've gone through quite the ecclesiastical gymnastics trying to get a handle on what works better for me than the way that I was raised clearly didn't.  I can express it like this (And listen: don't think about it, talk about, consider it, balance it or argue with it.  Try it):

I tossed this old thing out:

(My normal week + Church stuff) - (anything my church was suspicious of) = wanting to be dead

and have tried this instead:

My normal day + God = whatever that turns out to be

  So much better.  It's like I'm not spending my day perpetually perturbed, mourning thwarted assumptions and expectations.  The "plus instead of takeaway" approach feels very different.  I'm convinced lately that if we manifested the fruits of the Spirit, like at all (I say manifested, not "dutifully simulated") everything would be a whole lot better than it is.  According to Wikipedia, the fruit(s) is/are:

     The way I was raised involved being scolded for doing (or even seeming) anything that was kind of the opposite of what someone with these virtues would do.  It was like we thought the secret to patience was simply hiding impatience.  Like the secret to love was simply hiding your resentment deeply.  So we all did that.  Tamped that gunpowder down firmly inside ourselves with each passing afternoon.  
  There was the bizarre idea that the path to these fruits of the Spirit was simply obeying the bible's commandment to "do" them.  Like you can obey your way to being a better person inside.  
  But the fruits of the Spirit aren't commandments or rules or guidelines.  They are a description of what kind of person you are, in your essential self, if you have the Spirit in there.  
  Thing is, whenever we clearly didn't manifest this fruit, no one ever pointed us toward Him.  Ever.  Instead, they reminded us to clamp down harder on our natural tendencies, ourself.  With (get this) our willpower.  Which the bible refers to as "the flesh."  They encouraged us to fake these virtues.  Act as if we actually had them, actually were that good person.  Big believers in "fake it until you make it."  Faking them was okay so long as you didn't ever for a moment forget what a fake you really were.
  Well, needless to say, that doesn't work.  Like, at all.  The very reason we needed a Christ to come down and save us is that we CAN'T just simulate or obey or "will" virtues like love or joy.  We can try to suppress facial expressions, tones of voice and actions which reveal that we are impatient alright, but that isn't nearly the same thing as actually becoming more patient as a person.  And all that "peace" that's talked about in the bible?  That comes from becoming more at harmony with God and in one's self.  It doesn't come from repression and warring with self.
  Interestingly, Paul doesn't just list the fruit of the Spirit.  He also lists the fruits of the flesh (The Flesh: the incomplete human, disconnected from God and trying to get along with human systems and willpower and the best of plans and intentions.)  The first few of these rotten fruits were ones that our church men loved to preach against ceaselessly, because they sounded quite saucy: 
sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft. 
  We felt pretty good preaching against these.  We often referenced the Catholics (and maybe hockey or television) when preaching against idolatry.  Pretty hard to preach against witchcraft in the 80s, so we preached against Judas Priest and Dungeons & Dragons and the astrology column in The Ottawa Citizen.
  But our church often has a lot of the following stuff, so we didn't hear much preaching against it at all:
hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy. 
  And then there were two more that we were once again happy to preach against, because once again, other people were doing them, and once again, they sounded quite saucy.  We loved to talk about bad people no doubt doing bad things because we didn't see them out at church:
drunkenness and orgies.
  We had to seem different from regular people, in order to be a Good Testimony.  I don't remember hearing that we could actually become different. We were all horrible sinners, and had to just try not to act it.  It was all about outer appearance.  We were to seem better, while being hyperaware that we weren't. Christianity was about pretending to be like Christ, by acting as we thought he would, like play actors (Hypocrite: from Greek hypokritēs-actor)  And we were to attract others to this lifestyle of playacting.
  Well, that's not enough for me anymore.  I'm not willing to live the rest of my life suppressing the opposites of these virtues and feeling that's good enough.  We've suffered enough by eating that Fruit, and should know a good from a suppressed evil by now.  I'm not willing to try to hide, sit on or generally negate my negatives, and be content with that, just as if I had those "positives."  I want those virtues. I want to actually be these things.  I don't think that's unreasonable to want, either.  I think it's entry level Christianity.  Anything less than that isn't anything I understand.

  To recap: no amount of knowledge of or obedience to the bible/church lifestyle routines is going to make me loving, inside myself.  That only comes directly from God.  The bible points me toward God.  A good church and good Christians might do that too, though not nearly as well.  But the bible doesn't provide me with rules I can follow, myself, without my really having a personal and meaningful relationship with Him, and magically have it all work out just fine.  Nope.  That's what an idol is.
  So I'm not going to try to act more patient.  I'm going to look to God and wait to actually become more patient.  I'm sure that's making some of you nervous, this reckless, idealistic foolishness.  But it makes me feel quite differently.  This all makes me feel like things are looking up, like there's more in store than I'd suspected, Godwards.  Like we've been settling for a Christianity that doesn't actually require Christ.

  I've been reading the bible lately.  And not just the passages with wrath and foreskins and dung, though those things sorta keep cropping up, in the Old Testament especially.  I was always taught to read the bible so I could learn and obey.  Well that's not enough anymore either.  I'm not interested in learning about liberty and love.  I'm not content with knowing what the bible says about them.  I need freedom.  I need to love and feel loved, rather than repeating "love one another" all by myself, suspicious of other people.  I'm wanting to actually fulfil ("obey") the laws of liberty and of love.
  And "obey" is used ironically here.  It's not like obeying the speed limit.  It requires being better, not just acting better.  I'm trying to read the bible like a catalogue of stuff I can order.  I partly blame Marita Smith for that.
  It's simple: read the fruits of the spirit and instead of following the trained behaviour and reminding yourself never to forget to always remember to daily act like you are a virtuous person with these traits; instead of following the trained behaviour and reminding yourself never to forget to always remember to daily suppress and clamp down on their opposites, read it like something you've ordered from Sears.  (It may take some time to arrive.  But I'm settling for no imitations.)
  Listen: You want the Holy Spirit in your life.  Why?  He's comforting.  He makes communication possible.  Also, he comes with that list of nine nifty features which will actually make the whole world a better place, and you a better person people will endlessly waste time in trying to figure out.
  Because the bible doesn't say "act as if you loved one another.  Act as if you loved your enemies."  (Good thing.  I can't even fake all that, much less feel it or act that way.)  It actually says "Love one another.  Love your enemies."  And it means it.  
  And it doesn't just mean "conjure up warm and fuzzy fake feelings toward them."  It really means what it says.  And it's not romantic love, or friend love.  It means love your neighbour as yourself.  (For people who hate themselves: deal with your neighbours the way you'd deal with your kids, if you had any.)  You're to actually want to see the growth and betterment of everyone.  Because you want it, as if it was happening to you personally.  Because God wants it and it will make everything better.  You want actual virtues.  We can't fake or obey, learn or "understand" our way to them.  
  There's more than a mere paper drawing of a birthday cake on offer.  Because it is your birthday.  Get ready.  (and don't say you don't deserve to have a birthday, or didn't do a terrible lot of the work when being born (again), that you haven't really been truly living a life that's worthy of your having been born, or that it's really okay, you really just don't want to allow people to celebrate, or your Dad to give you stuff.)  Open up.  Come on in.  There's a bunch of stuff waiting.  It's your birthday.

  Another tiny epiphany I had recently while driving through the Adirondacks and idly seeing my phone, on the seat beside me, lighting up over and over as person after person posted on a Facebook group about "Well, Christians are to obey the law of liberty, of course, but we have to always remember..." and "Well, that's all well and good, but Christians can't just go around..."  I suddenly realized:
"I'm not willing to have a single conversation more with one more Christian about liberty, if he or she isn't free."
  Are you at liberty?  If not, what did Christ die for?  Does he know you or will he deny you?
  Like, I'd been accepting it as annoying but normal for any discussion of grace or freedom or liberty to mostly involve Christians trying nervously, desperately to "balance" all of that stuff.  To put a guardrail around it all and keep kids from playing there.  To toss in stuff about responsibility and duty and obedience. Safe stuff.  Structure stuff.  Stuff that we like.
  Just like how my dad, every time bible discussions involved too much discussion of God's love, always needed it "balanced" with a bunch of talk about God's light, His divine wrath and judgment.    He needed to hear a lot of talk about responsibility, and mostly he wanted to hear about Separation. (The Christian duty of not living a life, so as to be seen as separate from people in This World.)  
  You want to make church people nervous?  Tell them Christians are free.  That Christ died to set us at liberty.  And so we are free now.  For reals.
  Oh, but should we go around doing whatever we want, even if it's clearly against scripture?  
  I'm not even going to have a conversation like that anymore, if it's going to be wholly theoretical.  I'm not going to argue about rainbows with blind people.  Not going to waste my time.  If it's with people who are enemies of Christian liberty.  If it's with people who are terrified and uncomfortable to even have a discussion about liberty, let alone try to accept any.
  Here's a very hard statement: Christians are at liberty, or they're not Christians.  Christ came to lead captivity captive.  If people who call themselves Christians think they need to be bound in all kinds of shame-based, peer-pressure, bullying, competitive piety stuff, that's them negating the work of Christ.  Paul is very clear on that.  
  When I see Christians getting press, they're always trying to limit others.  Leave that up to God, I say.  It is no more our job to limit others than it's our job to die for them and rise again so they can rise again with us, new creatures unbound by what once was our situation.  There is a limit to how much "warning sinners" is a good idea, before you become Fred Phelps.  And without actual love, the real deal, and not just the actions or semblance of it, the warnings are as intelligible as someone smashing a cymbal right in your ear in a kind of Morse code you've never heard of.
  But, I mean, do you have to sin to be free?
  What a ridiculous idea.  Yet it's kind of the main argument used by Christian-haters-of-liberty.  We don't want to look free, do we? People might think we're sinning!  Or they might want to be freed too!
  One thing I know: if you call yourself a Christian, and you tend to hide a lot of your self from God, due to shame, or to try to keep a tiny corner of freedom and identity to yourself, then you haven't even progressed in the biblical narrative to the point in the story where you get kicked out of the Garden, let alone to getting liberated from Egypt, and certainly not to the point of having screwed up your relationship with God by repeatedly cheating on Him with idols, and certainly not to the point where Jesus came to fix things, at first for the Jewish nation, and then with the coming of Paul, to broaden things out so that us gentiles had a hope of being grafted into it.  No.  You're still hiding, naked but for your leaves, behind some bush somewhere, feeling that pleasing God is about dutifully feeling the shame.  I not very humbly submit that you have mistaken God for other people.  Church people, usually.
  Stand before the God who made you.  Take your licks.  Stop hiding.  You will find that He's not going to mock and judge you for your nakedness, but will clothe you.  You will find that He won't take away your freedom and identity, but will give you a frightening amount more of it.  He made you.  He will not unmake you.  He will continue to build you.  And you will be more you than you have ever been.  Because He's like that. He felt the world needed a totally gratuitous number of completely different beetles, for instance.  And birds and berries.
  The Fruit didn't just make us now able to have stupid Facebook arguments about ethics, about right and wrong.  It didn't just give us a conscience so we could feel shame, which always and only divides us from God.  (I know.  We love our shame.  Well, you will have to lay that aside if you want to go talk to God, butt hanging draftily out of that leaf apron as it is at this point).  The Fruit made us know what was Goodness, and what was Evil, and it made us able to know that we aren't Done.  We are very unfinished.  And when we see that, we can go to God about it.  Poor, naked, wretched, blind.  He works on that.  Often He waits to see if we notice we need Him.  Once we admit what we already feel and know and can't do, He makes things better.
  And He keeps working.  And He fixes things in the way and time He wants.  He ignores our views on what needs to get fixed first. ("First I'd like a flatter tummy...") He also leaves stuff that He's designed into us on (mysterious) purpose, that we very much want gone.
  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  Time to stop being a crabapple tree doing its level best to grow crabapples that look kinda like oranges because people like oranges, right?  Time to let God build us, instead of other Christians, and their churches.  Time to let go self-improvement and do-it-yourself fixes, and go to the Dealership instead.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Thank God for Harvey

I'm going to post here a thought by a wise man who I will call Harvey for the sake of this blog. He sat there patiently and listened to a lovely young woman and I having an endless discussion much like ones that have been going on on Facebook about "Is It Ever Okay For Christians To Swear?"  
  I'd gone over the fact that I've had the nastiest of feelings and things communicated to me in flowery language, and have often had love and affection expressed with the eff word showing up in the sentences that conveyed it. 
  It seemed to me like my counterpart was arguing that though the bible does not of course actually give us a list of how rude words can get before they're verboten (for instance, "pissed off," was, she felt, on the line, not being really swearing anymore, but almost), that there is such a list.  It seemed to me that she was arguing that we bow to cultural judgments (by what our church would have called "This World") and use its moral standards for what words were morally and politically correct, and which ones weren't.  So then I invited her to accept the clear fact that in classrooms, doctor's offices, courtrooms, principal's offices, police stations, senator's offices, evening television and everywhere else in our fair country, words like "boob" or "ass" or "pissed off" or "dick" or even "shit" have increasingly been accepted by the cutting edge of our culture, and are being used hourly everywhere, having been deemed not all that terribly rude anymore.  I then invited her to, if she wanted to accept society's obsolete judgments, also accept the "updates."  It wasn't getting anywhere, but it was fun. 
  She tucked her bare feet up under her, smoothed her jeans, brushed her hair out of her eyes and looked up at the ceiling to come up with responses a lot.  He sat, solid as a twinkly-eyed Atlas.  Occasionally, well-behaved and clean-scrubbed children approached one or the other parent and stood beside that parent, waiting to be acknowledged, so as not to interrupt.
  Eventually Harvey, who doesn't probably enjoy arguing very much and seems to take more comfort in clear, simple positions on things, got up.  He went and got out a bible to open to Ephesians, and also a book on Ephesians, to make the point that saying certain words was, he thought, always wrong for Christians. He felt that the bible presents this as a simple, clear position.  (I think position-taking is like judging.  Something Jesus avoided like the plague, when people tried to push him for a sound-bite, and so should I likewise avoid being forced to sum up my Christian liberty in "yes" or "no," "for" or "against" stances.)  
  This being invited to accept a hard and fast, always, every day, 24-7, in all circumstances for all people position-taking always makes me feel like someone's looking at my liberty and thinking I stole it and need to give it back.  And I want to say that Christ bought it, however I may be using or misusing it, and I feel the need to obey the two great New Testament laws: the law of liberty (that we be at liberty is, surely, crucial to that?) and the law of love (that we act well toward each other).
  In response, I talked about proof-texting bits of the bible to say something's wrong, when that part of the bible isn't establishing a "right" or"wrong" position so much as painting a picture of what's, generally speaking, ideal, and presenting how, generally, with exceptions made in certain circumstances, it would best, all things being equal, to behave in this way, usually. Most of the time.  Otherwise we've got a law.  And Jesus actually literally died to keep us from being responsible to live a life defined and shaped and bounded primarily by laws.

  And even laws have exceptions.  Jesus said troubling things about the Sabbath being for Man, not Man for the Sabbath.  He did "healing work" on the Sabbath.  David ate bread that was only supposed to be for priests, and that was totally okay, given the circumstances.  The bible is full of that stuff. You should read it sometime.
  But Harvey then impressed me deeply when he went on to point out something that we (other) two were totally missing, characteristically, in our sophistry: in that passage in Ephesians, there's a whole *next part* which goes with the part we were discussing. And we didn't even suspect.  Without Harvey, we were never going to get there. We were having too much fun with the first half, because it had naughty bits to it.  We were children of the Plymouth Brethren, always looking at stuff to not do and missing all the stuff to do.  (We suck like that.)
  Ephesians also says that, generally, ideally, most often, our talk and attitude should be characterized by thanksgiving usually, instead of generally being known to be filled with filthy joking, corrupt ideas and empty talk. (you should probably go read Ephesians, rather than have me quote bits of it and cite it so you won't have to read the whole thing.  It's pretty trippy.)
  Typically, the two of us were enjoying having an interminable argument about "are there any exceptional cases where it is proper to use rude language?" (with the old "God Himself does it in the bible itself!" vs. "No!" argument happening) and not even seeing the second half of the apostle's point. The "positive" part. About what should characterize our talk.  Thanksgiving.  You know, like on a DVD commentary, or at an awards ceremony.
  We do that, don't we? Those of us who are trying to obey the bible by insisting we not have our liberty spied out by old-school tradition and its adherents, and fighting for the freedom that Christ won for us (so that his sacrifice be meaningful, and hoping that one day Christians will be known for liberty and love) squaring off against those who feel that to ever do certain things even once is to dishonour God Himself, and the bible.
  Thank God for Harvey.  Because those of us who struggle with depression forget about being grateful.  Because at one and the same time, gratitude is an extra challenge for depressives, but also something that reorients our psyches lifeward.
  Despair is deciding (blindly) that we have absolutely nothing to be grateful or thankful for.  A good way out of it isn't as simple as counting a few blessings as if that worked like shock therapy.  But if we're sliding into despair and can feel it yawning at our feet, and if we know that despair is blindness masquerading as epiphany, and if we open our minds and hearts to there being stuff we're blind to that's thanksworthy, often this keeps us from sliding right in.  I heartily recommend it.
  Thanks, Harvey.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Table of Contents for a Compliation of the Letters Sent During '92 Division

When I visited Mark last weekend, he was getting rid of some things.  One thing he was getting rid of was his collection of the letters sent around (and a couple unmailed ones) during the infamous 1992 Nepean Division.  I found the table of contents he made, back in the day, amusing.  You can click them to make them large.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Being Mean To Each Other: The Heart Finds Ways

Recently, tired of persistent passive-aggressive comments on Facebook, I swore at a Christian.  I did it and then wrote a whole thing contrasting that (aggressive) with what "we" always seem to do (passive aggressive).  Thing is, I know "what's done" and "what's simply not done" in Christian circles.  So it's not ignorance.  Nor is it "breaking rules" I recognize as valid.  As usual, this is me objecting to our culture and saying it's gone way off the rails and also missed the boat entirely as to loving one another.
  Civility.  Compassion.  Kindness.  These are virtues that are rather lacking in the modern world.  I value them, when done correctly.  I mean, I had a class of fifteen year old History students one year who were so thuggy, so nasty to each other, that I made civility a central part of what I felt I needed to do in order to work with the kids at all.
  It worked pretty well.  All I did was explain that everyone was going to be able to come to my class and learn stuff without fear of being insulted and disrespected, nor would they be allowed to indulge in insults and disrespect.  In fact, if anyone insulted or "dissed" anyone, they had to apologize immediately.  Apologizing was so humiliating that no one dared insult anyone.  These weren't Christian kids.  So if they were being insulting, it was really easy to catch them. Because they didn't reflexively deny dissing each other, and were not used to getting away with that kind of denial and evasiveness.  They knew when they were dissing someone and admitted to it.  So no one dared do it if it meant apologizing (something I also never saw in Christian circles).
  Well, one kid dared to do it.  He said the whole class was gay.  I told him to apologize to his classmates for calling them a name, and he said "I'm not apologizing to THEM!  They're faggots!"  I chose to phone the father about this, and the fact that the father laughed proudly when he heard this news didn't help much.
  But my home was very different.  No swearing or vulgar talk.  We couldn't even say "Shut up!" or "Who farted?"  So was our home more civil than "Mr. Faggot"'s?  Was there a wonderful lack of disrespectful comments?  We were more decent to one another? That's where things get complicated.
  I have come to the conclusion that when scripture says "the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked," (who can know it?) that we think of a Christian/nonChristian divide, and how the world is always full of wickedness.  Or something like that.  I think we don't really apply it to how Christians act with each other.  What I don't remember hearing on the subject is how, when we, our church, imposed this whole lifestyle of civility, with no swearing or even emphatic talk of any kind, really (being emphatic seemed low-class to us, and made us laugh at the colourful talk we ourselves didn't indulge in), we were still mean to each other.  We were still disrespecting one another left and right.  The heart found ways.
  By "ways," I mean that, if you try to censor and legislate away every single word or expression a child may use to diss his or her siblings and peers, the human heart will always find a way to do it anyway.  The human heart's like that.
  We were taught that only Christ could save us from our heart and its wicked ways, yet we nevertheless set up a human-created lifestyle (a style of living) with guidelines we avoided calling rules (the kinds of rules you were told of course you didn't need to keep, but could, of course, not break either).  We set this up, and it didn't work.  It really didn't work.  The heart finds ways.
  My family and my church were completely free of swearing and vulgarity, yet my memories include a great deal of cold, superior nastiness in day-to-day interactions with each other.  I hear this kind of thing went on in the courts of some of the most elevated kings of history.  Subtle snubs.  The heart finding ways to express its worst self, despite its own best intentions.
  When people met the adult me, raised to never swear or speak with emphatic or vulgar language, they still commented on how "negative" I was.  Because I was/am.  I was raised that way.  I was steeped in it.  I grew up in a competitive piety contest, with continual fighting over who among us was worst. 
  In fact, where my school friends would say "Fuck off, queerbait!" to each other, I didn't have recourse to any of that kind of talk, so I'd be bitchy, subtle...and psychologically accurate.  The others would just toss one of those all-purpose expressions of anger and disrespect.  I'd actually quietly, blankly impugn their own distinctive character.  By telling the nasty truth.  This did not hurt them less.  It came off as ridiculously worse.
  On this topic, Mark said:

i once looked up all the words in Hebrew for 'dung'.  out of the 12 used, there's only one that is specifically meant to be crude, it relates to our word "shit".

 Malachi 2:3 "Behold, I will corrupt your seed, and spread shit upon your faces, the shit of your solemn feasts; and you will be taken away with it [the shit]."

The bible doesn't shrink from vulgar, rude talk the way we do.  Over and over again it "goes there."  Another example of the apostle Paul saying (this is often translated so as to purposely obscure the meaning) the he really wished that all the Jews who were trying to force new gentile Christians to be circumcised would just go cut their own dicks off and be done with it.
   So on Facebook I contrasted the blank, unfocused swearing of "worldlings" around me, with the much more hard-hitting behaviour of someone like Jesus, calling people names and impugning their character flaws (whitewashed tombs, shining outside, but inside filled with rottenness and death, in their actual personalities).  Much worse.  Accurate and focused.  And then I tried to write about "what we do instead."  I was on a bit of a tear. I hate how when Christians play dirty online, it's often couched in false humility, bragging, false concern, false piety, and false decorum.  It is false, false, false from top to bottom.  So, to me, at one end you have Christians, who seem to be trying to slowly smother you to death with a cushion when they're unhappy with you, in the middle you have regular folk, who swear, which by contrast feels like being hit over the head with the couch cushion a few times, and at the other end, farthest from the "Christian" end is the man whom "Christian" is named after, and instead of a couch cushion, he seems to have a scalpel.
  When I was visiting Mark last weekend, he gave me his "collection" of copies of all the correspondence written during one of our church's "divisions."  He was done with it, and hadn't sent it to me when I was writing about that event in my book.  But he was having a last look at it, and at one point "translated" what was written in a letter.  He "corrected it" to what it seems was really going on inside the people, discernible in their spirit and actions.  So, where the letter, (victoriously kicking out the people on the "losing" side of a little church war) read:

"It is with great sorrow and heaviness that we write this letter,"

Mark translated it

"It is with great glee and a thinly-veiled feeling of triumph that we write this letter."

Now, some would argue that these men actually were sad about kicking out everyone.  In tears over it, even.  I would argue that, as time has gone by, not only have they resorted time and again to the same tactics, but they have carried on with their lives, refusing to discuss, let alone express any sorrow or real regret for their actions, and flatly refusing to attempt reconciliation of any kind, because getting rid of the people was the intent all along.  Were they filled with sorrow over using their only strategy?  Why was/is it their only strategy?  Is it "sorrow" if you do it anyway for generations and refuse to discuss having done it, or not doing it in future?

  Anyway, I was trying to give an example of just how rude people can be online without quite looking like they're being rude.  With expressions of sorrow and regret that are as plastic as the keyboards they're typed on.  An example of how if I am aggressive, they are passive-aggressive, thinking that it is a "better testimony" to be passive-aggressive than to be insulting.
  I have had pastors actually tell me that it IS better for Christians to be passive-aggressive than aggressive.  Because it's a better example to unbelievers.
  I think it simply cements our testimony of being self-deluding fakers.

  So, this is what I typed, as pretend Christian passive-aggressive online behaviour:
George, I'm so sorry you feel this way. I think it's so sad that certain people, even ones who call themselves Christians, have to resort to this kind of thing on the Internet. I know I used to indulge in this kind of behaviour myself, and it's SO hard to change! It takes a close walk with the Lord, I've found, which is what's worked for me!
   I think if we all read our bibles more, (
Hez 2:3) we'd see less of this kind of sad behaviour.  Far be it for me to give what is merely my own opinion (and I could be wrong, just ask my husband!) :) Hez 2:3 but I think we really need to just really just not do any of the stuff that I don't like that we're doing (And by "we" I mean "you"), and just really really just really do things the way I think we should do them, of course. see: Hez 2:3 to admire how right it makes me look at this point. WHAT a saviour!
   Now, I realize that maybe in the kinds of assemblies you're used to (there is a solemn warning against them in Hez 2:3 which we do well to heed), people may feel it appropriate to go around judging and correcting absolutely everyone and everything without having first built a relationship founded on mutual Christian love and respect like I always do, but I've just really, really found that when I just do things the way I think I should do them, and surround myself with people who don't do things I just really don't like, that I'm SO much more happy! Hez 2:3 (also much better able to serve the Lord!) there's a really good thought in Hez 2:3 about that which clearly makes me look awesome and Christian and righteous and you look like a mouth-breathing worldling idiot.
   So, I really hope you sort things out with the Lord, who is able to forgive us beyond what we ask or think. (see: Hez 2:3 to understand how important it truly is to think exactly as I do) This bitterness and small-heartedness of yours, and sad need to argue could well require a course of medication, as well. I have the name of a LOVELY Christian doctor who could set you up and help you on the road to your future improved state of Christian walk.
In the meantime, give serious consideration to how wrong you are and how right I am, given those solemn words in Hez 2:3.
  The usual thing happened.  An unknown number of people thought it was funny, an equally unknown number of people were needled by it and disapproved.  An unknown number of people didn't care either way.  Then a guy started a new discussion about how disgusting it was, the way "we" (not him) act (I don't think it was the sample of passive-aggressiveness he was obliquely objecting to, but the swearing at him).  He did it without naming names, leaving several innocent parties wondering if he meant them.  He meant me, but hadn't exactly PMed me to discuss it or anything.  I don't think he wanted a discussion.  He wanted a public indictment, without benefit of trial or jury.  He just wanted to say "shame on you!" as far as I can tell. It's not like we discussed it. I did try.
  This made me think of Paul and Peter.  They didn't have cars or phones, but even so, when Paul had a problem with Peter, he went to him and withstood him "to the face."  We're not like that.  We play things up for our faceless little Internet audience, but we don't PM people, let alone phone, let alone go visit them if we have a problem with them.  Many times when someone's started to really trash talk me, I've PMed them to try to sort it out.  I have yet to have my PMs responded to.  What normally happened is the person settled WAY down on the public forum, and pretended I hadn't PMed him. There is an honesty and an openness in even a PM that some aren't "up for."
  But one thing in the "How sad that we act this way" response to what I'd said stuck with me.  He'd typed "you have a pretty good thing going on here, do you really want to loose (sic) it by treating each other the way that really bothered you in the meetings that you went to?"
  I realized that what I really wanted was people to try to stab me in the front, for a change.  I realized that I was sick of polite-rude and passive-aggressive. I realized I was sick of false modesty, false piety and false everything.  I remembered feeling refreshed by how "worldly" people casually dissed each other, and got it out of their systems, or were just joking anyway, as opposed to the environment in which I grew up, in which every word might be remembered and misquoted for the rest of your life and long afterward.
  Because we're supposed to love one another.  Like a family.  Not just feel or act loving.  We're supposed to actually do it.  And just like in my family, in my experience of Christian communities, nothing is forgiven, and when it comes to hurting each other, no matter what rules are put into place, the heart finds a way.
  I am only in contact with a few young Christian people.  What I find is, when pushed to it, they will swear at me.  And that makes things much easier to deal with when disagreement happens.  We can have friendships that can weather them saying some opinion or other of mine is "bullshit" or telling me "fuck you".  There can then be no pretending they're not annoyed ("No, no... I'm fine.  You're just imagining I'm angry.  My word! My goodness, not everything is about you, y'know...")  There can then be no pretending they're not hitting back a bit, or expressing annoyance.  And then, when the friendship continues, and moves on, a rhythm of forgiveness and longsufferingness is seen to have been established.  So I'm okay with it, though I don't usually swear at people.  If I am, I am likely making a point of some kind.  It's not a daily, casual thing.
  This Christian lifestyle we try to enforce, and which we judge people for not adhering to?  It is a culture of backstabbing.  Only Christ can save us from ourselves and teach us first honesty and then forgiveness for each other.  We suck.  We just really, really do.  All I'm doing is getting sick of it.  It's not like I'm doing any better. 

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The "Perfect Will of God"

Years ago, when I finally met a friend with whom I could have honest, uncurtailed, in-depth conversations about the bible, God and our church upbringing and stuff, it was a relief. I wasn't used to being able to talk about this stuff without being shut down.  So it wasn't too long before I raised the topic that always gave me the most grief.  God's Perfect Plan For My Life.  Some stuff I had tossed more readily.  For example, I didn't take a whole lot of time before I dispensed with these other three very Plymouth Brethren ideas:

a) the idea that our church wasn't a church, but rather was the only right way to worship, with a special claim to the Lord's Presence.  We claimed that latter claim by misquoting Matt 18:20 to say we were "gathered to" his name, rather than "gathered in" it, as the verse reads.
b) the idea that our God was personally threatened by us enjoying things that didn't have His designer label on them.  So, our religion was one of sacrificing pleasure on the altar.  Because that's what made our god happy (us forgoing happiness).  Our god was a pleasure-hating god who throve on us burning joy.
c) the idea that we had two stalemated "natures" in us, dividing us.  Of course the "solution" was more of the aforementioned joy sacrifice, with some extra self-loathing and self-denial done to make God reward us.

  ...but the topic that was hardest of all for me to know what to do with was "the Lord's Perfect Will" or "God's Special Plan For Me."  When I was at Mark's sister's wedding, he was climbing up inside a stairwell by bracing his hands and feet against the sides.  I was standing below carrying on a conversation, of course, while he did this.
  I called up "So, how do we know if we're doing the Lord's will?  Like, if we try to do something, and it isn't working at first, how do we know what's going on?  How do we know if it's not working because we don't have the Lord's support and should stop?  Because it could also be that we're on the right path, and Satan is opposing us.  How do we get blessed fully by just really knowing that we're doing the Lord's will for us in our Christian lives?"
  "I don't believe in the Lord's will," Mark said, and disappeared from sight, leaping over a railing to land on a different floor.  I guess that's why it's called a landing at the top of staircases.

At the time, I thought Mark was just being cavalier, but what I found out this weekend was that he'd actually read a book by Gary Friesen, and was vastly oversimplying it back then.  Now, many years later, I'm reading it.

This "Lord's Perfect Will For Me" thing always bugged me.  Because I wanted it so badly. I wanted to wake up, feeling special, feeling like it was terribly important that none of my decisions deviate even slightly from the exact details of what God intended me to do.  We weren't taught, though, as many Christians are, Garry Friesen says, to do the Lord's Will to "get God's best for us."  We were just trying not to make Him mad and wreck everything.  Our God was a god of ruin.  He'd ruin anything, and we were living in days of ruin.  He was intense.  An austere god with impossible standards.  So I didn't want to use my best judgment and decide how specific God was going to get about what was the only right way to do anything.  I just wanted Him to tell me everything to do so I could do it, and never need wisdom or common sense.  I didn't want to make Him mad.
  It was a sweet idea.  Thing is, it didn't work.  Not because I didn't try it.  It didn't work because God didn't play it like that.  I would pray and pray (we were always told if we weren't 100% certain God had communicated His perfect will to us, it was because we hadn't prayed (hard, long) enough). I would pray, but it was like He was standing there with an expression that said "Go on.  Your turn.  Give it a try."  Instead of acting, I would pray more, to an apparently unheeding diety, and it would make me increasingly anxious, indecisive and superstitious.  
  I would try to "read" the flow of events around me like a fortune teller reads tea leaves or palms.  I was looking for God to show me, in advance, exactly which decision was "the right one" in every situation.  So, if there were two schools I'd gotten accepted to, there was one thing I knew: it could not equally be okay to go to either one.  One was wrong.  (Or maybe both were wrong).  Because God had a Plan.  And if I didn't figure it out, I would screw everything up.  I didn't believe in a God who gave me choices.  I believed in a God who was making me guess which Hand the blessing was in.

This is because God wouldn't remove all doubt, not matter how I prayed.  Wouldn't fill in all the details.  He would leave me to make decisions, given past experience, some basic scriptural guidelines, using whatever sense I had and awareness of which way the wind was blowing, and I'd have to just make the decisions myself, in the final analysis.  It was like, if free will exists, if He always told me everything, there was no point in giving me the capacity to decide in the first place.  He wanted collaboration, not just compliance.  
  And I learned that the hardest of decisions are the ones where there isn't one that's clearly right and another that's clearly wrong.  So, "murder a politician or order a pizza?" isn't a hard choice.  Chicken or fish might be.
   But I got frustrated and gave up on the idea of God expecting me to figure out some fixed plan of His that I could easily screw up by guessing the wrong Hand.  I gave up on it, though, only with an uneasy feeling that there are some bible verses that mention the Lord's will.  There really are.  But they didn't seem to mean what I was being taught.  And what I was being taught wouldn't work, so I couldn't do it.  I could fret over it alright, though.  Of course I could.  (And I thought fretting was virtuous, also.  Because it messed up pleasure, which was the ultimate virtue, as far as we were concerned.)

Like with a lot of things, the kind of brain I have was a problem.  Very black and white in my thinking, sometimes.  So when some venerable old dude said "We must seek the Lord's plan for our lives in EVERYTHING!  In the smallest detail, we must seek His guidance and obey His will!" I would believe it.  Unlike most people, I would quash the part of my brain that said "Well, not as to whether the toilet paper roll has the paper going over or under the roll, though" and actually try to do what the man had said.  He was just trying to make people do it more, probably.  To give them some pretty words to feel inspired by and do a little bit.  I was likely to take them for a serious test drive.  That was a problem for me.  Because a lot of the time people don't mean what they say.  And they overstate things and don't give a balanced view of anything.  They don't present all the sides of an issue.  They give you a sound bite.  And you shouldn't, I had to learn to my chagrin, try to live your life by soundbites.

I've only started the book, and I want to see how brief I can make this, but it was pretty plain.   First, what do pretty much all Christians agree on, about all this stuff?

The Sovereign Will of God
1) God intends things throughout all history and reality to culminate in certain ways.  In other words, how things turn out matters to Him.  And He's doing stuff.  Friesen calls this "God's Sovereign Will." Like God being a king and running the whole kingdom.  And there's you wanting to know everything He's planning.  Now, the problem is, God's Will for EVERYTHING is something the bible clearly presents as:

a) quite beyond us
b) not something God's revealing to us, no matter how much we pray, read the bible, and skip episodes of America's Top Model to learn about.  Because we simply don't need to know everything.  We have enough trouble dealing with the basics. Most of it's not our business.  It's His.

So it's a tough one.  Sometimes, God is working His "perfect Will," and the bible is talking about it, alright.  But it is talking about something He's simply not done doing, and something He also feels no need of telling us all about in detail, in advance.  
  God's Sovereign Will/Plan/Counsels for Everything aren't revealed to us, and we can't mess them up, and we can't expect to be told all about them before we make our mundane little choices, which really are terribly unlikely to figure prominently in said Counsels anyway.  But we all believe in "the Will of God" when the bible is talking about this kind of thing.  God does stuff?  We know that.

The Moral (ethical) Will of God 
2)  Other times, the bible is talking about those general instructions for how to properly be a human being or Christian.  General rules or knowledge.  Ten commandments.  The Christian commandments to be at liberty, and to love one another.  Stuff about how to treat people.  That's stuff for everyone, every day.  There's nothing about which school to choose, which girl to date, or which brand of butter to buy, (or if margarine is a better idea) all things considered.  
   And when the bible talks about the Will of God, and it means all that general, moral stuff, we get that too.  And unlike the Sovereign stuff, we get told that stuff.  We understand that God doesn't wish us to go around killing everyone.  That He thinks adulterers are douchebags.  Not to oppress the weak.  That stuff.  And sometimes that's what the bible's talking about, as to the "will of God," instead of the previous thing, the Sovereign Will of God thing.

A Personal, Static, Pre-determined, Uncollaborative Plan?
What we were being taught, though, was that any verse which had the word "will" in it could be used to talk about, or was proof positive, of a whole third thing.  A personal, fixed, perfect, custom-made, individualized plan we weren't to have any say in designing, but were merely to follow, like automatons.  It was supposedly as specific, on a tiny, personal scale, as His sovereign will was for Reality.  It was like that, but unlike that: He supposedly intended to reveal all of it to us, personally, so we'd know what to do.  Which Hand to pick.  With at least a second or two advance warning before needing to know each bit.  Now, this is quite a bit more dubious.

Friesen not only goes into the fact that:
a) believing this and resolving never to act before "finding God's perfect plan" etched in Sharpie on a rock somewhere won't pay off
b) this makes us indecisive and superstitious, imagining stuff

but also

c) we then end up following our own vague internal impulses, and sticking God's face on them and claiming "I just really, really feel like the Holy Spirit is leading me to eat this cake right now, for Him."  So we end up, as a guy I used to know named Bill used to say, doing what we feel like, and saying God told us to.  We pretend we've made no decisions, and that God's made every single one for us.  There is no humility and little accountability if you roll like this.

Most compelling, Friesen points out that although there are certainly a number of stories in the bible in which God actually told someone exactly what He intended (right down to how many cubits high and how many furlongs wide, and whether to use chiffon or tulle), that these aren't typical.  Because:

a) These very special people are special.  They are exceptions to how God was dealing with all the countless other people in that time period. We certainly can't count on God to speak to us so clearly whenever we want, about everything, acting like a micro-managing backseat driver.  We aren't Moses, any of us.  Most of our stuff just isn't that important.  Let's face it: not everything is important, and we can't always even tell what's important or not.  And He has already given us plenty of advisers and common sense and experience and guidelines and stuff.  We have what we need.  He expects us to be able to handle these trivial matters ourselves, somewhat.  Maybe He'd rather not be our guidance councillor.  He gives wisdom instead of being our own personal GPS (that's a SatNav, Brits) whenever we want Him to.
b) He almost never dealt with even these special exceptional individuals with bible stories about them in this "Hey, c'mere!  Wanna buy a letter S?" kind of way throughout the rest of their lives either.  He was not at their beck and call.  The stories of His direct intervention are told because something out of the ordinary had occurred.

Friesen points out that either people in the bible:
-had to wing it a bit, live their lives, make their decisions, figure out what investments to make so they'd have something to give back to their master once he showed up back and asked them how they'd made out,
-they actually got a direct, supernatural encounter, with sound, and usually video as well.  Friesen points out that either God "said unto Noah" with an audible voice, giving cubits and all the rest, or else people ended up using their best judgment.  Following their faith as best they knew.  The apostles either had lights from the sky and mysterious voices and visions, or else they spoke of how they had personally decided to do things. 
   There's not one example in the bible of someone "praying really hard"  and just really, really feeling, as a vague, internal conviction, like they'd figured out the specific details of the specific stuff of a specific Perfect Plan, all in advance, without anything external happening.  That isn't how it works anywhere in the bible, even once. Either God outwardly spoke outright to people, with specific instructions, or people had to do what regular folk do.

Does God guide us?  Sometimes.  And not usually so carefully that it won't matter a bit if we remain spiritually blind, clueless and helpless.  That matters, alright.  God watched Adam name animals because He wanted to see what Adam would call them.  Adam had been given a life, and God wanted to see Adam live it.  And boy, did He!
  In the bible, God is compared to a king, a shepherd, a father, a master of servants, and many other authority figures.  Now, it doesn't take a genius to know that no good king keeps courtiers around who need to be told everything, and no good shepherd follows the sheep around pointing at what specific tendrils of grass and weeds to eat, and no good father makes every possible decision for his teenaged children and expects them to somehow guess what the decisions he has made actually are without telling them outright  No master of servants wants a servant who can't be left alone for a moment, because she needs constant supervision.
  Maybe God's a good father, a good shepherd, a good Sovereign, a good master.   Maybe He wants us to be good at our job, and useful, rather than just obedient.  Maybe He wants us to learn, and internalize the boundaries and guidelines and approaches.  I mean, He doesn't like disobedience, but I'm pretty sure He doesn't like immaturity, cluelessness, blindness, helplessness, stuntedness and childishness either.  The bible speaks out pretty strongly against all of those things, quite specifically too.
  Man is the only creature God wished to collaborate with, as to how individual lives and the future paths of races and nations went.  I think He insists upon it.  Upon us getting involved in our lives.  Upon there being life before death. 
  I think it would be a good idea to view today as an opportunity to collaborate, as a chance to be given some decisions to make, and make them so you both can see what they end up being and how they end up working out.