Sunday, 27 October 2013

This Year's Montreal Conference

In my seventeenth year, I went to Montreal Bible Conference as usual.  And I was feeling the pressure.  I didn't have a girlfriend, and that wasn't okay.  I'd graduated high school, I looked okay, I liked girls, there were girls there from my own narrow culture, and I was supposed to "get" one (and then not fool around with her).
   The girls weren't into being set up with Brethren guys, though, so they opted out of the thing.  They stood around in tightly protective little all-girl clumps, hair stiff with spray, sublimal makeup hinted at in most cases, and modest skirts or dresses which hinted their figures might be nice also, without really displaying anything.  No cleavage.  No bare arms, collarbones or shoulders.  No knees visible.  But altogether delicious nonetheless, to teenage boys such as we were.
   We were like pandas in a zoo, all of us.  My uncle went around remarking on our lack of coupling, but it did nothing.  Then his wife suggested a "nice" (read: not unBrethren/not a whore) girl I might like, and she looked okay, and so we exchanged addresses and resolved to write.  We did for a bit. It didn't last.  I wasn't Brethren enough, even then.  My thoughts and feelings weren't quiet.  I begged and pleaded with God to make me, and resolved to myself to become, "normal" (Brethren usual) but it never, ever happened.  Instead I remained who I am today.  You know.  Me.
  But when I was eighteen, a guy introduced himself to me at Ottawa Conference the next spring, right when it was obvious to me that this girl had driven seven hours to attend a conference in the very city I was living, with the express intention of being in a different room from me the whole time.  And so I befriended this young guy, and he asked me about her, and not long after, he was dating her.  They did that for a bit.  It didn't last either.  Not like my friendship with the guy and his family has.
   And then last year.  Around my birthday.  One whimsical comment about how I wouldn't ever be allowed to attend a bible conference again, being excommunicated and all, and someone brave and quite extraordinary decided I should be allowed to go, and 'oversaw' things somewhat.  Like a guardian angel.  Looking out for he who is treated as dead.  (A few someones were involved, actually.)
   And I went.  It was utterly terrifying to go, but in the end it went more than just okay.  No doubt my blogged description of how it all seemed to me, decades on, was deeply insulting to some.  I don't feel good about that at all, but I felt quite impelled to do so anyway.  As one of my moore obscure (as opposed to wildly successful) songs asks rhetorically "How do you move in a wasp tent?  How do you move in a bee teepee?  How do you move in a wasp tent?  Caaaaaaaaarefully."
   Thing is, in the end my going made it uncomfortable for the people I grew up with (the ones who remain in the culture, I mean, who personally kicked me out of it for being who God made me and for doing what I believe He wants me to do, and who are currently still shutting me out in every way, as a policy).  In fact, I imagine it made them feel intruded upon and stabbed in the back.
  All that I can live with.  I don't feel good about it, but I can live with it.  Sometimes I want to be Banquo's ghost from Macbeth (the ghost come to the table of Macbeth to confront those who stabbed him and left him in a ditch), and I want to come see everyone when they're at table, and moan and go "woooooooo" at them a bit.  Especially in October.  But that wasn't the extent of the uproar.  My actions caused more problems for those special people who reached out to me than I even understand today.
   I would never have gone.  Never.  Not if I knew what it would mean to the endless delicate balance/tapdance/house of cards/juggling act the best of those Brethren people are damned to spend the rest of their Brethren lives doing, so long as they submit to that teetering human system with any degree of devotion.  Never.  Far better to have lain on the futon and watched Fellowship of the Ring.  Far better.  It was not worth nearly 700 mostly anonymous people viewing the blog entry.  Not worth it at all.
    For me the whole thing was also rather like getting into a diving suit and going down and seeing what is left of the sunken Titanic (how have the pious fallen).   I guess I was doing it just for the novelty, and to be seen by those who need me to be gone.  Feeling like Rip Van Winkle or a zombie of some kind.  Seeing them keeping on keeping on, like nothing's happened.  Needing all of us thousands who were edited out of existence to never infringe/impinge upon, or be relevant to the core 'reality' there.  They need us to help them forget.  By going away and being very, very quiet.
   It's a very, very delicate thing.  Because the bible says, not that we ought to be one/united.  No, it says we are.
   There are always wonderful people who may belong to a given human system, but who are exceptions to any generalization one could make or pervasive attitude seen in said system.  The apostle who leaned on Jesus at the last supper calls them "overcomers."  I know people make them feel like absolute shit sometimes.  Like nobodies.  Like people who are "too much love and not enough light."  But John knew what to call them.  Overcomers.
   Somehow they can be different.  I saw it in everyone who was able to smile at me with their eyes.  It might have been even more widespread than just those warm, open people, too.  Because all these people who were supposedly set free from the power of sin by the death of Jesus aren't at all at liberty to love as their hearts direct them.  They are under bondage.  No sudden moves.  Don't think or feel anything inexplicable, and if you do, for goodness sake don't share that around much.  Don't broadcast that.  It might get on everyone.
   No loving deed goes unpunished, seems to me.  Bucking the human system when it's being its most inhuman is a betrayal that is never forgiven.  Because that's when it needs you most.
  No mercy.  Not in circles which seldom make any attempt to even give lip service to scriptures about forgiveness, mercy, lovingkindness, grace or longsufferingness.  I guess to them that's all "love" stuff.  Not as important as the "light" stuff.  (love stuff = love.  light stuff = correctness.)  I guess you can 'get free' of any concern about practically living out any scripture about love if it can somehow be demonstrated that you are focused upon a "light" concern instead of doing that.  More important stuff.  Policy.  Politics.  Traditions we have a hundred-year-old tradition of not calling that.  Because correction is god to many and connection be damned.  It all purports to be obedience to the one "half" of Jesus' legacy.  As if that were even possible.  Christ is not divided.  If you think you have half, you've got nothing.

Needless to say, I will not be going to Montreal Conference this year.  I connected with some amazing people there a year ago.  But they live on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall that is my birth culture's alternative to 'outreach' and their traditional approach to the Oneness of the Body of Christ and to Christian community. This is how they demonstrate that they understood the bible when it told them we were all one.  The Church.  But there are overcomers.  I was fortunate enough to meet some.
   These overcomers were mostly "corrected" for having connected with me.  Were warned they could end up just like me if they "weren't careful."  I will not go out to church events and make people have to choose between supporting the system by giving me the cold shoulder, or bucking it by smiling and waving.
   I'm supposed to be dead, remember?  Spiritually, anyway.  Alone and without God in this world.  If I weren't, they might be obligated to restore such a one as I to the land of the living.  And they're not up to doing that.  Because apart from the overcomers, they are nothing but a valley of dry bones themselves.
  Connecting to me cost many of those overcomers.  Made it next to impossible to get by in that system.  I can't imagine it was worth it for them.  And I feel horrible for them.  Deeply.  Because being noticeably, acceptably Brethren really matters to them.  Maintaining connection to that tiny correct-obsessed fraction of the Christian community is vital to them.  They'll sacrifice almost anything for it.  Themselves, certainly.  Me, clearly.  It's something they take terribly seriously.  Much of them is built upon it.  They think God wants them to do most of it, and who knows?
   All I know is being Banquo's ghost from Macbeth isn't easy sometimes either.  But at least I can drift where I please and terrify children.  And walk through walls that to me, aren't even there.  Boo.  Woooooooo.  Happy Halloween.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Spiritual Cripples Cripple People

I wrote this song in the 90s. It was after we'd had our church division, and before I was quite free from my church mindset, and before I got kicked out for having liberty.  There was one man in particular who inspired this song, but there's always a guy like this.  They die and are replaced by new ones.
   They can smell growth.  They can smell liberty.  They can smell tolerance, and any loving agenda one might be starting to ponder, other than the iron-clad old "we're correct" one.  And they don't like it.  It makes them uncomfortable.  Reminds them of a time when they pondered being real, genuine human beings freed by the work of Christ working in them, working out how this translates into today, and doing love, liberty and life in an unmistakable way.  It gives them flashbacks.
   Because they were young once too.  They once saw the world through relatively agenda-less eyes, and were willing to meet it and deal with what it was, and what it could be, rather than what they needed to pretend it was, in order to "do adult" they way they felt everyone should.
   But then they got hurt.  Usually someone kneecapped them right when they were doing this, or they fell and got hurt while charting uncharted territory and scaling the terrain God had spring up for their exercise, wonderment and benefit.  And they decided that exploring's not safe.  Not good.  Never mind what God made or what He wants.  No seeking.  It's best to stay indoors and only talk about how great it is (or dangerous it is) outside, but not go out there anymore.  And not think or feel anything to vividly.  To wait.  For death.
   Of course, when an unsuspecting young person strides by, eager to see what's out there, eager to connect with people and see and what can be done and seen and tasted, felt and explored, these old cripples (often middle-aged men) sprang spryly into action.  Hand on shoulder.  Word to conscience.  Something that triggered the inner floodgates of shame and doubt.  Something that served fear.  Something that trapped, limited and broke people's natural urge to live lives.
   It's not that hard to sling shame, doubt, fear, suspicion and self-loathing on people.  Any tabloid can do it.  It's dirty work.  These people need to be avoided, or confronted very directly.  Otherwise there will be grit in the gears, a fly in the ointment and a turd in the cornflakes every single day.
   So I wrote this song.  Now it's got Bethany and Pierre playing cello, and Joel may provide some ominous sounds to go underneath it

Comment from a reader:
this validates and makes sense out of something I've been struggling with. I know and love a number of people who are emotionally, spiritually, and mentally stunted. They reached a certain place in growth in those areas, and then were very badly hurt in one area or another. They didn't deal with, heal from, come to terms with the pain, they just stopped. Like, everything. Stopped growing. Stopped learning. Stopped taking things in and letting things out. The living waters within them turned stagnant and teemed with bacteria. The living things inside them died and decayed, further poisoning the waters. And this is the way they think everyone should live. And they throw their acid bath of shame and self doubt if you choose to heal and recover. 

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The World, the Flesh and the Old Nature

I have marking to do for school, so of course writing this seems much more appealing.  I've gone over this kind of stuff before, but I'm going to really try to tie it all together and try to boil it right down.  Try to be brief.  I am not good at being brief.  Still:
   I was always taught that the World was bad.  Full of time-wasting, money-wasting, immoral, depraved, seductive fun that took you away from The Things of the Lord.  I was taught not to "be friends with it," and if I had any acquaintances who weren't willing to come out to church, this was frowned upon in our house.  The religious efforts of the world were fake and bad.  They were thinly-veiled opportunities for human beings to worship, essentially, themselves; to venerate and admire their own architecture and stained glass and music, their robes and solemnity, and above all things, their men, the levels of importance and power in their religious groups.  Titles, degrees, positions.  Reverends, pastors, bishops, cardinals, popes.  These were all too human systems.  Mere churches.  Of the flesh.  Feeding human pride.  Feeding the senses instead of the spirit.
   I was always taught that the flesh was more or less the same thing as the Old Nature, a term I was quite shocked to find simply does not exist in the bible.  Many things were said at my church about the Old Nature which contradicted what the bible said about the flesh, or the Old Man, but no one seemed to notice this.  I eventually came to suspect that this rebranding had the effect of making certain ideas "clash" less obviously with clear bible verses.
   The flesh/Old Nature, you see, loved the world, they told us.  It wanted Star Wars and Superman and television, dancing and movies.  It wanted to eat too much.  It wanted pride.  It wanted adultery and fornication.  It wanted drunkenness.  If it went to church, it wanted incense and candles and music and stained glass and robes and Latin ceremonies and other sensual, theatrical distractions from an inner connection to God. It wanted to feel good about itself and be proud.  We knew better than all of that.  How blessed we were to have been shown better!  Felt pretty good.  Or should have.

The Church Package
Our group supposedly wasn't just a church.  It was a safe refuge from the World and its excesses and error.  One had only to regularly attend at the street address given, at the appointed times, submit to the "assembly decisions" of the unofficial but very powerful duo or trio of men there, and one could confidently live in this bubble outside the World, could safely wait in this Rapture Waiting Room.
   Only, obviously, this wasn't real.  It's been a real mind-eff-word to learn the truth: the flesh and the world were as much a part of the people and things going on in that system, in that Brethren group, as anywhere else.  It wasn't safe in there.  We weren't "above" or "outside" of anything.  The Meeting was a human system.  It was built on and daily enacting the efforts of the flesh.  It was as much "the world" as anything else.
   Because, a few things: Phariseeism isn't new.  Nor is puritanism.  These are uninspired human ideas which do not please God.  Because the flesh can't please God.  The bible presents "the flesh" as the natural human capacity, quite unrescued by Christ, quite uninspired by the Holy Spirit, quite unheeding of God and willing to run roughshod over the bible when anything is written which deemphasizes the importance of human obedience and endless activity to "earn" grace or blessing.  The flesh wants to feel good about itself, alright.  In fact, it wants to feel righter and better than others.  And it is willing to make almost any sacrifice to get this.  It is addicted to this.  Addictions are cycles.  They are traps.  They are self-justifying.
   My upbringing repeatedly presented the attendance at "meeting," the plainness and puritan style of living, the sacrifice of joy and human connection, the isolationist "separation from the World," as terribly important sacrifices we made in order to know God better and get blessed; as stuff we did instead of all the fleshly, natural, human-created, pride-filling stuff.  As terribly important stuff which, we didn't quite admit, we felt it was terribly important that we be the ambassadors/salesmen/teachers of, to save the world.  Made us feel good to have that role.  Made us the purveyors of enlightenment.  Dishing out the way of salvation.  We knew better than other people. They needed to listen to us.  Because until someone finally accepted what we were dispensing, we kind of were better, weren't we?  If they followed our lead, they would be novices in our system.  Our acolytes.  If they rejected it, they were clearly pretty sad wretches who'd get no blessing from God.
  We knew, of course, that Jesus Christ saves, but we really were quite unabashedly presenting a "spirituality package" which involved a whole lot more than connecting to him.  And it was all the other stuff that caused all the problems.  Stuff one could cobble together fragmentary bible verses to support, and then engage in mutual judging/pissing contests with other Christians over, all the while demonstrating a clear refusal to obey the central tenets of the New Testament, that Christians are to be at liberty, and that they are to act in love. 
   No amount of saying we had some kind of purely theoretical ("spiritual/made up") liberty, which we sacrificed out of prudence, could disguise the truth.  It was painfully obvious that  none of us even knew what liberty looked like, that we were deeply uncomfortable even being in the same room as any Christian who seemed to be at liberty from all the bondage we'd put ourselves under, in our fleshly efforts to please God with the flesh.  To earn God's favour with all the human efforts, the sacrifices, the human religion, the power hierarchy, the Pharisee and puritan lifestyles and mindsets.
   Also, no amount of claiming that we acted out of necessity and prudence and love when we shunned someone for life, or refused to let Christians eat with us if we felt they might "defile" us with worldliness or dodgy doctrine could hide the fact that we felt under no obligation to act in love to any great degree.  Not so's you'd notice, anyway.

How Humans Do Religion, Every Single Time
Here's how we did it: You claim to be a Christian, "outside" the fleshly religious efforts of the World, yet you amass a proudly defended megalith of rules, expectations, political positions, dress restrictions and lifestyle narrowing guidelines.  You place a huge focus upon who is right and who has power.  You make your plainness, your lack of stained glass and organ music a thing that fills you with a sense of superior spirituality and correctness.  And you draw away from people who aren't "where" you are, spiritually. 
   Well, it's pretty clear what's happening, when this is what you're up to.  Jesus didn't become a hermit monk.  But we want to.  We do stuff like that.  Looks like this, usually:
   You read the bible, a book designed to provide liberty and love, and the light to live that by, but you read it with an agenda and for a reason that invalidates and subverts its purpose.  You wear the tired old spectacles of "Where are the rules?  Where are the limits?  I'm right aren't I?   That guy over there can't just go ahead and do all that, can he?  'Godly' looks like what we do, right?  Give me simple answers so I can stop looking for them. Give me a position so I can stop thinking.  Give me a structure!" and it's the flesh.
   We want to be done growing.  It is all just more human efforts.  Humans thinking human thoughts, skimming through divine scriptures looking for bits here and there that help them do what they already intend to do.  The flesh builds Babel and God confuses the languages until you can't even talk to the others in your church and be understood.
   Every single time: humans want less, rather than more freedom.  They cling to limits and do, think and feel less, rather than more.  They follow tyrants so they won't have freedom. They shut out more and more.  They withdraw from others emotionally, in terms of social discourse, and just generally.  They shore up their own defences and positions and fancy themselves under attack.   They rally 'round that megalith they built with their own hands, and which, if we're honest, they not only worship, but are willing to sacrifice their own children to.
   The real enemy, of course, is their own hearts and minds being childish, and inevitably smug, elitist, arrogant, petty and cruel.  Being fleshly.  Feeling religiously enlightened and dutiful so as to feel better than other people, all the while claiming not to feel this way.  Re-enacting the same old carnal approaches to God and godliness that got us to the pretty impasse we find ourselves at today.  Endlessly returning to the same old tables full of filthy vomit and not letting "dirty" people eat at them, lest they defile our filthy tables of fleshly human complacency, avarice and superiority.

If Your Outer Doesn't Match Your Inner Self, You Celebrate
You decide upon a bunch of limits and rules you aren't going to call what they are.  Let's say it's swearing.  You couldn't even picture yourself to truly be a real, heaven-bound Christian, were you to let the word "shit" pass your lips.  It's not the act that matters, it's the fact that someone might mistake you for a normal, unspecial human being.  That would be a bad testimony.  Imagine seeming regular or usual...
   Your fleshly, human approach to "God" almost exclusively involves outer appearances.  Self-image.  Instead of "What can a Christian do?" or "Who is a Christian, inside?" you worry about "How does a Christian dress and talk and act?"  And you focus on superficial stuff like clothes and hair, demeanor and word choices.  Leisure activity.  Not on heart stuff like the fruit of the Spirit, which you should know quite well you can't "grow" by your own effort.  If you show signs that the fruit of the Spirit is growing in you, you get no credit.  But if you make a vow to "clean up your language" or "dress more Christian" or toss out some CDs, you will take credit.  Flesh sacrifices stuff to feel better.  It's a deal.
    You can't make yourself grow internally, spiritually, but you can create a superficial (outer) image by effort, so you focus on that, rather than looking to God to deal with what's inside.  When you turn to God, it is to consult and ask for help with your image, with how you are perceived.  Outer things.
   So you start to feel something like a certain CD, or saying "shit" or drinking a beer doesn't fit your image, so it must be bad.  It's a threat to the flesh.  Because now it's beneath you.  You're better than that, spiritually.  It's not going to help you feel superior.  Someone who says "shit" is pursuing liberty in a way you know better than.  He should know better.  You do know better, so you are living better.  He can't just do that without losing status in the human system.  That's only fair.  And your sacrifice must be honoured.  If not by God, then by your peers, who you seek to put beneath you through just such sacrifices. So his status does suffer among you and your Respecters of Persons club.
   But it's tempting to swear, or whatever your token piety sacrifice is, you might find.  People around you sometimes swear.  You need to appear better than that.  So, you cut yourself off from them, and pretend to be offended if they talk like themselves, though you're not actually offended at all.  But you try to look offended and try to conjure up a corresponding inner feeling of offence within you.  To feel better.  To feel superior.  But what's actually in you?  Maybe some swear words.  Some evidence maybe you aren't different at all.  Maybe you're just normal?  What a horrible thought.
   So you try not to say swear words when they are in your heart to say.  Never mind that there's jealousy and strife and wrath in there.  So long as you don't say "shit," you feel that's what's important.  Outer over inner.  You focus away from the inner.  Away from your heart where God focuses His attention.  Away from where the source, from where everything flows out of you to begin with.  So long as you ensure that your outer persona doesn't match what most people can clearly "look in and see" is your inner self, you feel like this is what Christ died to give you, and it isn't just your own fleshly efforts, but Divine Inspiration.  You try to become wholly a persona.  A facade.  You try to be the mask, and be happy being that.
   Eventually you find you have become the kind of person whose "yea" (yes) is no longer yea, your "nay" (no) is no longer no, and your "shit" becomes "poop," or something you superstitiously spell, as if you have in so doing, no longer communicated it.  You say "effing," "flipping" or "frickin'."  Which marks you as different from the regular folk.
  Your inside is proud of your outside not being like it.  Because that's the deal.  You try to give no sign outwardly of who you really are.  The work of Christ makes people seem different from who they really are.  You look to God to help with this makeover. 
   But He's more interested in the inner stuff you're not even willing to look at squarely.  And it's not all bad in there.  Not if God's at work in there.  And God wants to work at redeeming it in there.  But the flesh has no good thing in it.  And you're focused on your outside.  And that outer focus is fleshly.  It's about how you come off to others.  God is not in it.  It is your inner, fleshly, superior-feeling self unredeemably concocting a fake self to present to the world, which has seen this game before and isn't fooled for a second.

To Summarize
So what you have done is use the flesh to follow fleshly ideas (puritan ones, Pharisee ones, "touch not, taste not, utter not, handle not, gaze not upon, click not, download not" ones) and to build a fleshly self image upon that human created system, with scripture serving merely as a jumping off point for a lifestyle characterized by bondage (no liberty) and a primly reproachful, superior drawing away from the kinds of people Jesus spoke to and ate with.
  You find ways to be proud.  Oh, you really do.  You are proud, not of yourself of course, but of the doctrine, the thinking, the church, the committee, the efforts of the whole fleshly thing.  You aren't proud.  No, you are humbled to be privileged to be chosen to lead.  So grateful to serve.

All this was extremely hard for me to learn.  I wanted to follow rules and get rewards.  I wanted God to be like a gum machine you could stick piety quarters in.  Here is what in particular was very hard for me to grasp: 
   My "spiritual exercises/religious views" weren't even mine.  They were traditions created by dead Brethren men, handed down to us, getting warped and watered down and grown vinegar-bitter over the generations, losing the heart and joy that was perhaps in these human constructs to begin with.  And I wasn't finding God in them.  Because God's not in human constructs.  He's in everything.  And He wants to interact, not simply be infrastructure humans can fight over.
   And I wasn't safe from the World in these traditions.  I was in the World the whole time.  The Meeting, like The Matrix, was a construct.  A fleshly human construct in the world, just like everything else is.  But we preferred to live mostly in our fleshly Brethren imaginations.  The real world was much less idealized and black and white.  Far easier to play "let's pretend" in The Matrix/Meeting.  Pretend we were good people who knew stuff, and were doing actual good in the actual world, while living outside of it.  Now that was bullshit...  Bullshit of a kind that ought not to be called anything politer or gentler.
  God demands we grow up, grow strong, and not hurt each other.  Be free.  Be accountable.  Be open and loving.  Be helpful.  Listen as well as talk.  Give and receive.  Connect.
   Growing up, I was supposed to spend the maximum time I could each week on "The Things of the Lord."  But I had to learn that "The Things of the Lord" was really just the flesh.  Our tradition.  Brethren lifestyle and routines. The Meeting.
   To find God, I had to pursue Him without getting side-tracked into rule-following and church association designed to continually restrict and block the natural development that God was nurturing.  In plain terms, I had to learn that, if I am an alcoholic (I've got friends who are), I can't simply build up doctrine, remind myself of scripture, put my faith in a support group of people, repeat axioms to myself, listen to inspiring Christian music, attend church, and figure it all out, or otherwise in any way save myself, or be saved from it by a group of humans with their human system.  I needed "Jesus only."  Jesus means "saviour."  We all need to be saved.  Not only from hell.  From the cycles of fleshly, pious, religious, self-deluding, other people not deluding, human efforts.  From those limits.  From that trap.  We're in a cycle.  To break out of it, we need something new, something from Way Outside the cycle.  Someone.  Jesus.
   Of course every human effort listed above claims to be reaching out to or coming from or focusing upon Jesus.  "Oh, we're not us.  We're agents for Jesus."  But it isn't true.  It is the flesh.  Put humans in groups, and they will act fleshly.  You don't have to look too close to see that people always think they have to do the work of Christ themselves.  We just do.  We really do think that.  We think we have to do it all.  Practically speaking, we do not believe Jesus will really save us from ourselves, or that God will ever add growth to us, in a way that is quite beyond our strivings.  We think we have to know, to strive, to use the flesh to stop acting fleshly.  We don't have the courage to wait for salvation.
   There is salvation in no other name.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Church Crashing Adventures: Presbyterian

I was raised Plymouth Brethren, and Kennett was raised (new order, modern) Mennonite, so when he suggested we do random Sunday morning church crashing, I wasn't sure at first.  I am not, after all, looking for a church to go to.  
   I am more and more solidly of the mind that church is what we are, not a place we go, a human organization, or something we do.  What "church" is to other people isn't what it is to me, so it was odd to contemplate this little escapade.  Kennett says the Mennonite church experience for him was being told a huge body of stories, both bible ones, and instructive Mennonite parables as well.  He increasingly found that the lack of education, and the disinterest in knowing the historical context and centuries old journey of the Mennonite movement bothered him.  He found it particularly troubling that nobody much seemed to know or care anything about the Reformation, or Martin Luther, or even Menno Simmons.
   What he said to me that really summed it up was "It's all stories.  And I've heard all the stories.  Over and over.  I need something more."  Inquiring mind wants to know.
   He let me pick and I thought "Well, there's a Presbyterian church right nearby, and I learned a bit about Scotland and the Presbyterian church while teaching history, so maybe  I'll pick that one."
   One thing is sure: I was surely raised to disrespect what other churches did, and taught that my church wasn't just a church.  It wasn't a church at all.  It was nothing less than What Everyone Else Was Supposed To Be Doing, But Wasn't.  (Not correctly, anyway.  Clearly) 
   So I'm trained to not be able to accept much of what I'm likely to see in another church.  And my own church experience was quite damaging to my soul, and was far from good for my relationship with God, or, in fact, my own emotional health.  So for me it was a real adventure that Kennett was proposing we do.

I'm apt to be all negative and nothing but (as evidenced by the song that came to me about twelve hours before actually going), so I'm going to start with being slightly positive.  The church was huge.  Tall and pointy and made of stones, like a big rock rocket.  I liked that.  It had stained glass and arches everywhere, and darkly finished wooden pews all laid out in a big arch.  It had huge gold-painted organ pipes in the centre of the rear of the church, and mysterious little stands and basins and things.  The church I was raised in was plainer than a workspace in an office, designed to look completely unlike a church.  So the decor of St. Anders of Stittsville was fun for me to look at.
   Also, once we'd plucked up our courages and walked in the big doors (there was a complete silence, and not a person going in or out which made us wonder if church was really going to happen), there was a greeter lady who gave us a photocopied handout that had our script.  She was very nice, shook our hands and everything, and when we came in, people were sitting around.  And we'd hardly sat down when the minister came out of nowhere, and shook both of our hands, too.  Now that's how to make new people feel welcome.
   Another thing that I liked, mostly because it surprised me, was that though everything and everyone there looked very, very old, including the hymnal, one of the four selected hymns we sang this morning from that dusty, battered old hymnal was by Amy Grant.  A hymn written in 1984 seemed so jarringly current, that it was pretty cool.  The way it was sung didn't sound any different from the ones from the 1700s, though.
   What I liked best was that various work to collect food for the local poor (even if they didn't show up up at church!) and poor people in Africa was part of the service, and the pastor prayed for people with depression, and for people who will surely die today, and for a bunch of other real-world realities like that.  I've not heard much of that.  Prayer for depression, actually called "depression" flat out like that? Not used to that.  A guy at our church used to pray for "those who are ill at ease."  I think he meant they were unhappy.  Not sure.  Mostly we only prayed for old people and their purely physical ailments.  So I liked that bit.

There.  That was my best attempt at positive.  Now I will be more myself: the church could have comfortably seated two hundred people.  There were somewhere between twenty and thirty there, though, scattered at random over the pew area in ones and twos.  And Kennett and I, in our forties, felt really, really young there.  Grey hair was a rarity.  It was all gleaming white cottonball fluff on sweet old ladies, as far as the eye could see.  The pastor himself was only slightly older than Kennett and I were, though.  There were kids, though, as they materialized apparently from nowhere when it was time for them to leave and go have a special kid's thing.  They seemed to be from two families.  Five of them, all told.
   A choir of eight people, including the greeter from the local Wal-Mart, filed in once the large ceremonial, not-to-be-opened bible had been paraded in and placed very ceremonially on a ceremonial stand where it sat unused for the proceedings (the pastor used an iPad instead), and was just as ceremoniously paraded back out again by a stiff-spined guy within maybe ten years of our age who clearly took his job very seriously.  Like Marine pallbearers at a funeral.
   In some churches, there is an altar or something that forms the focal point of everything in the room.  In this church, though, at the very back was the giant organ, with the choir in front of that, and the minister's thrones and lectern in front of that.  (there was a very ornate, tall, gothic-looking wooden throne in the middle, with a smaller one on each side of it.  Our speaker today made use of the two little ones at various points, and never once sat upon the big one in the middle, so I took him to be the mere Steward of Gondor, with the Throne reserved for perhaps a Bishop/Presbyter or something.)
   With such splendiforous gold organ pipes, and microphones here and there, and a choir and minister in robes, I expected some kind of majestic, deafening Hallelujah Chorus to happen.  Actually if you sang, it became hard to hear the organ or the choir much at all.  They were incredibly distant, tentative and quiet.  I wasn't aware of any attempts at vocal harmonies.  Unison singing, as best as I could hear.  The sweet old lady behind me had on an eye-watering amount of lilac toilet water, and for her part, she sang all the songs firmly, with just the one note.  I'm not sure which note it was, but it never once sounded like the correct note.  Had to hand it to her from trying, though.  She sang the heck out of that one note, and never missed a word.  I couldn't hear the organ over her at all.
   The proceedings started off with the ceremonial bible being paraded in, and then church began.  For about fifteen minutes, church business was discussed, including that this tiny congregation had decided there needed to be another four elders.  The procedure for voting (you could vote for just one, or for all four, or for as many as you'd like of the four) was explained, with a few attempted jokes tossed in and examples of the ballots waved about.  Details about future church events and money issues and so on were also discussed.  Then we were told to quiet our minds for worship.
   For a Plymouth Brethren person, "worship" always means communion, but like most churches, there was none to be had this morning.  The first hymn was "Tell Me the Old, Old Story."  It really set the tone.  The sermon was on "The Radical Word," and the whole service presented basically the same message: "radical means old.  There is nothing wrong with tradition.  There is much pressure to change, to do things differently.  There is no reason to do that."  It seemed obvious that this church had pretty much no one under the age of sixty there, so it clearly meant what it said.  It was willing to not "serve" potential congregants from the Baby Boom generation on, and is quite willing to gradually die out, so long as it doesn't have to change.  It's most of the way there.  The extra-curricular events advertised in the photocopy this month are pretty much all quilting-related.  Oh, and  Elsie McTavish displaying her beeswax artwork.  Nothing wrong with that.  I can't imagine it would have been "for me," were I a teenager there, though.  But there wasn't a single teen there, so I guess they're just doing what works for them.
   I was listening through a particularly specific "lens," to mix metaphors.  I was listening to "see" how much of the time was spent up in talking about them, and how much about the Lord Jesus Christ, or God.  The service didn't manage to quite avoid mentioning Jesus Christ and God the Father and the Holy Spirit a few times in passing, but it was pretty much 95% about being Presbyterian correctly, and 5% stuff that directly addressed God.  Being Presbyterian correctly was about hearing proper teaching, about learning, about studying the bible and doctrine.  The photocopied handout script with our "lines" in it, said "Being able to read the Bible faithfully and intelligent is an important academic skill and commitment."  Hard not to be snarky about a lapse like that missing "ly," given the sentence it was in.  The whole focus was very much about not changing.  It was very much "the old, old story."  But they never said what the old, old story actually was.
   The ideas that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he came to earth, lived a life, suffered and died a death, resurrected, and has saved us from Hell were not mentioned in any way.  It was all a contrast between keeping on keeping on, and the folly of change.  So, to this jaded Plymouth Brethren person, it was like they kept saying "it's terribly important to study the bible," and I waited in vain to hear anything actually from the bible, apart from a couple of cherry-picked verses about the importance of "the scriptures" and how bad things get when people change.  I counted, and the name "Jesus Christ" was mentioned three times, the Holy Spirit referred to once, and the cross, heaven and hell not once in the hour. 
   Now that's a pretty narrow lens to listen through, I realize.  But it was hard not to be judgmental about this.  (My mother was more Brethren than I, her first question being, once she knew I'd gone to this church so foreign to our own church culture, "Did he mention the blood?")
  The people were nice, they were in solidarity about the importance of the bible and proper, decent Christian living, but service really, really didn't ever get into the bible or Christian living at all.  The hymns and prayers presented the importance of worship without actually doing it. The hymns were mostly about us not being worthy to worship, rather than actually addressing God Himself directly at any point, let alone worshipping Him.  In particular, the pastor several times while "praying," spoke about God in the third person, which is, I always think, a dead giveaway that you're talking about, rather than to Him, and therefore aren't really praying, but are lecturing on the importance of this or that. 
   In many ways, it was very, very different from a Plymouth Brethren church service.  One thing I definitely recognized as familiar, though: the room was full of old people, disgruntled with "where this world is going," stubbornly refusing to engage with it and hating the very idea of change.  The message was "Do Presbyterianism/the bible/life right.  Never mind what this world is doing.  Do what's always been done.  You know.  Like we do it." 
   I'm afraid the experience cemented my view of church as being a commercial for something, rather than an enacting of the thing itself.  That it "sells" Christianity to Christians, without actually talking about Christ, about who he was and what he did, about him living and dying or anything like that, very much at all.
   But I'm pretty jaded.

Sunday's Coming

I got some drum parts recorded by George, and was trying to do guitar and vocals to them this evening, had some technical troubles, and couldn't tell if George, me, or the computer was causing my recorded tracks to not sound consistently, fully in time with the drums throughout.  Got very disgusted, put most of the music stuff away, started making a smoothie, and the chorus of a new song popped into my head and demanded I write the verses and record it immediately.  That happened.
  The really weird part is that a Mennonite guy I know convinced me we should drop in unannounced on random churches in town just to compare what they all do, and tomorrow is our first day doing that. 

Saturday, 19 October 2013


There's something important I'm trying to work out.  Something I'm very much in the middle of.  Something I absolutely do not have figured out.  One thing I do know: usually there are two extremes to an issue, and quite often, when people "get serious" about a thing, they pick their favourite of the two extremes, and they resolve to pursue and teach and support it.  And meanwhile they hate on the other one.  Like cheering for NFL teams, but about real people's real lives.  Red vs. Blue.  Us and them.  Dumb.  Hypocritical.
   So, I'm going to look at two extremes when it comes to being a Christian, and dealing with God.  I'm going to think about it in terms of wants.  Getting stuff from God.  Here's the first extreme:

The Lord Is Thy Shepherd, Thou Shalt Not Want Things
I'm starting with the extreme end of things, the one that was endlessly taught to me, growing up.  Essentially, we're talking about puritanism, which is neo-phariseeism, if we're honest.  This is about learning to reflexively not want things.  In fact, to make a show of not wanting and enjoying things.  Preaching that it's not safe to go around just wanting things.  Believing that if you want something, and you let God know (ever), He will certainly take away from you any chance of having it.  Because you believe in that god, it turns out.
  God the Great Ruiner of any and all stuff you want.  You appreciate a person, a song, a meal, a movie, a book, an activity?  That's fine and deeply enjoyable, until you let God into it, and then He's going to communicate disapproval and shame on you and it, until you can't help but realize that what He really, really wants you to do is just sacrifice that thing for Him.  This puritan god you've created will have no reason whatsoever, other than that you are enjoying it, if one looks deeply enough.  All the judgments, doubts, aspersions and suspicion levied against the thing you want is really simply being fuelled by a view of God that involves Him being selfish and hating you having any fun.
   The thing about puritanism, is that it's quite natural.  At first glance, you'd think it against nature, but people all over get into it.  (Like scrapbooking or eating gluten-free.) Puritanism/neo-phariseeism is an ancient, terribly typical idea that comes from what the bible calls "the flesh."  The part that's trying to live life "right," but isn't open to the idea that people need God to get any of it right at all.  That people can't just figure everything out for themselves, and hand it to Him afterward, wrapped up in a bow, and get any of it right.  
   The flesh thinks it knows what God wants, without ever needing to know Him very well, or ask Him stuff, wait for enlightenment or anything.
  The flesh is that thing that can't please God, but keeps trying, mostly through sacrifice and hurting one's self, all the while secretly, understandably starting to resent any god who is this kind of Person.  The flesh doesn't know God loves us. Not really.  To know this, one has only to see exactly what kind of god would be best pleased by the efforts of the flesh when it "does religion."

The Flesh Doing Religion/Living Life Right
I got a message from Kurt, a childhood friend today.  Haven't seen him since the 90s.  I'm going to go back and remember something about him, to use as an example for this entry.
  When I was a kid, I loved comics.  Superhero comics, mostly.  I wanted to get a bunch of them and collect them and read them.  I mean, they were incredibly colourful and action-packed, and they let me imagine I was cool, stalwart, good, brave and funny.  A badass who made the world a better place.  A hero who could save girls.  A hero who knew what had to be done and could do it, even if no one understood him.
  But that very colour, the extremes of it, the "spice" to it, the drama and action clashed with our empty, silent, beige household.  My mother said Spider-Man was "garish" and what few comics I had when I was a small child got tossed.  Tintin was okay, because it has more subdued colours and art.  But it was pretty hard to get Tintin until the past few decades, when it was released in America and Canada, so I didn't find it in stores in the town where I lived.
  Now, no one actually told my mother my wanting comics was bad, or that comics would be bad for me, or what was wrong with comics. She didn't know anything about them.  Upon consideration, I don't believe she was getting rid of the comics for my good at all.  The comics didn't fit.  Not with our lifestyle.  They didn't go along with the family and church image, or style of life/lifestyle.  They clashed.  We were content, decent, quiet, grey folk. No sudden moves, nothing in bright colours, no flair or fashion or any of that.  Outfits didn't have to be hopelessly out of style, but they had to carefully lack flair.  If we wanted to look like we were real originals, filled with style and character, that was a want that the puritan heart assumed God needed sacrificed immediately.
  And I grew up, programmed to fully exercise this puritan part of the flesh that all humans have.  When human beings decide to "get religious," no matter what hemisphere or race or era, that "sacrificing whatever our deepest heart wants most" thing can always be seen.  And it has nothing to do with what God, the real Person, actually wants.  It's just people being people.  Assuming there is some inherent good in sacrifice, even if they are disobedient and completely out of touch with God and what's He's doing.  They often dutifully, devoutly, horribly sacrifice things God gave.  Like having a life.  Like talking.  Like the company of others.  Like romance.  Like a baby girl's genitals.
    But I was raised like a puritan.  I dressed blah.  If I listened to music, it had to be blah.  I spoke in a quiet, mumbly monotone.  I didn't make sudden gestures, loud noises or make actual facial expressions.  And church people respected all of that.  It made me gain status among them.  It was the Best Thing to Do.
   By 19, I was starting to wear a lot of black (usually with one item of clothing that was brightly yellow, blue or red, to contrast), was cultivating facial hair (though I didn't dare do anything interesting with my hair, because you'd be able to see that on Sunday morning), and was getting "pulled in" to music that was downright vehement.  Music that expressed something other than beige.  Music that expressed jubilation, deep sorrow, frustration and rebellious anger, silliness and angst.  Even sexual feelings.  Music with the entire human emotional palette. 
   I was well on my way to becoming a person.  A person who, in clear defiance of How I'd Been Raised, was getting distinctive.  Was getting recognizable in a church crowd as an individual, for things other than being the beigest of the beige, the greyest of the grey.  I was cultivating more colours.  Right from black, through the vibrant hues, to gleaming white.
  And at this point, my friend Kurt enters this story.  He had always had an interest in Christianity, without really wanting to be a church guy.  We "brought him out to Sunday School."  And I forget what event he attended, but when we were almost twenty, he got all fired up and decided to "get serious" about Christianity.  He wasn't taught how to do this.  His flesh just filled in the blanks, though he wasn't taught in the bible, and didn't come from a church home at all.  
  Still, he knew what to do.  He threw out all of his comics.  Because we "both knew" that God wanted this.  I'd started, by eighteen, collecting my own comics, to make up for all the years of no comics.  But I wanted to support Kurt in what I did recognize as rather dubious, fleshly Christian efforts, so I threw mine in the dumpster behind his apartment too.  There was a bit of a pang, but it was the Christian thing to do, right?
  He also threw out a carefully culled selection of his cassette tapes, following the mysterious, arbitrary fleshly selection process his flesh was coming up with on the fly.  He could judge in about two seconds which tapes God most wanted tossed.  Some stuff got kept because it was pretty innocuous.  Some got kept because it was loved enough that he could justify it to his tyrannical flesh somehow.
  The assumption was that God would love him better if he threw out a third of his cassette tapes.  The ones with the gaudy covers, mostly. The ones that were extremely anything.  It wasn't like he could bring himself to listen to any actual Christian music (goodness knows, I've seldom been able to do that myself) but his flesh was telling him exactly what God most hated from his tape shelf.
   We, neither of us, had a lot of money, so the huge stacks of comics and cassette tapes and books and horror movie VHS tapes and so on, just looked to me like a whole lot of recently-spent money.  I asked Kurt about selling the stuff at a used stuff store, or giving it to someone less spiritual than the two of us, someone who might want it, and he had an answer he'd not learned at my church, but which came right from the bottom of his flesh: 
  No.  If it was bad for us, and if God didn't want it, it would be even worse to defile someone else with it. It had to burn.  And burn it did.  There was a pang.
   A month later, Kurt had forgotten about all of this, and would go on to greater life excesses than ever before, and I don't actually know how long any belief in God lasted, with him.  I guess I'll find out this weekend if he retains any of it.
  But one thing: no matter the religion, no matter the knowledge of God, or lack thereof, the flesh always attacks the same joyful stuff, when trying to be religious.  The appealing stuff. The stuff we want too much.  Stuff that gets some kind of deep, visceral reaction from us.  We make up our reasons after we recognize our own appreciation for the stuff.  We decide God doesn't want us to want stuff that much.  Everyone knows God wants all of us to live like monks and nuns, like puritan missionaries in Africa. Of course that's what He really wants.  From all of us.  Always.  And never anything else.  Right?

God Wants You To Want Stuff
Shortly after this chapter in my life, I started spending more and more time with people from my church who were pursuing an alternative life path to the one offered to us at our church.  The 90s was a time for alternative stuff.  We weren't gay, but we were all about challenging assumptions we kept suddenly finding we had, without quite knowing where we got these assumptions from.
  It was almost the most valuable thing we could do, for our Christian lives, to play devil's advocate to our church teaching, and to our fleshly ideas.  What does the devil ask Eve?  He asks "Did God really say that?" (yea, hath God said).
  And what I found was, this is a pretty easily answered question, if God has really said anything at all, and if you know Him and want to separate Him from your fleshly religion.  I found it terribly useful to have a look at my assumptions, especially about how to live, and the bible and God Himself, and see if it was solid.  Like the Bereans, seeing if these things were so.
   It was a testing time.  Did this work?  Did the bible even say it outright to begin with?  Was there another possible other way to view the invariably tiny bit, or vaguely connected, often mistranslated, frequently badly translated scripture scrap being used to say we needed to live like we were?  We turned "How is this edifying?" to "Show me the actual harm."  Because we knew that there was a lot of harm among puritans, and not always the advertised edification, no matter how much fun they forswore.  We were starting to suspect you needed to get actual good stuff, for its own merit, and that you couldn't do this, just by trying to purge out more and more bad stuff.  Good was a thing unto itself.  And bad was a far, far lesser thing.
   Our church was about to have, then had, and then had had, a huge division.  No one seemed to be following much of the bible, nor presenting a very Christian attitude during that time.  Oh, they quoted it a lot, and they put on those deadly serious, fleshly Christian faces when they talked about how they "had no other choice" but to be forced to do horrible things our Lord would have had (and perhaps had) no part in.
  But what if they'd gotten things wrong?  What if some of what they were saying didn't work?  What if the lifestyle they were enforcing upon all of us led only to emptiness, shame and death?  A whole lot of us were thinking this way.
  In the 90s, pretty much every one of us who thought along these lines wandered off to see what all the other Christians outside our isolationist, puritan church were up to, or we were kicked out because we weren't beige or grey enough to fit the colour scheme, just like Spider-Man hadn't been, back in the day.

Want Extremes
There were all kinds of (to me) extremely weird Christians at this other extreme of the "wants" question.  I knew Christians who, no sooner did they want something, than they let kindly God know, so He could get right onto bringing it to pass. 
   Now that was very weird, to me.  I looked on at these people who wanted what I thought of as pretty superficial fleshly things like cars, jobs, clothes, wives, boats, pastorships at new church, to plant a string of churches in their own image, and things, and thought "God's not going to just give you all that stuff!  He doesn't do that!  He's not a vending machine!  He doesn't care about that stuff?  It's our job not to want things, not His job to give us whatever we want!"
   And what happened was many of them got all that stuff they wanted.  Easily.  Fast. I couldn't tell you if God "gave" them that stuff or not.  But they got it all.  Some of them still have that stuff, and more, to this day.  Others have screwed it all up pretty badly and have nothing.  Others have screwed up a few churches and wives and children and jobs, and always seem able to get more.  Quality ones, too.
   And a lot of church friends just decided they could justify alcoholism, excessive drug use, wasting money and all manner of nonsense, if they said it was good.  If they said they wanted to be an alcoholic, or if they denied being one, but just wanted to drink like that.  That didn't go anywhere pretty, either.  Same place as the church teaching, actually.  Death.
  As for me, I always assumed God didn't want to give me things I wanted.  I had to try to get a few simple things myself, and hope God was going to turn a blind Eye.  And whenever I couldn't help but want something, whenever I felt like my little life was so empty that maybe God would, just this once, give me some small thing that would mean a lot to me, invariably I wouldn't get it.  Over and over again.
  I don't know why all this apparently not getting stuff from God challenged, rather than affirmed my view that God doesn't give us stuff.  But it did.  Mostly for other people.  When I spoke to the large number of wandering, confused, anguished sheep scattered by our church's division, and the misdoings at other churches, and the failings of their families, I wanted those people to want stuff and get it.   From God.  And I told them to want stuff and ask for it.  And they did.
  They rebuilt their lives, sometimes right upon the ruins of what had been smashed down, and sometimes having moved somewhere much nicer.  And God smiled on a whole lot of it.  He seemed into it.  He got involved.  
   And they learned to want new stuff.  Stuff other than that coveted reputation for not wanting stuff.  They learned not to assume God wanted them to be missionary puritans in Africa.  They learned to realize they couldn't just assume they knew what God wanted (always, from everyone) anymore.  And they started working with Him instead of the church, and with something more than the flesh.  
   I could and did preach this, but I didn't walk it very well.  I still had the habit of praying earnestly for God to give stuff and get involved and help out and enrich people I cared about.  I got used to seeing Him do it, eventually, but feeling like He didn't do the same for me.  Not unless there were Christians who wanted Him to, and asked on my behalf, like I'd asked on theirs.  And Christians didn't think I needed much, or forgot about me as soon as they were done that transitional, healing, rebuilding part of their life.  Or they didn't want me to have stuff.
   But in all of this, increasingly I felt that I was supposed to not only want, but want well.  Not by the book, not by the numbers, not according to the assumptions of the flesh, or What my church had taught me God was.  I felt like He and I had to work things out together.  And I felt like He wanted sacrifice from me, alright.  But not the kind of sacrifice that involved serving the Lord in hot, sunny Uganda, with my fit, beautiful wife and our six lovely children, deeply respected by church people the world over, who we'd regale with exotic tales, whenever we'd visit and get free lodging and food.  
  No, He seemed to want me to live in "dull as dishwater," grey/beige Ontario, and listen to people who were trying to build lives, and needed to talk to someone.   He seemed to want me to want what Holden Caulfield wanted: to be a catcher in the rye.
  In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden mishears the words of a song about people dancing or running happily through a field of rye, and he decides he wants to keep kids from running over a cliff he imagines is there in the field, though it's not mentioned in the song at all. In Holden's world, as in mine, there's always a cliff.
   And maybe God did want me to "catch" people whose parents and churches and social groups didn't notice were in danger.  I caught some, I guess.  Others I clearly did not.  Some of them are dead.  But there's something else to be learned from Holden Caulfield: when it's time to run happily through a field of rye, or dance and sing, if you can't seem to join in, but are always on the sidelines, poor-me-ing, seeing all the phoniness that certainly is there, seeing the squalour, the problems, and trying to spy out danger rather than join in fun, you're missing something.

Why Is Wanting Stuff Hard?
Is there stuff you can want?  Is that okay?  My first thought upon meeting up with Christians who seemed to just assume that they should want all kinds of stuff and that God would give them the desires of their heart was "But, we fallen humans want bad stuff.  If you pursue what you want, you will pursue bad stuff which will hurt you, and far more importantly, make you not look very Christian to those looking on."  I really did used to think like that.  Even more so than now.
   What I didn't believe in sufficiently was the idea that the work of Christ worked, and that being a Christian who is open to him (and not merely adhering to fleshly bible teaching, or church lifestyles and expectations) involves being transformed, inwardly.  It means that if you take a good hard look at your wants, or if you pursue them, you learn God's side of things for real.
   It is simple-minded to think that we all want to eat rooms full of cake, and have sex with several thousand people.  We, fleshly, ignorant, unspiritual people to begin with, start out with dissatisfaction with that nonsense built right into us, without even needing to know Christ to get that.  We come with emptiness we are always trying to fill.  We strive.  We are not content.  And like kids, we try to fill that all up with the equivalents of Saturday morning cartoons, comic books, Froot Loops and ice cream.  In our teens, probably we see if we'd actually want to play video games for sixteen hours straight, pausing only to pee.  Or we buy more than sixteen pairs of shoes.
   And more interesting, passionate, bold, less beige people than ourselves may go into things they end up addicted to.  Promiscuous sex, alcohol, drugs, dieting, fitness, plastic surgery, perfectionism, work, money, church leadership, all that kind of stuff.  Stuff that's supposed to be the "be all and end all."  Stuff that's supposed to be enough to satisfy adults.  And it isn't.  We are invariably still empty, and feeling slightly ill, like the kid who's played Nintendo for sixteen hours straight and consumed only Red Bull.  We can consume that as hard as we like, and it's not quite right.
   What that tells me is that the emptiness, the dissatisfaction that drives us to pursue excesses of things, is universal.  The dissatisfaction is good.  It's from God.  It drives us to Jesus.  It drove Saul and then Paul, John the Baptist, Peter, John, Mary Magdalene and Zaccheus.  It drove Jesus himself.  They all made sacrifices, as we all, invariably do, hookers and heroin addicts perhaps most of all.  But they didn't make sacrifice the point.  They didn't do it for its own sake.  They didn't bow down and worship it.  They didn't personally cultivate sacrifice as an image, to capitalize upon.  They were pursuing something.  They were not trying to remain complacent, content, conservative.  They were all radical.  They were driven. They wanted.

God Prefers People Who Want Things
I've read the bible a few times, and what seems an uncomfortable but inescapable fact is that God seems to love driven people better than complacent ones.   Or certainly, depicts them better, works with them instead of the others, blesses them more, talks to them more, and all that, than the others.  Than Esau, the prodigal son's elder brother, the friends of Job, or Felix: these guys do not get what the passionate screwups get.  They never "get there in the end," either, as far as the bible relates.  
   Jesus loved Peter so much.  Look at how much personal time Peter got.  Not because he was a screwup.  Because of his passion.  Jesus was deeply moved by it.  Jesus could chide Peter for being the only one brave and faithful enough to defend Jesus with a sword, but still feel it deep down for what it was. We've been taught to judge Peter, and assume that he was showing off, or whatever.  I think he loved Jesus and had to do something.
   So, it's not as big a stretch from my fleshly, puritan upbringing as I'd like to think, simply knowing God wants me to sacrifice, to give up time and energy and money on people who need to grow beyond the whole fleshly "God demands everything you want be sacrificed on His Altar for Burning Stuff You Want."  But what about me?  Maybe I am freer to want things than I once was, but will I ever learn to know God as someone who wants to give me stuff I want? Or at least as someone who might help me find better and better things to want more and more deeply, and to open up my heart and learn to let in joy and fun and delight?  And harder still, to let those reciprocal feelings pour out in response?
  Well, I've done my "poor little me" time, sitting alone, trying not to resent God for not bringing people and stuff into my life, for letting all my friends marry and procreate and drift off and away forever, to resent Him for all the sacrifice and emptiness.  I'm done.  
   And what I'm doing now, only fairly recently, is starting to work.  A bit.  What I do is I follow my discontent.  I am male, white, middle-class, healthy, employed and have a solid, "together" lifestyle.  I am "supposed" to be content, so when I'm not, I listen to that and see who and what there actually is around to do and interact with.  I follow the discontent to see where it leads, what's missing inside, and then I look outside to see what's floating past.  Because it's far better to see what's floating past than miss it.  And God's in stuff floating past.  He sends opportunities we are fools to pass up.  I have often been a fool in the name of timidity and false contentment.
  So I "fish."  I frequently cast bread upon the waters to see if the bible is true about it returning (ever, ever, ever). Instead of assuming and resenting there being no one reaching out to me in the course of my day, I let God know I'm open to Him letting stuff drift by me I can hook and fish out and eat or throw back or make trophies of or whatever.  I go walk along the beach and play beachcomer.  I check the mail.  I look for stuff to happen.  I keep my ears open.  I look for people to do something other than close down, or need stuff from me.  You know? I live a life.
  I'm letting God do all kinds of stuff instead of asking Him for one thing and whining if I don't think He'll give it to me today.  I'm looking to want lots of little things that float by, rather than imaginary things.  
   Let me say that again.  It seemed important: I am learning to look around at real people, places, things, ideas, opportunities and so on, and want something that is, rather than resent what I do not have and am only imagining.
   I am a Christian.  Contrary to popular belief, this does not mean I think I have things figured out, that I have everything I need, that take black and white positions on everything to be identifiable as a Christian pinhead, nor do I worship things I imagine myself.  If there is a God, He has to show up.  Every day.  And do whatever He wants.  I will not imagine Him and play elaborate, self-deceiving games of let's pretend.  I will not assume that, with just my flesh, my upbringing, and a storehouse of traditional church doctrine, that I have what God wants figured out.  I will not continue to do all that.  Because I do not want to.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Beware the Cripple

There were a few of these guys at my old church.  Whenever you'd start to get somewhere with living your life, not being overcome by shame and doubt and indecision, they'd abruptly appear, apparently out of nowhere, usually blocking your path to the nearest exit.  They'd sometimes even slap their hand down on where your neck meets your shoulder, and do something my friend Mark called "sliming" you.  Like in Ghostbusters.  Except the slime was pretty toxic.  You'd feel like they'd gotten it all over you once they started talking.
    They'd smile a lot.  They'd be doing it all for your own good.  But what they said would mess you up.  It was like they were emotional, spiritual and psychological cripples, and they wanted to kneecap anyone who looked like they'd still be able to run from danger, if necessary, or win races or anything.  They couldn't really live lives exactly, so what they did was "help" other people do what they'd done so as to avoid that awful fate (living a life).
    So I wrote this song. I never really recorded it back in the day, and when I played it, it always sounded to me like an odd version of "Puff the Magic Dragon."  The "clever" bit, I thought at the time, was to 'reveal' a new line of the chorus with each verse.  So, first verse you only get the first line of the chorus, then second verse you get the hear the first and second, then after the next verse, you get the first three lines of the chorus, and so on:

Beware the Cripple
There be great immovables, once men, now turned to rocks
That a kid could climb up if he brought rope and his nice red climbing socks
But he would meet a person halfway up there leaning on a crutch
A kindly, simple, crippled man who thinks we think too much
Beware the Cripple

His story is a simple one, but one that's seldom told
He's feeble, and he's senile, but he isn't very old
He broke his legs while climbing up the selfsame very rocks
Traversed only in fantasy by our friend in his read socks
Beware the Cripple

Standing in your way

He ground up all his strengths and he put them in a pot
Then he boiled them, and reboiled them, 'till he was happy
And what he got was a tarry greyish poison of a very nasty kind
Now he spoons it out to everyone as Tonic For The Mind (like the flu, like the cold, good for what ails ya!)
Beware the Cripple

Standing in your way

Calling all his friends
Wooden warriors on wooden crutches
Glass bottles full of goo
With plastic spoons to cram in your mouth
But kid, that stuff'll kill you
Beware the Cripple
And all his friends
Don't ever stop to talk to him, 'cause he won't rest 'till you've had your fill
Of his crock-concocted cure-all, then he'll kick you down the hill
He will toss you down a crutch to use, unless you can get past
The one thing that could save ya, is he can't run very fast
Beware the Cripple

Standing in your way

Calling all his friends

Coming after you

   I have been having trouble getting myself to record things, so what I do that works is I get other people to commit to recording some instrument part on the song, which is of course not yet recorded when I get them to agree.  Then of course I have to record it so there's something for them to add to, when they show up.  Works well.  
   So, I can't really fingerpick properly, and Chris is great at it, so I got him to agree to come do some, and then I had to record it.  I ended up using my first take.  Wasn't sure if I should do any backing vocal harmony, or if I could think of anything, so when this came out (the recording has the first take of that too).  Here's what we ended up with.