Friday, 29 November 2013


Whole.  This word, when seen in the bible, besides meaning "entire," is connected with the word "hale," and means "healthy and strong."  I think in English we've lost that important connection between being healthy and strong, and being whole.  Being all.  Having all.  Not being cut into pieces.  Not lacking or leaving out parts. 
   Whole.  Being one person whose words, actions and heart are one.  We don't unlive unlives by suppressing our hearts.  We look heavenward for our hearts to be matured and redeemed, and we live them as they mature and get redeemed.  Anything else is what scripture calls "the flesh," and is the opposite of salvation.  A substitute for it.  A pretense of it.
   Whole.  Good food is wholesome.  In the Old Testament, wise men discussed "the whole matter," so as to reach some conclusion and not do things half-wittedly and half-heartedly.  Our eye is to be unified, focused, single (not crosseyed and double-visioned) so our whole body can be full of light and vision. 
   Whole.  Jesus made people whole.  He dealt with "the whole mulitude" at a time, when one was gathered, just as God deals with the whole church now, and not our little subsets of it.  When a smug or self-satisfied, or a narrow-hearted, spiteful spirit infects Christians, it infects the whole "lump," which means everything.  The contagion doesn't stay in the individual congregations.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013


Lost.  Perdition.  That's the name for where we are when we're lost.  Where we are when we may perish.  It's a state more than a place, but it's both.  The French word for "lost" is "perdue." 
   I grew up hearing the word "perish" in John 3:16.  God didn't want us to perish, didn't want us to be lost.  Old people in movies and books would curse folks by saying "Go to perdition!" or similar.  People perished when ships went down.  And people feared perishing when they feared ships going down which were safe the whole time: "Master, we perish!  Master, save!"
  But we Christians were told we are totally okay.  We would never be lost.  Would never perish. Not like a file in a computer can be lost.  We were, like this blog entry, saved.  Preserved.  That's what 'safe' can mean.  That you won't be lost.
    But that was only about heaven and hell.  We had lives to get through.  What about this week?  What about today?  Many of us felt lost all the time, and felt like we were perishing too.  Many of us didn't think we'd ever go to Hell, but felt like the life we were living was an eternal torture in purifying fires, lost in outer darkness.
   You know that feeling when you have lost your wallet, your bag, your phone or your keys (or all of the above?)  That feeling like, if it's lost, you yourself are lost without it?  I think there are also things in this life which if we've never had them, can make us feel utterly lost.
    Because feeling lost can mean you don't know quite where you are or how to get where you need to be, or if it is even possible to get anywhere good or safe at all.  This makes you feel like you don't know who you are or who to be, also.  Certainly not what to do, given you don't even know who you are or where you are, really.  So feeling lost can also mean feeling like there is no hope for you, like you are doomed.   And this is, obviously, the antithesis of what Christ came to achieve.  When we feel doomed, lost and on the brink of perdition, it's like he never came at all.  Like he doesn't care and perhaps isn't even real.  We aren't feeling him.

Growing Up Lost
Growing up, I often felt both kinds of lost.  Our culture is kind of dumb.  Both cultures of mine, actually.  My twentieth century Canadian consumer culture, and also my unnamed twentieth century, Canadian, exclusive Tunbridge Wells Plymouth Brethren one.  (we didn't have a name, but we were certainly expected to know exactly who we were, alright. Every hour of every day we were never to forget who we were(n't), and we were expected to always look like it.) 
   In Western culture, we have some very plastic and commercial and arbitrary ways to 'do our year,' while keeping rooted and grounded in an established structure.  Of course we don't have an ancient and rich assortment of the usual cultural myths that we would otherwise tell ourselves so we would feel like we know how hope works, where things come from, what everything means and who we are; and that there is hope, identity and meaning to begin with.  But we have movies and television, and to a lesser degree, books.  Stories help us know where we are and what's real and what isn't, and help us find how we feel about all of that.
    We modern Canadians don't have quite the same experience of the year that our ancestors did, with spring being the first time we're truly warm after a genuinely life-threatening winter, then moving through the hard, hot work of summer, with the chill of fall paying off in terms of a harvest of the fruits of our work finally coming to us, like autumn was the Friday night of the year.  
   It's not like that for us.  We don't have to preserve the berries we pick in August, or risk not having strawberry jam in December.  We can have bananas in January, raspberries in November, lemonade in February and pumpkin pie in July.  And we can shiver with cold in August if we turn the A.C. up high enough, or sweat ourselves greasy in February.  So the harvest isn't really a thing for us so much, anymore, and the seasons aren't what they once were to us either.  That rhythm is gone and no longer does what it used to in terms of adding structure to our year.  We've been unmoored from it and are adrift in however we set the dials.

Adding Structure
So we do holidays.  Look at what "art" is being done in elementary classrooms if you want to see.  Eggs and chocolate for Easter in the Spring.  Picnics in the summer with things like watermelon and lemonade which we perhaps "save" for summer, though we can have them anytime we like.  Perhaps we only swim in the summer, though we have year-round indoor community pools.  We have Thanksgiving in the fall, with pumpkin pie and turkey, which we perhaps don't enjoy at any other time of the year.  And we have Christmas, which we do in gaudy, plastic, jingly splendour.  Maybe we save eggnog for December, so it's special.  And Christmas has songs.  Lots and lots of songs.  The other holidays just don't have songs like that.
   We even have things like Valentine's Day and Halloween to go with Thanksgiving and Easter and Christmas.  Of course, we should feel totally natural buying someone flowers, or asking a beautiful stranger to leave her desk and go out for coffee, or giving compliments, or flirting or being romantic and buying (mostly pink) things for someone who makes us positively melt inside.  We should do this absolutely any time we like, any time of the year.  We should have those feelings inside, be aware of them, and let them out so they're felt by others.
    But we are Westerners and seem to need to schedule that kind of thing into our year, or we'll never get to it, what with tax season being upon us and all.  So we have Valentine's Day.  In February, of all times, anyone with a smidge of romantic anything always knows "It's Go Time.  I have an excuse. It's what's done. I don't only get to, I have to!"  We can rail against the commercialization and against Hallmark cards, but apparently we really need them to be ourselves a bit, when it's time.
   And of course we should feel free to buy people things that we know will make them happy, whenever we like.  But we're westerners. We're dumb, and have to fear someone asking "Why did you get me that?  I didn't know to get you anything..."  So we have Christmas and birthdays.  Suddenly we have permission.  An excuse.  Which gives us an opportunity.
   Every day (even if it's not Sunday) we should know it's good to recognize that Jesus came, was born and lived a life, taught us things, died and resurrected and has gone to heaven and intercedes with God for us so we don't have to walk around every day feeling and being lost.  We should know he's still at this right now.  Working to ensure that, as people, we will be preserved, and will be given the upgrades we need to even function on higher and deeper levels.  We know that he pointed out and took a costly, difficult, ever-changing, unpredictable path, but one ultimately meaningful, and love and light-focused.  
   But we seem to need Sunday to remind us to do this, and some of our Sundays are only about what scum we Christians all are, so we have Christmas.  To be sure we know, like in Narnia when Aslan was on the move, and Christmas and Spring had come at one and the same time because of him, that though the world is full of evil, cruelty, waste, emptiness and horror, we know God's not sitting back.  There is a plan.  There are things in motion. There are people in position and things we can do.  We're at the dark part of the story, but the ending is looking bright. Honest, it is.  So Merry Christmas. Whether you want it or not.
    And we have Halloween, too.  As G.K. Chesterton said, children don't need to hear scary stories to tell them there are dragons.  They know there are dragons.  What they need are stories to tell them that dragons can be beaten.  They need stories they can believe in, in their heart, without the dark bits removed to "protect" them from developing backbones and courage and hope.
   Halloween isn't about making children believe in, or want to be, evil creatures.  It's about those stories which admit the truth: there are scary people and things out there and everyone gets scared by them.  But we can survive it, and sometimes, it really is just our imaginations running away with us, and we should learn about controlling that. Through practice.  So let's explore all of that.  Let's explore feeling like evil people and things can be figured out, can be fought, and that they do not always, inevitably win.  Let's learn that fear is a normal part of daily life, but not a fatal part.  Let's work until we learn that getting a fright isn't the end of the world.  Let us learn to roll with it.  Dressing up like your fear is a way of becoming less scared of it, of trying to master it.  Not by becoming it for life, but by wearing a mask of its face for a few hours and ultimately feeling less afraid.  Hoping in being able to master and maybe even mock your fear.

A Formula For Feeling Lost   
Want to hear a recipe for making Western kids feel lost?  Raise them like all the other Western kids, without the seasons and harvest, and with the work and hardship not meaning what they once did.  But give them slave's hours to work in order to live like kings who have no down time.  Endless self-improving lessons and being driven here and there and elsewhere, perpetually having forgotten something, always trailing the odour of late-shame.  This uproots them from those old natural, community rhythms that tended to bind humans together in a universal struggle, and lent shared security.
   Take away the stories (television, movies, many of the books), particularly the ones that help them learn to deal with evil and terror and danger.  Take away the holidays too.  Make them live a year where it's always church, but never Christmas.  Expect them to get married, but not really "do" Valentines Day, or Hallmark romance.  Expect them to figure out fear without horror movies and Halloween.  Expect them to learn about hope and the coming of new things without Easter.
   That's how I grew up.  No Halloween.  No dressing up as a scary monster.  No scary stories.  Certainly not on television or in movies.  Not even in the books I could read.  (still, I voraciously read adventures and mysteries.  The virtues of finding one's way home, of exploring new places, people and things, of solving problems, of surviving danger, of learning who can't be trusted, of facing up to villainy, and figuring out what is really going on. And all that story stuff became part of who I am now.  It started in stories and now it's me.  That's what stories are for.  That's why the bible is built of them.)  But fear's a thing we need to learn to deal with, it turns out.  Scary things in the night.  Empty despair and aching dread.  One has to learn to believe the sun will rise, birds will sing, and that spring will come, after night and Winter are done.
   We also had no Valentines Day (and I didn't see any romance in my parents' marriage.  And all of my uncles got divorced and didn't really find anyone else afterward, and this was the same with my grandparents.)  
   We also had no Christmas (in a family with no hugs or compliments, buying people something was really the only way, apart from helping them lift something, or giving them food, in which you could show you kinda liked them at all.)  So we didn't learn how to graciously, open-heartedly accept generosity and kindness.  We didn't learn about grace, either in giving and even less in receiving.  We learned about giving up good things, but not about receiving good things.  We didn't learn that when you receive something, it's not about deserving it.  It's not even about you at all, much as you may need it to be.  It's about the giver's giving and you feeling their love and generosity instead of your own awkwardness and shame.
   And our Sundays at church were pretty much always and only a huge distraction from the Giver's giving.  From the hope and the triumph, from the receiving of grace, because we preferred to feel shame and guilt and blame.  We worshipped shame rather than grace.  We preferred to focus on us not being worthy.  It is more blessed to give than receive, we knew.  So we were determined not to really let anyone who cared for us give us anything, and in the giving experience that blessing.  Only we got to give.  But it is how we receive that shows where our lacks really are.

In Jewish culture, the idea is you start work on Sunday, and you work hard, and you have to quit Friday evening.  The stress stops.  Once the sun is setting, you're done.  Even if the work isn't finished, you are finished.  If you continue working, this is sinful.  And no matter how hard the week is, you always know when it's going to end.  Because Saturday you can't work.  It's the end of the week, starting Friday evening, and you simply don't work on Saturday.  You have to wait until the next week. So every week had a rhythm of building to a climax, then releasing, providing a much-earned catharsis at the end.
   My week wasn't like that, growing up.  I'd "do school" Monday through Friday, and I knew that most Saturdays, my father, having taught school all week, would have saved up a Sisyphean regimen of tree hewing, wood piling, hay cutting, chicken slaying, stone piling, lawn mowing, hole digging, tree planting and any number of apparently pointless, tedious and arduous tasks.  It wasn't like any of that needed to be done.  Not really.  He was trying to teach me to do physical work, because he himself didn't know how to stop and rest.  So, once the school week was over, the physical work was waiting on Saturday, which was a day that was not created for fun, and certainly not for resting from the week's labours, like God had done.  It was for hard physical work.  You'd work at school and more indoor chores all week long, positively dreading what work would be coming on the Saturday, and often happened on nonChurch evenings as well.  Not working on Saturday was for lazy people who didn't know how to work.  And you did homework on Friday night and Saturday, because you'd not be allowed to do it Sunday night for Monday.
   The next day was Sunday.  On Sunday we were positively forbidden fun.  No books, no music, no running or games or sports or socializing.  No work, either.  But in its way, Sunday was more busy than any other day of the week.  I didn't, for example, actually have to wear a suit and tie to go to school.  But Sundays I did.  Right from when I was little.  And Sunday wasn't the start of a week, nor the end of a week, really.  It was all part of the year's weeks never really ending at all.
   Monday through Friday mornings, I got up and dressed like me, grabbed my lunch and was driven in and sat down in front of teachers for the school day, and was then driven home again.  Tuesday and Thursday evenings I was dressed up unlike myself, and driven in to church after supper to sit and listen to far more boring stuff than the driest of algebra classes, lectured by people far less qualified to be addressing a room.  But on Sunday this pilgrimage into the church happened three times.  These trips took up the whole day.
   We made sure that nothing else whatsoever happened on our Sundays than our work for God.  The dressiest clothes.  No fun.  no homework.  No work for anyone else but Him.  No recreation of any kind.  And yet, I never felt the Christmas in any of it.  Nor the Easter. Not in December, and not in April.  There were no Christmas carols or decorations in our church.   There weren't Spring and chocolate. There weren't "Angels We Have Heard On High."  There was only "a wretch like me" and "for such a worm as I."
   And my summer holidays were interesting, too.  There was no school, and as my father was a teacher, he had no daily work to do either.  Other teachers went to cottages or read things.  But starting in June, through until September, my dad was always there pushing the physical work six days a week, with never-ending, always outdoor, always adult, arduous tasks.  I did my very best to be useless and helpless and I got very good at that.  Allergies to hay, grass, wood, mould and mildew helped.  So I slaved away, ineffectually trailing snot and wheezing. Then when Sunday came each week, any fun there'd been was outlawed for those twenty four hours.
    For us, the work never stopped, though it was all shot through with the awareness that this chosen, empty work was what we were doing instead of hobbies.  It grew and grew, culminating in Sundays that were more stiff and formal and "on duty" than the rest of the week had been, with summer and Christmas "holidays" in which we worked more than any other time of the year, because Dad had been saving up stuff to do when he'd be off work.
   And when we grew up and became adults, we made ourselves schedules at least as arduous as any our parents set us.  And we feel guilty whenever we're not toiling away at something.

Finding Our Lost Selves
I think it's really no wonder we have so much trouble, some of us, finding ourselves.  Not feeling lost.  Knowing who and where we are, and where we're headed, moving into full, deep, multifaceted lives.  Bereft of our stories, the rhythms of our years, our seasons, our holidays (holy days) and denied the elements of our Western schedule which help us to deal with various feelings, nice and less so.  We can be like unmoored, rudderless ships forever adrift.  And being unmoored feels empty, pointless and lost. So we try to find safe, roomy habours we can moor ourselves in. Hope is symbolized by an anchor, isn't it?
   I think all of this is why we feel so lost sometimes.  So I am going to try to remember to focus on some things I think are important: I am going to look for every possible chance to be able to feel home, feel light, feel direction, feel meaning, feel hope, feel love, feel grounded and feel connection.  To let it happen around me and let it in to me. My weeks will end Friday nights, with the stress and deadlines and obligations and appointments cutting sharply off once that sun sets on Friday.  
   Things can start up again the next week, but I'm going to start my weeks gently, with time for reflection.  Getting my bearings.  Not forgetting Christ's role in Christianity, not losing him in a self-indulgent slimebath I dutifully take in my own problems, folly, fruitlessness and unworthiness.  
   Because increasingly in our weeks, in our holidays (whether we give them to ourselves and our kids or not) in our years and lives, Christ is getting lost to us. It is really no wonder we feel this way.  It is no wonder we live in fake stone, fake wood, brightly decorated castles, surrounded by time-saving, labour-saving, climate-controlling, food preserving devices, with the latest in machines to save our every thought and conversation forever and ever, yet we unthinkingly, slavishly commit ourselves to schedules impossible to do or afford.  It is no wonder we ensure that we seldom have a single moment to reflect.  It doesn't matter if we're moving in random circles, so long as we're spinning our wheels.  And we insist upon spinning our wheels without the threat of possibly being interrupted while we do it.  Because we don't want to stop.  And we measure our worth in terms of how hard we expend our time and energy. 

I say we need to regularly go outside sometimes and do nothing.  We need to know that's coming, and look ahead to it from the middle of our muddle.  We need to stop hard, and know nothing's going to interrupt our stopping.  We need to go look at the stars, the trees, the water, knowing that if someone texts us, or our phone rings, or someone messages us on Facebook, tweets or snapchats us, or asks for help with Farmville, that we won't even know about this until we return, whenever that happens.  From the field, from the side road, from the park, from the dock, from the beach, from the cliff, from the woods, from the valley.  From where we've gone to stop.
   I don't think we need to leave our schedules and our bleeping distractions behind us primarily so we can go find answers, and figure everything out and have done some sound metawork, making lists, planning plans and resolving resolutions to spin even more wildly.  I think we need to leave them behind so we can go stop, let life unfold a bit, and let it touch us, without even putting the rubber gloves on.  Let it in on its own terms, without scheduling or disinfecting or castrating it.  We need to invite it, especially if it's been knocking.  We need to let a bit of reality get on our bare hands and learn not to wash it off quite so quickly.  
   We need to exert our will over our weekly schedule so we know who it serves.  We need to feel like we aren't working like slaves in order to seem as if we are living like plastic sultans.  We need to stop pretending to be productive, just so we can accept our right to live and breathe office air.  We need to stop tidying life to desperately dispel the horror of one thing that's not away where it goes.  
   We need to prove to ourselves that we can seize an hour, if not the day, and stop.  An hour to be neither afraid, nor proud.  An hour to be, and see who we are.  And hour to let life happen and get it on us, to let it get in.  We don't need this much control, all resulting in our feeling helpless and insufficient anyway.  We need to stop.  We need to know how soon we are going to stop, and work until that time has arrived each day, and every week and year.  So we can breathe.  We need to breathe.
   God took a whole Saturday.  And He wasn't even tired.

Monday, 25 November 2013


I was just talking with Luke on the phone.  There are things we have always disagreed about, and we've been friends long enough to pick them up and toss them around like an old football if we feel like it, or not.  They are old and familiar.

Here is a way that I am very old-fashioned/modern/20th Century: 
In "my" culture (Brethren/Ontarian), when you see Sarah, a woman you like, and your friend Steve likes her too, you have to check and see if some other guy named Trevor feels he has exclusive rights to wooing Sarah before you or Steve ought to consider getting involved.  If Trevor "has dibs," then if you or Steve for example, send Sarah flowers, or compliment her, you're messing with Trevor.  And that's an affront, and boundaries need to be reiterated or moved around or whatever.  You might not actually fight, but a transaction of that kind goes on.  Because when you step in and there's another guy like Trevor already involved, you're messing with "his thing."  Trevor's ambitions, hopes and plans, that is.  Not that Sarah is "Trevor's thing," exactly, although those lines get muddy fast.  So you establish boundaries.  Not with Sarah.  With Trevor.  Directly.
   And the complications don't stop there.  If Sarah has no such man in her life, but your friend Steve likes her too, it is customary for you and Steve to work out who gets to pursue her.  Otherwise, you may well lose an important friendship with Steve, and possibly not end up with Sarah anyway.  That would suck, and so normally people come to arrangements, which are about as psychologically and ethically sound as calling "dibs" or "I saw her first!"  Luke thinks one shouldn't do damage to a potential wife's familial and friend connections, but should work to help all of that remain intact, so that one not put her in the position of choosing one or the other (husband or family).
   It goes without saying that at the female end of this little tale, if you or Steve like Sarah and start to pursue her, she for her part needs to ensure she doesn't have a sister or friend or whatever who has been carrying a torch for you or Steve, and is eagerly awaiting to be courted.  If Sarah's sister/friend Gloria has been carrying such a torch for Steve, and Sarah "Goes for it" with Steve, this is viewed as completely unacceptable too, and potentially drives a rift between Sarah and Gloria.  

Luke is odd.  He doesn't think like that at all.  Never has.  He says that, if one is to remain "scriptural," there simply aren't all those modern stages or kinds of romantic association.  In the modern world we think we have:

a) dating (not exclusively)/"seeing one another"
b) dating exclusively/being a couple/"going steady"
c) "on a break"
d) living together
e) engaged/betrothed
f) married
g) estranged/"on a break"
h) legally separated
i) divorced

Depends on who you are where, if anywhere, sexual congress begins to occur.  According to Luke, though, if you want to remain scriptural/deal ethically and with God-logic, these are the only "real" states a relationship exists in, in the eyes of God and (wo)man alike:

a) dating (not exclusively)
b) engaged/betrothed
c) married (sexual congress occurring only here)
d) divorced

Anything else is just silly, noncommittal nonsense, according to him.  
   Luke also feels that, if a woman isn't actually married to a husband, it is absolutely ethically permissible for any man to pursue her romantically.  That "Trevor" has no real, binding claims on Sarah at all, not yet, and is still window shopping.  That Sarah really ought to seriously consider all comers.  So, if Trevor and Sarah are doing the pre-marriage, pre-sexual relationship negotiations, Steve should be more than free to toss in his bid to be more suited, more charming, more resilient, more whatever is required, than Trevor.  And Sarah should give Steve due consideration, rather than giving him the old "I have a boyfriend" line, which Luke feels is nonsense.  There are, after all, no "boyfriends" in the bible.  There are only betrotheds, husbands, and men.  And Luke feels that Steve's intervention could well cause Trevor to step up his game a bit, if he has any.  Win-win.
   This is all very against my culture and training.  Against both of my cultures.  Can't really roll like that.
   In Plymouth Brethren culture, they don't really want to accept the concept of (recreational) dating, but they always allowed kind of a "pre-engagement/getting to know one another" process.  It seemed to have most of the rules and responsibilities of actual marriage, and none of the comforts of it.  This process was always meant to be about fairly promptly coming up with a decision to get (or not get) engaged.
   Couples who non-dated for more than a year, but didn't seem to be moving toward or away from engagement, were viewed as dubious.  There was a lot of pressure.  (To say the least.) No wonder so many Brethren people married outside the fold, as it were.  Away from the spotlights.
   (Of course in the actual bible, it's always and only arranged marriage, pretty much.  With a dowry. And maybe more than one wife at a time.  Or so I think. Luke disagrees and says it was about many men choosing wives they wanted, quite frequently.)  We're not that traditional.  We're at best "wearing white at the wedding because Queen Victoria did" traditional.  Nothing really much older than that.
   Luke also has what sounds to me (he wouldn't term it quite like this) like a view that the pre-marriage, pre-sexual relationship, the jockeying for position, aligning and defining of roles, the working out of how the two of you work things out together, somehow "sets in concrete" once you marry.  Like you're kind of stuck with those basic realities, with anything you haven't sorted out beforehand, with only minimal chance of tweaking them.  Like you have to "work stuff out" in advance, or you're pretty much stuck with it.  But upon reading this, he says he's not quite saying that.  Exactly.  Guess I'll have to talk to him another time to get a clearer picture of what he means. 

Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Lag

When I was 18 (and 19, and 20), I felt silly, because I no longer believed it was actually wrong to go to a movie theatre, or drink a beer, or go see live music, but I still hadn't actually done any of those things.  I went to classes at University, and now and then I'd be having a good conversation, and the person I was speaking to would say "Hey, you want to go get a drink?" and I'd always redden and mutter that I didn't drink because of my religion, and they'd say "Well, just get a Pepsi..." and I'd start to explain that I meant I didn't go into bars.  Rather than suggest coffee (which I also don't drink), the person would always take it as an unwillingness to hang with him or her.   The same thing happened with movies and concerts.
   Most people in my (Plymouth Brethren "privileged") position had been doing all of these fun things anyway.  Despite what their church parents thought and often despite what they themselves actually believed in their church-trained hearts.  They were willing to believe that all that fun stuff was wrong (as I once had) but just "do wrong stuff" anyway.  Or they wilfully didn't know, which allowed them to not know for certain if all that fun stuff was actually wrong, so they had enough doubt to do it.
    I've never been willing to do that to myself, I guess.  Not because of some deep-seated obedience, but because I superstitiously feel like it will do psychological damage to me if I do stuff I truly believe I shouldn't.  If the stuff is bad, and I do it, then I'm bad.  And I don't want to look at myself that way.  I mean, there's TULIP "thoroughly depraved because I'm human" bad, and there's "what are you, personally, doing with your life?" bad.

Forbidden Knowledge
But even once I'd reached the point where I no longer believed these normal fun things to be wrong, it took me a while to actually do them.  I was gentle with myself.  And it cost me socially to not do them, while it also cost me, with my family and church peeps, to be known to believe that some of the forbidden fun things were actually okay.
    Because it wasn't like my parents or church were pleased with me anyway.  I'd lost all my church Kristian Kred.  I no longer had a future among them, once I'd gained the forbidden knowledge that a bunch of the fun stuff wasn't evil.  I'd been vocal about the fact that I thought being all superstitious about harmless fun was a "bad testimony," and that it in fact gave Christianity a bad name.  That it had nothing to do with truth and reality, and that Christianity was supposed to deal solely with those.  So I was in a position of suspicion without even enjoying the stuff.  I was viewed as someone who "wasn't clear" about these crucial things, these devil's dumplings, and this was bad enough to put me in the dog house.  (I would certainly lead other, younger people astray into paths of hedonistic decadence, concupiscence and lasciviousness)  People were "grieved."
   Normal English-speakers use the dramatic word "grieve" mainly to talk about when their kid has actually died.  Top shelf Brethren parents use it to mourn the loss of their child's pleasure superstition, to bemoan the birth of their offspring's Christian liberty.  (or they just use it to mean "pissed off.  Making us look bad.")  But being born again sometimes looks like that.  New life.  Liberty.  Strength.  Joy.
    Yet everyone expected I would soon enough start enjoying these forbidden fun things, no doubt to great excess, like their own/other kids.  And I was blamed for kids doing various fun things I didn't actually do, just because it was known that I felt those things weren't wrong.  If my sister drank alcohol, this was my fault because I didn't anymore believe drinking a glass of wine outside the context of the Sunday morning proceedings was wrong.

Living Some Liberty
Eventually, a few years later, I did 'have a drink,' go into a movie theatre, and see a live concert.  Didn't do anything crazy like go out dancing or anything.  Or vote or go to a casino.  And I never did the fun things I allowed myself, to excess.  That would have made me feel stupid and it would have made the naysayers look right.  I needed it to actually be okay to do those things, if I wanted to do them, and this kind of required the spiritcrushers to be wrong when they kept getting in my face so opinionatedly, scattering splintered shards of shattered scripture bits and shame-loaded dusty church jargon as they came.
  Worse yet, the atmosphere of the church culture itself was stiff with this kind of pleasure superstition, and I'd grown up eating and breathing that church voodoo stuff.  It was normal for us to fear fun.  It was what we did, mostly.  The raison d'etre of our church was to warn everyone of the connection between fun and Hell.  Just like with the puritans.  We didn't burn witches, but we certainly castigated and socially excluded people who'd had a Coors Lite.  In our church it was even viewed as daring to speak emphatically, in any way "rock the boat," or wear bright colours or stripey patterns to church.  Fun's fiendish infernal function was to get everyone safely into Hell without seeing that supposed connection between abstaining from fun and ushering souls into Heaven thereby.  The Christian's job was to forswear fun.  To "save souls" by attracting them to Christ in that way.  (Hating fun, exuberance, colourfulness of personality and socially punishing anyone indulging in harmless joy is so attractive.  Like our exclusivity and our divisions.  It's a wonder we have enough chairs for everyone.)
    I knew as a Plymouth Brethren lad, that if fun was something I was going to start doing, that in a way this made me kind of not Plymouth Brethren anymore.  And I'd been raised to believed that Christian meant Plymouth Brethren. If you cared about Christ at all, and read your bible and prayed, at all.  So how was I going to view myself as a Christian, even if I was going to see a live band playing music?  I knew I'd have to work all that stuff out.  My Christianity was going to have to get more real and less superstitious.  It was going to have to become its own actual thing, and not just a forswearing of what normal was for other, "lesser" people.  Like Satanists generally don't so much have their own religion as they simply shit on Christianity, without understanding it, incensed by its excesses and its frequent narrow-hearted, soul-crushing punishment of anything natural, loving and living.
   On the few occasions when I have spoken with Satanists, they have always purported to champion supposedly "Satanic" virtues which they seem wholly unaware were characteristics of Christ.  Individuality.  Uniqueness.  Not simply following the herd.  Not believing everything one is told.  Not serving things unless they work.  Doing actual worthwhile good, rather than merely obeying rules.  Self-improvement rather than conformity.  Speaking out strongly against fake, empty shows of religious piety, and against all leaders who are lying and ineffectual.  Being willing to speak a harsh word to reach people who aren't listening, in a climate where everyone's supposed to always be all nice and mild all the time.  That kind of thing.  Jesus' life.  What got him killed.   (It's easier for many Christians to follow a dead Jesus, rather than try to live like he did.  They'd rather imitate their pastor than the person their religion is named after.)

Pikes Peek
Back when I was having my worst year at university, there was a tape I listened to on the bus on my knockoff Walkman on the way in to work, and on the way back, late at night, knowing there were books for class unread and work undone.  It was The Northern Pikes' Snow In June.  I was into the sense of bitter, defiant, satirical despair that underlies a lot of their lyrics.  And the ominous foreboding they built into their music rather sneakily, when they were known for happy-sounding pop songs you needed to listen to more closely to hear the doom in.
   In that bad year, I lost my job and had to move because my apartment kept getting burgled.  I had nothing, I was no longer making money, depending on my parents to pay my rent for the rest of my school year, the girl I liked liked someone else, and I was worried I'd fail all my courses anyway, given how much I'd worked in the mall until getting laid off in the spring like everyone else, Christmas season over.
   So, when I walked by a sign that said The Northern Pikes would be playing on the front lawn of the main building at our university, I was quite tempted to go.  I didn't any more believe it would be wrong to go.  My younger sister had gone to a fair and seen Kim Mitchell play there, and my parents had shown up to escort her home.  But I didn't have the self-esteem to stand up to my parents, my church, and my now only vestigial past self.  And I didn't have the money anyway.
   But as I walked by the main University building, I was alert that a sound check was about to happen.  Guys were setting up music stuff.  Guys who appeared to include the Northern Pikes themselves.  I didn't ever go see the concert.  But I walked over and met my favourite member of the band and had a chat.
   That didn't count as going to the concert.  Just talking with one of the songwriters about his lyrics.  On the front steps of my school.  It wasn't like walking into Father and Sons Tavern or anything. I felt like I'd gotten away with murder.  Like I'd found a loop-hole so big I could fire cannons out of it.

Being Wholly New
The Northern Pikes broke up after the next album came out, and that was it.  I never saw them playing live.  I went and (the same year I first went into a bar had a drink, and saw Star Trek 6 at the movie theatre) saw, first quiet folkie John Gorka, and then brand-new breakout smash successes, The Barenaked Ladies.  But the Pikes were history.  I bought all their stuff on CDs to replace the old worn out cassettes.  And no new albums came out.
   Then ten years later, despite now being musical nobodies, the Pikes reformed for some shows.  I have seen them several times now, and also, several times I have hung out and chatted with them all.  Sat down and had supper with them. I guess you could say it worked out pretty well, after all.
   Should I have rushed myself and gone to the bars and the movies and concerts while I was still at University, rather than in my early twenties?  I don't know.  I know that I feel okay about it all now.  When I first did it though, my heart was racing a bit, I can tell you.  Not because it was wrong, but because it was so new.  So "not me."  (Well, actually the "me" I was suddenly being was a wholly new creature, with new life and new courage.)
   But the really fun part about my church's climate of pleasure superstition was that there was some kind of underlying message/belief that I felt deeply but couldn't have put entirely into words.  I was being made to feel that if I went into a bar or movie theatre or concert venue, that God was unable to keep me safe there, in quite the way He was (failing to keep me safe) the rest of my week.  (It was just like the Headless Horseman not being able to follow Ichabod Crane across a stream with moving water, or a vampire being unable to go into a church.  God was like a vampire, only He couldn't go to a concert or movie theatre.  Not like vampires could.)
   Or maybe it was worse than that. Maybe if I went into those places, He'd have to withdraw His meagre spiritual protection in order to punish me into never going into them again.
  Or maybe my going into them actually made Him not love me anymore, so He would simply stop wanting to protect me from this deadly world altogether.  I wasn't "walking worthy," now was I?  As if one can walk worthy of grace by saying no to fun.

Taking A Narrower Path
The God I was being pointed toward was either weak and ineffectual, oddly threatened by fun, or spiteful and completely ignorant of what unconditional love was.  But I was reaching out after a realer God, One whom I was starting to feel reaching out toward me in return, a rewarder of them that seek Him.  It took me a while to be able to hear the still, small voice over the throng shouting "NO!"  It was time to take a narrower way, off the beaten path from the broad one trudged by all the church puritans.  A quieter, less explicable, less pious-showy, altogether more solitary path.
  But I could feel that this path with God was costing me even more, just when I doubted I had anything left to lose.  It continued to cost me with my church and with my parents, but no longer with myself.  I was looking after myself the way parents wouldn't.  Adding some joy and creative expression to my year.  Feeding my heart, because God wanted my heart looked after.  It was starving, after all.  The Lord's Supper wasn't what our church seemed to be into.  It was more of a fasting thing.  Bread and water, rather than bread and wine.  We did not teach a God who gave abundantly.  Who loved unconditionally.  Who asked us to grow up. Who cared about our spiritual health rather than just our pious reputation.
  Other church kids were half-secretly doing absolutely whatever they wanted.  I got blamed for some of it.  Oddly, they didn't seem to need to claim they thought God was fine with it all, like I had to, in order to give themselves permission to go do it.  But that was me by then.
  I was "other."  Unjustifiably.  Inexplicably.  And it signalled the end of church life as I knew it.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Out of Nowhere... A Song

I've been writing too many songs mocking and joking around about the modern state of church worship, and what doesn't work for me, and stuff like that. Out of nowhere, this song came to me today, which dares to risk mockery itself, by being sincere and earnest about the matter.  This is the first time I wrote a song in the morning, went out for the afternoon, and came home and did a "video" the same day.  The "video" was all selfied up-nose with iPhone, playing with a floor lamp and musical things cluttering up my living room:

I Don’t Know What You Like

I was raised to hang my head in shame
Right on cue, for an hour Sunday morning
And sing songs of pain, and reverent self-blame
So that’s what I did
And I’m used to that

But do you like it all
Or are there things you are more fond of?
Can we reach a point where we’re singing to ourselves?
About how we feel, live and believe
But leave you out
Almost entirely
I don’t know what you like.
No I don’t know
What you like

Went to a church filled with weeping hipster youngsters
Selfying teens, singing songs about them singing
Yeah, singing songs about liking singing songs
That’s what they did
And I wasn’t feeling that

‘Cause we’ve got songs about sweat and blood and pain,
Debasing death and about our sin and shame
And we’ve got songs about how awesome we are feeling
To gladly surrender our sweet, special lives

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Church Crashing Adventures: Pentecostal

The church this time was a Pentecostal one.  I picked it because growing up in my own Plymouth Brethren church, there was no brother church that was more maligned than the Pentecostal Church.  If someone had a strong personality, or a bit of enthusiasm or energy, someone in our group would often say "S/he's fine, but a bit...Pentecostal."  Music could easily be "too Pentecostal" as well.  If it had much energy or verve, or made anyone want to move anything, it was "jazzy" and "a bit too Pentecostal."
   We thought the Pentecostal church was wall-to-wall people rolling in the aisles, slain in the Spirit, speaking in tongues and getting healed and so on.   When the Pentecostal church by my folks' place got built (it's not the one in the picture, but looks identical) my parents and their friends made endless jokes about the new place needing extra thick carpet for rolling on, and sound proofing to drown out all the shouting in the Spirit, and so on.
   Today I was prepared to not see any of this.  I've long stopped believing what I was taught at my church about the other Christians and what they do and teach.  The most damning thing our church taught about the Pentecostals, though, was that "they" all believed that you could be saved, headed for Heaven, but if you sinned enough, you'd turn around and head straight to Hell.  I still don't know how much that's true.  But today I was ready for whatever.  Kennett and I met in the parking lot, like we'd planned a perfectly-timed bank heist.
   There were people all over the place, talking, laughing and generally not being sober, solemn, silent and reverent.  That's always weird to me.  Loud laughing in a church.  Before the service, especially.  Aren't they supposed to be getting all sombered up?  It's embarrassing, but whenever I have entered a church in the past, my face has naturally gone (even more) all stony, and a general funereal air has fallen upon me, from decades of practice.  Here, today, that wasn't even possible.  It would have been completely out of place and silly, to the point of my not being able to do it.
   A greeter guy at the door shook our hands and asked our names, then followed us down the hall to make sure we collected our church swag:  Pens.  A year-long-agenda/calendar thing.  A full-colour printed welcome flyer with the church staff, schedule of events, "ministries," a personal info card to turn in, and a weekly bible verse.
  Unlike what would have happened in my church, first we were given all of this stuff to begin with instead of just having everyone stare silently at us, and second, none of it had bible verses or warnings about Hell on it.  The weekly bible verse card, attached to the welcome package, was the only scripture snippet.  It said "Greet one another with a kiss", which I was relieved to see that no one did.
   In my head, the word "holy" is supposed to be in there before "kiss," but I just checked 1 Peter, and it's not there.  Turns out I'm thinking of Romans, 1 Corinthians and 2 Thessalonians.  For some reason, "holy kiss" has always made me think of "soul kiss," so I picture there being a lot of tongue involved in a holy kiss.  Quite out of place in a church, among strangers.
   Unlike the Presbyterian church we went to last time (which Billy Connolly's description of "drrEEEarrry PrresbytEEEErrrian!" had proven quite accurate regarding) this one's leaflet used full colour printing.  But with punctuation errors the Presbyterian one lacked.  Also, instead of crocheting being the extra-curriculars, the programs had energetic 90s names like "Elevate!" (and "PULSE" and "VIBE" and "Revive.")  Like twelve year olds, Kennett and I sniggered slightly over there being a "High Pastor" and a "Pot Blessing Meal."
   The pastors were all from Nova Scotia or New Brunswick, and had that friendly, unassuming genuineness and courteous, gentle warmth one often finds in Maritimers.  The pastor was breaking a fashion faux pas I've heard my kids at school refer to, and wearing an untucked blue denim shirt with blue denim pants.  Double denim.  Kennett and I were both slightly overdressed.  Behind us sat some seniors, all of the male members of which party had flannel hunting jackets, and wore their hunting or ball caps throughout the service.
   The worship team took the stage, and played an introductory song, which I actually knew.  It was "My Hope On Nothing Less Is Built."  It was played very quickly and synchopatedly, with quiet, restrained but solid drumming, an out-of-tune twelve string acoustic guitar, an electric lead guitar turned most of the way down, and a lady playing piano on a keyboard with a clarion, trembling, powerful, golden voice filling the room, backed only very quietly by the instruments.
   The drummer was solidly built and very still and goateed.  The guy on the out of tune 12-string was my stereotype of a church guy, with a sharp haircut and fashionably rumpled shirt, singing in a breathy, raspily sincere voice that was as pitchy as his guitar.  He was not above making eye contact while singing.  The electric guitarist looked like he was right off a tour with Johnny Cash and/or Steppenwolf.  He was extremely dour, tall and gaunt, with long silver hair, and was dressed entirely in black, including a black leather vest and boots.  He had a Fender Strat, and an amp turned away from the congregation, and he noodled away soaringly with the amp turned right down.  What I occasionally heard was some delightful Mark Knopfler-sounding (Dire Straights) stuff.  Kennett noted how he never looked up from his guitar once, nor moved.  The music poured out and he was like a statue, looking down at his fingers, making mood.  The keyboardist/lead vocalist was a fit little boyish woman with a pixie cut, shiny earrings and a soaring, powerful, throbbing voice. Her name was Diana.
   As at the Presbyterian church, first a bunch of time was taken up with charity and committee work talk.  The preaching pastor, Ivan, was about sixty years of age, with an accent that might have been newfie, or maybe just extremely rural Nova Scotia (no aspirated "H's" at the beginning of any words, unless said words started with a vowel, hwhich I 'ave 'eard is a rural haccent thing in England, hactually. Hai thought it was a bit 'ilarious.)  Like the Presbyterian pastor, Ivan brought no bible (again, there was a ceremonial bible on a rostrum, which was never touched during the service, though unlike the Presbyterian service, it sits there permanently, rather than being marched in with an honour guard.) Ivan solely used his iPad.  He also had a laptop and a projector and PA, and a remote controlled clicker to advance his PowerPoint.
   First he had every person in the church go and shake hands with every other person.  Kennett and I didn't do this, so most of the church came to us quite firmly and shook our hands.  This church was a bit better attended than the Presbyterian one, with people scattered sparsely throughout the whole seating area, but if everyone had sat together, we might have filled it a third of the way to capacity.  And there were people of all ages, as well as several different races and income brackets being represented.  After then handshaking, the pastor actually said Kennett's name and mine, announcing us as first-time attendees, and everyone clapped for us.  We sat and looked gracious.
   Then the pastor showed some charity-related slides, and a video about Operation Christmas Child, which little Madascarian children swearing to never, ever again go to a witchdoctor when they're sick, but to go to Jesus instead.  I was thinking that in Madagascar, probably it doesn't say "witchdoctor" on the sign outside the place.  The steps up to the stage were entirely blocked with little red and green "shoeboxes" to fill up with toys and things to send with a gospel message to these kids.  Diana's voice choked up when she said she knew there's be thousands of kids in heaven because of these boxes.  One box caught my eye: a kid had shakily drawn a wobbly attempt at a Christmas star on it, and had managed to draw a very passable inverted pentacle.
    Then the kids were all brought up to the front, just like at the Presbyterian church, so they could be made much of, and then ushered downstairs.  Ivan was being far less "Jesus posing for a portrait, visibly suffering the little children to come unto him" than I imagined the Presbyterian one was being, the other week.
  In my church, pretty much from birth, kids have to sit silently through the hour and a half service each Sunday, and learn to be quiet.  Some are taken out and spanked if they laugh or make noise.  And then they have to come back in the afternoon and sit quietly through Sunday School also.  Some of us also had to come to the hour-long evening gospel meeting too, from a young age, and Tuesday and Thursday prayer and reading meetings as well.
   Not so here.  The kids were handed a microphone to say whatever they wanted, and the adults let them do what they wanted, and didn't act like, were one misdeed to somehow go by uncorrected, the child might be irrevocably ruined.  One little boy lispingly but pitch-perfectly sang a Remembrance Day song about soldiers dying for us.  I knew Kennett, being a Mennonite and a firm pacifist, would find this out of place in a church, and that he'd have something to say about it afterward.  (He called it "that creepy song about soldiers dying.")
   Another little girl sang the alphabet song, leaving out a few sections of letters.  L M N....P.  Q R S T...W X...Z.  Then the first little boy grabbed back the mic and was smilingly told that one song was enough for him.  Then the pastor "prayed over" the children, with a special Remembrance Day focus on how they were going to go downstairs and hear about Someone Else who died for us, just like those soldiers had.  Apart from the introductory hymn, this was to be the only reference to Jesus Christ in the whole ceremony.  Like the Presbyterian service, it was Christian, but not to the point of mentioning Jesus by name or anything, in the sermon or even the prayers the pastor made.  To be fair, Diana might have said "Jesus" in a 'between-songs' prayer, now that I think about it.  But there was nothing about him coming to earth, or dying or anything like that.
   Kids gone, the worship music started.  Three long songs.  Huge PowerPoint lyrics.  We were "invited to stand."  So Kennett and I didn't, at first.  Then we realized it wasn't really an invitation.  (after the songs, we'd be told "You may be seated.")  So we stood too.  There was no speaking in tongues.  About half of the people at certain points thrust a palm heavenward, doing what Anne Lammott calls "making the room look like it is full of swaying palm fronds" but it seemed quite natural.
  One lady clapped and danced, as did her daughter, in an upbeat song.  It was cool, and not odd.  The woman had that half blissed out, half defying anyone else to not join in kinda body language.  Kind of defiant/happy.  But mostly happy.  It was like she waited all week to come out to church, and be her real self.  Weird.  Didn't anyone tell her that church is when you put on your stone-face to protect your true thoughts and feelings from being seen, known and corrected?  That it is your protective mask?  If anything, this woman's dancing and enthusiasm would have protected her.  It was very, very uncontrived.  If anyone in the room had tried to impress anyone else, or put on some kind of show, it would have been out of place, and most people would not have paid any attention to it anyway.
   The songs were 7-11 songs (seven words, sung eleven times) but I checked, and every single one was to and/or about God, and not about "us."  No singing about loving to sing about singing.  No songs about just humbly, privilegedly, nobly and generously thoughtlessly just sacrificing our all for God, Who is lucky to have it. No songs in praise of praise.  They actually did it.
   And right toward the start of the music, I realized, probably mostly due to Diana's singing, that I was having the whole Jake Blues from The Blues Brothers experience, sort of.  I was swept up in the mood.  Didn't move a muscle or have a facial expression or sing along or anything.  But still.  I felt like I was able to absolutely exude positivity and joy and happiness and love.  That my whole mania for everyone and everything always being real and right didn't really matter right then.  At all.  Like I could let go, at least for that song.  I was feeling so euphoric that I thought "Where is the love coming from?  Am I standing in a shaft of light with it pouring down over me?"  And I realized, "No. It's pouring through me and out of me.  A lot of it's in here all the time and never gets out.  Cool."
   Diana, accompanied herself on keyboard while she prayed emotionally in a breathless, rushed amplified whisper, with her eyes closed, between songs, the music never ending.  At first I thought it was pretentious to give your prayer a soundtrack, but then I decided I liked it.

   And then the musicians left the front and the pastor took over and all of that was over.  The "God is awesome and fair and always faithful to us!" part was over, and we'd have 45 minutes of "we suck, people sin and kill hurt each other and lie and think they can get away with it, they really do, but God will get them in the end."  And nothing about Him sending His son to fix that, or us getting saved from sucking, or anything.
   Ivan threw up a slide which announced that his sermon topic would be "An Almost Perfect Crime."  I thought "He's not going to speak about King David and Bathsheba, is he? On Sunday morning?  An Old Testament royal sex scandal to go along with worship?"  (King David saw Bathsheba bathing naked on the roof and her beauty in the moonlight overthrew him, so he knocked her up, then had her husband get killed in battle, then married her.)  Then the doubly bedenimed pastor said there was something we can't do.  We think we can, but we can't.  He's met Christians of all kinds, many of them pastors, who think they can, but even pastors can't.  He went on for a while.  He never did tell us what it was that we may think we can do, but really can't, but he meant to say it was "we can't fool God."
   I thought "He's not going to speak about King David and Bathsheba, is he?"
   He then spent some time and read us stories about a bunch of the dumbest criminals and the crimes they attempted to get away with.  I'd heard them before. I have Google.  Then he showed a video which was a news report of a dumb criminal and how he thought he'd gotten away with his crime, but hadn't.  It took a while, too.  I thought "He's not going to speak about King David and Bathsheba, is he?"
   Then he talked about how we can't escape sin.  I thought "He's not going to speak about King David and Bathsheba, is he?"  Then he said he was going to discuss a portion of scripture about someone who thought he had committed the perfect crime, but that there is no perfect crime.  I thought "He's not going to speak about King David and Bathsheba, is he?"  He said it was someone from the Old Testament.  I thought "He's definitely going to speak about King David and Bathsheba."
   He preambled for a while further, and then put the story up on a series of slides, and read each one and expanded upon each one at length to try to bring the story to life.  Like it needs that, quite.  I was impressed that he was reading the whole thing, instead of using PowerPoint for a couple of scripture scraps.  At the Presbyterian church, there had been no screen, no PowerPoint, and people had simply read the tiny bits of scripture from the program we'd been handed, though there were bibles in the pockets on the backs of the pews.  Here, there were no bibles at all, but the PowerPoint was breaking down the entire story verse by verse without skipping a word of it.  I have never heard anyone say "sex" Sunday morning in church before.
    And I caught my brain "correcting" things, like noting how he read that in the springtime, the kings went to war, but David stayed in Jerusalem.  And he interpreted "the various foreign kings going to war after winter is over but David not going" as "we have to always do the Lord's will for us."  I knew Kennett would have something to say about "not waging war every Spring = not obeying God's Will."  But I caught my brain correcting, so I turned that down, if not off.
   The sermon was lengthy, and was 'people suck.  They lie.  They think they've gotten away with things.  But God is greater than any forensics.  ANY forensics!'  There was no mention of Jesus, or salvation or hell or heaven or anything.  Just that we suck and we sin, and God knows.  Better than "there is no reason to change.  We've been Presbyterians like this for centuries, and there's no reason to change!  Not changing is beautiful. So beautiful there's no one under the age of sixty here."
   Then he teased next week's sermon.  He's from Nova Scotia, from a family of eleven, and he said this gave him an ideal chance to see that sometimes, one kid gets punished unfairly for something small, while another seems to always get away with murder.  He then said that King Saul simply lied, but "wasn't fit for ministry" afterward, while David committed both adultery and murder, but was.  And he promises to teach next week exactly why that is.
  I am almost tempted to go, reeled in by this masterful turn of suspense.  In my head, God never wanted Saul to begin with, and chose David, and David was His kind of guy anyway.  And the Old Testament is all God liking some (rather dubious) people (Jacob) and hating others  (Esau).
   The whole David and Bathsheba discussion had failed to make me think or feel anything that wasn't decades old and all-too-familiar.  But the teasing of next day's sermon made think "Why am I not conscious of sinning?  I generally don't do things unless I feel they're okay with God.  Am I deluded?" and "I think God treats me like Saul and Esau.  And that I was born to be like the prodigal's elder brother.  That sucks."
   Then the worship team came back up and Diana's golden voice rang out again like a trumpet, and love was everywhere, and it was all about God being so faithful, of having always, always, always done right by us and always been so good and so giving and so generous.  And for the first time, the "happy" seemed above and beyond what I could muster.  And I thought about how I hold something against Him.  I really do:

It has to do with being a eunuch for the Kingdom.

   You see, I don't think I should have to turn down miscellaneous and sundry offers of cybersex, blow jobs and hand jobs over the years and still have to be His perennially ever-celibate heart-mender and mind-expander for women.  Because apparently I have to work for Him by being the priest/confessor of a seemingly endless stream of Christian and pre-Christian (or Christian curious) women who need gal pals, "gay friends" and eunuchs to protect, support and otherwise help them with their man/daddy issues.  Because they need that, and God wants that of me, and I'm really good at it.
  I have not, at this time, written a hymn about how I think I should actually feel about this whole thing.  I can't imagine it would be frequently sung Sunday mornings at churches.  ("Father, I turn them all over to You, without complaint, I give them each and every one to You! From the mouths of babes (from the mouths of babes), yes from their hands, I dutifully snatch / my loveless body (my loveless body!) walk away from beauty (from beauty!) and seek to honour You, to Whom no carnal ecstasy can compare! Amen.")
   I sound like a friend of mine, but how can I stop resenting God for this?  Because I want to stop doing that.  Because I'm going to go out on a limb and say that resenting God for asking me (I believe) to live my whole life helping out women (and about half as often, guys too) who have been mis, under and unfathered, often despite being part of a Christian community?  A bit problematic.  A sin I can confess, but not one that's going away easily.
   How can I take Christian communities seriously when I am left trying to fix all the toys they break?  Comfort their victims, who they so frequently shun and blame for being dissatisfied customers?  For not being happy and healthy, strong and just rilly rilly grateful for Christian community? ;)
   But more importantly, how can I embrace the idea that yes, God is good, and we should follow Him and serve Him, but sometimes He lets life suck, or doesn't honour or bless certain of us in ways that matter to us, and He needs us to eat that, wear that and try to thrive under that without complaint?  Easy for me to blame Him.  Christians are waiting in line to tell me I ought to be blaming me instead.  And that I should be grateful for my health, including my industrial strength libido.  Easy for them.  Especially if they have cancer.
   Fact is, I've been offered Christian blow jobs, hand jobs and so on.  (Sometimes the "and so on" is the most tempting part.)  And I would argue that the act of turning down things like that is NEVER forgiven.  Not by Christian women.  (Not by any women.)  These acts of what I believe to be honouring God are relationship breakers.  They are me 'going down' that deeply mockable path of no romance, no sexuality, like there is no God to honour my attempts to honour Him, yet continuing to serve a God Who seemingly wants that and chooses this for my life.  I think my life actually makes Him look bad.  Makes Him look like He doesn't honour devotion.  That sounds really horrible to say.  But as Steven Tyler sings, it's only, only, only, only my heart talking.  Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh and so on.
   For me, this is what serving God looks like, in part.  Like this.  Saying to affronted women "I don't roll like that.  I'm actually naive enough to believe I can still, at my age, despite this obvious sexual perversion (being penile retentive), build a relationship with someone, and refuse to use a hand job the way people once used a handshake. To get to know them first inside their heart of hearts before going inside their holy of holies."  Saying, "If I go completely contrary to my culture, to modern custom, to the sociocultural mores of the world we live in, unlike almost any Christians who've been even a tiny bit honest with me about their own love-lives/courtships, God will honour that, somehow.  If I am a eunuch for the Kingdom of Heaven, the bible claims God doesn't want me to feel like a "dry branch" with no growth possible, but that He will reward me so I won't even care that much."
   Well, all that's not working out very well.  I can't claim to easily and fully believe all this, deep down.  Sounds good on paper.  I'm waiting.  G owes me my two-fiddy.  And I don't want it because He owes it to me.  He doesn't really owe me anything, actually.  I want Him to be nice to me because He wants to.  Because He likes me.
   Is God faithful?  To me?  I guess.  Yeah.  In most ways.  But faithful like this.  And I am a bit underwhelmed.
   Church gave me something spiritual to think about today. I am honoured and deeply humbled to share it with all of you.