Tuesday, 23 December 2014

LEAKED! : Star Trek 3 Plot (created by the team who brought us Fast & Furious 6)

LEAKED: The Plot of Star Trek 3, directed by Fast and Furious 6 director Justin Lin and written by Fast and Furious writer Chris Morgan
      In 2286, an unimaginably large, computer-generated, spiky-spike-with-spikes probe hurtles through space at unimaginable speeds, sending out an indecipherable signal and dramatically exploding all planets it passes. The planets collapse dramatically onscreen each time before exploding, debris from buildings, bridges and other computer-generated frou-fra falling in 3D toward the viewers for the entire first fifteen minutes of the film. A Godzilla-like creature makes a brief cameo, getting crushed by an enormous bridge which falls very slowly in 3D toward the viewers.
      As the probe approaches the comparatively minuscule Earth, its signal disables the global power grid and generates planetary storms, creating catastrophic earthquakes, sun-blocking cloud cover and sending an EMP pulse that wipes out all electronics, bringing civilization to a standstill. Right before the EMP pulse, Starfleet Command revives Khan, who is the only man able to get to the message centre in time, where, after a cross-city parkour run, Khan sends out a planetary distress call and warns starships not to approach Earth, before the pulse hits, killing all the staff in the building, including Khan, who dies on his knees, shouting “Kiiiiirk!” to the heavens.
      On the distant starship Enterprise, hearing Starfleet's warning, including the shouted “Kiiiirk!”, Kirk is contacted by “Old Kirk” (William Shatner) from the alternate timeline in which he resides, and together they determine that the probe's signal matches the buzzing of extinct honey bees, and that the object will destroy every molecule in this universe, and all conceivable universes, until its call is answered.
      Engaging in a daring obstacle course race around a joint fleet of Klingon, Romulan, Andorian, Tellarite and Vulcan warships all trying to block the Enterprise from reaching the Sun and changing history, the crew uses the Enterprise to travel back in time via a slingshot maneuver around the Sun, planning to return with a bee to answer the alien signal.
      Arriving in 2015, the crew finds the maneuver has drained most of the Enterprise’s power, leaving it with enough power to operate for only an action-packed 24 hour period before it will no longer be able to return them back to their own time zone. In addition, the ship’s central operating system bluescreens, and will not boot, much to Scotty and Chekov’s amusingly accented chagrin.
      While the clock ticks down the hours, hiding their ship using its cloaking device a half mile above New York's Central Park, the crew split up to accomplish several tasks: Captain James T. Kirk and Spock attempt to locate honey bees in Central Park, while Scott, and McCoy need to obtain plans and materials for constructing a bee hive for the return trip. Uhura, Sulu and Chekov are tasked with finding a way to reboot the ship’s crashed operating system. It involves a high-speed parkour chase, ending up with them sneaking into Apple and rappelling down inside Steve Jobs’ old office, which has been preserved intact, since his death.
      Failing to find any bees in Central Park, Kirk and Spock discover a pair of bees—"George" and "Gracie"—in the care of Dr. Gillian Taylor (played by Taylor Swift) at the Bee Institute in Manhattan, a museum dedicated to the study of bees, and learn the bees will soon be released into the wild. Kirk attempts to learn the tracking frequency for the bees from Taylor, but she refuses to cooperate. Spock then seduces Dr. Taylor, and gets the tracking information from her after a prolonged night of aggressive Vulcan lovemaking which McCoy warns, threatens to give Dr. Taylor permanent brain damage. “I’m a doctor, not a five-dollar Harlem pimp, Spock!” McCoy growls. Uhura is deeply jealous of Spock's attention to Dr. Taylor, but as she has dumped Spock in the opening act of the film, she feels she can only complain amusingly. For his part, Spock can only explain the logic of his actions.
      After a hugely destructive street chase on high-speed motor scooters through a crowded Asian market, Scott, McCoy, and Sulu trade Markus Perrson, the creator of Minecraft, the formula for a plasma-powered quantum hard drive, in exchange for him designing a beehive in Minecraft to show them how it should be made. Amusingly, Perrson is killed in Minecraft by creepers while finishing the Minecraft beehive. He also provides some plywood to build the bee hive.
      Meanwhile, Uhura and Chekov locate Stephen Hawking, who finds a way to connect an iPhone 6 power cable to the Enterprise’s central processing unit, allowing them to upload the Enterprise’s entire computer matrix to the iCloud, then download it again, and pilot the ship entirely using an iPhone app Chekov and Uhura design. While installing the app to run the ship, their presence at Apple is discovered by a security guard played by Patton Oswalt. Sulu flees back to the Enterprise with the iPhone 6, in a high speed motorcycle chase culminating in him jumping his cycle off Manhattan bridge over a pursuing helicopter, which explodes while Sulu is airborne. The iPhone 6 appears somewhat damaged by the explosion, but Sulu reaches the Enterprise and waves at it wildly until he is beamed inside.
      Uhura, barricading herself inside Steve Job’s office, then manages to Facetime Sulu, using Steve Jobs’ iPad, and directs Sulu through the necessary steps of plugging the cable of the damaged but still functional iPhone into the Enterprise main computer, starting up the app, and beaming Uhura back.
      As the app only allows one transporter beaming at a time, Chekov is injured after a prolonged car chase through the streets of New York City involving him stealing and hotwiring the latest Dodge Challenger model, belonging, amusingly, to a mafia don, and racing it through the Bronx, wildly and ineptly seeking to evade a fleet of pursuing mafia sportcars. Chris Rock wakes up from the back seat, in which he has been sleeping, in time to offer some very unhelpful advice as Chekov learns to drive in the 21st century. Chris Rock, playing a character named John Christopher says things like "You from Russia AND the future?  Damn!"
   After a prolonged chase and a dramatic crash, Chekov is arrested by the NYPD for reckless driving and, given his stated birth year, not being old enough to hold a license, and is in danger of being locked up in Bellvue. Kirk, McCoy, and Dr. Taylor rescue him from the mental hospital, explaining lamely that Chekov has ADHD and simply needs his Ritalin. They all return to the ship, in order to have Chekov work with Uhura and fully reinstall the Enterprise’s operating system from the iPhone 6, which flickers ominously, as faulty iPhones which are about to cut out tend to do.
      Spock and Dr. Taylor make love one more time, for no logical reason.  When Dr. Taylor learns that Spock will be leaving her, she writes a catchy, angry pop song about it to express her disappointment and chagrin. She is in the middle of singing it to Spock when she receives a text from an enamoured work colleague played by Justin Timberlake, letting her know that the bees have been released from the museum early, without her knowledge. She tricks Spock in order to board the Enterprise with him, bringing her guitar with her.
      Operating the ship from the damaged but still functional iPhone 6, Spock flies the ship to an idyllic meadow where Malsanti employees are about to spray insecticide, which will kill George and Gracie. Spock scares away the Malsanti employees by decloaking the Enterprise as it hovers above them, firing several photon torpedoes into the field, leaving it a smoking wasteland. Spock then checks with an enraged, ranting Mr. Scott, and is relieved to find Scott has managed to transport the bees aboard the Enterprise, despite the torpedo bombardment, at the last moment. “Old Spock” contacts young Spock to deliver an important moral lesson about the environment and eating organic food that has been sprayed only with organic pesticides, with several veiled references to “Star Trek: The Voyage Home” in it.
      After transporting the bees aboard the Enterprise and installing them in the beehive Scott and his alien sidekick have constructed from the plywood they have acquired from Markus Perrson, the crew returns to the future with Dr. Taylor. The slingshot around the sun is complicated by a travelling asteroid belt which necessitates them navigating a daring high speed obstacle course through it in order to reach the Sun to begin with. On approaching Earth, the ship loses power and crashes into the Hudson River, parachuting the beehive out of the Enterprise on the way down. The parachute snags on the torch of the Statue of Liberty, which causes the bees to buzz loudly as the beehive swings precariously the the Torch. The probe picks up the bee's buzzing and reverses its climatic effects on Earth, stops sending repeated EMP waves, and returns to the depths of space.
      Chekov is then able to save the dramatically leaking, powered-down Enterprise by rebooting its operating system from the depths of the Hudson, using the barely-functioning iPhone 6, which stops working for good once this app has been used. The ship lights up, surfacing dramatically from the river under a full moon, as the lights of New York City come back on, one building at a time.
      The Enterprise crew are put on trial in the One Galactic Trade Center (which is roughly twice the height of the 21st century's One World Trade Center, but in the same location) to answer charges of meddling in the space-time continuum. (The head judge is played by former Doctor Who actor David Tennant.) All charges against the Enterprise crew are dropped; however, as punishment for disobeying a superior officer, Spock is demoted to the rank of Commander. The crew departs on their ship, the newly christened USS Enterprise (iNCC-1701S), and leaves on a new mission, which is teased during the closing credits. 
      A being claiming to be God (played by Oprah Winfrey) is wreaking havoc across the galaxy and the Enterprise is being sent to investigate. (Michael Bay has been signed to direct the sequel)

Thursday, 11 December 2014


There is a tradition, mainly in extremist branches of the Roman Catholic, but certainly not removed from the weekly routines of recent popes, of self-punishment.  Starting out with simple things like sleep deprivation and fasting, and moving up through wearing painful things, whipping one's self, all the way to the point of fifteen or twenty minute sessions of public self-crucifixion. It's all intended as pious activity.
   There are videos all over YouTube of Christians, mainly in the Philippines, walking down the streets whipping themselves bloody, and being publicly crucified (with actual nails, after being swabbed with rubbing alcohol first) for whatever portion of an hour they choose.  They get tons of views, too.

Why Punish Yourself?
The reasoning behind these acts varies.  Some people feel they are choosing to suffer for their own sins, and thereby somehow retroactively lightening the load of suffering, back through time, to Jesus on the cross.  (They're doing it to give Jesus a break.)
     Others feel like the key thing to understanding and emulating Jesus doesn't involve his ability to listen, to help, to care, to save and to love, but mostly fact that he was willing to suffer.  That's what they find most helpful about him.  (They're suffering to feel like they are demonstrating a key character trait of the Lord.)
    Others feel like doing this keeps them from sinning more, somehow.  Still others feel like wilfully suffering encourages God to take their prayers more seriously than He otherwise would. (They're doing it to get God to do what they want.) 
     All of this can be seen in a less dramatic way in the yearly routine most Catholics (and some Protestants in churches which maintain this practice) go through of sacrificing something they love, to God, for Lent, and then often overindulging when at last they can enjoy that thing once again.  Chocolate, Facebook, TV, whatever.  Something enjoyable.  Sacrificed to God, who hates enjoyment, apparently, and loves people who sacrifice it better than people who don't. (They're trying to make God happy.)
    This tradition of sacrifice and self-punishment is far older than Roman Catholicism, of course.  Innumerable ancient religions involved cutting one's self with knives, fasting, sleep deprivation, ritualistic tattoos, facial branding and scarring, and even the sacrifice of one's own children.  This was to do things like ensure a drought stops and the rain returns.  Or a battle goes their way.  Or just because. (They were doing it as a success strategy.)
     It is in human nature to try to better things, to redress the indulgences of the past, by present sacrifice.  Like ill-gotten past joy can be paid for by present misery.

Self-Punishment In My Own Culture
Now, all this dramatic stuff is not the sort of thing that Christians in my faith tradition were likely to do in quite this way.  We Christians didn't even fast, really, for the most part.  Not in my circles.  (I realize, of course, that many human beings use fasting, not to punish themselves, but as a focusing, contemplative, thoughts-clearing thing.)
   But we had our own version of walking down the street, self-humiliated, bleeding publicly on YouTube from our own self-inflicted whippings.  We did private shame and self-loathing. Self-hating. Seeing as "idols" anything that made us happy.  The spiritual or psychological equivalent of crucifying ourselves for our own sins.  Just as if we didn't need Jesus.  (Or Satan.  We became our own accuser, our own enemy, our own nemesis. Wherever we turned, there we were, accusing, saying we didn't deserve kindness or to be happy, and that we deserved to be abandoned and judged and punished.)
     And it didn't really matter to us that God clearly didn't want to do this to us Himself.  That He was trying to bless us and teach us about the world.  That He sent His Son to deal with all of the problematic stuff, and that it's dealt with, wholly, in a way we can't really add to or "help with."  Still, we were determined to pay.
     There was no good word that someone could say to us, no kindness shown that we couldn't ruin for ourselves, like a high school bully, preying on whatever it was that would be valuable to us. Shattering our own peace of mind. Because we didn't deserve it.  Because the act of self-bullying was somehow thought to be virtuous and not only worthwhile, but necessary. (We were trying to do a good thing by bullying ourselves.)
     And there was such fear about ever ceasing punishing and bullying and shaming ourselves...  Surely if we foolishly abandoned our shame obligations, and the focus on how bad we were, and what we'd done, then what we might still do would certainly outshine our past sins a thousand-fold.  Surely if we just lived the lives God gives us daily, and enjoyed compliments and kindnesses and whatever blessing God sent, everything would then go to crap?  Surely the healthy, proper, safe response to joyful things is shame and distrust?  Feelings of unworthiness?  If we didn't go around shaming ourselves, we'd sin.  We'd sin big. We were endlessly interested in the idea of exactly how, and how big we'd sin, if only we let go of our salvific shame for a sec.
       We had a terror of ever ceasing to carry around the great burden of our past missteps and indulgences, and our present, secret flawed nature.  It was like we thought if we didn't carry all of that, it would fall to the street like a stray turd, and someone might call out after us, asking "Hey! Is that yours?"
         Yet we knew right well that Jesus has asked to be the bearer of our culpability, God has accepted this offer, and we can't both carry it ourselves, and let him bear it for us too.

I Think We Had It Wrong
I think we were wrong about all of that.  And I think that kind of stuff makes us embrace a bloody, dark, idolatrous pre-Christian time, and puts us in a place where God Himself has trouble making a good difference in our lives.  I don't think Jesus died so we could shoulder a cross of fear and personal shame.  There's a cross alright.  But I think the cross we shoulder is a very different one:
     It's a cross of shame and distrust that human religious systems, including evangelical Christianity, put upon us.  And just like with Jesus, the Pharisees intend one outcome, and God uses the cross to the opposite effect.  For us, the cross of rejection by human religious systems is the cross our own acts of piety get nailed to.  It's the cross where our need to seem pious to others hangs its head and dies.  Carrying it down the street as disciples of most offensive of all doctrines, the idea that "prodigals such as we" are nowadays favoured sons and daughters, and not through our own wisdom, choices or efforts but through Christ's.  And that we remain saved from our sin no matter what we do.
     We are associated with the troubling doctrine that we just don't really need human religious figures as much as they need us to need them.  We have God.  And He's cool with us.  A pope, a bishop, a priest?  Has really nothing much to offer us.  We have Jesus.  And yes, if we don't keep Lent, don't chastise ourselves daily about our past (forgiven) sins, or the weak, twisted, dark bits of our present psyches, don't do purification rituals, and mumble our prayers over and over and over to God?  Well, He's our Father.  He has good, rather than evil, intentions toward us. Are we scared to open up and let Him shine light into our darkest recesses?  Well, according to the bible, He lives in there. Is in there right now.  Too late to try to keep Him out.  He's in there.  Spring cleaning.
   In our society, our sacrifices aren't going to involve loss of life and health, usually.  Our sacrifices are going to involve walking alone, misunderstood.  Being cut off and cut out.  Being a pariah.  Walking the shame walk.  Living outside the approval, status and support systems we're supposed to need so badly.  To live each day, judged and warned against by religious folk who don't like how we are living.  Shunned by them.  Especially by the most Pharisee of our brothers and sisters. They're going to try to give us what they gave Jesus at every step of his path.  The more we act like him, the more those who are most like the Pharisees will treat us the way their spiritual ancestors treated him.

Allowing Ourselves To Be Blessed
But it's not going to be all sacrifice.  There's rejoicing in heaven over us already.  There's good stuff coming our way all the time.  Wine to be drank.  Sunshine to hit our skin.  Scenery to take in.  Music to hear.  Food to enjoy.  People to love.  There are no good things that do not come from God.  If a thing is good, then it's coming from Him.
     This is not to say that there aren't ways to overindulge, or disrespect, hoard or otherwise act stupidly and nastily about blessing.  But I don't think sacrificing all of it all  of the time is what God wants when He's trying to bless us.
     We live in a society of comfort.  We don't know much about sacrifice.  Yet somehow, we Christians are also raising kids to not know how to receive blessing graciously, gratefully and passionately either.  Not knowing how to take compliments, not knowing how to embrace pleasure without shame, not knowing how to just walk around without feeling like we need to apologize to anyone who's got a complaint of any kind.
     That's the best way to recognize the simple fact that the Bureaucracy of Hell forms the infrastructure of our society: no matter what, we lose and suffer and it's all our fault.  If that's the infrastructure of your home, your church, your week, then you need to turn to God for something better.  To beat that, somehow.
     Or you could shave a tonsure on your scalp, and get out the whips and hairshirts, the nails and rubbing alcohol. It's really up to you.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Oh No! I'm Getting Things Wrong Again!

I've had a couple of conversations with Christian people lately.  And what they'd told me is that I'm messing up.  I'm perhaps hamfisted, unsubtle, and bull-in-china-shop, with little evidence of doing sufficient good to warrant the hurt caused. I'm definitely narrow in my focus, and needing a perspective and attitude adjustment.
     And when this has been shared, I've found myself filling with doubt.  A coldness rushing over me, shame closing over my head and panic.  I was letting myself be assessed by other human beings, who don't really see as much good in what I'm doing as maybe I do.  I'm assuming they know better, because they have an outside perspective on me, which I can never have. I'm caring more what they think than what God might be doing.
     And what happened when I got more of that this evening, was at first I got grim and cold and closed, but then I realized that I do not serve people.  And yes, they're right of course.  I'm getting things wrong.  I'm not doing as well as I sometimes might hope or think I am.
     And I thought of kids who are afraid to write on the blackboard/whiteboard, for fear of spelling something wrong, or of having messy writing.  Of kids who are afraid to speak up, for fear of saying something wrong.  And I remembered how I would always rather some kid write or speak something wrong, than the kids not speak or write anything at all.
     I am not a father, so I don't get that little glimpse into what being God might be sort of like.  All I've got is that I'm a teacher.  And I used that.  I realized that I get to get things wrong.  And I felt the warmth and the ease and looseness pour back in.  I relaxed and opened up.  Things could get in and out again.
     It's not like it's wonderful to get things wrong, but it's inevitable, and God plans for it and works with it.  Delights to, actually. And doing nothing, while being filled with fear and shame are far worse mistakes than doing something and getting it a bit wrong, then retooling it and reworking it and rethinking stuff and making eventual progress.
    Ironically, it takes an odd laying aside of pride and dignity to be willing to put it out there and get stuff wrong.  doesn't matter if you're about to sing a song, do a dance, skate, give a pie, release a book, read a poem or whatever.  And you have to be ready for people to then think you're arrogant and audacious for putting anything out there to begin with.
     Hello.  I'm going to keep saying and doing things.  And I'm going to be getting stuff wrong.  Maybe a lot.  We're all going to have to learn to live with that.  I will listen.  But I will not stop.

Thursday, 20 November 2014


I've been reading J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy every few years since I was a little kid.  And I've been an avid follower of all the extra behind-the-scenes information about exactly how they made the movie adaptations, with a particular interest in what story they thought they were telling.  On the DVD extras, this one man kept making the most interesting points about Tolkien as a person.  Since I first sat down to the watch the extended Fellowship of the Ring DVD with all the extras, I've been seeing Tom Shippey, author of J.R.R. Tolkien, Author of the Century, talking about Tolkien and I've been impressed by the insights in his points.
    The older I get, the harder time I have getting drawn into new things.  Music, books, television, movies, whatever.  And I find that in the information age, I can get an almost limitless supply of information surrounding the old stuff I already like. I watch every interview or documentary about favourite books, movies, albums and TV shows.  So I bought the Kindle version of Tom Shippey's book.  Pretty into it.
    The idea that is interesting me right now is something Shippey termed "wraithing."  He explained that he feels the very best, most lasting, most widely read and quotable books of the twentieth century, are George Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984, C.S. Lewis' Narnia books, and Tolkien's writing, along with people like Kurt (Slaughterhouse Five) Vonnegut and Joseph (Catch 22) Heller.  He feels that these books, more than any others, are quintessentially twentieth century.  He says that the reason why these books were so ground-breaking is that these men had first-hand experience of the new realities of war and abuses of government power that heralded the twentieth century.  He says that as a result, they chose to (needed to, really) create works of imaginative fiction to try to solidify the new stuff that was going on all around them.  To make portraits of it so it could be clearly looked at for the first time.  Because they needed new ways of viewing courage, honour and evil and corruption and tyranny.  Nothing quite like what they were now seeing had ever happened in the world, and had, consequently, never been written about before.
    Tolkien's really frightening evil characters, Shippey argues, are "emptied" figures, barely corporeal at all, faceless, heartless and cold.  They are shadow.  He talks about Gollum, Denethor, the Nazgul, and Sauron (and even Frodo and Bilbo) as beings that were once genuine, vibrant, fully-realized people.  Walking around, knowing how to respond with joy to nature, to food and drink and music and the company of others.  But then, somehow getting drawn into something that subsumed/consumed them.  Hollowed them out.  Made them at first empty shells, and eventually, wraiths.  Barely there at all.  Never dying, never living.  Feeling like butter scraped over too much bread.  Forgetting what strawberries tasted like.  Hiding from the sun. Ceasing to be themselves.  Being placeholders.  Empty spaces with nothing really to offer to the world but resentful, jealous, toxic, destructive malice.
    Giving all there is of themselves to a cause, an agenda, a goal, an ideology, until there is no "them" left to give, and no longer any "them" left to be.
    I never gave my identity and my life to follow Hitler or Stalin, of course.  But I do know a bit about being asked to sacrifice everyone I was or would ever be, to a system.  To a religious collective.  To a job, also.  Or to a cause.  I know that feeling of being used up.  Of no longer being full of whatever it is that is supposed to make me be myself.  Of feeling hollow. With nothing but a thin, sour, cold venom flowing in my veins, some days.  Spattering venom everywhere I go, because love's not going in, and not flowing out.  Walking around and having jokes and sunsets and food and music kinda go past me. Over my head.  Heart tightly closed.  Alone.  Forgetting what I even like to do. Leaving poison footprints.
    I think it's a real danger for working people.  Working middle-aged people especially. Forgetting who you once were and becoming a Gollum. A mini-Sauron.  A driven, desperate, hateful Denethor.  All the while giving very sensible, logical, knowledgeable Saruman-style reasons why there's no other path to take.  Why nothing else is possible or important.  Why you're just being sensible.  Why there are, really, no other choices but self-abnegation.
    Sometimes I feel very, very used up.  It's not something that gets better with age.  And that's when I have to remember what makes me most myself.  I was raised to sacrifice who I was, because who I was, was "bad."  Well Tolkien and Lewis and Orwell all knew that there's something worse than being full of yourself and self-centred and arrogant: not being yourself.  Being an empty, sour shell, shambling around in the shadows, just like you were still a person.
    In times like these, it's important to remember what and who makes me myself. And to reach out and recharge.

Saturday, 8 November 2014


You see it all over still; the "theology" that no doubt most people think we Christians believe: 

Satan is in hell.  And he wants to negotiate with you and have you "sell your soul" to him, so you'll end up in hell, having enjoyed musical talent, beauty, or something like that, in your earthly life.   

You see this on Supernatural, Constantine and all the rest.  Retelling Faust, the story of a man who makes a deal with the devil: he will spend eternity in hell, so long as he gets wealth and knowledge and wisdom and power on earth.  Like souls are currency, rather than being us.
  Because music, joy, beauty, sex, food, drink, dancing and the rest?  God wouldn't just give us all of that, would He?  You'd have to buy it, wouldn't you?  From Satan?  God's not like that, is He?  Surely you'd have to sacrifice it all if you wanted His approval?

The World, As Depicted in the Bible
Now, obviously all this is deeply unscriptural.  It's coming from Faust, after all, rather than the bible.  It's coming from simpler, stupider stories.  Stories that Harry Potter-burning fundamentalists seem to believe, rather than the bible itself.
    Because in the bible, the devil's not in hell.  He's why the world's like it is, like it's always been.  America didn't used to be Christian, but now "they're ruining it."  It is under Satan's government as it was from the very beginning, just like the rest of the world.  He's ruling it.  Running it.  Structuring it.  Managing it.  Presiding over a network of systems that makes sure that Murphy's Law is the universal law of a human life, and that no good deed goes long unpunished.  Making sure genocides happen.  Systematically facilitating rape and silencing victims.  Making sure child porn and molestation are covered up.  These aren't failures of the system.  They are built into the system.  The system has built-in refuges and loop-holes for exploitative people.  For rapists, molesters, extortioners and others of that ilk. And that's by design, if not human design.  This is a world where the scum rises to the top, rather than the virtuous, honest, giving and principled.  A world where the only way to think you've conclusively, finally won is to lie and cheat and backstab others.
     All this while doing only as much, and the precise kinds of, good required to glue a good veneer onto yourself and pretend you're solid oak right down to your core.  To justify your having more power than the rest of the world.  A world where no one wins for long.  A world where not even the most powerful men and women are really in control, aware of, or in charge of it all.  A world where atheist, Muslim and "Fundamentalist" Christian ideologies all work seamlessly together to serve to make the exploitation and oppression of millions possible.
   This is the world depicted in the bible.  A messed up world.  A not-okay world.  A world that does not reward virtue.  Not a world where everything's more or less okay, and most of us are going to heaven unless we sell our souls to the devil.  Because we're fine, right?  Doing great? Everything is awesome?
  Nope.  The bible, in fact, depicts a world where everyone's FUBAR, eventually, deep enough down, and we are going to hell as defective projects unless we reach out to Jesus, who is reaching out to us as we dance drunkenly on the edge of the abyss, as whitegurl as we can.
   Because the simple fact is, if we're at all honest and self-aware, we know that every one of us is imperfect and messed up.  The oak is just a veneer.  And we're so certain that God can't and doesn't want to simply work with us to help with that.  So, instead of letting God perfect us and help us grow, we'd rather resent Him for recognizing our imperfections and flaws and general neurotic psychoses at all, and for then taking steps to save us.  (How rude.  Why can't He accept us being messed up, and just tell us we're very, very special and leave us like that?)
   We'd rather go through the world, telling ourselves we're pretty much as good as it gets, more or less.  That we couldn't be and don't need to be much better than we are.  Don't need to be more whole, deep down.  More inspired, enlightened and wise.  We'd rather use the religions we create, in order to feel righter and better than everyone else, than have to actually reach out to God, sans religion and certainty and dogma. Reach out to God Who wants to work with us to make us better, throughout our lives.  Who wants to make us more, rather than just watch us suppress and hide our inadequacies, flaws, weaknesses and darkness.
     Because we've all got darkness.  And we protect it, rather than allowing light to be shined into it.  We're all like that.  We don't want upgrades, though we need them.  Badly.  We're determined to fruitlessly keep trying to run Windows 95 on our iPhone 7.  Rather than download the latest OS for free.  Because saying "No" always feels like we're in control and making cautious choices.  Even if it's all we have ever learned to say, and isn't therefore, a choice at all.
    The bible paints a series of pictures of a world that's filled with men and women trying pretty hard, yet perpetually creating miniature hells on earth for themselves and everyone around them, on a daily basis; leaving God little choice but to send them to the huge incinerator for defective beings, originally created to display pictures of Who God is and what good looks like.  We were created in His image.  We are daily giving a very false picture of what goodness, and mercy, hope, love, faith and joy and all the other good things that exist only in and through God, really look like.  We are ensuring we have to be rejects, rather than refurbished products.  We are choosing annihilation over rebirth.  And we'd rather people tell us we're no worse than anyone else.  That we're fine.  Normal. Okay.  Maybe even special.  So long as we don't need to actually grow or think about various troubling realities.
   And we live in our communities, and we know that every week children are being neglected, abused and molested here, women are getting raped, people are dying from addictive substances sold to them, and old people are being shut away and neglected, abused and molested.  We know all of this is happening.  So we donate money to shelters for cats and dogs, and stop eating refined sugar.  And we feel a bit better about ourselves, and tell ourselves our world's getting better all the time. Everything is awesome.
  And in our movies and in all of our stories, we want to believe we're safe, and where we live is okay. And for us, a horror story is that something evil escapes from hell into our safe, normal world.  And wrecks it.  Which, we tell ourselves, is fiction.
    Fact is, there is nothing evil in existence that is not already in our world right now.  It's all happening within a short drive of where we sit right now.  And people are gaining money and power through supplying and enacting it.  There is nothing evil that does not already have seeds planted in us right now.  And the whole system is designed to be the natural habitat of that human-germinated evil.

Faust and Jesus
But the Faust myth persists.  A man wants musical talent, so he sells his soul to the devil, who sends a customer service representative up from hell (which is apparently a terribly well organized institution where devils punish sinners for sinning?!) to sign all the papers.  And hell then faithfully provides creativity and soul to the man's music, which is something God could apparently never do.  
    Well really, you don't get music with soul by selling yours.  You get music with soul by having soul.  By being deep and aware and able to touch and be touched by life and love and others.  Because all good stuff comes only from God.  If it's good, you know it didn't come from hell. (Nothing "comes from" hell. Not a thing.  Not even bats fly out of there, all album covers to the contrary.)  Hell is nothing more than an incinerator for defective stuff.
    The devil doesn't have the best tunes.  He has none at all.  Not even elevator music.  In fact, he's got no capacity to emote, feel empathy, reflect good, compose or create anything whatsoever.  These are human traits that are reflections of God, who is love.
   I think the popularity of the Faust myth comes from a childish view of the temptation of Jesus, in the wilderness, by Satan.  But it's getting several things wrong: Satan's not in hell, in that story.  Has never been there.  Is ruling the earth, as he's done from the beginning.  And has no talent or beauty or creativity to offer Jesus.  All he's got to offer, in fact, is status and power.  And to sell it properly, he needs Jesus to doubt.  Or get impatient.
    And Jesus is getting tempted, not to sell his soul to the devil, or spend an eternity in hell, but to not act like himself.  To lose sight of his goal.  To forget what he's achieving.  To cut corners.  To betray his life path.  (Which is, admittedly, a much more important life path than mine.  I'm never going to be offered so much as the office of mayor of a small town, if only I were to give up my life path.) 
   So, Jesus isn't being tempted to "sell his soul."  He's being asked to submit or defer to Satan, who was lord of this world and the governments in it then as he is now.  Satan is clearly deeply bugged by a guy who goes around dissing his religious figures and government officials.  Who walks the streets spouting God-grade wisdom, free, from the streets and hillsides, to illiterate nobodies who haven't earned it in any way.  Illiterate nobodies who then get internally free from Satan's power just by listening.  That's not how it's supposed to go.  You're supposed to have to pay for that.  And it's supposed to need repeated resubscribing and additional fees.
   In the story, Jesus has been fasting for a month.  And Satan's trying to make him eat something.  He's not offering to give him a recording contract.  He's not even holding a cheeseburger.  He's trying to get Jesus to make himself some bread.  And he's trying to quote the bible and get Jesus to do what he says, now that he's "proved it" with scripture.  People love to try to control each other with scripture.  And he's offering to let Jesus rule over kingdoms of the world, as a gift from Satan, CEO of this world.  He's offering the Son of God... political power?  In exchange for bowing down to Satan.  (And Jesus was, in a very real way, here to eventually replace Satan.  As the ruler of the world.)
    This is really, really dumb.  Jesus didn't fall for it for a moment.  Yet still the Faust/Tommy Johnson/Robert Johnson myth persists.  A talentless hack whom the Creator didn't choose to give any creativity or talent to, sells his soul to the devil to be able to write music with so much soul in it, that he can become rich and famous.
     The fact is, Tommy Johnson and Robert Johnson were both given profound musical talent by God Himself.  But they knew no one would believe or be interested in that. 
    "How did you learn to play guitar in such a unique, soulful, beautiful way?  I've not heard anything like it before..." 
    "Oh, I sold my soul to the devil to learn how to play like this." 

You're FUBAR, I'm FUBAR?
And today, it struck me: what is the corollary myth that we Christians have been telling our teenagers for centuries?  This one: a man, whom the Creator is going to send to hell for enjoying himself, sells his soul to Jesus, to pay for his salvation.  In Faust, he'd accept an afterlife of misery and suffering, to pay for a life filled with pleasure and joy.  This "Christian" version tells of a man who accepts a life filled with boredom, misery, tedium and suffering (having sacrificed all pleasure and joy) as payment for an afterlife which is, at best, safe.  As depicted in Sunday School and movies, it is boring as hell.  Empty white rooms.  Sappy music.
    Is this the message of the bible?  Sell your dreams of being creative, of enjoying music, of dancing and celebration with others, and maybe you'll get to spend Eternity in the Great Waiting Room in the Sky?
    That's not the bible.  The bible says something very different.  In the bible, there is drinking, eating, song and partying with friends.  And I believe the bible.  It has a much deeper and more mysterious story going on.  And it's good news and concerns a free gift, rather than a bargain or contract.  And the God of the bible is the source of the joyful stuff, not a being who demands it be sacrificed to "pay" for blessing.  The God of the bible has a problem with waste, excess and missing the value in good things, rather than with the enjoying of said good things.  The God of the bible has as much problem with a wedding reception running out of wine, as with a drunkard in the gutter, drinking away his kids' dinner money.
     Despite being tempted with lesser things, Jesus kept on his life path.  He sacrificed joy and power and comfort and safety and longevity for us.  He gave his life.  That's all done, long ago.  And it's a gift.  And like all gifts, if you have to buy it or earn it, it's not really a gift.  And he did it to reconnect us to God, to arrange it so we're fine by God.  We're not perfect, but instead of being defective products, giving the world a very insulting image of who God is, in our function as Images of God, we're children.  Wayward children.  With whom God is nonetheless willing to work.  The working with us of Whom will only display more of His good: Forgiveness.  Mercy.  Grace.  Kindness. Sacrifice.  Patience.  We get to be vehicles for the world to see what all of those look like.
   But we're not innocent like in the Garden anymore, nor can we get there, or raise children to be that.  The train's sailed on that one.  But we're back in the same relationship of getting to walk around with God, knowing He wants us to experience all the good stuff He put in the world, all the joy and pleasure and worth and excellence.  To bask in what He Created.  We get to soak that in, with Him.  He did not put beauty in the world so we could turn our eyes away from looking at it, and warn of the dangers of it, in order to please Him, the Author of it. Turning away from joyful, excellent things is not a gratitude response.  And it doesn't "buy" us anything with He who make it.  It's certainly not sane.
   We get to explore it all.  We get to ask Him what He was thinking, making all that stuff.  But He mostly wants us to just interact with it all, rather than talk about and analyze it.  And although in some ways, things haven't even begun to get good, because we ain't seen nothing yet, and live in a world that is (still) ruled by Satan, whose central motive is to prove once and for all that we human beings all suck and should be burned?  The tide has, nevertheless, irrevocably turned.
    Jesus lived a human life.  Was there ever an incorruptible human?  Yes.  Jesus.  Just as there was a Noah, a Lot, a Rahab, there was a Jesus.  The Pharisees failed to make Jesus join their ranks and preach a less honest, less spiritual, far more pious, image-focused message.  And they alike failed to threaten him into silence. And their attempts to get him killed only resulted in millennia of Jesus stories and songs and lives touched by an important idea: Maybe, to be good and pleasing to God, you should actually avoid being a religious douchebag, rather than parade around like one, without even realizing how embarrassed you should be.  That maybe you should embrace a life of learning and growing, rather than one calculated to try to showcase your splendiforousness as a finished, exemplary Spiritual Entity with correct doctrine.  That you should have more the attitude of the returned prodigal, rather than the finger-pointing, whiningly obedient, nitpicking elder brother, whose heart had none of the love his father's clearly did. Who didn't know how to celebrate with others, when it was time.

A Choice
I think we have a choice:

To put out the idea that we're more or less Right.  That we've arrived.  That we're the Special Ones.  


To embrace the idea that we're just people on the path.  Following the way.  Following Jesus.  Not there yet.  Not "right."  Excited to see what's coming.  A bit scared.  But not up on our raised pulpit/platform, waving our bible around like it exists mainly to certify our rightness.  Ours and that of the traditions we have made into idols which block our view of God.  Not needing to have all the answers.  Not needing to use social media to broadcast our disgust at there being people in the world who actually sin and don't want us judging them for it.  Not needing to have our pronouncements proclaimed "infallible."  Not needing to punish people for disagreeing with our dogma.  Not settling for "tolerance" when forgiveness, kindness and love are the actual Christ-grade virtues.

"But what about if we mess up, even once we are following Jesus? What then?  Don't we have to resolve and vow and exert a huge amount of our own flawed, human willpower to try to be blessed and kept in the Christian faith?"
   Certain kinds of people feel terribly unsettled unless that topic is addressed immediately.  Won't God remove blessing from us if we screw up?  If we don't walk worthy of our calling, won't God smack us?
    Maybe.  Maybe not.  We get to mess up.  Good thing.  Because we do.  And it doesn't even threaten the loss of our relationship with God.  He's not going to stop accepting us, and working with us, because we made bad choices.  He's going to, in fact, work with us more.  Maybe "harder."  So there's that.
    But we really want something, anything, to depend on our success. On us.  We want to be important. (We want, truth be told, everything to depend on our choices.)

God's Motives, As A Character
I'm a high school teacher.  I teach kids.
    If they behave, that is.  If they swear at me, or threaten me, or anyone else, or break stuff, they get kicked out.  No more lessons for them.  At least for a couple of school days.
   God's not like that.  God does not "expel" children.  Because He's not fair.  It's a good thing, too.  God doesn't punish every time He "ought" to.  And He rewards and blesses and is great to us, because He feels like it, and not only when we've "earned" it.  In fact, because we can't earn any of that, every time we think we are "owed" something, and are upset because He's not doing what we ask, we're being stupid. Childish.
   I think God's much more interested in making His children into more inspired, creative, wise, strong, insightful, strong, healthy, balanced beings.  I think the jobs and cars and money and romances and kids and stuff are just toys we want for Christmas from Santa.  And I think He's often willing to give that stuff, even if we don't ask for it.  I think He's more concerned with our education and our maturation than with what we want for Christmas, though.  But He really does make the best Christmas pies, cakes and cookies.

Read It
I could quote several pages of scripture here, to "make this point."  I could copy and paste them, after googling them, without even half looking at them. But I won't.  In fact, I will instead encourage you to do something fewer and fewer people do anymore: 
    read the whole thing.
 I am speaking from the lifelong experience of what I believe is an actual relationship, an actual give and take, with an actual God who is an actual person.  With feelings and responses and longings.  With humour, temper and hurt feelings and sorrow. Insane to think like that, I know.  And I also don't lift a finger to justify the existence of God, so don't ask me to.  He justifies my existence. 
    Read the bible. You'll see all of that.  Sometimes in terrible, naked honesty.  Can you believe God would allow Himself to be depicted with His feelings hurt, clearly having a temper tantrum?  Can you believe God would allow Himself to be depicted changing His mind?  Believe it.  Read it. Don't argue.  Just have a look.  Deal with what it says, and don't waste time trying to make it unsay what's clearly in there, so you can pretend the bible is more religious, more devout and more simple than it is.  And don't waste time attacking people who believe differently from you.
    And read Faust, too. And Paradise Lost.  And Dante's Inferno/Divine Comedy.  They're hilariously clueless.  Creating all kinds of far-fetched, non-bible characters and places and stuff because they can't believe what the original actual is and says, nor do they find it sufficiently dramatic.  Cluelessly providing something a little more explicable, simple and comforting: The devil is in hell right now.  The world, and the people in it, are more or less okay, rather than remaining clearly FUBAR, generation after generation, country by country, century after century.  Imagine if the devil got out of hell (because someone played Dungeons & Dragons) and started to take over the world and make it run according to his own plans?!  What would that be like?  The world being ruled and run by forces that are parasitical, destructive, tyrannical, controlling and without mercy?!  Forces which don't even have our own interests at heart?  Forces which don't care for the weak?
   We haven't even done two decades of this century, and how many things should we already be apologizing for?  As a race of people, if not as images of who God really is and what good looks like?   (Oh, all that stuff was those other humans, was it?)
   But read those stories and delight in the clownish theology, the mixed motives, the tales of people who have to sell their souls to buy creativity from the destroyer, and then get thrown in the incinerator for it; of a being who wants to "purchase" souls rather than destroy the world and every single life and instant of joy in it, on a moment by moment basis, as well as an eternal one.  Of a world where you can buy creativity from the destroyer and accuser, rather than have it built in by the Creator.  Of a world where you can get good stuff, from the Evil One.  Where you can get insight from Darkness and learn the truth, from the Lord of Lies.  Where, if you're having fun, you're probably enjoying something evil, rather than simply living the life God gave you, and responding appropriately and sanely to things in it.  Music, beauty, food, drink, sex, sports, stories, nature.
    I know a lot of people who can't believe the bible, who can believe horror movies.  At least for an hour.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Finding Ways to Connect to the Scriptures: Galatians

I wasn't born a Jew, under the Law of Moses, only to have a huge paradigm shift when Jesus came and changed everything.  I do not look back on a past life as a practicing, Law-observant, orthodox Jew, and to a present life as a Christian, in danger of being executed for his beliefs.  So I do what I can. Here's what I did last Sunday to try to connect to Galatians a bit, as someone raised Brethren:

Epistle to the Gainesboroeans
art, an apostle—not sent out from an assembly nor through any group of Christians, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.

To the assemblies of Gainesboro, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the bondage of legalistic Brethrenism, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
I am astonished that you are so quickly turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 

For am I now seeking the approval of Christians, or of God? Or am I trying to please Christians? If I were still trying to please Christians, I could not be a servant of Christ.

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Brethren Christianity, how I persecuted the other children of God violently and tried to destroy them unless they believed and lived precisely as I did and bowed to the decisions of the elders in the assemblies I was in fellowship with. And I was advancing in Brethren doctrine beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might become free to associate with the nonBrethren Christian people, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Atlanta to those who were gathered before me, but I went away into Fargo, Minnesota, and returned again to Nashville, where there were no Brethren assemblies.

Then after three years I went up to Washington to visit Todd and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other gathered saints except Jim Buchannan. Then I went into Texas and Tennessee. And I was still unknown in person to the various Brethren assemblies up in Ohio. They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us for not bowing to the assembly decisions of his group is now reaching out to those he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me.

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Washington with Brandon, taking Tyler along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the nonBrethren, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. But even Tyler, who was with me, was not forced to follow a Brethren lifestyle, though he was only raised as a Baptist. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery to the Brethren lifestyle standards— to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. And from those who seemed to be the leading men in those church groups (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed to be the leading people didn’t have anything much to say to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been freed to move around freely and connect with the nonBrethren Christians and when Jim and Todd and Liam, who seemed to be pillars of the Brethren community, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Brandon and me, that we should go connect with all the various nonBrethren Christians and they to stay among the Brethren exclusively. Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

But when Todd came to Memphis, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain brothers arrived, sent from Jim, he had been worshipping and having bible studies with the nonBrethren Christians; but when these brothers came, he drew back and separated himself, fearing the loss of his Brethren status if anyone found out. And the rest of the local brothers acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Brandon was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the Pauline epistles, I said to Todd before them all, “If you, though Brethren, worship like a Free Methodist from time to time, and not like a Brethren person, how can you force the Free Methodists to worship like Brethren people and follow your rules and ask to be in fellowship with you?”

We ourselves are Brethren by birth and not Baptist sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by following the legalistic Brethren lifestyle, but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by following the Brethren lifestyle, because by the Brethren lifestyle no one will be kept in the Lord.

But if, in our endeavor to know Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the legalistic Brethren lifestyle I died to the legalistic Brethren lifestyle, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the exclusive Brethren lifestyle, then Christ died for no purpose.

O foolish Gainesboro folks! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly presented as crucified for you. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by following the Brethren lifestyle, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being “kept” by your own piety and religious lifestyle? Did you learn so many things in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by your following the Brethren teaching, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

Know then that it is those of faith who are the children of God. 

For all who do not rely on keeping the Brethren lifestyle to obtain grace and blessing from God are under a Brethren curse; for it is written in several BTP pamphlets, “Those who stray from the path of the teaching which has come down to us from those faithful Brethren of old who have gone on before, shall not receive any blessing from God.” 

Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by following the legalistic Brethren lifestyle, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the Brethren lifestyle is not of faith, rather “The Brethren people shall live by the Brethren lifestyle.” Christ redeemed us from this curse of the Brethren lifestyle so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Christ might come to all, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith, rather than as wages for adhering to the gospel of legalism.

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 

This is what I mean: the Brethren lifestyle, which came 2, 440 years after God made this covenant with Abraham, does not annul that covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by following the Brethren lifestyle, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham as a promise and not unto Moses, Martin Luther, nor John Nelson Darby.
Why then the Brethren lifestyle? It was added because of human transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through faithful men such as Darby and Kelly. 

Is the Brethren lifestyle then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a lifestyle had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by following that Christian lifestyle. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the Brethren lifestyle, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the Brethren lifestyle was our guardian until Christ came to us, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put off Brethrenness and put on Christ. There is neither Brethren nor Pentecostal, there is neither employer nor employee, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from an employee, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under babysitters and tutors until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of human religious ideas.

But when the fullness of time had come, God made Himself known until us Brethren people, to redeem those who were under the Brethren lifestyle, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Dad!” So you are no longer an employee, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those religious ideas that by nature are not God’s. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of a human religious system, whose slaves you want to become once more? You observe superstitious abstinences from any number of harmless things! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

Brothers, I entreat you, why aren’t we friends anymore? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would once have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? The Christian community has great respect for you, but for no good purpose. It is always good to be made much of, but for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.
Tell me, you who desire to be under the Brethren lifestyle, do you not listen to the Brethren teaching? For Brother Mackintosh writes that it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to Nepean, for she is in slavery with her children. But the “Nepean above” is free, and she is our mother. 

For it is written,

“Rejoice, O those denied fellowship;
break forth and cry aloud, you who are silenced!
For the acceptance of the one put away from among his fellows will be more
than those of the one who is ‘out on the Lord’s work.’”

Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. We are no longer the children of the gathered saints, but rather, the children of God.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Look: I, Bart, say to you that if you accept the Brethren lifestyle rules, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts the Brethren lifestyle rules that he is obligated to keep them all. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the Brethren lifestyle; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither Brethren lifestyle nor not being Brethren counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This legalism among you is not from him who calls you. Beware. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the legalistic one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. But if I, brothers, still preach following the Brethren lifestyle, why am I still being persecuted? For I am persecuted for thinking differently. If I were to think according the Brethren teaching, I would not be persecuted among them, and the offense of a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ has been removed. I wish those who try to abort your thinking processes would give themselves frontal lobotomies!

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to become religious, pious and legalistic, but through love be of actual benefit to one another. For the whole of Brethren teaching is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your brothers.” But if you gossip about and divide from one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh to seem religious. For the desires of the flesh to seem religious are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh’s need to seem pious, for these are opposed to each other. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under Brethren lifestyle constraints. Now the works of the flesh are evident: enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who act this way will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no Brethren rule. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its need to appear upstanding and pious to those looking on.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own fleshly need to appear religious will from that fleshly need reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do actual, practical good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

See with what a large font I am typing to you with my own hands. 

It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to adhere to a Brethren lifestyle, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for having an actual relationship with Christ instead. For even those who are Brethren do not themselves keep the Brethren rules, but they desire to have you follow the Brethren lifestyle so that they may boast in your fleshly investedness in it. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which human religious systems such as the Brethren have been crucified to me, and I to human religious systems. For neither Brethren lifestyle counts for anything, nor unBrethren lifestyle, but a new creation. And as for all who walk in the understanding of this, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the people of God.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Pleasure, Passion, Joy and Delight: Okay For Christians?

I've written and thought "around" this topic a lot.  I'm trying to get something new, or have something good to say about it anyway.

People keep telling me that they read The Shack, and that it meant a whole lot to them.  The Shack is actually a pretty shallow and crappily-written book, yet the embarrassing fact, for many of us who have read various books with far deeper and more elegantly told stories or topics, is that many of us needed The Shack, or at least benefited from it greatly. And maybe that's a bit pathetic.  That we got into such a state that we needed something that should have been so simple and widely grasped.
   The bible's full of stories of feasting and drinking and dancing.  People getting married, and spending days having sex, having kids, and hanging out and building things, and taking journeys.  Jesus' first miracle, perhaps done before his serious ministry had quite commenced, and done almost prematurely, was to use a divine miracle to ensure that guests at a wedding, who'd drank all the wine ordered for the occasion, did not have to stop drinking yet.
   Yet we have really funny attitudes to pleasure in general.  For example, I was always taught to interpret any and all references to "wine" in the bible as symbols of joy and celebration.  And yet people who drank alcohol were dubious, self-indulgent, unChristian people who didn't really listen to God.  People who might partake in a brawl at any moment, and then cheat on their wife.  With someone else's.  Maybe play cards, too.  Something that NEVER happened in Christian circles.  Because we didn't drink wine or listen to rock songs which celebrated sex. Or play cards or dance.
   A beer bottle found in the ditch in front of our place always had kind of a sinister aura to it.  It was so alien, it might as well have dropped out of the sky.  Because Christians didn't drink beer.  It wasn't of God.  (Wine either, actually.  Except at church.)  This always seemed odd on the few, warned against occasions when I thought about it, but felt entirely normal when I felt about it, because it was all I knew.  Whatever you are used to, is "normal" to you.  And nothing else is.
   We were taught that God loved us.  But our main experience of God was through dour old folks who didn't have any hobbies besides going to church and being "ever vigilant(e)" as to us, "beloved young people."  They were always warning us.  Quick with fear and caution and disapproval.  Teaching us to be full of care/anxiety about absolutely everything.  Especially anything that might bring pleasure of any kind.  And this seemed odd when I thought about it, but it felt normal when I felt about it, because it was all I knew.
   The Catholics list seven "deadly" sins.  You know?  Things one might otherwise be taking pleasure in. We had oddly divided attitudes about each of those sins, too.  And for every ten people who can name the seven deadly sins, how many people can name their counterparts, the seven virtues?  Try it.  No one knows what they are.  (answer: the seven Catholic virtues are nothing more than the capacity to simply not do the sins.  Look it up. They are not, really, going farther as to things the sins involve not going far enough.  They are not doing more stuff, better.  They are mainly just not doing the sins.)
   When I reach creative writing courses, I teach kids that with children's shows especially, to give each individual Smurf or elf or teenager or pony a personality, each gets a Deadly Sin.  Anyway, a look at the seven deadly, pleasure-giving sins:

Lust was first on the Catholic list, unsurprisingly.  And we agreed.  Lust was bad.  Really, really bad.  In fact, it was the "icky" sin, so we hated it worse than any of the rest.  And the worst thing?  It was the most understandable of the sins.  Because none of us was free from this corruption, this weakness, this horror.
  And what was lust? Sexual feelings.  Libido.  A human sex drive.  Like what I felt in high school when a girl walked by in stirrup pants or booty shorts.  Like when girl's gym classes ran jiggling, ponytail-flipping laps of the track that went by every window in the school.  It was bad.
  Unless you magically somehow got married without your courtship being motivated by or unduly characterized by those lustful feelings.  Once married, you could lust all you wanted, having signed your life away to a lust partner.  (So long as no one had to see your liking each other very much.  That was unseemly.)  There were any number of couples in my church who gave every evidence of having never touched one another for dusty decades.  Crotches thick with cobwebs, it seemed.  As befitted men and women of God.
   Because marriage was really about children (who are sent from God to guarantee further sex cannot happen), and not about pleasure or sharing or connecting.  Not about letting someone in, that far.  And even with a full complement of sex-destroying kids, sometimes church couples had "accident" kids anyway.  They'd done their three or four kids by their early thirties, and then, years later...a sudden, undignified pregnancy.  And those ever vigilant old folks tutted, in some cases.  Because this was clear, humiliating evidence of an unseemly lustfulness in what ought to be a godly marriage.  Her fault, too, still trying to be good-looking, when already forty.  Did you see that skirt she wore?  She probably exercises.
   But the bible has all sorts of pro-sex stuff.  I knew that once I'd read the bible, which I'd done before I hit my teens and the libido really took off. I read with interest the book of Proverbs, written by "the wisest man who ever lived."  It said things like 'rejoice with the wife of thy youth...let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love.'  Rejoice with her in bible verses and church attendance and singing hymns?  Perhaps not.  But wasn't this lust?  If lust wasn't simply what happens healthily and naturally between men and women, then what is it, exactly?  My dad said looking at girls was lusting (Jesus said) and my mom said no, that was normal, and there was more to lust than just responding to beauty God had made.  She told me this privately.
   Maybe lust is bad because it's too watered down, too temporary, too fleeting.  Maybe there's a real deal.  Maybe the real deal is deeper, hotter, richer and thicker.  More lasting.

Christians had a very, very different attitude to gluttony than they had to lust.  You could still speak publicly before two thousand Christians at a weekend conference, and be the size of a couch, and be taken entirely seriously.  Church gatherings were always very much about food.  A lot of cakes and pies and desserts were unashamedly scarfed down in a way they perhaps would not be today, in our present carb-conscious, gluten-fear society, where everyone has to be photo-shoot ready at all times.  
   I knew more than one health-threateningly obese church figure who kind of self-mockingly quoted "if thou be a man of appetite, put a knife to thy throat."  But these guys never lost a pound, and their knives were always gainfully employed in slicing up the pork chops and shovelling gravy onto roast beef and potatoes.  Gluttony was kind of the "okay" sin.  No adult would EVER get lectured or punished or lose a whit of public status for being lifelong devotees of it.  Fat people were less likely to suffer from lust, right?  I mean, look at them... (note: that is a satirical "opinion."  I actually believe fat people more than capable of suffering from lust just as much as anyone.)
   But C.S. Lewis had an interesting take on gluttony.  He said that, where once people were greedy as to quantity of food, nowadays we were now sinfully engrossed in quality of food.  Devoting way too much of our heart and our day and our bank accounts to acquiring and consuming precise kinds of food.
  I don't hear much objection to that kind of thing nowadays, though perhaps our fat-shaming attitude has certainly grown until it is sanctimoniously spilling over its pew. I can assure you that going out to a random church isn't going to reduce the number of obese people you will find in the room, as compared to any other room, really.  Not even a Weightwatchers meeting. 

So long as one didn't actually steal, this sin was okay in the church circles I grew up in, as well, most often.  There was no harm in working really had at getting rich, or in acquiring all kinds of houses and properties.  There was, for young men who were devoting their entire lives to starting and building companies and amassing personal fortunes before thirty, none of the disapproving looks that folks like me got, for wanting to enjoy music, or drink a beer, or watch Star Trek.
   So long as you didn't get caught stealing or attaining or spending money in dubious ways, you'd never get a lecture or lose status for this one either.  And it wasn't greed if it was "for the church," either.  American televangelists were, to a man, glittering wealth symbols, asking for more and more money.  All for God and the church, of course.  They could build entire churches out of glass bricks, with rock concert-grade multimedia gear, in order to get on your TV and ask for money from viewers who certainly had less money than the spray-tanned men sweating and smiling and flashing their rings.
   I worried about how much pleasure the girls in tight shorts or bathing suits made me feel.  That pleasure was not okay, I felt, though my head told me it must, by definition, be normal.  God had put it there.  And I was also worried about the simple pleasures in movies and dancing and music.  No matter what my head said, my heart was sure that God "wasn't too pleased" with my pleasure in that stuff.
   If a man was really gifted at writing songs that reached out and told you that you weren't alone and that many others had been here before, living through similar stuff, and that it was probably going to be okay, well I just knew that God hadn't given him that talent, nor would God be able to see any worth in his amazing songs or how comforting and wonderful they were to me.  (When I was younger, I "just knew" all kinds of things.)
  But I never worried about spending or even earning too much money.  I felt stressed over my credit debt, but not really terribly guilty. I didn't think God was scowling over it.  After all, if He had a problem with it, it was His fault for not answering my prayers and giving me a better job, right?
  But when I bought The Joshua Tree album, I just knew that God had a problem with that.  Not with the expense.  With the pleasure I was going to get from the music.  I just knew He'd feel threatened by it.  After all, I didn't like God's own albums as much. And if you had albums in your car, anyone walking by and looking into your car windows in the church parking lot would know what you loved.

I have always slept a lot.  And not enough.  Depending on the day.  I have worked on four hours of sleep far too many times.  And lain around, reading and watching stuff on various screens between taking various naps on my days off.  And although my head has always said this isn't very good, my heart has always told me it was normal.  My church was full of people who barely left the house, mixed in with the people who loved expensive recreational activities, and those who were killing themselves amassing money.
   If there is anything I needed in my teens and early twenties, in my family and in my church, besides friends, it was to be alone.  (I badly needed both and yet seldom could have either.)  And if I stayed up or worked at night, I got to be alone, and then if I slept during the daytime, I could sleep all I wanted or as little as I liked, and no one even knew when I was sleeping and when I wasn't.  It helped get me alone time, certainly.
   I always thought, when lazing around and napping, that maybe it would be better, in some purely theoretical way of course, if I was for some reason running, or carrying heavy things or whatever, outside somewhere, instead.  But I have never really felt like it was a problem.  Especially if I thoroughly abused my brain by sleep deprivation half of the time.  Then indulging in oversleeping afterward seemed sensible.  And when I have felt depressed, I have always been the kind of depressee who tries to escape it all by remaining asleep for as long as possible.

Wrath was bad.  The bible said so.  But in my heart, wrath seemed utterly normal to me, growing up. It was all around me. My Dad did nothing much but rant and rage and shout all the time.  (He's much more amiable nowadays.  It was a control thing, as it generally is.  And when we're old and retired and our kids are adults, there's little left that we can control, and for some this can be extremely liberating.  To not be responsible anymore.  To play with little kids you aren't accountable for the moral development of.  Church folk don't normally blame the indulgences of teenagers on their grandparents. Maybe they should?)
   At church, there were always people of all ages raging against each other. Always.  Especially old people with perpetually pissy faces. Everpouts. Always upset over something.  New stuff they hadn't expected and weren't used to.  Old stuff that wasn't getting as much notice as they just knew it deserved. Worst of all: young people being young and having fun.  
   There was always drama.  People squabbling over who got to sweep the church basement. Ladies furious over what lust-instilling outfit some girl had supposedly been reported to wear at some distant event.  A million tiny slights on people's reputation for unswerving religious piety, their laudable lifelong devotion to forswearing all pleasure.
  And our group was always having church splits/divisions.  And divisions are about nothing much besides wrath, packaged up in prim, pointy, bible snippet-decorated letters our groups flung in people's faces like monkeys franticly tossing monkeydung at everyone at the zoo.
   I grew up seeing our Christian community as a warzone.  Gossipbombs were always falling.  No one was safe.  One's reputation was always under threat.  One moment everyone was friends.  Then Boom!  Headshot.  This feeling was deeply entrenched in all of us.  Church wasn't a safe place, by any stretch.  Not psychologically.  Not socially.  And people were always getting angry and not admitting it.  Because losing control over one's feelings is wrong.  So long as you get angry and lash out, without apparently losing control, it's okay.  Did God ever lose His Temper?  Of course not. To do so would certainly be sin.
   And people pretty much never, ever swore or even used any kind of vehement language at all.  So the wrath was always called "concern" or "conscience" or something like that.  No one said "Mrs. Pettigrew is extremely pissed off because you brought a bright yellow New International Version of the bible to church."   
   Especially not when Mrs. Pettigrew was indeed extremely pissed off because you'd brought a bright yellow New International Version of the bible to church.
   Christians were quietly angry, inwardly seething people.  In my head and my heart, I knew and felt that this wasn't very nice or fun, but I'd been taught that it was normal and in fact, needful.  Or, that the wrath that was flying, wasn't wrath at all, really.  It was just Christians being good Christians. Protecting God and His people. By tearing the place up and character assassinating people.  By making teenagers feel like shit.  For having said "shit" one time.  For any number of kinds of taboo superstitions you could warp the spirit of the bible in order to indulge yourself in attacking.  
   You take away lust and invariably, stealth-wrathful gossiping people endlessly stuffing pie into their faces seem to result. Not every time, everywhere, with everyone.  But have a room full of Christians, and let them try to get along for ten years, and I believe this is what you will see springing up, in time.  I think if you wait long enough, you'll see it.  Because people are people.  And people are messed up in predictable ways.  I think the bible says that somewhere.

Envy was bad.  We knew that.  Unless it was envy over church status, or people with  more devout-seeming kids.  Or if someone was very sexually attractive.  Then envy was okay.  But really, if you had looks, money and good relationships, this was because God loved you, right?  Perhaps it was Him blessing you because you'd forsworn worldly pleasures to a sufficient degree. Forsworn attendance at more entertaining churches, live sporting events, theatre, concerts, dances and movies.  Perhaps God delighted in giving people money, if He knew right well they'd not spend it on CDs and videogames and tickets?  And of course you should be allowed to run everything.

Pride was really bad.  We knew this.  That's why we were so careful to avoid pride.  And we were actually pretty awesome about not being proud.  That's just the kind of Christians we were.  We were hardcore.  I mean, we attended the only correct church in the world, and unlike anyone else, our group had 100% correct theology weighing down our bookshelves, making all post-nineteenth century works utterly unnecessary, and people in our group were living more the way God wanted human beings to live than any other group of Christian on the planet, and yet... we were so humble
   Especially our leaders, both living and dead (in some cases, it became quite hard to tell which).  We never ceased bragging about those guys.  We often praised ourselves about how nobody else had people who could do showoff humble moves like our players.  Our guys could win a humbleoff.  Every. Single.  Time.  We had people who routinely filled more than a third of every conversation with self-deprecation.  Without fail.  So awesome.
   We never said "Living like those other Christians isn't good enough for people like us."  We just said "Oh, don't be led astray into giving up the blessed position into which you were born, to wander off into the world, squandering it all, and suffering the shipwreck of your life, until you are not a bit better than Bob who owns the sports store, or Dr. Steve, or Jan who owns the law office.  They go to churches that are no doubt more...entertaining than being Correctly Gathered To The Lord's Name could ever be, but ultimately, would you want to make that sacrifice?  To fall from this position of grace and be a normal church Christian? Just to have a full, enriching, effective life?"
   We didn't say "The books from our Bibles, Trinkets and Paraphernalia clearinghouse are better than any others in the world." We just asked people why they were reading Other Books, and curled our lips slightly, expressed "concerns" at the teaching that might well be in them, and where reading them might lead an unwary soul (possibly, astray into merely average Christianity!).  Why not be safe and stick to our books?  They were 100%, every one.
   We were careful.  We knew that if we prefaced our "concerns" with statements like "I know I'm no one to talk. I'm the worst person in the world.  If I let my iron willpower slip for one moment, I would instantly sin in ways so staggeringly, mind-numbingly interesting, innovatively creative and wholly unprecedented, that you'd not be able to catch your breath for a year" then it was okay to condescend as much as we liked, from that point in the conversation on.
   We took huge amounts of pleasure in our correctly humble way of gathering, and our clothes, habits and administration.  And when two guys decided that we should all shun some guy for questioning their infallibility, and anyone who felt that shunning him was over the top?  We humbly demanded that everyone in the known world (anyone worth mentioning) humbly submit to our assembly decision, humbly forced through by those two humble guys, who had, of course, no titles or credentials or any vain, prideful thing of that sort.  And, by and large, pretty much every other humbly affiliated group on Planet Earth humbly bowed to this humble request. And humbly shunned that guy and anyone who had anything to do with his inferior views and church activity, in his new, inferior church.
   We weren't even a church, we claimed.  We were The Church.  We had The Lord's Table In Our Midst.  No one got to it, either, without getting through our humble authority figures, there being none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby you might worship correctly, besides our name, The First and Only Nameless Church of Correct Correctness. 

In old movies, soldiers or colonials would stare into the dark, toward certain danger, and say "It's quiet... too quiet."  As for me, I was raised to say "That felt good...too good" or "That would be fun...too fun."  "I really like that... I like it too much."
   And we were warned against "idols."  All of us.  Especially teenagers.  And what were idols?  Certainly not systems of belief or human-created, superstitious religions which made a random assortment of pleasureable things taboo, in a vain effort to sway the outcome of one's week in a more favourable direction.  No, idols were, we were taught, the pleasure-giving things themselves.  Anything you got "too much" pleasure out of.  Pleasure itself could be an idol, all by itself.  And it robbed Jesus of our affection.  So, in Canada, we tended to make idols of hockey and beer and television.  (Maybe even maple syrup or Tim Horton's coffee.)
   That was what an idol was.  Never church stuff.  Nothing superstitious or religious.  Other stuff.  Never our gossiping about girls or guys who'd clearly been slipping as to their sacrifices to the Pleasure-hating god. Never the feeling of satisfaction we felt when we did the Protestant equivalent of giving up something we really loved for Lent.  Like, chocolate, coffee, refined sugar, gluten, fast food or television.  Stuff that supposedly started, as Jake pictures, God chomping on his cigar, sitting there at His Big Desk, pounding His Fist and snarling in outrage about those kids going and actually seeing Guardians of the Galaxy. On church night, too.
   Dylan Moran swearingly says that we need a healthy relationship with pleasure.  (Amusingly and vulgarly arguing that people across the world hate the French because of their unthinkingly accepting approach to pleasure.  Starting with chocolate bread in the morning, and spiralling downhill throughout the day from there.)
   We've made our own religion.  And it worships a god that, rather than having invented chocolate, sunsets and the clitoris (all of which really have only a single purpose: pleasure) allows us to pay for its approval and support by suffering the abstinence of whatever the things are, that only we know would bring us pleasure, on its behalf.  Now that's an idol.
    And some people need to read The Shack, that "Nancy Drew fan fiction written on molly" that basically has one, extremely already-fully-conveyed-in-scripture-but-somehow-missed-by-apparently-everybody point: 

God likes you.  Period.  He wants you to be happy.  Stick with Him and He will give you the desires of your heart.  (not just His heart. Yours. Really.)  He's not out to get you.  He's not vigilant to catch you enjoying too much pleasure.  It's going to be a ride.  Strap in.  There will be scary bits. But it's going to be amazing. He calls it "Life."  Love will be piped into the cabin throughout the journey, and laughter will be served.  Apparently there are really no substitutes for all of that.  Nothing's as good.  Not even abstinences and feeling more righteous than the person sitting next to you.  And none of it will need to be paid for in the dubious coin of self or church-inflicted Shame.