Sunday, 26 January 2014

Sins of Our Fathers

Reading more Jeremiah.  What I'm finding is that, we don't see in the bible the idea that people simply decide their fathers did wrong, or had a bad attitude, and so they distance themselves from their fathers, and get off the hook without repercussions.  They repent and so they don't suffer as a result of past stuff?  No price to be paid?  Sadly, it (life/reality) doesn't work like that at all.   The fathers eat bitter grapes, and this taste lingers in the mouth of the children when they try to eat anything, and it sets their teeth on edge, even if the fathers have long since died. The sins of the fathers ARE visited upon the children.  Actions and attitudes have consequences, and in a very real sense, children are nothing BUT consequences of people's actions and attitudes. Outcomes, even.
   And what have I decided are the shortcomings, arrogances and failings of the particular "nation," this little corner of modern Christianity in which I grew?  If you've read this blog, you've seen what kinds of things I feel we have (generally, more often than not, most of us) not only been raised to be, but have grown to live adult lives which are unrepentantly characterized by:

  • the arrogance of claiming some kind of special, superior position of obedience, duty, teaching and worshipfulness before God, above all or most other Christians. 
  • using "light" (correctness and piety) verses and doctrines as a way to excuse ourselves from even attempting to understand, let alone try out the love (connection, relationship) stuff in the bible.
  • being judgmental, and never (practically, rather than just theoretically) forgiving anyone for anything, or being willing to actually go make amends, mend fences or restore people to our circles.  Judging and never forgiving ourselves, and therefore never acting any different.
  • scattering the flock.  Endlessly dividing and redividing and subdividing, being willing to use any excuse at all (or, pretty much, nothing) to justify us going right along and helping make sure we all get minced up like garlic on a cutting board.  "Planting" far more churches than we can ever fill and not giving a fig as they die on the branch left and right.
  • presenting and trying to follow a God who somehow has us store up pleasures in Heaven simply by sacrificing most forms of pleasure down here.  Puritanism, essentially.  Bitter grapes indeed.
  • burying our selves and our talents in the ground, so as to be guaranteed we not misuse them and make a mistake of some kind and face judgment.  Guess what?  That's a huge misuse of them, a huge mistake. And yes.  There is judgment.
  • living show-lives, choices made based not on what will work, but on what will or will not 'send the right message.'  Our consolation for this has been to aspire to look pious and obedient and dutiful.  Phariseeism, essentially. More bitter grapes.
  • backstabbing and betraying Christian people in our groups, using lies, manipulation and the basest forms of political subterfuge and intrigue.  Doing treachery that the status quo may be maintained.  Evil that good may come.  The spirit of Jezebel and Judas, essentially.
  • making a idol of Being Right.  Justifying all manner of horrible behaviour in service of that.
  • making an idol of The Nuclear Family.   Justifying all manner of horrible behaviour in service of that.
  • self-harm and acts of self-punishing humiliation akin to the cutting themselves and crying and fasting and shaving patches in their heads, rending their clothes and cutting off beards practised by the pagan idolaters.   Mainly psychological and social and relational self-harm, in our case.  We have made ourselves self-flagellants with supposedly pious shame and guilt.  In fact all we have done is withdraw from/into ourselves and hurt someone God loves, smiting ourselves instead of speaking to ourselves, making the same mistake Moses did with the rock.
  • worshipping our own groups, our own doctrines, our own political positions, our own act of coming together to worship God, rather than actually worshipping God Himself.  We have sung songs in praise of our praise, about how much we enjoy singing songs of praise.
  • offering our children to Moloch.  Sacrificing our children's needs, in the name of looking like a pious family, no matter what spiritual wreckage it makes of our children.
  • focusing on a safely (or about to be) dead Jesus, so we don't have to deal with his life before or after the cross, terribly much.
  • not letting the bible speak for itself.  Not letting it say only what it says, while refusing to speak on various topics, more often than not, about any number of things.  Because we've always had an answer.  A theory.  A chart.  No matter what the bible doesn't say.  Because we're using the bible.  Using it to make ourselves happy.  To comfort ourselves.  To make us feel correct. No matter what God has to say about things.
  • being and doing no good at all in the world
  • seeing good and calling it evil.  "Warning people against" good people and things.
  • following a human-created system, a prescribed lifestyle instead of a Living Person,
  • pretending the world used to be Christian, and we have to keep it that way, or try to return it to its more Christian state, by getting involved in human systems and politics, through which we think we can bring about this mythic act.
  • elbowing aside any and all individuals who want to work, if they don't bow the knee and jump through the hoops of human systems we serve,
  • removing all wisdom from our midst by casting out any acknowledgement of or attempt to deal with the daily realities that are complexity and nuance
  • replacing what could have been a life long path of learning, a lifelong conversation, with simply requiring people to "take firm positions" on everything.  We have traded reality for expediency.

But we want blessing.  We don't want to be exiles.  We want our lives to "work."  We want to act like these sins of our fathers maybe weren't all that bad.  That's God's okay with all that.  That there's no good in focusing upon it.  Or that we're different.  That there is no effect springing from this cause.  That we can forget about it and move on and not be affected by where our roots are, by the soil from which we sprang and from which we still grow.  That God has nothing to say to us about any of it. That if we're fine, somehow none of that past baggage will be real, seen or felt.
   There is a price to pay.  And we'll pay it, one way or another.  We are paying it already, in fact.  Some of us can feel it.  And on our own heads be it if we pretend we're suffering reproach for our obedience, when we are actually suffering for our own and our fathers' lack of faithfulness.  And on our own heads be it if we pretend we're suffering at the hand of God for our lack of sufficient servitude to our culture/the Puritan God, when we are actually suffering for our own lack of faithfulness to and knowledge of the Creator of all Good Things. 
   Jeremiah was sent by God to express His displeasure and retribution against Judah for very similar spiritual indulgences as are listed incompletely above.  And Baruch was the unlucky man whose job it was to spend all his time with the Messenger Most Likely To Be Shot, Jeremiah, writing all this stuff down. We know what God said to Jeremiah only because Baruch wrote it down.
    And Baruch was part of the generation being judged by God for their attitudes and actions, for the sins of their fathers. And Baruch wanted a life that worked.  Didn't want to suffer exile and live in danger, infamy and reproach.  Wanted blessing from God. Prosperity. A safe, happy life, and a safe, happy family.  And what did God tell him (through Jeremiah)?  What was he given, which he in turn had to dutifully write down?  This:

Thus says the Lord: Behold, what I have built I am breaking down, and what I have planted I am plucking up—that is, the whole land. And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all flesh, declares the Lord. But I will give you your life as a prize of war...

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Bible Stories Are Bad Fiction

After thousands of years of myth, hundreds of years of novels, and about a century of television, carefully slotting in everything we have managed to learn about human psychology, we've made an art and a science of story.  We know what we're doing.  Beowulf, Thor, King Arthur, Robin Hood, Romeo and Juliet, Sherlock Holmes, Mr. Darcy, Oliver Twist, Scarlet O'Hara, Anakin Skywalker and Walter White.
    The bible's a story book, isn't it?  Most people don't read the bible. Not the whole thing.  I've been going around to churches for a while now.  I've been checking.  Every single person who tells me he or she is in bible school gets asked the same question: have you read the bible?  I have not yet met a single person in bible school (no matter first, second or third year of it) who claims to have actually read the whole thing.  Not one.  I have had two atheists tell me they read the whole thing.
  Mostly, in churches the bible is working as a sourcebook to quote snippets from, and to pull episodes of certain characters' lives from, and to then put a heavy-handed Western, 21st Century spin upon, with a kindergarten-grade moral slapped on overtop the whole thing like a cheap bumper sticker, put there in a vain attempt to justify the whole thing existing to begin with.  But that's it.  It's being "used."  In bits.  It's not being allowed to be itself, for its own reasons.
   I love stories with supernatural elements.  As a teenager, I liked Dracula and Frankenstein and stuff by Poe, and I loved all those 80s TV shows with a character who had some kind of special ability. And I loved superheroes.  So long as they had a supernatural ability, and weren't just wearing a metal suit, or something.  Batman kept my affection, despite being a normal guy.  Because he had drama and mystery and the night.
   When I started discovering horror movies and rock music in my early adult life, casting off the Christian superstition/fear I'd been raised with that listening to rock music would turn me into a Satanist, I grabbed up Bat Out of Hell eagerly, and looked vainly through bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden for anything both interesting and supernatural.  Black Sabbath I liked for the over-the-top doomy guitar riffs, but these guys had built no mythology, had no interesting stories to tell, really.
   And I was shocked in looking at all of this music to discover not what I'd been told at all, but just the typical old scary story stuff there. There was no "worship Satan!" message on anything they'd play on the radio.  It was all "Satan is evil. Beware!  Ha ha ha!"
   And there was certainly nothing my parents could really have found to disagree with.  They didn't like the packaging, but the content?  I mean, the "worst" thing Iron Maiden really did was read part of the book of Revelation at the beginning of a song to make it sound creepy. Because Revelation is creepy.  People are always stealing stuff from it for their stories. But they don't let it hang together the way it wants to.  They do just like the church folk.  Cut bits out with scissors as if they were making paper dolls.  Steal bits for "colour."
   At the movie theatre I watched Stigmata, End of Days, The Prophecy, and all the rest. I was very aware that the most successful supernatural movies were horror movies, and that they were mainly only about people getting terrified, tortured and killed.  I wasn't into it for that.  I was into it for the good and evil, the God and Devil, the angel and demon stuff. I wanted to know more about that, either as a real thing, or as an inspiring thing. And that stuff shows up mainly in horror stories.  Not an awful lot of romantic comedies with a lot of angel and demon content.  (Some, of course. There was Michael.  But I like that stuff taken seriously.  And I need it to be darker than Touched By An Angel or Highway To Heaven.)
  On TV, I loved The X-Files, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I liked Babylon 5 better than Star Trek: Voyager, because Babylon 5 had a lot of angel and demon imagery, and good and evil stuff.
   In my twenties I also went through a real phase of putting aside superhero comics, and reading Sandman, Hellblazer and Preacher comics instead.  These were (kind of) "horror comics," but I was reading them for what they had to say about good and evil, God and the Devil.  And I didn't need to or want to agree with them.  I wanted to see how they thought it all worked. How they pictured it all. I found that endlessly entertaining.  "How does this guy think a story with that kind of stuff in it should work?"  What is the mythology created in comic book form by an atheist who was raised Catholic?
   I realized that I had read the whole bible when I was 12, and now I wanted to know more.  About that stuff. I wanted to know all the stuff that the bible doesn't tell.  I wanted to know things like how many wise men from the east came to visit Jesus, and what their names were, if there was one or twelve archangels, what Jesus did between age 12 and 33, how people got possessed exactly, and what all that stuff in Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelation was really all about, not that any of that is in the actual bible.  (Oh, my dad would be delighted to tell you what every bit of Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelation mean, and what it all has to do with what's currently on CNN, but I don't believe he knows or that any of that gobbledygook he calls "biblical prophecy" hangs together on any level.)
   I wasn't content with the bible's habit of blankly reporting events without description and without character motivation.  I wanted to know all the whys and wherefores.  I wanted to know how it all worked.  Especially if it was something mysterious, miraculous or supernatural.  Where ancient minds might have been content to say "Holy crap! Look at that!," my modern mind wanted to feel like I understood everything about how all of it worked.
   But I didn't really believe that there were books besides the bible, written with knowledge and understanding of that extra-biblical supernatural stuff.  I put the bible above any other book.  I didn't believe that anything God didn't clearly want to share was good to pursue, nor that one could learn anything much about supernatural things, going beyond what the bible said, without mainly coming out of it twisted and deceived. And some kind of horror geek. Ever talk to someone who calls himself or herself a Satanist?  They make Star Trek fans look suave and debonair.
   All of these supernatural stories I was enjoying, with added in stuff that wasn't in the bible, were people trying to make a workable, saleable, feelable, atmosphere-rich story out of things the bible insists upon blankly reporting without detail.  The bible isn't trying to entertain or engage, I realized.  It doesn't work very well as fiction at all.  Almost like it wasn't written to.  Almost like the people who were writing didn't know all kinds of the relevant stuff, and didn't feel free to just make it up.
   So I got really interested in why the bible "just didn't work" as entertainment, and what exactly was therefore always and only done, when making supernatural things into stories.  What I saw was that, despite there being some very clear structure to what's in the bible, in order to make stories, people who know what they're doing, story-wise, consistently undo that structure and remake it into a more dramatic, simple story-sensible thing.
  And increasingly, atheists assumed that what they'd see in a movie like Hellraiser or Witchboard was more or less what Christians actually believed to be true, and was actually what the bible said.  And I saw increasingly too, that Hollywood theology came to be what Christians did in fact believe, and that many of them who didn't read the bible (or only used it to scavenge for spare parts for their speeches) started to believe stuff that wasn't terribly different than Witchboard.  "Don't listen to heavy metal, or the devils will get out of Hell and will make you serve Satan!"  Wait... devils are in Hell?  Since when?
   When I was a little kid, I saw a puppet show at the public library.  I had a character being approached by the Devil to sell his soul and go to Hell. I dunno if it was The Devil and Daniel Webster or what.  I do remember that to me, it was wholly foreign. I was going to church five times a week pretty much from birth, and memorizing chunks of the bible, and this "devil asking you to sell him your soul" stuff was some other religion.  They said things like "the devil," and "Hell" and "soul" and "God" and "Heaven" just like at church, but I had some idea what the bible said about all of that stuff, and what the hell was all this stuff going on about?
   Here are some of the ways that Hollywood Theology consistently differs from the bible, to make stories simple and dramatic:

Satan and Demons Are In Hell
In the bible, they are wandering all through the world, which is the bible's explanation for why the world is the way it is.  In a movie, you might have a Nazi war criminal who has a Ouija board (copyright Hasbro) which he is using to communicate with demons in Hell, who are now suddenly finally able to break free and manipulate him from their distant offices down there, where they've been imprisoned for all eternity.
     In the bible, people demean, abuse, addict and corrupt themselves, lose all their sanity and virtue boundaries, and let in horrible attitudes and spirits which are at all times loose in the world.  They invite cruelty, vindictiveness, exploitation, hatred, strife, intolerance and violence into their lives and become defined by them. This is not quite the same thing as selling your soul for fame and glory, to some demon who likes the heat of Hell and lives down there.
   In the bible, Satan (which means "the adversary") not only is depicted in the book of Job "walking to and fro upon the earth," but going on up to angel country and talking to God and making bets with Him.  And demons go around possessing people with weakened sanity and virtue barriers and pushing them to perform acts, primarily of self-harm, humiliation and self-destruction.  They take possession, normally, because in that person's life, nobody's home anymore.
  It's like God built humans to "work," and demons are quality control, or stress testers, or parasites, like rot which looks to prove God wrong about His silly idea that humans can work.  Humans are designed to be object lessons, images of the nature of God.  If humans don't "work," they present an image, the idea, of a God Who doesn't work either.  Flawed creation of a flawed Creator who leaves flawed creatures to their own devices.
   What this biblical view "ruins," in terms of story sense, is the workable story idea that the world is relatively normal and white picket fence safe (ha), but that something like an evil pendant or incantation or book or other thingie might "summon" or "raise" a demon, freeing it from the depths of Hell, and letting it (gasp!) loose in the innocent world to wreak unimaginable, Hellish chaos here, bringing about Hell on earth.
  In the bible they're all here.  Right now.  In government.  In big corporations.  In church groups, mosques and synagogues.  In the Vatican.  In schools.  Making people hurt themselves, and making people prey on each other, making people "harvest" other people's time, bodies, money, servitude and health as if they were sheep.  Bringing cruelty, exploitation, rot and ruination.

Half Angel, Half Demon
In stories, angels are normally calm, quiet, androgynous, beautiful, serene forces of order, while demons are laughing, sexy, sneering, wisecracking forces of trickery, death and destruction. But fun.  Demons are the kid up the street who'll sell you fireworks, while angels are the tattletale older sister.
    In the bible, demons infect people and make them addicts, make them hurt themselves and erode their sanity and health and safety, while angels are mainly forces of much more dramatic, overt, holistic destruction.  Angels are creatures of fire, lightning and cataclysmic, chaotic death in the bible.  The first thing they say to anyone who sees them, whom they aren't going to kill, is "Be not afraid!" They need to say that.  Angels show up as often to raze cities and declare judgment as they do to bring what is perhaps kind of good news. ("You're pregnant.")  God Himself is presented as being veiled in smoke and thick blackness, a creature Whose very gaze burns everything He looks upon, Himself and Him servants being creatures of fire, rather than flesh.  In the bible, angels are terrifying.
   In stories, humans are kind of at a half-way point between those boring, pouty angels and those hilarious, seductive demons.  A happy medium.  Better than either.  Humans have humour and sex and celebration and joy and the best, most danceable music.  And often they "get" the very best examples of that creativity not from the Source of Creativity, the Creator Himself, but from deals with demons, selling souls at crossroads.  In stories, if you want to be a Creator extraordinaire, a truly inspired artist, you need to deal with Satan.  Because God's not got a creative bone in His body in stories.
   In the bible, a soul is you.  You can't sell it.  And demons don't deal.  Or dance.  Or have sex.  Or sing or joke.  Any more than cancer does.
  In story after story (this started primarily in the 1990's "let's flip hero and villain roles" (see: Shrek, Angel, Spawn etc.) an angel/demon hybrid kind of human is the hero.  Angels are oddly distant, detached, priggish, prissy; harmless, helpless and gullible.  And they can't lie.  In stories, you can do more harm with a lie than with the truth.  That's not always how it works in real life.
   God is, in movies, at best, a beatific light which shines down from on high shortly before the credits, with some swelling music, to thank the humans for saving His Butt by doing stuff He couldn't really do, and remain Himself.  He can't get His fingers dirty, after all, so it's important to have humans around. They're better at some stuff.
  In the bible, though, God often acts like a cheated on husband, or a teenage girl having a meltdown.  Will end up elbow-deep in the blood of children.  He is unabashedly jealous and His wrath is superhumanly destructive and long-lasting. He is more than just a force of nature.  He is the source of nature. Not just like a hurricane.  The heart from whence hurricanes come.  He has more, not less emotions, appetites and reactions and desires than human beings.  All human emotions, appetites, reactions and desires, in fact, are faint echoes of His, us being created in His image.  That's God in the bible.  Now, who would play Him in a movie? Steve Carrell?  Will Farrell? Shea Leboef?
   Samuel L. Jackson?

God Stuff Is White and Featureless, Hell Stuff, the Opposite
Okay: You've been hired to make a couple of movie sets. Let's say there is one scene in a room in Heaven, and one in a room in Hell.  You know exactly how to do make these sets.  Heaven is chalky, uninterrupted whiteness.  Blank.  Not a bit of life.  Not even a cat or a potted fern.  No decoration.  Not a single painting or pattern anywhere.  Just paint all the walls in an empty room white and dress everyone in white and overexpose the whole thing. Easy.  If you put a couch in the middle of all of that whiteness, it will look particularly arty.
   Hell?  Now a hell-set is going to be dark, dirty grey with red and black.  No blue.  You've seen heavy metal album covers, so you have an extremely accurate, biblically based picture of exactly what Hell is like.  H.R. Giger kind of stuff.  Flames.  No blankness or right angles anywhere. Wrong angles.  Horrific images.  Mocking faces with tongues out. And everything should be, instead of flat and featureless, either obsessively decorated with complicated geometric runes (because devils have awesome writing?), or with stuff that looks like it was all torn out of a deep sea fish.  Dub in some layered recordings of people on a roller coaster.  Heaven stuff is white and featureless.  Nothing either industrial nor organic.  Hell stuff is pointy, complicated, stone and metal.
   In movies, Heaven is nothing.  No life, no movement, no sounds (unless they are soothing, shimmery ones) and certainly no laughter or celebration.  Hell is too much life.  Screams, punishment, all kinds of stuff.  And maybe partying.  Motorcycles with flaming wheels, ridden by a guy in a leather jacket with a flaming skull for a head.  Demons fiddling and dancing on people's entrails.  Flames.  Darkness.  A kind of pain-filled Mardis Gras.
   In the bible, Hell is endless, dark, solitary nothingness, and Heaven has mansions and parties and marriage suppers and feasts in it.  It has colours.  Music.  Thrones made of gems.  Creatures filled with eyes, with extra wings, and hovering flying saucers (with eyes all over them too. And lightning.)  Jesus with legs that look like molten brass, with a sword which leaps out of his mouth at will, presumably slaying anyone who he speaks a harsh word at.  Voices that sound like trumpets sounding.  Streets made of gold.  Walls made of what gems are made of.
   To me, anyway, it sounds like the report of a guy seeing stuff he had no clue how to deal with or understand.  A guy making wild comparisons to stuff he's actually maybe seen in more normal settings.  Like a guy from the middle ages writing a detailed description of a testing lab at NASA. Not the most reliable of witnesses.  Far better for him to have made something more explicable.  Something that raises less questions.  If we were writing fiction, that is.
  Easier in a story to make Heaven empty, with nothing going on.  With a pearly gate, and St. Peter there with a book, checking for reservations.  You know, like at a restaurant. Somewhere we've been, or seen fairly accurately depicted in movies.

Humans Turn Into Angels or Devils
This is all through the modern stories (and Facebook).  Heaven gets a new little angel when someone dies. Someone sells his soul and becomes a tortured...what... soul?  (I thought he sold that?  What is he, and what's being tortured exactly, if he's sold it and lost it?)  Aren't bodies required to properly feel pain?  And he can eventually become a demon.  Because the devils used to be human, apparently.  Not spirits at all.  Embodied creatures.  In Hell, not on earth.
   In the bible, humans are odd hybrids.  Earth and water with fire/air breathed into all that.  They are/have spirits, just like God and angels and devils are spirits (spirit is a word that means attitude, willpower, resolve, breath, fire, wind and emotional state.  And alcohol.)  But like regular animals, humans also have a collection of molecules called a "body" associated with them too, which they require to truly be themselves.  Spirits don't need bodies.  Angels don't even have brains.  They don't need to be wired to molecules which they are daily in the business of shedding, and seeking to acquire more of (e.g. food). People need brains to make their bodies work, and to take in and process sensory data.
   In the bible, angels and demons can't, but people can, die.  This means their body stops working, and stops being associated with their spirit, making their soul have nothing to do, and no way to connect to anyone or anything either.  So there's a resurrection mentioned in the bible. You can't be tortured nor feast and celebrate, can't drink a the wine of celebration in a new way in Heavenly mansions with the resurrected, fully embodied and therefore human Jesus, if you don't have a body.  Humans deal in molecules. Spirits are among the molecules without associating for any length of time with any, in any particular place.
   But in the Hollywood stories, angels can be killed, and so can devils.  Angels have bodies and so do demons.  And so you can kill the bodies (for example, with a magic word, or holy water, or a magic blade), killing them permanently.  In some stories, if you cut off an angel's wings, it becomes a human being.
  In the bible, no angel ever cut off its wings and became human.  In fact, no angel ever became human, not even the ones who impregnated human women because they were hot.  (oh yeah.  In movies like Dogma, angels amusingly have no nads when co-opting some molecules (rather more suddenly than we acquire our own molecules) and manifesting as an embodied creature.  In the bible, they sometimes enjoy seducing human women and making them pregnant.)  God Himself needed to be able to die though, so an aspect of Him became human in the usual way:  In blood and pain; gasping for breath, at risk of immediate death.  Via a vagina. 

There Are No Feelings In Heaven
I am watching episodes of Supernatural to while away the time, and that's what reminded me that, just like back when I listened to Meat Loaf's first two Bat Out of Hell albums, one could make a chart.  Hell/Bad stuff goes on one side with all the fun, and Heaven/Good/Safe stuff goes on the other.  With all the nothing.
   I actually drew up that chart back in the day.  In red pen, at a job when I was supposed to be working.  The only thing Heaven had going for it, in that typical theology, is that it is safe.  The only possible thing Hell had against it at all was that there was an eventual price to pay for fun.  "Good girls go to Heaven, but the bad girls go everywhere."  You could enjoy the fun, but one day, you'd be punished for it.  By demons.  Who must surely hate fun.  Working for that fun-hating God, no doubt, whose employees they must be, staffing Hell, which was designed primarily as a place warm enough for demons to feel at home, and to work 9-5 punishing humans who had dared enjoy themselves in ways demons don't approve of. 
   I blame Dante and Milton for this nonsense.  None of the character motivations make sense.  God makes fun, and creates Hell and staffs it with demons to punish human beings for enjoying any.  And Heaven, blank white sheet of paper that it is, is a nothing place where you can go, if you erase from yourself any passion or pursuit of much of anything, if you say no to fun, if you don't live a life.
   And in stories Satan has an original thought one time, or refused to bow down to a human (what?) or had a question, which God hates and didn't create a capacity for, so God casts Satan down to Hell, to rule down there, which seems suspiciously well laid out to be used in precisely that way.   For Satan to run the whole facility.  To supervise the acquisition of souls to punish, all for heinous crimes like being a hugely influential blues guitarist.
   In the bible, the one description of  an arrogant "Lucifer" having a falling out with God is certainly speaking of a historical king, and may or may not have anything whatsoever to do with the biblical devil character.  The term "morning star" applies not only to this historical king, but Jesus as well.
   Apart from that perhaps possibly Satan-related backstory, he's just around.  Talking to people, having a chat with Jesus, betting God about Job.  All that.  After God made him. He's not cast down to Hell, or even to earth, it doesn't seem.  If so, he can go into the heavenlies and chat, so it's not really clear what's going on, in typical biblical fashion.  The bible tells readers stuff on a "need to know" and "only if you'd understand anyway" basis.
   In season 4 of Supernatural, the intrepid Dean Winchester gets to ask a woman who used to be an angel but is now human (see above), why she prefers living a human life to being an angel.  The conversation goes like this  (look for things that are supposedly not part of Heaven):

That's another question. Why would you fall? Why would you want to be one of us?
You don't mean that.
I don't? A bunch of -- of miserable bastards... Eating, crapping, confused, afraid.
I don't know. There's loyalty... forgiveness... love.

Chocolate cake.

Yeah, you got me there.
I mean it. Every emotion, Dean, even the bad ones... It's why I fell. It's why... why I'd give anything not to have to go back. Anything.
Feelings are overrated, if you ask me.
Beats being an angel.

Amazing.  To forgive is human, to hold endless, emotionless grudges, divine.  And there's apparently no loyalty in Heaven.  God isn't love and  Satan is sex.  Makes sense?
   It's not just in supernatural stories.  In stories in general, I have seen something very consistent.  It really took off from the 90s forward, building on the excesses of Milton in Paradise Lost, which most people got infected with through the very best of the Star Trek stuff.  I speak of nothing less than the continual robbing story-God (and goodness itself) of all His/its virtues, and the reassigning them to human or demonic forces.  Which makes them more interesting and appealing.  Eloquent demons.  Funny devils.  Creative imps.
   Vampire/human hybrids (or vampires with a soul, or Slayers born into every generation, created by prehistoric occult rituals) are now what's required to fight vampires, where once an old man of faith, with some courage and knowledge and connection to God, could prevail over the undead, if he kept his wits about him.  Now angel/demon hybrids kill the manifestly unfair, cowardly selfish God/save the day, or both.  What's the last movie or TV show which depicted a priest hero, who could actually do anything worthwhile?  Or allowed the hero to believe in much of anything?
   The lesson of Babylon 5 as I saw it was that the angelic race of aliens (Vorlons) were forces, more of order and structure than life, and the demonic beings (Shadows) were forces of competition, wheeling and dealing (that's making covenants, for observant bible readers, something only God does) and that humans needed a middle ground, and needed to be left alone, having outgrown the "angel" aliens who'd interfered in their lives long enough.  "Get the hell out of our galaxy!" are the words spoken to the "angel" aliens and "demon" one alike, at the climax of that show.  It was pretty cool.  Great story work.  In the Babylon 5 universe, humans aren't the most powerful beings, but they are moderate and flexible compared to the two extremes, and they are boundlessly alive, full of creativity, vim and vigour, and need to be left alone.  You can't deal with the "angel" aliens.  Not really.  They can't bend.  And the "demon" aliens can't be trusted either.  They're very tempting, though.  Dealing with the Shadows will make you strong, rather than just making you a Vorlon's pawn or servant.
   I think J.R.R. Tolkien is one of the few writers who depicted good/order angel creatures (wizards and elves) interacting with flawed, virtuous, honest folk (humans, dwarves and hobbits) in such a nuanced, ambiguous and interesting way. Wizards, elves, humans and all the rest are all people, and not just extreme order/chaos archetypes.  All are tempted, and each can do good. Even Gollum.  Not that I don't love Babylon 5.
   In the bible, God is the one who strikes deals.  And honours them.  Even with the Satan, who He appears to be playing like a Hammond Organ, Him being God and all.  In the bible,  God doesn't simply judge humans for not being divine, but shows up (via vagina), limits Himself in every single way we are limited, and does "being human" up right.  He never does a single thing, the point of which is "only I can do this, because I am the Son of God."  He's always saying "You're human.  Any human who knows God ought to be able to do all of this and more. Now try, people!"  Then He puts Himself in our place when it's about judgment, and says we and He are one.  And we can live under His full approval, as being part of Him. And have our lacks and flaws not matter.  Maybe even grow out of them, or have our incomplete attempts to do things completed.
   In the bible, dealing with God makes you more Him, which in turn makes you more you.  Upgrades.  New apps.  In the bible, God deals willingly with sinners, mistakes, immaturity and stupidity.  Rather than with pious religious people, who get not a moment of His time, apart from a bit of name-calling.  The only thing He does not lightly forgive is cheating on Him.  Betraying Him.  Shutting Him out of your life.  Refusing to acknowledge or work with Him.  Feeling you're alright and don't need Him.
   A bit of adultery or murder?  Read the bible.  He will actually continue to work with and through those people, so long as they are willing to continue to work with Him.  It's when they run off or hide that He can't do much for them.

   In the bible, you don't have a soul to sell. You are a soul. Created in God's image, with a God who insists upon, not perfection, but maturation.  And how does God bring good into the world?  Not through a pristine, magic shaft of white light, or a choir of angels, quietly cooing like harmonious pigeons.  It's louder, sweatier, crazier and more messy.  If you want to be reminded of how God brings good into the world, have a look at sex.  Better yet, have a look at childbirth.  That's how life and growth work when God's working. There is pain and blood and fear.  There is even the risk of death.  But life happens.  Sometimes it even lasts for a while.
   In stories, you reach out and enjoy fun and hedonism on earth, and you pay for it later by suffering pain in Hell. In the bible, if you flee and numb yourself from the work, fear, suffering and temptation to despair that presage growth and maturation, you don't grow.  That's your punishment.  You stunt yourself.  You are less.  You become nothing much. Ever.
  Cliff Claven perpetually spouting off inaccurately in a bar, with no one's respect.  Dying of cirrhosis of the liver.
   Bible stories are bad fiction.  They are too complicated, with too much left out besides.  And they don't really end. Not properly.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Church Crashing Adventures: Free Methodist

It was that time of the month again, and Kennett and I dropped into a small Free Methodist church.  I was struck by how exactly like all the other churches in the community this one was.  Carpet, soft chairs, dried flowers and generally an "old lady's apartment" sensibility to the decor.  Small, slightly elevated stage at the front with a modest assortment of music stuff (no drums at this one), about three times as many seats as people to fill them, and about four kids, not a single teenager or twenty-something, and pretty much all senior citizens.  A great deal of undeniable lower middle-class obesity and failing health.  Like before, resplendent in dress shoes and an untucked wine-coloured dress shirt with faded black jeans, I felt a bit overdressed.
   I arrived at ten, because although the church's website is down (URL for sale), other church listings said Sunday morning services started at ten there.  It took until a bit past fifteen minutes after ten before things really got underway at all. 
   A ridiculously good-looking (about thirty years old) husband and wife team took the stage, and people sat down.  PowerPoint was fired up, wallpaper backdrop graphics all winter scenes to match what was raging outside the windows, with the watermarks left on each slide.  He played guitar and sang with a fairly solid Disney voice, and she played electric bass very quietly and perhaps was singing (she had a microphone) but I couldn't pick her voice out from the elderly female voices singing in the room.  A couple of ladies raised hands in the air like they just didn't care.  
    After the first song, everyone was sent to shake hands with everyone.  I'm sure they didn't mean a thing by it, but several of what old men were there seemed downright suspicious, one asking, all bristling eyebrows, quite abruptly in lieu of a greeting "Who are you guys?"  and several saying "I've never seen you here before..."
   I was checking to see, in my critical way, and I noted that really none of the songs were to God so much as maybe about Him, but mostly about us.  Pretty much every one was really mainly the whole "us deigning to sing a song about liking singing songs about liking singing songs" thing.  But it sounded cheerful and warm and understated.  We were asked to sit down, praised on our singing, and the entire first chapter of the book of Job was read to us in the NIV from a PowerPoint slide.  (I really liked that an entire chapter was read) and then we stood up again and sang more.  This part took about half an hour.  In the middle, we sat down while the ushers collected money, "our way of blessing God back" the man said.  We bless God with money?  Then more singing.
   I was amused at fairly creative choice of song.  It was written from the point of view of our fears and guilt singing to us (in the verses) and us singing back to them, claiming to be children of God, and therefore immune to fear and guilt.  The reason I was amused is because the slide-maker had capitalized the "y's" in "You" and "Your" as if singing to God.  But the "You" in question was in fact the singer singing to himself, with the fears and guilt addressing us.  With the capitals, as God is addressed.  I smirked inside.  I am such a knob.
   Then there was a coffee break.  The people who were ushering everyone into the next room from whence the stench of coffee emanated like sulphur from the very gates of Hell took special pride in pointing out "We have coffee now.  Before the sermon.  Not too many places do that."  We were obviously dealing with badasses, there. It was pretty intense.
   Because of my new-found focus on making connections (I'm trying out the notion that making connections is the first step toward unity, trust, sharing, caring and all that other Christian stuff, and that without it, you can't do any of the rest) so I resolved to try to make a connection instead of being essentially airlifted in, and then fleeing at the end without really connecting.  That went pretty well, actually.
   People claim to want to know what your name is, but what they really want to know is if you're a Christian and what church you go to.  So I went with what they wanted, more than what they asked.  Kennett isn't terribly into identifying himself as Mennonite (people think it's pretty novel, even though he's not even old order Mennonite or anything) but each person who seemed remotely curious-looking got told "He was raised Mennonite.  I was raised Brethren."  I also said "We're just going around seeing all the different churches in town."
   This broke the ice and opened doors. Now they felt they knew what we were all about.  The last part did strike many as particularly adventurous, eccentric behaviour, it seemed.  I'm not shopping for a new church so much as touring them.
   I spoke to Luke, the singing/guitar guy, him sucking on a Tootsie Pop handed out during the part where they address the kids and then send them out ("your heart is nice and squishy and soft like a Tootsie roll, but sometimes we sin, and that puts a hard shell around it.  And then we try to cover that up with a wrapper.  Only Jesus can unwrap our hearts." Presumably Jesus can lick away the candy that cakes our squishy hearts.)  We quickly found that we knew a whole lot of the same exBrethren people from Ottawa.  He identified the Brethren as being both the source of most of his Christian friends, and us as being "people who really know what the bible says."  Thought we were terribly well read.  Because many of us have read the bible.
   I explained how, every time someone tells me he or she is in bible college or the ministry, I always ask if he or she has read the bible,. I told him how I've yet to once get an answer in the affirmative, though several atheists I know have read the whole thing.  (It's not that hard.  You just have to care, and hold tight to your Christianity, because nothing challenges it like knowing what's in the whole bible.)  I gave him a copy of my book.  I said he didn't have to read it, of course, and he said he might anyway, but that he's terrible about reading, but that his wife is a librarian and reads everything.
   The Sunday pamphlet was interesting.  It informed us, among other things, that:

-the church is "missional" and  is currently "uncompromising" the word of God.
-Pastor Doug will not, as previously announced, require a colonoscopy next Friday after all (the whole time he paced up and down, portly, baldly be-ringed and elderly, fixing each of us with his steely gaze, I couldn't stop picturing a colonoscope dangling out the back of him)
-Bonnie and Barb were the ushers and tellers this week (it's a weekly rotating schedule of two people each week.  The schedule's in the pamphlet.   As usual, there were more things being done than people to do them.)
- Gloria had five teeth removed recently
-Barb is getting both a skin melanoma removed and her knee replaced next month
-Jane and Paul are in Florida and may be able to preach to friends there, possibly
-Lisa's having her first baby at 44
-Jo-Ann is recovering from bladder surgery
- .80% of Christians are spiritually bound.  There's a seminar to fix that on the first Saturday in March. (I believe the "decimal' was a period left over from the previous sentence, which was missing one.)
-a discussion of Heaven will be held on Monday.  Bring a bag lunch.  The discussion will be "non-threatening" so you can safely bring interested friends to it.  (one assumes this means that Hell won't be mentioned.)

After this, the sermon happened.  Pastor Doug did it.  Guitar-playing Luke had already read the whole first chapter of Job, so Pastor Doug dramatized the whole story, after reading part of John 17 without comment.  He skipped Elihu and God talking to Job, as well as Job's response, pretty much entirely. He did not miss out on saying that Job lived happily ever after and had three daughters who were the most beautiful girls in all the land.
   First, though, he told the story of a princess who got a nose job and still thought she was ugly, and likened this unto us getting our Christian nose jobs in terms of being Christians now, with new,  perfect selves, but still feeling sinful/ugly and needing to learn about how perfect we look to God now.
   He also explained how that, if you get cancer, or lose a child or your job or something, the Enemy can use this as an opening and can take away your joy, which you need to please God.  Your joy being gone can make you vulnerable to the Enemy, who will use it as a door into you.  He can even, sometimes, make you be very, very tempted to not go to church.
   When people speak on Job, they always do this specific thing.  Pastor Doug did it too: they tell how amazing Job was.  How much he suffered, and heroically didn't curse God, despite the advice of his stupid wife.  But then somehow also, without really integrating the two views of Job, they can't help but also diss him for having what Pastor Doug called "a pity party" and feeling sorry for himself.  Oddly, God doesn't seem to have judged Job for that, as far as I can remember.  But I have yet to hear someone speak on Job, or Peter, or David, or Elijah, or Moses, without taking shots at them.  They don't just mention the weak spots or failings.  They present the person as far better than us, far closer to God, and then suddenly sound like they're saying something wholly contradictory in the middle about them being stupid and doing dumb stuff, and then they're right back to praising them to the sky like they didn't even do the dissing right before that, in the middle of the talk.
   Reading all the angry God prophecy that I've been reading lately, I have come to realize that when calamity falls, this idea of (let's say someone has cancer) saying to the victim of it "You're a Christian, man!  Smile!  Sing!  Bless God!" or (let's say someone's child died) saying "You're a Christian, lady!  Smile!  Laugh!  Praise and thank God!" seems fairly inhuman and also against scripture.  I think we're supposed to weep with them that weep, and not, like Job's idiot friends, lecture the person on having a bad attitude.  The prophets don't advise Israel to smile and thank God when God rains judgment down on them. They advise them to weep.  Because it's the appropriate, sane response.  And they point forward to a time when God will be done doing all that, and will have something new coming, that will happen next.
   Anyway, I liked what Doug said about "When bad stuff happens, God's planning stuff next" and so on.  I mean, I'm pretty dogged in my belief that, as when Doug asked the question "Why does God allow bad things to happen to people who've not done anything?" that the most scriptural answer is "to glorify/make Himself look good."
   What I added to that attitude today was that God often makes Himself look good by making us look good.  Usually by tossing us stuff that is clearly more than we can handle, and helping us grow to eventually be able to (kind of) handle it.
   I liked when Doug said that we are not blessed based on being good people, but then he kind of said we get blessed based on having good attitudes about our dependence on God. Oh, well...
   I liked the service more than any of the others, though the music at the Pentecostal church was very good.  I see why the Free Methodist church is such a comfortable move from Brethren for so many Brethren people.  Quibbles:

-The pastor was a bit professorial and lecturey.  Paced up and down the aisle giving steely eye contact to person after person, demanding full attention, while telling whimsical tales he clearly thought were well-told and hilarious.  Some of the congregants were obvious apple-polishers, cultivating, into their autumn years, attention got by rueful, toe scuffing, raised hand comments like "Pastor Doug!  I do that!" or "Pastor Doug!  My dog does that!"
-Jesus wasn't really mentioned, again.  Certainly not that he died or anything like that.  I'm starting to suspect they "save" that for Easter?  Church seems to be "God is awesome!  (Don't sin 'cause He'll know)"

But I liked them and I liked it.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Being a Mentor

Growing up, I saw all the prototypical mentors in the stories I read: there was Merlin, who was mysterious and grouchy, and who Arthur didn't always trust, or listen to.  There were hundreds of ones just like Uncle Jesse from The Dukes of Hazzard, Hannibal from The A-Team and Devon from Knight Rider, all being less impulsive, more experienced and more insightful than the heroes.  There was Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid, who was grouchy and mysterious and made Daniel LaRusso do all kinds of work, apparently for no reason, but was really training him to be amazing at karate.  There was Ben "Obiwan" Kenobi, who manipulated and drew Luke Skywalker into a conflict with the Empire, in an attempt to help undo the mess Kenobi had himself helped make, yet not being honest with Luke about it.  There were Splinter and Yoda, (and Chiun from Remo Williams: The Destroyer) who were similar to Mr. Miyagi again.  The X-Men had Professor Charles Xavier, who was the voice of reason and wisdom.  On the live action TV show Shazam!, Billy Batson had a mentor named Mentor to mentor him, and also got weekly cryptic advice from Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Apollo and Mercury.  In Lord of the Rings there was Gandalf, who was also a bit manipulative, failed to tell everything he knew, and had that habit of taking off when he might be most needed.  After I grew up there was Dumbledore in Harry Potter and even Haymitch in The Hunger Games.  Flawed mentors, for flawed heroes who needed someone.  Most of them had beards.
   So I wanted a mentor.  I wanted someone with secret knowledge.  Someone who'd be able to live my life much better than I, for whom my struggles wouldn't be so impossible to deal with.  I wanted someone who, instead of fleeing from my questions, gave me not only answers, but better questions.  I went and tried asking questions from the old guys at bible conferences, and to a man, they never gave me anything that made me think.  They either repeated stuff I'd heard a thousand times, but which didn't seem quite on topic, or they said something pretty obscure and random, which also didn't seem on topic.  None of them seemed to have really lived.  Not enough to be able to give me much of anything, in terms of what problems I had.  They'd all "stuck with the Meeting" culture, and it had given them wives, "Christian" jobs, weekly schedules, national Brethren recognition and so on.  That just wasn't working for me, though.   All they seemed able to do was tell me not to doing anything differently than they had.  Not a single thing even a tiny bit different.  They seemed to actually believe that their attitudes and methods were going to work out well in the 80s and 90s.  I tried them. They didn't. I really wanted a mentor even more, though.
   Of course there was Luke.  But he mostly was just undoing Plymouth Brethren assumptions.  Trying anything else.  Devil's Advocate-ing.  It wasn't that he knew how I should be me.  It was that he knew how to be not-what-we-were-expected-to-be.  And that was terribly useful to me.  Helped unhitch me from that wagon.  But what about something else?  Dare I say something "positive"? What about making a life that worked for me, straight paths for my feet, following Jesus rather than my church?  Luke also developed a rather unfortunate hobby of collecting empty bottles.  And ultimately he didn't have a clue about how I should best be me, of course.  No one did.  They just told me not to do anything different from how they'd do it.  That's how life is. And if you look very closely at all, you pretty much always find that people's advice simply boils down to "do what I did/don't do stuff I wouldn't do."  The whole "If I were you..." part is where it falls down.  Because that's too much of a leap. What would it be like for them to be me?  For one thing, they'd want what I wanted and have no better clue than I did about making it work out.
   And the thing is, mentors are for the very young.  For people just starting out in the world.  People who find life isn't exactly what they'd been told to expect. People whose first attempts don't work out well.  Once you start to really live an adult life, though, to a large degree you  really just have to do it yourself.  Unless you've made a major trainwreck of things and seem unlikely to be able to pick yourself up and carry on, you should probably just get through it and not let anyone else "drive."  You have to hope you've been given some kind of solid foundation from which to spring off, or that you've learned exactly what stuff you don't want to do anymore.  You know, given where it all got (or didn't get) your parents and friends, your past self and so on. 
  To make stories work, normally fictional mentors die at the most dramatic and convenient moment.  Because you don't want them around when it's time for someone to be a hero.  Can't be a hero while clinging to one's mentor.
   Years ago, I took kung fu.  The head of the school would come in, and there'd almost be a sharp intake of breath.  All the silly teenage guys who'd been joking around about girls and drinking and so on, immediately got quieter and a little more serious, and were respectful and tried to not do anything he'd not like.  One time we went to his house.  In his own house, he was just a doting middle-aged father of an infant daughter, with a young wife who wanted him to carry heavy things around for her, and who didn't have all that much money.  Just a quiet, painfully shy, rather bumbling, slow thinking, tall, stooped, grey-haired Italian guy.  At the kung fu school, though, he was the best at everything.  No one was as good.  He could block or divert anything.  Without you really seeing him move a muscle or tense up at all or anything.  Casual fluidity.  Didn't need speed, even.  It was all so easy for him.  Everyone deferred to him.  No one would have let him carry anything himself.  No one went through a door in front of him.  They waited for him to speak before speaking.  His awkward, quiet shyness came across as mysterious wisdom and a hesitance to speak rashly.  It was incredible.
  I've been a teacher for some time now.  In my classroom, I am in my own tiny place of power.  What happens in my classroom revolves around words and stories, ideologies and writing and things like that.  Stuff I know about.  I make sure of it.  And it's not hard for me to seem mentor-like in there.   They don't call me "sifu" or "sensei" or "master" or even "sir" (well, except this one girl who probably calls her dad "sir") but I am good at almost anything that might happen in there.  And it's all easy for me, that stuff in my room.  Outside of there, I'm just me, of course.  But in there...
   And there's distance.  That's important.  If some kid wants to be my friend, add me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, jam with me on music, hang out, go out for coffee, I keep a boundary up and I don't do any of that at all.  Not while they're in high school.  And when a student flirts, that boundary is definitely going to be up again.  I do not flirt back or even really acknowledge what she's (or occasionally, he's) doing.  That would be ridiculous.  I am "other."  Mentors are asexual.  That's very important.  And mystique and distance are good.  When kids see us teachers at Macdonald's or Wal-Mart, they feel confused or gleeful, and report it to everyone like they saw Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster there, like they saw us and we were just usual.  How odd for them, that must have been.
   As a teacher, I can know things and guide and dictate, and give instructions and so on.  I have the control, for that hour, in that room.  I decide what I think other people should do.  I decide what would be best for them, what would help them learn.  Because that's all I'm doing in there.  Not a single other thing. Their interaction with me is wholly and only about them learning stuff.  Growing in their skills.  Maturing.  In a very real way, it's not about me at all.
   And sometimes, outside of my job as a high school teacher, younger people confide in me, and want advice and so on.  This world is full of people with really dark stuff that's happened, or is happening still, and who find churches, Guidance departments and such places aren't chock full of people who can genuinely handle dark stuff.  I can handle dark stuff.  More than most people.  More than most pastors and guidance counsellors, certainly.
   But you can't be a friend and a mentor.  Not really.  Being a friend is equal, and personal and close.  Being a mentor is the opposite.  Being a mentor allows for control.  It's you helping them.  It doesn't really go both ways.  You keep much of yourself in reserve.  You control what flows out, and it flows out because you think it will help make points, not just to answer their idle curiosity.   And your interaction is about them getting stronger, getting their lives in order, moving on from past crap, freeing themselves from some tangle-y things and starting out on various new ventures.
   But when that last, good stuff starts to really happen, a change happens: they move on.  In school, kids graduate.  That's good.  That's the point.  They move on from the school and your class, and whatever good you might have been helping bring about, is done now.  It's memories.  You don't get to help more.  You're no longer what you were to them.  You receded into their past and become a memory.
    And then some of them have been out of school, you find, for years.  Some of them you meet later.  And it's probably time for people in their 20s to stop calling you "Mr." even if that's weird for them at first.  Suddenly the guy who had to hand things in when you said, or format papers like you'd asked, has been studying psychology for two years and needs to correct something you just said, or put a more informed spin on something you tend to say in the classroom.  Or the girl you gave a lecture to about her writing is telling you something about essays at university that you don't know about and you have to listen and thank her.  It's pretty cool, actually.  Humbling, of course, but always cool.
   Of course there's also the end of things where, they graduate, they send you a Facebook friend request, the acceptance of which shows you daily in your newsfeed that they seem to be drunk and partially clothed all the time at school, and (worse yet) using the most appalling grammar, spelling and punctuation.  And you shouldn't say a thing about any of that. It's not your place anymore.
   And in terms of Christian stuff, when you are talking to a teenager or young adult who's "troubled," there should also be a boundary there, too.  If you're going to be some kind of mentor, anyway.  Sometimes ex-students need some advice.  And church people.  (I'm not terribly impressed by churches' handling this kind of thing.  I tend to 'catch their missed balls' far too often to be terribly impressed.  And I think what I consider "dark" and what chirpy church folk consider dark just might be two very different things.) 
   As a mentor figure, you can decide pretty quickly that maybe you really do know better about something a troubled person is quite conflicted about than they do, and you may decide you can advise troubled people what to do, tell them that you don't think what they're doing will work, and all of that.  You can be pretty opinionated.  Pretty Dr. Phil.  "And how's that workin' out for ya?"  You can refuse to answer questions.  You can reserve judgment. You can give what you feel are better questions.  You can be as reticent, grouchy and enigmatic as Yoda, without really meaning to.  You don't need to explain yourself very often, either.
   You can be watching troubled people's actual repeated, patterned actions, and reading into them far more than their words and intentions.  You can easily have more years of experience and far more objectivity and outside perspective on what is clearly a pretty confusingly claustrophobic thing for that person.  And you can get pretty protective and fond.  And quite proud.  You can really cheer for people like that.  Those paternal instincts are pretty deep.
   But there is a time when that person doesn't need a mentor any more.  The better job you do, the sooner you may be able to make this time arrive.  He or she doesn't need a mentor any more. He or she doesn't need you, in fact.  And you feel that.  In fact, he or she absolutely needs to stop needing someone in precisely the way they may have needed you for a time.  
   Then it's time to let people like this go, in terms of asking too much about the specifics of how they are living, throwing in your own two cents, and asking if they're fixing stuff that they'd screwed up and were once confiding in you about, and things like that.  Now you have no place prying.  You have no soap box to pontificate from.  You're done.  No more second-guessing their intents and insights and plans.  No more "giving them something to think about."  No more Yoda.  No more Gandalf or Mr. Miyagi.  No more Devil's Advocate.  No more.  You are a memory.  You need to become past tense.
   Sometimes, you may later end up friends.  And that's pretty cool.  But most often, they get their life problems sorted out and you're quite simply part of the past.  You don't get to come along on the next leg of the journey any more than you get to go to college with the graduating kids.
   I have often been very insulted and hurt when I felt I had, for a couple of years, poured heart and soul into someone who was having a hard time in his or her life, doing long phone calls and email stuff, wracking my brain over the pickles he or she frequently found him or herself in; agonizing over every defeat and setback, and rejoicing when I saw growth I could finally accept as the Real Deal, and maybe even a Game Changer.  Sometimes I've been completely shattered when that person and I had a falling out, or they simply moved on to a new phase of life, and kind of awkwardly broke off what had been a very close, regular interaction, to go live that.  Treated me like an embarrassing thing from a past bad time.  Not inviting me to things one might have expected to be invited to.  Like weddings. 
   I have been a bad mentor and have not known how to handle all that.  Not wanted to stop mattering.  Not wanted to become obsolete.  Not wanted to be left standing there alone.  But that stuff happens anyway.  And it's good.  Except for the being left standing there alone, all the time.
   Chicks grow up to fly the nest.  That's what they're supposed to do.  If you've splinted broken wings or fed them with an eyedropper, and some have died anyway and others have flown away and you have never see them again, you need to be wise enough to not be shattered by this.
   May I learn to deal with that.  To be wise about being, perhaps, a temporary source of temporary wisdom.  A trellis for ivy to creep up.  Training wheels on a bike.  Wax on, wax off.  Trust your feelings.  I sense much fear in you.  Many that live deserve death and some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? All that.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

The Hole

I have been doing this thing where each Sunday I try reading an entire book of the bible, depending on its size.  Started in Genesis.  Did fairly well until I got to Jeremiah.  It's very long, and it's very, very me.  Unlikely, I thought, to change my heart much.  Giving me way more of what already causes me grief with other Christians.
   I decided: You know what?  I already think far, far too much along the lines of the prophets in the Old Testament: God is furious.  Everything we're doing is a bunch of idolatrous, self-serving, fake crap that stinks in His nostrils.  You need to shape up or He'll smite you even more. He will smite and smite and smite.  God SMASH puny sinners!
    I felt like I needed something different.  Not Jeremiah.  Jeremiah is particularly hardcore, because it's a prophecy for a people for whom repentance isn't an option.  Because it's too late.  It's not like with Nineveh or one of the others.  It's like Sodom and Gomorrah.  Too late.  The prophecy is simply that it's definitely going to happen, why it's going to happen, and how bad it's going to be.  There's nothing anyone can do.  The pain is in the mail.  Dead wives and children.  Castrated sons and prostituted daughters.  Streets empty but for scavenging dogs.
   So today I wasn't at all looking forward to starting where I'd left off in Jeremiah 30, and enjoying more God temper tantrums, and having to fight off feeling like Moses, tempted to smite the rock when talking to Christians.  But once I start things, I hate giving up on them, so I started in reading Jeremiah 30 anyway.  And something very odd happened.

It Happened In Jeremiah 30
Right in chapter 30, and also in 31, it was time for Jeremiah to tell Israel what God planned next.  After all the smiting He had been doing and was going to keep doing until He felt He was done.  Yes, He'd been betrayed and cheated on by his people Israel, with enough anguished, outraged bride and father imagery to make Christians question their exclusive claims to that kind of symbology.  But now it was time for Israel to hear, once God had really and truly vented his wrath, what came next.
   I read.  And I realized it was breaking my heart.  In a different way than I expected.  I wouldn't have been too into more smiting.  But I can't handle that kind of hope, either. That there's something next.  Something well-intentioned.  Something "for your own good" that might feel good, instead of "for your own good" like my Dad spanking me when I was a kid, with a wooden paddle with bible verses written on it in black magic marker.
   You see, as you probably know, I was raised that the World would persecute me and cast me out and that I would never fit in, not if I talked about Jesus.  Well, as it turned out, the World, whether it was kids at school, people at work, or people in bars and at parties, never really persecuted or cast me out at all, even if I did frequently talk about Jesus and God stuff.  That just never happened to any significant degree. I waited.  It didn't happen. Was I even doing Christianity right if people didn't hate me?
  Yet the church that taught me all that to begin with, well it sure did persecute and cast me out.  Targeted me. Ostracized me.  Repeatedly. Coldly and vindictively.  And they did the same thing to my friends and family.  Almost everyone I knew. We could never fit in. Not if we talked about actual Jesus. Not if we talked about what was actually in the actual World.
   My church had taught me the World was dangerous, but that there was something truly special for a Christian to enjoy, in the meantime.  Something else.  Something far better.  Yup, Star Wars and Spider-man and Iron Maiden were all dangerous, dark, deep, evil and wholly of the World.  Satan's claws were in them, ready to hook a young person's heart.  I had to give them all up to save my life from depravity, and there would be something else for me. Something worth enjoying instead.  Something Christian.

Something More Than Gold/Football
This reminds me of a little Sunday School charity kid telling Mr. Jones, a leading Sunday School (SS) guy that he'd be missing Sunday School next week.  You see, he was terribly excited to tell everyone, his absentee Dad was taking him to a CFL (Canadian football) game next Sunday afternoon.  I was standing there, too.
   In typical fashion, Mr. Jones was unable to "rejoice with them that rejoice," to see and enjoy the delight in the kid at getting to spend time with his father for once.  No, Mr. Jones characteristically fake-wept at them that rejoice, and contrasted how much better our Heavenly Father was than any earthly father (though we may, of course, love him very much) and how much better Sunday School was than (pah!) football.  He explained in detail how the kid was giving up the chance to hear about God's Things, Things That Last, for One Fleeting Afternoon of enjoying The Things of This Present Evil World.  (The kid still went with his dad the following week, despite all of that, oddly.)
   I was made similar promises as to the superior worth of going to Sunday School and church to pretty much anything else in the entire World.  Of course I never got to go to sports games on a professional, ticket-buying level any day of the week.  Movies either.  We could not be seen to entertain ourselves in any way that wasn't Christian-only.  I needed glasses and wouldn't have been able to see anything anyway.
   I was shut out of everything that might have made childhood more bearable, with this idea that I was getting/could get, Something Better.  Something Perfect and Divine, from God. Like Sunday School, with old Mr. Plank pinching our little knees if we zoned out for a minute. Like Reading Meeting, with old Mr. White doing ten minutes on how when we see the little word "but" in scripture, we always know that something's coming next.
   And that didn't end up working out.  At all.  They gave me church stuff and called it The Things Of The Lord, and I tried it. It was like tofurkey, or facon.  Veggie burgers.  Sawdust ketchupped and shaped to try to counterfeit Grade A Canadian beef.  It was like saltless pretzels, and sugarless, gluten-free, lactose-free Gummi Bears.  It was plastic, empty failed attempts to imitate the Real Stuff.
   Twila Paris was no Tori Amos.  Petra was no Pink Floyd.  Stryper was no Black Sabbath.  They lacked depth, originality, passion and nuance.  They were absolutely laughable attempts at substitutes.  And the "danger" prophesied for us if we were to ever, ever indulge overmuch in all this entertainment?  To the point of loving it, certainly?  It never really materialized.  Not at all.  Not even a tiny bit.  (Well, it did make church stuff look pointless, passionless and poorly thought out by comparison, so maybe that danger happened after all.  But it wasn't my spiritual health that was threatened by those things.  It wasn't Jesus who was threatened.  It was the church lifestyle.)
   And for their part, once they'd made all the money they could, the vast majority of the "Christian" artists didn't last, and in many cases, had their own sex scandals, money and legal murkiness, and substance abuse problems.  Would be fascinating to see what percentage of 80s and 90s Christian artists who were marketing successes retain a strong faith in Christ today.  And they had scores of kids following them, as safer alternatives to New Kids on the Block.

Does Entertainment Matter?
But that's all just entertainment.  Did it matter?
   That stuff mattered to me, because silly stuff like that is what really gets you through adolescence, in precisely the same way a colouring book and some crayons get you through a long road trip when you're a toddler.  And the message given us toddlers in place of all that, to explain why we couldn't have any of it, was nothing less than fear itself.   And shame.  We were forced to sacrifice joy in exchange for fear, shame and piety.  In Pink Floyd's obscure album The Final Cut, Roger Waters writes:

"By the cold and religious we were taken in hand.  Taught how to feel good and told to feel bad." 

   That was our experience.  Being taught that the World was bad.  Shame and fear, at best staved off with arrogant piety. Fear.  Of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  The World.
   I liked its stuff, though.  Thought maybe some of it was quite good.  It wasn't like puritanism was a NEW trick of Satan's, either, was it?  Yet we seemed ignorant of his designs, in using it on us.  We wanted so badly to be hardcore.
    Another part of the message was that Christians were God's people and to befriend them instead of worldly people.  That did not work out either.  It's what I did, of course.  Didn't want to be disapproved of.
   I have never been backstabbed and character assassinated in "worldly" circles as I have repeatedly been among Christians.  I have spent my life trying to meet Christians who can keep up with my agnostic friends in terms of generosity, courage, honour, charitableness, honesty, integrity and above all things, candour.  Mostly in vain.  They're (we're) up to something mysterious.  "Looking Christian."  "Living a Christian Lifestyle."  "Trying not to get any World on us."

Back to Jeremiah 30 For An Instant
But my reading of Jeremiah 30 and 31 today, suggested that the God I believe in has plans I absolutely have trouble believing in.  There is a gaping hole in my God concept.  I can believe that our Brethren fathers ate sour grapes of puritanism, and that we, the children's, teeth were set on edge thereby.  We all have that taste in our mouths still. Quite ruins our dining experiences.  
   And I can believe that God is disgusted by how we all do Christianity.  I can see Christ being replaced by "church."  I can see real Christ not being delivered, and weak, watered down, safe, innocuous stuff being peddled to parents, to make a mint, while pretending to be better than what they are failing to imitate.  I can see Christian children growing up to believe that Christ means less.  That Christ means empty, fearful substitutes for more authentic things.
   I can see the World going to Hell in a handbasket. I can see the Church as a whole, gutted, decaying, fallen into the street, but still with posters up brightly advertising its own ability to save people, fix their lives and answer all their questions. I can see it then offering mainly pamphlets, trite slogans, t-shirts and other church stuff instead of treating people the way Christ did. Instead of listening.  Instead of connecting to and understanding them.  
   I was raised to have no faith in the government, or any of the parties or people involved in it.  I was raised not to believe we could save the whales or the planet. I was raised not to believe we will ever get a leash on the depredations of the rich, on people addicted to power, the inhuman corporate behemoths bestriding the planet they're intent upon having their way with.  I was raised not to believe that war will ever be over, even if we want it.  To believe that the better we get at war, the larger numbers of innocent people will die each time we do it.  That with each new war waged, the percentage of noncombatants who die will continue to rise so far above what it was in the First World War that the word "war" will start to be inadequate to describe what our tax money is buying us.
     I am a very true, successful child of that upbringing.  Seeing the World as en evil place with no future, where every hopeful or cheerful word is a trick?  That worked.

What The Hole Is
But even growing up, I knew there was a hole in my spiritual life.  Just as when the Christian substitutes for worldly entertainment failed utterly to satisfy (or even interest) me, when the idea that the ultimate payoff (Heaven) was brought up, I just didn't want to go.  At all.
    Oh, I didn't want to go to Hell of course, but Heaven?  When I was a teenager I would have much preferred there just to be nothingness after death, than to have to go to Heaven.  As it was explained to me anyway, it sounded like one colossal, neverending Plymouth Brethren bible conference.  And when person after person suggested at bible conferences that "it doesn't get any better than this" I thought "I'm out, then."  When they presented the supposed 'mountaintop experience' of these events as a precious precursor to Heaven, I thought "I really, really don't want to go, then."
   But there I was, sacrificing the fun "things of the world" that I wanted more than anything, to save my Brethren reputation, but not really getting anything one could call genuinely positive or worthwhile out of it.
   I didn't actually believe I needed to stay home and not go see Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, or I'd go to Hell. I didn't believe it was helping me get to Heaven to not do that thing I wanted to do more than I may ever want to do anything again.  I even knew that it wouldn't hurt my relationship with God to go see it.  So why was I carefully putting it on the Brethren altar to be incinerated?  To escape the Brethren Hell of disapproval and shame and lost status.  To keep my head above water in that pious shark tank.  To not shame my family.  To not get shunned even more.
   Clearly, like most of my family,  I was missing what most would call a "positive" element.  We weren't like some of the more successful Brethren folk.  None of us had the usual, tired old ambitions to go be a missionary, the Best Thing A Brethren Person Can Do Ever.  We didn't really believe we'd do any good by attempting that.  And really, there was no good we thought God was doing or likely to do in this world.  We were 100% focused merely on the avoidance of much bad.
   So, the World was theoretically bad, but really, we sacrificed joy in it to escape bad that was in our church, from our fellow Christians.  In the World, they let me think what I wanted about Jesus, and at church, they never let me think or feel or be at all.  In the World, they respected me for trying to figure spiritual stuff out.  At church they felt threatened by me not feeling their answers fit all my questions.   In the World, they didn't care who I was or what I wanted to be.  It was ok.  At church (which, we somehow never suspected, was a worldly thing as much as any other worldly thing, and most definitely "in the world") it was not.
   If as Christians we had ambitions to make a lot of money, that was bad.  If we had aspirations to make it in politics, or worse yet, sports or other forms of entertainment, that was really, really bad.  We didn't believe in a God who would support any of that.  If one found one's self a star something-or-other, in the NHL, NBA, or on MTV, or Prime Minister of Canada, clearly one had well and truly screwed up.  It was the devil, and not God, who gave people stuff like that. Success in this World Came At A Price: relationship with God.  So we were to sacrifice anything pleasant, pretty much.
  And for His part, what did God appear to give back, on a weekly basis?  Nothing.  Didn't kill us, maybe.  Boredom.  Abstinence.  Pimples.  Loneliness.  Sacrifice.  And a whole lot of fear and shame.  (of course that was church, and not Him, but it took me some time to even be able to draw that distinction between the two in my head.  Like, at all.)
   Was there a Christian ambition that was okay?  Having a family.  That was the prize, the golden calf, the sacred cow.  Our North American Idol.  The one permitted payoff.
   And even that only kind of came from God, somewhat condescendingly.  I mean, we all knew how much the apostle Paul had dissed marriage and families, and had written that they were nothing but trouble, were not really the point, and were not "convenient" to being a Christian.  Not properly, anyway.
  We knew that the most obedient of servants of the Lord would remain celibate for life, and go around the world giving out gospel literature, being that Baron amongst Brethren, The Missionary.  Like the Jungle Doctor had done for two years of his life.  Because we knew that, if only we listened enough, that's what God wanted every single one of us to do.
   Well, that's all pretty stupid, isn't it?

Life After Life?
One time in the 90s some (clearly clued-out) person actually allowed my friend's very unconventionally Brethren dad to give a talk to the youth group at Montreal conference.  He did something very troubling to everyone: he suggested that this idea that, after death/the Rapture, we go to Heaven and then do nothing forever, isn't what the bible says.  Like, at all.  That there would be a whole lot of other stuff going on after that.  That God had plans.  Was up to stuff.  That the bible didn't present Heaven as The End.  Far from it.
   And we'd all read our bibles.  So we knew he was right.
  But: What?  I am Joe's complete inability to cope with that simple fact.  If it's not a simple "sacrifice pleasure on the Brethren altar to get bitcoins in Heaven/don't be yourself at all and God won't punish you because you weren't you" thing, then what's the point of Christianity/church at all?!
   And many folk like N.T. Wright agree with my friend's dad.  They suggest that the whole black and white mindset, that we sacrifice joy on earth to buy bliss in Heaven, that God has no good plans for anyone right now in life, nor the world itself, is unscriptural nonsense which demonstrates clear psychological problems.  Just like the idea that we should laugh with delight at the idea that the world will soon burn and we can all stand around, holding our bibles and smiling awkwardly at one another in Heaven while the (formerly) cool kids scream in Hell.
   Well, I think something happens after death, alright.  Stuff described only occasionally and rather cryptically, if we're honest, in the Bible.  The Old Testament in particular presents almost nothing about afterlife.  It's complicated.  Like the rapture.  I used to believe very strongly that I knew all about that, but now I am really not terribly sure about it, one way or the other.  Could well be.  I don't know if that's what the bible means.  I don't pretend to know exactly how stuff ends for me, just like I don't pretend to fully understand and be able to picture and stick numbers all over how the Universe began.  But the idea that God might want us to bring good things to people around us in the world, and not just gospel pamphlets?  Crazy.  Seductive.  That we're to live a life, which might involve sacrificing stuff for people, so as to actually help them with stuff they want, rather than sacrificing stuff they don't want, so they can persecute us and we can be all holy and right?  What?!
   The idea that God wants to set things right sometimes, rather than simply trash everything for being imperfect?  Amazing.  The idea that maybe He likes some of the stuff that I like, and in fact, is actually inspiring/fuelling it?  Staggering.

Time To Get Some Life Into My Life
Suddenly if David Gilmour's solo in "Comfortably Numb" literally brings tears to the corners of my eyes, because I've finally put aside the shame and fear at being judged "worldly" for going to see him, and have ventured out and gotten myself into the same room as the man to hear him play, it is just possible for me to believe that God made David Gilmour, his talent, my ears, and also made my newly-freed heart and so many other things necessary for all this to happen.  And maybe God's into it, and in it, and in me.  Maybe it's good.
   Maybe it's good because of Him.  Maybe nothing that's good is good without Him, and maybe when we judge and scoff at things that are good, we scoff at Him. (I will confidently risk doing that in just a moment, at the next heading.)
  The folly of the tired old Puritan "Sacred vs. Secular" line, with church stuff being all holy, and nonchurch stuff being all sensual and sinful, isn't new.  But it's something I've been wrestling with my whole adult life.  (When I was a kid, I didn't wrestle too hard. Too busy making sure I didn't lose any gold stars.  In our church, you didn't so much get a gold star for success, as you were allotted a whole box of gold stars, just for being Brethren.  You didn't get to play with the stars, and if you ever acted unBrethren, you started losing stars from your box.) 
   But I'm scared.  Scared to "allow" God to be in the world.  Maybe doing good.  I'm scared to allow Him to have plans (today) and not just plans (soon) to scorch and melt the whole thing into nothingness, saving His favourites and sticking them in an overlit white waiting room to wait for nothing for all Eternity.
   I mean, I know the bible is full of stuff about God doing things right now, and that no matter how bad things were at any point in it, He was always up to stuff with overcomers, with individuals who wanted to experience Him.  But still.  Hard to be me, and believe this new stuff.
   And I know that the bible even speaks of a future state of the world in which it will all be set right, when Christ will, rather than sacrificing himself and apparently "losing" to evil, vanquish evil in the world, and that it also speaks of a future new earth.  God doing good instead of wrecking everything.  Crazy stuff.
   All that stuff presents a God I don't really know how to believe in properly.  Much easier to believe in a Church Lady God, tut tutting.  A piety God made of purest elitist spite.  Judgment and hate.  Who has no loftier schemes that to stave off gay marriage, Miley Cyrus videos, and sex ed being taught in school until our own kids are safely married to people of the opposite gender, having clearly declared their church allegiance and safely sat on several committees with ever spreading influence/circumference.
   But I think, ultimately, that He will insist upon being Himself to us.  If we want to create an idol, a god puppet (or a God Boogieman) we can try that, but I think, really, He's out doing stuff in the whole world.  He's out there.  Right now.  We'd have to stick our heads pretty far up our steeples to miss it.

Audience Reactions
Yesterday evening I was stealing some blissed out audience reaction shots from a colossal praise and worship festival video I found on YouTube, to misuse for my own nefarious video making purposes (I needed an "audience" in one of my own videos), and while snipping out snippets of audience reaction shots, of course I had to actually listen to it.  I couldn't believe how the Worship Team Captain/Quarterback/Leader spoke to God.  He was all like:

"God, we just pray that You would increase your presence.  Increase it now. Just increase it here, come right into this room with us, right here, right now.  INcrease Your presence, our God! We have decided that You are worthy.  We have decided to just come here because You are worth our time and our seeking.  Some of us have driven from great distances.  We have chosen to be here.  Just come into this room, now, oh Holy Spirit.  Increase Your presence here, where we have come together.  Just increase it, right now!"
(no facial expression.  Hands in air. Very authoritative, edgy-blank tone.)

It went on and on and on.  And I know I'm a dick about these things.  And I know I was raised to despise stuff like this, and despise it I did.  I was tempted to mock it immediately:

"Oh God, just make Your way to the stage at this point in our blessed service, as this is the bridge of the song, after all.  Just take the aisle on the right, oh Holy Spirit, being careful of the power cables running across the floor to power the floodlights we need to look awesome and yet sincere.  God, oh Holy Spirit, just increase Your presence, focus harder, manifest more strongly.  We are starting to see a vague outline of You.  Try harder.  Like Ben Kenobi would, our God.  Please increase Your Jedi-like presence particularly on the left hand side of the stage. (That's Stage Left, oh Holy Spirit)  And just try really hard to make us care about You.  We don't care much, so just reach down into our successful middle-class hearts and excite us and stroke us and just stimulate us for You.  Make us just feel something for You, oh God.  Our hearts are made of plastic.  We are all busy people, with active lives and things to do, and some of us booked time off work, or spent a fair bit on gas to even get here, but we've decided You're worth it, Oh Lord.  You are worth us taking this time out of our full, full lives, to be videoed in HiDef getting totally high on You (DVD and BluRay available online, Credit Cards and PayPal accepted.  Follow us on Twitter, oh Lord.)  Oh Holy Spirit, we are not tripping balls even yet.  We are just so resistant to You.  Just increase our euphoria tenfold until we have forgotten our own phone numbers and can't walk straight. Fill us with Your love, oh God.  Come into us, oh God, and just grab us hard, never let us go; shake us, move us, throw us down, love us and just fill us up with You!"

And mock it like that I did. Instantly. In my head.  And I felt guilty.  Were these guys sincere?  Does "sincerity" excuse everything?  And never mind the huge amount of money involved.  Can I at least see their attitude as oddly narcissistic and God-controlling without just being dumb?  As perhaps immature and self-serving?  It seemed like they were wanting to take a part of themselves more generally catered to by raves and Justin Bieber, and to try to jam God in there, on their terms, without Him getting much say in any of it.  GodJam 2014.  So they could get high.
   Well, I suck.  I don't know what I'm doing spiritually.  And I can bliss out to David Gilmour's guitar playing, and see God is in it the same way that He's in trees, rivers, mountain ranges and the voice of someone who really cares about you.  But  I cannot connect to "inviting God into rooms we've holed up in."  And it looks to me like nothing more than going into an (admittedly extremely expensive, multimedia) church experience, shutting "the World" out and then imitating it as closely as we can.  Unsuccessfully.  Nagging God to deliver in that safe, cotton-balled environment, the stuff He only sometimes gives out in the real world He put us in.  It's not like he's a tame lion.  And even Ben Kenobi wouldn't manifest on command.  Weekly.  On video.

Two Ideas
But I'm reading Jeremiah.  And even when God's furious, He's got plans.  Not just plans about us fantasizing about Him.  Plans to make us strong.  Plans to make us unique.  Plans to set things right. Plans that will work for real people, being their real, rather than their "best" selves, with real problems. For people who can't afford to go to stuff like that worship thingie.  For people too old and too dark to not burst out laughing at even a YouTube video of it.  Plans out in the world.  Plans that pull us out of our comfort zones, out of our homes and churches, and suck us into what He's doing in the world itself and everyone in it, rather than us trying to do a seance and summon God Himself to ft. in the middle of our fifteen word, adolescent worship wankfest, fifteen minute power ballad.  Rather, even, conversely, than trying to pay for our salvation by living a lifelong Lent on Earth.  
   We will never lay up treasure in heaven by locking ourselves into a church and scoffing at, judging and "warning against" things of genuine joy and value that are loose, out in the earth.  Nor will we do it by making a paper-thin counterfeit of those things, safely in that church context, carefully recreating the same stuff, but making it all part of our contemporary Jesus Brand (merchandise available online at http://www.christianshit316.ev).
   I am overwhelmed lately by these two ideas:

1.  Satan's not in Hell. In fact, according to the bible, anyway, he's never been there. He's in the world, mixing it up with everyone and everything, including the forces of good, who are also here, and not in Heaven.  He's definitely heavily involved in churches.
2.  God's not just in Heaven.  We've got to stop treating God like he's glowy Ben Kenobi, getting off his Heaven-couch and manifesting, "showing up" at church to do a solo in the bridge of the song.  He's at work everywhere right now, and He's in us and out there accomplishing things already.

Would be so much easier if He'd just sit up in Heaven, looking down scowling, but doing nothing. Or maybe showing up for part of the hour on Sunday, if we ask really hard.  
  But fixing stuff?  Doing things?  Things we have to go out into the world to see Him doing, rather than going into a church and inviting Him in?  Crazy.