Friday, 25 April 2014

"I'm On The Inside..."

I believe that one of the things God has been leading a bunch of us into, is the value of human connection.  The "love" stuff in the bible.  Connection.  Openness.  Relationship.  Understanding.  Identification.
   I've decided that what Jesus did was meet people, show that he "got" them and then moved on, leaving them feeling understood and not rejected or repulsive to him.  And later he was eventually able to say hard-to-hear things to people he'd met, like Peter and Judas.  No doubt the connection they'd established with him meant they took it pretty seriously. No doubt the word then stung like it never would have, if it had merely come from a distant, civil but casual religious acquaintance from town.  Someone else at synagogue, whom they knew only slightly, and never really "got." Relation before exhortation.  Connection before correction.
  I've decided that, if we think it's our "job" to take positions against things, and to withdraw support from people, that if that's to "work," to do anything good at all, we have to have first forged some kind of connection that's then, painfully, being lessened or broken.  Before we find we need to take a step back.  Otherwise, we're not really doing anything but trying to look better and separate. (Also, it means that person's never coming back.  What would have drawn them back isn't us thinking we're being right.  It would have been the fact that we "got" and had formed a connection, first.)

And I've been making connections lately.  Well, it's more accurate to say they are being made.  They are forming naturally, as if by magic.  With people around, like Howard the pizza guy, and with any number of people from my past.  Kids I taught years ago, with odd questions, wanting to confess things and not be judged.  It's cool.  I've talked to people I grew up with who are doing odd kinds of blends of Christianity and Buddhism, people who've become atheists, all denominations of agnostics, ex-Sikhs, ex-Orthodox Jews, and people who used to run churches.  People like that.  Sometimes they're a bit weird and that's okay.  We don't agree on everything, of course, but we get each other.  Really easily.  Almost immediately. There is a casual, warm, open connection. We're not necessarily friends.  Sometimes the connections only last for one or two deep, warm conversations, and then lives are gotten on with.
  I imagine Jesus did that with people. I imagine they felt like he liked them.  I really doubt that his face was blank, and I equally doubt his posture was dramatic and show-offy when he healed people.  I imagine he looked into their faces, with an expression on his.  Even if they were wrong about something.  Even if they were sinners.
   So, with most people around me lately, there is some point of connection, and we appreciate each other and think each other belongs in the world, and we don't need to wish the other person far away from us, out of our immediate circles, and instead we wish them the best and are willing to listen or help out.  We're all "us."  We don't need anyone to be "them."

  But there're two areas in which I feel like I make no headway: relatives, and people who think of themselves as "in" the Brethren while thinking of me as "out." 
    Both together?  Now that's a double-whammy.  A Christian is not without acceptance, save among his own relatives and church homies.  I get persecution only, really, from my own birth culture.  Try to do or say anything around Brethren Christians, and I get "But is not this that guy who writes horrible stuff on the Internet which I have never read?  The son of the gym teacher?"
  Try to put anything on the Internet with the relatives I have?  "Michael never did learn to shut up.  And he really needs to, because he doesn't know anything."  One of the very last things a close relative said to me before he died was "You need to shut your mouth about the bible. You don't know a damn thing about it."  And all the living ones seem more than willing to wait in line to tell me he was right.  I can relate to everyone but my own relations.
  And a whole lot of Brethren folk don't believe I, being "out,"  should get to talk about Brethren stuff at all. Because they imagine I'm "out."  Outsiders don't get to comment.  They're not "in," making the sacrifices, suffering along with the rest and proving their commitment.  And they need me and people like me to not only shut up, but fade out of their awareness entirely. Comfortably.  Conveniently.  Lest we have to deal and try to connect.  Lest we have to try to "get" each other.
  They want me, in fact, to identify myself as something other than Brethren now, and forget about them/us.  Forget about my roots. Forget who I am.  They need me to accept in the present, how they're going to be treating me in the future, for what I did in the past. (available for your perusal in a newly computer-cleaned up version here) They will never forget anything I did in the past and they want me to stop looking for forgiveness and reconciliation in future.
   They really don't "get" me, so they attribute malice.  If I'm simply not willing to commit to really, truly being properly "in" (to something that doesn't exist and isn't real), then why am I bothering people I grew up with over something so trivial as Christian, human connection, reconciliation and mending of fences?  How much sick pleasure do I take in causing discomfort for others?
  And I'm confusing to talk to.  "Okay, that's it.  What you're saying on Facebook is confusing me again.  That's why I stopped talking to you and unfriended you last time, actually. I know you're trying to do something bad, but I can't figure out exactly what, or why you're trying to do it."
  Brethren like that don't "get" me.  Not like atheists who value reconciliation and human connection do, anyway.
  Thing is, I retain a lot of beliefs from my Brethren upbringing, to put it mildly.  Most of my beliefs come from there.  Chief among them is the deep-seated conviction that there is no meaning to the idea of a "church," really.  A church with a membership list and rules to follow and people who really think they can actually kick you "out" of the Lord's Table.
   So, I believe, as I was raised to believe, that a town with twenty separate "churches" is doing it wrong.  That it's dumb.   That there's nothing like it seen in scripture, because it's a travesty.  We're one, and God sees that, but we aren't living that, because we don't care what the bible says, and prefer to do things our own way.
  We prefer to ensure there are very solemn, traditional, bureaucratic human systems in place, with committees and oversight, and conferences and retreats and mission statements and logos and letterhead and policies and procedures and positively everything needed to make a yuppie orgasm. Corporately. Value-added synergy for the whole virtual team, moving forward, at this point in time, folks.
  After all, what's a human system, without a pecking order, without titles and conditional status and acceptance that one can be stripped of, should one engage in that most Jesus-like of activities: rocking the boat.  How many churches have an official boat-rocker and nay-sayer?  Only the Catholics once employed what they once called a "devil's advocate," to keep debates two-sided and honest.  Which sounds pretty smart, actually.

"Out" of What?
Thing is?  I no longer believe that any Brethren group has the power to put me "out" from the Lord's Table.  (No Brethren group that I ever knew, is still actually a group nowadays, anyway.  Every one got exploded into disagreeing, rapidly-shrinking bits, all desperate to be taken seriously. Chickens who don't realize their Head's been cut off, and still running around in fear, waiting to bleed out entirely.)
   I still self-identify very much as Brethren in my roots.  I believe what we teach, but I think most of us don't mean it, is all.  Not if you look at many of our lives.  We don't intend to follow the "love" stuff in the bible at all.  Too scary.  We're picking and choosing what to live, and we don't choose to live that connection stuff.  Too busy not doing a whole lot of things to take time to do things. To busy not dealing with most Christians to deal scripturally and beneficially with Christians.
  All this puts me in an awkward position.  Is it okay to just do it back?  To "deal by not dealing" in return?  Someone told me the other day on Facebook that he just views his uncommunicative, snotty Brethren relatives as if they were Mormons or something.  Not mainstream enough for him to be able to deal with. So far from acting like how he thinks Christians should act that he just doesn't think of them as Christians, and doesn't try to interact with them as if they were.  He said this made things simple.  He said maybe that was an awful attitude. I told him it sure was.  Just doing it back doesn't fix anything.
   I want to connect to any Brethren people around.  But if we talk, they say "us" and they don't mean me.  (They say "you" when they mean me.)  Because they imagine I'm not part of any "us."  I think that's quite contrary to scripture.  They say "You hate us" and I say "I don't hate us," which seems to be off-script, as far as they're concerned.  I'm supposed to say "I don't hate you." They think I hate "us" because I don't agree with how "we" do a number of things. But I'm not supposed to talk about it.  (Because I'm "out."  I'm not supposed to include myself in "us."  I'm one of "them.")
   Trouble is, I'm not out.  Not of the Lord's Table.  Not of the Church.  Not of anything I see as meaningful.  I'm not even out of fellowship, in practical terms.  Brethren people often will eat with me and hang out.  Will email and Facebook so long as I don't bring up anything biblical or Christian very often.  They just don't let me worship my God with them in the manner set forth by our Lord.  Because they won't do what the bible says, so that means we can't do what the bible says.  

Trying To Do Love, Bible Style
So, I want to treat Brethren people like my homies (because they are), just like I treat Greg and Peter and Keith and Paul and James like my homies, because we all went to school together. In the case of Greg and Paul, we attended Brethren meetings and youth group activities also.
   Now, Peter and Paul and James are thought of as "out," as far as their assemblies are concerned, and so we can relate.  Things like that?  They really tend to connect people and draw them together.
  But people like Ken and Geoff and Thomas think of themselves as still "in," and think of me as "out" now, so there is always this reserve.  This distaste.  This barrier.  Like if I was Princess Diana, and I suddenly tried to hug the Queen.  (Before I died, obviously.  But after the divorce.  I'm not zombie Princess Diana trying to hug the Queen and bite her crown.) 
   They don't want to admit it, but the fact is, my homies who think of themselves as "in" don't really want me around.  Not really.  Not nearby.  They imagine that I'm "out" of something and that means me going away.  Finding somewhere else to be.  Because they don't like me.  Don't "get" me.  That's why I'm thought of as "out."  And they're not willing to do a single "love" scripture regarding anyone who is anything like me.  And people like me are legion now.  A myriad of us have been created, much against our will.
   I'm trying to make that "they" a "we" and have "us" accept one another, somehow, someday. And I'm quite certain that shutting up and going away won't ever make that happen. I'm just as certain of that as I am certain that what Christ really wants is unity from us.  Now.  No more of this claiming we are correct, when we're not willing to connect.  No more of this claiming we need to judge, when we didn't "get" that person before we judged them and now have every intention of throwing up our hands forever afterward regarding them, instead of reconnecting and restoring.
   For many, it's also terribly troubling to have someone be "out," as far as the Brethren paperwork goes, but see them still walking around, smiling, being blessed by God, being well spoken of by other Christians, and getting happier all the time.  God's not supposed to bless people who "needed to be put out" because they'd "wandered away from Him." Simultaneously, the more this blessing happens to some of us, the less likely our Brethren groups would then ever be to one day decide we're not "out" anymore.  It makes them look wrong, and there's nothing more upsetting to them.
  (Obviously, I don't want back "in."  I don't believe there is an "in."  I think we need to stop imagining there is an "in."  And I'm sick of being treated like I'm "out" by people who believe in their own mythic powers to put us "out" from the Lord's Table.  And I'm not going away.)
  So these "in" guys among us don't know what to do with us "out" guys.  They can't "process" the situation, nor us.  I am (many of us are) a stumbling stone, a rock of offence, put right in their dubious, loveless path through darkness by a loving God who insists we turn from this path, and jolly well reach out to each other, halting our progress away from that turned-backs path.  Some of us seem to be designed to function as obstacles to progressing down that path, like a big piece of Lego left in the carpet by and encountered in the middle of the night when the lights are out.
  We make it hard to walk away from us, some of us.  We keep turning up here and there.  Online and off.  So those of us who are trying to walk away from some of us ("to be faithful and obedient to the bible") have to actually pretend we don't exist.  Have to actually not look when we're in the same room.  So as to not deal with us in any meaningful or scriptural way.  They do what they can to preserve their own lack of growth and insight. Because those are required, if they are to continue on down that path away from the rest of us.

For me, Brethren family members are a real problem.  Like the others in their group, they are hell-bent on treating us all as "out."  As "other."  As "them," never again to be "us."  Kayso.  Guess what?  Just nope.  I am you.  I am us.  I am into this up to my eyeballs, and I always have been and I'm always going to be.  It's in my genes and I drank the Koolaid right alongside you all for two decades.  The good and the bad.  Can you deal with that? I know you're scared you'll get spanked by Big Brother if you let me worship our saviour with you on Sunday, so you probably never will, and you know a whole  lot of people can't respect that irrational, fearful, hateful exclusion, but can we get around that a bit?
   I've been trying to get people who are "out" of the Brethren to talk to me about the difficulties they face in dealing with their "in" families.  Because I'm curious.  It's a big topic.
   People are sharing the realities of it, the being treated as 'other,' the being treated like we've "gone away," or like we betrayed everyone or something.  Like we mutinied.  These "out" Brethren can tell us stories about seeing "in" Brethren people discussing the bible, and these worthies then suddenly snapping the bible shut, and their mouths as well, when the "out" Christian family member approaches, suddenly pretending to have been talking about hockey, gardening, or the weather.  People are sharing how they tried to discuss with a family member a thought from the bible, and had that person's face go all weird, and had that person change the subject, or get sharp and sour and hurl some kind of passive-aggressive veiled criticism, or robotically quote the thoughts of someone long dead, just as if that was connecting.  As if it were relating.  Participating.  "Who are YOU to be talking about the bible?!  You don't even know where to be on Sunday morning. You don't even come to meeting anymore! You're walking a path of rebellion and self will."
   I know people whose parents have, years later, never stopped urging them to give up the self-will and rebellion that is the very Christian liberty which Christ died to give them.
  Stories like this are what I'm getting from these guys.  Mostly in PM.  I'm simply not getting any stories about Brethren families who view their own kids as "gone" (as "left" as "wandered off" as "departed from God's Centre" as "out") and yet who also manage to really connect with them.  You know?  As well as, say, the guy at the grocery store, or the mailman seems to be able to.  Doesn't seem to happen.
 Parents of gay kids seem to deal better with their "out" kids than Brethren parents generally do with the shame and disappointment of theirs.  It's the One Correct Christian Group heresy up to its old evil tricks again. It never stops screwing us over, even if we don't believe it.
  I see this situation as one of parents being given the choice to pull their kids in close and hold them to their hearts, or else to disassociate, toss them into the fires of pious idolatry, to buy the family some status by being seen to obediently jettison/sacrifice the kids.  "Your church group or your kids? Us or them?"
   And parents don't always do terribly well at choosing their kids over the family's reputation and status, the stories relate.  Even when things like rape are involved.  "Are you going to continue on in a path of rebellion against God, getting food for your spirit and soul and learning to walk in love and authenticity, openness, trust and honesty, or are you going to admit you were wrong to pursue all of that, and ask us if you can come back in, once you stop all of that?"
   Someone asked me yesterday if this thing that had just happened to her, where the kid gets tossed under the train by her parents when the assembly is displeased (when rape was involved), is "traditional" among Brethren.
 "Child sacrifice?  Quite traditional in this and other cultures, yes," I replied.

   I'm not "out" of anything.  Not even patience.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Ask A Wikkid Person: What Is Love? (Brethren Don't Hurt Us)

Dear Wikkid Person,

      Your words about the young people who were left wounded in the ditch to bleed to death struck a deep chord with me. I logged almost thirty years in the meeting and heard "love" preached every single meeting. I want to share what "assembly love" looked like in the life of someone close to me, who has asked to remain anonymous, because we both need to know, from someone who knows the inner workings of the Plymouth Brethren meetings as well as you do, if what this young girl experienced was a form of New Testament Church love.
   Picture, if you will, a young meeting girl. She is heart hungry and love starved because she has never fit in among "the Lord's people," the older people only speak to her to correct her and never to connect with her, the Brethren young people act like she doesn't exist, and she is forbidden to make friends outside this exclusive group. She meets an old man who seems to be very nice, very lonely, and to really care about her. Watch her bloom and blossom as he takes time to spend with her, listen to her problems, hold her hand, tell her how much he loves her. Then... he rapes her.
    She has no one to turn to, no one to tell her that she doesn't have to "submit" to this man, no one to protect her. She manages after a year of abuse to get away from this wicked man. Years later, she tells her story to her "brethren," her heart breaking for healing, comfort, nurturing, and support. She asks for an egg and is given a scorpion. She is told to "rise above it," "forgive that poor old man because he just couldn't help it," "don't tell us your story because it's defiling," "it could have been so much worse," "what did you do to cause him to do this?"
    She is terrified every Sunday that she will no longer be allowed to break bread because obviously, 'protecting the Lord's table from iniquity' is more important than protecting a fatherless, vulnerable young girl. She cries through every meeting and is told that her tears are "distracting the brethren from their worship." She is told that because she "isn't happy" she must be "in a bad state of soul" and that she "is a burden to the assembly." And she's told that she has to be incredibly grateful for these words from her brethren because "sometimes they say things we don't want to hear, but they love us and want to edify and exhort us." 
   She isn't allowed to get counselling because dear me, that would mean turning to someone who doesn't believe the same way we do. She is discouraged from reading books written by other survivors because "we don't need any book but the Bible." She is discouraged from joining a survivor's support group because "that would be an unequal yoke." When she tries to leave the meeting that is causing her so much pain, she is intimidated by The Fear Factor and the threat of losing everything she has ever known keep her from doing so. 
   My friend's story cries out to be told just as Abel's blood cried out to God from the ground. My friend has found healing through deep relationship with Christ, through a happy marriage, and through very nurturing church, but she is still struggling, after years of being told that everything that the Brethren said and did was right, to understand what love is and if what she experienced from the Brethren is love.

Thank you for hearing her story.


Dear Nightingale,
     No. In my not-terribly-humble opinion, what this young girl experienced was not a form of love.  Of any kind.  It was a form of "Go away. You're wrecking everything."
   Me being me, I've been told this story before.  I don't know if it's the same person, or another with a strikingly similar history.  Not one detail is different, however.
   What feminists call this all-too-common human response to situations of this kind is "blame the victim." I was never raped, but I know what it's like to be blamed for not being happy, when you're young and it's the church people who are hurting you, shaming you, excluding you, yet also saying they're doing it because you aren't happy, so are cold in your soul and not going on well.
  Wikkidly yours,

...that Wikkid Person
Certified Wikkid since 1998 

Dear Wikkid Person,
Not to diminish what that poor young girl went through, just imagine that happening to a 7 year old boy for three years, by someone that was looked to as a leader in the assembly. And Yes the Assembly did their due diligence and put that child molester out of fellowship, never pressed charges (because of the shame it would bring on the Lord's Name) told his parents not to press charges as well! Then made him sit in the back row of the meeting that happened to be, right by the door that, that 10 year old had to walk through to his seat in meeting for the next six years. They then had the gall to ask that sixteen year old why he didn't come to ALL the meetings, although they had never asked him once if they could help him through adolescence. Thankfully the Lord has overruled in that young man's life and has preserved him to have a loving family of his own that is seeking to go on for the Lord, although there are many scars that remain he has a heart for all the Young people and their struggles. Thank the Lord that He has used these trials to be able to help others through theirs in his own feeble way! 
Middle Aged Christian Man. 

Friday, 11 April 2014

Evil Part II

There's this bible story that really makes me think, and raises many questions in my mind about evil.  Thing is, it's very graphic.  I think it's the most upsetting bible story I know.  I don't think they could put the events in it on Game of Thrones.  It's in Judges.  Here's how Wikipedia summarizes the plot:

The Battle of Gibeah is an episode in the Book of Judges. The battle was triggered by an incident in which a concubine belonging to a man from the Tribe of Levi was raped to death by members of the Tribe of Benjamin. The Levite had offered his concubine to the mob in place of himself (whom the mob originally sought to "be intimate with"), saying "bring out the man that came into your house, so that we may be intimate with him"[1] and then locked the door for the night. In the morning the Levite found his dead concubine at the door, butchered her into twelve pieces, and sent the pieces throughout all the territory of Israel and Judah.
The outraged tribes of Israel sought justice, and asked for the miscreants to be delivered for judgement. The Benjamites refused, so the tribes then sought vengeance, and in the subsequent war, the members of Tribe of Benjamin were systematically killed, including women and children; when Benjamin was nearly 'extinguished', it was decided that the tribe should be allowed to survive, and all the men from another town, Jabesh Gilead, that had refused to take part in the punishment of the Tribe of Benjamin, were killed, so that their daughters could be wed to the surviving men of Benjamin.[2] The first king of Israel, Saul, descended from these men. Due to this war, the Tribe of Benjamin was subsequently referred to as "the smallest of all the tribes."

 As I understand this story, it's a lot like the one with Lot in the equally tourist-raping city of Sodom (in which story, it's trying to rape tourists, and not masturbation which the bible seems to indicate might possibly result in going blind).  It's like that one, only there is no pair of angels to protect him and his family.  So this Levite man decides: "I'm not sacrificing myself to the mob to be raped.  I can't imagine getting my own bible story that way.  Look at all of them. I might die.  And I'm not giving them my wife.  I love her too much.  Wouldn't get a bible story for doing that, either.  I guess it will have to be my concubine, as I love her, but not as much as myself or my wife."
  In the morning, he finds the young woman dead on the threshold of the place he's staying (I don't know if he was visiting in Benjamite country, or if Benjamites were in his country and it was his own house) and is overcome with grief and outrage.  So he cuts the body into pieces and sends the parts to the corners of the kingdom, demanding something be done.  And war ensues.
   Now clearly, if he had sacrificed himself, there probably wouldn't have been a bible story, nor a war.  If he'd shut the door and said they weren't coming in, no doubt they would have broken in, and the man and his wife and concubine might all have ended up dead.  Or just hurt.  Again, no war, no bible story.
   Now clearly, the whole "Come out so we can rape you!" thing is evil of the "going way, way too far" type.  But is the man sending his concubine out in his place an evil act too?  A "not going far enough in his duties as protector" kind of evil?
   And then comes a sloppy question: was it evil to appeal to the other tribes to bring vengeance upon the tribe of Benjamin, or was that his right?  Everybody in the Old Testament is pretty vengeful, God especially.  But should the Levite man have been quiet about it, so there would be peace?  Or would that have been helping evil be safe?
   Was it evil for the Benjamites to refuse to give up their own guys, who were guilty of raping a girl to death?  Or was that just protecting their own people, and insisting upon the right to settle it "in house"?
   Was it then evil to kill not only the miscreants who were guilty of the rape/murder, but also to go on a Benjamite-killing genocide that makes one have to think of Hitler a bit?  I mean, the guilt was murdering this girl, so the punishment is killing everyone in the tribe, including many young girls and boys? Killing so many young Benjamite women that they needed to import wives for the remaining Benjamite men?  Isn't that both hypocritical, and also very much beyond the "an eye for an eye" limit on vengeance? (that would limit their vengeance to killing a concubine of each of the Benjamite perps, as I understand it)
   Was it wrong of the men of neighbouring Jabesh Gilead to refuse to kill Benjamite women and children?  Or was it instead evil to kill all the men of Jabesh Gilead for refusing to do so?
  All this was in the Book of Judges.  It's mostly supposed to be about ethical dilemmas.  Often brought to a wise judge who can settle matters like this. And this one's a dilemma, alright.  With no sign of a wise judge stepping up and making sure things are settled tidily.

Obviously, what this made someone with my concerns think about, is family troubles and divisions: In Brethren circles, a division is a war.  A global war.  And men, women and children are swept away, right off the battlefield and are heard from no more in Brethren circles, during these ecclesiastically  cataclysmic things.  The grievances aren't, of course, that someone's concubine was murdered, so much as someone's Authoritah wasn't respected, or someone got killed/excommunicated or something. What tends to happen in the local divisions is more like:

A man's concubine is raped and killed/excommunicated.  The man then sends letters to the assemblies all around, demanding justice.  So he is excommunicated for lying.  By the Benjamites.  Anyone who tries to defend him gets excommunicated/killed also.  The end.

   Now, when there is a secret being rigorously kept (for instance, let us say someone in power stole money or molested someone's child), should someone stir things up?  It might cause a big civil war.  It will be nasty.  It will ruin Sunday's service almost entirely, no doubt.  Is it worth it to keep the secret and avoid that trouble?  Or might inaction result in more people being hurt, as this man is almost certain to continue on in his wicked ways?
  In the circles I grew up in, they were pretty quick to judge adulterers and people who got divorces, but afterward it came out that they weren't at all quick to deal with fraud, extortion, molestations and rapes that had been brought to their attention.  They were very big on the absolute necessity of making sure they didn't take communion next Sunday with a guy in the room who'd gotten a divorce, but the stories of labouring brothers and their misdeeds pretty much never got taken seriously at all.  Sacred cows to a man.  Apart from taking "the wrong side" in a division or on a doctrinal issue (cf. Paul Johnston), I don't know of any cases of a labouring brother "losing his job."  Ever.  Despite the kinds of things that were/are reportedly being done.  Those things weren't/aren't ever even looked into. People were and are hushed up to avoid trouble.
   I think these are pretty dark and deep waters.  I'm not confident I know what ought to be done.  I only know that I have a very deep-seated mistrust of the keeping of all of these secrets.  I grew up hearing my dad's friend whispering all manner of these secrets in his ear each week, and nothing ever coming of it.
  Eventually most of the people he gossiped about died (it has been a few decades, after all).  And he does seem to have been right about much of it.  And there seems to have been worse stuff that had been successfully hidden so that even he didn't know about it back then.  Much comes out later.
   I do know that growing up hearing these things about the men and women in my church wasn't good for me.  Made me pretty cynical and mistrustful, anyway.  Made me tend to view Christians as lying hypocrites, just like my dad's erstwhile friend does.  (Just like my dad's erstwhile friend is.)  Meant that every single time a Christian lies and is a hypocrite to or about me, this has a lifelong nexus inside me to connect into.  Makes me go "Yup.  Another brick in the wall. My worldview is once again affirmed."
  I mean, it seems to me that the choice is either put up or shut up.  Either get the goods, grab a buddy and go to the person, to try to deal with the thing, going above his head if he won't hear you, or shut up about it. I was always taught from the bible that this was how to proceed.  Seldom if ever saw anyone try it, let alone make it work.
  I only know of one instance when my dad's friend kind of did that biblical approach to dealing with a problem.  He got the pamphlet I wrote, gave it to the elders who were gunning for me, and got me kicked out.  Didn't speak to me first, though I grew up knowing him, however.  Hung up on me when I phoned to apologize for the pamphlet to him after being kicked out.  Has always refused to discuss the matter (or any matter) since.  So this leaves me kind of wondering how to feel about it all.
  Does it inevitably cause trouble to try to fix trouble?  When a man is in a responsible position and there are persistent rumours of exploitation or wrong-doing, is there any obligation to investigate the allegations, or is it proper to not look into any of it and not act unless proof comes to light all by itself?  Should we ever try to deal with it and dig into it and make it not recur?  Is there a way to do it?  Why wasn't that done in my case?  In the other cases?   How different would it have made things?
   What's worse: handling a thing clumsily, or hushing it all up?

Thursday, 10 April 2014

...Not Against Flesh and Blood

I saw Russell Brand on the 'net the other day, talking about how the media covers salacious (scandalous, trashy) stories like the death of his friend Peaches Geldoff, and how it keeps people's attention skipping from thing to thing to attention-grabbing thing, but all with that same trashy, sensationalist focus.  (That's not news. to anyone.) But then Brand talked about Who Owns the Media, tossed out the name Rupert Murdoch, and he made a gesture with his arms like Rupert Murdoch is an evil overlord puppetmaster of evil, raining down evilness on us.
   This made me think of every conspiracy nut and his/her view of a government with evil men above/beyond/beside it, in an evil Shadow Government, in secret rooms, making the world evil, harvesting it like a herd of sheep.
   And it made me think of me talking in class about "How do rich people get poor people's money in our town?  Tobacco, cheap booze, lottery tickets, bingo.  Stuff like that."  Like there're rich people sitting in a room asking "How can we get more money out of the poor?" 
(Oh, it happens alright.  But is is possible that it can all be planned and run without anyone ever needing to really make it evil on purpose?  It just gets evil and does evil, and no one did that exactly?  No one with a face?)
   We liberalish people think there's Big Pharma, and Big Tobacco and Big Government, and we want to imagine faces and corporate logos on the evil.  Because that's comforting.  The evil having a name and a face.  Just being some guys who we want to pay taxes properly and follow laws.
   A much scarier thought is that there is evil alright, but that these guys aren't the evil.  The evil has no face.  And it is ingrained in the system.  The kind of sin described in the bible as more about "falling short" than about "going too far."  Regular people doing almost as well as they could, in systems that punish originality, idealism, rocking boats, blowing whistles or generally trying to fix said systems, really in any way. Systems that grind people down to nubs and chew them up and spit them out, and waste them, one would have to say, without paying off in the dividends that would have made it worth it.  I think we all feel wasted.
   I am a teacher, so I work in the education system, just one system among all the ones around us, and I don't really know terribly much about exactly how it all works, floors above my pay grade.  And yet it's very easy to imagine, without benefit of a single fact, people up there being douchebags. Evil men looking to feather their own nests, make themselves look good and all of that, while exploiting the system and being big vampire/parasites as to money and status.  Making big salaries.  Garnering accolades any way they can. Being politicians.  Very easy to imagine that and rail against it and complain.  But...
   A more scary idea is that we're doing, most of us, pretty much the best we can.  And maybe to some degree we're all just drones, plugged into The Systems that we're in, and them feeding off us, like in The Matrix.  Using us up, burning us out.  Because systems are mechanistic and do not have things like pity or conscience, unless people in them make certain to put those in personally, on a daily basis..
   I think, from bottom to top, despite there being a few opportunistic, gloryhound, exploitative, dishonest, cruel, parasitic types here and there, most of the people in these Systems are just folks.  Doing almost as well as they can.  As Alan Moore said, the Nazis didn't come from space.  They were lawyers, dentists, teachers, butchers and postmen.
   But we want good guys and bad guys.  We want villains just as much as we want heroes, despite those both being entirely fictional constructs.  (never spend more than a couple of hours with  someone you think is a "hero") We want evil to have a face. We want black helicopters.  We want a government which is interested enough in our idle ramblings on the phone to have a van with four guys in it parked outside on the street recording our every word.  We want to believe in evil businessmen overtly plotting to exploit the poor.  We want to believe that human beings are so good at keeping secrets that only conspiracy nuts know what's really going on. We want to think that, should regular folk find out what's really going on in the systems, that they'd do something.
   People go on about how the bible and religion "give comfort."  It's never like that for me.  What I do know is that the bible says "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."  Rulers.  Authorities.  Which aren't flesh and blood.  Evil has a mind, but isn't some corporate guy who loves golf.  It's a force.  It's a system.  An order. A power.  Not just some guys.
   To take the "woo woo" ghost noises out of "spiritual forces of evil" and "cosmic powers," think of it as "poisonous, eroding, good-sapping attitudes" and "the network of power, status and influence over Everything. The conduits down which power is generated, depleted, routed and rerouted."
   So, no guy starts a corporation because he is evil and wants to spread evil, so the corporation is evil too. He just falls short.  He ignores corruption. He doesn't dig deeply into exploitation and unethical stuff he's pretty sure is there, because he doesn't want to.  Maybe he's lazy.  Maybe he's scared. Maybe he doesn't believe he can get through that process and keep his faith/job.
   But even if he ends up causing harm, he's not where the evil is coming from.  It infects and contaminates everything people try to make, to varying degrees.  Everyone's a carrier.    This guy's not the actual source of the bad stuff.  He's just a facilitator.  An enabler.  He just doesn't really have a good, hard look at attitudes and trends and forces that maybe should be addressed. Reaps the benefits of living slightly in la la land.  I think we all do that to some degree. We're all that guy.
   In children's movies and cartoons, people who are delivering or serving evil are all-powerful.  To make the story dramatic.  To make the heroes seem more heroic.  In real life, people who let evil into the room are usually at worst just lazy and unprincipled.  They don't really face things and don't take appropriate steps. They look the other way.  They shut their mouths.  In offices, churches and government.  In front of cameras.  They report and announce things that maybe didn't exactly happen.  Or don't report and notify people of things that maybe did.  Maybe because they don't really know what to do about it all anyway.
  Is the world full of systems that are evil?  I think, even in a country like Canada, where it's pretty darn nice, we are all serving and served by, exploited by, and apt to exploit, systems which fall short of what would be undeniably good.  The systems, and we, oftentimes, are not quite what you could call good.  Not really functioning properly.  We're not even neutral.  We are human, flawed and failing in various ways to do what we are supposed to do.  We fall short of good. Does that make us evil? Not in the conventional sense, of course.  Evil happens, though.  It's out there. It's in here with us.
   I think this makes our groups and our systems form part of what can often be a very deceptive slide into dodgy stuff.  Stuff that serves evil by tiny increments.  "Falling short" evil.  Self-deceiving evil.  "Close enough" evil.  "It's not good, but what else can I do?" evil.  Smug, blind evil.  Not cackling, girl-tied-to-train-tracks or Big Businessman In a Movie evil.
   So much of this is really about "What direction are you moving in?"  If you say you're standing still, it usually just means you're sliding backward at a speed, or in ways, that you aren't aware of.
   The world is broken. Flawed.  Falls short.  People are exploited.  Systems fail people.  People exploit systems.  And there doesn't need to be a guy with a face, who says "Let's exploit black people today."  Or "Let's take more money out of the hand of Welfare Mothers."  But it happens anyway.  How does it happen?  The systems we serve aren't human.  They aren't humane. They aren't bound by empathy.  No one (with a face) is really driving.  Yet they have a lot of the qualities of living creatures. Self-preservation.  Conquest.  Reproduction.  They tend to be parasitic. Tend to leave their waste everywhere they've been.
   One of the sobering things I am starting to learn about, as I maybe start to grow up (slightly), is how unaware most people in any given business or service or office or system or institution even are of what each other even do.  When I worked at Nortel, I was at first uncomfortably aware that everything we did was on camera.  But I quickly realized that no one was taking the time to have any clue about much of anything.  Our bosses had no idea what any of us were or were not doing at the best of times.  And their bosses weren't even in town most of the time.  The whole thing was crashing and burning and no one was really at the wheel.  There was no evil Overlord.  No spider at the centre of the web. There was just a rat's nest of people who were silly sometimes, weak in some ways, lazy from time to time, effing up together, trying to hide it, celebrating success with posters and cakes (shortly before having to lay off most of their staff and get government bailouts), and avoiding looking too directly at each other.
   And yet, the Job got done. The destruction, the waste, the havoc, happened.  Religion doesn't comfort me so much as tell me "Evil is on purpose. It doesn't have a street address, though.  It's all through everything.  And it's every bit as much a lack of good enough stuff as it is a buildup of bad stuff."
   Did the guys in my church who caused the divisions want to cause all the harm?  Of course not.  Not really.  Willing to cause it.  Didn't want to cause it.  They are not, and never were, cackling monsters.  But our church was and is full of weak people. Scared people.  Fallible human beings.  People who tell themselves they're not actually walking by on the other side of the road because they think there's something stirring in the ditch on this side.  Not actually turning their head away at just the perfect time to miss something they don't want to have to deal with.  People who are scared.  People who are angry.  People who are superstitious and blind.  People who lack any hope in the idea that dealing with stuff could ever result in anything but Making Things Worse.
   Because there are those two kinds of idealist: the one which says "Things are pretty sweet. Nothing's perfect, of course, but things are AWESOME!  WE are awesome!  Let's never change!" and the one which says "Things need to be so much better.  This isn't good enough.  Look at who is falling through the cracks and how this is being exploited. Let's stop slacking.  We need some change around here. Let's be the change.  Right now." 
  Idealists go around disrupting everyone and everything. And sometimes that's exactly what needs to happen.  It's certainly not nice, but sometimes, certain tables just really, really need to get kicked over.  Sacred cows just really, really need to get dyed bright orange so people have a harder time denying that there's a sacred cow standing right there with a dumb look on its orange face, have a harder time denying that they keep any sacred cows at all,  That they cultivate and care for anything or anyone they are superstitious about, yet unwilling to discuss.
   How does evil come about in Christian circles?  Increasingly I am seeing how much of it depends upon there being people who say things like "I can't deal with this" and "I don't want to talk about this" and "ANYway..." and "Move on."  Fear.  Weakness.  A refusal to give an accounting for harm that may be ongoing.  A refusal to take responsibility or look to make anything better for anyone.  A lack of belief that reflection and repentance bring good.  A belief that these biblical practices do anything but "cause trouble."
   And that's all I have to say about that.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

What I See

I see my birth culture, the Plymouth Brethren, laid out as if in front of me.  There is a dividing line in the middle, dividing the hundreds of unaffiliated groups into "closed" and "open," dividing the brethren people from the other Christians. It's not a real line.  It's drawn, in crayon, by the people themselves.  Some get to be "open" and some get to be "closed" and both get to feel right.  Everyone wins.
   The "closed" groups used to hold a heresy.  Some among them still do.  The ones driving, mostly.  The ones publishing.  The heresy was that they were gathered, not in spirit and in truth only, but by the Holy Spirit, into a select, identifiable group that most Christians aren't in.  The kind of group that was so identifiable, that one could ask "Is Tom Stevenson gathered by the Holy Spirit in the correct scriptural manner? Is he one of the ones in this town who is at the Lord's Table?" and you'd get a clear yes or no answer.  You could, the story went, have a paper list of everyone in the town who was "at the Lord's Table" and know with certainty that anyone whose name was not found in the Brethren list, wasn't.

The Heresy, As I Once Held It
When I was eleven, I was "not yet gathered by the Holy Spirit to the Lord's Table, to fulfil our Lord's dying request."  I keenly felt being on the outside of the Lord's Table. When I was twelve, I "asked in."  I asked R. J. Kirkland, because I believed he could "let me in" to the Lord's Table.  He and the other guys there, in small town Ontario.  And they met with me, and told me they had let me in.  Upon consultation, would let me "take my place" at it.  I'd done good.  I'd gotten through the God gauntlet.  Answered the questions.  They had spiritually discerned that the Holy Spirit, while I'd been sitting there at the back of the room with my grandpa (who'd divorced his wife, and so would never sit up and take communion with them again as there can be no forgiveness for divorce even if he had no sex with anyone after) laid it on my heart through supernatural means, to have a godly, Christian desire to remember the Lord in His death in the scriptural way God had appointed, with Those gathered in like precious faith to the only valid group in the town.  So I was in.  And it felt great.  Rite of passage.
   Now, I met other Christians at school.  Since birth I'd been fed the heresy of there being One Correct Christian Group in our town.  (You can call it the One Place heresy if you like.)  In any case, I believed firmly that my schoolmates who went to the Pentecostal church, the Calvary Bible church, or an Open Brethren table, though very nice, had simply not been gathered by the Holy Spirit as I had been.  They weren't "in."
  I wasn't sure if I was just more blessed than they, and had been gathered by the Holy Spirit because I was lucky, or if it was the result of the faithful prayers of my parents, or was maybe due to my own Nazarite purity from television at home, movies, swimming on Sunday, celebrating Christmas, and a thousand other things.  I wasn't sure if these nice Christians hadn't been gathered by the Holy Spirit to the correct Group, with the correct street address, because they weren't as loved or lucky, or if it was a matter of them not listening.  Perhaps the Holy Spirit simply couldn't properly communicate with anyone in Smiths Falls who wasn't at 3 George Street at the appointed times.  Or didn't choose to.  We had a sign out front after all.  My dad made it.
   So we knew for certain which people in Smiths Falls were "at the Lord's Table" (in) and which people were only a church, a table of men (out).  We actually had those paper lists, if you needed one.  We were with God, while they just had someone they called a "minister."  A "pastor."  (Sounds kinda like "bastard."  A word that actually is in the King James bible.)  They had elders and pastors, while we were structured and kept ticking like a clock by the Holy Spirit himself.  They had creeds, prepared prayers, liturgies and set training and schedules for exactly what would happen in their church. It had all been planned by men.  It was just tradition.  Laid out in advance.  Anything could happen in our meetings, though.  Anything at all.  Because we had the Holy Spirit in the driver's seat.

The Heresy, As We Practised It
Some people came out to our church/non-church when I was almost in my teens.  They were 1970s Jesus People looking for a place to go in the 1980s.  Ex-hippies.  They'd gotten haircuts, but still were tempted to perhaps wonder if they could play guitar when singing church hymns (certainly not) or speak in tongues during church (definitely no to that one, too, no matter what they were used to. We routinely forbid people to speak in tongues during church, as we felt it was the work of the devil at worst, or nervous hysteria at best, rather than the work of the Holy Spirit.)
   These gentle, guitar-toting Christians came in and wanted to take communion with us, giving us only a week's notice.  We told them no.  We said that what they had to do was sit under the teaching of the Holy Spirit among us (car insurance salesmen, gym teachers and people who sold fire extinguishers all delivered this Spirit-led instruction as to why precisely how we did things was the only scriptural, correct way) and that if they one day felt led of the Spirit, eventually they could ask us to let them in.  To the Lord's Table.  Which we were "gate-keepers" to.  You had to satisfy us that you weren't going to defile the Lord's Table and Supper, or dishonour His name, before we let you partake of that bread and wine with us.
   Signs of taking our Spirit-led teaching to heart included your women losing all interest in having women's bible study groups, or speaking up in discussions, ceasing the wearing of trousers and sleeveless tops, regrowing their long hippie hair while their husbands cut theirs even shorter, and the covering of their (silent) heads while doing anything remotely Christian, just as the apostle Paul said was a Christian commandment taught us by nature itself (and to shave the heads of women who wouldn't wear hats, the silly cows.)
   They did pretty well at first.  Got the haircuts.  Put the guitars away.  Didn't mention the Spirit at all.  Sat politely while people like my Dad explained how the Beast would roar in '84, and how the Lord would not tarry (the Rapture) past the year 2000 minus the seven year tribulation.  He couldn't.  So, 1993 at the very latest.  When the current order as we knew it would be over and a time of tribulation would come.  (What they didn't realize was that they seemed to be prophesying their own division, rather than the rapture.)
   Those were our rules.  Oh, and you had to not want to speak in tongues or go on about miracles or the Spirit anymore, too.  We'd not be laying hands on them if/when they got sick.  Not suddenly. Not at all.  We knew the Spirit. He didn't do dramatic things. He kept us silent, meek and orderly.  Obedient to assembly decisions made behind closed doors at night by a few guys.   He ensured that we did the same exact thing, the same exact way, every single meeting, with nothing changing a whit since the reign of Queen Victoria.  We believed it was just like in the day of Paul of Tarsus: the First Brethren Pope. He sang from the Little Flock Hymnbook, prayed with "thee" and "thou" and read from the King James too.
   Also, if you, let's say, had association with the Baptist church (singing, for instance, in their choir, or helping out at their youth group), you obviously had to quit all that.  If you wanted us to let you into the Lord's Table where we were, of course.  Ecclesiastical connections were defiling, Bob Thonney told us over and over again at bible conferences.  We did not need the cooties from other Christians in our little (only correct) group. We had no need of them.  If they were not Brethren, we treated them as if they were therefore not of the Body.
   So we put these gentle hippie folks under all this bondage, and they sweated under it for a while, finding quickly that their very lives were being crushed, their spirits and souls starving and dying.  They were warm, gentle folk, and they also had life to them, and "the Lord's Table" was clearly not safe, healthy or nourishing for them.  So they dried up and fell away and we let that happen. We didn't go after them when they left, one by one.  We knew that not everyone had what it took to be able to last for long in our select,  one-of-a-kind group.  No hard feelings. Go be a Baptist.

The Lesson From Above
In the 90s, we had an opportunity to learn better regarding this One Correct Group heresy.  The young tried to grow, tried to pursue Jesus and worship and reach out in fresh ways, and we stepped all over them, shamed them and made them feel like reckless, church-wrecking hedonistic rebels for doing what their hearts were leading them to do.  The young people who weren't inspired to reach out after Jesus were never found acting this way.  They were too passive and disinterested to make waves. The people we crushed were always reaching out to him.  It was those very efforts that drew our attention to them to begin with.  And we treated them like they were just trying to wreck everything for the sake of novelty.
   What was shown clearly for us to learn, was that we would invariably, unthinkingly put the maintaining of traditional ways over relationship with, the health of, or even continued care over and connection to, the young.  To our own kids.  To anyone.  We showed that being "doctrinally correct" was such an idol of ours, that we would sacrifice the majority of our population, and also hurt people to be able to claim this.  Even though those very actions of ours proved such a claim to be as empty as our meeting halls had now become.
   Now the lesson was waiting to be learned: you can't fail so badly in the "love" stuff and still act as if you are more or less nailing the "light/correctness/doctrine" stuff and feel that people should come listen to you explain it all.  Recorded on tape.  You just can't.
  If it's about the bible meaning something to you or not, and you aren't willing to take two steps for someone who needs your love, then we know who you are in the Good Samaritan story.  And if you see that story, and recognize your guilt, and instead of repenting and trying to switch roles, you say "Well, no one's perfect.  Stop going on about it.  We have to get by somehow.  We're just looking after our own kids and can't and won't do a thing for anyone outside that, because Our Own come first and you aren't Our Own" then you are unrepentant sinners.  And there's no hope for you until you are willing to face some reality/Jesus.  Feed, not sacrifice, my lambs.
   If you hold tight to living as if that heresy was actual Bible Truth, and you alike refuse to listen to the actual bible, the plaints of your abandoned ones and victims, and the uncomprehending gasps of other Christians in the world, you are headed down a path that is going to earn some very direct dealings with God.  The withholding of blessing (e.g. health, finances, marital integrity, relationship with your kids, mental stability, emotional health) and the bringing of direct judgment upon yourselves. That's at the door.
   If you're feeling accusatory and defensive right now, take a hard look at what you're defending, and why.
   This is what I see right now.  And I'm telling you so you'll know.  I'm trying to be very clear and direct.  It's not a nice message.  But it's not nice to not warn people.  I may be a bit glib to try to brazen through to the end, but I'm serious.  Deadly serious.  I'm not kidding.  I'm not taking what's been recently called "a sick delight in upsetting others and causing pain." And I care.

The Message
It's 2014.  You know everything you need to. You know that the One Correct Group doctrine is heresy.  You've known it for some time.  You know it's precisely what's made all the divisions and Brethren drama and heartache possible.  You know that the fighting wasn't over anything less, or other than, the right to claim to be that mythical One Correct Group.  You know that without it, there would have been nothing to fight over.  You know that lying, threats, manipulation, deceit and all manner of behaviour that would disqualify a man from being a greeter at Wal-Mart happened, and that these men are still allowed to run things among you as much as they feel the need to.  You know all of that.
   And you tell me you know all of this. You tell me you've changed.  That you laugh at the idea that I might think you haven't.  That you feel and think and believe and live differently.  That no one believes the One Correct Group doctrine (besides the men in charge) anymore.
  I have a simple test for you: Find that person.  You know the one.  The one who isn't on the "membership" list of the group you're part of anymore.  He or she used to be, but he or she is "not one of you" anymore, because of some letter some guys wrote, or just due to wandering off.  You know that no one can put someone out from "the Lord's Table" and then demand that you bow to their supposed authority to do that.  You know that if someone could do that, it would not be done like this, to these people, in this way, for these reasons.  And you know it's all smoke and mirrors.  Power games.  By clearly unprincipled men who will stop at nothing and for no one.
   You likely have blood relatives, friends, neighbours, who are supposedly, according to your group, "out."  Not one of/with you anymore.  Not connected.  Not united.  Well, God says different.
   The Brethren group I was raised in taught us that there only One Body of Christ.  There is one Church only.  These sub-divisions of it, these "churches" and sects, are meaningless.  They appear to divide things up.  They insidiously tempt us daily to view ourselves as divided up.  When we are really one, and are to think and feel and live according to that reality.
   Now, you may say that those church walls, those membership lists, those networks of affiliation do NOT really divide up the Church in your head, anyway.  Okay.  Prove that.  Reach out to someone who is on the other side of your church wall.  Eat with him or her.  Let him or her speak at your church stuff, if he or she has stuff to say.  Let that person help, instead of trying to fix him or her.  Live unity.  Let those other Christians inside the walls, if you really don't think there are any walls, or they don't mean anything in terms of how you live.
   Some non-doctrine-heavy churches are willing to do this, very carefully, in some cases. Try it. yourself.  Weekly.
  You have brothers, sisters, cousins, parents, friends and other connections who are divided, on paper anyway, from you.  Can you "undivide"?  Can you see things as God asks us to? There is not a single epistle written to a group on one side of a division.  There is no scriptural guidance for us, once we're divided, other than to get back into a state the scripture actually addresses.  John was not given messages to the fourteen churches in seven cities.
  Now, let's say someone is "carrying on" in adultery.  Leave them aside for the moment as a more complex issue.  Deal first with what should be simpler.  You are a Free Methodist church.  Bob goes to the Calvary Bible church, unaffiliated with you, though just up the block.  You meet on Sundays like you're different religions, rather than unified in any real way.  He knows a bunch of cool stuff about something you think your church would like to hear.  Invite him to speak.  Now do stuff like that all the time.  Every week.  Some churches do.  Let's all do more of that.  Undivide.  Live unity.  Try demonstrating the unity of the one body in some other way than supporting "assembly decisions" to divide and be split.
You have a Plymouth Brethren table.  Stop remaining divided because distant people claim a right to tell you who is in the Lord's Table, and who is out of it.  No one can really do that.  You know that.  It's not real, and yet it's hurting people.  I know because it's hurting me.  To have my own father refuse to ask the other three guys in his assembly if I can maybe not be called wicked anymore.
  I believe it's hurting the heart of Jesus and working counter to his agendas and concerns.  We are invited to gather at the Table.  We are not gate-keepers.  We sit at the Table, not stand at the door.  It is not our table.  How can we claim to know that all of those people in our community who we've never met, are all not at the Lord's Table because they haven't introduced themselves to us, and therefore can't be?  How can we claim the power to not only tell who is in and who is out, but also to keep some away?  To punish them for bad attendance?  How dare we enact a ritual which symbolically claims that we are not one with those other people?  It's heresy.  It's bad for kids and new Christians.  It is forcing people to meet in ways that directly contradict scripture.
   So, you claim to not believe in the One Correct Group heresy.  Well, talk to me about the bible, then.  To me and other Christians who aren't in your church.  Some churches do this.  We should all do it.  Who are the Christians in your neighbourhood?  (Why don't you know the answer to that question?  They're the people that you meet when you're walking down the street, they're the people that you meet each day, after all.)  Your neighbourhood likely has an awful lot of Christians who need God, need you, and need connection.  Yet they aren't on your church's radar at all.  Too busy with throwing money at Africa.  That's why it's up to you.  Church radar doesn't work very well, mostly.  Not up close.  So connect.  Reach out. Tag, you're it.  You're a Christian, I'm a Christian.  You don't have to agree with me.  It's okay.  It's not my place to let you into the Lord's Table. It's only my place to answer the invitation to it, and note that you're there too.  You don't have to get through me to partake.
   And if we sit in a room, and I eat the symbolic bread and wine, and you're a Christian, and you come in that room, and yet must not eat that symbolic bread and wine, not this week anyway? Not until we get to clear up some questions we have?  Every week we eat and you don't, we're acting out a lie.  We're lying with our worship.  Our worship says you aren't a Christian. It says we're not One Body.  It says we are not connected, are not brothers.  How many weeks are we willing to leave that like that?  How much strength does it take to stop pretending to be divided, even if other guys say you have to?  How much strength does it take to stop pushing people away?  What if they had a division and people kept worshipping together?
   Tradition will be brought out: "But that's not how it's done." "It doesn't work like that."
   News flash: it doesn't work at all.  Not the way we're living.  We are weekly enacting a worship-lie.  We are acting like there isn't One Body at all.  We are acting like the Spirit gathered us and had us divide up.  Had us repeatedly enact ecclesiastical divorces we were correct to enact.  Unlike the Good Samaritan, unlike the Lord we lyingly say we follow, we won't touch the churchwounded, lest we somehow get defiled/it gets revealed we have no ability to be gentle, or to help and heal.  There are more churchwounded Christians than Samaritans.  We did it.  We wound Samaritans.  Yet there is no room in the inn.  In fact, the inn seems to have a "spiritual, healthy people only.  No dirty people" sign.
   There is no hope until we repent.  Repent means rethink.  It does not mean we simply claim to think and feel differently.  It does not mean we feel regret.  Like faith, without it changing our actions, it is dead, if not wholly fictional.  It's a theoretical thing that doesn't do any good.

I'm A Guinea Pig
That's what I am.  A canary in your coal mine.  Me and a bunch of others.  I'm a test to see if you mean what you say.  If you will live as a Christian, or just claim stuff.  What fictions are you willing to sacrifice in order to embrace reality/Jesus?  
  You believe I am a Christian.  You believe I feel the call of the Spirit to gather with other Christians.  You see that I do almost nothing but connect to Christians, electronically and in person, whenever I'm not working, and sometimes when I am.  You see that I connect instantly and heart-warmingly with Christians on an individual basis, so long as they aren't doing church instead of Christ, making them refuse to deal with me as a person.  You see that when I have no one to talk to, I post things to the Internet.
  You know that the assembly I was going to in the 90s decided to get rid of not just me, but literally hundreds of people, and had the whole world divide, all for their own power reasons.  You know that without the One Correct Group heresy, none of that would have happened.  You know that the divisions are a judgment upon us for holding it.  You know that any remaining vestiges of that heresy among us still, leave us wide open to all manner of judgment, and evil springing up among us, rather than "keeping the Lord's Table/Testimony clean," as we shamelessly claim.  You know that the Church isn't really divided, and that we're being tricked to hold heresies and live and worship just as if it were anyway.  Which absolves us of having to behave like Christians to other Christians.
   Undivide.  This week. Reach out.  Talk about your heart to someone Christian.  Someone who's not playing the same church sport you are.  Someone with a fresh perspective.  Be known.  Give someone the opportunity to accept you.  Better to risk rejection than sacrifice acceptance without giving other Christians, the Lord Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, any chance to understand, relate, connect.
   No man is an island.  Don't live as if you are. It's a lie.
   My church group threw me and many others into the ditch.  The ditches, sidewalks, alleys and gutters are full of people like us.  Don't walk by.  Don't avert your eyes.  Reach out.  To all of us.  We're in your community.  We're you.  Be human to us, if not Christian.  Treat us like people, if not brothers and sisters.  Don't avoid our eyes and walk by.  No, we don't have churches to go home to.  The system is broken.  It's only human.  If you need it to not be broken, and to be able to claim it works and is divine, then you need us not to be.  You need us hidden away somewhere where no one can see us.  But we need change.  Your change.  Not pity.  Change.
   Look at us.  Right into our eyes.  Ask yourself why that's scary.  Ask yourself if some of what scares you about us is some facets of God you're seeing and fleeing.  Check and see what it is.
  Be.Christian.Today.  (Yes. Even as relates to church activities! Even there!) No more "Oh, well... you know how it is.  We're doing all we can. It's just like this now, and it's never going to change. Can't fix anything.  Just hold tight.  I'm not in charge.  No one would listen to me.  I have to go along.  You know how some people are. The ones in power. The Faceless, Ancient Ones who rule us."
   Enough.  Just quit all that.  Be real.  Don't hold up walls meant to protect nothingness, lies and fiction from the light of day shining in and showing there's nothing there.  Be willing to sacrifice what isn't real, in order to gain the real.  In order to gain Jesus.  Open those empty hands you clasp shut, claiming to have the entire treasures of heaven clutched therein.  Open them up and let the rain fall into them.
   No more limping back and forth between two mindsets, two places you keep the two sundered shreds of your heart tissue, the two identities.  Be real.  Refuse to have anything to do with anything that's not.  Refuse to bow down in the house of Rimmon, if you don't believe in Rimmon anymore.  If your leprosy is healed, don't tell people you are unclean and draw away from them.  Don't cover your lack of leprosy and obediently go outside the city.  Don't bow to "assembly decisions" you know right well did not involve the assembly, and which were not agreed upon or decided, and which claim powers no human on earth possesses.  "Assembly decisions" about fictional, agreed-upon pretend dividedness.  "Assembly decisions" that someone just can't be at the Lord's Table anymore because they were cheeky to Dwight.
   Do not bow to faceless power.  Do not bow to "but this is how it's always done," "the way it is," and "you know."  Don't just say you see the error.  Stop being the error.  Don't step over the imaginary cracks as if they were real.  They aren't there.
   Stand up.  Serve God and reality and good, rather than an undefinable "it/you know/stuff" in which you are trapped and enslaved.  Jesus means "saviour."  He is working right now to free not only your thoughts, your feelings and your supposed "positions," but your hands and feet.  The only way you're going to remain bound each day is if you put your hands out each morning and ask to have them bound together again, by the faceless power you bow to and serve when it calls you to.
  Stop serving faceless, dividing, draconian, bureaucratic, uncharitable, walking by on the other side, not looking, "just me and my family, that's all I can concern myself with" naked pretend power.  Because I know what Its name is.  So do you.  And you do not want to continue serve that name.  It is anti-Christ.  It is anti-God.  It is anti-life.
  The name that accuses, condemns, shames, divides, abandons and leaves people God loves lying right there in the ditch where it put them.  You know the one.


We Love You

We like you a great deal.  Talking to you is an incredibly gruelling, upsetting, nerve-racking experience, so you can't blame us for choosing not to do it.  We have judged you a wicked person to perpetuity.  Why do you criticize us?  We Christians are all members of the same One Body, and sub-distinctions of the Body into "churches" are extremely unscriptural.  You must realize that, unless you want back "in," there's really no reason whatsoever for us to bother dealing with you, as you are nothing to do with us, once we kick you out, unless you want to become one of us again.  The Lord uses you for blessing.  You have a lot to answer for.   There is One Body.  You have nothing to do with us and we have no obligation to you.  We love you.  Please go away.
  You were deeply wronged by us, your assembly, when it/us kicked you out and refused to discuss restoration to this day.  You are very guilty of having criticized us/your assembly for kicking you out and you have not submitted graciously to our/their assembly decision and reasons for refusing to discuss restoration.  You did nothing worthy of having been kicked out. You are not sufficiently repentant.  The stuff you write is truly horrible and upsetting and I am personally appalled at it, as would be any decent Christian.  We have never seen any of it and are deeply offended.  The paper you wrote was actually not that bad and I laughed at it.  You have deeply upset sincere, bible-believing Christians by writing it and have a lot to answer for now.  You need to learn to submit to groups of Christians who God has given power over you. I, of course, no longer believe in God, but still... It's not us shunning you; it's other Christians we must be one with.  We want nothing to do with them; we're not connected, really.  You're right.  Now apologize.  Your brethren love you.  They just want you to go away and not come back.
    Our assemblies have a responsibility to judge those who stray from the path and are in error; if we did not fulfil this obligation our gathering would be invalidated by that.  Our assemblies are weak, and cannot be asked to forgive people they have judged or kicked out, but will, of course, continue to judge and kick out people we feel no obligation to restore at any point. We care deeply for you and wish you all the best.  Please don't talk to us.
  We are no longer in fellowship with Wim Vanhoefwegan and his group, and have nothing to do with them and their completely unscriptural, incorrect actions of kicking people out all the time.  Of course if you were to want to have any judgment put on you by us when we were in Wim Vanhoefwegan's group lifted, we would need to somehow meet with his group to ask if it was okay to let you back in; this would require effectively undoing the division, and obviously that's not going to happen, so obviously we're completely unable to ever reverse Wim's decision now, as we have split from him, over the incorrectness of his kicking people out.  Apart from me, the other two leading brothers in my assembly are men directly involved in putting you under discipline, and the nearest neighboring assembly contains really only two men, both of whom were also directly responsible for putting you out, including bringing the pamphlet to the brother's meeting to begin with.  Your being put under discipline has nothing whatsoever to do with us or our assembly, or neighboring assemblies, so we don't understand why you're trying to involve us in your own very personal thing. You need to read your bible.  We refuse to discuss the bible with you.  We have cast you away forever.  Why don't you trust us?  We have shut you out of your birth culture.  Why do you criticize us?  We love you more than you know and care for you very deeply.  Now, go away.
   We are a valid group of Christians, because we follow scripture and we judge any and all evil in our midst.  We wrongly, evilly, put people out of our group all the time, leave them out for good, and then feel no need to judge that evil act, having "put out" far more people in the last twenty years than we ever "let in."  There is no "in" or "out" as we are just Christians gathered to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  You aren't "in" and never will be; it isn't our job to discuss you being back "in," as the Lord judges them that are (with)out.  We have cried many bitter tears over your situation.  We refuse to discuss changing it.   It would be wrong to try to subdivide the Body into sects.  If people worship with any Christians who aren't in our sect, we put them "out" of our sect.  We judge unscriptural things that go on in our group, as scripture is our guide in all things.  We refuse to discuss the various ways we are going against scripture, as these are days of weakness, no one's perfect and you can't expect us to try to follow scripture at a time like this.  We pray for you continually and seek the Lord's will for you in your life.  Please go away.
  We are Christians and we are always here for you; you can ask us anything, and you know that.  We flatly refuse to discuss topics such as the bible, us, you, worship or anything controversial with you, whatever it is that you're wrestling with in it all, even if what you really need is to discuss it with someone.   What happened to you is in the past, and now everything has changed, so it is very troubling that you continue to act as if this is still an ongoing thing, rather than a past thing you seem unable to forgive, despite it being over.  You cannot come out to church at present and take communion, nor will you ever be able to, at any point in the future, and we will not be badgered about meeting with you to discuss it.  Our feelings and beliefs are nothing like they were back when you were still "in"; everything's changed.  We can't change anything; you know how it works and you know how some brethren are.  I feel horrible about your situation.  I will not help, no.  Feel free to discuss anything with me.  Please don't discuss you, or me or us or them.  We love you so much and feel horrible about what happened.  Now go away and don't try to talk to us.
   We have nothing to hide.  You need to stop revealing things we do and say to you and people like you.  If you really wanted to be allowed back "in," of course you could get back "in."  We refuse to respond to any and all requests regarding being allowed back "in."  We have no membership list.  You aren't on it.  There is no "in."  You are "out."  We love you.  Get lost.
   The division was horrible and wrong.  You are on the other side of it, so we won't worship with you.  Your father was always so kind to me; sorry to hear he's lonely and bored in his twilight years.  He's on the other side of the division, so of course I can't talk to him anymore.  We are free, now.  You know we can't do that or people will talk; you know how some Brethren are... When there are problems in your life, you must repent of them and deal with them if you want any blessing.  We refuse to deal with the problems in our group and certainly don't feel we would ever need to repent of anything ever, or make amends in any way.  We're so sorry that you're hurting.  Now stop talking about how you got hurt or we'll hurt you more.  We love every person we kicked out.  We just need them to go away and not come back.
   You are not honest and you do not follow the scripture and cannot expect to be received as someone who does; you cannot be trusted.  Stop being so idealistic and trying to hold people to a higher standard than they can attain to; these are the Last Days, after all.  We fear God, unlike you.  We are not afraid to hurt His children for our own benefit.  You have to deal with evil; you can't just move on and pretend it didn't happen.  Why can't you move on and pretend it didn't happen?  Why can't you just be happy; Christians are happy.  I've been struggling with depression myself lately.  We've been having lovely meetings. No, don't come out to them.  We care deeply for you and wish you all the best and think of you often.  Go away and forget about us.
  These men are our elder brethren, and that gives them authority to make assembly decisions for the assembly and we need to bow to their decisions, or we're going against scripture and not working toward Christian unity.  We have no elders or clergy or power hierarchy of any kind and are all equal; one with all Christians.  The scripture is our guide.  We refuse to discuss the scripture with you.  You are too clever and good at arguing for anyone to feel comfortable talking to you.  You are silly and immature and ignorant of scripture.  I love you, Mike.  Go away.
   We are not The Lord's Table, but are just one group seeking to partake of the Lord's Supper from it; there is no "we."  We have put you away from The Lord's Table, because we have the authority to do that and are not to be questioned.  What we did to you was very, very wrong.  It wasn't us; why can't you shut up and take it?  You were put under our responsibility and authority, and your spiritual well-being was our responsibility.  Now that we have put you out so we don't have to deal with you, we have no obligation to deal with you now in any way and will not speak with you about spiritual things. There is no "we."  We won't worship with you.  If it was up to me, I'd let you.  I will not let you.  We love you so much.  Go away.
  I believe the bible.  Stop quoting the bible around me.  Self is the enemy and must always be examined and judged.  Don't try to get to know me, analyze or examine me, and don't tell me who I clearly am; I don't want to know.  Hypocrisy is bad. Don't expect us to come through on our claims.  It is important for Christians to forgive; why can't you forgive us?  We refuse to discuss forgiving you ever.  You did nothing deserving of getting kicked out.  We do not forgive you.  We are a mess and can't be expected to function as any kind of unified system; to require that of us is unfair in the extreme because we're doing the best we can and we're just a bunch of people who fail.  We are united in barring you access to worship and fellowship.  You need to stop writing such horrible things.  I have no idea what you write; I would never read it.  We love you very much.  You can't have supper at our house.
   We have the utmost respect for you.  You're a bad person.  You have been of help to a lot of people.  You are dangerous and people shouldn't talk to you.  It isn't okay to go worship in a different church, because the Lord would not have you there, where the doctrine is so watered down and evil is not judged.  Go to another church right now.
  We love you and miss you so much.  Now, go away.

Friday, 4 April 2014


I live alone.  There's actually a song about that.  And something I do sometimes when it's Friday, and the work week is over (and I need to buy groceries and don't feel like it) is I come home and order a pizza delivered.  I've been doing this, sometimes a couple of times monthly, for a couple of years.
   The pizza has pretty much always been delivered by one or the other of two guys: 
   The first is a twenty-something guy who plays drums in a thrash metal band around here, who I first met when a kid at my high school wanted help recording their band.  They were brash, surly teens.  When this guy delivers my pizza now, though, he is warm and friendly and matured by comparison.  Realizes we have a lot in common.  No reason to be all "You're a teacher.  I by, contrast, am a fully formed human being" about things anymore.  Adult life yawns challengingly open in front of him, with no grownups blocking his path to it anymore.
   The other guy who delivers pizza is a guy in his late 50s.  Bald.  Dour.  White moustache.  Quiet, but with gravitas and character.  Exactly the sort of guy you wonder "Why are you delivering pizza?"  Doesn't have to talk much at all for you to know he has enough personality in there to address a room full of people, or nail and quiet scene in a movie.  A couple of times he's brought the wireless bank machine thingie, and the Savings account button has fallen off.  Then he's used the temple on his glasses to poke it for me.  He did that a couple of times, and then the  next time I used my own glasses to do it.
   I mentioned this to the young guy one time.  "I would never bring that machine" the young guy said, smilingly.  Pride in his job.
   Like I said, I've been ordering pizza on Fridays once or twice a month for a couple of years.  Have had only brief chats with whichever guy brought it.  I'm "the music guy, with the instruments" they catch a glimpse of through the door when they deliver the pizza.  They get asked "You know where this pizza is going?" and they say "Yeah.  Music-guy."

Now, this week I've been getting more than my usual dose of dealing with people who still go to my old church, or who left/stayed/got kicked out/removed themselves from it, and now meet at one you couldn't tell from the other one if I paid you to try to go do so.
   I've been trying to reconnect to people like this, and with a certain amount of success.  Of course we seem to trip over ourselves and falter and fumble around on our way to reconnecting.  Things like this blog are continually brought up as examples of things that are a/the problem with me connecting to Christians.  As things that supposedly make me impossible to deal with.  Needless, meaningless affronts to decency.  I feel like I'm repeatedly being asked to justify why I'm "not nice" on here.  Why I'm (it is felt) screechingly, over the top, crazy offensive, profane, heavy-handed, indecent and upsetting on a very deep, pointed level.
  The idea that I mean well is acknowledged.  Even the idea that maybe, despite my excesses and indulgences, I might be sometimes helping "some people."  Not people for whom church works pretty well, of course. You know.  The other people.  The 60-80% of Christians who aren't really terribly involved in a church most of the time.
   But let me tell you this: I never feel more left out in the cold than when someone who is claiming to be fairly happy in their church, most of the time anyway, repeatedly demands I explain why I'm different. Why I'm not nice (on here), why I'm not deep into a church, and so on.  When people suddenly pretty much go "Hey!  I think I just saw you loving Jesus and caring about the Church and about Christians, there, for a moment! You DO care!  I didn't know that!  Why can't you show that first? There's no way to tell!"
  I've felt terribly alienated and freakish this week.  Phrases like "extreme attention seeking behavior"  and the notion that when Brethren people argue with me, they are made to feel "like some kind of pawn in a sick game" do not make me feel nice about myself.  Wording like " rip up, push, criticize and analyze" and "mean streak" weigh heavily on a psyche as tender as mine.  Like the apostle, my blogs are powerful, but my bodily presence contemptible.  I'm willing to go through that soul-abrading stuff though, as Brethren people are claiming that it's nigh impossible to have talks with me without it feeling like that for them too.  And they're telling me that.  Along with demands to know why I seem to need people to admit the negative stuff they think of me.  Why can't I just "leave" that?  Why do I need them to admit how they judge me?  When they are only judging me in their Brethren hearts, and not their real ones.  I understand that, don't I?  They don't really resent me.  They actually kind of like me.  Not in their Brethren hearts, of course.  In their real ones.  And they wouldn't, in theory, actually ostracize me.  Not in their real lives.  Just in their Brethren ones.  Don't I understand?
   Most of all, the fact that I do not do things by Brethren standards anymore, having been freed from said standards and constraints by Jesus Christ in the 1990s, and so can now be seen to be comparatively at liberty?  Seems to put a barrier between us.  Why can't I act decent and nice and proper?  You know... Christian?  Do I think Jesus or Paul or Peter would have said a harsh word like I tend to do on occasion?  Exactly how much do I get off on continually upsetting Christians?  Why are personality and colour important?  Can't I dispense with those and be a glass of warm spit/milk?
  That's what it feels like at this end, anyway.  And I'm not getting it from only one (or two) Brethren people this week.
   So I did my week, enjoyed talking to some Brethren Christians online and in person a bit, but also, on some level, found that it really took it out of me to look at myself the way they see me.  More than I remember it does.

So I ordered a pizza.  And, the older guy came with it this time.  He brought a machine with all of its buttons.  For some reason, we connected more than usual and slid over into a Real Conversation.  I'd have invited him in, but he's working.  We spoke with me holding the door open,  and my cat sneaking timidly out into the hall.  Standing there, holding the door open, reminded me of things it is not lawful for men to utter.
  It transpires that he was raised in a messed up family situation around here, was an alcoholic by his teens, and found Jesus in a Brethren (yes) local group.  The group pointed him in the general direction of Jesus, and then he needed to almost immediately move on from them to try to find God more fully, in a far safer spiritual environment where he'd be allowed to grow, and not get smooshed.  Because they were ridiculous, apparently.  Very, very harmful to him.  He said it was like he needed to meet God, and their message about God and to go find Him was pretty much "perfect" at that point in his alcoholic, teenaged life.  He needed Brethren people to tell him what they claimed to believe was wise, about God.  To speak their teaching with him in the room.  Not to actually be around him, though.  Because then, the toxin started to work and he had to flee.  To find God really, he said.  Find out about that love and liberty.  Except for real.  From people who might be able to do it, not just have meetings and talk about the importance and "glory" of it.  From people who were free.  From people who did love.  From people with actual understanding.  From people who weren't trying to own it or claim it, or worst of all, defend it from other Christians.
   And so he went to bible school. Got degrees. Was deeply disillusioned by the reality he felt he saw there in the church industry.  That it was all about power and control.  "Politics," he said.  But he became a preacher and pastor.  Did a lot of street preaching.  Was a pastor in a church for over a decade, he said.
   He said his gifts were prophetic, in terms of being about common sense, external view, trouble-shooting and attitude mirroring.  You know?  Someone who could give an opinion, but who hadn't unthinkingly bought the story and drank the Koolaid, someone who wouldn't unthinkingly excuse everything and live in "let's pretend" and try to make people stop referring to too many of the wrong kind of real things.  And sometimes, some churches need to hire or appoint someone to keep both eyes open.  And increasingly, that was his job.  They needed him to deal with trouble.  Because it was almost all they could do to even admit there was trouble.  Then back to the happy.
   He said the more he told the truth, the more he got kicked out of groups and ostracized.  Especially if his official job was to deal with church problems.  His training is in counselling and human interactions.  Mediating.  He said he's been knocked around pretty harshly in his church experience.  His voice wobbled a bit.  It was stubborn.  Beaten down but not beaten.  He said the more he helped or trouble-shot, the more he found what happens when churches split.  He said when he would be asked to go "mend" a church that was going to split, he often had to report "I'm wasting my time.  There's nothing of Christ to work with here that I can lay hold on.  They are determined to split and won't talk about anything but power. There is literally nothing to do."  Made the higher ups angry.
   He says people think it's a 50-50 thing when a church splits, but it's always 20% go one way, 20% the other, and the rest mostly "go into the closet."  Stop feeling worthy to (and also stop wanting to) be connected with and involved in church life ever again.  Often they are scared and angry.  And the church groups call them bitter or say they weren't ever really sincere Christians, and let them go.
   He said this community around here is absolutely packed with people who have been very, very hurt by their experience of church.  Of it being driven by politics, power and control.  Said the community is full of closeted Christians with stories to tell, no one they want to tell them to, and no one who would listen.
  He told of one occasion when he reported over the phone that the church he had been sent to "mend" in Buffalo, New York was unsaveable.  It insisted upon splitting, as churches do.  He phoned and reported that he was wasting his time.  They said to try harder.  He said no. He said he was wasting his time and was going to stop wasting it.  Because wasting time is bad.  Sometimes God's not working.  Sometimes there's no point hoping.  This church went on to split, he said (the catalyst for it splitting, anyway, was) over whether the hymnals HAD to always be red to symbolize the blood of Christ, or not.  It was literally a red vs. blue thing.
   He said his childhood was very messed up.  He said he was a drunk then, but hasn't had a problem with that for twenty years and can't imagine having one ever again.  Said Jesus saves from stuff like that.  And that we're not special.  None of us.  He said it's about love, and any church which trades in control and power wielded by using guilt and shame?  Doesn't know about Jesus, no matter how correct its doctrine is, on lifeless paper.  He said when I'm dealing with people who don't know about love and freedom, it's improper to keep taking them at their word and calling them "Christians" like I've seen any sign of the real deal.  "You got to change your terminology," he said. "Refer to them only as 'people.'  That's all you know they are."
   "I can't seem to stop making satire" I said.
   "The Church badly needs satire" he immediately said.  "It has no clear picture of itself. Doesn't know when it's ridiculous. It needs it."
   He'd stayed longer than he should have, given that it was "rush night" at the pizza place, so he had to go.  We resolved to talk again.  I told him we'd been "trying out" churches for fun lately, and he said to try (for fun) the one he'd gone to twice, and that no one had been willing to talk to him at. The one that had been warned that he was an ex-pastor.
  And of course it was the first nonBrethren church I ever attended.  The one whose pastor I repeatedly affront. The one who says I "push people too hard and break them and they run away" from me.  The one who tried to help me and fix my attitude by listening to my problems with church (he's got training) but then got mad and resented me for having the problems I have with church.
   Perfect.  We both laughed, Howard the ex-pastor/pizza deliveryman and I.
   I can't tell you how magical it was to talk to this guy.  He asked if I knew what the origin of the word "religion" was?  Of course I did.  Ligature.  A tie or bond.  A fetter.  Something which confines one and takes away freedom.  Makes one a prisoner.  He nodded.
   We were two ships in the night, finishing all of each other's sentences, nodding and saying "Yup.  You're not imagining it.  It really is like this.  It really is this hard.  It really is this lonely.  For some of us, anyway.  Some of the time.  God bless you."  Do you know what it means when someone says "God bless you" to me, and I believe he means it?  There was no pity in it at all.
   And the young guy in the thrash band who delivers the pizza also?  Of course, it turns out that he was strictly raised by strict Christians and still has the guilty heebie jeebies if the other guy teases him about his "devil music."  Which he does, on occasion.  Just to watch him look uncomfortable.
   I just ordered a pizza.  But I got all that.