Friday, 31 October 2014

Finding Ways to Connect to the Scriptures: Galatians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For it is written,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 26 October 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 7 October 2014


I haven't been wanting to blog for some time now.  My mind is running in some new directions.  Here's one:
   Let's say there's no God (I think there is, but let's say there isn't) and your church told you there was one.  As churches are wont to do.  Now, you find out what you feel to be the truth, later on, and you're mad.  But how mad do you really have a right to be?  You believed it. You gave money to preach it.  You probably preached it yourself.  You got up early on Sunday, and sacrificed evenings during the week to activities surrounding it.  You sat in the seat and sang the songs.  So, who are you really mad at?  Yourself.  For believing it.
  Let's say (and this what I think) that there is a God, and your church gave you a very flawed, lacking, twisted view of Him. Now, you find out what you feel to be the truth, later on, and you're mad.  Once again, how mad do you really have a right to be?  You believed in that view of God. You gave money to preach it.  You probably preached it yourself.  You got up early on Sunday, and sacrificed evenings during the week to support it all.  You sat in the seat and sang the songs. So, who are you really mad at?  Yourself.  For believing it.
   My church taught me that it wasn't just a church.  That it was superior to all the other Christian groups.  That it was structured in a scriptural way, unlike any other group. That the other groups were only human systems, built up by the hands of men, with administrators where there should have been leaders, and committees and creeds and a myriad other human inventions, which are natural, fleshly, bureaucratic approaches to something that could be far more inspired and Spirit-led.  And now I think I know the truth: that our group was a church.  Just a church. That it was a human system, built up by the hands of men, subject to all the nonsense any other Christian group is subject to.  Building human, bureaucratic structure (contact information lists, unofficial leaders whose word you get punished for questioning, accounts, banking, a global network of marketing guys etc.) into everything, just like any other place.
    And how mad do I really have a right to be?  I believed in my better-than-just-a-church church right up into my early twenties.  I put money in, to propagate and reproduce tragically white copies of the group all over the world.  I supported and preached it.  I went to church five times a week right up through adolescence and young adulthood.  I didn't go to movies or concerts or live sporting events I was desperate to see, not because God had any problem with them, but because it would hurt my status in the group.  I didn't drink alcohol.  I didn't do any number of things.  Because of the "status" thing.  I missed out on so much.  So who am I really mad at?  Me.  For believing it.  How stupid was I?
    I can't blame everything on that flawed, idealistic human system anymore.  I believed it.  If, instead of being kicked out of it for not fitting in, I had been given a voice and a place in it, I might well be still defending it today.  Saying it is perhaps something more than a flawed human system, set up and maintained by flawed human beings who need a warm place to worship.  Something more than just another church.  That's how human I am.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

A Former Student Preaches It Mightily

Overthinking: Jesus won....I mean, unless you ____ or forget to ...: I have been thinking about how we see ourselves and how scared we are. I used the analogy with a friend this week that recurs in my mind of ...