Saturday, 21 February 2015

Be In My Book

My book (working title Wrestling With God I Was A Teenage Pharisee) is almost done.  It’s about trying to move beyond a culture of legalism without losing relationship with God.  It assumes that a culture of legalism is bad, and that you have had negative experience of one, which experience you are trying to sort out.  

Please answer whichever of the following you wish, in as much detail as you wish, using an assumed name if desired. I'm looking for personal experiences to cite in my book, using only your first name (real or assumed) to label them.  It's fun writing about myself and all, but having the collected observations and experiences of others of similar background adds a great deal of colour, breadth, depth and weight to something like this.

Please email your responses to wikkidperson AT  I would love to fill out my book with some of the thoughts, feelings and experiences of other people.

  1. When you read the bible now, does it tend mostly to support, or challenge the legalism you grew up under?
  2. Describe difficulties you have had in dealing socially with legalistic people in your own setting. Specific incidents are better than general statements.
  3. Some of our friends threw their legalistic church culture right overboard when they hit adulthood, and hit it hard.  What are some of the horror stories you have, as to friends making a mess of their lives in fleeing legalism in this way?  Did they “come back” afterward, repentant prodigals?
  4. Some of our friends “stayed with” church culture and never really broke rules or went against it, and are now raising obedient, old-school (often homeschooled) church kids.  Are you aware of any downside or sacrifice or struggle involved in them having done this? What has been hard about it for them?
  5. What was it like for you to first attend the worship services of another church?  To what degree did your Brethren upbringing make you feel you were being unfaithful, or indulging in something fleshly, or the like? Did your upbringing "ruin" you for enjoying the worship activities of other Christians?
  6. Did your culture make it hard for you to connect to others, in terms of romantic relationships? How?
  7. When you think of an activity (non-sexual) which utterly pulls you out of yourself, your week and your problems, making you lose all track of it and just getting engaged in what's going on, what is that activity?  Makes you feel alive and yourself and good? Did you discover it while still living under your birth culture, or as a result of connection with people and things outside of it?  Was it/would it be encouraged and nurtured, were you still living very much under your culture's limits?
  8. How much do you "trust" God with your dreams, hopes and aspirations? Do you fear you need to hide from Him to get the desires of your heart, and if you listen to Him enough, He'll send you to Africa?  Has there been a change in this, since your teens?
  9. What do you feel would be the consequences, were you to “get legalistic” and live the next ten years with an excessive degree of unchecked legalism running through every aspect of your life?  What would happen?
  10. In your teens and early adulthood, how much of a “thing” were fairly inexplicable and disproportionate feelings of crippling shame? And how about nowadays?
  11. How important is feeling in control to you?  Do you tend to view a loss of control as sin?  Has a need for control ever limited your options?
  12. Growing up, how aware were you that other people were watching to see how "godly" or "worldly" you were being?
  13. To what degree do you feel like pleasing (not shaming) your parents as to life choices continued to be a (disproportionately, unhealthy) central concern well into your adult life? If so, how does one grow beyond that a bit?
  14. What is the best concrete difference your church culture made in the secular community in which it was located?
  15.  To what degree are your standards for your life entirely higher and different, in many ways, than your standards for the proper behaviour of other, "regular" folks?  Are you less forgiving of yourself, because you need to be better?
  16. Growing up, how aware were you that there were a lot of (unwritten) rules in your church culture?
  17. Exactly how were you made aware of these unwritten rules, if you didn’t somehow “just know” them?  Was there some common thread which connected all of these rules together?
  18. How were the rules enforced, generally?  Have you ever exerted pressure on someone else when he or she wasn’t really keeping the rules?
  19. What happened when you first decided to bend or break some of the rules? Which rules did you choose? (What happened inside you, and then when you did it, and what was the aftermath?)
  20. Do you feel you grew up to be someone who “self-generated” Brethren rules? (If no rule existed for a given situation, you kind of "just made a rule up" all by yourself?)
  21. Talk about your own growing relationship with enjoyment/pleasure as you left home. Have you made progress?  Did you need to?
  22. To what degree did/do you struggle with a view of a God who was waiting to pounce on you and punish you for enjoying things?
  23. My cousin said that growing up under our Brethren rules resulted in us becoming either rebels or liars.  I would add that some of us became zealots, who felt “better than” rebels or liars, and tried to actually keep all the rules.  We judged them in my hearts.  Comments about your own rebelling or lying (or zealotry)?
  24. I found my conscience had to change/develop. It began to focus less on movie theatres and concerts, and more on how to treat people properly. It was like regular folks had more tender consciences about how to treat other people properly than we did.  Comments?
  25. Did you feel like your culture simply wasn’t enough for you in terms of your finding a true relationship with God, or did you feel like it actively seemed to “block” your efforts to find Him more genuinely?
  26. What have you discovered about the bible that you don’t feel was the main thrust of Brethren teaching?  How did you discover it, if you weren't taught it in your own birth culture?
  27. What important things have you learned from dealing with people (including writers and musicians) outside of your birth culture?
  28. Twenty-seven would be an awfully awkward number of questions to have, wouldn't it?

Sunday, 1 February 2015


Weddings and funerals have a way of making you think.  And feel.  Last week, a cousin of mine (not the one who was getting married), was trying to make polite conversation with me over dinner.  How he did this was, he acceptingly said "'re an atheist now?"
            I was immediately annoyed.  I mean, I thought, why would I write the songs, the blogs and the books, if I had simply lost faith in God and walked away from a "path of faith"?  Why would I bother with any of it?  Wouldn't I have long ago moved on to gambling addictions, cocaine and whores?  How could anyone even skim part of my blog and conclude that I didn't believe in God, rather than what I felt was that obvious fact that I am someone who is seeking a deeper, more authentic, less self-deluding and soul-killing approach to Him?
           So I got a second opinion from a person who is more adept than I am playing the 'getting along with others' social game.  (To whit, anyone other than me). "Can you believe someone could read my blog and think I was an atheist?" I asked, innocently, confident in the reply being a soothing one. 
            The answer was immediate: "Yes.  Because you're always pissed about Christian things on there."
          I had been looking for something more along the lines of "What?!  Ridiculous! The very reason you write about Christian things is because, as a Christian, you feel so strongly about them!"
        And it was easy to be self-justifying and self-righteous inside, at that point.  Oh yeah, some people were clearly still way back at not being able to tell the difference between Jesus Christ: the Word, the Son of the Living God, and our, frankly, pretty pathetic church stuff.  People clearly can't "hear sound doctrine" anymore.  People only want to hear smooth things, "uplifting" things, "encouraging" things only.  "Positive" things. Nothing that re-examines our assumptions and practice and suggests that just maybe we might need to rethink, refeel and retool some of it.  And I believe that all of this is true.  I really do.  But...
         Still, it really made me think. I don't mind a bit if people view me as a perpetually dissatisfied, self-centred, bitter Christian.  That's their thing.  But an atheist savagely attacking Christianity and God's work on Earth?  That latter thing is not anything I want to get used to, the way I'm used to (bored of) the former.
      And, then yesterday I was at my cousin's wedding. And the same cousin who'd politely and non-judgementally brought up my supposed atheism, stood up and read the bible passage he'd been asked to read at our cousin's wedding.
            It's an old familiar one. You know it, no doubt (even if you're an embittered atheist, savagely attacking Christianity and God's work on Earth.)  The one about how, even if you as a Christian could speak with the languages of angels, and speak mighty words of prophecy and do all manner of miracles, if you don't have (show) love, then you're like...
             Well, let's talk for a moment about what you're like.  Growing up in our King James Only bible studies, we read the one part of that passage as:

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

Now, first of all, we weren't overly clear on the fact that charity might actually mean being nice to one another.  Warm.  Accepting.  Tolerant.  Even (especially?) if we felt the other person was wrong about something.  
       In fact, while This Wicked World around us was, we felt, preaching a dangerous gospel of "tolerance" which would bring it to absolute ruin, we didn't really connect that tolerance is a lower standard than the one we're called to.  We're asked, not to tolerate difference, but to love people.  Tolerance is just love, with less effort.  A manners-deep semblance of it.  Love is something people need to feel, or else it isn't working.  
          I guess growing up, I seldom felt love.  Some of us have the kinds of rubber hearts it kind of just bounces off.  And the more people I meet who can make me feel liked, accepted, appreciated and so on, the more I see how that might be supposed to work, in a more functional person.  
       (At the time of writing this, my Mom emails a response to me sending her a picture of we cousins at the wedding.  She says I'm certainly a handsome fellow.  And I'm standing between my younger, taller, slimmer, chiselled blond cousins.  The championship swing dancer and the male model/fireman (yes), both with tiny waists, and truly massive shoulders and arms, as well as many inches of height on me.  And my tall, blond cousin the high-powered corporate lawyer.  And my other cousin who seems to have extra muscles no one else has, on his compactly dense form.  I'm older than any of them.  But Mom says I'm handsome.  Exactly the kind of love certain folks like me are likely to dismiss as deluded.  We're silly like that about love. And just as silly about being able to show it to others.)
          Another problem understanding that bible verse growing up was that "sounding brass" or a "tinkling cymbal" sounded really nice to me.  Musical instruments.  We weren't allowed those in our church.  There were no cymbals in there, tinkling melodiously or otherwise.  No organ, piano or guitar either.  I played trumpet at school, sounding that brass every week joyfully, and I loved when drummers did drum solos, hitting the crap out of the cymbals.
          But this is a perfect example of where, given the translation process, the intended meaning might have been lost, across the millennia, cultures and hemispheres.  Other translations say things like:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

It wasn't until I was an adult that I ever really understood (and, more importantly, felt) what that verse is probably trying to say.  If you're trying to talk, and the person can't discern any love that you may or may not have for him or her at all; then to them, they hear not words, but an annoying noise.
       At the wedding, at that point, hearing my cousin's deep, resonant voice declaim this bible passage, I was, in the parlance of modern church folk, "convicted."
     Why can't people hear that am a Christian?  Simple: because I don't know how to show people I love them.  (Or anything, maybe.)
       You don't get frustrated with people and stuff you don't care or think about.  I write because I care.  But I have to accept that I have been the blog equivalent of a cymbal being bashed with a rock beside the head of someone who is trying to carry on dinner conversation.  Or like Moses whacking a rock he was supposed to speak to.  I can tell you I care, but if I can't make you feel it, then to you I'm just noise.