Monday, December 21, 2009

The Darkest Night of the Year

There are plenty of people around who will be happy to tell you the celebration of Christmas is a farce, rooted in pagan rituals and bedecked with all sorts of trappings of non-Christian customs; Christmas tree, evergreen wreaths, Santa Claus.
FYI, the Christmas tree custom is said to have been derived from pagan tree worship. I wasn't surprised to learn this because ever since I was a little tyke, I have felt an irresistible urge to genuflect every time I passed the lighted tree.
The evergreen wreaths and boughs have a similar origin, and Santa Claus, well, now he's something else altogether.
Old Saint Nick, we call him.
Well, of course you know that "Old Nick" is another name for Satan.
There you go.
Christmas is a big tree-hugging orgy culminating in a midnight visit from the devil himself, who breaks character by giving things rather than taking them and inexplicably drops down the chimney instead of rising from the frozen ninth circle of hell.
(Wait, the frozen ninth circle . . . . cold, North Pole, I've found another connection! And you have the striking, eerie similarity between "ninth" and "north." In fact, you only need interchange two letters to reach the same spelling.)
And the crowning glory of the 25th of December haters is the very date itself.
December 21st marks the winter solstice, a day that has held such significance for so many non-Christian cultures that I couldn't possibly name all the different rites and feasts. Essentially, it has to do with Dec. 21 or 22 being the shortest day of the year, and the turning point for lengthening days. Stonehenge, Sun gods and some ancient Greek festival dubbed "Festival of the Wild Women," all figure in, among many, many other pagan icons.
So, I say, what a glorious wonderful day to celebrate the earth-bound birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior.
In the midst of all the secular and even satanic ritualistic high days, December 25th sets a holy fire burning, raining light down like a certain mysterious "conjunction of planets" over 2000 years ago.
Beset like the oppressed Jews under Roman rule, we struggle here in the darkest night, the longest eclipse we can remember, longing for the coming of our Redeemer.
And in the middle of the darkness a spark is struck, and suddenly, the darkness is only a foil for that beautiful, blinding fire that grows and pulsates and will one day consume the whole new earth with it's brilliance.
"-and I'll keep my Christmas humor to the last." said nephew Fred "So, a Merry Christmas, Uncle!"
"Good afternoon!" said Scrooge.
"And a Happy New Year!"

Saturday, December 05, 2009

A Subject Too Deep For Me

Psalm 55:4 My heart is in anguish within me, and the terrors of death have fallen upon me.

Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror has overwhelmed me.

I said, Oh, that I had wings like a dove. I would fly away and be at rest.

Psalm 69:3 I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched.

My eyes fail while I wait for my God.

Psalm 88:3 For my soul has had enough troubles, and my life has drawn near to Sheol. I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit; I have become like a man without strength, forsaken among the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave.

Psalm 88:14 O Lord, why do you reject my soul? Why do you hide your face from me?

I recently read an article in World on a book entitled Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America and its author, Barbara Ehrenriech.Ehrenreich was diagnosed with breast cancer. However, the disease proved less of an irritant to Barbara than the support group tripe. Inundated with sappy platitudes, pink ribbons and teddy bears, and worse, pressure to be positive, she rebelled and fired off the afore-mentioned polemic. She is an accomplished author, with titles to her credit such as Nickled and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America and Bait and Switch: the (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream.She obviously was no bright-eyed optimist before this recent crisis in her life, but now apparently she has discovered the reason for many of America's problems: we feel driven to feel happy.
There is some plain common sense displayed here. Nothing is bound to make you more wide awake than knowing you have to get some sleep, humor is irrepressible when you must not laugh, humor deflates when you are expected to laugh, knowing you must relax is stressful and so on.
But of course you can agree with her syllogistic conclusion only if you agree with her premise.So, do we feel driven to feel happy?
I think the expectation of happiness is arguably the most accepted gospel in America.
If you are ever sad, you are expected to get over it, and fast.
Why be sad, when you can be happy?
I, who have sat under very imaginative and creative judgemental ministers, have never felt so preached at (or more nauseated) as when a co-worker or some passing stranger will say something like "Well, it's just a beautiful day to be alive, isn't it."
And the preacher said, "Everyone who is happy in the Lord, turn to your neighbor and say, 'You look like you've been praising the Lord.'"
Don't misunderstand me. Every day is a beautiful day to live because of the grace of God, but more often the obligation to feel happy is based on the pleasant weather, or some other pathetic excuse to force yourself to be happy.
Without God, really the day is pretty crummy when you consider all the sadness just under that veneer.
Once a co-worker prompted my dad by saying, "It's a wonderful day to be alive, isn't it?"After thinking a moment, my dad responded honestly and cheerfully enough , "It is, but I'd rather be dead."
This is what is known as a conversation-stopper.
Paul said basically the same thing in Philippians 1:23 and again in II Corinthians 5:8, but it raises eyebrows in a culture gorged on Oprah, Dr. Phil and any number of motivational gurus out there that you care to listen to.
As Americans, we certainly are expected to be happy, and yet the reasons we're given are no reasons at all. In a nutshell, we are told we are to be happy because it's the right thing to do.
There is the equivalent of a moral obligation to be happy, to be thankful that you're alive, never mind that we're left no One to thank, or, if we are, He has been so stripped of His omnipotence that He is not capable of doing anything for which we could thank Him.
But Christians aren't off the hook, either. We are just as caught up in the happy culture (as opposed to joyous).
I would like to blame it on Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, or maybe Zig Ziglar, but I think the infestation predates them.
How many tearful Wednesday night testimonies have you heard that tell of a struggle that lasted a week, or two or any given period of time, provided it has a beginning and, most importantly, an end? Victory is claimed. Battle over. So thankful we don't have to deal with that anymore.
I don't think there is any deliberate attempt to delude ourselves, but we suffer so under the impression that we are under strict orders to be happy, that much of the time I think we feel pressured to claim victory, to plaster on a smile and move on.
It is true enough that no one likes a constant complainer, or someone that "enjoys poor health," but such adherence to the happy doctrine leads to, if not dishonesty, then delusion.
We're uncomfortable with the subject of suffering, because we instinctively feel it reflects badly on God. Trials are to be expected, sure, but the emphasis is most definitely on how God will bring you or did bring you out of that trial. If He does not, we go looking for meaning in the struggle with a certain desperation. If we can pin down what we feel is a legitimately feasible purpose for our troubles, we are saved the trouble of having God's name besmirched.
Recurring prayer requests are common enough, but the request is often offered with yet another dose of positive thinking: "This time God will end it for good and all."
Therefore some who have requested prayer time and again for the same problem will at last begin to feel embarrassed and just place their expectations on "someday, God will-" and try, at least, to put aside their feeling of urgency about the problem.
Oswald Chambers wrote the most startling book on Job I've ever read, in which he said, " The cosmic force makes God appear indifferent and cruel and remote, and if you become a special pleader of any particular creed (in which category Chambers places Job's friends) you have to shut your eyes to facts. The only revelation which gives a line of explanation is that there is something wrong at the basis of things, hence the refraction. The apostle Paul says that creation is all out of gear and twisted; it is 'waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God.' In the meantime, the problem remains."
Another stock answer to Christian suffering has to do with perspective. And it certainly has Scriptural basis. Paul also said that the sufferings of this present time were not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us. And there is nothing to which we hold tighter. But, the expectation is that this hope and belief should never allow us to be discouraged.
Buck up, it'll be over.
But if an eternal perspective is supposed to give us perpetual buoyancy, then why was Jesus so fearful in the Garden of Gethsemane?
The thing I wish to get across is honesty.
Be honest with God. Be plaintive. Tell Him how you feel. Job did.
Chambers makes a great point of Job's honesty: "Job stuck steadily to facts, not to consistency to his creed. Over and over again a man is said to be a disbeliever when he is simply outgrowing his creed. It is a most painful thing for a man to find that his stated views of God are not adequate. Never tell a lie for the honour of God; it is an easy thing to do."
In saying that Job stuck to the facts, Chambers is pointing out that Job refused to sugarcoat anything, refused to shoulder some mantle of Stoicism. Job insisted, "Thou knowest that I am not wicked; and there is none that can deliver out of Thine hand. Thine hands have made me and fashioned me together round about; yet Thou dost destroy me." Job 10:7,8
Job's friends recoiled at such irreverence and retreated to their dogged creeds and respective defenses of God.
I have been cautiously listening to a recently released album by Steven Curtis Chapman. If you don't know, on May 21st, 2008, Chapman's youngest daughter was accidentally struck and killed by an SUV driven by another of Chapman's children.
I listen cautiously because I don't particularly wish to be ambushed by the pain that I know lurks in the depths of Chapman's heart. I won't say that the tone of the album is heart-breaking, because that would be putting it lightly. A World on the Web contributor actually criticized the album for being too painful.
Among all the other songs about which I could write for hours, there is a particularly gut-wrenching, muted declaration in which Chapman literally sounds as if he can barely muster the will to utter the words.
When you think you've hit the bottom, and the bottom gives way,
And you fall into a darkness no words can explain
You don't know how you make it out alive,
Jesus will meet you there
When the doctor says, 'I'm sorry, we don't know what else to do',
And you're looking at you family, wondering how they'll make it through,
Whatever road this life takes you down,
Jesus will meet you there
He knows the way to wherever you are,
He knows the way to the depths of your heart
He knows the way, 'cause He's already been where you're going
Jesus will meet you there.
When the jury says 'Guilty', and the prison doors close
When the one you love says nothing, but just packs up and goes
Sunlight comes and your worlds still dark,
Jesus will meet you there
When you've failed again and all your second chances have been used
And the heavy weight of guilt and shame is crushing down on you
And all you have is one last cry for help
Jesus will meet you there
When you realize dreams you've had for your child won't come true
When the phone rings in the middle of the night with tragic news
Whatever valley you must walk through
Jesus will meet you there.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I went in to the Toyota dealership a week ago to "look around."
I was interested in trading my Corolla in on a new one, and, given the interest rates they had been running, thought it might be a good time to see what they could do.
I found what I wanted, undisturbed by salespeople for a good ten minutes. Apparently, their surveillance cameras weren't on yet. Finally, I walked toward the salesroom to place my question.
I hadn't quite made it to the door when it swung open and disgorged a stocky, middle-aged blond salesman.
He wanted to know how he could help me. This was the first in a long line of disingenuous statements he made to me over the next couple of hours. His opening salvo would've been more accurately rendered in the reverse, i..e., how could I help him?
But I stood on convention and neglected to correct him.
I told him which car I was looking at, what I would be trading in, and what monthly payment limit I had.
Car salesmen never take your ballpark monthly payment figure at face value. They figure, he's here, he wants a new car. This may be what he would like to pay, but what is he willing to pay?
I told him what I owed on my current car, "negative equity", I believe he called it.
Its difficult, he parried, to promise a comparable monthly payment on a new car when you have negative equity. But, his optimistic tone suggested that "comparable" was a small measurement, and we could doubtless work something out.
He proceeded with a credit application and appraisal of my old car. And there is something a little raw about having a car dealership appraise your car. You immediately get defensive.
After some paperwork, he offers me a refreshment which I refuse.
Then, he wants me to drive it. I consider this mostly unnecessary. I know what I'm getting. And I'm not exactly buying a Corolla for it's cushioned ride or cornering ability.
It's about dependability and, to a lesser extent, fuel economy.
But, apparently the credit app and appraisal take some time, so unless I want to sit in his cubicle chatting for the next thirty minutes, we'll take the test drive. Not being big on chatting, I take the test drive. Couple of miles later I know. Yep. It's a Corolla.
But I get a little better understanding of what the test drive is about. It is the transitional period in which the salesman begins dropping references to not if you buy the car, but when, you will want to think about gap insurance, an upholstery warranty, etc. If he can work this ownership feeling upon you successfully, you will swallow the bad news easier.
Upon returning, I sit in his cubicle again while he goes to collect the appraisal amount and credit ap results.
He comes back all smiles, with a monthly payment figure roughly eighty or ninety dollars higher than will fit down my gullet.
Let me say, I hate haggling. I hate it with a passion. The only one who hates it worse than I do is Devan, who stayed home.
But, I know what I can pay. And there is no new car fever that can induce me to exceed that amount. Mostly because I already walk around under a guilt complex, and there is no way that I'm going to let some pushy salesman in a golf pullover add to the load.
I can't do that, I told him. Too much.
What figure are you thinking, he asked.
I told him.
He leaves to speak to the sales manager.
I look around his cubicle for some incriminating paperwork.
He returns all smiles again.
Good news, he says. We can get your payment fifteen dollars under your limit with this nice lease option here.
Don't want to lease, I told him.
Ah. Well, let me go talk to the sales manager again.
Honestly I forget the next figure he comes back with. It was still too high.
He pushes the lease again. You know, he explains, people say you don't own a car when you lease it, but that's really not true. You do own it for the term of the lease. And then you bring it back and- you get to own another one for the next term, I finish mentally.
I need to go to the restroom. Not so much a nature call as a mirror check. I didn't think I looked stupider than usual when I left the house, but-
This figure you want is not really a realistic monthly payment. Nobody pays that small a payment any more.
That may well be, and if it is, I'll have to wait. No lease, and I can't pay what you're asking, so-
This wasn't a ploy. I was really ready to leave. I saw no future in this conversation because the distance between where he was and where I needed him to be was about the same as the distance between east and west.
But salesman are a clingy lot.
He toddles off again to this for-all-I-know fictitious sales manager. He could just as easily be going back to his laptop to hack my Facebook account (if I had one).
He comes back resigned. I win. There's the desired figure on this handwritten sheet of paper with a line next to it for my signature so we can get the ball rolling.
I take the pen.
Wait, what's this figure "eighty-four" next to the monthly payment? I ask aloud, so he'll know why I'm not signing the paper. That's the term, right?
Yes, that's the term, that's the only way we could get that monthly payment down where you wanted it.
I thought briefly about telling him I wanted to pay it off five dollars a month for the next 250 years.
But, instead, I say, I can't do that.
Somewhere in here, he tries again with the refreshments. You sure you don't want a drink?
Sure. It gave me a few minutes to think.
Reading a fascinating article written by a reporter for who went undercover and hired on as a salesman for a new car dealership, I discovered that the drink thing is another control measure. Having sprung for a drink, the salesman tries to convert this nicety into a small debt. After reading that, I wished I had refused again. Besides, it was Pepsi.
I thought we had a deal, he says.
Of course, I can't help what he thought, but I reply that I understand, but that is too long a term.
I've already given you everything I can give you here, he says.
That's okay, I say. I'll just pay my old car off before I trade in.
Well, I can't let you leave, he says.
All manner of retorts run through my mind.Well, he says again in agony, let me go talk to my sales manager again. But if we can get this payment at that figure at the term you want, can we deal?
One more condition. I want an extended warranty for that figure.
He quits the cubicle in much the same way as a condemned man leaves his cell for the electric chair.
He comes back a beaten man, sales manager in tow in bodily form. He's real after all.
There's the handshake. That's a study in itself. I have read that they teach salespeople how to shake hands. For example, sometimes they suggest pulling the victim toward you slightly with the handshake, as a measure of establishing control.
We're trying to get more money for your trade-in, and if they give us what we ask, we'll have a deal.
What is this "we" and "they" stuff? Classic good cop, bad cop.
The sales manager leaves and I'm left alone again with my friend the salesman.
Yeah, we'll make this happen, man. We want to keep you as a customer. Of course, I'm not making any money on this, but-
Oh, you don't work on commission?
Well, yeah, but I won't make anything on this deal. But that's alright. We kept you as a customer, and . . . I'll get the next guy that comes in here.
Carefully, I reply, Well, that's good. Telling Devan about it later, we both feel sure that he couldn't detect the sarcasm in my voice. I'm pretty good at hiding it.
He leaves for some other errand.
I call Devan. Looks like we've got it.
She sounds hesitant, not exactly skeptical, but . . .eventually supportive.
Be sure you get everything out of the car.
This was an interesting experience for me. I've always been fascinated by the psychological aspects of how all manner of people seek to establish the upper hand in a personal exchange or a business deal.
Ted Kennedy related an experience in which he dropped by the Oval Office to discuss a contentious matter with Lyndon Johnson.
First thing, LBJ earnestly asks Kennedy and his aide if they would like something to drink.
Both Kennedy and his aide decline.
You sure? prompts LBJ.
No, thank you.
LBJ summons the butler. I want a Fresca, he says. These guys don't want anything to drink but I want a Fresca.
Then LBJ looks sternly at them again and says, Are you sure you don't want a drink?
I'm sure you've all had the experience with a boss or some sort of superior who places his or her hand on your shoulder when attempting to snow you.
For me, the control factor even comes into play when I hear an advertisement for business X that tells me that business X is so concerned for my welfare that they are going to go the extra mile and give me this great deal.
Would it be so off-putting if they just said. "We want to make money. We know you like to save money. So, in order to get your business we are lowering our prices so that you will do business with us instead of someone else."?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hobby Lobby

Just got back from a trip to Hobby Lobby.
Yeah, I went in, too.
I thought the plan was I would drop Devan at the entrance and go park and eat my Arby's and read my library book.
To be polite, I asked if she wanted me to go in.
I thought she understood the purely symbolic intent behind the gesture.
She nodded. Affirmatively.
"Someone might look at me."
She has the mistaken idea that I'm the jealous type.
"Could you wear a bag?" I suggested.
"Someone might cut in front of me in the checkout line."
I considered this unlikely. The patrons of Hobby Lobby tend to be fairly passive.
That is, the only people actually shopping in the store are women. There are a few men, but they usually have a sedated air about them. Okay, drugged. And they push the carts.
The point is, estrogen doesn't usually spawn aggression, with a few very notable exceptions, and I doubted the likelihood of a Christmas X-Box style rush over pastel glue and assorted glitter.
Although I do know of a few women that tend to be a little fanatical about crafts and such. I have a cousin and a sister that share a disturbing obsession for knitting.
But I didn't say this.
What I did say was, "If my brain is numb when we come out, will you drive home?"
"It won't be. You can drive home."
I was feeling sedated already.
If you've never been in a Hobby Lobby, it's a surreal experience.
I can relate it to a childhood shopping trip to an industrial kitchen supply store for proper tamale paper.
The sheer volume of stuff I don't care about is something that stuck with me all these years.
There are entire aisles of scrapbook paper.
There is a wall of fake greenery sixteen feet high.
There is a display area roughly the size of my acreage (including the house) that exhibits fabric.
It was about the time when I was helping Devan look for oregano paper, (I think the reason I didn't spot it first was because I was assuming it would be green. Apparently they dye it different colors.) that I became aware of the intercom music.
Hobby Lobby is obviously owned by a Christian. There is no Halloween merchandise and they sell Testamints at the checkout. Eating Scripture makes your breath smell sweeter.
I like Christian music. And, even though I'm not sure how spiritual a shopping experience can be, I don't even have a problem with a retail outlet playing it over the intercom.
But, standing looking at the various sizes and colors of pom poms, I gradually became aware that taste is not a universal Christian virtue.
I know this because I was listening to a Muzak version of "I Will Be Here."
I suppose it would depend on Steven Curtis Chapman's level of security and confidence as an artist whether knowing that you had finally been given a generic brand would offend your artistic sensibilities or just make you feel really smug.
I was definitely feeling offended and unable to shake the sensation of being in a giant religious elevator. Had I been reading a copy of Guidepost and drinking Ezekiel 4:29 coffee from a Purpose-Driven-Life coffee mug the experience could not have been more unsettling.
I excused myself and went over to the children's hobby and science project section in hopes they sold tin foil hats to protect my brain from any dangerous rays.
Not having any such luck, I rejoined Devan who, in all fairness, was in fact shopping for materials to make Japanese gift boxes to fill with treats as Christmas gifts for nursing home inmates.
Thinking on that, I decided to suck it up and be a brave little cart pusher.
After all, if I were in there much longer, I, too might be grateful for a cookie-filled Japanese gift box as I sat drooling in a wheelchair.
"I wonder," murmured Devan, as she browsed through the fake poinsettias, of which there were an alarming variety, "if they have little tiny poinsettias that I could glue on top."
I answered that if they didn't, I surely could not imagine that they could be found anywhere else.
She either missed the sarcasm, or chose to ignore it.
I suspect the latter. There is something about being surrounded by several acres of crafts that makes a woman extremely placid. It makes a man placid, too. It is a combination of Stockholm syndrome and the estrogen they circulate through the heating and cooling ducts.
As it turned out, they did have little tiny poinsettias. It was over in the section with the little tiny pine cones and the little tiny stars and the little tiny stocking caps and the little tiny snowflakes and the little tiny penguins and the little tiny stables and the little tiny shepherds and the little tiny Marys and the little tiny Josephs and the little tiny Santa Clauses (apparently they didn't get the memo about that evil old man) and the little tiny elves and the little tiny candy canes and the little tiny Christmas trees. (they didn't get that memo, either.)
On the way out to the car, Devan groaned.
"Oh no. This pack of card stock only has 25 sheets. I need 50."
I grunted. The fresh air was clearing my head and the testosterone was returning.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Shack

My mother recently asked me what I thought of The Shack.
The Christian novel by William P. Young has sold over 5 million copies and spent 35 weeks at number one on the New York Times bestseller list.
I related a few second-hand criticisms and then told her I hadn't read it. The popularity of the book was enough to disparage it in my estimation.
But, on second thought, I decided to read it. I was prepared to come away with a laundry list of what is wrong with the reading public.
But, although I take some definite issue with the man's theology, I think the book's popularity says more about the pain that is out there than it does the lack of depth that is out there.
Perhaps it was exactly my expectations that served to give me a better look at the book.
If I honestly believed that Michael W. Smith (very talented musician and composer), Kathie Lee Gifford, and Wynona Judd were credible blurbers, I would have been bitterly disappointed.
But having also been forewarned by critics of his violent misuse of theology, I found a few pages in between the awful ones that were surprisingly profound, startlingly frank and even deep.
Let's deal with some of the awful ones; his depiction of the Holy Trinity.
God the Father is a large black woman named Papa. God the Son is a Jewish man in a plaid shirt and jeans. Perhaps even more cringe-inducing is his attempt to incarnate the Holy Spirit; a female Asian gardener.
To be fair, Young is not saying that God is female. He is saying that He is not male, in the very mortal sense. Young is not saying that God is black, Jewish or Asian. He is saying that He is not white.
But, why people keep insisting on correcting the idea that God is a white man, I don't know.
Because I don't know of anyone who thinks that God is a white man.
More awful; the ill-advised attempt to parlay the relationship between the members of the Trinity into a happy, funny multicultural laugh fest.
Apparently, some of us are still hung up on religious stereotypes, because Young spends an inordinate amount of time getting us unhooked from those arcane delusions.
The author obviously also has trouble keeping the lid on his dislike of organized religion.
Considering all there is to dislike about the book, it is even more disconcerting to stumble into a few two or three page long chasms, where there is only the problem of pain and the fact of God and no positive thinking rickety rope bridges to offer you a chance to escape plumbing the depths of the question.
It is in these pages where Young shines.
Like the page where Mack finally erupts and spews the volcanic bitterness that has been boiling in his soul since the disappearance of his daughter.
Why couldn't you take care of my daughter?
God's answer?
Mack, you don't have the right to demand that I allow no harm to befall your family.
There is communicated the idea that we have set up in our minds what we feel we should be entitled to, such as a world without severe pain or a world where little girls are not kidnapped and assaulted.
And the anger that builds at God, the Divine Interloper, the hunting Hound of Heaven is simply the result of viewing our lives within these measures of fairness that we have established.
It is a brutal answer, but in the end the only one that satisfies.
Obviously, entirely within the limitations of our own minds, we would never be able to completely reconcile the pain of a child or the pain of anyone with an all-seeing, all-powerful, fiercely protective God.
But in the end, it seems that Young may remember what God spoke to Job out of the whirlwind, that we are finite, that He is infinite, and that our only option is to latch on to what we know of God; His love, boundless and bottomless, and hold on for the ride.
I can't really recommend the book, based on his metaphorical and analogous nonsense, which might be what Chuck Colson was referring to when he criticized Young's "low view of Scripture", his attempt to flesh out the Holy Trinity, which, believe it or not, Mark Driscoll calls "graven imagery" and his occasional outright irreverence, which R. Albert Mohler calls "undiluted heresy."
But, having read it, I can see the appeal of a few select passages in the book. And there is an honesty in those few pages that I suspect God, (not Papa) smiles upon.

Friday, September 04, 2009


Getting older has been somewhat of a disappointment to my ego.
Not only because I am over 30 and have turned out not to be such a big, screaming deal but also, actually more so, because I have come to realize that I must sacrifice even the desire to be a big, screaming deal,
It seems that I spend a good portion of my life attempting to feed a pet that has none of the attributes of a faithful companion and all the attributes of a parasitic host.
So many times a day I am prompted by pomposity to cast myself in a good light.
I forget where I read it, but recently I stumbled across something that I stumbled over.
In effect, it said that even an apology can have an element of self-justification to it, essentially because implicit in the apology is the idea that, even though I goofed, I realized it, and I am now making it right.
It embarrassed me to think of how many times I have apologized for something not simply because I had done something wrong and needed to set it right, but because I realized that by apologizing I would look better. Worse, how many times have I apologized for something that I was not even sorry about, (and had no reason to be) because I desired the perception of reason and maturity it would give me?
The tendency to paint myself in a favorable light is probably the most insidious temptation I battle.
The reason my ego has been let down is because I see more and more that the fruits God would have me develop are anything but flashy.
Steadfastness, for example. And, yes, I am painfully reminded of the elder brother of the prodigal. How is it right that someone who makes one small step in the right general direction be given more recognition than someone who has plodding down that right road for years?
Well, yes. All right, I'll acknowledge that he needs to be encouraged for his repentance, and yes, I remember that I am not doing the right thing for recognition.
So, I carry on, my ego soothed with the knowledge that I am the better person for not surrendering to jealousy . . . .and you can see where that takes you.
There is an old metaphor about Christian growth.
The common perception of growth is that as you mature, you will grow taller and taller and all the deep and great and wonderful things of God, which are placed on higher and higher shelves, will become accessible to you as you grow.
The reality is, those deep and wonderful things of God are placed on shelves that fall lower and lower and are only reached as the self in the Christian becomes smaller and smaller.

Anyway, I really hope you like this blog and I hope it makes you realize what a wise person I really am.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I Need Thee

I might've saved myself the energy.
I used to privately question the motive for my Christianity.
It might help to explain that I am not, by nature, a grateful person. I dislike indebtedness to the extent that at times I prefer not to receive anything to save myself the bother of exhibiting gratitude. This reticence served to make me a little dubious about my sincerity toward God.
I didn't feel as if I was serving God out of love or gratitude. Honestly, 95% of the time, it seemed as if I were a Christian because I didn't know what else to be.
And I also speculated about the level of comfort and interest I held in Christianity.
Atheism, as a matter of personal taste, strikes me as insufferably boring.
Considering this, and further considering my lifelong fascination with the supernatural, my literary tastes and my thirst for meaning, and having come some fourteen years since my conversion, I had begun to call my motives into question.
Why was I calling myself a Christian?
Why was I praying? Why was I reading the Bible? Aside from a broad cyclical interest in what I was reading, and less occasionally, what I was discussing with God, when I placed my finger on my spiritual pulse, I wondered for what my heart was beating.
Contributing to this hypochondria was a fairly agreeable general state of affairs.
With life running smoothly, I permitted myself the luxury of the hypothetical, and reasoned that with nothing better to do, might have even Martin Luther considered the question of flies and holy water?
Meanwhile, when the sons of God came to present themselves, the conversation might have gone something like this,
"Have you considered my servant Nathan?"
(Accepting the huge assumption that I had, in fact, distinguished myself sufficiently in the Lord's service to have attracted the albeit unwelcome attention of the Adversary, we might then postulate Satan's reply,)
"I have. He really enjoys his Christianity. He appreciates the legacy of the age-old story, he finds comfort in apologetics, he loves to quote Chesterton and Lewis, if not your Son, and he also enjoys the lack of heartache that his Christian upbringing and marriage afford him."
"Of course," the serpent continues, "his affinity is fairly prosaic and the reason for his servitude is fairly obvious. He has yet to encounter anything subsequent to his conversion that would belie his sentimental attachment to a seventeen-year-old emotional experience."
And so on and so forth might the devil have unwittingly become complicit once again in a series of events inspired by the Almighty to drive one of his blustering children straight into His arms.
Devan became sick. Over a period of three months she degenerated to such a worrisome degree that some of the greater medical obscenities began to suggest themselves to our minds.
Despite my reassurances, which I did believe, (with no small effort) that this was the convergence of a physical super storm resulting from exhaustion, and other things, the duration of the illness and the severity of the relapses were beginning to steal my confidence.
At long last, I found myself doing something truly drastic.
I prayed, not just for her benefit, not just as the motion required of a Christian spouse, but finally, desperately and incredibly, at the end of myself.
You see, it isn't as if I'm all that self-reliant, or have aspirations of being the Rock of Gibraltar, it's that I refuse to face the point at which I have absolutely no other option than trusting in God. But I keep forgetting what a subjective term perseverance can be. I have noticed that I have a tendency to believe that I can only go as far as I am asked to go. If I'm carrying a one-hundred fifty pound load from point A to B, distance being twenty yards, I will invariably deposit the load at point B with the distinct impression that I could not have borne it any further. And yet, were the distance thirty yards, I would have reached that point, with the same conviction.
God alone knows our limits.
Past a certain point in our limited perspective of pain, that is the strongest hope to which we can cling.
What does sufficient grace mean to you?
I know what it once meant to me. It meant enough grace to keep me from feeling over-extended. It now means so much more, because I over-extended.
And I found out that He is out there, over the edge of the cliff.
He is not what saves us from pain, He is the One who is there at the end of all pain, and, in hindsight, was there though all the pain, and allowed us, after all, to see only the tip of the iceberg. Because of His tender mercy.
But there is a moment of terror that I must endure before I acknowledge that I can't handle this. More than a convulsive ingestion of pride, it is also a deep fear of being denied; of laying my burden in indifferent hands that will let it slide off into the dirt.
I usually excuse this reluctance by labeling it a lack of faith in faith. (Mindful that this constitutes another entire thread, I'll step carefully over it.)
But, believe it or not, I have not forgotten my initial statement about saving myself the energy expended by questioning my motive for my relationship with the Lord.
It would seem, as I hashed it out over these last three months, I serve God because I need Him.
I don't need Him just as an insurance policy when I check out. I need Him hourly, desperately.
And so does Devan.

Friday, July 31, 2009


All virtues are fragile. The instant virtue is recognized within oneself, it ceases to exist.
This seems paradoxical. So is it necessary for us to attempt to believe ourselves wicked; for kind people to think themselves cruel, for humble people to believe themselves proud, for generous people to think themselves stingy, for honest people to think themselves dishonest, and so on?
No, the aim seems to be not misrepresentation, for that in itself would be an untruth, but in not thinking of oneself as anything, as kind or cruel, humble or proud, generous or stingy. In general, thinking of oneself at all is to be discouraged.
In truth you are a sinner saved by grace, you derive any goodness from God, and therefor have no more right to claim any virtue as your own than a conduit has to claim water as its own produce. So to recognize altruistic virtue in oneself is to be deceived, because such goodness is inherent in one Being and one alone.
I have been a child of God for fourteen years. If only the lapse of time were sufficient excuse to have forgotten the concept of grace.
I am insufferably self-righteous.
For instance, I have it within my own capacity to refrain from being really and truly frustrated with God when circumstances seem at odds with His goodness.
Possessing it within my own power; therein lies the problem.
For it is just as violent to propriety for a vessel to excuse the potter as it is for the vessel to accuse the potter. Both actions belie a presumed claim to self-rights on the part of the vessel, the only difference being that one vessel has asserted his supposed rights while the other has, in his view, chosen to show largess.
I reason that God has no obligation to explain Himself to me; that pain strengthens, and furthermore, to be angry with God is to lose ground gained.
As to my first point, patience is indeed a virtue, but somewhere I have taken to thinking of it as my patience, instead of His.
All the while I am patiently enduring undesirable circumstances, I believe I am unconsciously keeping score.
The point is not that I would ever reach a point when I might believe I would be justified in being angry with the Lord for His protracted ill-treatment (still I might), but that I am viewing my relationship with God in a highly legalistic fashion.
The unrealized assumption I am operating under is that my righteousness, filthy and ragged as it is, is still my righteousness, and, at that, I have cleaned it up nicely and even mended the tears.
Pointing out the sanctimony of the magnanimous vessel certainly does nothing to excuse the impertinence of the accusatory vessel, still I have noticed an encouraging pattern within those who exhibit impetuosity. Although quick to complain, they will just as quickly accept.
The stoic ones just keep their mouths shut and make another mark, revealing no greater understanding than their clamorous brethren, and worse, no willingness to seek it out.
Underneath all flows nebulous concepts of grim determination, stiff upper lips and boot straps.
I am casting away no confidence. I am simply facing another aspect of the human element.
There is a lyric in a song that is heavy with meaning for me.
Take away the part of me that forgets the price (and, I add, power) of grace.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Food Fight

They say opposites attract.
As is the case with so many things they say, the opposite is just as often true.
I suppose it depends on your definition of opposite, or the exact degree of just how opposite the object of your attraction may be.
For example, if you consider girl to be the opposite of boy, I could heartily agree with opposite attraction. In fact, with this broad view, there could hardly be a more enthusiastic proponent of north and south pole magnetization.
But, personally speaking, and speaking of personality, Devan and I could hardly be considered opposites. The degree of compatibility we share is remarkable, if the more entertaining tales of the gender war are to be believed.
However, there are differences.
I reflected upon one such as I sat at the table. She had loaded the toaster and then left the kitchen for some undisclosed activity elsewhere.
I heard the toaster release and I nervously glanced at the slightly tanned whole wheat slice cooling on the countertop. I have learned the hard way that it takes only a few scant seconds of room temperature to steal the toast from the toast. It's said that customers take years to gain, seconds to lose, wars have been lost in minutes, and it is no less true that in the same few seconds, toast can cease to be toast, and more importantly, fail to melt the applied butter.
I could never leave a loaded toaster. I don't exactly watch the toaster, for a watched toaster shares the same exasperating recalcitrance as a watched pot, but I am never far from the scene, often with butter knife in hand. I do not wish to see one pinhead speck of unmelted butter on my toast. In desperate situations, I have been known to toast my fingers warming an erstwhile piece of toast over an empty toaster. I considered buttering the toast myself, but feared my zeal might prove too heavy in application.
The tension continued to mount in her absence. I tried to return to my book, but the distraction was too great. At last she returned, a potential disaster was averted, and I was relieved of my potential culpability of being found in the same kitchen with cold toast.
She doesn't seem to be fully aware of the gravity of eating.
She, in fact, has stated to me upon numerous evening occasions that she has not eaten all day because she "forgot."
I, on the other hand, have never been so glib about sustenance. And well I might not.
My father is a serious breakfast eater. Upon arising in the morning, he places his cereal bowl in the freezer along with the jug of milk. (I regret to inform you that he and my mother have been given over to the reprobate mind and are drinking 2%.)
After the appropriate lapse of time, he removes the bowl and the milk and perhaps the spoon now for all I know, the idiosyncratic progression of age now factored in and pours his cereal, then feverishly, albeit sincerely asks the blessing with jug of milk in hand. The blessing received, he returns the milk to the freezer in the event he wishes a second bowl and hurriedly seats himself to begin eating before the topmost flakes so much as submerge neath the icy milk.
On the other hand, Devan shares her lackadaisical indifference for food with members of her own family. I have often erroneously assumed that her brother's eyes were much, much larger than his stomach. And even though his stomach has grown exponentially over the past year, one might still make the same hasty assumption. Watching him load his dinner plate, you begin to feel sorry for his tapeworm. After some time and effort has been invested in preparing his buffet, he takes fork in hand, sighs, leans back and gazes blankly out the window. Upon my first observation of this phenomenon, I might've been forgiven for assuming that the preparation had in fact, done him in, and it was all for naught. However, after he has rested from this for some minutes, he begins with a mouthful. Following a subsequent rest, he has another bite, and so on, until before you know it, the sun is rising and sometime during the night, either he or the ravages of time has cleared his plate. I've certainly never known him to suffer indigestion.
I have another brother-in-law whose nondiscrimination for what he ingests is truly remarkable and second only to that of a select few billy goats. He has upon occasion, attempted to involve me with his carelessness, ( a California sushi roll comes to mind) but I have resisted.
My mother is perhaps the food martyr among us. No crumb in the bottom of the tortilla chip bag is too small for her. "What's wrong with eating chips with a spoon?" you may ask.
Nada. And if you are eating them with dip, all the more convenient.
No chip, in fact, is too stale. She's too young too have lived through the Great Depression, so we can only assume she is at heart, a miser.
My maternal grandfather is frightfully habitual. I have never known his lunch to consist of anything other than half of a bologna sandwich, sans condiments, nor his dessert to consist of anything other than prunes. And no, he's not a monk, and has never taken the vow of poverty, to my knowledge.
I have an aunt who eats ketchup on tomatoes, and tragically, the trend has gone to the extreme with her second oldest son, who serves up a bowl of Hunts ketchup topped with a little Hienz ketchup.
And then, there is this cousin I have. He has the disturbing tendency, catalogued among profiles of Ted Bundy and OBL, of mixing his food.
Now, we have all doubtless been guilty of this redneck guilty pleasure before, rolls and gravy, corn and mashed potatoes, and so on, but his concoctions are truly disturbing.
I understand they have banned him from Cracker Barrel upon observing one too many times his grisly habit of mixing gravy, fried eggs and sausage and last but not least, grits. (I know, why?! right! And he claims to be a Yankee!)
So, I concluded, upon resuming my book, that it really does take all kinds.
At least, that is what we must assume. We'll never know otherwise, will we?

Friday, June 19, 2009


Every one's boat has all the load it can carry. -this quote, in approximation, is attributed to W.E. Carleton.
Every one's problems seem large to them. We may comfort ourselves with comparison by saying, "It could be a lot worse. Just look at so and so." But, at the same time, our own problems wouldn't be problems if we could diminish them with such positive thinking.
I am reaching the point where I am beginning to view what I will call trouble (understood to include worry, stress, anxiety, mental or emotional anguish, sickness, pain, financial difficulties, etc., etc., etc.) not as a matter of comparative degrees, but as the portion allotted each of us as God sees fit, and equal to no one else's difficulty, but equal only to the measure of grace God makes available.
How bad are the chicken pox?
Seems to depend largely on whose children the pox has stricken.
The struggle of Sisyphus, the tragic Greek hero condemned by the gods to perpetually roll a boulder up a hill only to see it roll down again, may seem petty to a legend ten times his size, who, according to his greater stature, would see nothing but an ant rolling a pebble up an anthill.
And, conversely, Sisyphus might view Atlas' noble resignation as a little maudlin. Sure, he has to hold the world. But, look how big he is!
The great-grandfather I never knew must have reached a point of compassion attained by very few.
It is only natural, after all, to view human difficulties in the human. You might assume that lean, fit middle-aged gentleman driving past in the Lexus to have an obligation to be happy. But you couldn't know the deep-seated inadequacy that has driven him to success and now threatens to drive him to depression and thoughts of suicide.
It is a little defensive, in fact, the way we think of other's problems.
We hold to a standard of comparison so that we may reserve the right to be miserable about our own problems. And therefor stand in judgment of those whom we deem to be "making a mountain out of a molehill."
Case in point: It is largely held by today's adults that today's kids are spoiled and have it much easier than they did when they were kids. Granted, some things are much easier today than forty years ago. But, most children of the seventies were afforded the opportunity to be children and not miniature adults with schedules at the age of nine that would over stuff a day planner.
I am not a parent, but it seems to me that as mightily as you may attempt to spare your children some of the difficulty you faced as a child, that difficulty will only be replaced by something else.
Another problem with grading trouble is the assumption that there is a point of zero gravity.
Theoretically, if all trouble can be removed, we should then be happy. In fact, if everything is going smooth, you have an obligation to be happy!
It has been my experience in my short life that happiness (not to be confused with joy) runs in cycles and owes not a lot to actual circumstances.
Contentment, if based on this grading scale, is attainable with the absence of what we traditionally view as "trouble."
The area of the mind that houses worry abhors a vacuum. Financial worry, when removed, will be replaced by something else.
There is one answer.
The answer I run to more and more.
To the point where I think He is saying, "Why leave? Then you won't have to come back."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Back To Work

The only reason I haven't announced sooner, for those of you who remember my difficulty with my employer, that I returned to work three weeks ago, is because I have not had time to settle in my mind the benefits of my almost seven months of forced unemployment. Or, in another way of putting it, I haven't decided what God was about.
I like boxes. Moreover, I like to put things in them.
However, considering . . .

1. Both Devan and I have drawn light years closer to the Lord.
2. After being convinced that God would not, in fact, leave us begging on the street, we began to thoroughly enjoy our time together. So many Starbucks trips that Devan has earned the nickname "Peppermint Mocha", (not to be confused or even lightly associated with Peppermint Patty), Walks, talks and art museums, you know, the free stuff.
3. And a realignment of priorities. I have never been what I would call materialistic, but have always been what I would call impatient and uncomfortable with loose ends. This situation, you might know, has done wonders for that presumption.
. . . what other purpose need there have been?

Thank you all for your concern, prayers and help.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Miss Conservative USA

I, for one, am so thankful to have another fellow Christian as a spokesperson in a public arena. To think that God brought Ms. Prejean up through all those pageants and displays for just such a time as this! Not since Esther has there been such an obviously divinely appointed young woman who would, with God's help, speak the truth, mindless of the firestorm that would follow. It has been such an uplifting experience for all of us, reading about Miss Prejean's convicted stand. And now Christian parents all across America have a role model to which to refer their young daughters!
We all hope Miss California will continue her career in Christian standard-bearing.
Maybe she could star in a Mel Gibson movie.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Spin Zone

My response to the question, Why did Obama garner 78% of the Jewish vote?

Initially, I might have responded, Yes, and why do we drive on a parkway and park on a driveway or why are men less emotional or at least less demonstrative than women?
But I read a piece very helpfully titled Why Are American Jews So Liberal? by a Professor Laurence D. Cooper, chairman of the department political science at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn.
I could just post the link, but in so doing, I would effectively be eliminating my middleman self from the process, and I certainly don't want to do that.
The first part of his explanation has a parallel in the American South. Up until the eighties, the Democratic Party held the South in a tight grip. Indeed, here in Kentucky, notwithstanding the presidential elections, the Democratic party still holds an inexplicable spell over some deeply religious and deeply rural parts of the state.
The prevalence of Democrats in the South, of course, dates to the 1800's, when belonging to the Democratic party was as essential to being "Southern" as believing in Christ was to being Christian. (As was being a Christian to being a Democrat. Figure that one out.)
o it is with American Jewry. The Jews of America are obviously the descendants of European Jews who were classically liberal in part as a measure of defense and a measure of reaction to European "conservatism."
This piece by Cooper was almost as instructive regarding the history of conservatism and liberalism as his explanation for Jewish liberalism.
It's necessary to point out that American conservatism is not European conservatism, especially not the Euro-cons of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. That strain of conservatism was particularly and often viciously anti-Semitic. There are several facets to this. Catholicism was obviously largely antipathetic toward Jews/Judaism. And unfortunately, Protestantism, beginning with Martin Luther, was little, if any, more sympathetic. Among the conservative dogma you'll find Luther's assertion that Jews should be driven to conversion under pain of exile or punishment. You'll find a paranoia of Jewish financial manipulation and the Jewish refusal to assimilate into other European cultures. (You'll find this concern, in fact, in a milder form even in the writing of the great G.K. Chesterton.)
Particularly ingrained in the psyche of the American Jew along with the persecution implemented by hypocritical Catholics and Protestants is the memory of the only group that, as a general whole, defended them; the humanistic left. It is a sickening miscarriage of Christianity that humanism, esteeming individual worth on its own dubious atheistic grounds, was the default protector of the hunted Jew. But too often, such is the contradictory example we provide the world.
You might think that the Holocaust, committed on ethnic grounds, and paved with the rationale of Nietzsche, would have been an effective counterbalance to the increasing secularization of the Jewish race. But then you would have to consider how Hitler is spun these days, i.e., an extreme right wing dictator who exploited racial antipathy to further his cause. What parallel is he given in recent American history? George Wallace, David Duke. Granted, Louis Farrakhan and Jeremiah Wright have said things every bit as incendiary as "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever," but the label of racist has not been applied as often, consistently or effectively to Democratic racists and thus you have the modern association of Wallace with Hitler, while Wright and Farrakhan get off simply being tuned out when they start talking about "Jewish bloodsuckers" -Farrakhan, and "the United States of K.K.K.A." -Wright, the barely former ex Black Muslim and disciple of Louis Farrakhan, and then tuned back in when they begin spouting liberation theology.
One particularly puzzling aspect of the Jewish voting demographic is, of course, the traditional position of the GOP maintaining strong support for the nation of Israel, while the Democrats are anywhere from ambivalent to strongly condemning of anything Israel does.
Well, American Jews are not Israeli Jews. Note, for example the recent poll showing 75% of Israelis support some sort of military action against Iran whether the U.S. approves or not.
Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Rahm Emmanuel.
The point is that Israeli Jews do not have the luxury of misguided dependence on belabored diplomacy or "no pre-conditioned talks."
So, my answer, based on what I read from Cooper, to the question Why do Jews vote Democratic? is, the Republicans, once again, have made a sorry hash of salesmanship while the Democrats, aided by the larger portion of the media, have convinced another valuable demographic that the GOP is white, tight and racist.

The other portions of his explanation will have to wait.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Christian in Obama's Court

Pundits have a hard life these days. Especially conservative pundits. While maintaining a hard line against the policies of Barack Obama, they must continue to express faith in the American public, who elected said president.
Conservative politicians must walk an even higher rope over a deeper pit. While criticizing the effect, they must be cautious not to alienate the cause. They must gain the favor of at least a certain portion of those who actually approve of President Obama's job performance.
Gallup puts Obama's 100-day approval rating at 65%. This is deemed "notable in that nearly all major demographic categories of Americans are pleased with his job performance, as evidenced by approval ratings above the majority level."
FOX fixes him at 62%. A Bloomberg poll has him at 68%.
Considering Obama garnered 52.9% of the popular vote, this means that anywhere from 10 to 16% of the folks that cast their vote for someone else didn't really mean it, or at least are being extremely credulous and forgiving, taking into consideration that, if anything, Obama has governed from a point far left of where he campaigned.
To avoid outright double-talk, in appealing to the public, the commentators and congressmen and women have come up with a party line.
The slogan struck upon by conservative pundits and pols is any number of variations on the following: The American people do not like Obama's policies, they just like Obama.
This strikes me at an odd angle. These polls are called "approval ratings", correct? The pollsters are not asking us if we think he has a cute smile or nice pecs, they are asking us if we "approve."
Now, if say half of those 6o something percent say they approve of Obama just because they think he is a nice guy, then, in addition to the other 30 some odd percent of people who do actually approve of his performance, we now have a 30% demographic that could be labeled "people who don't understand what the word 'approval' means", which is a statistic almost as frightening as the number of people who voted for him in the first place.
To be fair, considering the rock on one hand and the hard place on the other, this party line may be the only option. for pols and pundits. It's hard to win votes or enlarge audiences making speeches about how stupid everyone is. Unless you're Michael Savage, who enjoys an audience about half the size of Limbaugh.
Do you remember a blip in the ill-fated campaign of John McCain? (For that matter, do you remember John McCain?)
An advisor and supporter, one former Senator Phil Gramm made the statement that we were in a "mental recession", and that we had become "sort of a nation of whiners."
The truth contained in this statement (note I say, "truth contained in". I don't claim the statement to be 100% accurate) stung. How badly it stung can be illustrated in the fact that no one has ever heard from Gramm subsequent to those remarks, and he is, in fact, missing and presumed dead, or somewhere in Pakistan with OBL.
But I don't have a listening audience or a voter public, so I feel safe in pointing out what I see.
The American people do not, as a rule, take firm ideological positions on anything. The overwhelming majority vote on charisma, and what they think of as "competence." In other words, if the guy can get things done, as inexplicable as it seems, they don't really seem to care what things he is getting done.
So, in returning to this self-contradictory party line, where does that leave a Christian?
You got a better idea?, you may growl.
Maybe pull that money you are donating to whatever political cause you think will change the world and fund a crisis pregnancy center with it.
When you start getting riled about Obama's destructive agenda, pray for someone, starting with Obama.
Think more about converting an acquaintance to Christianity than converting them to conservatism.
The one will eventually follow the other.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

You Can't Teach a Sneetch

The First Church of Evangelicalism, now bearing a list of grievances on it's own front door, now knows what it is to be the establishment, and what it is like to bear the brunt of accusations such as hypocrisy, materialism and superficiality.
And, history being as repetitive as it is, the new Augustinian monks who nailed the updated theses on said door will soon find themselves in the same position.
For some years there has existed a polemic element in the evangelical movement. These at least have the favor of being called original. Eventually they demanded enough attention to be labeled, and post-evangelicalism became the new evangelicalism.
Various elements of the Christian music industry, frustrated pastors and astute seminary graduates began pointing out the emperor's immodesty.
Such independence could not last. The idea took a name, and began to suffer from organizational fatigue.
There is a perfect parallel in the world of rock music. In the early '90's, a rock band from Seattle called Nirvana fronted a new movement in rock music given the euphemism "grunge" rock. This in itself is ironic enough; the frustration with the "establishment" of rock, originally rock n'roll, the ultimate expression of individuality. "Grunge" became synonymous with "alternative" rock, and quickly gained a solid fan base. Sometime after the turn of the century, the worm turned again. The rebel image was fast losing its edge. Alternative accumulated such a raft of artists and such a burgeoning fan base that it was becoming, heaven forbid, commercialized and even successful. What was a rugged individualist rock fan to do? Thankfully, a new upstart birthed in the '90's emerged to become the new alternative. Indie rock, shortened from independent, stormed the college radio stations, and the "outsiders" could breathe easy again.
But there is another storm brewing. More and more and more indie rock bands. Not good, if you are one of those untold billions of music fans who love to refer to their music tastes as "eclectic."
I have heard this word invoked so many times by so many people that I am beginning to suspect fabrication. If everybody's tastes are eclectic, then who is buying all these mainstream pop albums?
At any rate, this should serve to illustrate something terribly absurd and irresistibly recurring.
More people than not like to think of themselves as the "anti-establishment." But, of course, when the percentage of the population who like to think of themselves as such rises above 49%, this becomes a problem.
In 1961, a prescient doctor wrote a parable that sticks in my mind when this concept of new newness arises.
It seems there are these unidentified creatures who live on a beach. Some of these creatures have a green star on their bellies. Some don't. The no-stars want a star. Those with "stars on thars" have more fun, like blondes. Along comes a capitalistic entrepreneur with the unlikely name of McBean. He has a machine which can duplicate the sought after stars quite nicely. The no-stars line up with their money and soon, the original stars are grumping around because they are not so special anymore. McBean, who begins to sound like some forward thinking advertising exec, invents another machine which removes stars, and markets it to the original stars. Soon, no-star becomes the new star, and so on and so forth. This continues until the stars and the no-stars, as if anyone could tell the difference any more, are flat broke and McBean leaves town a wealthy man.
The name of the book, btw, is The Sneetches, and the author went by the pen name, Dr. Seuss.
Post-evangelicals have already placed an undue burden on reform efforts by giving themselves a name.
The instant you form a "movement", your cause begins to stagger under the weight of the human element. After "movement", "organization" is just round the corner, and the wheels of reform grind slower and slower until you become an institution, hopelessly grounded by the trappings of power and politics.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Waking Nightmare - 'Sorry' Note Left Near Texas Hit-and-Run Victim - Local News | News Articles | National News | US News

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How many times have all of us come within a hairsbreadth of what this individual experienced?
Assuming it was unintentional, empathy, if not sympathy, consumes me.
Whether it is the radio, food, cell phone or just fixation on a road side object, distractions have more than once caused me sheepishness and guilt.
Does that prevent me from muttering under my breath when someone else does it?
Alas, I confess that the immediate assumption made when I am cut off or nearly missed is a curiously angry one.
Though reconsideration often follows, my instinctive reaction is invariable and unforgiving.
The offending party is any one of the following: jerk, idiot, stupid idiot, moron, unspeakable moron, etc.
I posted a blog a looong time ago that asked the question Do automobiles cause us to channel our true nature? If that is the case, I feel I need a nice, long sabbatical in some nice Franciscan monastery.
But about this alleged hit-and-run driver; I'm sure you can imagine the fevered rationalizing.
It's a safe bet that whoever was driving the vehicle has a family. Perhaps in the shock that followed the thought process progressed along the following lines: terror, overwhelming remorse, deadly guilt, dawning fear, imagined consequences, involuntary manslaughter conviction, ten year prison term, iron bars, brutal cell mates, sobbing family members . . . . and before long, out comes the notebook and the pen.
Barring a supernatural fear of the long arm of the law, or the rare, indeed, near extinct impregnable conscience, any one of us might have written the same note on the same tear-stained paper.
The million dollar question is, in a vacuum, with no consequences, who remains after it is discovered that there is nothing to be done short of calling the morgue?

Friday, March 27, 2009


I had been considering a certain passage of Scripture and its implications.
It grew upon my young mind, a burgeoning paradox, until it could be contained no more.
"You know that verse," I asked of my friend, Darren, "that says that the Son of Man cometh at an hour when ye think not?"
"Well, it seems that everyone is expecting Him all the time. . . . . sooo, how can He return when at every hour of every day, someone, somewhere is expecting Him?"
Darren, somewhat less enamored of abstract paradoxes than I, and somewhat more enamored of common sense than I, considered this.
"Well," came his response, "You can't keep Him from coming back just by thinking about it all the time."
Whether or not he had discerned my motivation for so eagerly considering this idea I don't know, but he had effectively put his finger on it. In my insecurity at the prospect of His return, I thought I might forestall Him by expecting Him.
Imbecilic, yes, but no more than supposing that you might prevent His return by not expecting Him.
It is true enough that I have been expecting Him with varying degrees of trepidation and anticipation for twenty years or so, and others no doubt precluded my expectancy by looking for Him years before I was born.
Let's talk about this elephant. When I, and I suspect other Christians, grow a little weary of the struggle, we turn with greater eagerness to the idea of His imminent return. No less exhausted but some less resigned than Sisyphus himself, we begin to wish not that the rock might finally be laid to rest, but that the rock and the mountain might disappear and the endless task of living might be resolved at last with our final rest. It is the same desperation that prompts a dreamer, when presented with an untenable nightmare, to awake rather than confront whatever horror awaits him in the dream.
Unfortunately, the exchange of our present reality for the next is not so easily attained.
It is easy for some to conclude that considering the ulterior motive or the self-interest that Christians stand to gain by His return nullifies their objectivity.
Could it be that the convergence of world events could always, since the Ascension, have been plausibly construed to fit all the signs of His Second Coming?
It has long been the contention of the elderly that things are getting worse all the time. And I suspect their parents said the same, and theirs the same, and so on.
Historic evil does not seem so much to have inclined as it has risen and fallen and risen and fallen. There is nothing new under the sun.
However, the view that the world will grow more evil and more evil until the Abomination of Desolations cannot help but occur is no more logical than the postmillenial view of Christian socialists that contends that the world will improve until it is finally ready for the eternal reign of Christ.
No, I think that whatever evil exists in the world today compared to the evil that will saturate our world with the reign of Antichrist is analogous to the crime that rampages under a democracy compared with the organized, authorized crime that is necessary for the existence of a corrupt dictatorship.
So, to acknowledge that the world is no more evil than it was one hundred years ago, or that America is no more debauched than ancient Greece is not to place the return of Christ further in the future. It simply has no bearing on the issue.
But, in a sense, those who would prove that His return is not imminent by pointing out the sometimes over eagerness of Christians to place it soon, are no more logical than I when I thought to prevent Him by expecting Him.
Certainly, the overall cause of Christ is not helped by those who fix dates. Not only because they always turn out to be wrong, but because Christ informed us that we could not know.
But, too often, those like Joel Rosenberg who rationally point out the convergence of prophesy and events are classed with the date-fixers.
And could it not be the Father of Confusion himself who prompts people to unthinkingly blurt out date-specific predictions? The passing of those dates robs the lost of a little more dread each time.
It's no good asking if I think it might be tomorrow. The point is, it is an unavoidable event. It is fixed by the Father. Everything that happens; time, events, false predictions, saber-rattling, regime changes, elections, solar storms, Mayan calendars, Middle East tremors, whether or not these things in and of themselves signify the immediacy, they bring it closer.
The absolute uncertainty is the unsettling method of God to bring us into a state of dependence, of hopefulness, and of faithfulness.
So, as unsatisfactory as it sounds, it could be a thousand years from now, and it could be . . . . .

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Michael Chicken Little Spencer

So evangelicalism is in danger of imminent collapse.
What, you haven't heard?
A former Baptist minister by the name of Michael Spencer experienced a meteoric rise to e-mortality when his January blog entry dealing with the coming deflation of evangelicalism was honed in on by the Christian Science Monitor. Within 1 day of the refurbished blog, now titled, The Coming Collapse of Evangelicalism, Matt Drudge linked it and the rest is history.
I was instantly intrigued when I saw the headline on Drudge.
The article led me then to his blog,
I've been reading ever since, and . . . my head is starting to hurt.
First, let me say that Michael Spencer is saying a lot, a LOT of good things.
He is decrying the mile width, inch depth of evangelicalism.
He disagrees with the mega-church model.
He insists that in our preoccupation with the culture war, Christians have diminished the message of the Gospel.
He is disgusted with over-emotionalism.
He points out that Christianity actually predates America and thus is not necessarily synonymous with U.S. citizenship, or patriotism.
(He scored a big point with me by pointing out the superficiality of that nice-looking young man with the year-round tan who pastors a large church in Dallas. Goes by the name Joel Osteen.)
More off-putting, he doesn't subscribe to young-earth creationism.
He does not believe that keeping the Sabbath is a New Testament requirement.
He does not believe that tithing should be taught as a ten-percent necessity.
He is sometimes unnecessarily provocative. For, example, in a post titled 25 Sort of Random Things I Do and Don't Believe, number 4 states: "I don't like or use the word inerrancy." Elsewhere he explains that he does not question Scripture, he simply dislikes the terminology.
This is the reason my head hurts.
I agree with about fifty percent of what Michael Spencer blogs.
The other fifty percent sends me scuttling for my Bible or just causes me to stop and consider why I disagree with him. His frankness is charming, his provocation is needless, but his insistence on depth and solid doctrinal foundations is what makes him truly a seismic event in evangelical culture.
So, take a couple aspirin and check it out.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Here in Kentucky, we are experiencing the warm-up for a 2010 election that I think will prove very interesting.
It stands to serve as a harbinger of what wilderness-exiled Republicans are going to do to stop encompassing the mountain and pass over into Canaan.
We have a Republican incumbent senator, one Jim Bunning, formerly a Hall of Fame baseball pitcher, currently the GOP counterpart to the human gaffe machine, Joe Biden.
Some of his faux pas include referring to his 2004 Democratic opponent, dark-complected Daniel Mongiardo, as looking "like one of Saddaam Hussein's sons." He also characterized the would-be Uday or Qusay as "limp-wristed."
More recently, he told an audience that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would likely be dead in nine months, in addition to using profanity in a press conference call.
In December of last year, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported that Bunning's non-profit foundation, appropriately titled the Jim Bunning Foundation, had given less than 25% of its proceeds to charity.
He is not known for putting in time on any particular issue in the Senate unless it is related to baseball.
He is also ranked as the second-most conservative member of the Senate, taking a back seat only to Jim DeMint.
To say that he is vulnerable is to say that McCain was not charismatic.
However, he maintains he plans to run for a third term.
Likely to jump in the race sometime next month is Kentucky State Senate President David Williams.
Williams is a Republican, but he has taken a beating from local talk-show hosts recently for acting too much like Barack Obama. Among other things, he supported a hike in Kentucky's cigarette and alcohol tax. This led Lexington talk-show host Leland Conway to refuse to allow Williams back on his show unless he first apologized to drinking, smoking Kentuckians for raising their taxes. Williams refused, and forfeited this public venue.
What pins this as such a bellwether for me is the contrast presented between Bunning, the stodgy conservative and Williams, perhaps this state's quintessential representative of a party that is seen by so many to be abandoning its principles.
What could serve to make the race more interesting still is the possible departure of Bunning from the primary.
In this event, waiting in the wings are two potential candidates.
Perhaps the most viable is Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson. Grayson was an anomaly last election. He stood in a wind that blew Republican Governor Ernie Fletcher out of office with a 17% loss. Grayson won reelection by 14%.
By and large, Grayson has made no great enemies within his own party. He shrewdly neither enthusiastically endorsed nor, as many Republicans were doing that year, expressed public doubt about Governor Fletcher's chances.
But, we have another, wilder card: Rand Paul. Yes, that Paul, son of presidential candidate Ron Paul, and certainly his father's son.
Should Bunning remain in the race, his primary contest with Williams will serve to illustrate Kentuckian, and perhaps national, Republicans' appetites for traditional fare.
Will they order KFC, or go to Starbucks for a snack?
And if Bunning steps aside, we could have a 3-way between a man seen currently as a RINO, a Kentucky golden boy, or, perhaps the future of the GOP; a lean, mean conservative/libertarian cross.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Col. 2:8

Warning: This is a long one.

One accomplishment (who's counting) gained through my temporary unemployment is reading.
I read all the time, employed or not, but I have taken the time to plow through a few books that I would consider tedious when picked up for a half-hour at bedtime after a ten-hour work day.
Not to say I haven't continued the purely gratuitous reading. I more or less try to alternate escapism with literature.
For example, I rewarded myself with Stephen Lawhead after Dostoevsky. I'm not intellectual enough to regard Crime and Punishment as "hard to put down," but, considering its credentials, I considered it worth my time, especially since I have so much of it at present.
I expressed my literary goals to my dad, and he, (perhaps in an attempt to call my bluff) handed me The Life and Times of Jesus The Messiah by Edersheim.
It is a substantial book, numbering over 900 pages. I keep it beside my bed so as to make it readily available for a few pages at bedtime or, a lethal weapon against intruders in the night.
Against such a housebreaker, I have then the option of shooting him with a snub-nosed .357 magnum, or, if I deem him especially dangerous, clubbing him over the head with the five pound tome.
Anyway, in slogging through Book 1, chapter the 2nd, in which the author discusses the influence of Hellenism on Jewish thought and literature around the time of the birth of Christ, I find an especially pertinent discourse on the effect that Grecian thought had upon Judaism and Scripture itself.
(Having gotten only so far, I hope to avoid jumping to conclusions and corrupting a valid point of Edersheim's, but what he had to say spoke directly to an ongoing debate in my mind about the value of philosophy.)
Greek had become more common than Hebrew, if not in Jerusalem, then certainly in almost all other lands and cities. It became practical, then, to publish the Scripture in Greek and to expound the Scripture in Greek. And it became as impossible to divorce the Greek worship of logic from the exposition and exegeses of the Word of God as it would be to make an authentic gyro sans the cucumber sauce or lamb. For the philosophy of a culture is marbled in its language.
(Which is a distracting concept when you consider the English language. No wonder we're so confused. We incorporate almost every major language on earth.)
At first glance, especially the first glance of a Western Christian, this cannot be all bad.
We currently employ logic and reason as our first line of defense against atheism, and are accordingly heavily indebted to the Greeks for this instruction.
But, the problem arises when Edersheim notes, "When the Jew stepped out of the narrow circle which he had drawn around him,"
(It is interesting, if unnecessary, to note what the author discusses preceding this. He has spent the last page or two portraying the inherent nationalism and ethnic pride of the Jewish race. Even dispersed throughout the East and West, and even profoundly affected by the different countries throughout which they were scattered, they still maintained a fierce determination to preserve their identity as Jews.
Interesting concept, when you consider the argument over assimilation in America.)
Moving on, "-he (the Jew) was confronted on every side by Grecianism. It was in the forum, in the market, in the counting-house, in the street, in all that he saw, and in all to whom he spoke. It was refined; it was elegant; it was profound; it was supremely attractive. He might resist, but he could not push it aside. Even in resisting, he had already yielded to it. For, once open the door to the questions which it brought, if it were only to expel, or repel them, he must give up that principle of simple authority on which traditionalism as a system rested. Hellenic criticism could not so be silenced, not its searching light be extinguished by the breath of a Rabbi. If he attempted this, the truth would not only be worsted before its enemies, but suffer detriment in his own eyes. He must meet argument with argument, and that not only for those who were without, but in order to be himself quite sure of what he believed. He must be able to hold it, not only in controversy with others, where pride might bid him stand fast, but in that much more serious contest within, where a man meets the old adversary alone in the secret arena of his own mind, and has to sustain that terrible hand-to-hand fight, in which he is uncheered by outward help."
Regarding the latter portion of the passage, my parents always viewed it as indefensible to bid or forbid me something on the grounds of "Because I said so." and for that I respect them. I appreciate their respect of their own child exhibited in their willingness to defend their position with reason. Furthermore, as Americans, we will accept no edict issued on such infuriating grounds. Practically, we are all Missourians.
(And as to the very latter portion, I have had no greater arguments than those within myself.
My early Christian experience was a lonely one, as I ill-advisedly took on everyone from Darwin to Satan on the battleground of my own mind.)
But, to the point, Edersheim is showing us the dichotomy confronting Hellenistic Jews.
It is the same untenable position we are in today.
While we have, and must maintain, every political and legal right to demand that everything be weighed by logic and reason, this "show-me" mentality becomes a little questionable when applied to the question of God.
Now, Edersheim thus far has not ruled on the advisability of combining the critical thinking of the Greeks with the theology of the Jews.
In fact, he says "-there was the intellectual view of the Scriptures, their philosophical understanding, the application to them of the results of Grecian thought and criticism. It was this which was particularly Hellenistic. Apply that method, and the deeper the explorer proceeded in his search, the more would he feel himself alone, far from the outside crowd; but the brighter also would that light of criticism, which he carried, shine in the growing darkness, or, as he held it up, would the precious ore, which he laid bare, glitter and sparkle with a thousand varying hues of brilliancy."
Here we see the attraction, and admittedly, some benefits, of applying critical thinking to Scripture. Dimensions hitherto unseen are laid bare to our excited eyes. But, note the word "excited." How excited, and why? I'll return to this.
He continues, "What was Jewish, Palestinian, individual, concrete in the Scriptures, was only the outside-true in itself, but not the truth. There were depths beneath. Strip these stories of their nationalism; idealise the individual of the persons introduced, and you came upon abstract ideas and realities, true to all time and to all nations But this deep symbolism was Pythagorean; this preexistence of ideas which were the types of all outward actuality, was Platonism! Broken rays in them, but the focus of truth in the Scriptures. Yet these were (emphasis mine) rays, and could only have come from the Sun. All truth was of God; hence theirs must have been of that origin. Then were the sages of the heathen also in a sense God-taught --and God-teaching, or inspiration, was rather a question of degree than of kind!"
Now, I believe that. I do believe that "in a sense" the sages of the heathen were God-taught.
It is remarkable to note how closely Platonism and so many other philosophies resemble the teaching of Jehovah.
But there is a door opened best left shut.
When you begin to look for truth, not necessarily excluding Scripture or ignoring it, but looking for other truth in conjunction with Scripture, extreme caution is warranted; to such an extremity, in fact, that it can be ill-advised.
Because, it is so easy to unintentionally begin to ascribe more gravity to philosophy to the displacement and detriment of theology or just faith, if you will, and critical thinking will slip to the bottom and theology floats to the top like fizz. It becomes the root of our doctrine; theology then becomes the fruit or, the structure and not the foundation.
It is precisely so easy because reason is the currency in which we deal in every other aspect of our lives! And it is very difficult to maintain the preeminence of faith.
On every hand, we are challenged to justify God, to defend our faith.
And we must!
But the problem lies in defending our faith to ourselves.
Philosophy must be exploited, not trusted absolutely. It is not the original language in which our faith was written, and when we begin to translate that virtually unspeakable language into a philosophical one, it corrupts the integrity, the purity of it. It vulgarises our faith.
Yes, we must learn their language. But, we must not forget our own.
Do not assimilate to that extent where you begin to except their premise, their terms.
Now, to return to an earlier allusion, what does this new light of philosophy flung against formerly observed doctrines and concepts reveal?
Well, it might be as simple as donning 3-D eyeglasses. The concept is the same. We are given the opportunity to view old things in a new way.
You might have always just simply been told "God exists" and expected to accept it.
It is understandable, then, why it is invigorating to be able to explain this insistence with Pascal's Wager or Descartes' ruthless crucifixion of assumption.
It is rewarding and exciting to study philosophy. In the same way, it is rewarding, not quite as much for myself as other more enthusiastic scientists, to study the physical universe and see the hand of God, much as you can see the mind of God in philosophy.
But, when a biologist goes from seeing God in a flower to resting his belief in that God on the proof of design in the flower, he has put the cart before the horse. The weight of God will not rest on the stem of a flower, nor will the entire created complex universe sustain the weight of God. But God can most certainly bear the weight of it all and be not diminished for it.
It is the same when a Christian accepts the world's terms of debate in his own heart and mind and begins to justify God based on anything.
Faith is the evidence of things not seen. That "not" isn't merely incidental, it is necessary to the birth of faith. We don't get to know, based on verifiable evidence, that God exists.
The moment God lets us see, all is lost in terms of His plan of faith through Christ. We would then become shackled by evidence to serve Him.
I was struck by an epiphany reading Kant and Descartes years ago. Weary of that lonely battle that Edersheim talked about, the arrival of the reinforcements, that cavalry of philosophy tempted me to lay aside my own shield and sword and leave the battle of the mind to logic. I felt I had been given the ultimate weapon. I could now bandy words in the parlance of the provable.
Now I understand how such a concept is justifiable!
But really, I hadn't been asked to justify the concept, and as Edersheim put it, I had now given up that simple authority.
In so doing, I anthropomorphize the vessel, and endue it with the ability to ask questions of the Potter.
God can be defended by the laws of philosophy, but ultimately, He doesn't recognize the authority of our court and will not be judged by it.
To distill all of that, now, again I say, philosophy and apologetics is the language we are given to introduce God to the neophyte. And, for this reason, I heartily encourage fluency in all dialects.
But don't forget your native tongue. Speak it in your heart.

To distill it further, as Paul said "See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the traditions of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ."
Well, you ask, mightn't you have simply quoted Paul and forgone all this?
Well, don't forget, I'm currently unemployed.

Monday, March 02, 2009

The Inevitable Sack of Athens

Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time. E.B. White
Since he also wrote Charlotte's Web, and Stuart Little, we may be certain Mr. White spoke this with his tongue tucked firmly in his cheek.
Garrison Keillor illustrates our sometime difficulty with democracy thusly: The trouble with a democracy is that people will often vote the wrong way when they think no one is looking.
Of course, it may be said, in a perfect world, a dictatorship would be a governmental system approaching perfection.
Taking into account the unfortunate consideration that no one immediately accessible has ever lived in such a flawless place, we are left with the consolation that democracy, as Winston Churchill put it, is the worst form of government except all those other forms which are tried from time to time.
After all, according to Reagan, even socialism boasted of two successful experiments; heaven and hell, respectively.
We will all be given, accordingly, the opportunity to see first-hand the workings of those
However, democracy is currently functioning as well as might be expected, recent election results aside.
It served Greece well, and gave the Roman empire a promising start before being sacrificed to ambition.
That is the lion's share of the problem with democracy; it is a delicate balancing act in a strong wind on a high wire strung over a bottomless pit. The gales of whimsy, mob-rule and ambition constitute a vicious cross-wind.
At the moment, we're teetering, and no amount of well-intentioned faith in "democracy" will save us if, God forbid, we're ever knocked off and fail to grab the wire on our way down.
C.S. Lewis approved of democracy not because he trusted man to govern himself, but because he distrusted the nature of man to such an extent that it becomes necessary to risk anarchy to guard against the level of evil that may be achieved while power is in the hands of one man.
At least every man is given a fighting chance.
It is a poor bargain, but it is the only one we have.
Personally, I have no great affection for democracy.
I simply much prefer it to anything else.
What I would really like is a theocracy, and am expecting our current system of government to fall to an invading benevolent Dictator at any time now.

I'm well aware that the above could be described as rambling; what the average person might accomplish on the telephone or . . . Facebook.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Mitt Romney??!

I may very well be wrong.
Perhaps the GOP may not be tracking libertarian.
Judging from the presidential straw polls at C-PAC, they must just be tracking stupid.
I confess I do not understand why favoring a certain former Massachusetts governor constitutes a fresh new direction.
Jindal, people, the word is Jindal.

I feel better now.