A Word (or two) about the ‘A’ word

May 11, 2013

I was strolling through my neglected blogroll and came across a flurry of activity over there on the blog of my good friend Xavier.  We have shared the blogosphere for a good long while, he and I and we share a good deal many other things than blogging.  Among them is interest in relationships, gardening and a similar sort of twisted humor.  There is a good reason why we share these things.

He is in a bit of a panic because he believes he might be on the autism spectrum.  Hopefully the panic is subsiding, and if not I will either increase it greatly or perhaps lessen it.

I claim my own space on the spectrum, and have absolutely no problems doing so.  I am one of a growing movement toward autism acceptance, rather than the “autism cure’ crowd.  And this is highly fortunate since my oldest son is also well established on the spectrum.  And for several years before he was born, I actually spent a few years teaching and working with kids on the spectrum although there is no better education than actually having and raising your own child on the spectrum.

Before I go any further, I must say that I need to tread lightly on this topic, not because it is not near and dear to my heart.  But because it is.  I am infinitely more well-known in the autism community.  There may even be a book on the topic with my name in it.

So I am going to speak to the side of autism most relevant to this blog.  And one of the best places might be a fellow blogger or two.  Remember 2amsomewhere?  For a long time he signed posts and comments “behaviorunspecified” or something like that, which was a bit of a reference to “PDD-NOS” which stand for “Pervesive developmental disorder- not otherwise specified” which is a sort of autism-like diagnosis that kids are often diagnosed with when they are very young.  Neurologists avoided “autism” like it was the plague because to many parents that is exactly how it was viewed.  And the media did not help.  But truth is, many, many folks are on the spectrum.  Most of us nerdy types are on it.  If your nerd score is near as high as mine, you got it.  I mention 2am cause he was out there with his spot on the spectrum, but didn’t try to use it as an excuse.  It was just part of him.  And he even attended that little blogger get-together FTN put together years ago when neither you or I would dream of it.

Remember Christian Husband?  I don’t even need a test.

Not all of us on the spectrum are uber nerds.  But almost all of us struggle.  Like Confused Husband.  I think he diagnosed ADHD or something, but I would bet anything he would score on the tests as a likely candidate.  And he had at least one child on the spectrum, I believe.

We got a few things in common, but most noteworthy is the struggle in our primary relationships, and that is where I’m going to focus mostly.  I highly recommend reading anything written by Jerry Newport who is an uber aspie.  I went to a conference where he spoke and it was the first time I realized I had found my people.  He said “You know God REALLY likes autistic people.  Why else would he make all the planets and the universe spin?”  Plus, Jerry is old fart, like us.  Most of the stuff out there is geared toward parents of kids, and paints this horrible picture of autism and how awful.

At this same conference I heard a young woman who talked about how autism and aspergers manifsts itself very differently in girls and women.  And you know a couple of them I would diagnose with that female variant.  One is Arwyn…my wife.  The other would be Autumn, which I would base on the few interactions I have had with her online.  This is not to say they are bad or  broken.  It is to say they need to be understood.

So what does it mean to be on the spectrum?  And why is it such a big deal in the last decade or two?  I have a few ideas of my own, but the good folks who are studying this novel neurology do know there is often a genetic link but they also know there are multiple causes and symptoms.  There is not one simple marker.  As society moves and changes more rapidly, we are seeing more stresses and pressures that did not exist back when most people lived on farms.  Back in those days, aspergery folks might do extraordinarily well in agriculture where the time, pace and space operated in more natural and predictable patterns.  And it did not require great social skills.  People were not expected to make lots of phone calls, and talking a long time was expensive!  Tasks were pretty straight forward, albeit repetitive.  And in school, if you sat down and kept your mouth shut you could do well enough.

Except for the bullies.  There were always bullies.

I’ve known I was on the spectrum for at least a decade.  It’s only been in the last year where I have come to know Arwyn’s particular flavor, even though I think she is in denial.  Hell, I even blogged this crap back in 2005, but failed to make that last, tiny connection.  And even going to my more famous top 10 list (which has been lifted, republished and passed all over the internets) harkens to an almost autistic way of dealing with sex.  But I failed to see it until now.

What this means, once we get a diagnosis for you, me, a spouse or anyone, is that this is a big part of who we are.  It is not something you recover from using a 12-step group, psycho analysis, drugs, chelation or any other horse shit people will try to sell you. Don’t buy it.  They will take your money and you might THINK it is helping….and you will claim it helped cause who wants to look like an idiot for just spending big bucks on crap that didn’t work?

This is not something to be cured.  It is something to be understood and managed.  And my friend Xavier has been managing in fine form for a very long time, albeit in a certain Mr. Magoo-like fashion.  He has blindly gone about his business and done well raising his kids and his garden, taking care of his family just like he always knew he was supposed to.  Jerry Newport alludes to this about his own upbringing.  Everyone knew he was a little odd, but otherwise did not treat him any different.  He was still held to high expectations.  And he is still wildly successful despite also being wildly off-the-wall.  As we get older we get better at managing and compensating.

That routine and preservation of sameness (a cardinal autistic characteristic) is how we manage our environment.  We know we are prone to fits of disorganization, so we put things in the same place every single time so we can find it again.  We wear, eat and do the same things every day because it makes life easy and less complicated so we can devote energy to the variety of things we like.

And people on the autistic spectrum are very diverse.  What is true of one person on the spectrum is not always true for another.  I already pointed out that girls and boys have real differences, but no two autists are exactly alike.  Some have sensory issues, and some don’t.  Some are reclusive while others are gregarious.  And some struggle more than others.  It does not have to define you, but it IS a part of you.  Don’t try to curse, cure or beat it out of yourself.  It is not like cancer.  It will not kill you but it might make you a bit more unique!

In the case of Arwyn, it has helped me accept her more and not be as bothered by her inablity to manage time, space and money.  I will always be concerned, but I am not trying to change her.  And she is done trying to change me.  She is not always trying to get me to socialize more or join in on all the running around, disorganized shopping she likes.  For us, we are better off in separate rooms in our own spaces while still raising our kids together.  In that respect, we do fairly well as a team.  Remember people always seek out others of similar and compatible dysfunction.

So Xavier, go ahead and learn about it all you want but don’t get freaked out.  You gone this long without the label, and adding a tag doesn’t make you anymore or any less of a worthwhile person.  Use it as a tool to better understand yourself and the rest of your family.  But it does not define you.  You are greater than the sum of your parts and this is just one part.

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Homerun: The Movie

April 21, 2013

Might as well enliven this old blog just a bit.

I just saw the movie Homerun, at the request of my wife.  It is the first real kidless ‘date’ we have had in probably 4 years or more.  I have a review of the date in my other blog.  This is a review of the movie itself.  And there WILL be a few spoilers, such that they could be for this particular movie.

Basically this is a movie about redemption and recovery that happens to include a bit of baseball and a lot of feel good moments.  The protagonist is a pro baseball player who is also an alcoholic.  I give high marks to Scott Elrod who plays the lead as Corey.  He looks like he could actually play pro ball.  As an actor I thought he did a good job with the role he was given.  I give all of the actors and actresses high marks.

I would say the movie is ‘good’ based on acting and on the message which is positive.  But it is definitely not a great movie.  And the fault rests largely on the writing where there is a promising story that is just not developed enough and lacks emotional punch.  Almost everything that happens is predictable.  I’m not against predictability if it is used in some productive way that takes the audience beyond what they were expecting.  For instance the scene where he is speeding in the car with his brother, apparently drunk.  I could see the car wreck a mile away.  As a writer, I would have killed off the brother, setting up for lots more vitriole with his sister-in-law and a more powerful story of redemption.  As it is, the brother really served no other role in that movie after that crash except as a marginally supporting character.

I did enjoy Corey’s connection to the little league team he was coaching, but the interactions with the assistant coach who is also a widow and has a son in need of a father figure was entirely too predictable.  I think the fatherhood angle either needed more work or be dropped altogether as it seemed like the movie was trying to do too much resulting in nothing done overly well.

One bright spot was Vivica Fox who played the agent.  She played her role very well and added life to the screen whenever she appeared.

This movie felt overly long, which is always a bad sign in my book.  If I start wondering what time it is and how much longer, I have probably paid too much.  But others in the theater seemed to thoroughly enjoy the movie, so my experience might not be typical.  If you enjoyed Fireproof you will probably enjoy this movie too.

 

What is the deal with TLC? (Kate and Jon move on)

June 28, 2009

As a collector of train-wrecked relationships, it should come as no surprise that I would hone in on the plight of Jon and Kate (and the 8). I had never been interested in the show until the airwaves began crackling with the news of their marital troubles. My attention was piqued even more as my wife was watching Youtube videos of the show. So I went on the internet and watched some episodes and clips to get up to speed. So as the resident relationship analyst, I give you my take on it.

First off, TLC totally blew a chance to turn this into an even bigger cash cow. Granted, 10.6 million viewers isn’t too shabby for a cable show, but they could have done better. They could have:

  • Rescued the marriage
  • Elevated another show;s ratings
  • Avoided the whole hiatus business
  • Come off as heros while making tons of money

How? My question is, where the hell is Rabbi Shmuley? TLC has its own resident relationship expert who has helped other couples with Shalom in the Home. Well he’s very much alive and well, and posted his own thoughts on the Gosselins in two different blog posts. His insights are a lot better than mine, but I wonder why TLC didn’t tap this guy, a celebrity in his own right, to help Jon and Kate. afterall, he has 8 kids of his own! He would surely have had something useful to contribute to the couple and he may yet be able to offer guidance toward helping the kids get through the experience with a minimum of damage.

Kate and Jon are dead wrong on what they are doing. Just a year ago, they were in Hawii, renewing their vows, and now Kate has filed for divorce. She already began drawing up custody battle lines saying that she would never miss a birthday or holiday with her kids. Both her and Jon went on and on and on abut how the kids were the most important thing in their lives. On one level, it’s a bit refreshing that commentors on their TLC site recognize what the fallacy is there. But this couple careened out of control and fell into the ditch faster than even I could have expected. The announcement of seperation was made on the same day divorce was filed for! It’s a travesty, and people should have a degree of outrage over how these two are throwing their marriage under the bus.

At some point, their kids will wonder why their parents had to split up. They’ll see all the stuff that was filmed and read all the comments people made about their parents. They’ll see the vows Jon and Kate made in their wedding and again when they renewed their vows. Then they’ll see as less than a year later their parents proceed to break those vows in a truly grand fashion. What Jon and Kate can not possibly say is, “We did everything we could to keep this family together.”

There was no counseling offered by TLC, and no attempt by either Kate or Jon to contend for their marriage. No one seemed to make any attempt whatsoever to salvage, reconcile or heal this couple. They both let circumstances dominate them, and got swept away and their family got blown apart. It really is an ugly spectacle and it’s going to get even more hideous. We’ve all seen this replayed all over the country countless times as divorces go from bad, to ugly to vicious. The divorce lawyers are going drag this on, keep circling and feeding until they have torn, consumed and shredded all of the assets this family has. We haven’t seen the tip if the meltdowns and ugliness that will be played out on the tabloids.

The faults of each of these two (plus the network) are all well-known, so I’m not going into all that here. I don’t think any one factor killed this relationship, but that it was a perfect storm of things that all came crashing down in a tragic chain of events that just keeps going. I think both of these folks gave up too easily on each other and should have fought harder. I know a bit about how hard, long and grueling the fight can be. But I can’t imagine fleeing in a headlong retreat the way these these folks have. I’m embarassed for these two, as well as for all of the people who have been watching from the beginning.

Should the show go on, as Kate says? I think it should become a show about divorce and kids and how hard it is, although ironically having that extra income stream might actually make it easier for them to break apart and divide things, which most divprcing couples don’t have access to. Just the presence of the fame and fortunes take away a lot of the reality implied by reality TV. Kate is definitely not going to let this cash cow go,and neither is TLC. It seemed to me that Jon was willing to at least consider shutting it down, but he might not get much of a say and might back down when faced with the prospect of having to go and get a job in this tough economy. What’s he qualified to do, anyway?

I wish someone would slow things down and at least consider reconciliation. Weren’t these two supposed to have strong Christian values and belong to a caring church? What happened to all that? Or was that one of the things they cut loose for the sake of their fame? It’s difficult enough squaring their actions with personal integrity of any sort let alone any sort of Christian morality. Once again, christianity ends up looking mighty foolish and impotent when pitted against fame, fortune and popular culture.

My advice would be to at least consider some form of repentence and seek forgiveness from each other and for anf from all parties involved. when they kids grow up to a point where they can understand all of this, when they are teenagers, the parents are going to really need it.

A Journey into Linux

June 6, 2009

Or how I jacked up my score on the Nerd Quiz.

Dave got me going and if I know me (and I think I do, although sometimes I wonder) I know I could go on and on with people about Linux. So instead of dominating the comment of my other blog with it, We can talk Linux here.

First, a bit of my personal computiong history:

1986 – My first a computer! A Laser 128, a clone of the Apple IIc. I had a professor who was a dealer of them, and he gave me a good deal. That, plus a bootleg copy of Appleworks and I was on my way to writing bliss. Seriously this machine turned me into a writer

1991 – The Laser died and there was no way I was going to survive without a computer. I was still poor, tho. What to do? I bought a used Macintosh 512. I had seen and worked with these wonders of technology in the 1980’s and always wanted one. With the extra disk drive, and a lot of software, I was on my way again.

1993 – The Mac died. Time for something new. And since I finally had a steady income, plus some financing, I got my first brand new computer. A Mac Color Classic II. It was fabulous. HOWEVER….

While I loved my Apples, the rest of the world was running Windows/Intel. And Apple charges a hefty penalty for loyalty. When I spilled coke on my keyboard (the beverage), I paid nearly $100 for a new one while the PC keyboard sitting right next to it in CompUSA was $20. Every single Mac component and the software cost a ton, if you could even find it. I did end up going clear across Atlanta to get a 2400 Bd modem, and did manage to get on AOL for 30 days with it, and several BBSs. But most BBSs were geared for PCs. Fortunately I had some bootleg emulator software that allowed me into the online world.

1996 – Armed with an employee discount from my new wife working at Wal-Mart, we bought our first PC– a 486 running Win95.

And then we went on to Win98 and finally WinXP.

Sorry, no pictures of those because everyone had them either at home or work or both.

I remember seeing Redhat in the late 1990’s, but everyone knew Linux was for geeks. And this was before geeks were cool. In 2001, I did order some Mandrake disks but never even ran them. I didn’t want to ruin my existing system. But in 2005, my existing system ruined itself anyway. And this was what really put me on the road to Linux. As I tried to reinstall my copy of Office XP, which I had actually bought legally, I discovered that I had to call the mothership in Redmond to get permission to put it back on my repaired emachine. And of course, there was all the malware, trojans, spyware and worms that often slowed XP to a crawl. It had to be nursed by several programs to guard it, fix it and optimize it all the time. I was seriously missing my Macs. Until I looked at their prices.

The first distro I tried was Simply Mepis 3.3 live CD ordered from my favorite place to get distros, since I was still on dial-up. I had been reading up on it, and decided to give it a try. It was an eye-opener. There, I saw I could do most things that I wanted without having to type command lines (CLI). Yeah, I had done things with DOS before, and didn’t like it. Later, I would attempt a few tasks with the CLI, but each time I felt like I was partying like it was 1989.

But I never installed it and Mepis was mostly a toy I played with, until someone gave me an old 550 Mhz win98 machine. Mepis 6.0 went on that, and I liked it. I also tried PCLinuxOS 0.93, SuSE, Mandriva, Ubuntu 6.06 and Freespire. But because I was still on dial-up, XP still ruled our house. Linux could not negotiate most modems, because they were tied to the Windows software. I eventually bought an external modem, but still no luck. Until I discovered Puppy Linux. That little distro got me online, and it was blazingly fast even on the 550 MHz machine. I still would recommend it to someone new to Linux because it has wizards for everything and you don’t have to committ to anything to run it everyday. It sets up a little save directory of about 512 M for all your settings, bookmarks and files or it will run off a USB drive as small as 512 M. I actually recommend the Lighthouse Pupplet, as it has more apps and looks nicer.

Oh, and all of these distros come with all the software you need. And they are all FREE. Free as in beer, and free of malware.

Once we got the cable modem (and an increased risk of malware) I installed Mepis 7.0 on the family desktop on a seperate hard drive. My two boys didn’t much care what it was except they thought it looked neat. My wife was a bit more skeptical, but she did enjoy the security of surfing the internet without having to worry about getting a virus. Next came PCLinuxOS 2007. That one blew me away, and it was the family OS of choice until I tried to upgrade to PCLinux 2009 and it froze every time I tried to login. Even the live CD acted up the same way. In the meantime, I installed Mandriva 2008 on a partition on my laptop. Mandriva 2009 is on the old desktop, but it doesn’t have the same appeal as PCLOS had, so I may try a Mepis derivative called Antix.

And I may upgrade my Laptop to Ubuntu 9.04, as it really is a gorgeous-looking OS that seems to have good speed, lots of support and access to every program you would ever need for most tasks.

There are problems with Linux, though. Most notably, those of us who like to do work with video do not have many tools to work with in Linux, and those that do exist are buggy or kludgey. But the most promising distro for anything creative is called ArtistX. As a live DVD, it contains almost every Linux program/package that exists for anything creative. Since it is based off of Ubuntu 8.10, it will have a familiar look and feel but it simply comes integrated with hundreds of applications. It is very cool.

And it is all FREEEEEEE!

I will not be upgrading to Windows 7 any time soon. And we’ll just skip the whole Vista debacle. I noticed that when looking at computers in Walmart, you never even see the word “Vista.” It’s simply “Windows Home” or “Windows Home Premium.” Thing is, Vista is probably now better than XP, other than being a total resource hog.

Give Linux a try. Download and burn, or order a live CD (Most are less than $2), put it in the CD drive and reboot. And hold on to your butts, because you might just be blown away at how good something is that is free.

Freedom is cool.

It’s All About Managing Anxiety

January 18, 2009

Marriage is a people growing operation in more ways than one. In the biological sense, the child rearing comes to mind, but it also helps raise the parents as much as the kids. It stretches and extends us in ways that we never would have imagined. When we see marriage as an environment that fosters growth, perhaps we can stop seeing it as something that is always broken and always needing to be fixed. Marriage involves the most fundamental unit of common culture and society because it represents the closest commitment that we may ever have with another human being. But that sort of closeness and commitment is not without some challenges.

Aphron recently posted about the need for control, and postulated the reason why people feel like they need to be in control. It all comes down to anxiety. I define anxiety as a heightened state of physiological arousal that is antagonistic to comfort. In other words, anxiety causes DIScomfort. That can be physical, psychological or both at the same time. In fact it is difficult to have physical discomfort apart from psychological discomfort. The two go together.

Think about stealing the first kiss. How did you feel? Chances are, you experienced some anxiety before, during and after that first kiss. And even if you’ve kissed a person a thousand times, you may feel that same anxiety again when kissing someone new. Generally, whenever we do something new, we experience anxiety. So most of us like it when things don’t change very much. We feel comfort in routines and the sameness of our surroundings. We like coming home to our own house. Control is about maintaining the sameness and managing our anxieties. The more anxious a person is, the more they tend to be very controlling. In Aphron’s case, Sybil seems to like sex but she likes it strictly on her own terms. She is terribly insecure and anxious and while she wants to have an illusion of surrender. But if Aphron ever truly took charge and made her truly submit, she would feel terribly anxious and would no doubt accuse him of betraying her trust in some way. So her illusion is basically the tyranny of the submissive; you take charge but ONLY as long as it does not threaten me.

But here is an astounding fact: couples are always evenly matched in how well they handle anxiety.

And right about now Aphron is feeling insulted, as are the rest of you. Each and every one of you probably think you handle anxiety better than your spouse. But you don’t. I didn;t say you handled it the same, I said you handled it equally well. In Aphron’s case, he tends to internalize his considerable anxiety. But it is definitely there, and Sybil effectively dominates him by externalizing her considerable anxiety. Whenever Aphron asserts himself, he can pretty much count on a whithering counterattack designed to put him back in his place. She tends to be extremely reactive, but Aphron reacts internally in almost an equal degree as she does externally.

Back to that first kiss, it provoked a lot of anxiety but you did it anyway. And lo and behold, we may have eventually came to like it. We like sameness, but we also crave novelty. But we tend to like our novelty to be fairly well controlled. We basically want to have our cake and eat it too where we have sameness and novelty at the same time which is impossible. This is how the two-choice dilemma plays out in reality. We’d like to have the good rush without the anxiety but the universe doesn’t work that way. God programmed us in such a way that boredom produces its own discomfort and causes us to to seek out new frontiers where we grow. And we face new anxieties. Facing anxiety is most often a way to open the door to new joys.

FTN’s recent post about his forays into eyes-open orgasm is a case in point. He and Autumn had to confront some serious anxiety in order to get to that point but once it happened it was electric. It wasn’t just the fact that their eyes were open but it was also that they made a leap into greater intimacy together. At that moment, it was more than physical it was spiritual. Most problems people have in relationships have to do with managing anxiety and discomfort. I’m not talking about real pain, just the anxiety around the possibility that there might be some pain involved. Some of us have spouses that are uncomfortable with certain sex acts. It’s not that one act within marriage is more perverse or dirty than another, it is more personal development and anxiety.

It was interesting how Aphron put his introduction to his follow-up/quote of my post about returning to Schnarch.

He tends to be a very introspective person and is struggling to obtain more sex.”

I can plead to introspection, and the struggle to obtain more sex has been a recurring theme. But it is really more intimacy that I really want. I can have sex if I want. If I ask Arwyn for a hand job, she’s willing to make that sacrifice. But I don’t want that kind of autistic sex where she stares into space and thinks about laundry while rubbing my magic lamp. So my dilemma is that if I really want sex that is good, I have to work harder and wait longer than I would normally want.

Going long periods without sex is a painful existence. Having sex is equally painful because then I get anxious about when it is going to end or stop. I can’t have it both ways. I have to choose which anxiety to face, and then I have to face it like an adult. And that’s really the hard part. The brat in me feels entitled to complain and throw a tantrum and most people wouldn’t blame me for it. But I don’t want to be a brat who sulks and pouts and tantrums. So in the final analysis this has less to do with Arwyn than it does with me. True, it is our interactions that bring out a lot of these internal conflicts with myself, but ultimately they are my own self-defeating thoughts and beliefs that cause so much of my anxiety and pain. Using her to medicate that pain through sex isn’t a terribly loving thing to do. But at the same time, there is my own integrity to contend with and how much I can allow her to violate it by allowing her anxieties to rule over both of us. And that is the beauty of marriage in that we are forever given new opportunities to manage our anxieties while staying close to another person. It’s probably the hardest thing any of us will ever do.

The State of the Christian Church

November 17, 2008

This video is worth watching, definitely. It touches on some things I talked about over a year ago and what FTN touched on recently and then what XH and I argued about even more recently. I think we all might be able to agree with the fact that there is a huge disconnect with where the church is presently going (and where it has been going for quite some time).

I do not claim to have ant good answers here to this. I don’t think more splintering is the answer as much as the result of churchianity gone horribly wrong. I think the Holy Spirit has been banished and expelled from most churches in operation today. Too many people claim to have the answers, and all of the answers are contradictory to each other. It’s not even about denominational doctrine as much as about the fundamental nature of God. On one side is an evangelical hoard that claims almost nothing is essential and on the other side is a group who claims everything is essential.

The only way to purify our faith is the same way it was done in ancient times; through suffering. The world is in for it in our time. Hang on to your butts, because this ain’t no Tim LaHaye novel or Kirk Cameron movie.

Christian Unity?

November 11, 2008

This is why Christian unity is such a joke to anyone who looks on and sees Christians from the outside. But I suppose if you’re going to have a Holy punch-off, you might as well do it in the Holiest shrine in all of Christianity and duke it out by using the holy relics as weapons. These folks trust each other so little, that the keys to the Holy Church have to be left with Muslim families!

God’s Economy

November 1, 2008

I’ve been planning on blogging this for quite some time, but I wasn’t sure where to put it or what exactly to do with this idea. Seeing how FTN opened up the discussion with his post, it seems logical to go ahead and extend it. Plus I ran across a few other things that sort of got my mind focused on the need for some treatment of this subject. Namely the incident this past week on Wall Street where a group of Christians gathered to pray for our economy…in front of the bronze bull. Yeah, have a look at the video This dovetails very cozily with what FTN said about the Patriotizing of Christianity in this country. What a load of Bull! This atheist Youtuber put it pretty well, I thought.. The heathens are having a field day with this crap, and rightly so.

The fact of the matter is, is we have everything totally wrong and upside down when it comes to money compared to how God has ordered things. Jesus attempted to express this through his parables and examples where the rich seemed to always have a rough time of it in the kingdom of God. This is because the rich get rich through having their priorities upside down. Tax collectors, rulers, money changers and even pharisees seemed to be on the make as they took advantage of people for personal gain. Jesus made it clear that the Kingdom of God was run by a much different set of standards than those on earthly kingdoms. So in God’s eyes, a recession or a depression wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. It would help people see their priorities more clearly and help loosen the baggage and bondage that is formed between us and our possessions. We would have to prioritize and really think about what is important in our lives instead of running around and trying to have it all. We would have to lean on God and each other instead of our own abilities and pride. Praying for banks and financial institutions is totally off the mark! God is less concerned about our comfort as much as about our character. And that is a key concept when understanding God’s politics and His economy.

I don’t talk much about my job, because I do keep that separate from what I do here. But it does figure prominently in my thoughts on this. For the past few years, I’ve experienced a growing dissatisfaction from my work. That is because I feel a growing sense of isolation, futility, few opportunities for advancement, and no little recognition in a business that gets little enough recognition as it is. I’m marginalized serving people that are the most marginalized in all of society. And that’s the problem. From an earthly standpoint, this is a pretty low job as illustrated by the highest turnover in a profession that has been rife with turnover. But in God’s economy, the only way I could be higher on the totem pole would be to do what I do for free or else actually BE one of the people I serve. I’m good at my job by virtue of being particularly tenacious (stubborn) and stable (hard headed) as well as an advocate (a prick). The combination has been so effective that despite being qualified for “higher” positions, I am sort of stuck by virtue of the fact that there is no one to replace me. On one hand I feel special. On the other I feel trapped. I’ve been trying desperately to get out, and have not been able to break free.

And then I’ve been thinking about God’s economy. In His kingdom, I’m not going for a promotion, I’m angling for a DEmotion in order to get more prestige and a feeling of more self-worth (the money is pretty much the same). But self-worth can not be derived from other people, mostly because people almost always get it wrong. They always are drawn to the most attractive, most powerful, richest, outgoing, flashy characters who mostly end up to be morally empty and corrupt. Look at the people young people might call role models who they try to emulate!

Look at those idiots on Wall Street praying before a big metal bull! They are seemingly as devoid of common sense as that hunk of metal. And yet, I’m not much better off than them. I remember in the late ’80’s thinking those fellows on Wall Street were the cool guys and how neat it would be to be a rich wheeler dealer. Who can forget this speech? And let’s face it– chicks dig a guy with a fat wallet. So do their parents. It’s hard not to get sucked in by the worldly hype and want all the shiny toys and the fancy house and the new cars. Americans bought the lie and went into debt to do it. And now look where we are. We ALL prayed to that bull one way or another. We believed what the politicians told us, that the good times could go on forever. In 2000 there was all this talk of a surplus. Even now, politicians talk about the surplus that supposedly existed back then. Bush and Gore each were making plans on how to spend it. Trouble is, it never existed. They both lied and anyone talking about it is still demented. The government has been taking money out from Social Security for the past 25 years and writing IOUs. In the next decade it will be time to pay and where is THAT money going to come from?

But again, the whole concept of Social Security is a lie. Jesus and the disciples didn’t have a 401k plan. They didn’t have a Roth IRA. They didn’t even have a savings bond. I totally understand the desire to try to help our families be more stable and less vulnerable to risk. We want our children to be taken care of plus we also do NOT want to be a burden on them in our old age. But this is not how God sees it. Again, our comfort and aversion to risk are not high priorities in His kingdom. The creator of the universe does not need whole life insurance or a trust fund. He IS the trust, the life and the security.

Which is why I think the poor, the sick and the lame and the needy are among us. Or are us. Without people who needed our total care and compassion, the world would be an even more self-centered, evil mess. It’s where we learn priorities and humility. And that probably explains why I’m seemingly stuck where I am. I have much more to learn about these things than most people who seem more naturally inclined toward compassion and caring.

Sola Fide

October 14, 2008

In order to properly be brought up to speed on this little debate, you might read an initial post made by FTN, then a response by me with comments by Christian Husband (known here as XH). Then I responded with a post, and then Christian Husband responded with several posts, but specifically addresses Sola Fide here.

Before I address Sola Fide, I need to address a few points of history. It’s important to note that XH referred to his particular theology as “Pre-Enlightenment.” It is a funny label but that really is probably the best spin one could put on that period of time. Pre-Reformation would be too obvious (and too Catholic) and medieval is just…well medieval! But, in fact that is exactly what pre-enlightenment was. It was the dark ages. What made it so dark? Well, the feudal system, for one thing. The poor basically worked to the benefit of the nobility. The nobility kept the poor in line with the help of the church. They used and abused their authority to keep certain folks in power. In return for power and privilege, the church got funds and lands. In all fairness, there were parts of the church that worked on behalf of the poor. But the church in Rome was very politically corrupt and morally bankrupt. The inquisition was in full swing, the sale of indulgences was on in order to raise money for more cathedrals.

Basically, an Indulgence was Salvation for Sale. During the crusades, one could win salvation by going to battle for the sake of the church. By the 16th century, all you had to do was pay some money. And if you sinned again, all you had to do was buy more grace. An Indulgence was a license to sin.

And this is a natural progression within the framework of salvation by works. Jews, Muslims and Catholics all believe that salvation comes primarily through what you do. This is why a Pope could offer salvation through a crusade and why a Muslim cleric can offer salvation through Jihad. The Muslims sweeten the pot considerably by offering 70 virgins. I’m betting a Pope or two slapped his foehead, “D’oh! Why didn’t I think of that?!?” This is also what makes excommunication such a dire threat to a Catholic. The church has the power to either let you in, or keep you out of Heaven based on what you do. Keeping you from the sacraments is sufficient to keep you out of Heaven. And if no priest gives it to you, you ain’t gettin’ it. Because it can only be administered through apostolic succession.

XH rightly attributes Sola Fide – by faith alone – as the chief cornerstone of every other facet of the church. As Luther said, the church either stands or falls on that one precept. Either the church can by and sell indulgences against past (and even future) sins or not. Luther’s attack on the church’s authority (and purse) did not go unnoticed. The response was swift and decisive. He was excommunicated within a few months of his challenge.

The history of the time really is interesting. But Sola Fide is totally Biblical. Contrary to XH’s assertion, it comes mostly from the writings of Paul. He first applies it in Acts 16:39-40 when he and Silas are rescued from jail by an earthquake that happens to open all the cell doors and cause all the chains to fall off. The poor jailer, knowing that allowing prisoners to escape was a capital offense was prepared to kill himself when Paul shouted, “HeY! Don’t do it! We’re right here!”

“What must I do to be saved?” the jailer asked.
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved– you and all your household.” That was it. No preconditions, no sacraments. Just believe in Jesus. Paul spends most of Romans and Galatians expounding on what he preached to the jailer that night. XH goes to great lengths to cut the legs out from under Paul’s teaching but you can read it for yourself.

Jesus never taught specifically about when and where justification comes from as explicitly as Paul does. But it is addressed throughout His ministry. Cocotte brought up the thief on the cross, and XH summarily waived it off by stating Jesus was God and could therefore violate whatever rule He wanted. XH stated this behavior was an exception to the rule. But was it? Most people Jesus healed were healed out of their faith. Because they believed. There were no preconditions to it, it just happened. We have a centurion and a Phoenician woman who get help. They were not even Jews! And both were commended for….their faith.

Jesus only taught about justification one time explicitly in Luke 18:9-14. Here we have a pharisee and a tax collector. They both went to the temple to pray. The pharisee begins his prayer by thanking God that he is not like the tax collector. He lists all the things he does; he fasts twice a week and gives a tenth of all he gets. Meanwhile the tax collector can not even look up. He beats his chest and prays, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner!” Who went home justified? It was not the guy doing all the wonderful works. It was the guy crying out for mercy. Justification through works always creates a hierarchy where people begin to regard themselves as better than others. The pharisees always considered themselves more righteous than anyone else. If anyone could make the claim to self-justification (which is what faith-by-works is) it would be the pharisees. Jesus did not object to the works of the pharisees, He objected to them counting their works as cause for their justification before God. This is the error of pretty much every cult and other religion. They always have to bind justification through works in order to bind their converts to them and their authority. Sola Fide is unique to Christianity because it is the only way that the redemptive power of of the cross and resurrection remains undiluted. Anything less than sola fide is another gospel, whcih Paul warned against in Galatians. The issue of circumcision and special diet were central to the question of sola fide.

So does that mean that actions do not matter? Indeed not! Paul spends most of his letter to the Romans talking about why actions do matter. Sola fide is not a license to licentiousness. The grace of Christ does not require more sinning in order to obtain more grace. Paul’s teaching makes no sense if grace is obtained through works. Paul makes it explicit and direct. However, XH attempts to discount this teaching by inserting ideas that simply are not there. So much for speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where the Bible is silent! Either Paul meant what he said or he didn’t. XH tries to confuse it by saying that what Paul said was not really what he meant and that he meant something else besides what he said. The salvation is by faith is so that no one can boast. Not a tax collector and not a pharisee.

Pretty much every single religion places a premium on works. The Buddhists and Hindus, with their karmic wheel of fortune, the Muslims, the polytheists and their insatiable desire to please multiple gods. The Catholics are not alone in this as several restorationists also went this route including the Seventh Day Adventists, the Mormons, the Jehovah Witnesses as well as the Churches of Christ. The apostasy that is faith through works goes against the entire grain of the New Testament. If you can gain your own salvation through your own works there is no need for a Savior. However, most of the apostate groups take it a bit further. Salvation is accorded only with the approval and blessing of the church authorities. It’s no secret that those who cling to faith through works are the most controlling and oppressive of all sects. Faith through works lends itself to political control of its members.

That’s because in this system, you do not get to decide which works merit furthering your salvation, and which do not. You don’t decide the value of your works, so while you may be thinking you are making a great sacrifice, you may find out that that it might not be valued so much. Even in churches which give lip service to sola fide, we often find a never ending treadmill of obligations which involve keeping the machinery running. There are all the fundraising projects in order to buy new church furniture or a new sound system or more lighting. And then there needs to be money to support the various music ministers, youth pastors and other programs. There’s the time required to volunteer for all the programs that are all designed to keep the club members happy. But if we keep all the club members involved and busy, they will feel like they are doing something productive and useful. They will earn the praise of men.

Jesus Christ came to address the problem of sin. That is not a problem that can be cured or treated through anything we can do with human hands. We are helpless against it. It is through grace…and ONLY through grace…that we can be justified. Works are the sign of the interior regenerative work that takes place when we are saved…when we are born again. Indeed, when we step into the light and turn from the darkness, all can see our deeds clearly and that they are done in God.

How can anyone who claims to be a Christian teacher be ignorant of such things? As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the son of man be lifted up, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

We can see sole fide in action all the way back in Numbers 21:4-9. I’m sure one people were bitten by snakes they tried everything including salves, ointments, sucking the poison out, saying incantations and finally crying out to Moses. God told him to make a bronze serpent. So what did the people have to do? They just had to look. They looked at the bronze serpent and lived. When Nicodemus visits Jesus, this is the teaching He presents. It is no coincidence that the remedy for sin in the time of Moses was confession and faith just as it was for Nicodemus and just as it is today. In the end, our opinions don’t mean very much because it is the judgment of Jesus Christ that ultimately decides.

You can see the wikipedia for Sola Fide here. I did not use it for this post, but you can see that the scriptural case for both sides is EXTENSIVE. XH and I will not settle this question. We can agree to disagree, and/or damn each other to Hell. Let God sort us out.

I did borrow more heavily from this article by John MacArthur. He is a very solid evangelical theologian who I do trust in such matters.

I also read some of this article by Dr. J.I. Packer on the subject before writing my post.

Most of my reading on the Restoration Movement occurred here

Comments are now closed.

More on the Church Discussion

October 9, 2008

Okay, I said I’d follow up and so I shall but this may or may not be any sort of manifesto. But this is what I’ve learned over the past couple of years looking at this issue I started with in the last post.

But first, a recap of the backstory…

I had been going to the Methodist church for several years, despite having more of a Baptist type of theology and a fundamentalist background. My wife felt like she was withering on the vine and began attending a different nondenominational church. This caused some strains and fractures between us, until I finally decided I could go to church with her and the kids. What I discovered was that I couldn’t functional in that church very well at all, and that attending involved a fundamental sacrifice of my own integrity. Which led me to some questions about what was my faith and church attendance about, anyway? And that led me to several questions about church and church practices. Once I backed up and began looking at the entire churchianity structure from the outside, I saw more objectively that there were some major, major flaws in the way church was being done. Many of these flaws are systemic and pervasive. It doesn’t matter whether I go to a church in Georgia or Washington or California or Ohio or anywhere, I was going to see some of the exact same practices being done over and over and over again. No matter who does it, church starts out as the good idea, then turns into a movement then turns into an institution before it finally turns into a racket.

At first, many said that I simply had not found the right church. Think about that statement for just a minute.

The right church.

There is no “right” church simply because there is supposed to only be ONE true Church! Jesus wanted there to be unity, and this is the first casualty of this type of thinking. Christian Husband wrote fairly early on about how he yearned for unity. However his hard-on for unity was only matched by his zeal for getting everyone else to conform to his beliefs and practices. Immediately, when there needs to be an appeal to some sort of human authority structure we are into lawsuits, arbitration and host of legal and political spats and fights. I like the discussions and arguments except they often devolve into more ugliness and eventually discord, resentment and hurt. There is rarely an appeal to agree to disagree here because now the spiritual has turned political.

And that is one way to get unity– force it. This what they do in Iran. The president of Iran stated that there were no homosexuals in Iran, and he is officially correct because homosexuality is a capital offense. Iranian extremism is a natural result of religious zeal turning into a theocracy. I would not be willing to substitute a Muslim one for a Christian one, because both are equally bad and corrupt. Our heathen bretheran are rightly suspicious of politicized Christian campaign speeches and threats of imposing Christian belief systems on everyone else. I’m no less suspicious of those who would prohibit or abridge religious speech. If you like that sort of thing, you can move to communist China.

Back to church unity — as long as you rank one group above another or appeal to finding “the right” one, you pretty much impose artificial boundaries. There are no less than 12 churches within 10 miles of my house, and each one does things slightly differently than another. But they also share some some similar things:
1. They each have a fairly large building (that is tax exempt)
2. They each have fairly large parking lots because EVERYONE drives to get there. Also tax exempt
3. They each have at least one professional clergy person
4. They each have at least one professional music person
5. They each have a children’s program
6. They each pass the collection plate every week
7. They each keep attendance
8. They each have an official membership roll
9. They each have ushers and/or greeters
10. They each have at least 50 people in attendance
11. They each promote their events on local cable channel #8
12 They each meet on Sunday morning between 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.
13. They each have at least one other meeting during the week that starts at 7:00 p.m.
14. Everyone meets in a big room one time on Sunday morning
15. All of the seating in the big room is oriented towards the front and consists of either benches, pews or chairs all with little padding. There are no recliners, la-z-boys, couches, sofas, love seats, bean bag chairs or futons.
16. During the main service, everyone is expected to remain in their place for at least 1 hour (sometimes longer) with varying degrees of sitting, standing and/or kneeling. Actually, let me make a brief correction in that I know of two churches close by where there is quite a lot more movement as people are often “slain in the spirit.” If you don’t know, look it up.

These are just a few similarities that I can think of at the top of my head. Now, how many of the above characteristics are indicated by the Bible? I mean these things must be pretty important if everyone is doing them, right? Granted, most of these things seem at first to be very superficial. But you know what they say– the devil is in the details.

Yeah, the DEVIL!

NONE of these things originated from the Bible. Some of them could not have possibly originated from the Bible because they did not have cable back then. Perhaps they had a common tree where they posted their announcements, who knows? The point is, is that almost all of these things have arisen from a combination of culture and convenience and then became tradition. Once the ideas became popular, the thought of NOT having these things as part of a church seemed pretty foreign. Funnily enough, many of the churches around here did not start off that way. Many of them started off just like FTN’s little group. They were a group of friends who wanted to do things a little differently and were not pleased with the “business as usual.” So they would start meeting in someone’s house. Then they would grow, and they might move to another meeting area like a school or an empty space in a strip mall. Then, one day, they would finally be able to buy a piece of land and build a building to call their own, while continuing to increase their membership along the way. This is a strategy for growth and kingdom building.

Other groups were started when larger churches split because of some disaffection or argument. Sometimes they might be “planted.” Or sometimes they were a group that simply relocated to move into a larger space or they were escaping a neighborhood in transition.

Whatever the reason, the people define church by their particular place of attendance and those they attend with. Some even have their own logos and colors. The Methodist church is red and my wife’s church is green when it comes to decorating their T-shirts and caps. There is a high degree of competition among the churches for members, as there is increasing pressure to offer more programs and services for members. This puts more pressure on the budget which means that either they get their existing members to give more money or increase the base of paying members. As a result, if you visit any of these churches you can expect them to call or visit you within a week to invite you to come back.

Again, where is the Biblical model here? Where did Jesus talk about T-shirts? Was He a Crip or Blood?

I’m just scratching the surface, here, but that is precisely the point. These are all surface issues but they also occupy most of any given congregation’s time, effort and resources. The typical Sunday service is a complex production that takes up an enormous amount of energy and resources, in the financial as well as the human sense. Does God require all of these elaborate productions in order to be meaningfully worshiped and honored? How much genuine fellowship occurs in and during these productions? How much money is necessary to have a deep, meaningful and genuine relationship with God and our neighbors? Is this the wisest use of our time, our gifts, our money and ourselves?

These are questions that people are beginning to ask, and they are legitimate questions that demand answers. God is on the move and things are changing. Whether or not the present changes are for the better remain to be seen. I am not totally sold on the latest fad because I still hold an abiding love for Truth. However, I do have faith that God is in control and the Holy Spirit can be trusted to guide and direct us. There are going to be some flaky things come about but there are always flaky things out there even in a traditional church structure.
D.