Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category

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.

 

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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.

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.

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.

Readings on Church

October 6, 2008

FTN recently posted a piece about church and some of the issues he has with how churches have historically been run. About 18 months ago, I posted a few posts on my own feelings:

Worship
Baptism
Church
Service
Sheep

A prophetic post about churches going into debt

And then the entire month of May 2007

Looking back, I hit the topic pretty hard because of things I was seeing and reading and experiencing. I know I’m not alone in this. Here’s some of the things I’ve read on the topic of church:

Revolution by George Barna
Ashamed of the Gospel – John Macarthur
Organic Church: Growing Church where Life Happens – Niel Cole
The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church – Reggie McNiel
So You Don’t Want to got to Church Anymore – Jake Colsen (You can also read it online for free here)
When the Church Leaves the Building – David Fredrickson
The Shack – William P. Young

Video – Church Outside the Walls (See part I online here)

There’s a lot more and my other posts can help direct anyone interested to to more places. Some notable omissions on my list are Rob Bell and anything pertaining to the emerging church movement. I’ve seen some of Bell’s videos on YouTube and they are interesting. Some have compared him to the next Billy Graham. IMO, he’s not even close. Yes, he’s hip and and he’s trendy but that’s also the problem at least for me. Once I saw where the Church Growth Movement (CGM) churches were going and decided I didn’t want to ride along, that really cut down on popular church movements as big as his. Bully for him for reaching the 25-35 demographic, though.

The Emerging Church movement is along similar lines as what I’ve read, but my beliefs do remain more conservative in nature compared to the generous theology of the Emerging movement.

I’m going to fill in more in a future post on this topic, but I wanted to establish a baseline here for discussion and resources. At the present time, the literature base is exploding in the area of various church movements outside the box. When i ordered my first book, I began getting recommendations for books from Amazon 1 or 2 at a time. Now they come a half dozen at a time. Yeah, the church as we know it is in rapid transition. Is it for the better? Is it merely a symptom of greater wickedness in our world? Or is it a sign of the beginning of the end times?

D.

Spirituality and The Ultimate Differentiation

January 27, 2008

This is the final chapter of Passionate Marriage but probably not my final commentary on the subject.  But at least I’ll be able to index it properly.

 

Schnarch covers two major theme in this chapter; spirituality and death.

 

At first he was surprised as his clients seemed to exhibit a couple of characteristics during therapy.  One was the fact that they seemed to experience a greater spiritual awareness and hunger.  The second was that the more successful they became the more therapy they wanted.

 

Schnarch seemed to be a bit disarmed by the increasing spiritual awakening of his clients when he first started.  As I’ve gone along, I’ve been connecting some of the spiritual dots along the way.  Deeper intimacy seems to naturally incline us towards a deeper spiritual orientation.  As we become better acquainted with ourselves we begin to grasp a truth that we are greater than the sum of our parts.  Just as sex becomes more than just a grinding of body parts, people become more than a collection of organs.  We discover that there is a soul in there.  In us, and our partners.  As we stop depending on our partners to fulfill our deepest longings we discover an Other that was there all along and only through lifting the fog of fusion can we see Him more clearly.

 

When one reads this section of Schnarch’s book, it is advisable to tread carefully.  In other words, the reader has to differentiate enough to realize that Schnarch’s views do not have to become your own.  Schnarch takes an eclectic approach to spirituality that gives equal credence to pretty much every faith.  From a marketing standpoint, it makes sense because he wants to have the broadest possible appeal.

 

Fusion happens pretty much in any and every cult,  In fact, it is pretty much a defining characteristic as these beliefs become progressively more works-based.  God does care about what you do, but only inasmuch as it is a reflection of who you are.  The paradox is that only after throwing off the oppression of man-pleasing do people finally discover God.  Differentiation is a process that involves putting the old self to death and bringing forth a truer more Spirit-led person. While I don’t necessarily agree with his writing on specific spiritual points I do see merit in meeting people where they are. 

 

While this book has some spiritual content and implications, it is still a secular work.  Anyone reading it should be aware of that and treat Schnarch’s treatment of spirituality with caution.  I think he makes several concepts extremely accessible to a wide audience and in this performs a great service.  It opened my eyes to a lot of things.

 

Is this scripture?  No.  I think it is consistent with several key scriptural themes but Schnarch uses secular terminology.  For instance, disclosure is akin to confession.

 

  I see differentiation as being akin to repentance.  At least for me, that was what it felt like.  I confronted my flaws and insecurities and resolved to turn myself around.  You can not repent for someone else’s sin.  You can’t even really confess another’s sin.  The process of confession and repentance is a uniquely individual experience that each person must do for themselves.  Schnarch’s terminology points towards a sort of self determinism or individualism but that is not what it is in practice.  It’s the much more rigorous process that comes from the crucible.

 

The crucible itself is a process that involves putting the old sinful self to death and becoming a reborn being.

 

D.

XH and Me

January 12, 2008

I throw tons of traffic XH’s way (or as much as I get) and read everything he writes because the guy has some serious brains. It’s also because I can relate to him on many, many levels. What started out as a connection of experiences with wives who didn’t seem to like sex has branched off into other areas, especially theology and Christianity. XH and I also share some very key personality aspects such as being analytical and deep-thinking. We also share some of the less glamorous personality traits that feed into a couple of his most recent posts.

I sort of felt that his “Problem of Self” post was an oblique reference to things I’ve been writing about differentiation. I had serious thoughts about ginning up a serious reply/rebuttal but couldn’t think of a good reason to do it other than mental masturbation. His latest post about his quest for intimacy with his wife, tho, does move us past that. That is because he knows, and I know and he knows that I know he knows that I know that this has some serious spiritual underpinnings.

Intimacy is something God desires with us. God created intimacy because of His own deep, deep capacity for it. God feels stuff. God created us in His image, and put His essence into us. We are created to love intimately. When one knows another, in the Biblical sense, it is more than simply interlocking parts and exchanging bodily fluids. It is about intimacy. I give XH some props for figuring this out in his 30’s instead of his 40’s, like me.

In the comments to the intimacy post (the “self” post didn’t have many, much to XH’s chagrin) Desmond offers a bit of generous criticism of XH’s ways. Namely the condescending and arrogant ways. I’m going to build on that a bit.

My first ever blog was Sensual Dementia which had a little tagline that said something like “Thoughts from a condescending prick of a husband.” That label was pinned on me when I lived in the iVillage, and I resented it at first but ended up totally embracing it. That label was given to me by none other than Satan! To be perfectly honest I was a condescending prick. I still have a lot of that prick within me that comes out often enough. This is one reason why XH has a capacity to rile me in ways few other bloggers can. It takes a prick to really appreciate the prickishness of another one! XH and I connect in a wierd sense of similarity and commonality but we also have some sharp differences of opinion. Our capacity to get along and be civil to each other hinges on our ability to handle those differences. I have to be able to recognize that despite our eerie similarities, we are different people. We are not the same and it is entirely possible that two intelligent people can look at the exact same thing and come to entirely different conclusions. That is a very important key, here. So even though I don’t see eye-to-eye with him on all of his theology, we can still get along without getting all flamey. It’s not as easy as the rest of you might think. I have a natural penchant for flaming and used to use it on Usenet all the time. Alt.flame could be a pretty fun place. I give him some credit for helping me grow out of that a bit more. I don’t have to respond to what he says if I don’t want to; I can walk away.

In XH’s particular denomination there is an emphasis on uniformity which they incorrectly define as unity. However XH has differentiated himself from his denomination in some very significant areas, namely with his sense of history and his take on creeds He also has maybe a half dozen other areas where he might not agree with the original founders. He’s opinionated to an extreme and isn’t too afraid to throw those opinions out.

So what does this have to do with why his wife won’t trust him with her feelings?

Everything. I know this because I can now see the sort of damage I’ve done in my own marriage by carrying on in exactly the same way. This goes beyond pop psychology, but into reality. And I’m all about reality.

XH’s blog relationships can serve as a bit of a model for what is happening in real life. The first time I handed him some criticism, he turned off his comments, flushed his blogroll and got royally pissed. I was seriously worried he might go dark over it! But given more time to think, he reconsidered.

Why did he do all that? It’s because he was hurt and he didn’t want to be hurt again. He still doesn’t want to be hurt again so he has taken another tact tthat I know really, really well because I’ve used it more than once.

In his Intimacy post, XH mentions his feelings about his wife’s particular intellect which I thought was gutsy. It was that point where a few people might take exception. And we can see how he does this in the blog world.

When it comes to theology and religion, XH looms very, very large. He knows the Bible, Bible history and Christian history probably better than anyone else around the neighborhood. He’s an intellectual heavy weight and this is how he fends off attacks. I’m sure this is not a conscious decision, but I feel pretty confident that it works. I’ve gotten more than one private email from people who are cautious about commenting on a religious post because their ideas might get him riled up. They are afraid to challenge him and afraid of being challenged by him. I admit that I often measure my words against the thoughts and response of an opinionated and zealous XH, who is passionate about his faith.

Thing is, I have the exact same problem. Not just with my wife but with other members of my family. Over the holidays, my mother shared that my brother and sister are often afraid of my intellectual sharpness. My words have the ability to cut deeper than I ever realized. It’s not about being abrupt, rude and vindictive so much as it is about being careless and casual. Like XH, I often assume people know things that I know and see things as I see them. When they don’t, I act surprised because I am surprised! I’m not intentionally trying to be mean or make others feel small and stupid, but it surely happens all the time. People get around me they feel really dumb. And sometimes I really do think some people I’m around are really dumb.

While it isn’t overt, it really does function as a defense mechanism. The best defense is a good offense, and having a razor intellect and whip-like tongue can mask a lot of insecurities and other psychological deficiencies. This is why XH’s theological posts get very few comments while posts on his relationships garner so many. In his relationship posts, we are all on equal ground. He shows his weaknesses with honesty and others see his vulnerability and jump in. Not with accusations or flames but with support. Spiritually, he does have an arrogant swagger. Emotionally, he’s like the rest of us. If he wants more comments on his theological posts, he should quit being a spiritually arrogant, condescending prick of a know-it-all smart ass. Show a bit of vulnerability there, quit acting like the fellow with all the answers and stop sounding like a pharisee. Find a theological question he doesn’t know the answer to and ask others about it.

All of the above only apply if he wants comments or friendly responses. Otherwise, a body writes and puts stuff out there regardless. I’ve got a butt load of posts about psychology on the Blogger version of UA that have few or no comments. I just like having them there and sometimes people come ’round years later and comment. While I like comments, I’m okay not getting them on every post. I just move on. Stepmania post, anyone?

So let’s get back to “self” for a minute and talk about how that fits in to this whole thing.

Like XH, I also see much of psychology having a very “selfish” orientation. Within the Freudian Psychodynamic perspective, it’s all about a person’s past unresolved conflicts. No room for God there. With the cognitive perspective, it is our own false beliefs and irrational thoughts that make things get unglued. With behaviorism, it is all about contingencies of reinforcement. None of the psychological perspectives have any acknowledgement whatsoever of sin and the need for redemption and salvation. No need of a Savior or an acknowledgement of God. It’s all about healing ourselves and becoming our own little god and saving ourselves from our own misery..

That’s not to say there are no truths in psychology. Studying it can be very beneficial in understanding human behaviors and emotions. But relying too much on it can result in losing perspective. The science of emotion and behavior is a worthwhile subject of study but not to the exclusion of others. I get where XH’s suspicions come from. I share much of his skepticism. But differentiation is not the same as individualism or existentialism. It has some similar ideas but isn’t married to a human construct of godlessness.

The problem XH has with his wife is derived from his problems with God. The lack of intimacy he shares with his wife is a mirror of the lack of intimacy with God. Both reflect a poor understanding of differentiation, nevermind its application. And keep in mind, XH and I share a similar psychopathology. We both want intimacy but we’re doing stuff that shoots us in the foot. It was by looking at how XH was coming across that made me realize where I was doing the same sort of stuff. Much of it has to do with being arrogant and being a condescending prick. Even if I don’t mean to be, I need to be more measured and conscious of what I’m doing and saying. I need to take some ownership of my own intellect and then realize that it really isn’t all that. In a sense, XH handing me my rhetorical ass on a plate has been instructive.

Being intimate with God means working past the tendency we have of see God as a being who is constantly and forever offended by everything we do. We do a lot of offensive things, to be sure. However we’re not going to get anywhere if we are forever on guard about offending Him. Who wants to walk on egg shells 24/7? This is how XH’s wife, Z, feels about XH. She can not open up to him because he will find fault with what she says and does. He will become self righteous in defending the faith. She isn’t allowed to have her own individual preferences without risking offense so she puts up her own defense. An intellectual defense against XH would take a lot of energy as he’s so formidable that way. So she uses an emotional one which is working exceedingly well.

Differentiation is about realizing that two married people are not in the same boat. They are still in separate boats, trying to act like they are in one. When someone else tries to steer my boat, they are being controlling and manipulative. When I’m steering both boats it is called togetherness, cooperation and unity! Invoking that whole Biblical submission theology is going to reap a cold dryness that will rival any polar ice cap in the solar system. You can not compel and force authentic intimacy by rules, force, intimidation, threats or any other way.

XH has all the mechanical elements of a fulfilling sex life. By any objective measure, he should be thrilled! He has frequency, he has techniques, he has a variety of activities and a wife who swallows. What the hell is he complaining about? He’s not getting intimacy. One can get all the sexual activity requirements from any hooker, but intimacy is something that can’t be purchased at any price. It is only bought at the expense of self, but not quite the way XH would have us believe in his “self” post.

There is a paradox coming up, and I know some people are going to have a problem with it. Rule-based people who are rigid get very constipated when there is a paradox lounging around. But here it is…

You are only going to be able to connect intimately with another when you are properly differentiated. The level of intimacy one has is directly proportional to the ability to deal emotionally with the differences. If one goes ape shit over some little issue like theology, how can I trust them with my heart? I can say the stuff I do here because I’m anonymous. But how do you stay anonymous in a relationship like marriage? You can’t do it. You can try to create emotional distance but the other person will know you more than you want over time. So you try to deal with differences by trying to eliminate them or acting like they don’t exist. Emotional fusion is when we try to eliminate differences through uniformity. We insist on conforming tothe standard. Whose standard? Well, the man’s standard of course! That’s because he’s conforming to God’s standard, which is the Bible! So we need to squash and press out any differences so that we are a nice, smooth, uniformly united couple. It’s a struggle to maintain that facade while we’re at church and I’ve met a few couples that couldn’t do it. Or wouldn’t. Now imagine keeping the hot iron on every day all day.

Differentiation is about allowing the other person to have their own feelings and opinions without feeling threatened and anxious. XH gets his panties in a wad when I write something he sees as rifled with theological errors. Actually it’s probably not true emotionally, but intellectually he feels compelled to correct the error which he does thoroughly and completely. Which compels me to fix his errors! All done in love, right? It’s no way to run a marriage. Or at least a happy marriage.

Thing is, Z isn’t all that different from XH. We always pick someone with whome we are evenly matched. Z does have some sharpness of her own that was demonstrated all too briefly on her own blog. Just look at the title of it! There is a synergy there that is actually inhibiting their intimacy. Two people with their own unique brand of arrogance and condescension trying to live together. They have amazingly pulled this off but the price has been their intimacy. When their intimacy increases their arrogance will suffer. Not a bad thing but they will suffer for it.

This last paragraph is a real tail twister, because it sets up a bit of a dilemma for XH. I stuck it in there as a manifestation of my own sadistic nature, which oddly enough is covered in the next chapter in Schnarch’s book about the two choice dilemma and marital sadism.

I might extend this post out later but let’s see where it goes on its own.

D.

That didn’t take long.

While musing about the Christian Husband (XH for those who have yet to figure it out) thing I had another thought that plays directly to his “Self” post.

A while back there was some sort of meme going around and it asked something like “Could you live with a replica/copy/clone of yourself?” My answer to that is a definitive NO! I know this only because I see XH as my evil twin and he is bad enough as it is without being an exact copy. In our little community, he and I get into spats as much as anyone else. While this disturbs people in our peaceful, virtual Utopian world, I see that it is kind of necessary.

At the risk of blunting my sadistic side shown above, I have to say I’ve learned a thing or two about self growth through these heated exchanges. I’ve had to confront my less angelic side as well as acknowledge that it isn’t all bad. Using XH as a sort of reflection, I can say that I don’t like myself very much. I don’t like upsetting myself, I don’t like it when I make myself angry and I don’t like it when I see myself upsetting other people. I don’t like my pride and arrogance. I don’t like my condescending prickish self. I really, really loathe all that. But here’s the fact jack: I have to live with myself. I can avoid and move away from every other person on the planet except myself. My own sinful nature is right there, all the time, 24/7. Pretending it isn’t there means I end up fobbing off all my faults and insecurities on to other people. I cause pain to other people. I treat other people like livestock because I’m not dealing with my issues.

For example, there is the smoking issue. Bad, bad, bad, bad. Not much good about it. Except I like it and it helps medicate my pain and anxiety. That excuse of self medicating is a crutch I use to avoid dealing with my own shit. I blame Arwyn for causing my anxiety and thus my smoking. Arwyn hates my smoking. But I smoked before we were married, so she knew she was marrying a smoker. She had regular sex with a smoker: me. She refused to have sex with me when I stopped smoking. Smoking isn’t her issue. It’s mine. And I gotta deal with it without blaming her for it. I smoked before I met her and would continue if she left me today, using that anxiety as an excuse.

I’m confronting things on a lot of levels at the moment that I might rather not. But the conflicts are what have been driving me. Differentiation is a matter of introspection and integrity and not about selfishness. Denial and selfishness are all about fusion, manipulation and control of others. Whenever we try to become fused together through uniformity it is always at the expense of others. Insisting that others are fools for not using andouille sausage is a lot like insisting that others are fools for playing DDR instead of Stepmania. It basically involves an incursion into other people’s preferences and business. While it references their incompetence it also puts us into a corner where just about anything anyone else does calls into question our own integrity.

Uniformity is insisted upon in the military for a reason. It’s because we need to be exactly the same in order to accomplish a single unique mission: to kill other people before they kill us. Not exactly a model for Christian or marital unity.

D.