Beyond The Pale

Pat Robertson’s, Rhetoric, Social Justice

Several days ago—my first draft read “yesterday afternoon,” but life sometimes gets busy—while reading the New York Times online, I stumbled upon an article about Pat Robertson’s claim that he believed that the use of Marijuana should be legalized. His point, as an Evangelical, was not that the use of Marijuana was good, that it should be endorsed, or that he had any desire to use it, only that he thought it should be legalized. After reading the article, with which I wholly agreed, I posted a link to it on Facebook and promptly forgot about it.

As I’m currently deployed to Afghanistan, I live on an almost inverted time scale to most of the people who read my feed and make comments, so when I went to bed that night, there were no responses to the post, not that I expected any. As I mentioned, the link didn’t bear enough weight in my mind to keep me thinking about it, as the claims it made seemed fairly obvious. When I woke up the following morning and went to check my email before calling my wife, I was surprised to see that I had received twenty new emails in the intervening eight or ten hours. Several years ago, this would have been common, but of late I’ve been much less active on the internet, and I’ve received very few emails from people other than my wife. I couldn’t help but wonder what had brought in all the traffic. As soon as I opened up the first email, I realized that, without really intending to, I’d done what I have such a habit of doing and started a fight about whether Pot use should or should not be legal.

Most discussions of decriminalization for Marijuana tend to go in one of two directions, which are really the same direction. Either people want it to be legalized because its use isn’t damaging and alcohol, which causes much worse behavior than Marijuana ever could, is legal, or they want it to be illegal because it’s destructive, wrecks homes and lives, makes you lazy, and contributes to other kinds of criminality. Both of these pictures are clearly oversimplifications of what their backers really believe, and I’m not trying to build up a couple of straw man arguments to knock down, but keeping these rough sketches in mind is useful.

The argument that happened on my Facebook page while I was sleeping had basically taken the same course that most arguments about Pot tend to take, and while I wasn’t surprised, I was disappointed because the reason that I so heartily agree with what Pat Robertson was saying is that he didn’t make the arguments that we usually hear. Instead, Robertson approached the issue from the perspective of social justice.

Robertson basically argued that we incarcerate people for a crime with only one real victim, themselves. Sure, because of the current state of affairs, there is a whole black market on the product, and any black market produces crime, but that black market is not a natural outgrowth of the availability of the product, but of it’s prohibition. Just as a huge black market grew out of the prohibition of alcohol in the United States and was wiped out by it’s later re-legalization, so the crime producing prohibition of Pot produces much crime that would be wiped out were the product legalized, regulated, and taxed.

That’s not to say that the use of Pot should be condoned, any more than the use of alcohol should be condoned. There is plenty of room for disagreement on this. My denomination states in it’s position papers that it considers alcohol to be a tool of Satan, used for destroying lives and causing addiction. My parents completely agree with this statement, and I can’t fault them for the position. I believe that high fructose corn syrup is a tool of Satan, used for destroying lives and causing addiction. My parents drink a lot of Dr. Pepper and use fake Syrup on their pancakes. I try not to judge them for this. I drink a fair amount of Guinness and the occasional tumbler of Ol’ Number 7. I hope that they do me the same courtesy. I don’t argue that high fructose corn syrup should be illegal. I’m never heard my parents argue that alcohol should be.

Just as I don’t advocate the consumption of fake sugar, and my parents don’t condone the consumption of alcohol, Pat Robertson doesn’t condone the consumption of THC. His argument, and it’s a good one, is that it is unjust to throw someone in prison, damage their families, reduce their lifetime earning potential, and force them into association with real criminals for doing something unhealthy.

Our prisons are over crowded, and they are crowded with people who have no business being there in the first place. If we believe that Pot use is wrong and dangerous, destructive and addictive, then we need to do something about it, but incarcerating them isn’t the thing that needs done. There are other ways to go about this. When a person gets addicted to alcohol, we try to enroll them in AA. When they eat too much Mc. Donald’s, we send them to Jenny Craig.

Christians are mandated to care for the poor, not to oppress them. To deprive a community of it’s young men, by far the largest portion of drug related incarcerations, fits that bill. Utilitarians want to reduce human suffering. Prohibition and the resulting crime and imprisonment increase the quotient of human suffering beyond the gains of reduced consumption. Liberals want the oppressed to be humanized, removed from the margins, empowered. Conservatives claim to want to preserve liberty and reduce government spending. Libertarians want the government to have less power. And so on. There are incentives for every party to advocate this change, and yet very few voices do—not as a result of the real situation, but as a result of the blinding rhetoric we have chosen to use to talk about it.

March 23, 2012 Posted by | Censorship, Christianity, Church | 8 Comments

The Horse and the Rider

I don’t normally copy and paste into my blog, seeing as it’s MY blog. But I think that today, some simple passages from scripture might give some perspective to those of you who think that it’s somehow ungodly for Christians to be excited about USSF having finally taken out Osama Bin Laden, who we’ve been trying to get our hands on for last ten years.

Exodus 15: 1-10 – Then sang Moses and the children of Israel this song unto the LORD, and spake, saying, I will sing unto the LORD, for he hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt him. The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea: his chosen captains also are drowned in the Red sea. The depths have covered them: they sank into the bottom as a stone. Thy right hand, O LORD, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O LORD, hath dashed in pieces the enemy. And in the greatness of thine excellency thou hast overthrown them that rose up against thee: thou sentest forth thy wrath, which consumed them as stubble. And with the blast of thy nostrils the waters were gathered together, the floods stood upright as an heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea. The enemy said, I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them. Thou didst blow with thy wind, the sea covered them: they sank as lead in the mighty waters.

The Lord is a man of War? Huh?

Psalm 68: 1-3 Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered: let them also that hate him flee before him. As smoke is driven away, so drive them away: as wax melteth before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God. But let the righteous be glad; let them rejoice before God: yea, let them exceedingly rejoice.

Let them exceedingly rejoice? What?

But then again, there are also these passages:

Proverbs 24:17-20

Do not rejoice when your enemies fall,
and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble,
or else the LORD will see it and be displeased,
and turn away his anger from them.

Do not fret because of evildoers.
Do not envy the wicked;
for the evil have no future;
the lamp of the wicked will go out.

So we shouldn’t rejoice because we want to make sure that we don’t do anything to cause God to change his mind and refrain from judgment. But wait, if the point is that any death is worth mourning, then don’t we want to rejoice so that God won’t let as many bad guys die?

Ok, what would Jesus say?

Matthew 5:43-48 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

So love your enemy.

Don’t forget that turn the other cheek thing. But it looks to me like both towers came down. We don’t really have another cheek to turn there do we?

How about this one?

Matthew 18:6 But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.

I guess Osama was ok to teach his radical form of militant Islam that preached violence and subjugation because the people he was teaching it to didn’t already believe in Christ so he couldn’t make them stumble?

Obviously, I’m all over the place here. And that’s on purpose. I’m not one of those people claiming that we need to go dance in the street and burn OBL in effigy. I think that’s stupid. But those of you who claim that people are sinful or in someway shaming Christ to celebrate the death of one of the most notorious terrorist leaders in the world, a man who has been followed and respected by the same men who have killed my friends and put my family in danger, and your family too, well, you should be ashamed of yourselves for judging them because they might be wrong about what God thinks on this, but you might be too, and sometimes it’s better to just shut up and watch what happens.

And maybe I should too.

May 3, 2011 Posted by | Army, Christianity, Church | 9 Comments

Mean It ‘Till You Feel It

This morning in Church, I wasn’t feeling it. The music was “on” as they say, and people were all worked up. But I wasn’t. I wasn’t one little bit. I was distracted by how much the worship leader looked like one of my college professors, by how many women were wearing high heals with jeans, by the sheer number of mohawks (have the styles changed that much this year?), by wondering if the violinist would have that long of a neck if she hadn’t spent so many years playing the violin, by, well, everything.

Everything besides the songs we were singing.

And why shouldn’t I be? The music was thumping, everyone was emotionally charged, but I wasn’t feeling it. I don’t choose to feel it without a reason, and I wasn’t given a reason. Here’s what we sang:

You are good. You are good.
When there’s nothing good in me.
You are love. You are love.
On display for all to see.
You are light. You are light.
When the darkness closes in.
You are hope. You are hope.
You have covered all my sin.

Not bad right? Put some snappy music to it, and that’s something you can really get into. It’s got everything you need for an ecstasy. It’s repetitive, for nothing produces euphoria like a good chant. It’s simple. And it’s falsely humble, for no one who would sing that song can do so honestly. Any person who would want to sing it would also claim some influence of a perfect God in their life.

And so I sound like the bitter student who came out of CBC in 2002 with a chip on his shoulder. But I’m not. I don’t actually have anything against that song—for those who are in a state of worship already. Who have found that emotional stance that we pretend worship isn’t about. And it might work for those who aren’t ready as well, but the way that it works for them is a poor substitute for leading them into a real attitude of worship because it’s the music that’s going to take them there, regardless of whether their minds come along or not.

So I stood and thought about the song, and I worshiped in my own way, tried to find that mental worshipful stance without the help of a key change or the fog machine on stage.

Then a different song came on:

Come thou fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the Mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of thy redeeming love.

Oh to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, oh take and seal it,
Seal it for thy courts above.

What a different position I suddenly found myself in. The emotion washed over me like a flood, of minor keys and dry ice, and I was able to worship with abandon!

Not true.

My emotional state changed exactly zero.

What did change was the nature of the song and the way in which it was able to help me into a worshipful state. The difference between the first song that I quoted and this one is where they fall on the slide rule between what I call “Chase the Ecstasy” type worship and “Mean it ’till you feel it” type worship. These songs don’t represent the extremes by any means. If I was going to extremes, I’m sure I would have chosen that stupid Darrell Evans song from around 2000 “Trading My Sorrows” as my first song, and I might have chosen the Newsboys’ “Strong Tower” as the second one so that I couldn’t be accused of just liking old songs better than new ones (“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” was written by Robert Robinson in 1757, when he was 22). But this song helped me worship in a way that the other one could not have because it’s theologically relevant, a prayerful statement of devotion and a request for protection and assistance from the creator of the universe. The other song is exciting, and it’s not devoid of theological content, but it certainly is low calorie at best.

My point here isn’t to draw attention to extremes, nor is it to disparage either type of song. There’s a place for both of them—well, maybe not for “Trading My Sorrows;” that song is really horrible—at least to an extent. But I’ve been to churches where there was nothing to think about during worship, so if you don’t show up ready to get pumped up, then you aren’t going to get anything out of the service. I’m sure I always misunderstood, but I always got the impression from my parents when I was a kid that if a person couldn’t “get into worship” there was something wrong with their walk with Christ. My parents probably didn’t mean it that way. They aren’t that nutty. Regardless, I repudiate that thought. People are in different states when they come in. They have had different experiences this morning, this week—this ten months. And some people might need that ecstasy, but others might need a song that they can chew on and sing, meaning what they sing until they feel it, as I did. Or maybe even singing it until they mean it, one step further removed. I applaud Manna Church’s worship staff for taking the time recognize that both kinds of song are necessary.

April 3, 2011 Posted by | Christianity, Church, Worship | Leave a comment

From The Dark, Standing In The Shower, A Vision Springs Eternal

Standing in the shower, watching the steam rise to cloud my face, I rubbed the shaving cream that someone sent to me for Christmas against the bristles of my burgeoning beard. I don’t use shaving cream. Soap works just fine for me, but since it was a gift, I decided to use it until I find someone who needs some. As my face slowly disappeared behind the mirror fog, I heard the voice of my darkness say, You are all alone, as you have always been. And for a moment I believed it.

I was reminded of the scene in Rules of Attraction where the beautiful homosexual, Paul Denton, after having been rejected as a romantic possibility says to Sean Bateman, sitting in the bleachers under the snow, “I just want to get to know you.”

The Bateman says one of the most painful lines of all literature, one that I believed, wanted to believe for a long time, “You will never know me.” And I don’t remember if it is said or implied, but what he is really saying is “No one will ever know anyone. We are all irrevocably, tragically alone. This is what it means to be human.” This is a story of all our pain, our alienation, and for a time, this is what I believed.

I wiped away the fog from the mirror, revealing a blurred image of myself, and began to scrape the wiry bits of dead cells from my face. In the shower, some of the normalcies of typical hygiene are negated, so rather than rinsing my blade with each stroke, I let the watery cream turn grey with the fragments of my hair and run over my thumb and down unto the back of my hand where I stared at them as if they were the sacred ashes of the sacrificial lamb, which in a way I guess they were. Finished shaving, I put my hand under the water and watched bits of myself flow down off of my wrist and elbow into the drain that eventually finds its way to the stream that flows to a cistern and eventually out of the base and into the outside world, commingling me forever, just a little bit more, with all of the people who will drink the water and eat the food of Afghansitan. I became a little bit more a part of this place. That’s one way that I’m not myself.

At that moment, I hear a different voice, not the voice of the darkness, not the voice of my lighted self, the voice, rather, of Dustin Hoffman in I (Heart) Huckabees saying “There is not an atom in your body that was not forged in the fires of the sun.” What a beautiful thought, that we are all, inextricably linked by the very atoms, perhaps the strings, that construct our bodies from almost nothing.

This is part of why I am so strongly opposed to western burial traditions. A hundred years ago, when the poor among us, especially in rural locations would have been buried in pine boxes, the worms that our bodies become might just as quickly have consumed the casings in which we tried to persevere these carbon shells, freeing us to rejoin the great cycles of composition and decay that God invoked in us when he imagined the magnificent, frightening process of physical death and diversified resurrection. But we have ways of hiding our discarded shells away, denying the very atoms of our body the opportunity to return to the earth that God so graciously loaned us, breaking the cycle of death and rebirth. I’m not speaking here of an oriental, non-theistic migration of the soul from one body to the next until reaching nirvana. Rather, I refer only to the very fission formed atoms that we wear of such a brief time, not that which makes us conscious, but that which makes us for our allotted time, ever revolving, us. But now, we hide in boxes of stone, and even those of us who would have been released back into the carbon chain centuries ago are buried in these metal boxes that will hold us captive for tens, if not hundreds of years.

But the atomic connection between us isn’t my main point here. It’s a delectable thought that we bear something beyond the atom. We are organized in such a way that we are self aware, filled, sometimes to overflowing, with conscious thought. Beyond that dispersal of atoms, the consciousness that we attain, be it eternal as we Christians believe, or only an perquisite of the complex interactions that take place in a brain during the single life that many embrace, that statement, “You will never know me; you can never know anyone, not really,” is a statement about that part of us that the scientists can’t seem to find, that part that isn’t made of atoms, but something else, something ungraspable, but undeniably present in each sentient being.

I used to love the idea that I was alone, that no one could really know me. And how could I not? I am a creature of shadow, stalked by the night, spoken to by the void, shown visions of beautiful chaos, but never of God. What could possibly prompt me to allow myself to be know, assuming that there existed someone capable of knowing. For what reason should I show this darkness? But standing under that scalding water, lathering my man parts with shampoo, preparing to embrace again a little more of the isolation of this mythical postmodern condition, I saw a radiant vision, like the lady of the lake, sword in hand, but the sword was the intensity of a piercing blue eye, and I know that I was known in all my facets, my todestrieb, more prominent in my persona than in most, or at least more fully exposed to those with the eye than most who would pretend that everything is alright. Everything is not alrigh. And before that eye, piercing as it was, I was completely exposed. I realized that I am know, not as God knows me, but in the greatest way that one human can know another.

I could not drop to my knees in this bacteria ridden shower, but my EGO felt the pull and I metaphorically fell weeping at the discorporeal act of communion with a woman 9000 miles away. She knows that she keeps me here. She know that my love is the connection that I can’t let go of, can’t abandon, and these strands between us cannot be broken because of a psyche that has touched, and I’ve given her part of me, and she’s given me part of her as two moving forces colliding in vacuum trade energy and depart from each other permanently changed. When two souls collide, this transfer takes place, but in our softness, our palpability, we trail little pieces of each other forever thereafter, pieces of me are now pieces of her.

All our interactions are such an exchange, and we leave gossamer threads stretching between each soul with which we have contact, sometimes they become very strong, sometimes they are but the thin weavings of a thought, or a breath. But those connections can be soiled, severed, reinforced. We can do with them what we wish. The ultimate selfishness is the attempt to live the solitary life, to be devoid of contacts that a strong wind won’t sever, to wave our arms about in the fragile web of those who would love us if we would let them. We can’t break these bonds; you are part of me; I am a part of you. No “Dear John” or Text can sever these bonds. No torch or flame can melt them. Neither will a Damascus steel blade so much as cause them to quiver. Even hate is a bond, a connection almost as profound as love. The only weapon that can destroy these connections we make is apathy, and there are relations that I’ve apathetically allowed to dissolve, I pray that what bonds I develop will be the bonds that I will cherish.

These are the thoughts that ran through my mind as the steaming water ran over my hair and dripped off of my nose and chin, and I thought of the titanium strands I’ve woven between myself and Andrea, Jonathan, those other strands that erode over time from lack of reinforcement and extenuation. How could I fall into the dark? When God takes us, those bonds of affection are strengthened and preserved, for they will be needed again, especially for those few orthodox who believe that resurrection is exactly that, a recorporation of the physical form, regardless of the atoms. It’s not which, it’s how they’re organized. When we chose to leave of our own volition, we sever the connections. We make scars that will never heal completely, always leavening the itch of a missing finger, for we have amputated parts of those others with whom we had pretended to have an eternal bond. We harm—no it is the destroyer who harms through us (but who, really is the destroyer? Do you think that the human race would be any worse without a Devil than it is with one? Or rather, to clarify, as we seem devilish enough ourselves, would an anthropomorphic Lucifer make any difference?)—damage those how we claimed to love, or ,a stranger bond, still loved us.

The bond of love is stong; the bond of being loved is the strongest bond of all, for those who can feel its bindings. And these bindings, while being just as strong as any iron chain and collar, are the gentlest, most healing of all constrictions.

December 17, 2009 Posted by | Army, Christianity, From the Dark | 3 Comments

On Childhood, The News

My parents, Baby Boomers by birth if not inclination, tried to raise my siblings and me in a manner that would keep us from becoming part of the next Television Generation. As a result, our television viewing was restricted, though not as much as I might now wish. We didn’t generally watch commercial television, and when we did, Dad would either mute the commercials or turn the TV off entirely. What’s more, our viewing options were severely reduced by the prohibition of any programs or movies that contained foul language, depictions of adultery, or short skirts.

There was one type of TV, however, that we were always allowed to watch, news programs. I sometimes feel as if I’ve lived all the important historical moments of my life through the lens of the television. My first public memory is of watching the news the day of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explosion (My earliest private memory won’t be discussed, but it involves either being told by one neighbor that the doctor said she was pregnant and would have the baby when she turned 20, and I was the father, or reneging on my side of a certain “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” arrangement after the other party had already filled her side of the bargain. I don’t remember which happened first), and from then on, my childhood and adolescence through the present is sprinkled with those moments that I will one day describe as the defining historical moments of my life. Each of these moments is remembered through the static of a television set.

I remember staring with trepidation at the television as the results of the 1992 Presidential elections came in. And after my parents sent me to bed before all the results were in, my conservative programming in came in, and I lay for hours—so it seemed—staring at the ceiling and wondering if I was going to grow up before the rapture happened, as Clinton’s election clearly foretold the coming of the apocalypse. Of course, in the times since, I’ve realized that every age is the End of Ages, that the end of the world awaits each of us after our last breath, that the second coming is the first second after death. But I didn’t get that from my parents’ theology, or from the television. In fact, I think my dad stumbled upon it about the same time I did.

I remember watching the news on June 12th, 1994 as we received live coverage of the police chasing a white Ford Bronco down the highway, and as I was homeschooled, and my mom tended to spend her afternoons working at the church or driving around in her maroon Aerostar, conducting worship songs with both hands and driving into ditches, I spend numerous hours during the next several months watching the live videos of OJ Simpson’s trial for the murders of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman. They were fairly boring, but I couldn’t stop watching them, so after I finished my math, I would put a cassette tape that I had made of Star Wars IV: A New Hope, and listen to the movie over the monotony of the trial, only pausing it when new evidence would be presented.

There were other events: floods, hurricanes, the Oklahoma City Bombing, Columbine. They roll on in my mind, one after the other like a series of movie listings on a marquee.

My junior year at Central Bible College, I was taking some theology class at the earliest possible time, 7:50. This meant that I spent most of my time in that class taking copious amounts of note, not because I found the material all that interesting—the only thing interesting about that class was the professor’s style sense, Indiana Jones meets Minivan. On a certain morning, the professor walked into the classroom with his fedora gripped tightly in white-knuckled hands. He said that something terrible was happening in New York, that we needed to cancel class for the day. He said a prayer and told us to plant ourselves in front of the nearest CNN or Fox News enabled television that we could find. I met my girlfriend of the time, some of you know her, at Zee’s Student Union, and we stood hand in hand and watched LIVE as the second plane flew into the already burning towers.

The next day, as we were driving past the Get and Go by the highway, I told her that I was probably going to join the military and go fight in Afghanistan because I was already sure that we were going to war. She sincerely hoped not. I didn’t realize it at the time, but part of what I was saying was that I was sick of watching history happen on television, that I wanted to be a part of it.

It took six years, but I eventually got around to joining, and I’m here, fighting in Afghanistan, seeing things first hand. But being a part of events is different from watching them on the News, and in the way that you might think. It’s not all horrible, there’s just no perspective. If I want to have any kind of perspective on what is going on the world, I still have to go to the places that I’ve gone my whole life, the TV or Internet. Those are the things that give us the illusion of perspective.

What dawned on me this morning was that while there is really no escaping our television-filtered view of the world, we need to remember that the historical perspective that television gives us is an illusion. That’s all it is. We can’t really see beyond our actions of today, and we can’t understand an event as it happens. It takes time to gain perspective, and while the news might give us facts, the analysis that they offer is dubious at best. Still, I suppose it’s better that whoever the new Jerry Springer might be.

November 8, 2009 Posted by | Army, Childhood, Christianity, Church | 4 Comments

From My Journal, Thoughts on God

From my journal, 12 September 2009

This, of course, will be controversial.

The more I hear, the more I read, the more I encounter the denial of God, the greater he grows in my mind. Throughout all of human history, skeptics, doubters, philosophers have doubted the existence of a personal God. But why they use is reason, human reason, locked in human, and therefore limited perception. His existence cannot be proven, especially from our perception, our position in spacetime. All we are left with is evidence, evidence for and against, and this evidence cannot amass the gravity of proof.

So we reason it out, and all of our reasoning amounts to little more than a defining of terms. We look at the nature of this universe, how it has no regard for us, for human suffering and joys, for our hope of order, plot, justice in this life, and we find nothing, and every time we refine our methods, peeling back another layer of reality to look a little deeper, we find no answers, just another layer of mystery. So we convince ourselves that there is no God, or if we do believe, we make him small, castrated, unmindful of our suffering.

A doubter looks at the evidence, and he sees no need for God a prime mover because movement is intrinsic in matter, so he denies or redefines. Perhaps God is this very universe itself, but this is no God. At the best it is god, for God is mindful of our plight and this universe does not punish the evil, and it does not repay our strivings for justice.

But in the believer’s mind, every layer of mystery only makes God seem that much greater, for the believer looks past the evidence into the testament of his own soul. The believer understands that this justice we are promised must be somewhere beyond today, beyond this life, beyond our striving to see. And where we no longer need a prime mover, well, that allows the believer to see God as bigger, beyond matter altogether.

So the doubter says that God cannot move because movement indicates something larger than God within which he moves, and if he exists, then he must not be powerful because he is paralyzed by his very nature, inevitably static. He can’t think because this thinking would change him and how can that which is perfect change and continue to be perfect? And this castrated god becomes thoughtless.

The goal, the summation of centuries of doubt, is to make God small enough that we can wrap him up, bind him to our reason and in the process destroy the faith of the credulous. But each time they have him bound in their reason, destroyed him with their human logic, it becomes apparent to those who would think for themselves that where the doctrine of the church of scripture fails, so does the argument of the church of reason, for every time we push our ability to quantify, to measure, every time we come a step closer to the god of science, a theory of everything, we look where we thought to find God and only see the radiance of his passing, for he is still bigger than our most precise of measures. He remains greater than we can imagine, capable of encompassing a perfection beyond what we would understand as perfection, a perfection in which he moves that is himself, a constantly changing yet never less or more than complete wholeness.

You see, when God as we understand him becomes unbelievable, that is the greatest of moments for the believer because he is granted the rarest of opportunities, the opportunity to see God’s greatness as bigger than it has ever been before, as bigger than our very ability to understand.

October 17, 2009 Posted by | Christianity, Church | 4 Comments

The First Cigarette of the Day

I’m back. Well, not exactly. Actually, I’m the furthest thing in the world from back if you are counting in miles, but things seem to be settling into a routine here, and that means that in the curiously disembodied manner possible only on the internet, I might be more back than I ever would be were I home in North Carolina, or Ohio, Missouri, or wherever I happen to be claiming at the moment.
But what to write about? Those writers who actually get paid to write probably feel like they should either jump back into whatever project they were working on when they left or give some accounting for where they have been. I tend to feel neither of those necessities. Rather, I prefer to lube the gears, as it were, with a first post by writing about, well, nothing. To be more specific, my First Post Back type posts tend to be what I have historically called Journal Type Entries, and consisted of nothing but, well, journal type entries. Today, I’m breaking from this pattern.
Instead, I’m going to talk about Cigarettes.
I’ve been doing some research lately, and I’ve come to the conclusion that The First Cigarette of the Day isn’t, for the introspective practitioner the same thing that it is depicted to be in novels where the protagonist wakes up with the taste of last night’s pre-sleep stogy on his breath and the rasp of forty more still turning his voice into the voice of an old lady who says “doll” much too frequently.
That first cigarette doesn’t uncurl nicotine-starved fingers, doesn’t relieve some itching burning longing that a mother or father or unfortunately-not-pedophilic teacher, baby sitter, camp counselor, or friend’s parent never satisfied, leaving a void that must, therefore, be filled with carcinogenic vapor, doesn’t make the day worth living, doesn’t make the rain go away or the birds sing a little louder. But it is something special nonetheless.
For my source, it’s a moment of serenity, a moment for him and no one else. Purely Randian. A moment that he uses to remind himself that no matter how far he is from everything that he holds dear, he was always really alone all along anyway and even now is never really alone at all.
He says this holds true even if other smokers surround him, talking about the things they talk about, which fall under one of two headings: nothing and women.
It’s a ritual. Almost a sacrament. The rote actions of folding back the lambskin pouch in which he keeps a handful of loose tobacco and papers, taking out a crumpled package of Smoking Black 1 ¼, peeling one away from the others, with its semi translucent picture of a cartoon top hat and the one cursive word that says it all: smoking, holding that single leaf carefully weaved among the thumb index and middle fingers of his right hand while his left thumb and index fingers pinch around in the tobacco, looking for whatever bit the arid desert air hasn’t dehydrated too much yet, finding just enough between the folds of soft hide, spreading the shredded leaves evenly along the middle fold in the paper and wrapping the whole arrangement between the newly formed unity of three fingers-cum-dowels, each one meeting its opposite tip to tip, rolling, compacting the tobacco gently, aiming for density that will let the cigarette draw hard enough for a thick, cool, toasted tasting smoke: these are the rites of this sacrament. And they require some care, for any mistake will make for a bad cigarette. If the tobacco is too loose the smoke will burn like coffee left in the pot too long, too tight and the cigarette will go out again and again and again. He let this happen yesterday, and his goatee hairs are still shriveled and crispy looking from where he lit them on fire while trying to relight the stumpy-yet-not-cached cigarette.
Finally, the fold. The thumbs bow out, leaving the work for more delicate digits, which flip the side of the paper closet to him down behind the gummed edge. Then the mouth gets involved, and the tongue darts out to lightly caress the exposed gum strip. Some people who roll their own cigarettes start at one side and work their way across. He doesn’t. He starts in the middle, licks left, licks right, and folds the paper down.
The cigarette complete, he digs around in his pocket for a lighter. He says that he tries to always have on with him, even if he isn’t smoking, because so many smokers always seem to need to bum one. I asked if matches wouldn’t match his leitmotif better, and he said they would, but they weren’t practical.
He flicks the flint with the left hand while protecting the flame with the right, applies the flame to the tip of the cigarette and puffs a bit until it catches. He says that Dutch or hand-rolled cigarettes don’t burn as readily as pre-packaged cigarettes because the tobacco he buys doesn’t have as many nasty chemicals in it, so getting lit and staying that way can be something of a dance. Just another part of the ritual.
At last, he actually draws the smoke into his mouth and holds it there, pauses almost imperceptibly, closes his eyes, and inhales. He tries not to talk. He says that one of the spiritual disciplines is silence, a fasting from speech, not only verbal, but internal. He believes that this internal silence is as important as prayer, that this is the moment in which God speaks, the still small voice. For the American mind, the discipline if silence has almost been completely lost, and it is terribly difficult to find true solitude in a world where we are constantly bombarded with noise. That First Cigarette is the time that he has set aside to just exist, silently, without words, without conscious thought.
This ritual is not the construction and consumption of a cigarette, but an ordering of the world, a taking of the time to disconnect from the goings on around him and in him and focus his conscious mind on a simple action and a simple pleasure, and in the process to give his unconscious mind the opportunity to find its center, set its bearing, reconnect with God.
Perhaps as a habit, it isn’t the healthiest of physical rituals, but as an expression of a spiritual discipline, a sacrament, well, that’s something else entirely.

August 1, 2009 Posted by | Army, Christianity, Travel | 6 Comments

Afraid of Emerging

Of all the different types of post that I’m going to put on this blog, today’s will probably be an example of the most informal besides memes, which I haven’t actually decided if I want to use or not. Usually I want to post something that either falls into a series that I’m working on, or that stands alone as an example of the best musings that I can pull from my paper journal for the week, but because the last week was so ridiculously busy with WTBD, and because next week will be worse with JICTC, I’m going to fall back on simply posting some notes on what me week was like.

WTBD stands for “Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills,” and it was the first of the two weeks that I have been dreading the most since I got to Goodfellow Airforce Base. I’ve heard horror stories about the sergeants in charge forgetting that we aren’t in basic training anymore and thinking that what they are teaching us matters when it actually doesn’t. It turned out that that the sergeants we were working with last week took a much more relaxed view of things, and a lot of what we went over was stuff that we went over was stuff that we will probably need to know at some point. Regardless, it was good review. We touched on the basics of first aid and calling in a 9 line, CASE reports, movement formations, reaction to ambush and contact, dealing with indirect fire, running radios, and using PRD. All basic stuff, but a good refresher.

But all that’s neither here nor there. It’s what happened, not what I’ve been thinking about, and what happened isn’t usually that interesting to me. What I’ve been thinking about, what I want to mull over here (I don’t say “what I want to write about” because that would imply some sort of structure, that I’ve been planning this, and I haven’t), is this fear of the Emergent Church that Andrea keeps on telling me she is hearing from my Dad and brother at their Church.

When I called Andrea this afternoon, the first thing she did after saying “hi” was to ask me to explain to her exactly what the expression “Emergent Church” really means. I thought this was a weird question because I know good and well that she had a pretty good grasp on the concept, but I indulged her, and because I wanted to be precise as possible, rather than explain it in my own words, I read her the Wikipedia article while adding in explanatory commentary. Basically, to boil it all down though, the emergent church could be described as: a movement where we try to live out our faith in this postmodern society by embracing the decentralized nature of our societal ideals and focusing more on the conversation of Christianity than on the sameness of it. I know, that doesn’t really say much, so let me explain what some of the really important aspects of this whole thing are. We live by Trinitarian based values, we want to imitate Jesus, even if it isn’t cool and the institutional church doesn’t like it. We want to be hospitable, welcoming outsiders just as they are. We want to be coparticipatory in creation, emphasizing expressions of the creativity that God has built into us. We want to live missional lives, taking the gospel to everyone. We embrace a generous orthodoxy…I could go on forever, but you probably get the point, and if you don’t, there are plenty of places that you can go for a better explanation than I can give here, though I might try to explain it in some future posts that are better thought out.

Andrea told me, “I thought that’s what it was.” She told me that this morning in service, Dad was talking about the emergent church, and he talked about some guy who got a thousand people to follow him, and they all went and either killed themselves or tried to (she wasn’t clear on that). Now, I don’t know what Dad was talking about, but it wasn’t the kind of church that I think of when I think about the emergent church.

I also don’t think about really good music or stylish hair, though good music might make me more inclined to come back to hear more of the teaching. What I think about is the fantastic fascination with Jesus and what he was trying to do when he came to share God’s love with us.

So maybe there was some confusion, but hey, that happens.

However, this wasn’t the first time that I’d heard comments like that coming from that direction. A couple of weeks ago, Andrea sent me a text asking what exactly was wrong with the Emergent Church model. I told her that nothing was wrong with it, that it was probably the best thing that had happened to the evangelical church in the last hundred years. She said that is what she had thought, but she had heard my brother telling someone in the hall at church that an Emergent church was exactly the kind of place that they wanted to stay away from. Seeing as I don’t have any problem with starting fights in my family (we generally all have a good time, and no one, or none of the males at least, gets all butt-hurt about it), I texted Chris and asked him why he had said that. He sent back a text saying that a lot of the movement’s leaders deny Christ as the only way to heaven, and he gave Rob Bell as an example. Now, Rob Bell might deny heaven as the goal that we all think of it as because he believes that the mission that Jesus gave us happens here on earth, and salvation is about this life before it is about another one, but the last thing that he does is deny Jesus as savior (I listen to the sermons coming out of Mars Hill by Podcast every week, and I read his books. If anyone has seen or heard a comment by Rob Bell that might seem to negate what I am saying, let me know). Rob Bell affirms the work of Christ on a level that I have never seen from anyone, certainly not from any leaders in the movement of which I grew up and still consider myself to be a part.

The main difference I see is that the Emergent Church seems much more interested in meeting people here, where they are, where Jesus also met them. And that seems to frighten other evangelicals because we have spent such a long time saying that the whole point of what Jesus did for us was all about what happens in some life to come, not in this one. We took his good news and twisted it into some sort of institutional suicide complex where the greatest thing we could say was “when I die hallelujah by and by, I’ll fly away.” And now there is a new movement that doesn’t necessarily deny that life in the world to come but affirms that first, before anything else, and above all, Jesus wants to give us fulfilled life in the here and now.

Why is this so frightening?

Note: I know this might sound like an attack on my brother and Dad, and I guess on this particular issue it is in a way, but I don’t mean it that way. For me the issue is that there seems to be this fear among what we might call “the old guard” that this new generation of believers are really going to ruin things, that things are going to just deteriorate until God can’t do anything but step in and start over. And yeah, things are bad, but if I’m going to continue to believe in this Christianity, then I have to believe in and affirm the work of Christ here and now, and I think that they want to believe in this too, but they fail to make the connection.

March 8, 2009 Posted by | Christianity, Church, Journal Style Entries | 1 Comment