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

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

On Childhood, Mud, Cathedrals

From the time that we moved to the house on Crottinger to the time that I finally got around to leaving for college, I lived a good portion of my life outside. As I’ve mentioned before, I would spend hour upon hour traipsing around in the woods, imagining that I was some kind of pioneer, a shepherd of the forest. These times formed a large part of who I would eventually become, and it is probably because of these that one of my great improbable post-retirement career ideas has been doing some time as a forest ranger.

The parents at NWAG seemed to have some kind of “getting the kids out of our hair” scheme that involved passing us around on Sunday afternoons, giving parents a break and allowing kids the opportunity to try to ruin their clothes before the evening service. My parents didn’t really seem to be in on the scheme though because out of six Sundays, I’d guess that I went over to a friend’s house once, just hung out with the family once, and had friends over four times. Not a fair trade for my parents, especially since my brother and sister pretty much worked on the same schedule that I did, so it was unusual for my parents to get an afternoon with less than three kids. Usually there were more rather than fewer kids to keep track of.

These Sunday afternoon excursions were fairly eclectic in terms of who the participants were. It wasn’t uncommon for me to invite over a kid who I had just met, or a kid with whom I had been at odds for most of my childhood. Also, younger siblings of my friends were fair game. Older kids were always too busy to come over.

One Sunday afternoon in the early spring, I invited Josh Web, the youngest of the Web boys, over for the afternoon, and after we had the every-Sunday meal of Spaghetti that was traditional in my family, we set off into the farmer’s freshly tilled field next door to show him this cool little creek-fort that Derek Bergemann and I had found. The weather had finally warmed up to the lower 60s, and the spring rains had started, though it wasn’t raining that day, so of course I loaned him a pair of shorts and a T-shirt—seeing as the low 60s is perfect for that kind of clothing.

We never made it because Josh lost a boot in the mud, and I fell on my butt trying to pull first him then the boot out of the mire, and before long we were throwing great piles of mud at each other and had made mud-coneheads for ourselves and caked up mud all over our bodies so that you couldn’t see our clothes or skin at all. We thought this was high comedy, so we set out for the house to show my dad.

Anyone who has ever played in the mud as a kid knows where this one is headed. About half way back to the house, the mud started to dry on our skin and pull at the hair on our arms, legs, and, worst of all, necks. By the time we rounded the corner of Taylor and came into view of the house, we were walking like zombies and almost crying with every step that we took. Dad was outside chopping wood, and he later told me that when he first saw us come staggering around the bend, he thought that two naked little black kids were walking down the road.

Even through the torture of pulled out neck hairs and, we were having a good time because the mud was actually keeping us warm—until we wanted to get cleaned off.

Dad wouldn’t let us in the house.

Instead of letting us cook off all of the mud and ruin the drainage in the house, as had been my plan, Dad said we would have to hose off outside. I’d been through this ordeal before, so I immediately panicked and started clawing at the now dry plaster coating my body. This worked exactly none. Dad got out the hose and started spraying us while we danced around and whooped and hollered and ran away, pulling at our shirts to keep them from touching our skin and screeching whenever the water found the backs of our knees or our butt cracks. Then, when I wouldn’t hold still, Dad grabbed me by the neck and hosed off my conehead and sprayed water down my back. While he did the same to Josh, I took off my clothes, other than undies, and left them in a pile. While Josh discarded his clothes, I got the worst, coldest part of the hosing while dad laughed at me and said he hoped it taught me a lesson.

Still, when it was over, we got hot showers and mom made us hot chocolate while we sat on top of the Buck stove in the living room trying to get as warm as possible without burning ourselves.

That farmer’s field to the Northwest of the house always has cold memories for me, probably because I was fairly well banned from going near it during the summer due to an unfortunate accident involving a “controlled burn” and the near destruction of the entire soybean crop, but that’s another story. During the winter, when there wasn’t anything for me to destroy, and the farmer wasn’t so vigilant, the field was fair game.

The winter before the naked black kid incident, Derek Bergemann and I had been chasing the creek through the woods, trying to map every inch of its trek and hoping that if we followed it long enough, we would end up having a path to Industrial Parkway—and thereby the Village Mart, with all the glory of its meatball sandwiches and chocolate milk—that didn’t involve my typical M.O. of either walking five miles on the road or getting hopelessly lost in the woods, when we saw the dried up, almost hidden, erosionary evidence of a tributary creek feeding into our own. Well, this couldn’t be passed up, and after several false starts and much wetness of boots, we found that the forest behind the farmer’s field we were skirting wasn’t a forest at all but a narrow strip of trees and drainage full of robins, squirrels, crawdads, mice, and thorn bushes.

As we were on a hero-quest to follow creeks wherever they might lead, skirting the thorns was simply not to be done, so we sucked it up and went knee high in the only part of the creek that still had water to get under the thorns. What we found under the biggest thicket, one that had looked impenetrable from all other routes but the creek, was a cathedral of thorns with all of the grandeur and interesting play of light that this entailed. It was partially hollowed out by a lay where a deer had been seeking shelter during the hunting season. Around that was a huge body of dried out thorns in turn surrounded by the outer layer of living thicket.

The thicket was growing on the side of a hill, but one curiously shaped not like the typical parabola of a dune, but more along the lines of a bell-curve bordering on the creek, providing natural protection from wind on one side and from invasion on the other.

Our journey was clearly at an end.

The rest of that day was spent clearing the ground of thorns, which were carefully preserved in a pile off to the less fortified side of the thicket, and breaking off branches enough to raise the roof to the point where we could stand without stooping. We also used sticks to open two passages in the thicket, a grand entrance for when we wanted to come back, and an escape route for if the farmer ever caught us out there. We were at this for hours until I heard the shrill whistle that my dad used to let me know that it was time to get home.

That night I obtained a promise from Dad that Derek and I could go winter camping out there when the snow came, as long as we avoided getting caught by the farmer. Derek and I spent Sundays for a month developing the aesthetic of the spot, with my dedicating at least two hours every afternoon to perfecting it, and then the snow came.

The weather that winter was prodigious. And the night we chose, a couple weeks after Christmas, turned out to be one of the coldest of the winter, though for once it wasn’t snowing. The actual low was 12 degrees Fahrenheit that night, and it is anyone’s guess what the wind chill might have been. About four we set off with our paraffin logs and our magnesium matches (we wanted to avoid using real matches on this one, though I think we eventually gave up that idea and just one of those long handled candle lighters that I had ganked from the kitchen), a pack of hotdogs, a dome tent, and two winter sleeping bags a piece. It was a serious project dragging my heavy loaded sled through the woods, and we eventually gave up and carried it out to the field to sneak up on the site that way.

By five o’clock, we had the fire going and the hotdogs cooking.

By five thirty, with the sun setting, we had eaten and were starting to get bored and cold.

By six, we were dead asleep in the tent.

At seven, I was awakened by the sound of someone doing that whisper-shout that men sometimes do on camping trips when they are trying to scare skunks away from the cooler at night without waking up their kids, who will promptly get themselves sprayed. The tent started shaking, lights flashing. The farmer had caught us.

Groggy and cozy warm, I didn’t care at this point, but I braved the cold and sat up to open the tent window. Briefly blinded by the light of a flashlight, it took me a minute to realize that it wasn’t the farmer, but my dad, who had found us.

“You guys alright?”

“Huh? Yeah, we’re great. What are you doing out here in the middle of the night?”

“It isn’t even eight o’clock yet. You guys want to come in?” He hadn’t figured we would make it until sundown, and when we didn’t come back, he came looking for us. We didn’t want to come in though. We were way too cozy in our sleeping bags for going anywhere.

About ten, I woke up because the fire had gotten big, and I saw dad sitting by it.

By eleven, the fired had died back down and dad was gone, along with our leftover hotdogs.

The next morning we packed up and dragged the stuff back to the house where we dedicated the day to Hot Chocolate and Super Metroid.

As far as I remember, Derek and I never went back to that fort together. It had served its purpose.

September 2, 2009 Posted by | Camping, Childhood, Church | 4 Comments

On Childhood, Gravity, Matt Noel

Life as a child in a small community of children is something akin to life in a medieval court. Alliances are constantly formed and dissolved, wars are started based on nothing more than property-rights issues (usually apple-trees or girls—the first being something truly of value, the second being something that we imagine as an investment for whenever our pituitary gland kicks in with the good dope), and various petty lords and ladies hold court with their vassals orbiting them the way that Phobos and Deimos orbit our resident war-god.

I always had a skewed view of the Northwest Assembly of God children’s court because I never saw the larger elements vying for my fellows’ attention throughout the week. Whereas many of the other children lived multivalent poly discursive lives of home, school, recreation, and church, all were one and the same for me. For this reason, and because of my father’s status at the church (Speaking of Dad’s office, Eli Beachy once asked if he could go into God’s office), Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights, I was lord of all I surveyed.

But to make that statement is to oversimplify. Within the gravitational equation of a child’s inverse square law, having a clear talent, self-assurance, extra year of growth, or alternate set of plumbing implements ads subjective weight of mass to any revolving body. Thus, though lord of the hallways, I was in thrall to Israel because of the excellent climbing trees at his house and his genius invention of The Boys from Bim Bom Bay, I was in thrall to Rachel because she was painfully pretty and her mother was the meanest woman in the world, I was in thrall to Chris because he owned every video game every to claw its way out of China, and I was in thrall to the Erwins—Matt and Paul—because they owned chickens and knew what disgusting motions the “French Love” actually consisted of.

I had a certain weight of my own, however. I owned a go-cart, had a kicking trampoline and the skills to do flips on it, possessed the second largest Lego collection at NWAG (damn you Jody!), and wasn’t afraid to throw captured frogs off of my treehouse with nothing between them and a much more objective kind of gravity than a Dixie cup and Walmart bag. Into my gravity well sometimes fell the people listed above, though less and less frequently as we got older and the pull of outside influences gave them near terminal velocity away from not only me but from the church (specifically NWAG, not the upper-case-body-of-Christ-Church). There were others, however, who held little or no hold over me, who fell easily into my sphere of influence, Adam Daugherty, Matt Noel, Jason Hibbert.

Of course, I’m over simplifying again, for all massive bodies (those containing any amount of mass, up to and including, I believe 10-37 plank lengths, not huge) interact upon one another, and Jason introduced me to Music, piercings, angst, and I wasted more time in adolescence pining after Adam’s sister than I should have.

But I always felt sorry for Matt Noel. For one thing, I didn’t like going over to his house because his parents were frugal enough to make everyone use the same bathwater, and his little brother always got to go before me, and he farted a lot. So I avoided Matt’s house like the plague. This meant that our gravitas was automatically skewed in my favor. What’s more, I just had this way of getting Matt hurt whenever he came to hang out with me.

My go-cart had a 5.5 Horsepower Smith and Wesson lawnmower engine in it. This was a replacement. I don’t remember what the original engine was, but I blew it up pretty promptly after purchasing the machine. I don’t remember how fast that go-cart would go, but to a ten year old, it seemed pretty fast. After much experimenting, I figured that if I rode it with the petal all the way down about half the way to the railroad tracks at the top of the hill by my house, basically exactly where Robinson’s Honey farm is currently located, and hit the break as hard as I could while cranking the wheel hard to the right, I could perform a very Steve McQueenish sliding about face and carve a black axis on the grey chip and tar that Newton would be proud to include in one of his diagrams.

One gray Sunday afternoon, I got it into my head that Matt needed to experience this volte face in order to really appreciate the NASCAR qualities of my machine, so we set off for the railroad tracks at top speed.

What I failed to take into account was that the laws of gravity, with sufficient force, could be counteracted by the laws of inertia, and the extra weight in the go-cart did not hold us to the asphalt, but rather propelled us away from it. Thus, I have a slight gap in my memory that ends with my lying on the ground, with the go-cart balanced on its side, wheels still spinning, my leg trapped underneath. Matt, well, he starts in the ditch but quickly regains himself and starts limping off down the road toward my house.

“Hey!” I yell. “Come lift this thing off of me.”

He looks back, snot nosed, a nice raspberry on one elbow, shakes his head and keeps walking. Some lying might be in order here.

“Matt,” I yell again. “If this thing falls on me, it will kill me.” Not true. I know it. He knows it.

He keeps walking.

I reach up and hit the kill switch on the engine, then I use my free foot to kick the go-cart back over on its wheels (in retrospect, I’m lucky this didn’t break my ankle), get up, pick some pebbles out of the holes in my legs and arms, push the go-cart to the side of the road, and set about getting the thing running again. By the time I get it running, Matt is half-way to the house, and I pull drive up to get him.

“Want a ride?” He looks at me like I’m an idiot, still crying.

“I’ll walk.”

“Oh, come on. That was awesome. Someday I’ll write a blog about this.” I might be paraphrasing here.

Matt is never riding with me again.

Fortunately, however, the creek is flooded, and we don’t need the go-cart to keep us busy because we have something thousands of times better—doors. I go ask dad if he cares if we destroy the doors that he took out of the barn at the church in Marysville that closed down recently. He says that they aren’t any good anyway, so go we can go ahead. I toss the first one, the oak one, into the creek and it is immediately caught by the current and jerked out of my grasp. It is simply too heavy to manage. We have better luck with the other one though because it is one of the hollow-cored jobs that run about sixty bucks at lowes. I get a running start, Matt throws the door onto the surface of the raging creek (probably a good ten feet across, up from its normal ten inches), and I dive onto it, slide off the other side, and face-plant into the weeds. I maintain my composure, however, and grab a passing branch with one hand, and shove my arm through the knob-hole in the door with the other. Matt dives in after me.

It took probably about two hours for the door to get so waterlogged that it wouldn’t float any longer. During that time, we took three or four trips down the creek, ruined all our clothes (which I did all the time anyway), and used the door and the rope hanging from my tree house—which was right over the creek—to make the door into a kind of surfboard.

I got in trouble for letting the doors float into and dam up the neighbor’s portion of the creek.

Matt got pneumonia.

As we grew older, the various forces in the aether pulled us until the inverse square laws of life turned friends into old-friends into acquaintances until one day in college, I found Matt  sitting across from me in my dorm room. He looked tired.

“Last month.” He told me. “I was driving down West Broad in Columbus when a drunk ran across the street in front of me. There was another car in the lane to my right, blocking my vision. That car hit the brakes and missed the guy. I never even saw him. Tore him in half.”

He rubbed the bridge of his nose. Suddenly I understood why he looked tired, why he looked like he couldn’t stand to close his eyes at night.

“That does something to you, you know?”

I haven’t seen Matt since that night.

I got Matt hurt a lot when we were kids. Life hurt him more in a single, random moment than he could have imagined or expected. We really aren’t like planets. We’re more like comets. For a while, maybe, our orbits appear to really revolve around each other, but the gravity pulling us away from each other is stronger than the bonds holding us together, and the forces of all the other people pulling at us pull away little parts, chips of iron and ice, flesh and soul. Those pieces of flesh that we lose, they grow back. The pieces of soul, well, I can only hope pain makes our hearts grow deep. Sometimes, we leave those pieces with each other cherished too closely, sometimes our encounters are too intense, too violent, and those pieces of are torn away to go flying off into the void, leaving us nothing but sleepless nights and memories of the times when our deepest wounds were in our flesh, or maybe in our lungs, but never quite reached to our deepest parts.

August 10, 2009 Posted by | Childhood, Church | 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