Monday, June 28, 2004

Back from the Dead

I don't really have a lot to say post dead show, except that it was not all that strange an experience. True, it was a mixed crowd, some full-time deadheads and lots of old and now working deadheads who probably drive audis, but even while I certainly saw people, young ones mostly, either looking for lsd (holding up their index finger and walking around) or clearly already in the 'land,' it was really a very peaceful place.

I saw a lot of punk bands in the early 90's, and those shows never scared me, but they certainly are more scary than a dead show. And I've sat at my share of hard-drinking bars, and those are much more volatile places. Even the kids who were dancing around with that empty eyed look, clearly on acid or something close...those kids seemed quite harmless. When I think back to the 60's I think of the failures, that guy getting stabbed at the stones show, or the dark side of the counterculture (which was certainly real) but truthfully the movement actively reached for peace and love among humanity, and I could feel that even last night. Everyone dances to the dead, but not like any normal dance, just kind of a groove and sway and move your arms around thing. And it's cool.

The music was actually very eclectic. Lots of American folk done in a jazz-like improvisational style. Rock before rock got hard. The dead are not evil, regardless of what my mother thought; in fact, they are talented musicians who, at least now, are socially conscious. As in voter registration drives at the show and a plug for organ donorship (yeah one guy in the band has a liver transplant..wonder what happened to his first one!)

The real hippies there were mostly younger people, and there were a lot of them. Burning sage, smoking weed and some doing other stuff (I took no drugs, including Sierra Nevada) but overall the energy was gentle, communal. The punk and hard rock movement walked away from that decades ago and it hasn't come back. Too bad really.

Do I support hallucinogenic use? Certainly not for myself. I don't think my brain would like it. On experimental occasion for some people it hasn't done any harm; for a few it has. I do think marijuana is probably less hazardous than alcohol, but I don't smoke that either or very rarely; it makes me anxious. Point is there's more to the dead scene than lsd and pot.

The last song they did was an a capella Angel Band, that gorgeous bluegrass tune I know from O Brother. Very nice, even spiritual.

And I now own my first Dead t-shirt with that remarkable art. And I'm not a doper.

Also, I looked up Karen Quinlan; she's the girl who went on life support in 1974 after taking alcohol and pills at a party; this was the first public right to die case in the US. I always remember my mother telling me someone slipped her those pills. That I couldn't find out quickly, but as far as I can tell she took them herself. I did have some fear last night, but it wore off pretty fast, and I'll see the dead when they come back. It's therapeutic for me, relaxing. At least at this show. Next time we'll probably go to s.f. and see how that is. But it's the direct opposite of the uptight world I generally inhabit.

On a final note, I see myself getting very bare on this blog, though I'm not the only one on the Web doing this. The faux anonymity of the internet is working on the positive here. Still, it's scary to do. Thanks for the positive comments.


Sunday, June 27, 2004

Waking the Dead

Tonight Steph is taking me to see the Grateful Dead (now just known as the Dead, sans Jerry) in Sacramento. I've never been close to anything like this. I mean, when I finally made it to the Haight in 1992 there was a Ben and Jerry's.

And I am post-hippy era. What did Sid Vicious day, he couldn't remember the summer of love because he was playing with his g.i. joe action figure? Me too. I was entering Kindergarden.

But I do remember the things my mother told me about hippies. I can remember this guy hanging out on a corner of our street right around that time, I was four or five, and he had long hair (which then really was like a purple mohawk now) and was wearing an army jacket and he had a sleeping bag rolled up. And he was just sitting there, doing nothing, on a corner of our little suburban street for much of the day. Why? Trying to catch a ride to S.F.? Maybe. Or just moving through. I'll never know (and how wierd to think that that guy, if he is still alive, is almost a senior citizen now).

But I distinctly recall my mother's attitude: protective terror. Hippies were bad, dopers, all that. I can't even express her hysteria here without this sounding like a scene out of a psycho-horror movie when you get the childhood flashback. But I grew up thinking hippies were dirty, would slip me drugs without telling me and I'd end up in a mental institutution, or overdosed and on life support (which was very new when I was a child). Or worse. My mother didn't even know who the guy was (could have been on his way to a chuck smith calvary chapel camp out) and yet she villanized him, and terrified me, at the same time.

And that's a big part of my mom. I noticed on the DAN website that 88 people from North America died scuba diving last year; that is a lot I admit (a fair number from other health issues, like heart disease, exacerbated by diving) by really, what are my odds? One in 10,000? Less than that?

If my mother heard of anything which could potentially kill me (or cause me to get a girl pregnant, that's another story) she'd instill a fear in me so that I would protect myself. Not just fear, a fear. Does this make sense? No matter what the odds of something disastrous actually happening, she did and does live in fear for her survival. To make sure her sweet boy stayed alive she gave me fears, almost intentionally, to make sure I avoided anything risky (the theme song from Monk is coming to mind; I am of course a fan). Plus children learn fear from their parents whether the parent says anything or not. It's a survival instinct, a way to read the world.

Welcome to my phobias.

Anyway, my mother was terrified of hippies in 1969. I grew my hair later, smoked a little weed (not much, didn't like the effect) and that was about as hippy as I ever got. But you know, going to a Dead concert tonight, which is guaranteed to be chock full of hippy cats of every age, is scary for me. What if someone slips me lsd? Will I be able to relax amidst all this grooviness?

I've told my wife about these fears, and she's been very cool. In fact, the great thing I've learned, or at least begun to experience just this year, is how the only way to beat a fear is to face it. I can talk about the time I was locked in a car all day long and why I'm still afraid of those heavy doors in restrooms at gas stations (what if it won't open) but the fact is the only way out really is through. I place myself in a scary setting and learn to relax. Incidentally, this is the core of erp therapy for ocd.

So I'm going to see the Dead. It would be funny if I went native and my next blog was from Arizona or some place as I travelled with the band, but not likely. My wife has a job; I enjoy my creature comforts now; what would I do without broadband? But yes, I'm going. I don't really know what to expect. I'm not a fan of the music, but that doesn't matter; I might become one. However, just being around that scene, with all its lack of structure and free expression will be strange (or so I imagine it; I moshed and crowd-surfed my brains out in the early 90's, but that somehow feels more proscribed than what I imagine I'll see tonight).

I'll let you guys know how it is. Maybe it won't be any different from any other concert. Only one way to find out....I feel the chain beneath the coaster clicking now!


Thursday, June 24, 2004

Thoughts on Guts

What kind of a title is that?

I just wanted to say thanks to all of you who responded to my 'from the gut' post, and I can say I'm doing better. My marriage is doing better, or at least I'm feeling better about it. I know these things take years to work out, but I have to say the special kind of therapy I'm doing for my ocd has been very helpful (I, of course, have to practice) and I have felt closer to Steph lately, though issues remain. How priceless serenity is; how priceless it is to love and feel loved, even for a few hours.

The vicious terror circle of the ocd is relenting, right now anyway. And I thank God for exposure response therapy (the only thing I've tried which works) for my therapist, and for all of you.

Someday I'll blog about my climb out of major depression, the other great demon of my mental life (well, maybe I'd come up with more than two if I really thought about it, but those are the biggies); and what a climb that was, crying and raging and doing awkward, hesitant self-care on the way up, like a seven-year emergency scuba ascent: "whatever you do, don't hold your breath and keep swimming towards the surface." I really did beat that illness in great part, after struggling with suicidal urges and self-hurt urges for years in the early and mid-90's, with little help from meds, and with some awful therapeutic experiences. But I'll tell that story another day. I'm going to scrub the floor glue off my hands.

Public thanks to Mike for his open post this week. It's not the same as sitting down face to face and sharing, but I've found the blog really does help, and Scott, or whoever, has put together a great bunch of people. Mike's share is what it's all about for me. Philosophy, apologetics, theory, whatever, it's all subordinate to the gut-clenched realities of living, my own need for support and the love of God.

Peace to all,


Tuesday, June 22, 2004

The Widow of Saint-Pierre

My wife and I are great netflix fans. Our small town does have a video store, but nothing that compares to netflix. I can pick from thousands of dvd's, and there are no late fees! Commercial over. If you watch a lot of films, I recommend checking it out.

We just watched a movie called The Widow of Saint-Pierre. Do I recommend it? Loosely. Thumbs sideways pointing slightly up. The film is about capital punishment, really, and I'm glad my wife and I didn't get in too deep a discussion after. She is an ardent opponent. So much so that she has told me if she is ever murdered, she does not want the killer executed. Impressive, almost unbelievable, to me.

And there's the issue: I don't actually have a position on capital punishment. I've never had to think about it much. Students have written pro and con papers on the topic many times over the years (one advantage of teaching Freshman composition: I get a varied education reading those essays) but I've never felt the need to form a solid opinion. The issues involved are complex. My wife will say that I am in fact a supporter, and that I suppose I need to think about.

I am not a violent person. In fact, I have never struck another individual (well, apart from controlled and consensual martial arts training). I don't even think about hitting other people. Maybe because the kickboxing experience took that fantasy out of me. I remember watching The Witness years ago in college. There's some scene where a local jerk is harassing this Amish caravan. Indiana Jones/oops Harrison Ford walks up to the front (he's an undercover cop hiding out if I remember) and beats this guy's face bloody. Before he got up there my friends (a mixed church group) were saying, yeah, beat him up! Maybe I was too; can't remember. Afterwards, when the guy looks all bashed, everyone was like...oh, that was gross. One girl said 'well, that's what you guys wanted.'

Ah, yes. Violence does beget violence, and it is never ever pretty. Nods to MLK.

But what about in response to a heinous crime? Heinous like that guy who stabbed that little, innocent boy to death in an orange county beach bathroom a few years back? Or the individuals who have abducted, raped, even tortured women and children and then killed them? What about that Yosemite motel killer whose name thank God escapes me?

Truth is I don't know, but I'm going to try and sort out my thoughts a bit (my wife is working another twelve and I have already done 1) some laundry and 2) worked on that *&!+~% floor all I want to today).

Something about capital punishment reminds me of vendetta. Lots of cultures have had vendetta rules, some still do. Europe did for centuries before the modern era. You kill my brother? Okay, I and mine will kill you (just saw a Brazilian film about this not long ago, forgot the title). Neither party is held liable before the law because 'justice' has been served. Vendettas are nasty and can last generations. Generally a lot of people end up dead. When the government steps in and does the killing for the injured party as in capital punishment, well, no payback vendetta, right? I guess that is usually so. Still, the urge to kill someone who has killed someone else (natural as those feelings may be) is behind both capital punishment and vendetta. This all reminds me of a colleague, a well-travelled, gentle, and educated guy, who doesn't believe in capital punishment because he believes in what he calls personal vengeance. In other words, vendetta. Luckily he has never been tested, as of course our justice system would hold him liable.

A common argument students give is that if our culture says killing is wrong, it's wrong to kill a perpetrator even in response to a horrific crime. Perhaps. But then it's wrong to put someone in a concrete box for twenty five years behind my house. Prison already strips away civil and personal rights. That's what due process can do to any citizen (of course these days, due process is even being set aside for some, but that's another issue).

I would probably feel like watching someone be executed if they had killed my family. At least I think I would feel that way. God keep me from ever really knowing. Though those who have watched killers executed for killing those they love do not always feel better. But I haven't researched this and will move on.

The best argument I've heard for not killing the guilty, no matter how repulsive their crime (besides the possiblity the person is innocent) is that the person may come to know God sometime while he or she is still alive and in prison. Would Timothy McVeigh have converted in twenty or thirty years? We'll never know. I know issues of election and predestination and free will come into this, but since I think no human can understand those things from God's perspective one wit, in my opinion the guilty should be given the benefit of the doubt. Jesus, of course, said anger makes us as guilty as a murderer. Well, then we're all doing hard time.

It is strange (again, at least to me) how many Christians vehemently oppose abortion but support capital punishment. It goes hand in hand with that right wing thing, often. (And the Mosaic laws, which tell me having sex with my wife during her period is an abomination, or that ejaculation make me unclean till sunset, are not the final word). Of course a fetus really is innocent; it has had time to do neither good nor bad (and abortion is another issue I haven't really worked toward closure on) while a condemned man is (presumably) guilty of some terrible act or acts. But I'm wondering...can anything we do on earth make up for some crimes humans commit? Sure someone like Dahmer or Gacy has to be kept away from the public for the rest of his life; he is a true threat to the population. But can that kind of score ever be evened?

I'd like to think so, but I don't know how. There was some freak up here in Sacramento who ran some kind of multiple wife prophet-household where he was essentially using his underage daughters, and others' daughters, as sexual slaves in the name of jehovah. No kidding. Using religion, the bible, to justify sex with children right in his home. You know what? I don't care what happens to that guy. And I mean it. It's how I feel. Get medieval. Let him feel what it feels like to be assaulted (and I'm keeping this family as I can).

But could I really support that kind of punishment if I were there watching it? That is a question. This is similar to comments I heard a few weeks back, after the four American contractors were murdered in Iraq and hung up, comments like 'level fallujah.' Oh, and are you willing to go over there and watch thousands of families be killed as they are 'levelled?' Nope. The vast majority of zealous people speak of war, violence, and prison from a safe and naive distance.

And if I would feel dehumanized taking that religious psycho's life in cold blood (as opposed to having to use force when other life, like mine or my family's, is threatened; pray that is never tested in me either!) how can I support a system which does the same? As time goes on, I move farther and farther away from capital punishment, though I admit some crime freeze my blood and have part of me crying for that kind of final justice.

What would Jesus do? No idea. To my knowledge he never addressed this issue. But I'm sure he'd forgive any murderer who asked him sincerely. And if so, why cut a person's life short before he or she has that chance? Of course it could be argued that once that person converts we can now kill him, but I don't think that would be argued by many.

So yes, I remain conflicted. Between thought and mixed feelings. And I hope I never get any closer to this issue than I did today. But this is another of those issues Christian culture sometimes takes for granted: of course I'm pro-death penalty, George Bush is a Christian and look how many people were executed in Texas, and have you read Leviticus? Well, we should all be looking closely at our beliefs, especially me (because I shoot my mouth off so much).

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Blogger Love

Thanks to all who have said nice things about the bloggage. You can tell the weekends my wife is working twelves because that's when the posts shoot up! Now what about that laundry...and finishing the hardwood floor I've been installing for ten months...?

I've put a couple other links to the right, links to skeptics magazine and the secular web. Why not? Why become insulated with authors who only say what I want to hear? Good arguments deserve to be heard, as well as not so good ones. It's just that I'll be darned if I'm going to use apologetics like a miracle sign: ah, that was a good argument, now I can kick back and smugly ignore the rest.

No doubt, apologetics can become a replacement for a personal and living faith (which the righteous really do have to live by); same with evangelism; these can be a compulsion even, a way to provide a feeling of certainty and order where anxiety exists (see Schermer's story at skeptics mag; he also columns in scientific american). Not that we shouldn't pursue apolgetics and evangelism! If it weren't for both, I don't know that I'd be here writing. But since I have never seen a physical miracle, questions have their place in my spiritual life. When I do see a physical miracle, I guarantee you guys will be the first to know.

Okay, I'm getting heavy again. Jeez. It's loud in here. Someone turn down the lecturn mic.

Fact is I am so appreciative for the support I've received from all who have responded. And what a disparate group. People I would never ever have seen again in my life are reading and writing to me. Not a lot of people, maybe a half dozen. But hey, I love this!

Now I need to trot over to your blogs and put in my two cents. Only fair.

Be well all.


Saturday, June 19, 2004

Christianity (from the inside) 3.0

So, what will I do with my blog from now on?

I don't know. I love writing here, and I love reading other blogs. I have neither the time nor the intention to create some kind of apologetic database (check the links at the right for two guys who've already done this) but I would like to use this space to work out issues in the faith I struggle with or (think) I've worked through in part.

As I begin thinking along these lines, I realize I've made some leaps myself, meaning I've come to conclusions, or dismissed objections, based on brief examination and not detailed analysis. I was drawn by the Voice of Christ in the gospels, the force of his personality, the content of his message, once I established parameters which allowed me to believe the gospels were at least partly true. Do Mormons say the same, the burning in the bosom? have I not met people of all religious faiths who felt drawn to their sacred text in the same manner? yes. This is universal religious experience. Christians cannot disregard it. Are all religions like Christianity? Nope. Jesus is unique. But that's another issue.

I had to overcome a couple of final concerns to place faith in the Jesus of the gospel record. One was how do I know Jesus said any of this, or anything close to it? C.S. Lewis made a proposition others call the trilemma: here's this guy in Palestine who says he's the Son of God, who forgives sins, who says he'll judge the world: either he's nuts (I think Lewis compares this person to someone who believes he's a poached egg) or he's intentionally deceiving his followers, or he's telling the truth.

(Right after I posted this blog I found Holding's article here. Thought I'd steer you that way at the outset. Enjoy. My blog is still about my personal journey).

There are problems with the trilemma (what is the full nature of religious mental illness, for example) but the one that hit me right away, enough to give me a quadlemma, is how do I know Jesus said any of these things about himself at all? This was questioned in Lewis' time, before his time, and is questioned now. Yes, there is the press-hungry Jesus Seminar crew voting with their colored beads. Go have fun at their website via google. But other scholars, skeptics, Muslims, etc., have argued that Jesus didn't say any of these things also. He was a political opponent of Rome, a moral teacher in the highest Rabbinic tradition, something besides a self-proclaimed deity (before Abraham, I am) or at least someone who proclaimed to be related to the deity: his special relationship with the Father is stressed throughout the gospel strata, as is his apparently self-proclaimed unique role in history (by strata I mean Mark, Q mixed up with special L and M, John, the historical Jesus content in the epistles; see anything about the synoptic problem online to understand what I mean and to form your own views on the gospels' composition. I will say that if Mark was a religious genius in conjuring up the words and deeds of this amazing spiritual figure, as Harold Bloom asserts, so were the authors of Matthew, Luke, and John. Each has remarkable, unmatched and unique content).

Chesterton talks about this in Everlasting Man, and he's funny as usual, but is it possible...did Jesus get styled into something he historically wasn't by his later followers?

So far I have not found this argument strong. I'm more willing to believe the historical Jesus had an incorrect view of himself (was it Schweitzer who said this? you see I really am an amateur); not psychotic crazy, but genuinely deluded, like (maybe) Joan de Arc or the narcissistic and predatorial wackos in Under the Banner of Heaven. One problem, of course, is the miracles and the resurrection itself. The gospels are sprinkled with supernatural events. Only one of them had to occur to validate Christ's claims. If one wants to find the historical Jesus apart from the gospels' supernatural content, good luck. All one can do is wildly speculate. The gospel strata all, and I stress all, present a messianic and clearly supernatural figure.

Then there is the supreme quality, what one critic calls 'the lack of second-rate content' in the ethical teaching. That does seem hard to jive with narcissistic personality disorder, which usually leads to excessive and even destructive behavior (clearing the temple? what else from the gospels would fit?).

But the real clincher for me was simply the obvious historical faith of the apostles; I find it very hard to believe that they didn't believe themselves. I know other religions, Islam for example, boast a 'big bang' creation; suddenly, here's this new faith. But Islam began, as far as I know, on the poetry of the Quran and the ontological strength of monotheism; Mormonism on the revelations given to Joseph Smith and an extraordinarily strong internal culture (and a few early possible miracles, see again Under the Banner; I know little else about the origins of the religion). In contrast early Christianity presents a plual number of early witnesses who agree on remarkable essentials. Multiple public miracles, a resurrected man.

Think about Paul. I think Moreland describes St. Paul as a 'cool-headed intellectual of the first rank' or something like that. I disagree. Paul wasn't stupid, but he was a bit nuts. He had to be to take on the job he did the way he did. However, he writes that he met with some of the original apostles early on in his career. And that the gospel he received from God was the same as what the inner Jerusalem circle was teaching. Certainly we have undisputed Pauline epistolary evidence from the mid 50's which contains the kerygma, the central message of Christianity. The Lord's Supper was handed down to him like a creed, a key piece of oral tradition to be preserved exact. And Paul tells us he received this information, the Supper narrative and the resurrection appearances, in the past. He must have heard of the resurrection and Christian salvation with a few years of the crucifixion itself. But I've read this elsewhere.

Could James and Peter have fooled Paul? Could they have imagined the resurrection, or believed it through wishful thinking? And if Mark invented the verbal-historical Christ (as Bloom asserts) what about the other astonishing strata? What about special Matthew? What about John? John's gospel was probably edited/compiled by followers after his death (though this is speculation) but the recollections and dialogues it contains are unique in human history and, to this reader anyway, suggestive of an eyewitness source.

Take Bruce Lee. Bruce gets misunderstood all the time by people who should know better, many who knew Bruce personally, because they can't understand his central concepts. Bruce invented an approach to the martial arts by drawing on all martial arts ('absorb what is useful'; 'use no way as way') and developed a personal and changing fighting style in subordination to that. But there are still people who argue we shouldn't move beyond the techniques Bruce was teaching in the sixties. Please. Dan Inosanto, for one, has never had this problem. I remember training for a few months under Dan in the mid-80's. He said some things Bruce said and did. And you know what, I might make some mistakes now, twenty years later, in my recollection of those quotes, but the overall central theme of jeet kune do is very clear (it's true I heard it over and over later, but I can remember Danny's little lectures from the 80's still). The problem was not forgetting what Bruce said and did (and the little he wrote) but misunderstanding it.

Same with Jesus. Gnosticism grew out of the doctrine of a bodily resurrection, or so it has been argued.

And another point for me was the fact that Paul really believed, the other early Christians seemed to also, that Jesus was coming back any time. Paul proscribes sexual/marital behavior along these lines: the time is short, so act accordingly. Yes he was wrong. But how could any of them have been so sure of Christ's immediate return if they didn't actually believe Jesus had been raised from the dead? And wouldn't any new convert, in the first few years of the faith, wonder if the body was still in the tomb in Jerusalem? Could no one look for even bones? Perhaps the disciples stole the body? Oh, another possibility, but not a strong one. Would they really have stood up to the ruling Jews like that? Did the disciples make a mistake? Maybe, as Funk asserts I think, the body was eaten by dogs and somehow the disciples missed this fact when they went back to the tomb (and why that tomb, why any tomb, if Jesus was not buried in front of witnesses)?

Then one also has to account for the post-resurrection appearances, and above all, for the sudden explosion of the kerygma itself. What if some of Luke's sources are off? Possible. I heard Crossan deny the resurrection of Jesus (though he considers himself a Christian and teaches at a church sponsored college) because of the 'group' resurrection at the end of Matthew. I doubt that one myself. But discounting one event which may have been exagerrated, maybe rumored, years later, but which was included by an honest evangelist, is not the same as discouting the resurrection of Jesus as all four gospels present it. But I'm drifting maybe.

The bottom line is that I find it very hard to believe the apostles changed Jesus' entire zealot-against-the-Roman-occupation message into something completely more transcendent and beautiful after his death. And the central Christian message is exquisitely beautiful. Nor that the evangelists/apostles would have put such extraordinary self-superlatives into Jesus' mouth. He had to have made those claims about himself. And then, yes, he was either self-deluded, or knowingly lying, or some twisted combination of the two (David Koresh) or the possibility must be admitted that he might have been correct (the trilemma is no sure syllogism). But I really resent critics who try and make Jesus into something other than a self-proclaimed Messiah. He could have been wrong about who he was, but there is no evidence that he was a political activist or, is it Funk who says this, a Jewish comedian? Forget it. He preached the Law but put himself above it on more than one occasion, publicly. And every gospel is full of healings recounted in narrative style. Somewhere, in Miller or Holding online (see my sidebar links for the real pros, though I think these guys are both inerrantists) I read that some evidence from early Jewish literature describes Jesus as a magician. Could this possibly be a recollection of how his miracles were understood by those who refuted him? Tantalizing.

Yes I wish we had a contemporary account of Jesus which was not Christian. But we don't. What we do have is the richest religious literature I have read, an ethical message and individual personality which transcends anything in the Gita (can't get past the castes and the shifting of behavioral ethics onto karmic winds) or any other system I know. You want the philosopher's God? Jesus is it. The ontological, Formal absolute in a living personality. Love, the absolute foundation of all that is right in our race, is at the center of all things gospel, notably Jesus' mission itself. Problems remain, yes, but those are for another day. Maranatha.


Friday, June 18, 2004


I can't believe the people that have contacted me over this blog thing. Mike Marano, a guy I've wanted to connect with for years (which is hard because we live hundreds of miles apart) even Steve is this happening? I'm really quite amazed. I guess they're linking from scooter or Dave T., but whatever, I now have a readership of six.

And Scott, yes, I have gotten transparent here, more than ever expected. But hey, that's the best way I know out and up. And living in the mountains makes it very hard. I don't have the kind of support and meetings I used to, so I have this. Recovery meeting and self-publication press all in one. Those that don't like will read and leave.

I really do write for myself mostly. Even the theological diatribes. Those are things it feels good to get out of my head and onto paper. I'd like to write a full response to Hume's On Miracles eventually, but for now I have lots to say in and outside the faith. Not to mention the shit I shovel.

Well, on a fresher note: my stepson just scuba certified. If you have not had the chance to dive, ah, I recommend it highly. Some people really can't get past the fear factor, fair enough. I know that all too well in other areas. But for some reason scuba has never wigged me, and it is one of the great activities in my life (and one I don't get to do often enough). My son's class was crammed into one busy week and then before I drove him down to his dad's for the summer we spent three days on Catalina where he got his first ocean dives. This post is about that town.

I really do believe Catalina to be a magical place. Now I know it costs a lot of money for the boat, and then you get there and walk around for about ten minutes and what do you see: a crappy beach (with the left side of the pier often closed for swimming these days; the inside source tells me the waste dna is in fact human) overpriced restaurants and trinket shops. You ride the glass bottom boat, get seasick, buy a sweatshirt for forty bucks and take the boat back. What is so great about that?

May I suggest another way?

There are some things you really must do in Catalina: one, if you are a man, find Lolo the barber and get a haircut and most certainly a shave. Just ask around where he is; he's right where the busses load for the tours. Lolo is the last real barber I know, and a shave from him is a rare thing in this twenty-first century. And it costs just ten bucks, same as the haircut. I always overtip Lolo; you may continue the tradition if you wish. He's one of the few people on the island who actually earns his tip.

You must get inside the Casino. If you don't want to pay the money for the tour, just go to the 7:00 evening movie; you'll only see the bottom half, but still.... Arrive early so you can explore the interior. That is probably the most amazing building in California, and worth the boat trip alone.

For beach dwelling, walk past the Casino (or take a shuttle in summer or a taxi for a few bucks) to Descanso beach. Ah, gonzoed at Descanso. I don't do this as much as the old days, but even though it costs a buck fifty or something to go on the beach, it's worth it. It's the best place to snorkel in Avalon (Lover's is pretty but lookout for the boats) and they serve you some of the best food in town right on the beach, not to mention full bar. If you want to get buzzed in Avalon try a mai tai at Descanso; if you want to get buzzed and full try a Buffalo's milk. But forget that crappy beach by the pier. Try Descanso. And if you want solitude, head to Pebbly Beach, the other direction. It's, uh, pebbly, but natural, isolated and quite beautiful; also a good snorkel. If you want to kayak, rent at Descanso; take a tour if you're new. Don't get those ridiculous overpriced paddle boats on the green pier that you can't take out of the harbor.

To eat, do Buffalo Nickel at Pebbly Beach to dodge the tourists, or Topless Tacoes on a budget, or picnic from the Vons, or eat at Blue Parrot for dinner. The pizza at Antonio's is pretty good, but really, there are a score of restaurants in a tiny area. Explore. Buy and try. Busy Bee is pretty good. For desert, I'd do Cold Stone Creamery over Olaf's any day.

The only other tours I recommend are the interior tour and the semi-submersible and the flying fish. But these cost money. A lot. I admit I've never had to pay. But I would.

And you can always camp. About a mile up the canyon from Avalon is Hermit Gulch campground. My ex-patriot home. For those with the fortitude to camp (and I vacillate on this as I age) the smells in that canyon are exquisite. The walk back up at night is glorious, if a little long. And there is a trailhead at the back of the campground that goes up and provides a beautiful view of Avalon. Bring water, and know what poison oak looks like and rattlesnakes sound like. On the hiking thing: the fact is that 88 percent of the island belongs to the Conservancy and is wild. Truly. See some if you can.

For sleeping at the campsite on the weekend or in summer, maybe earplugs or ambien or meclazine (good anyway for those of us who get seasick) though it's been much quieter at night this year. I slept great all three nights.

It's not cheap for camping (twelve buck a person I think) and you can probably stay in the Atwater for not a whole lot more if you like four walls and and wish to forgoe the cost of taxi trips to and from the campground. If you have a significant other, try the St. Lauren--back from the main beach, quiet, beautiful, romantic, and worth every penny.

I've covered enough for a three day weekend anyway. You can also try Two Harbors, but you have to either camp or stay in the Banning House which is a little pricey. Two Harbors is a village, really, on the west end of the island with an outdoor bar and a great restaurant. Lots of boaters, but ocean boaters, not lake mead or river boaters; different breed.

And if you dive, well, Casino Point is always open and cheap. I think it costs less to take dive boats from Long Beach or Pedro or wherever to dive the same spots the island boats hit, but there are boats out of Avalon also. Try Scuba Luv.

And whatever you do, don't rent a golf cart!

And lastly, O readers, if you ever find yourself at the The Boar's Nest you will have reached the pinnacle of island proletarian insiderness in my opinion. I consider myself a very fortunate charter member, though perhaps of adjunct status; the builder was my dive cert. buddy. Yes, it needs a new website. The Nest and its web presence have been abandoned most of a year, but things are reviving. I can't really describe the Nest, except to thank Will for taking over, and hoping that the powers that be (and they are many in a town so small) don't succeed in shutting it down.

Well, I've said enough. Catalina can be very expensive, but there are ways to go on the cheap, and the beauty of the clear sea is something mind-boggling to those who have not seen it. It ain't the Caymans, but it sure ain't Long Beach Harbor. Enjoy.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

From the Gut

My son, Michael, is taking his scuba class this week and next week I'm driving him to So. Cal. to dive off Catalina next week (I hope). I haven't travelled much, but I know no place I love more than the Island. A few days in the sea does wonders for my constant tension. And this is a very cool father/son activity. Mike spends the summer with his dad in Long Beach, and this will be my last chance to spend time with him for about another month when we'll dive again off Cat.

I hardly have time to blog, and yet I need to. I'm actually typing while my son is next to me taking his scuba final.

Hardly two weeks ago I didn't even have a blog, and then I thought blogging would be fun as I babbled about fitness and whatever else for my readership of one: scooter, my old friend who was also blogging. Now I'm linked at Colors of Long Beach. Wow. I'm very flattered, but so many feelings have come pouring up, like burning water. You see Dave works at the church where, as I used to say, 'I was married and divorced' and where I spent nearly a decade of my life (not including the junior high, which I also attended). Perhaps what I have to say is an overlong comment to his posts, but since it really is about me here goes:

I read (June 7 2004) how he went with his wife to the beach and played her new songs he wrote and they talked about spiritual goals for the year and tears filled my eyes. I don't know remember where Jonah was going when he was ditching Nineva, but let me tell you it's a long way back.

That's not really fair to me, though, I recant. The fact is I exchanged a surface faith for a genuine one, and though I spent much more effort on that process than would seem necessary, I found closure. A bit sadly, my faith still relies more on intellectual delivery (what a term) than experiential faith derived from actual moments of Grace. But I know that, and that's something. As I said at the outset, the intellectual whirlwinds I undergo as part of my faith are a gift and curse, a strength and a weakness. And I have barely begun to share them.

But what I would like to say now is that my marriage at this moment is hard, or that marriage is hard for me. Intimacy is hard. Accepting my spouse with all her human flaws is very hard. It's not always like this, but it is this week, maybe this month. Parenting is a constant challenge, though it's easier than having a spouse because my son (thank God, my wife, and myself) was raised in a drastically different environment than mine. But I want to feel close to my wife again. The bottom line is I had a very, very critical, shaming and raging-rigid mother (with some very strange religious ideas as well) and an absent, passive/aggressive, depressed father. And then my parents split, when I stayed with my dad and he really went to pieces. Those early experiences with my mother have colored me in radical ways: multiple phobias, perfectionism to an extraordinary degree, near constant anxiety/tension (what disaster is about to fall?) and a sense of never being good enough, never. I know that's some deep shit, but grab a shovel and dig with me.

And my wife, naturally, has issues as well from her upbringing (which included some strange religion also). We clash (usually silently) over stupid things: cleaning the bathroom, cooking dinner, whatever. Sometimes bigger things. We both need to be nurtured more than either of us can nurture, and I strive to be superman on the outside while I victim-style on the inside. As I said earlier, I am rarely relaxed. And my critical apparatus, though almost always silent and kept to myself, is withering. And my anger. I'm not nearly as angry as I used to be, but I tend to hold it in and ruminate and obsess. I can even feel anger behind the language in some of these posts (a constructive release I'd say). Finally, I can hardly take any criticism of any kind because it activates my mother's relentless voice. Yeah, things are a bit challenging right now. Oh, I need a single-malt. Just kidding.

I didn't plan to write so transparently. There are people in my past I don't want to read this; this is after all the Web (one of the reasons I don't use a last name here; google has eyes like Apollo) and also my wife wants to read my blog to feel closer to me. Hi honey; you are the most welcome guest here. But I, we, don't have the support up here we had in Long Beach either, and sharing on the blog helps. And it seems like an honest complement to other things I've said; again, anyone looking to read a together Christian needs to look elsewhere; I yam what I yam.

Digressive recollection: I remember when I was in Campus Crusade. We had the Four Spiritual Laws and the Spirit-Filled Life tracts (what my campus director called San Berdu Gold and San Berdu Blue; hey, it was 1985). And in the Four Laws book there was this little circle which showed self on the throne and Christ ouside the box and all the little dots which represented areas of one's life were skewed; then (after conversion) Jesus was on the throne and all the little dots were balanced. Of course, the Spirit Filled Life book had the circles too, and it showed how most Christians had self on the throne and the little dots were still all bejeezed. Even then I thought it was ironic: just how does one get all the little dots aligned? Well, I am convinved mine never will be. Maybe I should call my blog 'asymmetrical dots.' But Crusade has done too much good to take even a side shot like that.

I want to read some poems for my wife and talk to her about spiritual goals, too. That is the center of this entire post, the thesis. I can't even imagine that kind of maturity; well now I can. We did start a small group bible study at a friend's using the African method: it works nicely, is very egalitarian, and we get to pray for the person next to us. A few kind and sincere words can move either of us to tears. But our relationship has changed so much in eight years; the party-days honeymoon is way over, and I'm having a hard time making the shift.

Unfortunately there's more: yes, I'm in therapy; truth is I've spent years there with several therapists wth good and very bad outcomes. I have a history of depression, which is largely in remission (I would probably hardly slide out of the 'normal' range on that one anymore; should have seen me ten years ago), but I still have OCD, Obessive Compulsive Disorder, and it is an uber-bitch (sorry for the gender-slanted term, it just fits). I've had it since grade school but of course had no idea. Within the past year I had bad reactions to several of the new meds for OCD after long resisting trying them; and I'm now doing ERP, or exposure response prevention, which really can work just as well though it takes time and lots of work. The cause of my OCD is no mystery to me, though the medical community flails over this and there is no definitive answer. I am fairly confident in my case: la madre (though evidence is strong that once OCD is entrenched a biological component appears, and a biological component may be present at birth; yet this component can be minimized or perhaps even changed). Whatever the cause, my disease puts strain on my relationship of a special kind: most men with OCD never marry. At our core I think neither my wife nor I is a quitter; we love each other despite all our anger and fear, and the ERP is clearly helping, the thorn in my side, OCD.

And now for a final, and seemingly unrelated, topic (the gut is non-rational). In one sense I envy Evangelicals: I cannot accept the Bible as inerrant for important reasons (again, I could be wrong) but how simple life appears when one reveres the book. Oh, here's a verse: issue solved. This book is God's complete plan, the vox dei. It's like parents choosing the spouse. Though perhaps it is true God works through the Bible with evangelicals the same way he does me when I read it; I just take what jives with Christ's character and leave the rest. Of course I have to read it.

I was asked to lector (read scripture) in church Sunday though I don't think it was my day, and I read that passage in Isaiah where he enters the throne room and sees the seraphim and has his lips burned with a coal. And when God asks him who to send, he says, 'Here am I, send me.' I've often felt a special presence when I read in church, and this passage was no exception. How do I understand that vision as the skeptic I am? Did it really happen to Isaiah? Or is it metaphorical? It ultimately doesn't matter because that verse resonates for me and its illustrative purpose is clear.

So I'm not immune to scripture, I simply have to avoid old error: academic study yields little when it bypasses personal need. And I have a lot of need. Wish I didn't. Wish I were super together and happy, the cover boy for Christianity
Today, but I've been crawling out of chaos, really, for fifteen years, and I'm still crawling.

I will say, that for all my issues, anyone who looks at my life from the outside is in awe: they'll see a beautiful, loyal and loving wife, a home in the Sierra, a one-in-a-million son, a job where I go to work two days a week and take summers off, a guy with intellectual and even physical gifts. But oh boy. That's not how I feel. I'm working ahead, what else can I do? I'm trusting Christ to affect change and to help me accept what I can't change.

But this is long enough. Feel free to skim, O readers. And as I'm editing this post a few days later, I do feel better. That's how it works. Thanks for quick prayers.


Saturday, June 05, 2004


I want to lighten things up a bit and discuss something not so critical: cutting weight. Cutting, for bodybuilders (a group I haphazardly consider myself a novice member of) means losing fat. One of the coolest things I learned when I started lifting weights was that I needed to eat more. Oh, man, I love to eat. Pile it on. Bodybuilders try to eat lots of protein, clean carbs (less simple sugars) and generally low fat, but they eat. You can't gain muscle unless you gain weight; and you can't gain weight unless you take in more calories than you expend.

I was very into this. Instead of eating a salad and climbing on the stairmaster for 30 minutes, my past perception of getting into shape, you lift big and eat eggs, steak, milk, chicken. And it's a great feeling. If I overdo it a bit and think, man, today I really shouldn't have had that second helping at dinner or that burger at lunch: well, so what, I'm sore all over and the calories and protein are all part of rebuilding the muscle. Recover. Ah, what a word.

Problem is it's nearly impossible (or so I'm told) to gain muscle and not some fat. I don't really know how much muscle I've gained, though I'm a good bit heavier than I've ever been with the current waistline; I'd risk a guess and say eight to ten pounds heavier. Guess that's muscle. Or maybe I'm bloating. But whatever, I'm 205 and I've never been over 200 in my life and my pants still fit.

But of course those pants were getting tight, and so now I'm trying to cut. I'm still lifting the same, but I'm taking in noticeably less calories, feeling a little hungry much of the time actually, and trying to do cardio at the end of my weight work out, even twenty minutes. I have to drive twenty minutes to my gym so it's hard for me to alternate cardio and weight days, though I'm told that's ideal. But those elliptical cross trainers are kind of fun; my heart rate goes up without any real stress on my joints, and with martial arts out of the picture, for now at least, I need something.

And I think, maybe, my waist is shrinking. Not much so far, but I think a little. It's much, much harder to diet than it is to bulk. Bulking muscle makes me feel like a teenager, growth hormones and test raging (my own natural hormones, of course). Cutting...well, I'm not trying to get super lean like those guys who compete. But like I said earlier, my pants were getting tight. I turn 40 in September (9/11 to be precise) and I'd like a 33, or maybe even a 32 inch waist by then. I was 32 inches for a long time, the first few years I dated Steph. But not since then. She just cooks too damned well, and I developed a taste for wine and the pre-dinner martini.

Which is something else I'm doing very little of, at least as opposed to say six months or a year ago. Alcohol really is empty calories and doesn't help my fitness goals much. Still, we split a bottle of wine here and there with dinner. Wine is a true love of mine and something else I want to talk about eventually on my blog (and I'm amazed these things aren't even more popular; this is like having my own radio show; it's therapeutic and productive, but also nakedly narcissistic, as is all publication or public speaking).

So I'll let you know how the cutting goes. Since I've learned I can feel hungry and not die (the first few months I lifted I was never hungry, never; I ate six times a day) I think this will work. I don't believe my primary reason for lifting is vanity, but it is a powerful feeling being able to take control of the shape of my body to some extent. Many people over, say, 25 feel like victims of their muscle and fat proportion; they are what they are and wish their bodies were different. I've been very pleased how much weights already made an impact for me in how I feel and look. It's a good thing, to quote St. Martha. Like cleaning my room. Only it takes a lot longer to see results and time, age, is always creeping in, even subtly. But I said I was going to stay light. And my stepson wants to go to the pool.

Be well all. I had a good work out today and ate pretty well and hope the same for tomorrow. And again, if you haven't heard of Dave Draper, check him out. He's part of the reason I began blogging. He has these amazing weekly emails he sends out on lifting and fitness, and he writes better than I do and is funnier to boot. Peace.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Christianity (from the inside) 2.1

What the Gospel is Not (chapter two)

How did I end up turning my blog into a soapbox of this nature? Truthfully, I have no idea. These are ideas which have been turning around in my head the last few years, and I just want a place to put them. Scooter (and Dave) thanks for reading.

Earlier I said the gospel is not sex, nor sexual abstinence nor asceticism; I also think that applies to all kinds of ridiculous moral laws which do not stand up under the law of love. Christianity, above all things, is not a code of conduct. It's not about making us feel squeaky clean or pretend we are so. Does that mean God doesn't care what we do? Please. Both the ot and nt, and certainly Jesus, say otherwise.

I bring in this point because that was a central way I approached my religion before my conversion. I can remember having a good time with my discipler once; in Christianese that's a guy, in this case actually the college pastor, who met with me to help me understand my Christian life. I don't know what we talked about that day, but I know I felt close to him as a person, as an older and supportive adult male. Good for us. I went out to my motorcycle, tried to kickstart it, my foot slipped and I hit my ankle: 'damn!' I said. That was it. Damn. And right away I absolutely felt like whatever spiritual progress I had made was erased because of that one word.

Silly? Yes. Unusual? Probably. But try saying damn or shit from the pulpit sometime to stress an important point regarding love or faith (you'd be in great company: Luther at least). And why do Christian institutions focus on things like dancing, or swearing, or having even a small amount of alcohol, or masturbation (and I may be dated with this accusation)? Because they can focus on these things. They are easy to condemn. When the deeper conscience is neglected, and active charity abandoned. I didn't run for office of my Christian fraternity in college because all officers had to sign a form saying they wouldn't drink, dance, or use tobacco or alcohol. I really didn't do any of those things at the time (though I had a mean white-man's overbite, an 80's dance) but even then I thought the idea was ridiculous. I had more serious compulsions and knew it. Why not ask the officers to sign a form saying they will do one loving act a week? Or volunteer in the community with the underadvantaged? Or begin therapy to unravel their own destructive behaviors? Or even pray regularly? Back then, of course, I hadn't gotten that far.

Legalism is death. In Pilgrim's Progress when Moses is beating the snot out of Pilgrim/Christian (I can't remember when in the book this happens) with the tablets of the law...that's a beginning. Again, I include this because I lived it, felt it, bled it for years. It may have been part of the reason I left church: I just couldn't live up to it anymore.

My next point I hinted at this near the end of my previous post, and I know it's tricky, but here goes: the Christian Right scares me. How did such huge portions of the church get associated with the Republican party in America? Consdidering Christ's comments regarding the rich and poor, and the attitudes of the Acts church, how did capitalism, privatization, international aggression, even bigotry get connected to our faith?

I'm not saying all Republicans are greedy bigots. Nope. Plenty of Democrats aren't worth much either, and we're all sinners. But in my opinion the underlying policies of the Republican party betray a true lack of compassion and a desire to hoard resources and protect those who do. What's more important, wall street profits or universal health care for all Americans? How about treating non-violent drug offenders when possible before locking them up for mandatory minimums? (what was it Rush Limbaugh said after he got out of rehab: 'everyone should be able to go through an experience like this.') Ah.

I am not very politically savvy, and I imagine it is the abortion issue that puts so many Christians into the right, that and gay marriage/rights. We assume the fetus has a soul because we assume Platonic (and perhaps Pauline) duality, and then we assume the soul inhabits the fetus at conception. Fair enough perhaps. There are verses which seem to clearly speak out against homosexuality (though nothing direct from Jesus in my opinion) yet I for one support civil rights for gays. But those things aside (and some I know can't put them aside, and I won't judge that), look at the rest of the Republican party values.

I can't argue this at length, except to say that Jesus held the poor in high esteem (though below himself, of course) and spoke dimly of the rich; he valued the hated foreigner; his gospel was not 'every man for himself' and 'big business above labor rights.' It wasn't. In Acts the apostles divided their property, and the property of those who were in the church. Right wing is Fright wing to me, especially these days.

I bring the politics up (and I'm really very poor on this topic) because I think many people associate Republican politics with godly living. I certainly did. I joined the R party in college; wanted to be a young Republican; thought liberal was a perjorative term. Then eventually I learned to hope for compassion at home and abroad. Can you be a Christian and a Republican? Sure. But you can also be a Democrat, or a Green, or any other political party I know in America.

Finally, and this one comes very close to home for me: the Gospel is not a gifted individual leader, nor is it the awesome rush we feel when sitting under a great speaker. Why would I even say that? Because the modern church is built around teaching, especially the evangelicals, though also the liturgicals. Teaching was not always emphasized as it is, but it's that way now. The message may be 15 minutes or an hour or more. But it's there. Nothing is wrong with this. Exegesis, spiritual contemplation on the intellectual level, life application, all this can help those present (and the presenter too). But believers who lack faith and spiritual strength, like myself, find it all too easy to look up to a charismatic (in the general term) gifted, articulate leader and think: oh, man, this must be a very spiritual person. Whatever he says or does...I'm in awe. And the pastor/priest/teacher/leader becomes a substitute for Christ; perhaps more directly, the pleasure, even the entertainment, of hearing a gifted speaker takes the place of personal faith development. And the churches grow in numbers, but what about the spiritual depth of the individual? This the listener must initiate.

I'm not saying gifted teachers and good personal skills have no place in church leadership. The priest at the first Episcopal church my wife and I attended was very loving and outgoing, and it made a difference. He helped me begin to feel God's love. But I have raised many a person on a pedestal over the years, many, probably more than most Christians because I didn't have a genuine faith or a present or affectionate human father. I needed someone to fill that painful void. And I have been disappointed.

I was let down in small ways, and in a couple cases, about as much as it is humanly possible to be let down by Christian professionals outside my church. Just because a person is a dynamic speaker or leader (or for that matter therapist, what is whispered shall be shouted) doesn't mean he or she has correct values. And even if he or she really is trying, and I suppose most are, that faith is not my faith. Listening to someone exposit well is not necessarily the same thing as worshipping God, though it can be part of it. A certain transference takes place when we watch any great communicator in an authority position, and transference is by its nature passive: it seeks completion in the object.

And teaching really is just a gift or trait, like green eyes or size 9 feet or mathematic intelligence. Should I worship the sunset or the maker of the sun? It's no different. I have reverenced the articulate teacher (and I've known one or two who were truly amazing) but I should have reverenced the God who gave the person that gift; meditated on the message and not the messenger (and the individuals I have in mind would have agreed with me, I think). People fail, they make errors, they hold prejudiced attitudes. And we all experience rage, lust, envy, jealousy, avarice, fear, pride. Oh yeah. I remember when I was a single Christian; how easy it was for well-meaning girls to mistake ministry gifts for godliness, all the way to the altar. I had some of those gifts; and you know my story. I'm writing here as much for me as you, probably more for me if I'm truthful.

To wrap up, I believe I have covered most of the mistakes I can remember: intellectual arrogance, self-judgement, lust confusion, legalism, rigid politics, pastor-worship, worship of the self, fear of drawing close to or trusting God. My. It really is amazing I'm even sitting here writing. Halfway to the Resurrection itself.

I will shift a bit and close on this note: those of you who pray please pray a little for me. Above all for my relationship with my wife (going on four years now) which is never easy for me and in which I am often a dolt (though a growing and committed dolt, I hope); for my relationship with my (step)son, and for stronger friendships up here in the mountains. Just because I love language doesn't mean the rest of my life is book-smooth. In fact, like most bookies, I struggle with intimacy, and my life experiences have made that struggle a rigorous lifetime process. I know this puts me in a pretty large club, but I have a wonderful wife and she deserves my very best; a wonderful stepson who deserves even more. And pray for me also that my relationship with Christ grows, beyond intellect, beyond fear, beyond duty...toward faith, hope, love.

Peace to all in Christ


Thursday, June 03, 2004

Christianity (from the inside) 2.0

What the Gospel is Not (chapter one)

I hope all these chapers and parts aren't confusing. I'm trying to figure out how to organize myself, with marginal success. The following is part (chapter) one of what I intend to be a two part post on What the Gospel is Not. I will learn to link back to my earlier posts but if you haven't read them, you might want to do so first.

How could I possible have gone to church all those years and not really been a Christian? I ask myself this, of course. Think about it: I was President of Campus Crusade (briefly) and emceed their weekly leadership meetings for several semesters; I was a member of a Christian fraternity; I was discipled, officially and by good men, more than once; I was baptized in a church that won't baptize you until someone finds out if you are actually a Christian (and I snowed that speech, sadly, to a good friend); I taught in high school class and college group from time to time. I ran more than one bible study group over the years. How did I miss it?

That really is an intriguing question, I admit. The fact is I thought I was a Christian, most of the time. Or at least until my weak faith began to unravel. What did I believe the gospel was during those years?

To answer that, let me start with a few things the gospel is not (half in this blog; half next time):

Looking back, first of all, I really needed a lover. Odd place to start, I admit. But I had all the sexual impulses of any 19 year old male, yet I had been raised in a family where my parents did not have a sexually functional relationship, and where I was taught one of the worst things I could do in life was 'get a girl pregnant.' Oh, I was very afraid of sex and my own sexuality. Even when I had a beautiful girlfriend in high school, someone I dated for more than three years, we never went 'all the way' because I was afraid, simply. I wasn't attending church at that time; I don't think I had any religious reasons. I was smart enough to figure out birth control and we were both 18 by the time we broke up. But I was just too scared, of the sex, of the closeness probably most of all.

So I met a girl who was just as scared as me. Well, there was one before her that got me to go to her church, but that was only for a few months when I thought the gospel was preppy clothing. My ex-wife (and what do I call her here...Ophelia, too terrible an end but tragically close in other ways...I had not foreseen this problem when I started...Isabella (from Heights)...closer...Catherine (also from Heights)...maybe closer still...ah, I have it, she made the association herself in college: I'll call her Estella (from Great Expectations). Stella for short.

Oh, the old wound still moves in me. It's been a decade. Still, I don't know really if I should do this, go to this place, especially in a public blog, but let's see how it goes.

I met Stella at 19; she was 18. And in retrospect I think two things about her struck me: one, her physical beauty, and two, her rigidity, her moral superiority even. (She was also dangerously intelligent, but that has no bearing here). She had very strict standards about 'physical affection' and my own fear and guilt about such things meshed quite well. Tragedy. Our story is more tragic than I can tell now, as complex and unbelievable as any novel, but back to my main thread.

Stella was desirable, but distant. She was also active in Christian circles. We became best friends, really, which for us at the time probably wasn't saying much, though I was very dependent on her emotionally. And I don't know if, looking back honestly, I can't say some of my Christianity wasn't to please her, more correctly, to make her want me, to finally garner myself the golden girl lover. Her aloof quality drove me on more than anything else about her I imagine.

Whatever else I know, the gospel is not sex.

Nor is it abstinence. I think I really believed if I didn't have intercourse or whack off God would love me (like most Christian guys, I was a guilt-ridden expert at the latter; to this day, I can do more barbell curls with my right arm than my left). I equated our sexual coldness and even strangeness (make out with me in my bed until four in the morning Troy, I'll berate you tomorrow for your lack of spiritual strength) with purity, piety, even holiness I guess. There has been a streak of what one author calls 'sexual pessimism' in Christianity since ancient times (there is evidence of celibacy among Christian leaders, often married ones, in the third century, long before it became the policy of Rome; and of course there are St. Paul's comments). But again I digress.

Sex is a very complex thing and there's no doubt, mix it with shame and isolation and it can become compulsive; throw in the porn so readily available today and you have a very toxic mix. And we all feel urges to have sex with someone when to do so would be suicide to our most important relationships. But I wish I'd taken an actual lover as a young man, used birth control, and read the gospels to figure out who Jesus really was/is. The gospels are not ascetic documents; Christ's message really is about love, not establishing a new law (where's that verse that tells me what I can and can't do: I know tongue kissing after drinking a wine cooler while saying the word shit is probhibited somewhere). Love as final law, too, is in St. Paul, lest you think I don't like the guy. But how quickly we Christians like to feel morally superior just because we feel guilty about our sexual urges, or dress or speak a certain way--the white glove Sunday lie. The gospel is not control of bodily urges for the sake of control. This is a dangerous illusion and one which permeates many world religions.

Which segues, sort of, to my next point: neither is the gospel exact intellectual knowledge. I don't know what the minimum intellectual content required is to be saved, but at the outside it's John 1, or 11, or Romans 8, or even John 3:16. Any one of the four gospels is enough to tell who Jesus is. There's nothing wrong with studying the bible, or with reading Christian authors, nothing at all. But I am amazed at the ludicrous doctrinal positions which divide the Christian denominations even now, let alone cause haughty conflict in the individual church.

There are problems in every denomination (sometimes I think each, including my own, could be best described in terms of the neurosis it attracts). But I know I could rip out intricate theological terms like farts in my early twenties (sorry); I could have described the gospel message very well (I had led people to Christ in Crusade) and yet I didn't get it. Knowing god is not a systematic theology chart with the right terms in the right places. Ninety percent of the theological positions we take, I think, are guesses. We don't really know because Jesus didn't tell us and we probably couldn't understand; the little he did give us is challenging enough beyond his basic message.

Have you heard of the filioque controversy? It involves one word, a preposition in one of the creeds, and is still an issue of contention. Episcopals are a mixed bunch; most hold that the bible is the Word of God, inspired, even if not perfect; many read the Bible the same way Evangelicals do; my own view is in minority as far as I can tell. But I know the priest at our first church up here told me he had trouble doing community work in collaboration with other churches because, in his words, 'the first thing they say is "you don't believe the Bible is God's word do you" and I say, well, yes, and no; and when they ask the question their tone is as if they're asking me "are you still beating your wife?"'

Doctrine has its place, but so does healthy inquiry, tolerance for independent thought, and 'we don't know's.' Too often the evangelical churches and seminaries are really about doctrinal conformity on issues which matter very little or about which we cannot have certainty. And while I've had less experience here, the Episcopal church tends to be more open minded, but it relies on tradition for tradition's sake. Please. Feed the poor. I'm not kidding. Reach out to those in prison and the sick. (Not incidentally, my experience so far with my little Episcopal church is that it does those things more than any size fundamental church I ever attended; we all have a lot to learn). Hardest of all, let's love our children and spouses the way Jesus wants us to. Show servanthood and humility in the home (oh, do I need to hear this, especially today). What about pre-trib/post-trib/amillenial/pre-millenial/dunk or sprinkle and all that? What about more serious questions, like does baptism alone put one in the kingdom of God? Is the Bible inerrant in every word? Is the trinity the final word on the Godhead?

You know what, maybe I'm not completely sure. Stress agreement where agreement exists. The fact is ninety-nine percent of Christians I've met, even pastoral staff, can't defend many of the doctrinal positions they hold, and almost never with original thought: I get parrot-talk. Sure Roman Catholics do things different. (Do many Evangelicals even know the pater noster on the rosary is the Lord's prayer?) But my gosh, they believe Jesus was raised from the dead by God and is the Saviour of the world. Hey, that's a start. Yes many venerate Mary, but there are isses for greater concern, in light of Jesus values on earth, in the 'Christian Right' in my opinion.

Jesus gave us the new law explicitly, and it has two parts. Love God and love your neighbor. Jesus showed us who God is. And who our neighbor is.

That is certainly essential gospel, 'mere Christianity.' Asceticism, celibacy, intellectual precision, the belief that my particular denomination or church is, as a friend of mine said years ago, 'in the center of all grids.' Those are distractions, even delusions.

The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Christianity (from the outside) 1.0

Looking back over my last post, I have to say: it is possible I was a Christian earlier, in my churched days. But I surely didn't understand the historical personality of Jesus. Whether I was brought into the faith for the first time in 2000 or brought back in, only God knows. I still believe the former.

But since that time, I have continued to question. Perhaps my doubt is just another symptom of my obsessive self. Perhaps I still fear drawing close to God on an emotional level. Perhaps I'm afraid, after my life experiences, of being let down one more time? The biggest let down of all: you know the universe, which you thought was managed by a loving creator who sent his Son to die for your flaws? well, guess what, it really is an absurd and accidental whirl of gas and matter. Like that.

But whether my need to examine my faith is a weakness or a strength, I continue to look at Christianity 'from the outside.' The way a non-believer, or better, an objective (I hope) observer would. I've been teaching college composition for ten years (my title, 'Professor,' is genuine but really just psychic candy; I teach writing, and the only research I do is for personal interest). Working in that environment, and encouraging students to write about their faiths, I've seen many different belief systems, honestly held and sometimes well defended. I've met Mormons with great 'testimonies,' and Buddhists, and Hindus, and Native Americans who still worship the old ways. I teach comparative myth also (an introduction, of course) and I've read sacred texts from many cultures. The Gita, the Torah (which while in the Christian bible, really isn't very Christian) the Book of Mormon, oh the list goes on. The Nummo. The Mayan Queztacoatl (however you spell it). The Raven myths of the northwest (and also their gorgeous art). I know enough to know that billions in the past and present will live and die without hearing the gospel as we know it. What of those people? And what makes my faith any better than any other?

Ah, deep questions young Jedi.

Yeah, no kidding. I realize Christianity isn't about having all the answers (and I think, was it Barth, I haven't read it, who says some faith will always be required; I believe it: look at those in the gospels who encountered Christ directly and still didn't believe). Christianity is about placing faith in Christ, in believing he was who he said he was, whether one even understands that completely. In knowing that he died for me and that he has prepared a place for me, whatever that means also.

But is that a reason to stop questioning? Again, it is more likely a weakness than a strength that I continue to step 'outside' my faith and look in; Jesus was most impressed by those who simply believed. But fair enough; let my weakness help those who also share it, perhaps. And really, what if I were Mormon? And didn't have the strength to look at that historical record, recent as it is? I don't want to be like that. Pascal's wager is weak; bring me faith and reason, if possible, even if it betrays my own frailty.

So back to the question, or questions. I think responding to just one in this blog will be enough. I'm doing this as much for myself as anyone else who might read (scooter, my audience at home of one) so here goes:

I like to believe that Christ, when he judges each individual, will judge correctly. That we'll each get weighed on what we knew and didn't know. And did and didn't do. I do believe that. The gospels teach it. We will be rewarded or punished accordingly for deeds done in the body. To me that means that next to faith, there really is love. If someone has not heard of Christ but follows his local religion piously, if she makes loving gestures towards her neighbor at certain times in her life, does that means the Holy Spirit is not at work? If a man prays to Krishna because that is the only name for God he knows, does God not hear that man? Does he write him off as a faithless infidel? There will be many, and the gospels also say so, who cry Lord, Lord, who will be shoved out of God's presence. Plenty will see God who have heard the Jesus story, but they will not be in the Lamb's book. What of those who have asked for divine help who have never heard of Jesus, or who, perhaps, have heard a distorted version?

I have to say there really is no answer to these questions available to humans. Oh, I know, some will whip out verses to show me why all these others are going to hell. But be careful. The Pharisees knew the scripture verbatim, better than anyone I've ever met in a Christian church, and they missed the Spirit behind the letter. Remember my 'born again verse:' you search the scriptures for salvation, but the scriptures point to me. (I really do need to look that up).

I could of course be wrong. It may be that only those who have heard the gospel story and responded positively with faith in Christ will be saved. I hope that's not the case. But only God knows. And even then, I have to believe Jesus will make a just judgement at the end of all things. C.S. Lewis, the great Christian drinker and smoker (sorry, I love the old boy) drew on Owen Barfield and others when he said that just because one religion is right doesn't mean all the others are wrong. Who are we to say so?

Now, does that mean I don't share the fact that the gospels contain things found in no other religion; that I believe Jesus to be a genuine god-man? No. I admit I haven't figured out much of this. I do tell my students I'm a Christian, usually later in the term, if they ask. But if they're Hindu, what else do I do? Tell them to keep looking spiritually? Yes. Maybe I'm weak on this because the student teacher relationship is special. I'm there to teach not convert. Even that I'm not sure about.

I do think, as Christians, we need to remember our own ignorance. I've seen people argue over sub and post lapsarianism; you know, when did God decree who will be saved and damned (for those who hold such a view). How insane. How in the hell am I to know what God did? And to use the Bible like a code book: well, this verse here, if read this way, seems to indicate that my view is correct. Yeah, okay.

The central gospel message is clear. Beyond that....well, I confess I hold a low view of scripture (ah, I can feel some listeners tuning out). Low meaning I think the Bible contains the Word of God, but was not verbally dictated by God; it contains human opinion and error and Jewish mythology. I'm no inerrantist; there are moral problems in proverbs and ot law and even the nt epistles. I'm a Christian, not a Paulian. And I don't hold this view, which I confess up front, out of a twisted love for heterodoxy. I hold it either because I am ignorant and stubborn and incorrect, which is quite possible, or as I like to believe, because the scriptues as we have them do not support divine authorship in every word and verse; verbal plenary inspiration that is called. Lewis, actually, helped me with this in Reflections on the Psalms. His chapter on Scripture there I have found to be the most intelligent I have seen. But I am drifting.

Maybe I didn't go too 'outside' on this post, but I will. I have lots of things I want to work out, and this blog seems as good a place as any. And hey, summer is coming, and what else will I do?

Peace to all,