Thursday, April 27, 2006

Three Things Thursday (Bonus Edition)

1) Spring is really truly here. It came very suddenly. The snow stopped; it was cold and rainy for a couple weeks, now bam, it's sixty six degrees outside and SUNNY. Only patches of snow are left in the shade. The yearly ritual begins as we find the junk that was buried all winter...oh, there's that bath mat, I was looking for the car-wash bucket, aren't those Mikey's pants?

The sun is so fresh and pure it is absolutely warm-wonderful. Like inhaling fresh air after a long illness indoors.

2) I had a few spare minutes this morning and found myself looking at the website of the big Long Beach church I attended years ago. I do this kind of silly thing from time to time. I saw pictures of three men I haven't seen in a decade or more, Rob, Blake, and I do believe Jack on bongos. I am so happy to see them with growing children and families. I knew Blake's wife when she was Estella's roomate; I knew Rob well and longer than that and Jack was a true heart to me in my last season at the church.

3) On churches: my own church, as I've said, is very old-school. It's old school because most people there are, well, old. A few years before I came a church plant was started farther down the hill and that church has grown into a much larger and family-centered congregation. My parish lost good people to the new church and this week we lost our deacon, a valuable and gifted man who had been in our parish for man years. Naturally, I have many strong feelings about this. As warden, I need to reflect on my own vision for the parish.

My job is much larger than I first thought. The vestry of the last couple of years has tried to market the parish better, reach out to younger people, but in a small town these things move slowly. Meanwhile, I've actually grown to like the old worship style. We have no band, no overheads, no multi-media, no high energy teaching. There's nothing wrong with these things, but it's not our style; also, we have no place to put a band or projectors and no one would know what to do with them anyway. There's an organ and a little choir; a somewhat shy pastor with very down to earth teaching.

I've often felt that the parish would have to embrace the revolution in worship style of the last twenty years at some point; many Episcopal churches have. When I first began attending I saw myself as an outside critic-consultant; boy did this place need help. I had been trained in ministries in college and after where numbers were the first thing anybody asked about; one of the key indicators of a healthy ministry. Polish and professional presentation was expected. I thought I had answers. I found once I got on vestry and saw what was actually going on in the parish things were much more complicated.

Now one of our parishoners, a man from the Bay area who recently moved, someone with deep business experience and a person I also consider a friend, has volunteered to consult with the rector and me on how to make our parish more successful. Of course I want to meet with him and am curious what he has to offer, but I have to say that my perspective has begun to change after five years in the woods.

For one, the culture in our small town really is its own. And the parish has survived up here for more than a century as it is. When I complain during vestry that if we don't get new people, most of the people we have now will only be attending service in twenty years from their niche in the columbarium, others note that the same thing was said thirty years before. It's long been an older church, and older people slowly join to replace those who are dying off. Our attendance numbers grew just a little last year, and we had a half dozen funerals.

For two, I have to ask myself, what truly defines a successful ministry? Perhaps this is different from place to place. Is it all numbers, budget, and buildings? Sure the parish needs to survive and that means people who show up and give. Enough do show up and amazingly, enough give. But more importantly, genuine worship does happen here in a quiet way. The sacrament is given each week to saints long past their physical prime whose shoes I am not fit to tie. Our EFM group is going strong; we're finally starting small group home studies (finally...it's taken me more than a year to get around to the kick off) and some older parish organizations, the altar guild and the daughters of the king and ones I don't even know about, continue. We support a local food kitchen with dollars and bodies. Do things have to adapt and change? Yes. Must we be open to new ideas? Yes. Still...we may never be big, we may never be cool, we may never have glitz.

Good friends of ours visited and didn't become regular partly because they had roots in another church in the community, but also because they 'really liked the band' at the other church. Okay. Also, the minister there is personally charismatic. Cool. I honestly have no negative feelings about their choice. Many people are drawn to these things. My little parish church, which I find amazed to be such a part of frankly, has taken time for me to appreciate. But I am developing a new point of view: is a ministry to 800 more successful than one to 80? Does a charismatic preacher or a great worship band, while there is nothing wrong with either of these things, really have a significant impact on individual spiritual growth? And above all, what should we focus on in our own little parish?

I've been thinking that while the vision for the parish must always be open, the focus of our work should be community building and above all depth; we must meet the physical and spiritual needs of those already here and those who walk in the door. Also, after we do all we can to make our presence known, and we are working on this, we may always be what we are now, a small, mostly older, odd little parish. Yes I want more families and kids my son's age around. But right now I don't see how that makes us any less relevant. We don't need to compete for the human market share in our community by looking good. Our job is to alleviate suffering and preach the gospel, even if we never look all that great doing it.

***

I didn't have time to write this up, but I needed it. I also realize I'm including details that would lead many, inside and outside my parish, to recognize where it is and even who I am (in the very unlikely even they should stumble on MHB). I don't care so much about the latter, but please use discretion with the former.

Peace and grace to all, and prayers are appreciated as the parish moves through this challenging time.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Lighthouse

The little sailing I've done (and I've loved every little minute of it) has been in the daytime. When fog has suddenly formed, only once a truly thick fog, my skipper broke out the GPS. We didn't look for a lightouse. I have seen, and in part used, flashing light buoys, but never a true lighthouse. Not sailing. And in literature, the lighthouse is a metaphor for so many things it can be trite.

Still, it's the image that is coming to mind now. Or that has been on my mind the last three or four days.

I wrote here a while ago about considering the diaconate or (even) the priesthood! Being an Episcopalian, I can keep my wife, which is a good thing (actually, I think an already married Catholic might also be able to keep his spouse). Fact is, for a while I felt strongly about the idea, then it went away, lost in a jumble of student papers and novels I'm reading for my Am. Lit. class. Like a lighthouse beam. The rotating kind. When it hits, it completely envelops; when it passes, it's quietly absent.

After an absence, the light is back.

I continue to pursue answers to my questions about my faith. Some of this happens in EFM, but since we're in Isaiah and that, frankly, is in places nearly as opaque as Joyce's Ulysses...at least the way most scholars read it now...revisionist layer on revisionist layer...ancient military history as provincial and obscure as something out of Age of Empires...these days I'm more engrossed by NT studies. Witherington's Quest book, Sanders' Historical Figure, stuff like that. Some things I buy, some I check out of Steph's University library, some I simply sit down in Border's and read for two hours. Hey, that's what those chairs are for! When I get the dough, I'll start Wright's three volume series on Jesus which I know is nearly without parallel (his Christian faith notwithstanding). I have read him in Border's, but the books are too long to get very far in before my poor wife finds me in some corner and shuffles over, exhausted, to ask me when we are going to leave!

I do know I want, or would very much life, a seminary education in New Testament. It takes three years for an M.Div. and I've already met with a Dean and talked to my rector about it (there are other degrees, the more focused Th.M., but it's tougher to work with such an academic degree). Of course, I need to meet with my own Dean, but I know I can take two years off without losing my position, probably swing three through one of several creative means, and when Mikey goes to college in four years (here's to hoping he does) S and I are talking seriously about moving to Berkeley, to CDSP, and letting me go back to being a poor graduate student. Come to think of it, being a poor theology graduate student sounds even more pitiful than a poor English graduate student.

After that (if that happens in four years) we'll see. I could come back here and keep my tenure and work in the church as I can. Or, I might seek ordination for vocation, but I'm ahead of myself on that.

As I said, the lighthouse beam hits, grips, then slips away. Each time it sweeps over me I believe I will get a clearer vision of what's in that light, of where I want to be. I have tenure now; who the heck throws away tenure? Several years of decision, and more than one decision, lie ahead and only time will tell if I stay a layperson, become a layperson with a degree (just for kicks), join the diaconate, or become a priest (either keeping my English job or starting a whole new career). It's an exciting time, really, an alive time. To be 41 and looking at options the way a 21 year old does. Life is so short.

As far as I can tell, our biology proceeds on this planet without divine intervention or purpose (though not always). Meaning I could die or become ill at any time. It's the way the human body works. All the more reason to consider this carefully and seriously.

Have to run. Whatever happens, you can bet my decision will unfold here. Blog is good.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

On Civility and James the Brother

(I sincerely apologize for the lack of hyperlinks: time. Most of these blogs are in my margin).

As BK sees this week at CADRE, one never knows who is reading one's blog. It's a good lesson for me to remember as I flail my way along. Civility counts. As does doing one's homework. I will say that I find Layman's tone towards Tabor (and the writing of Chris the Layman is what brought me to the CADRE site) professional and fair; of course, BK's apology is honest and more than sufficient and Tabor himself accepts it.

Still, this is one of the things that breaks my heart when I read some Christian bloggage. I think of J.P. Holding at Tekton and his occasional resort to polemic or opponent-caricature, which can weaken an otherwise interesting argument. Even N.T. Wright, who, if anyone in this world should be allowed, deserves the right to mock a weaker opponent in print, goes too far in What St. Paul Really Said when he argues Wilson is riding a broken hobby horse across open country, or some such thing, in his biography of Paul. Polemic is not the standard for modern discourse. Neither is Christian cheerleading. As I said, I hope I'm not referring back to this post some day to chastise myself, at least not too often. The beam in my own eye. If I do, I'll be among much better company, the names above attest.

That said, I have't read Tabor's book and don't have time until school is out (heck, I can't even get through BW3's four very thorough posts this week: could someone help him expand the margin width code to display those longer posts--then again, my blog has the same problem). I did read an excerpt, a chapter or so of TJD, that is posted online (I'm not even sure if legally?). And Tabor has select passages at his website.

One thing I see there, that James, the brother of Jesus, is the beloved disciple of John, I find quite astounding. Mostly because John's gospel, which claims to rely on the eyewitness tradition of the beloved disciple, who certainly must have been an influential part of the Johannine community, is so radically different from what we know of James from his letter (whether he wrote it, a disciple wrote it, or it's a collection of James' sermons and sayings compiled by a follower) and from Acts/Paul, where James, risen to power in the Jerusalem church because of his relationship to Jesus and his post-resurrection meeting with Jesus (and none of the gospels portray James as a believer before the resurrection to my knowledge; I think Tabor might disagree here). In Galatians, Peter (never depicted as all that constant in the gospels) 'used to eat with the Gentiles before certain men came from James; but when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.' Where do we see such concerns in John?

The tone of James' epistle is synoptic, it uses hyperbole and polemic, it's very Jewish-Christian, concerned with behavior, probably in response to Paul himself (who wasn't not concerned about it; Paul simply is willing to leave behind the rituals of the cultus to incorporate Gentiles). The completely different tone of John's gospel seems problematic if James is the beloved disciple.

But then, again, I haven't done my homework!

All I've been thinking is this: any attempt to reconstruct the historical Jesus needs to embody archaelogical, historical, and textual expertise. Crossan attempts this in his book on Paul. Perhaps Tabor does address this issue in his book. I'll have to read it and see!

Ironically, James' emaphasis on the tongue in his epistle is a solid reminder to all of us, myself foremost, who blog online. Perhaps now James would say 'the keyboard' as well as the tongue. Blog, for most, comes so close to an anonymous journal; it's easy to assume who my audience is...truthfully I don't know. With search engines available to find any keyword in any blog, any author I discuss here could conceivably end up here (God help me if Wright ever gets insomnia). This is one thing I admire about BW3's rapidly-becoming-famous series of posts on Tabor: he read the book, he did his homework, he presents himself civilly, professionally. May I imitate in the future.

Well, I doubt I'll never do that much homework!

Peace and God's love to all. I really do have to run.

Doing better on the personal level, also.


Thursday, April 13, 2006

Slouching Towards Bethelehem 1.0

It's been a strange week.

Since I was snowed part of last week I haven't been to the campus for ten whole days and my spring break isn't over until Monday next. Meaning two weeks at home! S is gone more than usual this semester and I'm trying to pick up my contribution on the housework end. I haven't felt motivated with my job or with, for some sad reason, my church work either. I've felt like vegging. I've been doing some of that, vegging, and I think it's not good for me emotionally. It feels like it will be: oh, just kick back and do nothing today, but it's leading to some anxiety and a bit of depression. Mostly, anxiety.

I've been doing more exposure work for my primary obsession (this means focusing on the object of the obsession while breathing and relaxing and, frankly, tolerating). Every time I do this it's powerful. I did this consistently for a few months two years ago and then took a 'break.' I was very impressed with how much it helped. I knew I needed to go back in and do more; I wasn't done. When Lent began this year I started again and though it was very, very hard the first time, unbelievably hard, it got easier quickly. Now I'm doing about one session a week. Once again, it's making a difference.

What I've found in its wake, though, is disturbing. OCD is all about shifting an internal state to an external object. Anxiety really is the key emotional state OCD attempts to manage/control (while creating lots of its own anxiety in its destructive process) but also anger, fear, insecurity, grief and pain, the entire spectrum of negative feeling. In my case at least, they all get swallowed up by obsession, as do, incidentally, positive feelings. OCD, for me, is like a huge control-filter that modulates feeling. Pretty shitty.

Now that I'm getting a little head clarity over my obsession (and I don't share its content here) I'm finding the tension which lies below it. Anxiety, really. The hard feelings and fears and rigid tensions which lie below the thought disorder are surfacing in its absence. Also, older obsessions are cropping up. As I read in one book about OCD: the disease has a mind of its own and fights for its survival.

This is very discouraging. I've tried the SSRI's and had a bad reaction to the entire class. Xanax, frankly, works great but deadens the entire soul and I haven't taken it for this in almost twenty years. No chemical cure works for me at this time. I am still in therapy, and I'm in the odd place of feeling like on the one hand I'm identifying core needs (self nurture, for one; I'm getting a pedicure today no matter what; guys, if you laugh, you haven't tried it). On the other hand I'm slipping back a bit, away from engaging my life and into a deeper awareness of the plain fact that I will have to work on relaxation my entire life.

That's not a bad thing. Breathing, meditation, spirituality, prayer, exercise, nurture, whisky (well, take that last one off) these things all help and they're good things. Blogging also helps, and that's why I'm here now. I had a pretty strong anxiety attack yesterday, something I don't normally experience, and while I'm better this morning I know writing is part of my cure.

Breaks are often harder because I have no structure, and now that S and I don't share spring breaks, instead of being in so. cal. visiting family, or like last year, doing the huge family-drive-vacation through Sedona, Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Las Vegas, a trip I truly enjoyed (except for Vegas, what a cheez whiz town) I'm sitting here by myself (my son is in Santa Cruz with a friend) and writing to you all. My ear is ringing and I can't see my doctor until tomorrow (he'll give me rhinocort and it will clear up in a couple weeks). S won't be home until 10 tonight. I do pick up Mikey at 7:00 and tonight is Maundy Thursday and I intend to go (Tenebrae, my first, was very moving Tues. night).

And the last thing in my share: being with Mikey is different. He's still a great kid, but he's almost 14 and our male souls clash as he jostles for independence. I think, instead of being the coolest stepdad that he looked up to and could do no wrong, it's like he now sees me as another junior-higher who is, most certainly, not cool. On my end, I'm working on not being overly rigid. I tend to react to his need for space and expansion with boundaries; this is a good thing, but it can be overdone. Rigidity is one of my personality issues.

Thanks for letting me share. I needed it.

(This first part was written last week and, for the record, I'm doing better on most points the last few days).

***

For some reason or reasons I want to tell my religious autobiography in brief. It's amazing to me how many Christian groups I've been a part of since childhood: foursquare pentecostal and assemblies of God, campus crusade and evangelical baptist, five point 'calvinist', more baptist, disillusioned and stranded with unanswered questions (7 years out of the church), reluctant searcher, (re)converted Episcopalian, or rather, now, a Christian who enjoys the Episcopal church and whose current under-construction theology would have to be called mainstream liberal. That's a lot of various world-views.


My parents met through Christian friends in the early 60's. They both hated their families even if my father wasn't openly angry. My mother eloped with my father (as did all four of her sisters) to escape her stepfather, and my father's parents were dead: his dad, my grandtather, was a man born in 1884 who lived a violent, wild-west life and who completed the cycle of violence by shooting himself in the head on or near the anniversary of his wife's death; this was not long before my dad met my mother. My mother had been raised in church, one of them a sierra foothill church in fact, not far at all from the parish I now attend. They were old-time pentecostal holiness: to me this means superstition, very bad theology, and perfectionism.

My grandmother, who really did love me and nurtured me more than both my parents put together, told me as a very little boy that if I died during my sleep with an unconfessed sin my soul was going straight to hell; or, if the rapture came and I had some unconfessed sin, I'd be left behind without my family to be tortured by the anti-christ and the beast. I may have said it before on this blog, but I kept my aunt carole's phone number where I could find it when I was six and seven just in case everyone else got raptured: she cussed and smoked and I figured she'd get left too and I could take my baby brother and live with her. When I was a budding teenager and my mother told me with her very special intensely 'don't you ever, ever get a girl pregnant' she told me that when a girl got pregnant before marriage in the mountain towns and 'had to get married' they dressed her all in black and hustled her off the to the justice in another county and then carted her away to live with distant relatives, to begin her new life as a shame-bride.

My father was raised on and around farms in rural Washington state. I don't actually know what kind of churches he attended, but I know they went. His father, at least, quoted that glorious verse from proverbs (actually there's a couple which apply I believe) 'spare the rod and spoil the child,' while he beat the hell out of my dad.

So when my parents got together, they both had religion.

My mother, in fact, wanted to go to bible college and be a missionary. My dad agreed with whatever she said and after knowing each other just a few months (weeks?) they eloped to Reno and were married in the same chapel as my mom's younger sister. I used to have the post card they sent home. I found it once at my grandmother's and took it. I don't know where it is now. I know my mother never went back to bible school and was never a missionary. She did data entry all her life.

My parents, or my mother at least, was unhappy with my father before they ever got to Reno, but they got married and stayed married for 14 years in an essentially sexless union (I say essentially becaue they did have me). During most of that time we went to church. Three times a week. Though in the last few years my mother was home she quit going with my father, I still went.

As a very little boy, first and second grade, I took to it. I got to wear beautiful clothes, and as this was a true pentecostal church it was mostly singing, raised-hands praising and tongues-talking, and then more singing and some praising. I realized when I raised my hands and prayed out loud like a grown up, and I was verbally quick as a boy, that I got lots of attention. I actually remember a little white three piece suit and I must have looked just like a TBN evangelist (we watched that channel often later) up there in front, hands raised, eyes closed, fervently praying out loud. Did I know God? How could I at that age? Did I know Jesus loved me? I did not. I may have been told that in a Sunday school song or two, but it was mixed in with all the rest and the rest was much more heavy. I thought God was most likely to fry me dead for making a mistake as anything else.

My mother also taught Sunday school. This was in the days of the green felt board lesson where one could trot to the bible book store and get an entire graphic representation of any parable or bible story one wanted (well, the famous ones; most of the military history would have to be out). When I was seven or eight I remember my mom doing a lesson placed in current times where a little boy found four tracks. Four. Four. Four. That number suddenly intrigued me. I was home alone as I usually was, well, one parent asleep and one at work, and I felt like four was a good number, but I should add one more to make it extra clean and good (this was a Sunday school story, and at that time religion made me feel both dirty and then anxiously clean). That became five, a prime number, and I began counting. I trace my first OCD symptoms to that afternoon. The balance of the primes…two on each side and one in the middle to make it all even. I was anxious, alone, terrified and guilty. It helped.

I remember mommy (I called her this until she left when I was fourteen years old) also did puppet shows for Sunday school. I began writing little skits and also performing a monkey puppet I modeled after chim-chim in speed racer. Again, I was a hit. She'd go behind the curtain, I'd get up from the rest of the kids and follow her (how they all stared in honor and amazement); then my monkey would pop up and do a very funny monkey laugh and, I imagine, talk about Jesus. I don't actually remember the content. I knew my mother was very happy to have me helping her. It was about the only thing she noticed and was a brief respite from talking about what a pathetic weakling my father was.

My father was laying low in these days. Sure we all went to church. He sat there and muttered to himself, spaced, nervous, not integrated socially though I still remember his working-class suits and ties (everyone dressed up at these churches). Years later he also taught Sunday school after my mom quit going and we were at another foursquare church in another town. Then he had a nautical theme, wore a Captain's hat, had starfish and netting on the walls. We sang the Marine Corps anthem every week off the big song cards, along with songs like "I wish we'd all been ready" (more rapture love for the children). I will say that I saw my father get very affected by one or two of the sadder children's stories, those about a boy who died and went to heaven, and I think even once I saw him reach out with great feeling to a boy in the group though I don't remember. I think a boy I barely knew in the group died and I saw him show deep feeling. Still, I mention these as atypitcal. My dad can't stand criticism. I think working with the kid was a big responsibility for him, detached as he was.

I became gradually resistant to religion when I hit puberty. My mommy had quit going and soon after left her family, my brother and I, and divorced my father, though this story is not that story. My dad was still doing the nautical kids'-church thing but the main services were very, very long, three times a week, and the theolology was still bad. I spoke in tongues at a sixth grade retreat and was baptized in water soon after. I was ten. Do I believe my tongues experience was genuine? Depends on the meaning of genuine. Did it bring me closer to God? The baptism might have. I was looking for a display of God's reality. I don't think I had any idea what God was about. When we came back from the camp those of us who spoke in tongues had a special meeting with the minister and his wife and he told us a great thing had happened; also, and this was the main point of the meeting, the pastor told us that if we later denied the reality of what happened or the reality of the 'gifts of the spirit' we would commit the unforgiveable sin and would go to hell without recourse. He told us a few sad examples of people he knew who had done just that.

As I began above, puberty came and with it I lost interest in sitting in church for hours a week bored out of my head, drawing the names of hard rock bands on index cards or staring at the rock designs on the church walls. There was a youth group for older kids but the guy who ran it was so convinced I was a genius who walked on water he couldn't hear me when I told him I was trying drugs, had drank a bunch of cough syrup (I didn't know cough syrup was no longer narcotic) to get a buzz. I told him that and he just looked at me like I was kidding. I wasn't getting help there either.

And so I quit all church. From around fourteen until college. I got a girlfriend just before I turned 15 and she was Catholic and I went with her to mass once or twice. I probably still considered myself a Christian, but I had no concern for anything spiritual, for God, or any church in any form. My little Catholic girl kept going to church all the years we dated I believe, but I didn't go with her.

Then came college.

I went to a city college and met a very insecure girl three years older than me. When S, my three year Catholic girlfriend, broke up with me because our teacher was hitting on her hard and heavy (he was 38) I hooked up immediately with J, the city college girl. I was impressed she had so many shoes, fashionable shoes all lined up on her closet floor. It was a mistake to not get back with S, but again, this isn't that story. J went to a Baptist church and I started going with her. Though I was 18, I had never heard of eternal security. I couldn't believe the concept. When I told my mom and aunt I was going to a Baptist church they both mockingly said, 'Oh, Baptist, once saved always saved.' It took a while for the concept to sink in.

Sadder than this, at the time, I believe I actually thought church was all about preppie clothes. I sure couldn't go back to the weight of the religion I knew from childhood. Perhaps clothes was an improvement. My girlfriend J took great solace in her clothes; she dressed the height of preppy in 1983, and poor as I was I followed suit. Clothes. I thought religion was about clothes. This strikes me as almost funny. I worked at a fabric store and raw-cut my own tartan wool scarves (and wore them without the edges sewn); I had a black corduroy blazer J got me that I wore to church, a few cheap sweaters, the obligatory 501's and of course, mall-bought penny loafers with pennies and vaseline for shine.

There was a bright side to preppie: I remember J wearing bow ties and angora sweaters and new blue jeans on our long parking dates. Well, at least we had that going for us. Not for the first or last time, I handled beauty I could not understand.

I was 'discipled' by some other insecure preppy college guy. I don't even remember who. I go to the part in the booklet about making a decision for Jesus and I planned it all out in my head to make it dramatic (I knew I wasn't sure who Jesus was): I'd ride my bike to the beach, and when I left I wouldn't know who Jesus was and when I returned I'd be a Christian…like C.S. Lewis on the top of the bus (I was a reader as a teenager). I went for that bike ride. Did I commit my life to Christ? Looking back, no; I didn't know who Christ was. I thought he was about dressing nice and being 'clean' and being good and fitting in. The stark Galilean of the gospels I did not know.

J encouraged me, as I was transferring to State, to pledge a Christian fraternity (and if my mother hadn't pushed me, didn't actually go to the college, stand in line and enroll me and get me financial aid, I would never have had the courage to go) . And when I was in line at State to register I was approached by a Campus Crusade guy. He seemed cool. We met later and I said, 'God has done so much for me I'm willing to do anything for him.' I was unaware of anything God had done for me, but I sounded good. I began a full-tilt career with Crusade, pledged the Christian fraternity, promptly met Estella and in awe of her beauty, money, and cold physical inaccessibility broke up with poor J in a very bad way (I told her I'd call her in a couple weeks…weeks became years). Again, that's another story. But now I believed I was on a true spiritual path: in Crusade, in a Christian fraternity; maybe I was on a path. I prayed alone from time to time, though usually when desperate. I went to Palm Springs with Crusade and led people to Christ (though, frankly, a good part of me wanted to be partying with the drunk and half-naked college girls). I began emceeing the weekly Crusade meeting. Before I dropped out of college I was President. I believed God existed. The Bible was God's word. I learned how to proof-text. Above all, no messy sex play to make me feel even more of the crushing guilt and fear. All clean.

This lasted less than two years before my anxiety/ocd came back with such crushing force that I dropped out of college. What set me off? Estella was going on a summer project to Japan and I couldn’t be without her. Even months ahead, when I found out she was going the next year, I lost it completely. I was out of Crusade, out of school, barely hanging on at my mother's house and not able to work. Again, another story. But when xanax got my head together a bit I needed a job and I knew a guy from the fraternity who knew the owner of a Christian book store. I took the bus down there (at 21, I had no running car) and interviewed. I was hired. The store was like a seminary library in some sense; certainly not your typical Christian bookstore. And the guys who worked there, all young, were theology-boys one and all. They were also reformed. Reformed. I had little or no idea what this meant, but I was soon to learn.

***

This is enough for one sitting. I'm writing sparsely, quickly, and with little attention to diction or style. So be it. Also, on rereading this I know I can't say to what degree my college experiences were or were not genuine. There were good people in Crusade, for example, but I was hurting so deeply, and I was unaware of it; the fact is I wasn't able to be genuine or have much genuine relationship of any kind. And always, I was running, running from the religion of my childhood.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Academy

Okay, so the Star Trek metaphor in the margin is a little odd, but I've moved a couple friends from "The Next Generation" into "The Original Series" and created a new category called "The Academy." Someday, I'll laugh at this.

The fact is my blog began as a way for Scott and I to stay in touch and also a way for me to sort out doubts with my faith. Then, quickly, friends were added and it became a support center. Some of those have lost interest in blogging, or, like me, blog less frequently. I still feel like the support structure is here if I need it, and like many of us perhaps, I'm less isolated than I was a year ago.

I've always struggled with doubt, and some Christian circles I'd hung in over the years didn't help; I saw party line apologetics and ridiculous arguments for everything from inerrancy to prelapsarianism. Then I stumbled into sites like edgeoffaith and found myself ecountering questions beyond my very limited ability to respond.

Now I'm not saying I now have all the answers, but I'm finding people like BW3 and Sandalstraps who are providing the other side of the critical coin: damn smart Christians who are deeply educated and actually take the time to share their insights online. I am very grateful. In fact, I'd say it's answer to prayer. I said a few weeks ago I wanted to get edumacated about my faith. Boy is that road every opening. I only wish I had more time.

Gotta run. Cleaning and cooking and Mikey is talking to me.

Love to all.


Friday, April 07, 2006

Three Things Thursday (late edition)

1) Napster continues to rock. Not the old potentially illegal version, but the new version. I pay ten bucks a month and can listen to almost any music I want as I work. This week I discovered Hank Williams (the first), the new Enya album, some great hymns, more music than I can remember. Right now giving Buckcherry a spin.

2) Yesterday I unloaded and stacked a quarter cord of split hardwood by myself. That's more than it sounds like and my back is a bit sore, but at least I got some exercise as I sit here without rain or snow and wait for the rain and maybe snow that's supposed to come tonight. Where is spring? Melt, snow, melt. My yard is still utterly buried; I can't even see our four foot retaining wall; it's all a slope.

3) As I learn what it really means to be senior warden in a 'shared ministry' parish, the job is getting much harder. I really didn't know what I was doing (and wasn't doing) last year, but while I've just begun my second year 'on the job' I'm seeing how challenging it really is to step into a new denomination, nearly a new faith, and attempt to run a parish more than a century old (with some parishoners who've been here about half the length of the building). My priest is, for me, frustratingly hands off. Sure he works hard, but he really expects the people in the parish to run the parish, to build it, to craft its vision if it has one. He does the priestly things, we do the rest. This is shared ministry. I'm used to the typical overworked evangelical pastor with a cadre of overworked staff who put on amazing programs every week. My church is 100 percent old school, and it's different. As I said, the job is harder, bigger, than I thought, and I feel very, very inadequate. Very insecure. Also overworked considering how much else is going on in my life. I've been able to talk with two wonderful people who have been around the parish for a long time lately and they've been most supportive. Otherwise I'd be gnawing on the chair leg right now, nay, even slinking like the lady in "yellow wall paper." Or almost.

Love to all

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Dung Beetle Theology 1.0

I'm working on a longer post about my EFM (Education for Ministry) group and our discussions regarding the OT; I want to get an early start by outlining some ideas here (remember my other blog title: 'everything's a draft'). The title of this post, Dung Beetle Theology, is taken from a phrase B uses that has been retooled by D and come out of our group discussions. DBT is, in part, a way to look at the OT scripture; it means that we humans, including the writers and editors or the OT, understood the living God about as well as the dung beetle understands us. This does not preclude true religious experience or revelation; my group is working through those ideas on several levels. But it means that the OT as we have it is one people's religious record, really the record of a rather small number of people who acted as authors, editors, and sources, and that the OT is imperfect and deeply human, the reflections of dung beetles on the transcendent Reality.

Also, most of us feel the idea of God developed over time. Not God, but ideas about God. You can see this in what is preserved in the OT. After chapters and chapters on proper sacrificial method we begin to see voices elevating mercy, compassion, concern for the poor over sacrifice. True, the point could be made that the sacrifice was empty ritual for those without some kind of faith, and actually, I'd agree.

I think D put it best: the covenant was always love. I believe it. Many theologians look for covenants, the Noahic, the Abrahamic, the Mosaic. Of the three, it is only in Abraham that faith seems central. None, however, are about loving one's fellow human, one of the two things Christ says the entire OT depends upon; one thing that was central to his teaching. Did God really make these covenants with humans? Maybe, though I have real doubts about Noah. Did God really give the Israelites their extensive sacrificial system? I doubt it, frankly, though God certainly used it as the model for Christ. So while any religious gesture may be honored by God (this really is up to him) I believe the sacrificial system of the Jews never provided atonement or salvation for those who kept it.

Love was always the external expression of the true covenant; faith its internal expression (in general terms). The dung beetles got a little of that in the OT. Mostly, Israel didn't get it. For me, that includes some of the OT authors.

This idea comes in part from Wright's use of Sanders; Judaism in the first century was not merely a cold legal code; there was true spirituality even then. But the 23rd Psalm is evidence of ancient true spirituality, as are many of the prophets and some of the Genesis mythology. Jesus has the amazing ability to sift through the OT to enhance the essentials, like loving my neighbor. I realize what we have in the gospels on his attitude towards the OT is very complex, and I'm only beginning to address it, but surely, there is a fresh ethical breath in Christ' understanding of the OT. Moses' biased divorce law gets tossed out; love's centrality is elevated; the ethical code of the law is not denigrated, but shown to be impossible (and, I think, imperfect).

The covenant was always love your neighbor.

Then why did Jesus die? I don't actually know for sure, but surely he came in part to show us how we weren't getting it right. And, I think, as penalty for the sins of those who would trust him. Yet the atonement has not always been a clear idea in church theology, and I don't believe I have to understand it to place faith in Christ for my own sins and shortcomings, in light of my own certain death. Christ can be the Way even if I'm not sure why or how the Way works. For me the question is not so much how but Who? Meaning that without the advent there would, I can only guess, be either no religion on this earth or only very human and imperfect religion. There would be no way to come to the Father, as Christ himself says. That's enough for me.

But all this about the 613 laws in the Tanakh being God's laws, direct from him and the sacrificial system being sufficient for the Israelites at that time...I don't think so; (read Numbers 5: 11-31 for just one passage which I find irreconcilable with Christ's nature).

Many ancient people sacrificed. I'm not saying YHWH didn't reveal himself in some way to some of the ancient Israelites, leaders and the lowest classes, didn't somehow impress the need for a behavioral code from early on (love is about proper action); But the way the OT was explained to me as a kid and later as an evangelical: this is God's direct word for this particular people at this particular time...I believe this is not true in totality. Dung beetles wrote the thing and dung beetles built the religious cultus of ancient Judaism. The OT is very, very human, a construct from a particular time and place, or a plural of these.

And I'm very glad to begin seeing things this way. Could I be wrong? Yes. I'm not saying judgment isn't real. Or that God has to be anything but what he is. I'm going by what we have about Jesus, who claimed to be the literal historic fulfillment of all the grasping and reaching of the OT tribes.

More on all this later. My hope is this helps or challenges (the few who read!) not builds anxiety or dissension.

***

I just went back and read this and it seems awfully weak and undeveloped, but I think I'll leave it up as it is. Like I said, it's mostly me kicking around ideas.

***

We just got pounded again with another snowstorm. Yikes. The birds are chirping and the sun is out today but another storm is on its way tomorrow. Hopefully the snow level will be mostly above us this time. I'm getting worn out. I can't believe how much water, mostly in the form of feet of snow, is around our house. I'm looking forward to the long, cool, gorgeous days of spring when things dry out a bit.

Gotta run. Peace and love to all