Hoosiers: An American Classic for a Reason

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There is much to love for everyone in the triumphant American classic, Hoosiers.   It contains elements of many things that are on the public mind these days like diversity, the meaning of work, prejudice, and what it means to “believe in yourself.”  There’s a lot of redemption, fortitude, and humble pride in this sports biopic that takes place in rural Indiana in 1951.  There’s refreshing honesty on what it takes to be a strong person in America and life itself.

Gene Hackman’s character Norman Dale is the new coach of boys’ basketball at the local high school. We gather from learning about him, that he’s  also a teacher, divorced, and had had some recent, possibly self-induced, tough circumstances.  His fresh start is met by the fresh mouthed Myra, a fellow teacher played by Barbara Hershey.  She comes off as a shrew from her first sentence.  They immediately clash which means as most movie clichés go, they eventually get involved.

Another cliché we encounter is the “small town people are dumb” idea, where at first the townspeople are portrayed as staid yet close minded, and wholesome in a way that might offend some city folks. This cliché does eventually lessen and we see something currently lacking in today’s Hollywood culture; diversity of thought.  A person freshly graduated from a liberal arts degree program may ignore a film like this at their peril.  Indeed most of the characters in this film are young white males who are unapologetically not facing an existential crisis about their “privilege.”

What we see depicted in the film instead is a demonstration of good old fashioned individuality combined with willfully choosing team work and hard work. Initially Hackman’s Coach is encountered by yet another unfriendly staff member in the school who attempts to undermine his authority.  Coach Dale gives the guy the what for and some whiney boys leave the team in protest.

Like other sports films, there are members of the basketball team who are happy to stay and try to work with the new coach. This includes a short player who in spite of teasing, has courage enough to play a game typically dominated by tall people. This underdog character, as well as the coach’s later dealings with townspeople, exhibit an ability to keep from being overtly judgmental towards one’s self or others.  They show it’s not necessary to be like other people or take them down either.

There is this lovely wide shot scene where Coach Dale visits the would-be star basketball player who is skipping class to avoid being persuaded to rejoin the team. We learn later why the boy is off the team, but it turns out the coach isn’t there for persuasion.  Amongst the open fields at the homemade Podunk basketball hoop, Hackman abruptly says to the kid “I don’t care if you play on the team or not” turns, and walks away.  The coach is in essence saying “this is bigger than you so get over yourself.”

This scene highlights the difference between believing in or trusting your innate morality vs. thinking you have to be a God or part of some deity regardless of how vague, in order to be worthy. Hackman’s character is there to do a job.  A job he probably would rather not do, but is doing regardless of whether he, his coworkers or his potential team members like it.  This is the essence of the American ethic and a true citizen of the West.  Someone who no matter how much flack they get stays true to working hard and believing in their sense of moral intrepidity.

This leads us to Dennis Hopper’s character of the town drunkard who happens to be the father to one of the ballplayers. Hopper it turns out is a basketball savant who has a preacher like accuracy of understanding the game.  He’s so accurate, the coach asks Hopper to be assistant coach.  Hopper though struggles greatly under the weight of what is essentially his own weakness.  After improving then failing a couple times he finally goes to a hospital to dry out.  The longer he put off his need to change, the harder it was to do so.  His courage finally came, but at a self-inflicted steeper price.

All people go through such a personal transformation, but many of us, don’t feel a need to talk about it all the time after it happens. Later in the film Hershey’s character finally warms up to the coach, and she asks him about a violent episode he experienced when he hit a player as a coach years prior.  He explains without self-pity or exaggerated responsibility that he’s still trying to understand what exactly came over him.  I think we’ve all been there.  Some psychoanalyze such an event and build a character around it, while others pick up and eventually, move on.

Eventually the wayward star player joins the team while confidence in the coach grows after he displays humility yet forgoes apologizing after losing some games. The star saves the coach’s job and the coach returns the favor by doing it.  Both the boy and the coach refused to cower to popular opinion, and in doing so they were able to work together and likely trust each other in a way that would have been grossly changed if group-think had been adhered to.

Right before the Regional Finals the coach makes a speech saying:

“Forget about the crowds, the size of the school, their fancy uniforms, and remember what got you here. Focus on the fundamentals that we’ve gone over time and time again.  Most important, don’t get caught up thinking about winning or losing this game.  If you put your effort and your concentration into playing to your potential, to be the best that you can; I don’t care what the scoreboard says at the end of the game, in my book we’re gonna be winners.”

Do your best. Get over yourself.  Trust in the inner mechanism we have in our souls to not go too far for too long.  Work hard, quit complaining, think for yourself, don’t give up, and don’t be a jerk.  Movies like this display the kind of pioneering ethic this country was founded on.  Regular folks, also known as the dreaded bourgeoisie, don’t need to let so-called experts tell them how to think.  They utilize common knowledge that works per given situation but they don’t feel forced to adhere to such knowledge when the time is not right.  The coach at one point pretended to be a jerk to help the drunken dad, and at another time his actual jerkiness led to ruin.  Free choice isn’t always fun or easy.

Doing our best, as Hoosiers depicts, is only for the adventurous. Towards the end of the movie, a boy gets hurt and Hackman’s character eventually decides to pull him out of the game.  Coach Dale was free to keep the boy in, which was familiar and easier for a game win.  Taking the injured player out was more challenging but better for the player and the coaches moral conscious.  At that moment, the coach had to choose the unstoppable unknown and risk the game, his reputation, and the players shame.  No one was going to give him a better answer than the one in his own moral center.  Being a winner is about doing one’s best in the midst of fear, rather than robbing fear of its rightful place in our hearts.  Who needs to watch Halloween part XVII.  Just listen to your moral compass to have the adventure of a lifetime!

I won’t tell you who won at the finals or what happened to the coach. Instead I’ll tell you what happened to the most marginalized character in the film, the smallest player.  Amongst boos from the crowds our underdog did his best.  He didn’t get a moment of earthly glory because someone else made things easier for him.  He retained his confidence by daring to make his best effort.  That best effort or moment when we focus all of what we are into that second, minute, hour, or lifetime, and let ourselves live our choices, is when we are free.  Sometimes it means we win the game, other times it means we keep our souls for another day or moment.  From small towns to big cities, Hoosiers is a perfect reminder to embrace tenacity, exemplify freedom, and endure fear.  It’s never too late to simply, humbly, freely, do our best.

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Life After the 12 Steps

You know I used to be a power blogger and now I have to do this weird thing where I think for a while, sometimes a month or 2 before posting something.  Is this some sign of maturity?  A sign of truly embracing personal autonomy?  Or maybe I just don’t have as much to say to random people anymore.  Each week isn’t spent marinating in listening to other peoples random thoughts and musings for hours.  Every week I generally keep my opinions about life, love, booze, politics, TV shows, or the state of the world to myself with the exception of the spouse, selected family members, and my closest friends.  And even then I have been saying a lot more “oh really” or “I don’t know” or “I don’t feel like talking about that.”  Mainly though I just don’t say much at all.  And honestly…it’s awesome!

Read this recently on the International Cultic Studies website:

Insight into this relationship may be gained from a comparison with the sponsorship of a new recruit by an established member of Alcoholics Anonymous, the charismatic-like group founded by Bill W.[45] Alcoholics Anonymous does not promote sexual relations between its members, but its system of sponsors acts to instruct the recruit in the messages and rituals of the group and reinforces dependency upon it. The sponsor, someone who struggles against alcoholism and, with the group’s support, remains sober, instructs the recruit in its practices and beliefs. In return, the sponsor’s own commitment to sobriety and the group is confirmed by the recruit’s repeated narrative of personal degradation while under the influence of alcohol and by the redemption and hope derived from joining the group. Over time, the recruit adopts its message and becomes dependent upon the group which, for its part, is reluctant to let the recruit leave.

Message adoption.  System of sponsors.  Instructs recruit in practices and beliefs.  Repeated narrative of personal degradation.  Redemption.  Hope.  Charismatic-like group.  Becomes dependent. Reluctant to leave.

Well no wonder I feel a bit more quiet these days.  After leaving a nearly 23 year long relationship with 12 step “Recovery” which is nothing more than a modern day cult (or cults) at long last I feel free in every way a person could be.  Some days are still challenging and it feels like my mind and my lifestyle are still deprograming but every single day I feel truly grateful and not just the type of gratitude one has when they’re made to feel guilty by another group member for being “selfish, self centered, and discontent.”

At this point I haven’t decided how in depth I wish to write on this blog or in another format on my time in AA and Al-Anon.  Over half my life is a long time to champion the 12 step cause; and having clear, unspoiled, truly sober understanding of this part of my life has been needed so I don’t come off around it as resentful, sick, or, quite frankly, alcoholic.  Because when people tell the truth about why they left 12 steps or why it didn’t work for them, or why they disagree with it, a slew of pronouncements about the character of the teller befall them, usually behind their backs.  Sometimes there are public pronouncements but only if the AMA has signed off on the same prescribed “medical” theory.

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What I can say now with all clear-headedness is that after 23 years in 12 steps I never felt truly comfortable in it.  There was only a brief time of a few months, where I actually once in a while enjoyed a meeting.  It was after I got sick with chronic illness and I became bed bound for a year.  During that year meetings once a week was my only social life for a time.

Other than that meetings were generally something I endured because I thought I might die if I didn’t go to them.  That death would come if I didn’t get a sponsor, become a sponsor, work the 12 steps, and go to LOTS and LOTS of meetings.  Jails, institutions or DEATH.  If I didn’t do “A” I’d get “B”.  Talk about black and white thinking!

Being 18 years old when I first came into the program (upon reflection I realized one day how sinister that sounds…”The Program”) it seemed like a good philosophy to do some certain things so I could basically become a replica of a nice, normal, happy person.  That I could have a good life if I just did X and then shared X with everyone at the place where we often do X.  It was even good to share about X with others outside of meetings because after all everyone wants to be a replica of someone nice, happy, and normal.  Why wouldn’t a teen ascribe to such a philosophy?  Especially if already exposed to the doctrine of Self-Esteem (A.K.A the Pre and Post-Millennial’s Guide to Global Domination via New Age Oneness inspired by Mystery Babylon or the “If You Don’t Agree That All is God and You Are God Then You’ll Be Eliminated” Movement.)

It took learning about the real origins of AA and it’s predecessor The Oxford Group, along with studying AA’s own texts along with the texts of other 12 step groups, that got me questioning.  Sadly most folks have been duped into believing AA started out as a noble Christian fellowship that embraced values of autonomy, spirituality, and willful corporate poverty.  It was on closer inspection- from drug fiend Aldous Huxley’s writing for the Grapevine, to Sister Francis’ Joy Farm that the Wilson’s frequented, to the Swedenborgian apostate influence, to devotee and writer Ernest Kurtz noting “that Bill at times conflated spiritualism with spirituality, sometimes using the terms interchangeably”- that something began to seem fishy.

Having read and reread AA and Al-Anon literature I thought I knew what it really said.  But did I?

Speaking at a dinner given by John D. Rockefeller Jr. to introduce Alcoholics Anonymous to some of his friends, Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick remarked:

I think that psychologically speaking there is a point of advantage in the approach that is being made in this movement that cannot be duplicated.  I suspect that if it is wisely handled-and it seems to be in wise and prudent hands-there are doors of opportunity ahead of this project that may surpass our capacities to imagine.” p. 574

Mr. Emerson as you may not know was a key player in happily attempting to destroy “fundamentalist Christianity” and Mr. J. Rockefeller (the same man that held that dinner for AA) financially helped Fosdick build a church and distribute 13,000 pamphlets of his sermon “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?”

Of course that’s one tiny example of a “say whaaat?” moment where I wondered just who the influential people were in early AA and what they stood for and how much such philosophies may have made it into the AA Big Book and other texts from various 12 step societies.  After looking into this aspect for a couple years I came to realize many of the allusions made in 12 step literature were strikingly against my own moral and religious convictions.

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Then came the day I just finally stopped going.  It wasn’t an actual decision like “starting NOW I’m no longer a member.”  At some point before Christmas last year I just knew I couldn’t volunteer for the holiday phone lines because I could no longer proselytize the 12 step rhetoric to someone who may be vulnerable to what I saw as something potentially unhelpful.  Or at least something I knew I no longer believed in and was possibly dangerous for some if not all people, especially ones who may not even be alcoholic.

Then I looked into the origins of the modern day Alcoholism-as-disease movement including E. M. Jellinek’s (a man who never even graduated from college yet is referred to even now as a doctor) study of alcoholics and his theory adoption by Rockefeller funded research center(s) headed by AA luminaries.

One day I was ready of test AA’s theory about my own supposed disease.   After some thought it occurred to me that if I wanted… I could actually try a drink.  There was no invisible death threat anymore and if I did drink and become what all those years I was told I was (otherwise I wouldn’t have been in such rooms in the 1st place right?) then they were right and that was that.  So a few weeks later I told my spouse I may want to try a drink some day.  Weeks later I was ready and as we left the house for dinner I said “I’d like to try a little bit of beer.”  That night I had 2oz of a sour beer that had ginger and lime.  It was delicious and though I thought I hated the taste of beer, I knew I liked the taste of this.  So we split one more 2oz taster of beer.  And that was that.  No obsession, no drunken debauchery, and almost no fanfare.

Slowly over a period of almost 8 months I’ve worked my way up to having…a beer or glass of wine a few times a week.  Last week I had my 1st margarita ever (delicious) and a few weeks ago I actually celebrated Vodka day (thanks to a client telling me that day was Vodka day) with my 1st vodka tonic (also delicious).  Did I have a 2nd margarita or vodka tonic?  No.  Did I have a follow up beer?  No.  Is it hard to limit myself to one drink?  No.  Have I ever had more than one in a setting? Why yes.  Since March there have been 3 times I’ve had 3 drinks in one setting, always with friends and always over the course of 3-5 hours.  Do I sometimes wish most alcohol drinks had less alcohol in them so I could drink them all night? Yes.  Why?  Because some beers, wines, and mixed drinks are delicious!  But alas I’m the queen of pacing when I drink (I didn’t know this about myself until my wife pointed out I’m usually the one to finish a drink last) so I don’t drink as much as my mouth desires in terms of flavor satisfaction.  Why?  Because I don’t like feeling tipsy.  So no…I’m not an alcoholic.

When I broke the news to my therapist that I left 12 steps and drink regularly he said “I never thought you were an alcoholic in the first place.”  Though apparently he didn’t feel it was his place to “redefine my reality” it would have perhaps saved me some time to know he thought that.  Anyway he saw my leaving 12 steps behind as move in the right direction and a sign that I’m finally…being…as Shakespeare put it “to thine own self be true.”  For me though, being true to myself is secondary.

Being true to God is most important though I cannot guarantee I’m free of sin. However I am free of a set of principles based on hated of fundamentalists (black & white thinking is bad), embracing of spiritualism (The 12×12 was channeled by Bill W.), manipulation (we’ll love you until you love yourself…unless you disagree with us), and faulty science. I’m free of a movement that takes vulnerable people, especially young persons and convinces them they are diseased to the point of death and have no choice but to succumb to the principles previously mentioned.  And finally I’m free of an ever expanding cultural hoax that serves to create dependency on sponsors, recruiters, 12 step literature, and group-think.

Sometimes I wonder if my 23 years of discomfort in “recovery” was a blessing.  In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (6:12 KJV) he wrote:

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

My restlessness and wrestling with 12 steps I feel now was based on my discomfort of the inherent lies and cult workings of a self-propelled movement that is a type or precursor for a type of universalist spirituality that is ultimately not of God and not good either.  But I take comfort in Paul’s letter to the Romans (8:37-39 KJV) where he said:

Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.  For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Our household at long last has moved on and away from any and all things 12 step related.  It’s been one of our greatest blessings.

Here is some food for thought about how cults operate.  Each of the eight points below has a part that reflects 12 step indoctrination at some level, at least in my experience.

Dr. Robert J. Lifton’s Eight Criteria for Thought Reform

  1. Milieu Control.  This involves the control of information and communication both within the environment and, ultimately, within the individual, resulting in a significant degree of isolation from society at large.

  2. Mystical Manipulation.  There is manipulation of experiences that appear spontaneous but in fact were planned and orchestrated by the group or its leaders in order to demonstrate divine authority or spiritual advancement or some special gift or talent that will then allow the leader to reinterpret events, scripture, and experiences as he or she wishes. 
  3. Demand for Purity.  The world is viewed as black and white and the members are constantly exhorted to conform to the ideology of the group and strive for perfection.  The induction of guilt and/or shame is a powerful control device used here. 
  4. Confession.  Sins, as defined by the group, are to be confessed either to a personal monitor or publicly to the group.  There is no confidentiality; members’ “sins,” “attitudes,” and “faults” are discussed and exploited by the leaders. 
  5. Sacred Science.  The group’s doctrine or ideology is considered to be the ultimate Truth, beyond all questioning or dispute.  Truth is not to be found outside the group.  The leader, as the spokesperson for God or for all humanity, is likewise above criticism. 
  6. Loading the Language.  The group interprets or uses words and phrases in new ways so that often the outside world does not understand.  This jargon consists of thought-terminating clichés, which serve to alter members’ thought processes to conform to the group’s way of thinking. 
  7. Doctrine over person.  Member’s personal experiences are subordinated to the sacred science and any contrary experiences must be denied or reinterpreted to fit the ideology of the group. 
  8. Dispensing of existence.  The group has the prerogative to decide who has the right to exist and who does not.  This is usually not literal but means that those in the outside world are not saved, unenlightened, unconscious and they must be converted to the group’s ideology.  If they do not join the group or are critical of the group, then they must be rejected by the  members.  Thus, the outside world loses all credibility.  In conjunction, should any member leave the group, he or she must be rejected also.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Brief on Broken Hearts

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When your heart is broken there isn’t much to say. Yet there can be an urge to get “it” out.  That something that aches inside, which words can never really describe, yet we attempt to do so anyway.  This old friend named Loss sits on my heart and no amount of tongue wagging will make this friendship any easier.  Images at a time like this are superior to speech so I look at the picture of my grandma at age 17 every day.  It’s working so far to have her original photograph near my bed above my dresser.  Because she is in her youth, framed by simple yet elegant silver plate, it’s easier to take her absence in the world a bit more slowly and softly.  Had I put in the same spot an 8×10 photo of her as I knew her; hair short and curled with her face softened from age, my experience of grieving her would have had sharper edges.  Instead my body and mind take in the hollow space she left more symbolically, a function that highlights her yet provides an indirect approach to grieving her.

The one thing I can’t get away from is the randomness of tears. Particularly and unbeknownst to me, any story that has anything to do with abortion just sets my eyes to water.  Though I’ve been personally pro-life for most of my life, I feel lately particularly protective and saddened for the discarded unborn.  Though I don’t logically feel a need to be political, my body seems to respond with an almost shocked bewilderment to the concept of medicalized pre-birth euthanasia.  How this ties into the loss of grandmother makes little sense to me.  She was a Catholic who followed in church belief on this issue, but it wasn’t anything we much discussed as the one time it came up, we agreed upon it.  The issue as a whole is one I thought I made relative peace with; I think it’s a horrible horrible thing but at the end of the day, if I had to vote on the matter, I would be afraid for women’s lives if it was made illegal.

Going to the coffee shop this morning I looked at the faces of children, teens, and adults. I thought to myself “what if this person was never born, or that person over there?”  The world, I realized, would be altered forever because the morning barista Amanda wasn’t there.  I wouldn’t know about her artist boyfriend and that she’s had a busy summer with family visits.  Sure another person could have stood where she stood this morning and perhaps I’d know about them too, but it is Amanda I know a bit about, and it is her face that cheers me up even when I’m tired and want a 2nd cup of coffee.  She is a life, a being, and without her here, how many people’s lives would be changed because of her absence?

This may sound like “It’s a Wonderful Life” kind of reasoning and I suppose it is. My grandma’s soul and being, being off this earth plane, seems to have changed the way life itself feels.  It’s not just about missing her laugh, or the way she noticed penmanship, or the sweetness of her smile.  Her body became an empty vessel after she died and no one can say that such a thing can’t, on some sense level, be absolutely felt.  God made her exactly the way she was meant to be and He crafted not only her body and mind but her presence in this life.  It was like He carved out a beautiful living sculpture whose essence radiated out into the whole world whether others ever knew her or not.  It’s hard for me to believe He doesn’t do that with each and every life He creates (Psalm 139:13-16).

“For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always (John 12:8).” To say that a person shouldn’t be born because they will be poor, or deformed or inconvenient takes away the temporary nature of human living and the permanence such fleeting beingness has upon the world.  Abortion at the end of the day is simply an attempt at social engineering.  No one wants to see suffering or be the one to suffer.  But to me it is far more murderous (literally) to say someone is better off dead than disabled, poor, or even unwanted.  At what point to we draw the line and say that once a person outlives their perceived usefulness it’s time for them to go because they are a burden.  Do we send a young man to be euthanized if he becomes so disabled that he can’t walk?  Do we kill someone at age 85 when they go blind?  Do we murder the 6 year old who is autistic?  What about someone who is poor, blind, disabled, and autistic?  Does that person then have just one too many things stacked against their favor – so we should put them out of their misery?

What if my grandmother’s mother was raped? What if she was going to die if she gave birth to my grandma?  What if my great grandmother already had several kids and was trying to cultivate her career and had an abusive husband?  What if all those factors combined?  Yet, what if in spite of these truly dreadful circumstances my grandma was born anyway?  Her life would still be just as valuable as it was without such dire circumstances.  She would have been a blessing to the world all the same and her pre-birth circumstances wouldn’t have made her any less important to me or those that loved her.  And yes I know being born motherless or poor or disabled is a recipe for suffering.  But suffering is ultimately a condition of life.  We all must experience pain in various ways.  It is not up to the likes of you or me to decide which suffering is better or worse for someone else.  Only God knows what course of life is best for each person, not us.

To live life is to suffer many times a broken heart. This is a fallen world and no man made attempt at utopia will work, no matter how many people are euthanized before birth or after.  Every previous human person, movement or empire has failed miserably at trying to remake the world in their own philosophy.  Yet the attempts to “change the world” continue and probably always will until the day the Lord decides it’s time.  Perhaps it’s easier to see an abortion as an attempt to help make the world a “better” place rather than understand clearly and soberly that it’s really an attempt at creating a long term global or short term personal utopia that is never coming. There is no perfect life and no perfect world.  These are the facts.  Sometimes I find myself wishing, based upon my own utopian vision, that we could stop breaking our own hearts to realize that.

Missing my grandma is a painful thing.  But I’m glad I’m here for it.  And I think, though she would have hated to see me so sad, she wouldn’t have wanted me to not be here in order to avoid it.  She is worth the tears, and so am I, and so is everyone God creates.

Rainbow Lies

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I remember the first time I read about the possibility that the truth of the Matthew Sheppard case may not have been accurately depicted in the media. After reading an article reviewing author Stephen Jiminez’s book entitled “The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Sheppard” I decided to read the book because I was curious.  The narrative of the Sheppard story was a powerful one that affected gay and bisexual people on a personal level.  The issue was one of safety for us and in certain ways, freedom.  Were we free to love, to hold hands, to simply be ourselves, particularly in smaller or religious communities?  In 1998 I had been out of the closet for seven years and had witnessed brutality towards people perceived to be gay.  I saw the bruises on the face of a teenage friend who had been tied up in his parent’s basement, beaten, and thrown out by his dad.  The Matthew Sheppard case seemed easily plausible to many of us then because of the reality of violence toward us.  Why at the time would anyone who was or supported gay and bisexual people doubt the narrative?

After reading Jiminez’s compelling work I thought long and hard about what was represented to the public via the media. Any person who thinks about media enough will concede that it is often used to stir up emotions and even manipulate public thought and discourse.  But most of us think were discerning enough to see through anything nefarious.  In fact many of us would say we watch/read the “good” or “accurate” channel or newspaper.  Some say NPR or Democracy Now is the real deal whilst others say Fox or Breitbart is true.  But really almost all news is some way is owned by someone who has an agenda.  Maybe the agenda is only to make money, but what exactly is sacrificed to bring in more revenue (btw I’m in no way anti-capitalist)?  Is it possible that since all news sources ultimately wish to stay in business, that at some point they have to go with whatever the most compelling sound bite sized narrative is so people will keep paying attention to them?  Is it possible that in this dance of terror as a twisted form of entertainment, that accuracy sometimes goes out the window?

At the end of the day even facts can be subjective due to interpretations based on previous experiences and expectations. That being said, it’s always helpful for thinking people to have whatever facts are available and not purposely obscured.  Even better is to present information in a way that lets people decide for themselves what is or isn’t true when it comes to events, crimes, and situations.  William Randolph Hearst knew that neutrality didn’t sell papers nor did truth in its purer forms.  Before we vilify him though we must remember that he sold those papers filled with yellow journalism because people like you and me most likely bought them.  It’s likely even then people knew they weren’t being told of many of the facts but they just didn’t want to know that they knew.  Is media really any different today and are we any less (allowing of being) fooled, regardless of news source?

Hearst was also rather smart in his technique of expanding his readership by way of combining some facts or some truth with the narratives that were being disseminated. Few people are likely to bother reading/watching/listening to something that is perceived with assurance as false.  Some part of the story has to have a percentage of reality or potential for reality in order to peak interest.  A carrot must at least look like a carrot before we’re willing to take a bite and mass media is no different.  If a story comes out and we know the situation is possible because of previous experiences or narratives we’ve been exposed to, then we are more likely to take a proverbial bite.  As a lady who’s spent time in a boat with a rod and reel, I’ve learned they don’t call it fishing for nothing.

“The Book of Matt” presented new information about the potentially previously misunderstood or deliberately misrepresented narrative about Matthew Sheppard’s murder. Do I know for sure if he was killed for being gay or killed for methamphetamine dealing?  No.  None of us ever will except for those involved.  But now I have a different perspective that challenged me to discern what I was initially told.  If the tables had been turned and the story was represented with big flashing lights, tears, and drama about drugs, and a campaign had been launched that changed not only opinion but laws, and in reality his death was really more about him being gay, I’d feel the same way.  I’d feel like I would have liked to know more about the facts than the fiction of the event.

Today is June 23rd 2016 and the latest narrative about gay people has to do with a mass shooting at a gay themed nightclub in Florida.  Almost 20 years later we’re seeing the same flashing lights, tears, and drama.  Only this time we have not only TV, papers, and radio, we have social media that serves as the great distractor and constant reminder that whatever we’re being told by the media is “true”.  I don’t know about this Love is Love campaign but I can say tragedy is tragedy.  And if indeed a shooting occurred and people died, then this tragedy is no laughing matter regardless of the murder’s motives or who was involved.

Since we live in a time where people can and do sometimes question mass media in particular, stories have come out disputing the narrative around the whole event from whether it actually happened at all to if the killer’s motivation was hatred of gays. Most of us know by now it is easy to find people willing to lie so that they may get attention or money.  We also know attempts to shape opinion by how a story is told and what facts are or are not included is possible if not probable in a great deal of major stories (WMD’s for example).  We’re really no different from folks during Hearst’s journalistic reign.  If it seems to have the possibility of truth with enough attention grabbing technique, we’ll bite.  I’d like to think that nowadays we’d think a bit more before we chew and digest what is told to us.  And some do with websites and blogs featuring their version of truth and facts that differ greatly from the popular narratives.  Yet these sources I believe are no better or worse than those they seek to differentiate themselves from, especially if their information is also presented in a sensational way.

Personally I question the gay hate narrative from this Florida event and so does my wife and a number of other people. But I don’t have to seek out mainstream or alternative internet sources or any other narratives.  All I have to do is go with experiences from the past which helps me to employ a healthy dose of skepticism to anything I see or hear from a screen.  In addition because we don’t pay attention to the news and don’t participate in social media (other than this blog) my wife and I are able to sometimes see a bigger picture that is not obscured by the “bread & circus” of it all.  “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (Matthew 6:21) Our treasure is where we spend our time and where our money goes.  If my attention is spent getting emotional by purposely exposing myself to half-truths presented sensationally then that says a lot about my values or what I treasure.  Satan is the father of lies.  It’s important to remember that, which is why I pray for the Lord’s protection from the snares of evil in all things.

One more thing I want to say is that those going around saying “love is love is love is love” don’t represent me or my wife. The only reason I even found out about this Florida story is because an older and very emotional woman came up to us in the parking lot of our local organic grocer and started crying and touching us and telling us how we needed to “watch out for each other.”  Though I love my neighbor, I don’t appreciate being targeted by anyone, regardless of how well meaning they are, because I’m in a same-sex relationship.  We don’t like being used to further some possible agenda that we don’t belong to even if we appear to.  I’ve been contacted by old friends concerned for us and a currently married to a man ex. girlfriend told me she put a 20+ year old photo of us on her facebook profile page as what I assume was a sign of support for the victims in the Florida case.  Even family has sent photos with rainbows as a show of solidarity.  Typically when a major news story happens I can look away but this time it became personal, and my sense is all the hype has many people upset who care about gay and bisexual people.

But what happened in that bar has nothing to do with my family. Love is not dancing in a nightclub, getting inebriated, cruising for sex, or loud music.  That all may be fun for a lot of people regardless of romantic orientation but it is not love.  Perhaps the saying should be “fun is fun is fun” because people don’t generally go to bars and clubs for love but for fun.  And fun is fine.  This is a free country and since it’s legal to drink, dance, and cruise, then by golly people can do that.  But those activities don’t represent a shred of our lives as a couple now or when we got together.  We have no “gay lifestyle.”  A lifestyle is the way you live by way of who you spend time with, where you go, what you do, and what you pay attention to.  I don’t appreciate anyone assuming to know, regardless of intentions or alliances, what our so-called style of living is.  Yes I’m married to a woman but that is not who I am or how I live and I certainly don’t define real love by being in a crowded bar regardless of who is there.  Bias goes both ways in terms of liberal and conservative.  It’s ugly regardless.  Bias may sell papers and make people cry, but it doesn’t mean whatever media represents the event as, is or was, true.

No one speaks for our sake. Not gay movements, nor those trying to ban guns, nor those who say their looking out for “people like us.”   My wife and I are not interested in any rainbow lies (whether or not they are for supposedly our sake).  If it could happen to Matthew Sheppard, then it could be happening now. Don’t believe the hype indeed.

We’re Returning the Tee Shirts

A few weeks ago I went to my first big concert in years. After becoming chronically ill, it’s been challenging to participate in a lot of things I loved like concerts, dancing, even going to movies.  We made sure that at the show I’d be able to sit rather than stand, and still see what was going on.  The band we saw was For King & Country and it my birthday gift to my wife.  We had not ever been to a Christian identified concert together and we were excited.

However…lately whether its movies or music or books from Christian identified sources, I have been finding myself needing to increasingly discern them. The question that comes up is “how does the measure up to what the Bible says?”  Also highly important is if I’m hearing something that doesn’t line up God’s Word, what do I do with this particular thing.  Another clue to discerning is this: does it preach another gospel?  Because of all these thoughts in my head I asked my wife if we could pray before the show for protection and discernment.  We did and we came away from the event unsure if we’ll listen to this band further.

On another post I discussed how subtle Satan is. Just look to Genesis 3 to see how the enemy used the tool of misdirection and distraction to get Eve away from God’s glory and blessings.  After much consideration, I am convinced that He is at war with us (and always has been) especially within the realm of Christian entertainment, and I believe the subtlety of His evil will continue to fool the church.  Entertainment isn’t the only place this is and has been going on.  Churches, pastors, improvement books, etc. are subject to the snares of evil.  At the end of the day I have learned what I have to ask, regardless of how godly the person, place, or thing is: does it reflect clearly God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:5).

Please excuse the following digression

Even this question has become tricky due to the myriad of different translations of the Bible. In the recent Bible edition of the Christian Book.com catalogue was a parallel Bible that had the KJV, NKJV, NIV, and ESV translations.  The description mentioned that the KJV was “poetic” whilst the NIV was “accurate.”  I’m not sure who decided to utilize these particular adjectives in describing these translations, but I’m not sure I trust their assessments.  For example Rick Warren said of the KJV translation in his 1995 version of The Purpose Driven Life:

Read Scripture from a newer translation. With all the wonderful translations and paraphrases available today, there is no legitimate reason for complicating the Good News with four-hundred-year-old English.  

Clarity is more important than poetry.

Such a statement is confusing to me because my current understanding is that the KJV is that it’s one of the oldest and widely used Bible translations around (older translations include The Great Bible, Geneva Bible, Coverdale Bible, Wycliffe’s Bible, etc) and people have been able to understand it just fine. Are we to assume because we have to look up a word in the dictionary from time to time that we should go ahead and read translations like this from Proverbs 7:

…Walking the streets, loitering in the mall, hanging out at every corner in town. 

She runs a halfway house to hell… 

Or does a translation like this work just fine?

Now is she without, now in the streets, and lieth in wait at every corner. 

Her house is the way to hell…

It seems to me that the latter translation is pretty clear but I admit I’m not an expert in biblical languages. That being said I get concerned when a translation adds in words or phrases that veer from the heart of the closest thing we know to be original.  I’m not sure adding in a reference to the mall or a halfway house is necessary or clear.  Maybe I’m getting old but I thought people were not to add or take away from the Word of God (Rev. 22:18-19, Deut. 4:2 & 12:32).  One could argue that God told Eugene Peterson, author of the Message Bible to write the words “mall” and “halfway House” but I think I’ll just stick to my KJV thank you very much.

Back to the actual point of this post 

We started off the night enjoying the show. As you can see from above the concert lighting was fun.  The singers/brothers Joel and Luke Smallbone performed well and we enjoyed the part from their show where they band actually got in the audience.

Before the intermission of their Priceless show we were entreated by Joel to donate to a children’s Christian charity. During this intermission I went onto the GuideStar and Charity Navigator websites to see how their sponsored organization measured up.  Though overall the organization got high marks, there are other Christian themed children’s charities that do a bit better and the best one rated has a CEO whose income is half of what FK&C’s charity CEO makes.

Later in the show we got to hear about how priceless women are. Of course it is the Priceless tour so I expected a tie in to the upcoming Priceless film coming out later this year.  That being said I was surprised just how long the speech was.  Though we women are priceless, I have noticed this sort of self-helpy trend happening a lot more in Christian music lately were the singers croon about how awesome we all are.  Low self-esteem is certainly not a way to glorify our Lord, but neither is an incessant focus on the self regardless of our personal assessment.

There were even these bracelets for sale at the show that read “Priceless.” Both I & my wife almost got one for me in the middle of the speech.  I admit it…I was swayed!  But in the end both of us grew tired of the “you go girl” message when after all, the point of it was to sell bracelets and get folks to see their movie in November.

Those parts of their show is not what ultimately concerned us. It was their song dedication near the end of the show.  In fact when he said “I’d like to dedicate this song to the Celebrate Recovery movement” I wasn’t sure I heard right.  I looked at my wife for confirmation and yup…the song Fix My Eyes was indeed dedicated to Rick Warren’s “christianized” self-help unit of his organization.  The dedication was subtle and without reference so there was no way to see it coming.  Through the last two songs that played I physically felt my heart sink.

Some context  

I intend to write about my time in and now happily out of 12 step recovery but for now I’ll just say I believe that ultimately AA was conceived in something most people don’t understand, and that I want no part of it, or 12 step offshoots. For 22 years in both AA & Al-anon I tried to adhere to the principles, doctrines, and dogma of such programs.  I tried to be “good” and do what was in the literature because I was told their way was ultimately the only way to be a serene and useful person.  I was told I would die, kill others, or be a kind of social outlaw if I didn’t adhere to their concepts.

God protected me through those years. His grace saved me from further involvement in 12 steps.  What I have come to understand, after studying AA’s origin’s and 12 step ties to other organizations, is that the world of recovery is one of harm due to deception, false teaching,  brainwashing, and occult foundations.  At times I still very much feel like I’m de-programming.  In my opinion I feel AA and its subsequent 12 step programs are malicious cults that hide behind the guise of self-improvement and resolving addictions with bad science and even worse intentions.  I won’t have a thing to do with any group or ideology that espouses the 12 steps or association thereof (Jeremiah 23:32).

Interestingly

Ironically my wife and I just happened to be reading Warren B. Smith’s Deceived on Purpose, a book that discusses Rick Warren and his Purpose Driven church.  We had only read about 40 pages but had already deduced from other books we’ve read concerning church apostasy that the origins of this church may not be as it appears.  I had only vaguely known about Celebrate Recovery because in the past I occasionally heard people reference it in meetings.  When I got home from the show I did a key word search on the band we just saw and Celebrate Recovery.  There is a webpage on the band site giving people a free song download in regard to Warren’s alternate recovery program.  For King & Country has also played at Saddleback and is definitely tied into Warren’s movement.

So What  

For the next few days after the show we researched all we could on Rick Warren whilst finishing Smith’s book. We then ordered and began reading Smith’s next book on the topic A Wonderful Deception.  We had no idea when we were at that concert how concerning Mr. Warren’s church and P.E.A.C.E. plan are.  We didn’t know Warren and his associates are key players in the emerging church movement, and we didn’t know how deeply tied to new ageism/new spirituality he is.  It is my current assessment that there is something deeply disturbing, willfully apostate, and evil going on with all things associated with anything Purpose Driven and its related entities.  Keep in mind I’m not here to question Warren’s character or say he is or is not something.  Simply stated, I’m saying after further research, I believe something is very wrong with what he’s created and am concerned for those who take seriously anything that his church espouses.

We purchased 2 tee shirts at the FK&C show and we’re sending them back. We considered sending the band a letter and some accompanying information but we’re not sure our words would get into the right hands.  We’re also not sure if the band is so innocent of Warren’s ideology anyway so we’d like to simply remove the shirts from our home and move on (Jeremiah 50:8).

After this experience I find myself when listening to Christian music wondering who and what the bands are associated with. Trip Lee for example is a rapper we have liked.  But his latest video Manolo is, though creative, basically an advertisement for the idea that heaven can be reached via computer.  Like so many churches and so called Christian books, I find myself needing to be much more discerning with music and scrutinize what I’m hearing and what associations bands may have.

It would be easy to label one paranoid or overly suspicious these days.  Cass Sunstein, Obama’s former advisor and Administrator of Information & Regulatory Affairs under his administration would certainly consider anyone who connects the dots a bit too much to be worthy of the label terrorist.  It would be even easier to say “hey if it makes you feel good then it’s OK.”  But I’ve learned from sharing about my feelings and experiences for over 2 decades that one can still be fooled and unaware of deception, no matter how “uplifting” the words may appear.

This post is not about convincing you to hate anyone or stop listening to FK&C or any other band or person.  The point is that as I’m learning more about how subtle the enemy is, I’m also learning more about freedom.  Everyday I get to choose what I surround myself with.  For example I no longer watch/listen to the news or secular music anymore because of the lies and immorality.  This is my choice and a freedom the Lord gives me.  I get to separate myself from false teachings and the result every time is not one of “missing out” but of having Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior (Ephesians 3:12).

Look for Yourself

After looking into not only what Mr. Warren preaches, who he’s allied with, and what his mission/movement is actually doing to people here and in Africa, I have to say I believe this man is not to be trusted for matters of faith.  That being said it would be easier for you the reader to have me spell out everything apostate about Rick Warren’s church and P.E.A.C.E plan but over the last few years we’ve found researching for ourselves to be a great way to learn.  It’s always good to look at both sides of something, scrutinize, and then decide.  It’s also been our habit to see what the people who we question have to say for themselves.  Finally as a Bible believing Christian I ask “does this hold up to Scripture?”  I’ll leave you with the following words and pray for continued discernment for us all.

“We have a kingdom that nothing can destroy… it’s indestructible, it’s unshakable, going to last forever, it’s going to cover the planet.” -Rick Warren

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.  -Matthew 19-20

And you can go argue about prophecy all you want but Jesus Christ is not going to conclude history until everybody he’s wanted to hear the world has had a chance to hear the word. -Rick Warren

But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. -Mark 13:32

Everything great done in this world is done by passionate people. -Rick Warren

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. -John 5:24

“In 1939, in a stadium much like this, in Munich Germany, they packed it out with young men and women in brown shirts, for a fanatical man standing behind a podium named Adolf Hitler, the personification of evil.

And in that stadium, those in brown shirts formed with their bodies a sign that said, in the whole stadium, “Hitler, we are yours.”

 “…I think ‘what would happen if American Christians, if world Christians, if just the Christians in this stadium, followers of Christ, would say ‘Jesus, we are yours’ ?

“I’m looking at a stadium full of people who are saying ‘whatever it takes’.” -Rick Warren

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned into fables. 2 Timothy 4:3-4

When the disciples wanted to talk about prophecy, Jesus quickly switched the conversation to evangelism. He wanted them to concentrate on their mission in the world. He said in essence, “The details of my return are none of your business. What is your business is the mission I’ve given you. Focus on that! . . .”

If you want Jesus to come back sooner, focus on fulfilling your mission, not figuring out prophecy. -Rick Warren

Here is the part that is none of our business

And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?  And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive youFor many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.  And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.   For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.  Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sakeAnd then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one anotherAnd many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive manyAnd because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.  But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.  And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.  When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand:).

Then let them which be in Judaea flee into the mountains: let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house: Neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes.  And woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days!  But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day:  For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.  And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.  Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it notFor there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.

Behold, I have told you before.  Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it notFor as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.  For wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together.  Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.  Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.  –Matthew Chapter 24

(The underlined is my emphasis in relation to Warren’s teachings.)

 

 

 

 

Forbidden Trees

city tree

What are the forbidden trees in your life? This week I looked at the deception Eve experienced in Genesis 3.  Thanks to a study a godly friend lent me entitled “To Stand and Not be Moved” by Fran Sciacca, my understanding of what happened to Eve and how it affects my life has been of great impact.  Some Christians don’t talk much about Satan and this I believe is a real disservice to the church.  Some preachers say the Adversary is behind everything bad and other preachers say He & His evil doesn’t even exist.  I suspect Satan is more cunning than we give Him credit for, more pervasive than we realize, and yet His power over us can be fought.

In Eden Eve was distracted from seeing the bounty of beautiful edible trees that surrounded her because the Adversary got her to simply change her focus. His first communication to her was a subtle yet pointed question: “…Ye shall not eat of every tree in the garden? (Genesis 3:1)”  Talk about a loaded question!  This is literally the original loaded question.  At this point Satan didn’t have to make a promise, do a song and dance, or make the fruit more pretty.  He asked a leading question that she decided to respond to.  Her sin began not when she ate the fruit.  Nor did it begin when she believed His lies about becoming immortal and being a god that knows good from evil.  Her sin didn’t even really begin when she was distracted.  It began when she lost her gratefulness for God’s bounty.

The story of original sin demonstrates some clear points on the road of sin. This is my interpretation & I always encourage you the reader to have a Berean mindset about anything I say.  So with that in mind:

Points on the road to sin

  • Not being thankful to God for His many blessings
  • Distraction, usually by subtle means
  • Doubt in our Lord
  • Attempting to usurp God (ie. There is no God, God is in me, we are all Gods, etc.)
  • Pride in ourselves
  • Becoming less happy
  • Becoming fooled and lacking good judgment
  • Attempting to self sooth with sin after sinning or feeling shame

This is not exact and varies in a given situation but overall some or all the points happen. For example Eve became distracted by Satan and changed her focus to the forbidden tree because she was susceptible to it. She was vulnerable to this ploy because her heart at that moment wasn’t thankful for God’s enormous bounty. From there all it took was the most subtle of distractions which was Satan getting her to change her focus from bounty to what was forbidden and what she didn’t/couldn’t have (what appeared to be missing in her life).

Her doubt wasn’t articulated but was demonstrated when she believed the serpent, rather than obeying God’s commandment to not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It was at that point she chose to doubt what God told her and believe some-one or some-thing else. When the Adversary told Eve she could be a god and she believed Him, she was trying to usurp God and His authority. Her pride came from the desire to gain wisdom from the forbidden fruit that she was deceived about. She wanted to be smart, immortal, and a god for what purpose? Because she thought it would make her, as we say in the West Coast, totally awesome. Without gratefulness for God’s abundance, without knowing one’s proper place in life, without believing all she needed was or would be provided for, she was ultimately unhappy with her circumstances, though she was in God’s bountiful garden.

In unhappiness, pride, doubt, and deception, it becomes much easier to be fooled and make foolish choices that harm. Eve took that fruit because her judgement was poor. John 7:24 tells us to judge righteous judgement rather than go off appearances. Jeremiah 17:5-12 demonstrates that when man trusts in man (or serpent) above God his heart will be departed from the Lord & he will “inhabit the parched places in the wilderness.” Those that trust God shall not be moved like a tree planted near water that always bears fruit. Eve was not strong like that an unmovable tree because she was weakened first by ingratitude and eventually by a wicked unhappy heart. Eve became a fool, fooled Adam, and experienced the pain that comes from separation from the Lord.

Now I’m sure you dear reader have never experienced what Eve went through so I’ll use myself as an example of what that road to sin has looked like. Now keep in mind this happened rather quickly & quite frankly I had forgotten it until I prayed in repentance for something unrelated. Anyway I was at Trader Joe’s with the wife and checking out with the cashier. As the young man started to scan our items, I saw one item go past the scanner but didn’t hear it make a beep sound as it went by. I looked at that bottle, then looked to see if the price of it showed up on the display, didn’t see it, and thought “I’m not saying anything.” Now keep in mind I pray several times a day and thought that was enough. But in Trader Joe’s I was distracted by all the goodies and at that given moment I was very distracted because I thinking about the conversation I had just listened to between the previous customer and the cashier.

On another post I’ll talk about why I don’t pay much attention to politics and especially this particular presidential election, but for now I’ll just say I was disturbed by what I heard and well, annoyed that I had to overhear the conversation. My heart wasn’t grateful for being able to buy food at such low prices or for the car that brought us to the store or for my wife being there so I didn’t have to push the cart or most importantly, that the Almighty had blessed us with so much at that moment. My distraction was not sought out yet I was tempted by thinking about how different I wished modern day politics would be. I forgot about the Lord and instead of having faith in His plan, in my pride thought of how things should be, according to…well me.

In that moment I made myself into a god and became all the unhappier for it (even if it was momentary). Though I don’t believe I consciously said to myself “hey getting this product for free with make things better” I fooled myself into thinking doing something that is against my morals & values (stealing) was ok because it wasn’t direct. It was subtle and of poor judgement. Ironically when I looked at the receipt a day later it turned out we did in fact pay for the product. But I had already committed theft in my heart and it all started because I didn’t look to “Jesus the author and finisher of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:2).

Am I saying “the Devil made me do it?” Not necessarily but I’m still working out theologically what such a saying might mean for me. If indeed Satan is more pervasive & subtle than I understood then maybe a Trader Joe’s visit is indeed a lesson on what vulnerability to Satan looks like. Perhaps this is the most boring “confession” you’ve ever read but I don’t care. When I repented this sin my heart became less foolish, unhappy, prideful, and ungrateful (Romans 1:21-22). Yet the good news is that I am more free thanks to confessing to Jesus and so very thankful that he saved not only my soul, but gave us His holy Word to live our lives by.

What is the forbidden fruit in your life? Where does your lack of thankfulness bring unhappiness? What is in the rest of your garden? What has God Almighty given you? For me it is clear being in the world means there will be both times of need and times of abundance and usually they occur at once. I take much comfort in Paul’s letter to the Philippians when he says:

I know both how to be abased and I know how to abound:to be hungry, both to abound and suffer need.

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

 

 

 

Don’t Go There or There or There

love saves

Within the span of three weeks there were four different encounters I had where my faith was involved and there was either rejection or mercy. Actually 3 out of the 4 instances involved less than good fruit yet one was the epitome of James 3:13-18.

The first encounter occurred after a preliminary search to join a Bible study in town. Because my spouse and I are not members of a church community yet (because we have either been not welcomed or have been not able to abide by a particular churches theology) a friend, after hearing of my desire to find others to worship with, suggested I join a Bible study.  Many if not most churches have them, but again, this would involve trying to find a church that makes sense.  Instead of searching church by church to find such a study I went onto my favorite search engine and looked up Portland-Oregon-Bible-Study.  It turned out the website Meet Up had groups holding Bible study’s so I joined the site (though I hate joining anything online) and inquired with some groups about their study.

A group suggested to me was a Portland LGBT Christian group that showed that they have Bible studies and other activities like book clubs, dinners together, etc. Though I don’t identify as gay per se, the sex of my spouse sort of puts me in that category by default, and so there you go. I was allowed to join the group and was informed about an upcoming book group where Marcus Borg’s “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time” would be discussed.  Having worked with religious books for years I knew that Borg had very liberal and to us, heretical beliefs that we feel contradict basic tenants of Christianity.  Because of this book pick, which sadly didn’t surprise me in some ways, it seemed time to ask the group leader if this was a group that would be beneficial to us and us to them.

My questions included how we may fit into such a group since we believe the Bible is the Word of God and infallible. I asked if books along the lines of theology that Borg and those of his ilk (including Matthew Fox, Henri Nouwen, Harry Emerson Fosdick) espouse were the norm for book picks.  Finally I asked if a more “conservative” couple that seeks to live out 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 in all we do, would be accepted into the group and find other kindred Christians like us there.  All this I asked respectfully with a willingness to answer any questions or clarify any statements.  My wife checked over my email and felt it was direct yet gentle, reasonable, and without negativity.

The response? I received an email 2 days later from Meet Up explaining that I had been removed from the group.  In addition I was blocked from being able to contact the organizer with any further communication.

The second encounter involved a cashier I’ve been acquainted with for years at our local co-op. After casually asking her if she had any Easter plans, she went on to tell me about an article she read recently about the poet Nikki Giovanni.  She noted that the poet was raised Baptist and now rejects the faith because of its obsession with death.  The cashier went on to note that wearing a cross was a further symbol of a culture of death and that those who wear them probably celebrate the electric chair or gallows.  That day I just happened to be wearing my largest and most ornate cross due to Easter week.  I pulled it out as she shared and asked without malice “you mean like this one?”  The cashier went on to literally make a gag sound, say yuck, and continue her comments.

Since we are hoping to find a church community to join, the third encounter involved calling a Lutheran church a few miles from our home to inquire about their overall theology and if we, as a same sex couple, would be tolerated and/or accepted. Though neither of us know much about Lutherans other than that some family members are, we thought “why not?” so when I got the pastor on the phone I prayed and asked him if their theology was influenced by New Ageism or Christian authors who were influenced by types of spirituality that deviates from the Bible.  My second question was about my wife & me attending, with the clarification that we have no interest in changing the church as is, and respect their right to religious freedom.

The pastor answered my questions honestly and respectfully. Though he made no effort to get to know me or what my spouse and I were about, and assumed that which he cannot see. I appreciated him being upfront in letting me know that, no, they do not preach another gospel, and no, we would not be allowed to become members (only visitors) of his church.

In three weeks I experienced 3 kinds of rejection. In the first, apparently we were “too” Christian.  In the second, I was apparently too obsessed with the death of Jesus.  And in the third I was too gay.  How can one be both too Christian and too gay?  I have no idea! Thank the Lord that the above mentioned scenarios have taught me the road is indeed narrow and to follow it, it means the road looking very different from how we might have imagined.

Interestingly this week I had two dreams involving narrow roads. In one I had to walk upon a narrow dirt path in the woods carrying an ill pit bull mix to find it some help.  In the other, my wife and I were in a car on a skinny one lane road in the middle of the ocean, being driven by a confident and bubbly young lady.  In both dreams I had to leave fear behind and trust I’d get to where I needed to go.  I’m reminded of Matthew 14:22-33 where Peter trusted Jesus and walked on the water.  Since I have given my life over the Jesus I’m continually amazed by where being His follower has taken me.  After the three above encounters I felt moments of rejection.  Rejection is a really great way to take away one’s hope and plant disturbing seeds of hypocrisy that have to power to wither bodies and souls.

But this is when we Christians faithful to God’s Word are blessed! Luke tells us in chapter six that it is when we’re reproached, rejected, and hated for being believers that we can rejoice for our reward is great in heaven.

One could argue that in the third situation I was not rejected for being too Christian but not Christian enough!  That I refuse to repent for my marriage and get legally divorced from my wife so I may enter the kingdom.  This reminds me of the seven Woes’ in Matthew 23.  We sometimes attempt say certain people, based on the potentially poor judgment of going by what we cannot really see, cannot enter the kingdom and shut doors (physical & metaphorical) to them without having taken any time to know them.  We try to make believers into our own image rather than God’s.  We tell people they must follow the rules of this church or that sect or some other theology that is not in the Bible or misinterpreted.  We trade legalism for the heart of the law.  We all do it not only as the faithful but as humans in whatever set of beliefs we follow.

When we persecute other Christians (or anyone) regardless of what their sin or perceived sin is, we sin. Yes we can separate ourselves, but we first learn who someone is and attempt to meet them & hear them.  No matter what our final decision is about their place in our lives, churches, or organizations, we love them, pray for them, and remain peaceable and without hypocrisy (let me know if you’ve perfected that).

So girding my emotional loins I called a church a friend’s friend had recommended on our behalf. Having just had those dreams previously mentioned, I felt it was time to change my approach.  Just as I want people to meet with and get to know us beyond whatever labels others define us by, I also want to meet and get to know them.  I called this church and spoke with one of the pastors explaining that we’d like to meet with the appropriate clergy to discuss potentially going there.  My situation was briefly explained and I told him that more than anything, we just want to worship the Lord with others who are devoted to Him, without deviation from the Bible.  His response?  Excitement!  The main pastor is currently out of town so he suggested we set up a time to meet with both pastors.  He was everything written in James 3:17.  Pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, merciful, impartial, and without hypocrisy.  Our conversation bore good fruit because we both communicated in the vein of James 3:13.  I could even tell we may have some disagreement on points, but that we respected each other as believers growing in Christ.

To be true to our faith doesn’t mean we sign off on what isn’t acceptable to us. It also doesn’t mean we blindly reject others either.  This was not the narrow road I expected, but God continues to give me the strength to walk it.  We are blessed indeed!