Thursday, September 28, 2006

Afraid of Exposure?

Dan was my friend in Oceanside. He and I talked for hours and hours about religion, and the Bible. We would read the literature of his church, and debate about whether it was an accurate reflection of Biblical thought. Other than the Bible, we never read the writings of my faith together. Dan was a Jehovah's Witness. He was taught that writings of other churches were "spiritual pornography." I had actually seen Dan, and few of his Jehovah Witness friends recoil when I presented some of my own writings, or the books I was reading. A few times I admit I did it on purpose. It was funny to watch. An innocent bystander might have thought I had suddenly pulled an explicit porn mag out of one of those plain paper wrappers.

I have friends who are Witches, and Neo-Pagans. I have noticed that people from my same Charismatic brand of Christianity treat the writings of my Witch friends with the same nervous fear Dan, and his friends had toward my innocuous materials.

Okay, I do believe that it is true that the pen is mightier than the sword. Perhaps my writing is not completely harmless or uninspired, but there is an interesting connection between Dan's response to evangelical Christian books, and my fellow Charismatic and Pentecostal brothers' fears of Witchcraft material.

I had to study American and European Neo-Paganism, because I live in Salem, and I have friends who practice Witchcraft. Perhaps such studies are not for everyone, but neither is Coasteering, or Spelunking. The connections between jumping off rocks into the wild Welsh Waters off Pembrokeshire, and reading occultic literature in order to learn how other people think may not be easily divined by anybody but evangelical Christians. We truly are afraid of Pagan literature, and Pagan people in most cases. But I have to ask myself, "Why are we so afraid?"

Are we afraid of being exposed to something dangerous? Or is there something deeper going on here?

I have noticed that Pagan literature, and Pagan adherents have some accurate critiques of Christianity. They identify real problems, and abuses by the church over the centuries. Some of these abuses still go on today.

Could there be a deep fear not so much of being exposed to something dangerous, but of being exposed by something we might read in another religion's writings, or by interaction with the people from alternative religions?

I don't find my fundamental doctrines changing because I have friends who are Witches, and because I have read their material, but I do find I have been exposed at times. I have had to change, because their critique of Christianity was pretty darn accurate. I didn't look much like Jesus. They were able to put the finger on me.

Could this be a problem in the church today? Are we satisfied with our current church culture? Are we unwilling to entertain the idea that there just might be something wrong with the way we are doing things? Could we be afraid of being exposed not "to", but "by" Pagan thought? Is that what we are really afraid of?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Evening of the Night and Day

Evening is evening with day. The time of night has caught the time of light, and they stand in equal balance in our day. Slowly our nights grow longer, and our days grow shorter.

Until this very moment I have not been ready for the coming of the Fall with itas threat of Winter. I am a Southern California boy living in New England. The Fall has always been my favorite season, but the shortness of the Salem Summers have taken me by surprise.

I am ready now.

Today's new Pagans celebrate the cycle of the seasons. The longest days, the longest nights, the equinoxes with their evening of the day and night all speak to them of change and life. The holy days of the Jews were set at harvests and at memorials of historic events.

As American Christians, we only really celebrate historic events or human resource. Days are based around great men: Martin Luther King, George Washington, Columbus, Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims, the 4th of July and our founding fathers. Days are based around human activity: Memorial Day and war, or Labor Day and work. Of course, our biggest days are founded in God's movement on history: Christmas and the Manger, and Easter and the Cross. I certainly want to honor the wonderful works of my fellow man, but I wonder if perhaps the days we celebrate are far more humanistic than that which the Pagans celebrate.

Neo-Pagans see the seasonal changes moved by the hands of God (okay, in their case it may be the gods, and goddesses.) We celebrate days based upon human activity. Even the celebration of Easter and Christmas are the celebration of the Man Christ Jesus, and most of us barely recognize the God Who is above and beyond humanity. Strangely, the only holiday we celebrate in common is the holiday which most evangelicals flee for fear of it having a demonic source - Halloween, the last harvest celebration.

Could it be that our understanding of holidays (holy-days) here in America is sadly anthropocentric? Is it somehow all about us, and lacking in a view outward to God and HIs Creation? I wonder if we might learn a thing or two if we could balance our celebrations between man centered, and creation centered holy-days?

I am happy for the coming of the Fall now. I am reminded that though dark, cold times may come, I have a place to hide away by the warm fire of God's love. Somehow labor day was devoid of such lessons for me. I barely noticed that day go by, but the autumnal equinox vividly catches my imagination each year.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Aberrant Concept of Loving and not Liking

Aberrant. I think that it is a way to call someone a heretic. At least that's the way it was used on us.

We said that we were making friends with Witches, Druids, and Pagans of a variety of traditions. They questioned us for quite some time about what we meant by "making friends."

"How can you be friends with a Witch?" someone asked. Jeff and Diane, and Bev and I looked at one another. We each wondered, "How could we not make friends with the Witches?" We live in Salem. There are quite a few of Witches, and we know a number of them. We like them, and some of them like us.

We thought that was a good thing.

Some of the people sitting around us at the council meeting were not quite sure. Some were supressing a low level antagonism toward our friendly approach to Witches. Some were simply trying to figure out where they stood, and a few agreed with us, but were afraid to say so.

Somehow the concept of loving people without liking them had its insidious grip in this dialogue. There are Christians who actually believe that it is possible to love someone without liking them.

Yeah right.

I thought this idea was rejected by the the Bible's most famous love passage. Doesn't it say that we can give our all goods to the poor, and our bodies to be burned, and still not exhibit love. Okay so if I sacrifice in my presentation of the Gospel for another person, this still does not mean I have loved them. So what's the missing component of my loving them if I give them everything? Isn't sacrifice love itself? According to Paul - apparently not.

Love is not just preaching, or giving, or even sacrificing yourself. These things are not love, in fact they may simply be rote activities of know-it-all Christians, or actions we force ourselves to do because we think it is the way to live the Christian life.

So what does love look like? Believe the best for others, be patient with them, and perhaps even want to spend your time being with them. In other words - like them, really like them.

I think that aberrant teaching allowed a group of people to sit us down, and question our motivations for making friends with Witches. I know some of the people in that group really believe that you can love someone without liking them.

Walking to The Vault today from home, I considered the passage from 1 Corinthians 13, and wondered if this silly idea that teaches we can love someone without liking them is one of the reasons that the words of the church are like a clanging gong in many people's ears today.

If so, I would imagine the teaching is aberrant.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Radio Man and Relearning Christianity

Radio Man has been with us three times now. He visited The Gathering for a Sunday morning service, for our Thursday evening Lectio Divina meditations, and tonight for our Movie Night.

After watching War of the Worlds, and having a pretty good turnout. Radio Man stayed around to help out. He vacuumed the whole place. I thanked him profusely for his spontaneously generated help. He replied simply, and straightforwardly, "I wanted to give back."

We sat down for awhile and talked about church life, and his experiences. He had been a part of a local church in Salem, which was agressive, and hyper-Pentecostal. For 4 years he attended, and always felt like an outsider. The church was very small (between 5 and 12 people), but the greetings, and goodbyes from the pastor were always very formal, and distant. The sermons regularly attacked other groups such as gays, Witches, Catholics, and even other Pentecostal groups. (Our own church was on the list as well.)

When Radio Man visited on Thursday evening, he shared during the Lectio Divivna that he was not a Christian anymore. Tonight he explained this by saying that somewhere along the journey through 15 years of AA, and 4 years at the church he had attended, he lost faith. He thought that he was agnostic, and perhaps even an atheist on some days. Tonight he also said that he believed he needed to relearn things some things, and hoped that this might occur at The Gathering.

I think that I need to relearn some things too. Radio Man's open confessions about his struggling faith might be one of those things I need to learn.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Superstition for Your Kids?

  • Armor of God PJs

  • I am certainly going to buy a hundred of these, and give them away to parents of young children. Perhaps if we start early training our kids to be afraid of things that go bump in the night, they will grow up wearing holy PJs, and feeling protected by their 100% cotton armor.

    I'll set aside a set for the Gentry's coming addition.

    Anybody else want a set?

    Superstitious Christians

    Sitting at the table late tonight I discussed superstitious Christianity with Mizumi. She had just come home around midnight from her long hours as a Home Depot manager in Reading.

    I believe in all the experiences of wild mysticism which are found in the Bible - prophets seeings angels and demons, miracles of healing and exorcism, dreams which come from God, and even the trance-like visions such as the Book of Revelation or Ezekiel. Yet I have to ask myself when it is that one passes over from being a practical mystic into the more dangerous realm of being a superstitious Christian kook.

    I know superstitious Christian kooks, and in fact have experienced the destructive power they wield when they sit in seats of power.

    I tend to believe that superstition in Christianity has some common starting points: 1) a belief in the intrinsic supernatural power of physical items, events, and/or locations, 2) an over exaggeration of the importance of circumstances, 3) a frequency of attributing supernatural sources to mundane events, or 4) an unresonable fear of people involved in occult practices.

    I have seen all of these things happen in churches. Are we becoming too superstitious?

    Tuesday, September 05, 2006

    You Don't Know Jack or Why I Like Clive Owen as Arturius

    I have to admit it. I do like the 2004 demystified movie version of King Arthur with Clive Owen. Of course, it helps that there were actual Celtified type people in the movie like Ioan Grufudd.

    My real reasons for liking the movie are more serious than actors, or my celtophile leanings (unfortunately it was filmed in Ireland, rather than North Wales, or in Scotland near Hadrian's Wall).

    I like this movie because it carried a theme of freedom, and because Arturius was a follower of Pelagius. I have felt for quite some time that Pelagius got a bad rap. He was treated as a heretic in the 4th and 5th centuries by such notables as Augustine (certainly not a favorite church father of mine!) He was exonerated and then later treated as an heretic again. Gee, I know how that feels.

    The gracious teaching of the freedom of human will which was taught by Pelagius, was presented as something which King Arthur believed in the movie. Arthur is portrayed as a follower of Pelagius, not knowing that Pelagius was already killed in Rome for being a heretic. (The time and manner of Pelagius' death is not actually known, though some surmise that he was killed by his detractors in the catholic church.) The idea that we are all born free is Pelagian doctrine. It is not Augustinian doctrine. In this issue I side with Arturius.

    The reference to the round table, and fact that it was designed round to put all men in equal position is a beautiful concept, and another reason for my appreciation of the movie.

    Having babbled a bit about a movie, I now progress to my point.

    We sure could use a Pelagius, or a King Arthur in the church today - someone who stands up for equality among the brethren - someone who sits at a round table, and asserts no special position by sitting at the head of the table. Authority in many church circles today is as grossly managed as it was in Pelagius' day. He was maligned probably because Augustine didn't like him, and Augustine was the big boy in the theological neighborhood. If Augustine didn't like you, or know you, you might have a hard time getting a fair shake.

    There are no Augustine's today. They have other names - like Charles or Jack. So, if you don't know Jack, you just might be in a heap of trouble in the church, if some self-serving religious authority gets his underwear all bunched up over something you've done. Like it may have been with Pelagius, you just might get a bad rap too.

    Monday, September 04, 2006

    Where Judgment Begins

    Years ago, I awoke in the middle of the night, and tossed and turned in a trance-like state. A paraphrase of a passage of scripture was rolling around in my head, and I asked what its meaning was. "Judgment must first begin in the house of God," filled my mind in this dreamy invasion of my faculties. It was from 1 Peter 4:17, which says, "For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God."

    I turned this way and that in the bed, and spoke out loud repeating the phrase, "Judgment must first begin in the house of God...judgment must first begin in the house of God...." Then I asked out loud, "What does that mean?"

    Soon my head was where my feet had been as I crawled around the bed. I continued to question the meaning of this saying. Suddenly as if from nowhere, yet from somewhere a voice from an unseen identity resonated with authority in my head, "One must go about preaching in the churches."

    Still in a trance-like state I turned over, and declared loudly, "That's it! - One must go about preaching in the churches." I then slid back under the covers, and fell asleep promptly.

    When morning arrived, my eyes opened with an excited start, and I leaped out of bed. From prone to standing the movement occured without intermediary positions. I threw the covers off, catapulted off the mattress, and landed on my feet in the middle of the small room in my Eaton Way apartment in Vista, and declared with complete excitement, "Judgment must first begin in the house of God!"

    All day long that phrase filled my mind, and gave me great joy.

    Okay - what the heck was that about? I love the medieval mystics, but I'm not sure I want to be one. They were kinda weird.

    The bigger question in sharing this story is: What do you think that passage in 1 Peter 4 means? Shouldn't the church judge itself? Is it doing that job, and if so, is it doing it well? If not, what does this passage from 1 Peter have to say to us?