Saturday, November 14, 2009

A great tagline from an article on Double X, "Glamour and charisma are two different things",0

The article compares Amelia Earhart and Florence "Pancho" Barnes. The article offers a theory as to why the new film Amelia bombed. For my part I had absolutely no desire to see what looked like a two-dimensional static icon ripped from the pages of history. If I want to see a film with a two-dimensional static icon there are already superhero movies and even those, in their better iterations give us three-dimensional and dynamic versions of Batman and Spiderman and even Superman (at least Richard Donner did, anyway).

The distinction between glamour and charisma is not necessarily a subtle one but one that can be easily lost because, really, there is a great deal of overlap. A person may be glamorous without being truly charismatic. A person may be charismatic without being glamorous and a, of course, a person may be both glamorous and charismatic.

Neither charisma nor glamour are necessarily virtues but they are measures by which we assess a person's character, often to our detriment, and often within Christian leadership. It's sexier to like the sexy leader, the magnetic personality, or the attractive person.

I suppose we could say that charisma is only palpable and observable in person while glamour is from afar. If this is actually ture (and I'm not saying it necessarily is) then a video preacher can be glamorous while said preacher is not charismatic unless he or she is as winsome in the flesh. There are musicians who are glamorous but not charismatic and I don't feel like making any enemies by naming names. There are also musicians who are charismatic but not really glamorous.

All the same things can be said, of course, about preachers past and present. Paul was, apparently, not particularly glamorous or charismatic compared to others, and his defensiveness in his epistles at least suggest this. Were Paul to come visit one of our churches now I'm not sure some churches would even let him in without a suit and tie. Others would note, as those in Corinth did, that in his letters he is forceful but in person he is not much to speak of. Perhaps Paul was victim of the blogging/php discussion forum dynamic! His posts came off as authoritative and powerful but in person he just didn't live up to his username!

It can be tempting to be drawn toward the glamorous preacher or the charismatic preacher without assessing the quality of the preacher's character. We evangelical Protestants have our own capacity to venerate saints. I notice that one of the more popular saints to venerate among the Reformed is John Piper! Another popular object of veneration, of course, is Driscoll, and Tim Keller is arguably a subject of veneration. John Macarthur (though I don't really like his work) is also venerated. While I remain a fairly loyal Protestant I can understand why people would feel inclined to bail on the enterprise seeing how much cults of personality develop within this faction or that faction. One is for Apollos, the other for Paul, the other for Cephas ... .

Friday, November 13, 2009

Patrol Mag says that battling over definitions of evangelicalism won't save evangelicalism

Chaplain Mike at the Boar's Head Tavern linked to this editorial and quoted a different section then what I am about to quote:

This definitional masturbation is frustrating for those who see many of the values typically associated with evangelicalism as worth preserving. First, it behaves as if evangelicalism were once a unified, coherent tradition to which Protestants can return. On the contrary, with its scatter-shot, authority-averse tendencies, evangelicalism has always been a concept in constant cultural flux, particularly in the democratic United States. Some evangelical denominations have kept a firmer grasp on their senses than others, but the broad sweep of American Christianity is hopelessly fractured, diluted, politicized, ideological, nationalistic, and often plain idiotic. The notion that the term and the culture it represents can be salvaged from this smoldering heap is naïve at best.

Mark Noll's The Civil War as Theological Crisis puts the baby to bed about how much theological unity evangelicals can claim they are getting back to in the United States. Suppose we say that someone is "Reformed"? Well, that does that even mean? Are we talking Reformed Anglican, Reformed Baptist, Reformed as in Presybterian (PCUSA, PCA, OPC, etc ?), Reformed as in a Pentecostal with Calvinistic tendencies? Would we be talking about a Reformed thinker who is dispensational or covenantal in thought, or would we be talking about a Reformed thinker who advocates credobaptism or paedobaptism?

Even simply within the definition "Reformed" we discover how slippery this is. I am attending a PCA church right now and liking it but I am also in a .... oh, I HAVE to use the Christianese jargon at this point ... season of transition. Ever since Driscoll picked up the Christianese of "season" I can't resist saying it just because it sounds so weird to me. While I was attending Mars Hill weekly and people asked me to describe what it was like I said, "Basically we're Baptists." Despite the protestations of not being linked to a particular denomination Reformed Baptist is arguably the best way to describe what Mars Hill is. The fact that it isn't officially a denomination doesn't mean it isn't one and the stance on infant baptism means Mars Hill CERTAINLY isn't Presbyterian or Reformed in the sense that other Reformed traditions would assent to.

In WorldNetDaily's lexicon of evangelical only Calvinists would legitimately qualify on the grounds that perserverance of the saints is considered a vital element of defining whether or not one is evangelical. So ... the entire Wesleyan movement is off the table and not evangelical, even though you could look at the mission statement of, say, a Methodist school, and see that there are Methodist congregations that identify themselves as evangelical. WND has come up with a definition of evangelical that actually excludes any ardent readers who happen to not be Calvinists. That may suggest that the political allegiance trumps any actual shared religious convictions or experience even within that wing of religious belief nominally identified as "Christendom".

As a few members of the Boar's Head Tavern have noted, is Together For the Gospel Together for the Gospel ... or is it Together for Calvinism? We can talk the game of not overplaying differences but that doesn't mean it doesn't happen. I know of a pastor in the area who didn't feel like picking fights about egalitarian ordination while the church was too small to afford offending candidates for sharing space who now doesn't have to worry about whether or not he offends ordained women. The battles we choose indicate the things we fear and the battles we don't choose are the ones that just aren't on the radar. Even though I like to consider myself evangelical I believe that we can be too cynical in what battles we choose to fight and not fight depending on what suits our agendas.

Now here is another segment from the editorial:

But so many twenty-somethings are not calling themselves “post-evangelical” because they know too little theology or have put too small an effort into synthesizing it with reality. They have come from the most apologetics-obsessed generation of Christians in American history, and have realized that many of their prepared answers are for questions that no one is asking. Adrift in the cultural sea, many turned to traditions and theological systems of the past, only to find those similarly unequipped to address the questions of our time. The only choice has been to begin the messy and at times overwhelming process of drafting something new.

Ah ... but, see, this is where I get skeptical. Most of the time when people draft something new they reinvent the wheel. This is why I don't blame conservative evangelicals for thinking that what isn't broken doesn't need to be fixed. How what isn't broken is APPLIED may be another matter. If these generations we're writing about are the most apologetics-obsessed generation of Christians in American history and their children are abandoning the faith in record numbers could it be that there is more to this than the notion that a new generation of evangelicals is, as Francis Schaeffer used to put it, saying "Jesus is the answer" without bothering to ask, "What is the question?"

What if the people who are leaving the faith are SEEING what Jesus is the answer to, see the question He is supposed to be the answer to, and decide that Jesus isn't really the answer to that question. Instead, the question is what people are asking to steer the conversation toward what they want, and Jesus is the answer that lets them pursue what they want. A young man wants to be in a sexual relationship and sees Christian teaching about sexuality as not only NOT the answer to his question but sees Jesus as the opposite of what he wants. A young woman who wants a sexual relationship will see Jesus not as the answer but as the obstacle to what she wants.

Does this then make these two young people idolators? Well, yeah ... but if they have been sold on a Jesus who is for "courtship", is against "dating" (because dating, etymologically, is a phrase descended from the euphemism for hiring a prostitute), and is for the father having pre-emptive control over a relationship (because that's what dad wants) ... well ... I could see THAT Jesus not being the answer to the question a young person may have about "Will I ever get laid?" People who sacrifice family and friends to that end are making sacrifices to their idol.

Yet Christians want it both ways. We want people to get married in a responsible way but we want them to hurry up and get married younger rather than older and, in some cases, to outbreed those Muslims who are going to over-run Europe in just a few generations. At the same time, if people so dread the responsibilities of marriage they marry later they are being selfish and Christians lament the "epidemic of singleness". Jesus can't be the answer to the question if the question that a generation of evangelical parents is asking is really "How can we take back the culture for Jesus?" when their children have the question, "What can I actually do with my life now that Hal Lindsey's secret rapture hasn't come for the entirety of my life?" Instead of Christ as Creator and King being the answer to your question in a way that subverts what you want for yourself and other people, Jesus is made to be the answer to your question so you get what you want.

Could it be the reason there is, as Michael Spenser has predicted, a coming evangelical collapse is because a generation of evangelical Christians has used Jesus to underwrite a litany of monumental double binds? Perhaps Jesus is being used to implement and underwrite these double binds. We should be engaged in "community" and be a blessing to the community ... but NOT if that means the "social gospel". We should aspire to raise families and impact the city for Jesus but family is an idol so thinking that having a family will make you a more whole person is idolatry even though we just told you that being countercultural is raising families in a region that isn't in favor of children. You should be married because 90 percent of people will marry and yet wanting to be married is a sign of idolatry if it distracts you from serving Jesus even though Paul pragmatically wrote that it is better to marry than to burn and also pragmatically wrote that it is better to not marry since the days are hard. Then again, if you delay marriage for reasons of not feeling ready you're not being faithful to God's design for then God's design for you is marriage.

Helping the poor should be done at an individual level and not necessarily by the church because many of the poor don't really deserve the help and won't repent of their sin even though the church may sink money into buildings without responsibly researching costs and zoning issues. We should care for the widows and orphans provided that they are faithful in their giving and tithe for a period that is not interrupted by a space as long as half a year.

Perhaps you see what I mean, here, about evangelicals using theology to underwrite what are cultural and generational double binds. All these things and concerns are valuable in themselves ... but perhaps evangelicalism has been heading for a collapse because we have used Jesus to justify the double binds we place on others.

The Lord Hath Bought Me But Not Thee, words and music

This golden nugget of Reformed hymnody focuses less on the virtues of home-schooling to prevent child apostasy or political infidelity and more on the essential reflection of particular atonement. In case one's descendents embrace semi-Pelagian or synergistic errors one may quickly incorporate this song into one's family or congregational liturgy.

As you can see the turn-around in each verse is fleshed out with a subtle modal mutation from C major to C minor and the closing word of each section has a touching picardy third phrase-ending to indicate the way in which the sovereignty of God makes all things beautiful in the end, including the supralapsarian destruction of the non-elect.

After such scintilating theological and musical nuance the anonymous composer could not help but evoke the most ancient and established true cadence (the clausula vera!) to reinforce the sturdiness of the proclamation of the text.

PS, Thanks to Fearsome Tycoon for helping me revise the text so as to make it more sweet and appealing to modern sensibilities.

PPS, For people of the persuasion that the text is brutish and callous toward people of different confessional traditions, let the author of this blog entry note that there is a lengthy historical precedent for songs of castigation and, in particular, cites the use of the castigating song as an evangelistic tool in the works of Barney E. Warren's hymn "Sinner, You Must Die"

Rejoice ye Homeschooled Children! Words and music!

Before there was merely the text but now there is music. Feel free to spread the word about this chestnut of 1) Reformed, 2) is it neo-Reformed or 3) Young, Restless, and Reformed hymnody. My thanks to Fearsome Comrade, now Fearsome Tycoon, for inspiring me to do some intensive study and research into unearthing this beautiful overlooked nugget of gold.

[Update] Thanks to a suggestion from Fearsome Tycoon himself I have updated the text and music so that it would be more suitable for modern sensibilities while also hewing to the great traditions of hymnody

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Writing is rewriting

Clearly I do no real rewriting on this blog and for that I am not particularly sorry. But in music I have come to appreciate what I used to implement in my writing, which is the hoary axiom that writing is rewriting. The craft of being an artist is the craft of second-guessing yourself about the quality and execution of your ideas, which gets me to something pertinent.

I'm rewriting my fugue in A major for solo guitar. I love the exposition, I am quite pleased with it. I also very much enjoy the stretto at the climax of the work through to the end of the piece. I admit that at the eighth prelude and fugue that some formulas are creeping in, like employing countersubjects in the coda of the fugue as a chorale with embellishments. The guitar is not the keyboard and so the lowly guitarist has to compensate for the fact that 1) he is not and never will by J. S. Bach and 2) the guitar does not have the same capacity for grandeur or contrapuntal density as the keyboard and so concessions must be made as Bach made concessions for the contrapuntal and harmonic limitations of the violin.

But the episodes and middle entries in this new fugue disappointment. I thought I liked the middle entries earlier but now they are starting to sour on me and the episodes disappoint me a great deal. Being an artist at some point means not settling for what is your average to lower-end work.

Another brilliant cartoon from Naked Pastor

I can't help but think of a young man who eventually became a pastor who declared circa 2002 that there were no righteous poor in America. A week later he amended his statement to say that there were righteous poor in America, he just did not believe there were very MANY of them. Fascinating. Apparently if you're just righteous enough you won't be poor, eh? How that avoided being a kind of prosperity gospel is beyond me but it goes to show that we must watch our own lives and doctrine closely. We can paradoxically embrace the things in practice we repudiate on principle, i.e. reductions nad falsfications of the message of Christ through the scriptures to justify things in our lives and words that are at odds with what we would profess in our best moments. This is something of an obsession of mine, as I see more clearly the gaps in my own heart and life where I do not live out what I profess. Being transformed by the renewing of the mind is a long, painful, lifelong process.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

HT to Wendy at Practical Theology for Women: Pugnacious Elders

Even as a teenager in Chuck Norris Want-a-be’s church, I noted that the
qualifications of an elder in I Timothy 3 in the NAS (which I used at the time even though I was in a KJV only church) said, “not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.” The ESV says “not violent, but gentle”. I get the feeling that as long you don’t actually make fist contact with face, this new version of the fighting fundamentalist thinks they no longer violate this standard for eldership. I would like to go on the record as very strongly disagreeing with that assumption. First and foremost, the Greek word translated pugnacious/violent can mean both the one who actually hits and the one who is just ready to hit. It also can mean a person who is contentious or quarrelsome. In other words, this standard includes verbal violence as well as physical. It includes a STANCE of violence (and an ATTITUDE of violence) as well as the actual act.
In many places in our society there are two ways of defining assault. The first is actual phyiscal assault while the second is the threat of it immediately happening. Let's pretend that you are in Gotham city and you accidentally stumble across the Joker. Suppose he offers to show you a magic trick involving a pencil. Do you wait to find out what that magic trick entails or do you run for your life knowing that you are probably going to be the victim of, or witness to, quite a bit more than simple assault? Absurd hypothetical example but it helps me explain what I'm getting at. You fear for your life not just because of the actual actions taken to maim or kill you but you fear for your life because you find out quickly who you are dealing with.

Violence, as Wendy right observes, is not just about the actualization of violence but the AFFECTATION of it as well. As Roy Baumeister (sic) wrote, the "badass" is a reputation gained as much or more by affectation and image presentation than by actual violence and fighting. He also notes that contrary to what people have sometimes supposed, people prone to violence may not really be insecure and c9mpensating. The badass may have, in fact, a spectacularly inflated sense of self worth that is nevertheless unstable and easily challenged, turning to violence of a verbal or physical nature when their core competencies are questioned. To bring things back to my silly comics illustration, Batman knows whether or not he can beat you and so he has no reason to take you down unless you're going to hurt someone else. The Joker doesn't care and will likely attack you just to prove that he's better or smarter than you.

The kind of fighting fundamentalist Wendy writes about, whether the old kind or the new kind, persuades himself that he HAS to go into the fight to validate his robust Christian confession (or hers). The stakes are heaven and hell and he or she is on the right side of the stakes.

All Christians are friends in the Lord, right? And we know the scriptures say that blows from a friend are better than kisses from an enemy therefore because in Jesus we are "friends" I am obligated to kick your ass to show you how much I "love" you. One of the finest euphemisms for a summary beat-down on discussions in Christian forums must surely be, "I love you in the Lord but ... " One guy asked what this meant in a discussion forum and I told him, point blank, that it means something like, "You're pissing us off and saying stuff you can't back up and we'd like you to come up with a better argument before we destroy you. Does that help?"

"I love you in the Lord" should not be used as a pretext to rip into someone as a failure or a sinner "in Christian love". Mocking and teasing people in "good clean fun" so that it is okay isn't really a step up. It is here that I suppose I should remind myself what the apostle wrote, that God is not mocked and that what you reap you will eventually sow. This isn't sympathetic magic yet the scriptures tell us that the wages of sin is still death. If you conspire to destroy or displace people you don't agree with you establish a legacy in which when your day of crisis comes no one feels eager to take your side because you have sown to relational death.

As an aside about the proverb that says blows from a friend are faithful, the proverb can also be read as saying that the wounds of a friend are long-lasting while the kisses of an enemy are profuse. Earlier I blogged about how it is important to read proverbs not merely as rules but as riddles God gives us to examine our lives and the lives of people around us. The wounds of a friend are faithful, we are told, while the kisses of an enemy are profuse. But if faithful can also be read as "long-lasting" there may be another contrast at work in this Jewish riddle/proverb. The kisses of an enemy are profuse and do not last. We know our enemies are our enemies. Therefore, their kisses, though profuse, do not last. We are waiting for the axe to fall on us. The wounds of a friend (or even someone we consider a friend who isn't one) hurt, and hurt badly, because we don't expect our friends to wound us. The wounds of a friend are faithful because they can be long-lasting. When our friend hurts us it hurts in a way a wound from an enemy may not. But in the hands of a fighting fundamentalist there is only one way this proverb can be considered, I have the right to beat you down for your failures, real or imagined.

The new fighting fundamentalist would like to use "faithful are the blows of a friend" to justify wounds that he or she may not be right to inflict upon people. Stay at home dad? Sinner! Wife makes more money than you do and you're okay with it? Sinner! You don't home school your children! Public school apostate! You let your kids date? Anathema, for we all know that courtship is the way to go and our marriages are going to be different from those in the world. You prefer natural headship to federal headship? I have questions about your committment to Sparkle Motion.

I am in a place where I struggle to discern the difference between a readiness to fight and pugnacity. I know there is a distinction and yet it can be difficult to discern, many things in the past which I considered a readiness to fight now strike me as pugnacity and the people exemplifying this pugnacity most are persuaded they are willing to only fight about "important" things. There are those Christians who believe that you must be ready to fight about the things that "matter" but they focus on essentially earthly things (read politics and social issues). These Christians are more likely to be up in arms about something Obama said or didn't say or did or didn't do than about the supremacy of Christ.

The stance of violence can sometimes seem to me to be what more Christians feel is LACKING in our life of faith. We need to embrace a war-time lifestyle. If you're a Christian there is a war going on but it is not against flesh and blood ... or if it is against flfesh and blood it is against over-weening appetites in your fleshly nature. Our great battle is against the flesh, the world, and the devil, probably most often in that order. You are less likely to encounter Satan or a demon attacking you (if ever that even happens) than to contend with challenges living a Christian life in a setting where there is the temptation to give up, and you are more likely to do battle with the strength of your own appetites than to battle a culture in which your being a Christian somehow gets you set up for persecution. Notice that I am not saying none of those things happen, just that in the way things play out you are more likely to unsuccessfully resist the temptation to eat food you shouldn't eat because it will mess up your diabetes than get persecuted for telling people they should go read this or that Christian book.

But a stance of violence toward others, even within the Christian faith and certainly toward anyone you decide is better treated as an outsider, is easier than considering violence toward your own desires. I don't know the balance between recognizing a desire as good and legitimate and a desire that is out of control. I have also increasingly doubted that I have been around spiritual leaders who are really able to meaningfully engage that question in ways that make sense for me. I plead ignorance and I also realize that sometimes the messenger can send mixed messages without realizing it. Allow me to explain what I mean through a ... uh, "hypothetical" example.

I have come to points in my life where some of the people who are most heated in their rhetoric about sexual sin and sexual addictions are possibly addicts themselves. If a man says that pornography is bad and masturbation to pornography is bad I'm not going to disagree but if the man tells hundreds of other men that he can't make it more than two or three days without sex or he starts to go crazy; or that polaroids of his naked wife she surreptitiously puts in his Bible are great isn't that still ... pornography? I'm not married and have never even dated so I'll plead ignorance about how often men feel they need to have sex, I also admit that I struggle with the idea to even recognize sexuality as an actual need of any kind since it isn't a need at the level of air, water, and food. And yet for all that ... I can't help but wonder if a guy who "has" to have sex every couple of days or he goes crazy is the pot calling the kettle black when he tells other guys they need to be less selfish or more self-controlled. Maybe one day if I am ever married I will suddenly see the light about how a dude "has" to have sex every couple of days or go crazy, whatever that means.

I may be told by someone that eating certain kinds of food is bad and that person may have diabetes. Where is the line, if there is one, past which you start to be cautious about taking advice from people who by the example of their lives don't manage to come to close to the ideals they espouse? For instance, if I know a person who looks down on the weakness and lack of discipline other people have yet has eaten his way to diabetes in this mid-thirties, do I take his tirades about how the weakness of others sickens him seriously? I can't take them seriously except perhaps as a displacement of his own self-loathing for having gotten himself into a perilous health condition through his own lack of discipline.

It is so often easier to condemn in others what we are afraid to confront in ourselves. Perhaps we feel that by violently confronting the failure of others in areas where we secretly know we are weak we may gain some strength to overcome that weakness in ourselves. Or perhaps by so doing we persuade ourselves that our moral outrage at X done or said by someone else means we are actually not guilty of it in our own lives. But Romans 2 is for me and not just you. Clearly I don't subscribe to that unfortunate, simplistic view when I am thinking about it.

I may, however, often unconsciously subscribe to such a vicarious mode of exorcism, exorcising someone else's demons (real or often imagined) to confront my own overwhelming sense of inadequacy and failure. I was part of a community where kicking people's asses in the Lord was considered the acme of spiritual activity. I have had friends who pined for the days when people could do this with impunity and were being "honest" and "real" in the process. This missed the golden rule entirely in as much as people don't like taking what they dish out when what they dish out is confrontation, dismissal, mockery, reductio ad absurdums, and ad hominems.

The pastoral badass may believe he "has" to fight these fights he picks because the fights are forced upon him by gospel necessity. That doesn't mean they are. The pastoral badass may want to take people to the literal or proverbial woodshed but that may be proof that he's not situated to shepherd in that situation. The rod and the staff prevent the sheep from going astray and fend off predators but sheep are dumb and the solution to helping an errant sheep is not to beat the sheep until it decides to follow the right path and if the sheep turns out to be a goat then nothing was gained. The pastoral badass or pugnacious elder inevitably confuses the fights he picks or feels he "has" to get into with fighting the good fight.

At length God is not mocked and we reap what we sow, perhaps not at all in a sympathetically magical way but through the kinds of relationships we cultivate. When Jesus said the one who lives by the sword dies by the sword he obviously wasn't saying everyone would be hoist on his or her own petard. But if you keep looking for fights you don't have to be hoist on your own petard. Someone else's situation that you decide has to be your fight can become the petard you hoist yourself on. If there is an irony still to be plummed in Ted Haggard's scandal it's that the pastor who vents the most about the sins of others in the public sphere may really be, as gays and gay activists have noted, overcompensating for something in his own heart. It's a cliche to say that pugnacious pastors externalize their battles with their own sins on to those of others but sometimes the cliche has some truth to it. It is prudent to watch my own life and doctrine closely and not just consider the lives and doctrines of others.

anxieties for self and for others

I have to admit that many times I feel that I am hardly fit to be called a Christian. My failures and fears loom larger than any possible success I could have in my walk with the Lord. And were my own anxiety about my failures not enough I end up being anxious on behalf of people I love. I have been a worrier at heart for much of my life. When friends and family are in bad patches it is hard not to feel as though part of me is miserable with them. I have not realized the degree to which what my friend said about himself is also true about me, that I can't be happy unless my friends are happy. I am not sure whether or not this is healthy or an example of being able to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.

Sometimes it is easier to not share what you have anxieties about because you feel ashamed of them or how you deal with them. It seems as though there is no possibility of escaping sin. David lived ou this reign being a weak father and yet is counted among the saints. He had numerous wives and murdered a man without, on the surface, temporal punishment. Scratch the surface and we see that the discipline he received from the Lord was not just gut-wrenching but probably caused him to despair of life itself. His elder son was an unrepentent rapist whom he dearly loved and did not have the heart or will to discipline. The younger son murdered him through conspiracy and eventually stages an insurrection proclaiming himself king and seduced one of David's most trusted advisors to join him, having sexual intercourse with ten of David's concubines in the process. Eventually this son fell after a battle to Joab and David lamented that son's death so much that Joab told David to stop disgracing Israel.

Then, even at the end of his life yet another son, apparently hearing rumors of David's impotence, decided he had a shot at the throne. David in his old age gave counsel to Solomon to kill in cold blood political rivals that threatened the united kingdom or whom David swore to not kill himself. David was a man of sorrows who faced sorrow because of his sin. I wish that I could have that kind of sorrow for my sin but often I feel numb. I have also gone through life wondering if I can do anything right and if I will ever measure up. I have let the expectations of others define me in some bad ways. I have feared people more than the Lord. Truth to tell I am not sure I can say I am fit to be a Christian ... and yet Christ seeks out the lost. The more lost and broken I feel the more I must remind myself the Father sent the Son to seek and save the lost.

For much of my life I have been obsessed with death and its inevitability, its unavoidable arrival. I have gotten advice on how to avoid this or that sickness or problem but all of it misses the reality of death and the inevitable day of death's coming. If despair is doubting the goodness of God's promises then I have to confess I am guilty of that where this life is concerned and I often wonder whether God has anything good planned for me in this life.

I have also come to realize that I struggle with the things I have hoped for and wanted over the last fifteen years that I don't have. The reasons for not having these things are manifold but are summarily: 1) I came to feel the dreams I had were stupid, silly dreams of youthful naivete or selfishness and set them aside as unattainable; 2) I came to feel that my wants and needs were basically selfish; 3) that many things I wanted I wanted because they were basically idols or shortcuts to obtain things that I felt imcompetent to attain; 4) these were things that I not only didn't have but was told in so many ways I NEEDED to have in order to be valuable as a human being.

It is this fourth point that is particularly bitter for me because I have often felt that despite Christian shop talk about having no Lord but Christ and eschewing "functional saviors" the people who talk like this not only have functional saviors themselves but have even been, in my admittedly limited perception, guilty of promoting these functional saviors over the years. None of these functional saviors Christians promote as rubber-stamped by Christ is quite as odious to me in terms of presentations and arguments as marriage. Now I have married friends and family and it is not too strong to say that I adore them! I love my married friends and family in ways that trouble me because of the level of, well, emotional vulnerability I feel just recognizing the degree to which I care for them.

Yet at the end of the day I feel as though I can't reconcile wanting to be married myself with following Christ. My experience and observation has been that while marriage and sexuality may be life-giving experiences for others they have the odor of death and dissolution to me. I have seen marriages fail and I have seen romantic relationships pursued at the expense of friends and loved ones. I have seen sacrifices made to the god of romantic fulfillment and I both hate it and am fascinated by it. The ambivalence I have is what makes it feel impossible to know how I should feel about it and when I have spent so many years with Christians who seem to believe that being married really and literally makes you a better person or speak as though marriage is what actually makes you a man it energizes a part of me apt to despair. I can't persuade myself that the thing itself is not worthy of being attained but I can't persuade myself that I want that enough to attain it or that the costs of attaining it are worth the trouble--eventually I come to the belief that even wanting that must indicate there is something wrong with me and yet that itself seems rather pathological.

I realize how often I am easily discouraged and how often I lose hope. I know that I should take comfort in the life to come that I will receive through Christ's resurrection and faith in His faithfulness ... but all of my life I have felt as though the way I am and will be judged about that is measured by Christians who look at me and implicitly and explicitly tell me that I don't measure up. I'm not on fire for God enough, what I have is just head knowledge and intellectualism and not "living" faith. What I have is not good enough compared to what they seem to have.

I struggle a lot and often unsuccessfully with being angry and resentful that I have encountered so much of this mentality among brothers and sisters in Christ. I'm enough of a failure already without being reminded of the ways in which I am a failure. I have grown weary of being told in different ways that my sacrifices, whatever they may be, are not acceptable to the Lord because they are not the sacrifices people think I should be making. My heart has been broken under the weight of the expectations of others and the expectations I have placed upon myself.

I can't blame others for my own idols even if those idols were given to me. I still accepted them. I struggle with the temptation to feel that it is better to not risk than to risk and fail. He who would save his life will lose it but he who loses it for the sake of the Lord will save it. I don't know what losing that entirely means, losing it for the kingdom. I am not gifted as an evangelist and do not feel called to ministry and even though I affirm that every Christian has the ability to be part of the body of Christ and serve and love others in some way I admit that I feel as though my life and training has made me, as the colloquialism goes, so heavenly minded I am no earthly good. I know this isn't actually or literally true at alL but it is hard not to feel that way when I assess myself. My own expectations mix with the rhetoric of those who say a man should go get a real job, get married, and have a legacy (i.e. make babies and all that other stuff a certain man has expounded upon) to form an excruciating, emotionally toxic brew.

I have anxieties because I have seen friends immerse themselves in this sort of thing and come out the other side broken and cynical. I have come out of it broken and cynical and feeling as though I have been used and discarded even though I know that's not a rational way to put it. It isn't uniformly true by a long shot and I know who has been an encouragement and a blessing and who has found me more useful than found me a true friend. I have to remind myself that the prophet says on God's behalf, "Can a mother forget her own children? Even if that happens I will not forget you."

Casting care upon the Lord and sharing our anxieties with Him means that we will pray without ceasing! In this world we will have tribulations but we are to take heart for Christ has overcome the world. Dying ... yet behold we live. If Paul despaired of life itself yet soldiered on then he is an example in the faith. For all of David's extravagant sins and failures after each failure he turned back. Let me be that sort of saint, one who despite sins recognizes that salvation is from the Lord. If brothers and sisters in Christ have promoted idols that have been rubber-stamped in their minds by Jesus; if brother and sisters in Christ have like Pharisees made themselves the measure of interpreting the Law, placed themselves in Moses' seat, and declare what we must do and be to be truly human ... I remember that James said, "Not many of you should desire to be teachers because we will be more sternly judged."

Someone I knew once said that the irony is that most of the people who talk the most about "grace" display it the least. A fellow I met once said that Calvinists do not realize how legalistic they are because they fool themselves into believing that because they have "the doctrines of grace" they are not legalists. It is easy to talk about "principles" and "methods" and how you are committed to "principles" and flexible about "methods" but I have seen Christians transform principles into methods and then stick with the methods, never really admitting that it had all devolved into a works righteousness. I have seen too much of that in my life and it makes me angry but I let myself get suckered into sticking by those sorts of people. But clearly I am rambling and rambling. I have come to realize that the pit of anxiety I have dug for myself is like a miry bog, a swamp of water and clay I cannot extricate myself from. Has the Lord forgotten me forever? Will the Lord deliver me from the clay pit in which I have become stuck?

Even in the midst of my failure the deliverance I hope for from the Lord is ultimately beyond death ... but I have come to realize, painfully, how much of a THIS LIFE success Christians want you to be to ensure that you're not only not a failure but even on the same team, a Christian at all. While I don't begrudge a person forsaking the faith in Christ over these sorts of disasters it makes me sad. Those who do not perservere may yet return to the Lord but our own idolatries do not exonerate us with respect to others. Temptations will come but woe to the man through whom they come. What happens when tests (temptations) come from fellow Christians? There is mercy in the end ... but there are times when I wish that there was some justice in this age. When I see how friends and family struggle it makes me even less optimistic than my admittedly not-optimistic self. But I digress. I have to remind myself that the Lord said, "Behold, I make all things new" I have to remember that no matter how often I may fail and feel discouraged that in Christ, new creation. ... as dying ... and yet we live.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

HT to John H at Boar's Head Tavern: Frank Miller's Charlie Brown

Oh this is hilarious.

aw man!

Well, turns out my connection totally bites during the day but at 4 in the morning the connection is awesome. This is exceptionally lame for those of us who are going to have to job hunt at the usual times that people usually job hunt ... during the day.