Friday, October 24, 2014

Do You Really Believe What You Believe? Why?

As I have been writing posts the last few days, a thought keeps poking up through the rant in my head, about why people believe things, and I think this is something that most people probably don't consider a whole lot. Of course, I am so sheltered, having grown up in a totally conservative environment, where everyone's beliefs are handed down from generation to generation, with no need to question them until recently, because, the majority of people, while not necessarily subscribing to them, agreed that they were probably true, at least on some level.

This makes me one of the worst judges of what normal people do, or talk, or think about. But, in my experience, a lot of people that I have known, seem to give more thought to their choice of a favorite major league sports franchise, than they do to their philosophy on life. That, or they spend about six months during college, when they are taking philosophy, or comparative religion, or psychology to gel their belief system, and then they never revisit it, you know, set it and forget it, like the showtime rotisserie.

So, I thought about it and I came to a few conclusions, which are probably completely wrong, but I am sure you kind people will be good enough to correct my misconceptions. So, here they are.

WHY?

There are a few major reasons that people believe the things they believe, most of them are, in one way or another, inherited. Here they are in no particular order.

  • Because my parents told me so
  • Because I learned it in school
  • Because that is what everyone else I know believes
  • The Bible says so
  • And last but not least, there are a few individuals who think it through, listen to input, read, study and come to well reasoned conclusions.

So, there they are. Now, let's take them apart and look at them a little.

BECAUSE MY PARENTS SAID SO

For most of us, this one tends to wear off a bit by the time we are fourteen. However, it comes back around as the default when we reach adulthood, unless we find other beliefs to take up space in our heads, but for the record, this is probably the single worst reason to believe anything!

My dad, the preacher, used to use this sermon illustration: A woman is preparing her first big Holiday meal in her own home,and her mother sits at the kitchen table, helping with odd things here and there. The woman pulls a large roast out of the refrigerator, where it has been marinating, and promptly cuts off both ends of it, putting the smaller, center section of the roast into a broiler pan with the herbs and spices, and pops it in the oven.
Her mother looks at her questioningly and the daughter asks why, the mother asks why she has cut the roast that way, and the daughter says, because you taught me to. The mother laughs. Turns out the mother had been cutting the roast off at both ends because the pan she had when the daughter lived at home, was too small for a larger roast. In turn, this pan was the one inherited from her mother, who also cut the roast ends to accommodate the smaller pan.

It is a fact that our parents do have deeply held beliefs, and that we tend to pick up on them. Some are overtly shared, and expected to be carried on. Some are unintentionally passed along through habits and traditions. In some cases, we may not even know the difference, like the woman cutting the roast, there are probably things in most lives that we do thinking they are important, or sacred on some level, when all the while it is just what has always been done. This roast cutting ritual could have been passed down to another generation, and so on, if the mother had never asked.

These beliefs may be useful, and some of them may prove to be true, but accepting beliefs, especially beliefs that dictate your relationships, religious observances, or political affiliations, without really knowing if you really believe in them or not, seems like a recipe for an unfulfilled life.

So, how do you explore these family heirlooms without being disrespectful? First, there is absolutely no reason to say anything to anyone who will be offended, until you have truly decided. You are an adult, and you can choose your own beliefs. Where your parents are right, follow them and teach your children to do the same, where they are wrong, drop it like its hot. When it doesn't matter, just think it through, if the belief adds to your life, keep it, if not, do what you want, if it detracts, throw it out.

MY TEACHER TOLD ME SO!

Teachers are great, and if you listen to the news, they are the unsung heroes of our era, but keep looking and you will also see that some of them are not and should never be left alone with minors. In general, the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and most teachers are hard working, well meaning people who took their jobs to help young people get a head start on life.

Teachers are fairly well educated, and as such are looked to as dispensers of accurate information. However, many of them also start straight into their teaching profession, with little work, or other adult experience, outside academia. Sometimes this creates a very narrow window of information and they share mostly what was taught to them and from approved sources that other teachers use as well.

In general, this is not a problem when it comes to basic facts, but almost all of what we consider to be beliefs are not factual information, but opinion based ideals that we use as a framework for making life decisions. A person with limited outside experience, who works inside a government structure, with others who have a similarly limited experience, may not be the best ones to get your world view from.

Everyone has biases, the trick is to expose yourself to enough different points of view to minimize the impact your biases have on your general belief system. So, same as with the parents, when it comes to beliefs you learned in school, expose them to the light of day, if they still stand up, keep them, if not, meh...

EVERYONE KNOWS THAT!

Everyone, as it turns out, is a highly unreliable source of information. After all, everyone, passed around a story that had youngsters and women sneaking peaks into their back seats in fear of a gangster wannabe with a hatchet, ready to take their hand back to their leaders in some form of gang initiation. Turns out, this never happened, or was never recorded at least, not one single time! But everyone was convinced that it was true.

Recently everyone has been up in arms about a lot of things that are going to destroy the American dream, take your pick
  • Illegal aliens
  • Ebola
  • Obama
  • The NSA
  • ISIS

The names change from time to time, but there is nothing new in that. Before we were so afraid of Islamic terrorists, it was Russians. When the iron curtain finally came down, what did we find out? Were they our equal, but opposite nemesis? NO, they were a broke, disorganized mess that could not even keep track of their own nuclear arsenal. Everyone knew they were going to get us, to the point that school children were subjected to ridiculously pointless drills, in the firm belief that their eventual attack could be survived by ducking and covering under a school desk. But it never happened.

It is my opinion, that none of these things will be our ultimate undoing, we will destroy ourselves, running from one fear to the next, with everyone cheering us on to our demise.

There are some simple way to combat everyone's beliefs. First, do a little fact checking before you decide to believe what they say. Find out for yourself, especially if your health, safety, finances, or family are at risk if they are wrong. In this day and age, information on almost anything is available at your fingertips. When everyone was saying that thousands were being beheaded by ISIS a simple search would reveal that the source was one single interview which got repeated so many times that it became fact over night, although credible evidence was nowhere to be found, and even many conservative watchdog sites caught on and debunked some of the photos claiming to show this atrocity.

Think about it, if there were thousands of christians being beheaded, wouldn't you be able to find pictures? I mean, Rene Zellweger gets a little eyelid tuck and there are literally hundreds of stories chock full of comparison photos,and you seriously think that the same govt that used this story as a justification to bomb another middle eastern country straight to hell scrubbed the internet of photos related to it? Turns out, there were never even tens of thousands of this people group to begin with.

Same practice applies, if it isn't true, or doesn't make sense, why bother with it? In most cases, a simple, am I minding my own business? Test will make it unnecessary for you to have an opinion at all. It goes like this: Does this have a direct bearing on my life? No, scrap it. Yes, continue. Is there anything I can do to change it? No, stop worrying so much, Yes, do it! If it really does not effect you in any way, stop talking about it, it's gossip, it's none of your business and you are becoming a part of the problem.

THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO!

This one is tricky for me, because I happen to believe in the Bible as a source of truth. But, I have heard more outrageous beliefs justified by supposed Biblical support, or mandate, than just about anything else. So, let's get started, shall we?

The first stop on this little jaunt is, does it really? Does it really say whatever is being claimed? In many cases, the answer will be yes, and you may have to do a little digging to get to the truth. In addition to a literal interpretation of a single verse,or small passage, an understanding of context will often clear up many misunderstandings. For instance, there are some verses, if quoted on their own, or only in part, seem to say one thing. For example the Bible says “We keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace” but in reality that verse says: “Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace?” And the following verse adds to this understanding by adding: “Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?”

This is, of course, not something that I have ever heard anyone claim, or teach, but you get the idea. So, ask, where is that verse, then go and read the passage, the chapter, or two chapters surrounding it. Find out , who is talking? Who are they talking to? Why are they saying what they are saying? Does it really seem to mean what you heard it meant? Does that line up with the rest of scripture, and what you know about the Bible and christianity? If not, keep looking until you find the answer!

There are other more subtle nuances to this as well, for instance, do you know the difference between a translation and a version? Is the version being quoted generally seen as reliable to the original text? Are the passages still relevant today? Not everything that is in scripture is generally considered applicable to modern believers. Is the language in the passage, other than what was quoted figurative, or literal?

Asking all of these questions will get you through many crises of Biblical understanding, and just knowing these tips will put you way ahead of many people who even teach the Bible themselves!

Before I leave this topic, I want to hit on the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy. Basically, the tenets of most evangelical, mainstream protestant denominations state that the Bible is perfect. That it was protected by God so that it would be perfectly translated, that the documents that are a part of it are perfect, and inspired directly by God and that it is the complete revealed message of God.

This is something I used to ascribe to, vehemently. Then one day I realized, it does not matter. No, I don't mean it isn't important whether it is true, or accurate. What I mean is this, we cannot claim to perfectly understand all parts of scripture. If you think you do, there will be an equal number of equally educated experts lined up on the other side to argue against your interpretation, so, ergo, whether it is perfect or not, does not matter. This does not mean we should not strive to understand it better and better as we live our lives.

Here is one question to ask yourself regarding the inerrancy of scripture, why does it matter to you? I know for myself it was a matter of self justification. In other words, if I have this perfect book, and I use it as a filter to judge everything in life, then I can know that what I believe is true, all of the time. Another part of why it mattered was this, I could also “rightly judge” the actions of others to know who was and was not in the club!

I will argue the other side for one moment. This document, however flawed, is the only tangible thing we Christians have to base our faith on. It is the only single point of conversion we can all point to and work from in understanding how we should interact with each other, and it is the most complete record of the life of Christ and His teachings.

So, is “because the Bible tells me so” a good reason to believe something? In many cases, the answer may be yes. But not everything that it says is as it appears, especially out of context, and not everything someone claims it says is true. Want to be one of the best educated Christians in the world? Read it, from front to back, you will be more informed than almost every other believer. Very few ever do that.

THINK FOR YOURSELF!

Above all else, you have been given a mind, and a conscience. If you are a Christian, Jesus said the spirit of God would reside within you. You have all of the mental, spiritual and physical capacities to make good decisions, form good beliefs and judge what you want to add, and what you want to discard. Ultimately, you will be accountable for your own life, take this from Paul, the Apostle

If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience' sake. But if anyone says to you, "This is meat sacrificed to idols," do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience' sake; I mean not your own conscience, but the other man's; for why is my freedom judged by another's conscience?…

I love this last bit, why is my freedom judged by another's conscience. No, it should not be. You and you alone will give an account for the life you lead. Please, think about your beliefs, get rid of those that don't fit. Accept new and better ones when you find them and live by all of your beliefs in such a way that you love all men, at all times, in all places.



Thursday, October 23, 2014

What I Believe About Sex, Drugs and Pornography, What Do You Believe?

When I finished my rant the other day, I realized there were a few categories I had left out entirely, so, not wanting to offend only  a small part of my audience, I decided to write a follow up. I cannot tell you how much better it feels to not be holding back anymore. It is exhilarating to finally be free to say whatever I really think. Now, as a writer, do not get me wrong, there are filters in place, and I have no desire to share any intimate details of my romantic life, or anything like that, but just to stop avoiding things because of people's opinions. It feels great!

                                                                               


So, in no particular order, here are a few more things I think most people should think about again, since their opinions seem to be half baked, and indefensible. Here we go.

SEX

Might as well start with God's greatest invention. That's right, sex was God's idea and not the Devil's, and being the father of eight, married to my high school sweetheart, I have a lot of things to say on the subject. First, I believe that God's best is for loving adults to be in a lifelong committed monogamous relationship. Part of the reason for that is that sex, like fire, is awesome, but can be potentially harmful in a lot of ways.

That being said, premarital sex is hardly the worst thing you could ever do. I mean, murder, rape, and a few others would definitely top the list. If my kids are reading this, it is the second worst, next to murder, which is what your mother is going to do when she finds out. So, keep your clothes on!

So, why is it Christians get so freaked out whenever sex gets mentioned, after all, there is an entire book of the Bible devoted to how, when and why you should be doing it! Solomon had some pretty kinky euphemisms as well, but I digress.

Here is the truth, married people, statistically speaking, have more sex than non married people, and report enjoying it more! It's true, we are also more adventurous, having more varied sex than our single counterparts! That's right! http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/13/marriage-sex_n_1422644.html

So, what about the young among us? Should we teach them abstinence only? In a perfect world, I believe that everyone would wait for the right person. This is not that world. While it sucks that people other than their parents are frequently the ones to share the details of reproduction with kids, there is one way to handle that. Inform your kids early! Give them as much clinical detail as they can sit still for, as soon as they ask! Do not hide it from them! (not suggesting putting the video of your wild weekend on the big screen) there is a HUGE difference between "private" and "secret".

When we hide things from our kids, we have no one to blame but ourselves for their mishandling of the subject.  Once they are old enough to engage in sexual activity, they should know, the good and the bad. Educate your children about stds and birth control as well. While I agree, I don't want my kids giving up before marriage, I don't want grand kids until they have a family to be part of.

So, I think you should talk to them about the beauty of it, admit that it's the most fun you can possibly have inside a human body, and tell them about the dangers of it too. Don't worry that exposure will encourage them to experiment. If you tell it to them in context and share your hope that they will wait for a mate, most kids will want to meet that expectation. Under NO circumstances do I EVER agree with parents shaming, or threatening children regarding sex. True, that while they are minors, they are your responsibility and their actions can effect you, so let them know that. This is not a thing where all of the repercussions always stay between to the two people involved. (watch Jane the Virgin for a hilarious take on how that works) 

Your job is to love people, not judge them, including your kids. If you restrict them unnecessarily in this regard, you will regret it. They are going to make their own choices, so grow up and realize that you cannot program, and even if you could, you have made plenty of mistakes, and would not be a good cloning model for the human race any more than anyone else!

Yes, encourage your kids, provide them with a good example, but recognize that they ARE already autonomous, you don't get to grant that to them, they have ALWAYS had the power to make their own choices, just because you managed to make them believe this was not true, it was. They are born with the ability to rebel. It is choice that makes obedience powerful, not coercion.

If your child hurts someone with sexual behavior, as in the case of rape, or child abuse, you must allow the courts to do their job. Do not ever consider covering up for someone you love, as their next target may already be picked out.

DRUGS

I myself, am not a fan. I drink, a very little, something I started at the grand old age of 38, and I have never had more than five beers in a twenty-four hour period, and that was on an adult's only vaca  week to Vegas where I had no responsibilities for my kids, or the need to drive. I don't like the way I feel when I take cold medicine, or benadryl and would not be lined up to take advantage of recreational marijuana were it ever made legal here. ( I live in Oklahoma which had prohibition until 1959) I don't like feeling out of control, don't like the burn of alcohol, the feeling of light headedness, or the realization that I am talking way too loud.

So, there you have it, I don't like it they should continue to ban it and jail those who publicly disagree. It will make the world a better place, right? Not exactly. I am a libertarian, and I really need to change my voter registration, so the poor RNC can stop calling me! I believe that drugs should be legal. I think that we have laws protecting people from rape, murder, pedophilia, reckless driving, destruction of private property, larceny, burglary, breaking and entering, trespassing, lude behavior, assault, battery, bank robbery, armed robbery, stalking, harassment, and public indecency. So many laws that protect people from the behaviors most commonly associated with the use of illegal substances, so WHY do we need to criminalize the act of ingesting the substance?

If you want the real answer, follow the money. Start with private prisons being a multi-billion dollar industry, with guaranteed occupancy of 80-90% in many cases. (yep, it's true bit.ly/thesharpenedspoondotcom )

Then look into how much money police and other govt agencies get from seizures of private property http://www.drugwarfacts.org/cms/Forfeiture

Then move on to the fact that this is a primary motivator for the militarization of police forces, and other government expansions, and one could make a very good case that the war on drugs has been good, mainly for one person, Uncle Sam.

I am for decriminalization of most drugs. As I said, there are already laws against all of the seediness and public danger they create. (if they do in fact create danger, we have not had a free society for so long, our perspective on this issue may be a bit skewed) It would empty out our prisons, stop man dangerous no-knock raids that are killing innocents and put a black market out of existence. Tax it, I suppose, although I think all govts on all levels waste more than enough now, and do not deserve any more.

PORN

This one is going to be a bit tricky. But I think there are some things that need to be said. Let me start by saying, that the sex trade is a complete abomination, and in every case where people are subjected to ANY sexual behavior, or performance, through coercion, or threat of violence, or monetary blackmail, or whatever. If a person is not engaging willingly, knowing and believing that they have a choice, the ones "forcing" this behavior should be sent away for a very long time.

I do not believe that there is anything AT ALL dirty, inherently sexual, or obscene about human nudity. Period. It is not the images in these materials that make it what it is, it is our depraved thinking. In the beginning, God created us to commune with him and each other in a perfectly innocent and completely unclothed state. We have the puritans to thank for much of what we believe about human sexuality, and they believed that even during married sex God left the building. Literally, if you died during intercourse, you were eternally "screwed".

I also do not believe that all depictions of the naked human form are pornographic by nature. I have appreciated the beauty in paintings, sculpture and photography without lusting, many times. But just as a glossy car spread can cause the seeds of envy, jealousy and covetousness to grow, so too, these images can be misused. Pornography, to me, is that form that depicts graphically, sexual activity and the human body posed and exposed in ways that are designed to elicit feelings of erotic desire. Not all things erotic are pornographic, either though. This is all my opinion, let's move on.

The purchase of pornographic materials, at least on some level, must be seen as a support to these types of activities, and for that reason, is really not a good thing. That being said, I personally do not agree with much of the teaching that has been prevalent on this subject in the past few decades, on several levels.

First, I do agree that lust is a sin, just as gossip, lying and cheating on your taxes are also sins. It bears the same penalty, Biblically speaking, as do all sins. Pornography leads to lust. It can damage relationships, create unrealistic expectations, and encourages extramarital behaviors.

Now, for the part where I disagree. I do not believe that a single usage of pornography is tantamount to adultery, and I do not agree that it should be grounds for divorce. I think in many, many, cases, some that I am personally aware of, that the use of standard pornographic materials on a casual, or regular, but not compulsive and disruptive level has been seen by many as the same as having an affair. I understand the pain the spouse must feel, betrayal, and the rest. I do. However, in many cases, the party engaged (typically men) has never even contemplated actually approaching another living breathing human being to engage in even a conversation about sex, let alone engaged in the activity.

Yes, I realize that Jesus said that if you look on a woman to lust after her you have committed adultery with her, already in your heart. I did not say it was a good thing. It does occur to me, however, that to hold someone to so high a standard in this one regard, while the wife is watching Real Housewives, engaging in all types of slanderous gossip, overeating and otherwise living in destructive ways, puts way too much emphasis on this subject.

This does not excuse men from their duty to lead a pure life. When you see that over 90% of respondents to almost any poll on the topic admit to having used some type of pornography, it would stand to reason that this is a fairly normal thing. Again, not right, but human, and in most cases forgivable.

I, know what I have said so far will be seen by many as excusing horrific behavior, I hope you hear me when I say, it is not my intent. In a perfect world, all men would marry a woman they truly cherished and thought of as the most beautiful in the world. I have made it my habit to adjust my thinking so that my wife has truly become the object of my desires, and the woman that I measure physical beauty by, but not everyone is going to do that. It does not mean that he is not a good husband, a fantastic provider and faithful to his family.

There are some expectations that the modern world, church in particular, has put on marriage and romance that have little to do with the Biblical picture. Our modern day ideals about romantic love and choices and feelings would be as foreign to someone from the first century as air travel. It is not that they did not experience these things, but they seem to have been more of a bonus than the expected, daily norm.

Beyond the "normal", consensual adult behaviors depicted in pornography, there are other categories, which present the abuse of humans, the inclusion of children and animals. This is not at all what I am talking about, and anyone who habitually seeks out these things should seriously get some counseling, as you present a danger to people around you. This is never okay. Again, it is sin, just like any other, and forgivable, but it should be dealt with before rape, murder, incest, bestiality and other things become a part of it in more than just the fantasies of that individual.

In addition while I think it optimal that all men eliminate pornography from their lives, for those of you who are financially burdening your families, or find your compulsion is interfering with your duties as a provider, husband or father, due to  the time, energy and money you are devoting to this habit, stop hiding and find someone to help you. Shame and condemnation should not be a part of this, it is not useful, but regret and repentance are both Godly.

 MEDIA

 On to something a bit lighter. I believe that all human expression is useful. Some of it shows us what we should be, some of it shows us what to avoid. Art and creative endeavors are a tricky subject to navigate. When it comes to movies, books, music and digital media, I am a pretty open person about what I watch. I watch the things I enjoy. If I find that something disturbs me, or makes it hard for me to be the person I know God is calling me to be, I don't watch it anymore.

There is a concept that I have lived by most of my life. I refuse to use some list of behaviors to avoid and things I cannot do. (well except for murder, adultery, etc, LOL)

Paul said it like this in Corinthians:

If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience' sake. But if anyone says to you, "This is meat sacrificed to idols," do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience' sake; I mean not your own conscience, but the other man's; for why is my freedom judged by another's conscience?…

Why indeed? SO, I watch what I want, I read what I want, and I discuss it, like an adult. If I find that I have violated my conscience, I repent and a I do not go back to it. But, I don't need some general consensus of the believers around me, to buy a movie ticket. This is something that many modern believers will all but ignore. Our consciences have all but died from atrophy. You need to exercise it to keep it sharp, or when you need it,and you can't call for backup, it will not be there to protect you.
John tells us we don't need a teacher, Jesus promised to give the Holy Spirit to guide us, God promised OT to write his law on our hearts, and yet, we still think that human consensus is the best way to make individual moral decisions, go figure.


I know there is more, but I think I've said enough for one day. Thanks for reading, I hope it encourages you to think about what you believe.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Toxic Person in Recovery Right Here. This one Will Make You Feel Good About Yourself!

I figure my main job as a parent, is to ensure that my kids do not grow up to be assholes.

I have had this sentence rattling around in my head for years, and this is the very first time I have ever put it down on paper, without editing that last word with asterisks. Good grief. Here I am a man of forty-three years old, with eight kids, and a wife of 22 years, and I just now have the courage to put swearing into print. Sheesh.

For some of you, that last part lost you, you don't find it courageous, you find it reprehensible,and yet, I am dead certain sure, that if you have kids, you appreciate the sentiment. For me, it is especially challenging, since I have allowed myself to become one and am now in recovery, assaholics anonymous, as I heard it put on a sitcom the other night.

Believe me when I say that anyone who had been through the stupid crap I have been through, been kicked between the uprights emotionally speaking, as many times as I have would probably feel justified in just drifting off into crotchetiness, but I happen to think there are still things for me to accomplish in this life that are being hindered by my attitude.

It really all came crashing in on me the other night while perusing my junk mail, which is pretty much all the email I get. There was one article there about how successful people deal with toxic people,and, for whatever reason, I was drawn to this piece of flotsam in my inbox. So, I read it. Do you know what I realized? I have never given a damn about how to deal with toxic people and have pretty much written off every bit of advice that I have ever seen in that vein for one simple reason, which I did not realize until the moment I read that title, I am a toxic person.

If you have ever had a similar realization about yourself, you will understand, why after forty-three years of life, this came as a surprise to me. The rest of you will probably not get it, but I am going to write about it anyway, because this is what I need to do right now,and if you don't think this applies to you there are about a half billion blogs out there all written for similarly perfect people go read one of them. Anyway, as I was saying, it hit me right between the uprights, with a sinking certainty, that I never needed to know how to deal, cope, work around these difficult people, because I understood them as only a native could, I was their king.

It had always escaped me, the reason that I was frequently socially swept aside, not so much rejected, as marginalized. Included, but not in every way. Part of it was my reticence to be a joiner, I have never been a true blue fan of anything much, but part of it was that I have been making people uncomfortable for a very long time, and it needs to stop. That was my realization and it took me completely off guard. My wife, if she were reading this would be shaking her head by now, because she has been telling me this for over a decade, but of course, I can't see through her eyes. I am one of those people who need to learn everything for myself.

One of the weirdest parts of this realization was this: not only was I being a jerk, but a big part of the reason, and this is going to sound weird, was because I was trying to be nice. Truly. Let me see if I can explain this. For one thing, I am a know-it-all. Really, I am. I remember the oddest things and rarely forget, plus my work history has led me into so many different fields, and I read nearly anything I can get my hands on, so I genuinely know a little about a lot of things, and feel pretty comfortable sharing it.. especially when someone seems to be having trouble with something I think I know. For another, while I am a fairly forthright individual, I am also very sensitive, and so, I frequently avoid saying things that I think are incendiary. But, the problem is, those things also, frequently happen to be true, and repressing them does not make it better, but it sure makes for some beautiful fireworks when the repressed stuff I should have dealt with comes out later at some awkward, inopportune moment.

In addition to all of this, I am in love with being right. So much so that I will frequently find some way in which I am right even in the most obvious of “you're wrong and you know it” kind of moments. It comes off as pure arrogance, even when the intention is to save face myself, it feels, to the other person, that I am trying to make them look bad, forcing them to accept the thing I am trying to avoid myself.

Then, there's the fact that I never, ever, not one time in my whole life, have ever backed down from an argument. So, wrap that package up and what do you have? TADA toxic person in a box! Throw in a smidge of impulse control and a whole lotta smart ass, with a bit of a temper (not given to physical, but verbal violence) and you have a lot of fun at parties, am I right?

So, all of this comes rolling at me through one little email, and amazingly, the take away for me, was this: I need to be more honest with people about how I feel. Although I have always thought myself to be overbearing, I need to have the courage to speak up when something truly bothers me, instead of waiting until it pisses me off. I need to stop cramming myself into uncomfortable situations, to try and help. I need to learn to mind my own damn business. I need to detox occasionally, in private, to reduce the risk of infecting others.

So, what does this have to do with my first sentence? Apparently nothing, but, my challenge to myself right now is to write what's real, and this realization is real for me right now. I don't really know much about parenting anyway. Everything I do know was self taught, trial and error and somehow my kids are turning out okay, despite me, which I hope gives everyone who reads this hope!

You may be thinking, sheesh this guy is a mess, makes me feel better about myself, and I can honestly say, congratulations! Glad you don't have my issues to deal with, but I bet you have your own, we'll get to those later. For now, I am feeling just a little bit better, learning how to live in truth, courage and humility. Maybe I'll get back to that not raising assholes thing in another post.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

This is What I Believe and If You Don't Agree, Then Great!

I am done worrying about what will happen if I just come out and say what I think about stuff. It's meaningless bullshit to not be able to just put the words on the page because you are so bound up in what somebody will feel about what you wrote. So, here is the deal, for years, I worried about what God thought, then He and I made peace with me being completely bass ackwards wrong some times, okay, most of the time, but that didn't stop me from locking myself down, see, there was still this part of me, this sick little, grew up in an environment that was conservative but not nearly as oppressive as I probably thought, little kid, who wanted people to feel all nice and cuddly and want to kiss puppies when they were done reading whatever it was, so, I would look for those kinds of things to share, and even once that stopped being the case, I just didn't really feel that I was free to share whatever I wanted to. I would lock down my vocabulary, or pull a punch to save face, or share things tied to some specific verse, or idea, or try to figure out what the hell people wanted to read anyway, or write to try and change someone's mind, or get them to agree,  and you know what? I am just done to death with that, so here I am and I am going to say a lot of crap today, so hang on have fun, leave a comment, start an argument, go crazy, I don't care anymore, because this is what I have needed to do for a long time. So here goes!

Politics!

Most of you have never even really thought about what you want the world to be, what you wish it was if it could be just the way it should be, which I think is where it starts in having any kind of opinion about it. Furthermore, just about everyone I know is parroting someone else, as if they didn't have a single thought in their own head that was worth bringing to the front of their faces and pushing out with their lips the teeth and the tip of the tongue. (actors, you may get that, the rest, won't but I do!)

Both parties are hell bent on destroying what is left of America's liberty because they both believe that somehow freedom can come from giving the right person control. LOOK IT UP! Freedom is what happens when no one has control! Liberty is the state in which a person is free to do the right thing, or not, of course there should be consequences for things such as murder, rape, thievery, destruction of property, personal injury, fraud and the list goes on, but damn it, the more you restrict others, the bigger that monster government grows, and it just looking for one thing, POWER, and where does it go to find it? YOUR LIBERTY! So wise the heck up and start thinking it through. The limits you put on others are creating new governmental powers, which will be used wholesale to restrict anything that gets in their way!

Gay Marriage!

Yep, I said it, and I do not mean, just “marriage” why? Because this is a fairly new concept to most of us. Here is what I think: don't care. That is right, I do not care. Because I do not think that government is a good source for choices on the issue of right and wrong. Ever. Ever, under any circumstance, nope, not then either! When you legislate morality, you give them the power to arbitrate the truth. This, in most people's minds, will change perception of what is true, based on what is legal, or not legal.

For myself, I have always believed that the truth is homosexuality is a sin, but in recent years, I have come to believe that it is not my job to eradicate anybody's sin but my own! So, do I still believe it's wrong? I don't know, and I am actually okay with that. Does the Bible speak against it? Yep, sure seems to, in its current state, in a couple of passages, along with some other things like “lying”, but we don't kick them out of the church or try to subjugate them into changing their minds, unless their lies effect us, so, here is what I am saying, love people, and mind your own business. Now, if your gay neighbor wants to parade his sex life in front of your kids, that is a different issue, but public decency and private adult choices that don't concern you are two separate issues.
I know there are people who will take issue with this, but here is what I say to that, bring it on! I am not stating that my opinion is the end all be all, what I am saying is that my former attitude towards homosexuality was keeping me from loving people the way Christ taught me to, so I choose to shift my focus. If anyone was considering this, and felt that they had a choice, I would advise them against it, because I think it is a very hard life to live, mostly, sad to say, due to judgmental people who mostly don't even think about their belief, or their opinion, but accept it wholesale, stamped, sealed and approved from a pulpit every Sunday, I'll get to that next!

Church!

As to the modern day, mainline, interdenominational, non-denominational, presbaptimethocatholinessofchrist? Shut the doors! That's right. Jesus said that every tree that does not bear good fruit should be cut down and thrown into the fire. If your church's primary reason to exist is to eradicate sin, you missed it, if it's there to be a social club for positive living, great! Call it that, and shuck the tax free status, if it's all about politics and winning things for Jesus in a way that he never endorsed, shut the doors! There are two groups of people that I think should never have lifetime careers, one is pastors and one is politicians, for the same reason!

God moves, he doesn't stand still. He focuses on something until he deems the time has come to move on to the next thing, and he does it. Listening to the same people spout the same ideas every week for ten, twenty, thirty, or even fifty years, does not generally lend itself to staying in tune with that! Want some examples? Look at who God raised up to be leaders in Israel, did any of them go about it in the same way? No. They had differing styles, differing focuses, differing methods, and we seem to think that if we can just pigeon hole the right way to be righteous, and narrow it down, and refine it, we can really make God happy! Look around you at the world we live in, his first commandment to men, before the church even opened its doors, included taking care of the planet and being responsible for the people on it, and the earth itself! So, pat yourself on the back for your weekend retreat, and all the introspection you can muster, but we have a lot of work to do and it needs to start today, and as long as we all sit behind the various facades we think of as churches, it is never going to happen!

YOU!

You are made in the image of almighty God! You are the crowning achievement of His creation, the one that he chose to personally commune with. You are awesome! Stop it! Stop accepting this nonsense that you are so full of evil that nothing that comes out of you is right! Those verses, if you look at the context, are all aimed at times when wicked men were overrunning the righteous! That is not about you! You love your family, you love your coworkers, you try hard to be decent to people around you, but you got some explaining to do also.

See, while some things are fringe items on the Biblical agenda, like homosexuality, for example, some things are very clear and get mentioned again, and again, and again! So, here we go!

MONEY!

For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

READ IT AGAIN! This verse is one of the most ignored verses of the last thirty years of mainstream church history! You are not to love money. Jesus had a lot to say about it. Most of it bad. I know, Dave Ramsey is reallllly popular, but guess what? He has made a huge fortune telling you what you wanted to hear, which is that you can pursue God and Money! However, that is not what scripture teaches at all! Jesus said this "The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. "But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

Do I think this means that you cannot have money and serve God? No, but this is the eye of the needle Jesus was referring to when he talked about how difficult it would be for someone already having wealth to enter the kingdom! He refers in that passage to the light in you being darkness. In other places we are told that Satan masquerades as an angel of light. Perhaps this refers to a false belief about money? I don't have enough energy to flesh this out right now, but here is my challenge, THINK!

Think about your attitude towards money. Why do you spend the bulk of your day trying to get more of it, many of you doing things you would never do if it were not for the money? Why do feel the way you do about spending it, giving it, saving it? Look for yourself. Study it for yourself, don't take the word of some pastor or teacher with a vested interest. If nothing else, just read the words of Jesus and see what you come away with if you don't add anybody else's interpretation into the mix.

Briefly, I think he said this, wealth, or abundance, which is a much better word, comes when we seek the kingdom first, but surprisingly, the more you do, the less it matters to you how much you have, or what anybody else does with theirs. If you have to struggle to hear God when it comes to giving, I suggest you have an issue in this regard. I suggest that if you are easily, readily, and regularly engaging in judging others for their abundance, or lack, or using it for a measure of any kind, you might have an issue.

PASTORS AND OTHER “PROFESSIONAL” CHRISTIANS

I already said a few things, but here is what we know: the word pastor is mentioned one time in the NT. Yet, we virtually center our entire religious observance around the opinions, ideas and thoughts of a single man in each congregation of believers. Meanwhile, there may be hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands following him. How many of them have to fall before we understand this? They are men, there is only one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ.

So many in our day are making bank on the superstitions and half beliefs of entire groups of people that it makes me sick to think about it. The Christian bookstores are filled to overflowing with the crap they spew about every topic under the sun, ninety-nine point nine percent of which can only be called Biblical under the loosest, most lacking in context understandings possible. We were told that we did not need a teacher

As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit--just as it has taught you, remain in him.

This is believed to be from the Apostle John, the same John whose gospel we find at the front of our NT. He was expressing something here, that if you know the spirit inside, that deposit that is said to be there to tell of things to come, you cannot be led astray. So, believers, we should be more reliant on what the spirit inside tells us, and not so quick to jump on something because someone can outline a “scriptural” case for it, remember, he is likely trying to sell a book, which he hopes will become a lesson series, which will them spring into a video series, a series of lectures, and if he's really lucky, an entire series of conferences, with tens of thousands repeating his ideas, and paying lots and lots of money to do so.

So, do I think there are still trustworthy men in professional ministry, yes, absolutely, but even they should be held accountable, and their teachings questioned in light of what you read, and what you hear from that inner still small voice!

JESUS!

Last, but certainly not least, I want to share what I personally believe about Jesus of Nazareth. Much of this is still because of my upbringing, but nothing in my experience has contradicted it, so this is still my belief.

I believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a pure and sinless life (not a life without mistakes, by the way, he learned to be a carpenter, after all) Taught a new kingdom not built with hands, which he left to his disciples to carry on. He subjected himself to the Romans who crucified Him, through the will of the Jewish high court, died, was buried and was raised again. I believe he has ascended to the Father, and will return bodily once again at the end of the age to establish his Kingdom with those who believe.

I also believe that He is one of the most misquoted, misunderstood, and misinterpreted teachers and prophets in the history of the world. I think that reading His word, unfiltered, uninterpreted, without commentary, will change your life. It will disturb your beliefs, especially your “christian” beliefs in some cases, and make you long for the world he describes when he says, the Kingdom of God is like.....

HELL AND HEAVEN

I don't know. Really, I just don't know anymore how I feel about all of this, and before you start throwing stones at me, please, think! Why are you so invested in the idea of eternal, for always, forever and ever torment and punishment of another human being? What is it that makes some people almost downright giddy at the aspect that some, not them of course, but some, and in many cases MOST of the humans throughout all of history will be deposited into a great lake of fire?

Yes, the Bible does mention it, but there is precious little in the way of a treatise on this. The passages that mention are few,and far between in comparison to some things, like LOVE for example. Also, the concepts, between OT and NT are not cohesive. The belief that most mainstream Christians ascent to is a third concept that does not really fit with either of these, and that is just in the reading.

As for heaven? The concept I was taught as a child does not seem nearly big enough for an afterlife upgrade designed by the creator of all of this magnificent stuff we see before us on the earthly plane.

I do believe in the afterlife and that rewards and consequences will be awarded. But, I am not at all sure that they are as absolute, or as permanent, in our way of thinking, as they have been described. Look around you, the creation we currently inhabit is constantly in flux. It is always revealing new things, can you really believe in a static world beyond this that NEVER CHANGES, in the way we hear those words?

At any rate, it does nothing to dampen my appetite for sharing Jesus and His Teachings, I am not a universalist, because any God who saves people who don't want saving makes no sense to me either. So, I am open to discussing and learning more about this, and ultimately, it changes nothing. It changes nothing because God still calls me to love Him with all of my brains, brawn, my eternal being, and to love my neighbor to the point that I think of them as at least as important as I am.

Oh man, that was exhausting. Please, argue with me, comments are welcome, shout, agree, disagree, share your point of view, whatever, but don't hold back. Learn to explore what you think, what you feel what you know, what you believe. You may find out things are not at all as they seem in your world. You might even change your mind on some things. But mostly, you will KNOW where what you are saying comes from. Yes, keep your Bible close, but keep the God that promised to make his home inside of you even closer.



Saturday, October 11, 2014

What I Think Church Should Be

Tonight I met a man who really made me think about what I am doing with my life, and why. His name is Paul, and he left Pennsylvania to relocate to New Mexico, on a recumbent bicycle, with a tiny trailer. http://www.signsoflifeonearth.com/
In the course of our conversation, I questioned myself a lot, as to why I do what I do, and what I really want to do. Some of you know that up until five years ago, I passionately chased a dream to own and direct my own theatre company. The reality of eight kids and our daily expenses made it impossible to keep going, so I had to reluctantly let it go, and have been somewhat adrift ever since.
For nearly twenty years, I have been self-employed in some form or other, often multiple forms at a time, and I do enjoy the freedom of it, but of late, the idea that there is something bigger I should be spending my life at is almost inescapable.I know, if you go back through this blog, you will find this as a theme.
I have also written about the fact that I have believed since youth, that God is calling me to full time ministry,  but there are several dilemmas in that that I am wrestling with, even as I write this. So, at the risk of oversharing, here it is in a nutshell:

First, on more than one occasion in my life, it has been said to me that there is a call on my life to lead people in serving God. I have never disagreed with this, and actively pursued it up until my early thirties, when I all but gave up due to many, many disappointing and hurtful experiences with "christians".
I have all but given up on the institutional church and am not at all sure what Christ intended, but I am pretty sure that none of what I have personally experienced, in my highly varied church experience is it. I have seen shadows of it, in bits and pieces, but most of what I see that matches up with his His "invisible kingdom" is the fringe stuff that happens unintentionally in church communities from time to time,and generally gets shut down once it is recognized.
The church I see when I read the gospel is an ethereal thing. It does not look the same in all places, and does not serve in the same way each time it appears. It is a patchwork quilt of personalities and ideas that seem to flow into one another almost randomly, not a codified, systematic belief system that can be explained and memorized and charted by anyone willing to sit in a lecture hall long enough to hear all of the explanations surrounding it.
To begin with, all of the recorded words of its founder could fit between the pages of a single modern novel, yet the books that explain it fill libraries. It is, at it's core, the simplest philosophy that has ever been recorded, Love God with everything you are and share that love with everyone you meet. But, we are inclined to more complicated belief systems, and so we add definitions and explanations. We explain the whole thing to death and insist on our way of understanding it as the only way, while millions of others insist the same thing.
We say we believe in a salvation of Faith, through Grace, and that works cannot save, but then we build lists of Thou Shalts,and Shalt Nots that put the Levetical law to shame for its brevity. In truth, even if taken at its most literal, there are very few things that scripture dictates against, and many of those never even enter into the conversation when it comes to modern "righteousness".
So, I am going to be inviting anyone who wants to come, to meet with me on a regular basis to study and discuss what church should be, and what seeking the kingdom first is really all about, with no preconceived notion of what that "looks like", or what will become of it. Here are ten things I think the church should do, based on my reading of the teachings of Jesus.
  1. The church should welcome anyone who comes to them, whether they openly claim to seek God, believe in a specific doctrine, or don't do either of those, period.
  2. The church should give without thinking to gain in return, and this includes gaining by seeing their gift used wisely, there should be no gift in one hand, list of rules for finding a deserving receiver in the other.
  3. The church should understand that their best explanations of who and what God is are all based on metaphors and figurative language, and should be willing to hear others experiences with an open heart and an ear to the spirit of discernment.
  4. The church should spend at least as much time on promoting righteousness, and being decent citizens of the planet as it should spend on "combating evil" and "hating sin" Our example of love should be our main attraction
  5. The church should be a place of refuge for the weary, regardless of their past, present, or future. We should not love until we believe we have exhausted all avenues of convincing someone to "accept Jesus" we should be about 70x7 for the same offense in a single day
  6. The church should be about peace on a personal, community, national and global level, period. We should not glorify, or condone violence for violence, since our savior taught us that this is no longer the way
  7. The church should not seek political solutions to spiritual problems. PS, every problem on this planet, according the book you claim to believe in, is spiritual at its root. We should be salt and light, we should strive to preserve, and enlighten in all times, in all places.
  8. The church should not make decisions based on numbers, or money, since Jesus taught that we cannot serve both God and the world's wealth. The church should work to support its members,and not always the other way around, as the example was given in the first century. 
  9. The church should be led by its members, not dependent on "professional christians" to carry out its work. The word "pastor" is mentioned in the NT once in a list of other leaders that included apostles, prophets, teachers, and preachers. A plurality of interdependent leadership, accountable to the body is what is indicated in scripture, not one man who speaks for God. That system died at the cross, there is now one intermediary, and he is not among us in the flesh.
  10. The church should strive to be revelational, not relevant. We are to be the ones who show people what life is really all about, and that does not mean just singing songs and reading our favorite verses, it means working to complete the great commission, which is an extension of the commands given to the first Adam, to fill the earth and have dominion over it. THIS DOES NOT MEAN TO HAVE CONTROL THROUGH A POLITICAL OR RELIGIOUS INSTITUTION it means we are responsible to God for the condition of this planet and its people, and we are directly responsible to love on the lives we come into contact with in any way possible. Love is contagious, and we should be about the business of infecting as many as possible.