internetmonk.com http://www.internetmonk.com ...dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness Fri, 24 Oct 2014 05:32:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 ...dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer no The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer michael@internetmonk.com michael@internetmonk.com (The Internet Monk, Michael Spencer) 2006-2009 ...dispatches from the post-evangelical wilderness internetmonk.com http://www.internetmonk.com/wp-content/uploads/monkposterx3.jpg http://www.internetmonk.com A Short Reflection on the Week that Was http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/a-short-reflection-on-the-week-that-was http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/a-short-reflection-on-the-week-that-was#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 05:32:45 +0000 http://www.internetmonk.com/?p=52046 Nathan CirilloCanada, or at least its institutions were attacked this week.  In two separate incidents two soldiers were killed.  One of them Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was from my home town and was a friend of a friend. Although my son didn’t know him, they did have a number of mutual friends.

My facebook feed is filled with thought and comments (mostly good) by friends who have been affected by this tragedy.  One commented that 10/22 has become Canada’s 9/11.  It is the date on which we were attacked within our own country.  Another commented that both attackers were known to have a history of mental illness, and that maybe the debate should not be about Canadian security, but about the lack of treatment for mental illness in Canada.

There will be an inevitable over reaction to this over the next days, weeks, months, and possibly years.  As for me, I am filled with great sadness over this and similar events.

My grandfather served in the military.  So did my father.  I have as well, in sister units to the unit of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo.   I don’t see a military solution.  Instead, I long for the return of the Prince of Peace to put an end to all war.

Cpl. Nathan Cirillo leaves behind a young son.  I pray for him and for all others who are grieving at this time.

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Breakfast http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/51992 http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/51992#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 04:01:49 +0000 http://www.internetmonk.com/?p=51992 Interior-3

He sits across the table from me as we enjoy our biscuits and gravy. A good ol’ boy, a true Hoosier. He had been a pretty good baseball player when he first met her. But he was rough around the edges and she thought him uncouth. He didn’t know how to eat properly, she said. Still somehow, they fell in love, and she took him in and converted him into a presentable-enough gentleman.

Not that he ever became a white collar guy. He worked for a trucking company his whole life. He tells me he learned a cuss word or three on the job. Now that she is gone, he’s been talking to her and the Lord about that, to see if he could get some help cleaning up his language. A few other things needed forgiving too, though he doesn’t tell me what. He does make a point to say that this time, he wants to say grace before we eat (last time, we got to talking and forgot).

She had been the picture of dignity. Always took care of herself and looked good. She was what they used to call a real “lady.” Talented too. Worked in an executive’s office and kept it running. Played the organ in church and had fine taste in music. Made sure the two of them worked hard and kept a spotless home, a well-groomed lawn and gardens.

But with all her natural strength and grace, she was never snobbish. She too was an Midwest girl, rooted and grounded in the common sense soil of the heartland. She married a ballplayer, a blue-collar guy, linked her life to his and they became inseparable partners. He loved classic cars and they traveled all around the country putting on car shows and hanging out with gearheads. She became an avid sports fan and cheered as loudly and fanatically as he did when they went to games their teams were playing. They traveled around together and camped with the family and went to the casinos and enjoyed a life as regular and down-to-earth as could be.

He and I are having breakfast because now she’s gone. He finds it hard to eat at home without her. After nearly sixty years of sharing every day together, he’s experiencing “alone” for the first time.

“What do you have going today?” I ask him.

He laughs. “Just you,” he says.

biscuitsgravySo we eat our biscuits and gravy, drink our coffee, and talk about whether the Hoosiers are going to have a good basketball season this year. I console him about the Dodgers, his favorite baseball team, losing in the playoffs. Our banter is mostly sports talk, but I also ask after his children, their families, and he shares bits and pieces of the dramas that are taking place in their lives. They live in other states, but call him every day. He tells me about going to the doctor and other errands he’s been running. A story or two from the past sneaks out every now and again.

At various points in our conversation, things get quiet, and when they do he always comes back to her.

“You know, I talk to her. Every day. That’s not crazy, is it?”

“I’m spending a lot of time working out in the yard. The house is too quiet without her there.”

“I used to cook for her when she worked, and I got pretty good. So I cooked for her when she got sick, but you know, the last while there she just couldn’t eat. I couldn’t either. I’ve lost 30 pounds you know.”

He mentions the funeral service at least a half dozen times. I officiated it, and he can’t say “thank you” enough. He talks about how after they went to make arrangements the first time, she changed her mind and said she didn’t like the casket they picked out. But then she got too sick to go back, so the kids eventually picked out one they knew she’d like, and damn the cost. He tells me about people he wished could have been there at the service, but he remembers the flowers they sent, the cards they wrote, the phone calls they made. It’s clear that day made a real impression on him. It’s etched on his mind like some farewell scene in a movie. He’s been out to the grave a few times, but he doesn’t say much about it.

Somehow, we clear our plates and it’s time to go, me to my work, him to . . . what? I don’t know, and he may not either. The server brings our check and we fight over who’s going to pay, but he grabs it.

“You don’t have to do this with me if you’re too busy,” he says.

“No, I enjoy it. I’ll call you next week,” I reply.

“That would be great. You know, breakfast, lunch, a cup of coffee. I’m free now for most anything.”

“You know I’m praying for you, right?”

“Yeah, I need that.”

“And keep talking to her, okay? She’s not far away.”

“Okay. Thanks. Call me next week?”

“Call you next week.”

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Under Roiling Skies http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/51949 http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/51949#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 04:01:24 +0000 http://www.internetmonk.com/?p=51949 photo(7)

The skies today in central Indiana were as wild as any I’ve ever seen.

Such contrasts! Here and there, brilliant patches of naked blue broke through a pervasive chaos in the firmament, suggesting some paradise beyond the swirling fury. White, black, and every shade of gray between percolated across heaven’s dome. There was no discernible pattern, just helter skelter as far as the eye could see. A mythic battle ensued overhead all day long while we mere mortals trudged along below.

Where my day was typical for a hospice chaplain.

It started in the hospital, with a visit to a man just admitted to end of life care. I walked into a dark room, filled with family — a daughter, son, grandchildren, great grandchildren. I introduced myself and sat down to talk. The patient was non-responsive, the daughter looked beaten down, and the grandchildren were preoccupied with eating their biscuits and gravy breakfasts. In recent months, the family had lost a grandmother, an aunt, and a mother. Now dad was dying. When I expressed sympathy for their losses, the daughter squinted her eyes and recoiled as though a cold wind had gusted and slapped her in the face.

I did my best to let them know I was available as a friend. What did they hear, I wonder?

photoAs I was starting to leave the hospital, I received a call that another of our patients there had just died. I turned around and went to a different unit. There, two adult daughters were weeping and consoling each other over the loss of their mother, who had just passed after a weeks-long family vigil at the bedside. I asked permission to join them and sat down. This was listening time, and that’s pretty much what I did for awhile. What could I say? I did praise them for keeping faithful company with their mom during her last days, but this was their time to talk.

The visit ended up lasting a couple of hours. I moved in and out of the room, checking on them, giving them some space, doing a few small tasks on their behalf, touching base with the staff, and mostly just waiting. One daughter remarked how quiet it had become in the room, how little there was to do now. Other family members eventually arrived and we gathered around the deathbed where I commended them all into God’s care.

Then I moved on, and they walked out to face the turbulent skies.

On the way to my next visit, the sun began shining brightly, and as I drove through the city I was surrounded by resplendent trees under wide swaths of azure. The dear lady I went to see in her home has the most beautiful white hair, and as she sat in front of the window, the rays shone through and it sparkled like a million tiny diamonds. This woman, in her 90’s, always dresses to the nines whenever members of her care team visit. She loves to entertain, tell stories, and make us laugh. Sometimes she sits with three cats on her lap and one on the back of her chair, looking every bit like the queen of paradise, with her fancy sweaters, glimmering jewelry, and flashing, smiling eyes. I always kneel before her and pray at the end of my visit.

God save the queen.

photo(6)When I left her home to drive to my next stop, I noticed that the battle in the sky had intensified. The gods had marshaled their forces, the trumpet had sounded and all over heaven the lines were advancing with swords and shields drawn. No peace in sight. With each turn of the steering wheel, another vista of cosmic warfare. Maybe I should take shelter. But I can’t look away.

My day ended with a few mundane activities: a meeting, a cancelled visit, a stop back at the hospital where I found a patient alone and asleep and decided not to disturb him. Time to go home.

All the way to my house I thought about just how fine the line is between ordinary and extraordinary.

Nothing could be more common than what I do. Travel. Greet. Sit. Listen. Converse. Pray. Repeat.

But it all happens under a roiling sky, a cosmic battle, Job’s whirlwind.

Today I saw it. I really saw it.

Sometimes I wonder how any of us makes it home alive.

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Miguel Ruiz: First Church of Authenticity and Trends http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/miguel-ruiz-first-church-of-authenticity-and-trends http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/miguel-ruiz-first-church-of-authenticity-and-trends#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 04:01:09 +0000 http://www.internetmonk.com/?p=51941 243901.life-hype-website

Note from CM: Our friend Miguel Ruiz will now be blogging at The Brothers of John the Steadfast. This article, “First Church of Authenticity and Trends,” was recently published there, and Miguel gave us permission to run it as well.

• • •

First Church of Authenticity and Trends
By Miguel Ruiz

…is it just me, or is this title hopelessly contradictory? And yet, this is the message that countless congregations endeavor to send to our culture. “We’re the genuine article, bona-fide disciples of Jesus, and we’re just like you, so you’ll fit right in!” Mercy.

So my wife and I recently visited a local festival associated with the harvest of some plant that makes delicious pies (and they were!). It was hosted by a local congregation associated with a (non-LCMS) historic Protestant tradition who, though the denominational acronym had not been completely removed from their signage, had transitioned to the “Community Church” name and image. As a part of a nation-wide initiative, they were aggressively advertising “National Back to Church Sunday,” which I thought sounded just plain lovely, almost like “back to school,” but without all the corresponding sales. I said to my wife, “I didn’t know the Methodists took off Christianity for the summer!”

All snark aside, a few of the promotional materials, pamphlets, and fliers wound up in our hands, and as we read through them, a few paragraphs jumped out at me.

“You’re invited to church this Sunday at ______ Community Church! At ___CC, you will find friendly people striving for a better life, varying music styles, upbeat worship, relevant messages, and a focus on living life with a purpose. Come see what church has to offer for your life.”

If I were an unbeliever and the least bit skeptical, I think my initial response to that last sentence might be something along the lines of “Apparently, absolutely nothing.”

“Special coffee hour to follow. Casual Atmosphere, Real People, Active Mission, Mid-week Bible Studies, Fun Children’s Program, New Youth Programs.”

Now, if that isn’t cheesy or cliche, is it at least missing something rather critical that ought to have some prominence in a church advertising campaign? There is no Jesus in the equation. Does He have anything to offer my life? Or more importantly, does He have any life to offer me? From the pamphlets we received, you might indeed assume He was anything but high up on their list of priorities, most of which reflected the first world desire of consumer culture for historically unprecedented comfortability.

But the crass concept of church advertising aside, as if we were entrepreneurial businessmen trying to attract a clientele to our new product, consider the potential negative implications of such marketing phrases. Whatever you advertise yourself as will say something significant about what you wish to be seen as not. For example, when you advertise yourself as a church of “friendly people,” there is an implicit suggestion that other churches may be somewhat less than friendly. Otherwise, why would you advertise it if, in your mind, everybody expects every church to be full of friendliness?

Well of course, there are unfriendly churches. I don’t think they are a majority, or that being friendly makes you stand out. But the message seems to clearly imply, “We’re not like those indifferent congregations that you wouldn’t like to be a part of.” So maybe your people are friendly. You may even rightly consider that an asset. And by no means is it over the line to include that fact on your promotional materials. But let’s take a closer look at some of the other claims: Striving for a better life, varying music styles, upbeat worship, relevant messages, a focus on living life with a Purpose (TM), casual atmosphere, etc….

Hype-168It kind of sounds like many other churches are probably irrelevant and purposeless. I’m reminded of Matt Chandler’s adage that trying to make the Gospel relevant is like trying to make water wet. So… do these other churches not preach the Gospel, or is this saving proclamation not enough? Is the purpose of church really to provide a relaxed, peppy environment for the pursuit of self-improvement? I don’t see that anywhere in the teaching of, you know, Jesus. Further, if your church is full of “real people,” do the rest of ours contain imaginary parishioners? No, this is a subtle, inverse way of playing the pharisee card: We’re real, which is different, because elsewhere you will probably find phony.

When a church says “you should join us because we’re friendly, upwardly mobile, creative, upbeat, relevant, purposeful, casual, real, active, fun, and new,” at what point have they crossed the line of being pretentious? They might as well just come out and say “We’re totally awesome in every way you could possibly dream of, and you really want to hang out with us so it can rub off on you!” I didn’t realize I was missing so many of these things from my life. It’s all quite intimidating, really, I’d want to ask if they have more of an introductory step or recovery group for my purpose-less excuse for an irrelevant life.

At the end of the day, it appeared to base a marketing image 100% on knocking over a straw man caricature of their own creation. These blurbs so attempted to define the congregation by how much it is not like the religious boogeyman that they failed to define themselves by that which actually makes one a Christian! Campaigns like this do not seem designed with the religious skeptic or uninformed in mind. Rather, it appears to target the comfortable Evangelical religious consumer; those who have lost interest in another congregation they either quit attending or are frustrated with its inabilities to meet their “felt needs.” Like it or not, shuffling the deck chairs and inflating conversion statistics is big business. Or at least, it used to be. It will be MySpace by the time the LCMS learns the ropes.

Where is Christ and His Gospel? I’m near positive that somewhere in the doctrinal statements of this particular congregation they are acknowledged, among the many false beliefs Methodists also have. But in the day to day operations, it would appear that they are more assumed than actively confessed. It’s as if once they are in the doctrinal statement, they can safely be ignored most of the time.

What if a congregation defined its “brand image” solely on belief the Gospel? How would this function in terms of negative implication? To put ourselves forward as “Christ-centered, cross focused,” or “Gospel driven” simply implies that our Christianity is about being Christian, and not about what isn’t Christianity (finding purpose etc…). What if it were clear from our advertising that our message is about Jesus from start to finish, and our methods are formed around that which keeps our eyes on Him, in what the late Michael Spencer described as a “Jesus shaped spirituality?”

God bless the people of this congregation for their sincerity and strategic intentionality in reaching out to their community. From the bustle of activity occupying their facilities, you might even conclude that their efforts are successful. But I can’t help but wonder: What are they being reached with? What is being advertised and sold to them? Is it Jesus, or is it the congregation, with her leaders, methods, and new, more relevant message?

If you can indulge me a moment of satire, what if the impression we sought to give our communities for the reason our church exists looked more like this:

“Grumpy people, bored or frustrated with life, mundane diet of dirges, dull worship, droning sermons, focused on just surviving, burnt coffee, constricting atmosphere, hiding behind a mask of formalism, and little activity outside of Sunday morning. What kind of a God would want us? Join us on Sunday to hear all about the wonderful love of a crucified Savior. We might bore you to death, but you’ll be in good company!”

If we’re going to advertise what we’re selling, let it be Jesus. Not ourselves, not a wonderful life, not a purpose-driven all ages 24/7 community activity center. Nothing more than Christ crucified, for the forgiveness of sins. Is Jesus enough if He is all we have to offer?

….so what if I told you that the church we visited was an LCMS congregation? Would you be surprised? Should you?

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Steve Scott: Thinking Outside the Blog http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/51931 http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/51931#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 04:01:24 +0000 http://www.internetmonk.com/?p=51931 A-typical-Paris-cafe-terr-001

Thinking Outside the Blog: Connecting With Others in the Wilderness
By Steve Scott

I have an idea.

We know that Michael Spencer wrote much about the problems within evangelicalism. So much so that the subtitle of the Internet Monk blog has long been, “Dispatches from the Post-Evangelical Wilderness.”

Wilderness, you say? Yes. That place of dry wandering – and wondering – where neither the city, nor the suburbs, nor the small country town consider us one of their own. Its citizens long for a home, and the comments section at IM has been filled with wilderness wanderers documenting their journeys. Occasionally we hear of success stories of wanderers finding a home. Maybe within the Lutheran church, or the Catholic Church, or the Orthodox Church. Even so, many of us still wander in the wilderness.

But what if there were a way for those in the wilderness to connect with each other? I have occasionally wanted to post a comment asking if there are others in my metro area of 8 million who would be willing to meet, maybe for coffee or a meal, maybe to share our journeys, maybe to start a church. Surely, with iMonk’s vast readership there has to be somebody out there. But the last thing I wanted the blog to become is a place for personals ads. So I sent an email to Chaplain Mike asking for any input. And…

Chaplain Mike had an idea.

What if we started up an Internet Monk Community page on Facebook? That way people could join and send messages to each other privately and maybe set up get-togethers in various places or communicate in ways other than the usual comment threads.

So, Mike set up a Facebook group called “iMonk Community,” with the following as its purpose: “The iMonk Community Group is designed to help readers of the Internet Monk blog connect and communicate in other ways.”

This group will be a “secret group” on Facebook, meaning that members must be added or invited by another member. This should help keep spammers, posers and trolls away and provide a format with reasonable privacy. If you are a reader of the iMonk blog and wish to be a member of the Facebook group, see the instructions at the bottom of this post.

I am excited about this meeting place for iMonk readers. Keep reading this post and Chaplain Mike will give instructions on joining the group. Peace.

• • •

Instructions for Joining iMonk Community on Facebook

  • The iMonk Community Group on Facebook is a “secret” group, which means only members have access to the site. Membership is by invitation only.
  • If you would like to join, make sure first you have established a Facebook profile.
  • Then email Chaplain Mike at chaplainmike333@gmail.com and request an invitation to join the group. Use the email account you want to be contacted at.
  • Chaplain Mike will send you an invitation by email to which you can respond.
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David Cornwell: Come and See http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/51853 http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/51853#comments Sun, 19 Oct 2014 04:01:28 +0000 http://www.internetmonk.com/?p=51853 First camera...Come and See
Pictures and Text by David Cornwell

From the time I can remember I’ve been interested in photography one way or another. It started out, I think, by seeing my mom and dad use a camera to take family snapshots. In fact I now have an old print, taken around 1940 or so, of me sitting in the grass holding my mom’s Kodak Bantam camera to my eye and looking through the viewfinder. When I was about twelve they gave me an Ansco Panda camera for Christmas. I was in heaven. From that time to this I have been involved in photography to one degree or another. It wasn’t until retirement that I had time to devote to my hobby in a serious way.

However it has always been more than a hobby. It’s a way to get me out into God’s creation. Here I’ve learned to see in new ways. But not only see, but also to listen. To listen seems to me, to be an important part of being with God.

Photography is an interpretation of the beauty we behold. It’s a rendition of reality, or a viewing of what is “out there” literally through a different lens.

It also means that I must slow down, wait for what will happen. The light will change in a subtle way. Something will move. Contrast will grow deeper. The sun will play some trick. A shadow will grow longer, or simply fade away. Landscape photography is the genre I’ve enjoyed most, although I venture some other directions also.

• • •

[click on a photo below, then click on it again on the page that opens for a full size image]

A Farm Called Home Autumn Red Beans to Harvest Every Leaf a Flower Fall Pathway Forest Foster Park Walk Happy Autumn Fields Harvest Leaves by the Hundreds Came Onion Bottom Wetland Rugged against the Wind

• • •

I don’t mistake myself for a great photographer. I’m just someone who has taken it seriously for some time, learned lessons, practiced, and at the margins keep improving. Photography in the digital age gives one the opportunity to learn at a quicker pace.

I’ve always found myself photographing scenes consisting of a pathway of some sort. In some ways they resemble persistent dreams. Often they start where I am and lead out to infinity— a place which in theory has no end.

For me a pathway has always involved walking. I learned to love walking from an early age because my dad and I would take long walks through the woods. These are some of my earliest and fondest memories. With him I learned to observe nature, and to just enjoy the walk. To be with him, to have a conversation, to love being with each other was what it was all about. I miss him, sometimes so very much.

There are two places I visit most often for photography. One of them, and the easiest, is the farm I live on. I’m surrounded by fields, woods, crops, cattle, woods, birds, deer, coyotes, foxes, and several other members of the animal kingdom. This is an eighty acre detached portion of my son-in-law’s dairy farm.

The other is a large nature sanctuary about fifteen minutes from home. It is Merry Lea Environmental Learning Center of Goshen College (Mennonite), consisting of 1,200 acres. This consists of “Unique geological features such as peat bogs, a marl pit, and glacial gravel formations are present. Observable management practices include wetland, prairie, and savanna restorations, as well as sustainable agriculture.”

The website states “Those associated with the care, management, and ownership of Merry Lea recognize that we are accountable to God for our stewardship of resources in the same way we are accountable for other aspects of our lives.” I’ve been free to come and go, and to roam this place as I wish.

Photography, to me, is about walking a certain path, and seeing something. Sometimes it’s about seeing something not ordinarily visible to the naked eye. When God created this earth and all that is in it, again and again God “saw” something. And what He saw was “good.” He worked from an image when He created us— “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion….”

My best photography is a result of a “vision”— an image that forms in my mind— one that I hope to convey. Photographers often use the words “luminosity” and “luminous.” Their understanding of these terms is rather nebulous in connection with photography, but it has to do with the word “presence.” One well known photographer said that for a photograph to be good it must have “presence.” And that it is luminosity that produces presence. And to be luminous means to be radiating or reflecting light, to be shining or bright. This all sounds a bit circular. But it is something we know when we see, and when we see we understand.

Was it something like this in the beginning? From “The Message:”

First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.

God spoke: ‘Light!’
And light appeared.
God saw that light was good
and separated light from dark.
God named the light Day,
he named the dark Night.

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Saturday Ramblings — Oct 18, 2014 (Leaf-Peeper edition) http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/51841 http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/51841#comments Sat, 18 Oct 2014 04:30:27 +0000 http://www.internetmonk.com/?p=51841 P1080178

One of my favorite weekends of the year: Leaf-Peepers Paradise. The second weekend in October is typically near or at peak time for fall foliage in many of the places where I’ve lived. Tomorrow we will feature some spectacular pix by one of our faithful iMonks, and your chaplain himself is hoping to spend some time over the weekend rambling around the woods looking for good photo opportunities.

But for now, let’s ramble together through some of the more interesting sights around the web this week.

Sigh. I guess we should start with . . .

leafavatar_ff3775ea8fc3_128Something about some guy who resigned as pastor from his church in Seattle . . .

Something about how some guy who resigned as pastor from his church in Seattle took the corporate way out, not the Christian way . . .

Something about a few lessons we can learn from some guy who resigned as pastor from his church in Seattle . . .

Something about what some guy who resigned as pastor from his church in Seattle teaches us about being a pastor in the digital age . . .

Something about church properties now for sale in the wake of some guy who resigned as pastor from his church in Seattle . . .

Something about questions that are being raised about church governance in the light of some guy who resigned as pastor from his church in Seattle . . .

leafAdding ammunition to your Chaplain’s theory about how the triune force of Technology/Affluence/Freedom leads to secularization, Adam Graber suggests that cars created the megachurch.

european-classic-carsAmong the changing church practices related to this change in transit is affinity, a fancy word for common interests we share. It’s a “likemindedness.” These shared interests might be sports or music or art, or they might be doctrines, morals, and lifestyles.

The interplay of cars and affinity isn’t simple. To flesh it out a bit, take a non-religious example: choosing a restaurant for dinner. Now, most drivers don’t think in miles but in minutes. In 20 minutes, you can drive exponentially farther than you can walk. And this freedom gives you a lot more options.

With so many options, we’re forced to ask ourselves “What do I want?” and go from there.

So how do you decide where to eat? It’s a classic first-world problem: “What am I hungry for?” Chinese? Tex-Mex? Burgers? Pasta? Gluten-free? Deep-fried? While much of the world struggles with scarcity, in the United States, narrowing your options is the first-world problem of abundance. With so many options, we’re forced to ask ourselves “What do I want?” and go from there. We can’t not ask it.

Life with cars almost requires it.

leafSony-Offers-100-Your-Old-TelevisionSpeaking of technology, this week may have witnessed the crack in the dam that will ultimately lead to a flood of changes in the world of television. Both HBO and CBS announced that they will start stand-alone Internet streaming services in the United States. These services will not require a subscription to a traditional television service, but viewers will choose them in the same way they choose Netflix or Hulu now. A new age of à la carte television has now reached the toddler stage, is starting to walk, and will only continue to grow. As Emily Steel of the NY Times says:

The moves signal a watershed moment for web-delivered television, where viewers have more options to pay only for the networks or programs they want to watch — and to decide how, when and where to watch them. Rapidly fading are the days in which people pay an average of $90 a month for a bundle of networks from a traditional provider.

Personal note: Gail and I discontinued our satellite TV service at the end of 2013 and have watched little but streaming TV and movies since. We also have a digital antenna on one set to pick up local channels. The only service live TV offers that keeps this trend from going hog-wild is live sports. But the Times article mentioned that CBS is having talks with the NFL about this very subject. If sports can find a way to make the megabucks they are making now by streaming instead of relying on cable or satellite, we will have truly entered a new era.

leaf3630A lot of U.S. Christians were outraged this week when the city of Houston subpoenaed sermons of pastors who oppose a local equal rights ordinance. Scott R. Murray’s strong words at the Washington Post are representative of the way many view what has happened:

In the bare-knuckled realm of American politics, the mayor and City Council are not really interested in reading a bunch of Christian sermons to find out what they say. They are attempting to stop Christian pastors from commenting on moral issues that are important to politicians. They are using the coercive power of the city’s legal department and turning it on the speech of the church. Not only is this an effort to shame the pastors for their principled stand on sexual mores, but it is a naked attempt to silence them.

On the other hand, our friend Pastor William Cwirla pointed us to another, less reactionary point of view from another Christian commentator, Dr. Joel McDurmon:, who says, “Is Houston demanding oversight of pastors’ sermons? No.”

heroI write this only to calm some of the unnecessary alarm, and to introduce some reason and understanding into the mix. The headlines read as if the city has made some move to start monitoring all pastors’ sermons, and this simply is not the case. It also gives the impression that this is some out-of-the-blue, general attack tactic by the activists upon the pulpit. It is not. It is not out-of-the-blue, it is not broad and general as far as the implicated pastors goes, and it should not be a surprise at all.

The City is not making a move to monitor sermons. The city is merely responding to a lawsuit against it and using standard powers of discovery in regard to a handful of pastors who are implicated as relevant to the lawsuit. The issue is here: once you file a lawsuit, you open up yourself and potentially your friends and acquaintances to discovery. This is the aspect that has not been reported, but it is an important part of the context.

This is basic court procedure. But the headlines make it sound like a surprise attack by leftists advancing their agenda on unsuspecting Christians.

leafP1040298If you want to see what autumn looks like in various places around the U.S., well, that’s exactly why God created web cams. At this time of year, a number of them help folks chronicle the fall foliage. Here are a few examples for you to enjoy as we trace the progress of fall.

leafFinally, we can’t talk about October without celebrating the World Series.

Congratulations to the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants for reaching the Fall Classic. The games have almost all been nail-biters, with the vast majority coming down to one pitch or one last at-bat.

At the risk of ruining Matt B. Redmond’s weekend, here’s how the Giants won their series. The call is by the peerless Jon Miller. [note: starts with commercial]

And what a great story the Kansas City Royals are, returning to the World Series after 29 years on the outside:

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How I Became a… (Quiet) Charismatic http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/how-i-became-a-quiet-charismatic http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/how-i-became-a-quiet-charismatic#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 06:14:20 +0000 http://www.internetmonk.com/?p=51860 Holy Spirit fire doveToday we continue our series on “How I Became a…”. Last month I discussed how I had become a Theistic-Evolutionist. Two weeks ago I told my story of becoming an Arminian. Today we are continuing the series by looking at how I became a (Quiet) Charismatic.

Before telling my story (and before the darts are thrown), I do want to define what I mean by (Quiet) Charismatic:

First of all.  I am a Charismatic.  That is, when it comes to the the so called charismatic gifts of the spirit, I have moved from a cessationist position to a continualist position.  I believe that the Holy Spirit endows believers with these gifts today.

Secondly, I am a quiet Charismatic.  I you were to observe me in a Church Service, there would be little (other than the occasional raising of a hand) to identify me as Charismatic.  I have never spoken in tongues, or been slain in the spirit, or given a word of wisdom or a number of other things that might identify me as a Charismatic.

I do not believe charismatic gifting is intended to be normative for all Christians, nor is it necessarily permanent gifting.  To give an example, when someone points out the number of prophets that there are in the Old Testament, I would point out how many people in the Old Testament are not prophets.  God speaks to people.  God doesn’t speak to most people.  I think this a key to keeping the discussion civil here.  We have had a number of recent discussions about this on Internet Monk.  When “W” says that God puts a thought in his head with information hat he can’t possibly know of his own accord, I believe him.  When Stuart or Miguel say they have never heard the voice of God, despite wanting to, I have no trouble with that either.  I believe that both situations are consistent with the way that God operates, with the latter being much more common with the former.

I think that where we can get into trouble is when our expectation is that all Christians should experience the former, or that all Christians should experience the latter. (A note of clarification:  I am not attributing either of these extreme positions to “W”, Stuart, or Miguel.  I will let them speak for themselves.)

And now for the story.  There are no eureka moments in this story, just a series of “hmm” moments…

The church that I grew up in was in the latter cessationist camp.  They taught that when the Canon of scripture was complete, the charismatic gifts ceased.  “For we know in part and we prophesy in part,  but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.  1 Cor 13:9-10″  There were no genuine charismatic gifts, those who practiced them were either doing it from the “flesh” or with the assistance of Satan.  How the Holy Spirit really operated was laid out in an Emmaus Bible Course by highly regarded bible teacher C. Ernest Tatham entitled “The Holy Spirit at Work.”

Then the first of my “hmm” moments occurred.  Church Elder, Wally Best, was driving home from church one day. He was praising God in song as he was driving and he reached a point where he found he could no longer sing,   Much to his own surprise, he started speaking in tongues right there in the car.  While this was disconcerting to him, it was even more disconcerting to the other Elders.  While I was too young to know or remember all the details, the result was that Wally ending up leaving our church and starting his own.

In a similar time frame, C. Ernest Tatham had a similar experience.  Again, it wasn’t an experience that he was looking for, or an experience that he was expecting.  It just kind of happened.  He later recounted his story in the book “Let the Tide Come In”.    I happened upon a copy of this when I was in my late teens, and when I realized it was the same author who had written “The Holy Spirit at Work” my jaw just dropped.  This was an esteemed teacher in the movement who was turning his back on much of what he had earlier believed and taught.  Definitely another “hmm” moment.

At age 15 I went away to an interdenominational youth camp.  Some of the youth met together for a prayer meeting one night and I joined them.  It was proceeding along in a pretty sedate way when their was a move of the Holy Spirit in a way that I have not seen before or since.  Soon we were all on the floor sobbing and confessing our sins.  I remember saying to myself “Wow”, so this is what it was like in the upper room.  This was certainly a “hmm” moment, and one marked with a big exclamation mark.

At 17 I joined the military.  I also started drinking.  Heavily.  Things escalated.  The night that my drinking buddy tried to commit suicide and I had to physically restrain him from jumping out a window was the night that I decided to stop drinking.  That was when I realized I had a drinking problem and I couldn’t quit.  Finally months later I said “Ok God, I am supposed to be a Christian.  I have this problem and I can’t handle it anymore.  I need you to handle it.”  I didn’t touch a drop of alcohol again for years, and never had a problem with it again.  It was many years later when I considered the theology of God as Healer that I had my “hmm” moment.

The following year I went away to University, and the year after that I joined the Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship on our Campus.  It was there that I met my first Pentecostal, Belinda.  Hard to believe that I could go my entire childhood without meeting a Pentecostal, but that was the insular Christian world in which I lived.  Belinda was unlike any other Christian I had ever met.  She exuded joy in a way that I had not seen in anyone else.  In my many conversations I had with her I could tell that she was being genuine and that this wasn’t just some put on front.  She was only at the University for a year before she transferred to another school but my interactions with Belinda taught me that the Charismatic/Pentecostal types were not necessarily the fleshly demonic influenced types that I had been warned against.  Again, another “hmm” moment.

In my fourth year of University I started dating Marie.  Marie was a Charismatic Catholic Christian, a combination that I didn’t even know existed prior to meeting Marie.  Having been raised in, and still attending an anti-charismatic, anti-catholic church, my interaction with Marie produced many “hmm” moments.  As an off topic aside:  Marie had her own spiritual “aha” moment while we were dating, and decided to become a nun. (When one friend joked to her that I had scared her off men forever she sweetly replied, “Actually, after dating Michael, I realized that there was only way I could do better!)

After leaving that University I moved to Ottawa where I met “Mitch”.  I have known Mitch now for over 25 years now and he is one of the most godly men I know.  It was early in my relationship with him that he confided in me that he spoke in tongues in his private devotional life.  This really got me thinking.  Mitch wasn’t some person that I had read about, or knew as an acquaintance.  He was a best buddy.  Someone who I really looked up to, and someone who was one of the most gentle, kind, and patient people you could ever meet.  My mental images of the wild charismatic continued to be dashed piece by piece.

It wasn’t long after meeting Mitch that I also met Chris.  Chris was much like “W” on this site.  God would give him something to say to a stranger that he would meet on a bus, he would resist it, but would eventually pass it on.  Invariably the recipient would break down weeping, because Chris would have told him something, that no one else could have known, and which dealt with an issue that the person was facing.  I was in a weekly bible study with Chris, and other than this unusual gift he seemed just like an ordinary everyday student.  Almost every week when talking with Chris I had another “hmm” moment.

About that time I had my Arminian eureka moment and started looking for a new church.  I ended up in the Christian and Missionary Alliance.  The C&MA is an interesting denomination in that they could be best described as being charismatic in theology, but not in practice.    Their founder A. B. Simpson, is considered to be one of the founders of the Pentecostal movement, and in fact the early Alliance lost half of its members to Pentecostal churches.  The Alliance in more recent years has been more characterized by theologian A. W. Tozer, who it is said coined the phrase “Seek Not, Forbid Not.”  In reality, when it came to charismatic gifts, “seek not, forbid not”, became “believe, but don’t practice.”  However, in three years at that one church I heard more teaching on the Holy Spirit than I had heard in my previous twenty four years.  Yes, there is a third member of the Trinity, though you wouldn’t have known it from the previous churches I had attended.

Mitch and I got married to our respective wives 8 months apart and together we headed to the Alliance seminary in Regina, Saskatchewan.  My most significant “hmm” moment came during my years at seminary.  I had written about this experience several years ago:

I was attending seminary, just a few blocks from one of the poorest neighborhoods in Canada.  My good friend Mitch, a fellow seminarian, and friend for many years, invited me to visit the church that he was attending.  It was located right in the middle of this poor neighborhood.

We went to visit the following Sunday.  What followed was one of the strangest things that has ever happened to me.   As I sat down in my seat, I began to feel this overwhelming sense of evil in the church, like nothing I had ever felt before.  I said to myself, “What is going on here?  What am I responding to here?  Is it the music?  Is it the atmosphere?  What is causing me to sense this evil here?”

As much as I tried I could not figure it out.  But I knew that something was definitely wrong.  So I asked my friend Mitch to come outside with me for a bit.  Once we were outside I told his what was going on.  We prayed and asked God to protect the church from whatever was disturbing the service.  When we went back in, the sense of evil was gone.

After the service, Mitch said that we really needed to talk to Pastor about the issue.  I was quite resistant.  “What is the Pastor going to think when someone walks into his church and tells him, Hey Pastor, I know you don’t know me, but I felt an overwhelming sense of evil during the service?”  Mitch assured me that this was a Pastor who was quite knowledgeble in this area, and that he would vouch for me.

So we went in to see the Pastor, and after introductions I told him the story of what had happened.   Immediately after I finished, the Pastor turned to Mitch and asked.  “How far was Mike sitting from J. T. [not the real initials]?”  Mitch said, “He was one row behind us, and three seats over.”

I was flabbergasted, not only was the Pastor not surprised at what I had told him, but he was able to immediatly identify the probable source of what I was experiencing!  The Pastor then thanked me for drawing this to his attention.  According to the Pastor, J.T. had been dabbling in the occult, and the Pastor was afraid that he had brought a demonic influence with him into the church.  The Pastor then went on to tell me that he believed that God had given me the gift of discernment, and he encouraged me to look for a church where this gift could be utilized.  This was my first real experience of a charismatic church, and I was a bit uncomfortable with the whole idea, so rightly or wrongly, I never followed up on his suggestion.

Two weeks later I was told, J.T. manifested a demon during the morning service.  He was taken out to another room, where he was prayed for and the demon was dealt with.

I will end my stories there.  In summary though I do want to say that in over fifty years I have had very few personal experiences with charismatic gifts.  I can count them on one hand.  I also know that personal experience tends to have a major influence on one’s theology which probably explains where I have ended up on the matter.  I have had so many “hmm” moments that I can’t help but conclude that these experiences can’t be discounted.

As for the passage from 1 Corinthians 13:  “For we know in part and we prophesy in part,  but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. ”   That has to be one of the worst applications of a verse that I have ever seen.

As always your thoughts and comments are welcome.

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iMonk Classic: How My Wife’s Catholicism Has Changed Me For The Better: A Birthday Reflection http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/51832 http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/51832#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 04:01:22 +0000 http://www.internetmonk.com/?p=51832 Sacra Conversazione, Fra Angelico

Sacra Conversazione, Fra Angelico

First posted in September, 2008.

I got some nice things for my 52nd birthday. A new iPod. (Blue, 4th generation Nano. Be envious.) A book of Benedictine Daily Prayer. (I’m figuring it out.) Birthday cake (Oatmeal. Mmmm) with my wife, daughter and son-in-law. (Their rendition of Happy Birthday somehow made me feel I was boarding a train for Siberia.) A lot of Facebook greetings. Two cards. Many birthday wishes from my students. And right after I’d preached, a large lipsticky kiss on my cheek from a long-time co-worker. (It’s a tradition where I work. My wife approves.)

I missed getting a birthday card from my mom. Twenty-five dollars, as regular as clockwork. I miss hearing her voice on the phone telling me she was in labor for two days and it almost killed her.

I would have liked to go to church on my birthday, but instead I preached for our students. I Corinthians 3:5-9. “On Christians and Those Who Grow Them.” I enjoyed that opportunity.

The greatest gift I have on this 52nd birthday is my wife and our marriage. Particularly this year, as I look back and see how my wife’s conversion to Catholicism has changed me for the better.

Crucifixion and Saints (detail), Fra Angelico

Crucifixion and Saints (detail), Fra Angelico

When I told my friend Mark what was going on at our house, he said immediately that this was “necessary love.” I’m not entirely sure what he meant by that, but I’ve come to understand it as the love we must have and give in order to survive. It is as necessary as any of the other basic components of life.

We go through processes in life where the immediate and required response seems to be anger, bitterness or rage. I know all about this, because my wife’s conversion initially made me very angry. God’s refusal to play by my rules and the little contract I wrote and carried around made me angry. The “compassionate response” of other Christians left me feeling rejected and blamed. I was hurt and defensive; full of despair and bitterness. At times I was overwhelmed as much as if someone in my family was dying.

You can’t live like that. It will destroy you. It will eat up every kind of happiness, flood your marriage with the sewage of bitterness and poison your thoughts, work, emotions and worship. It will bring you to the middle of life hating the fact that you’re alive and empty of the presence and joy of the God who’s been your foundation for the entire journey.

It feels like you can’t resist it, but with God’s help, there has to be another way. Instead of the bitterness and the anger, I had to find necessary love. Very necessary. Necessary for my faith, my marriage, my sanity, my soul, my survival and my continued ministry.

I’ve discovered at least a hundred ways to question and protest what’s happened in our home, but I’ve also discovered that God’s love is more than adequate for the task of giving me hope, peace and forgiving grace. I won’t list all the questions and protests. There’s no point. Love is necessary and love is present in every place, for every disappointment. God’s not on trial. I’m on the way to Christlikeness. This is necessary love 101.

I’ve made enormous progress in the necessary love journey this year, and Denise has demonstrated most of it toward me. I certainly didn’t deserve the kindness and forgiveness she’s shown me. I think we’ve both learned a lot more than we ever knew about how God can give the gifts of marriage to those who simply present themselves as needy and undeserving candidates.

I’ve learned to actually encourage Denise’s journey into Catholicism. In some ways, I’ll probably always understand more than she does about the “outside” of Catholicism, and I have my share of questions about how she’s navigating some of what she must one day affirm, but I have decided to not only respect her journey, but to encourage and affirm it. (I still don’t like the 80 mile round trip to RCIA. Can we please get that over before winter? C’mon Catholics, pray with me on that one, will ya?)

She’s inside the experience of conversion to Catholicism, and I’m not. God is real for her. He may be confusing to me, but he’s real for her every step of the way in this journey. Arguing against God’s reality or pouting about her ability to discern him are both juvenile reactions.

As a Baptist, I deeply believe in what we call “soul competency.” In matters of religion, nothing violates my wife’s competency to determine her own beliefs about God. Not even marriage or my ministry. It’s my opportunity to learn to love and accept her as someone who belongs to Jesus, but who travels a different road than I do.

Crucifixion and Saints (detail), Fra Angelico

Crucifixion and Saints (detail), Fra Angelico

I’ve had to lay aside a lot of things that are very, very important to me, and to admit they aren’t as important to God as I thought they were. Things like communing and worshiping together as a family are very important to me, but sometimes being a follower of Jesus in a marriage means Jesus has to be followed- not some ideal about marriage or family.

I wasn’t capable of that kind of thinking a little more than a year ago. I am now, more so every day.

I’ve learned that Catholicism can’t be force-fit into the box called evangelicalism, and evangelicalism can’t be force-fit into the Catholic experience. The terms “catholic evangelical” and “evangelical catholic” still make some sense to me, but my catholic friends have helped me to see that their faith encompasses a whole that is much larger than the typical evangelical assessment (or caricature.)

I’m attracted to Catholicism, but not to the choices that make it possible for my Catholic friends to take in the whole of Catholic belief and experience. I’m still attracted to reformational Protestantism and vital, missional evangelicalism, and I do not believe, as Louis Bouyer wants me to, that Protestants and evangelicals can find everything they are looking for and valuing within the Roman Catholic church.

No, I’ve learned to be a happy enough Protestant.™ I’m happy enough with the Vatican II view of who I am in relation to Catholicism, and I’m happy enough with the essential basics of Protestant evangelicalism to stay with The Solas as long as they are on tour.

But most of all, I’ve become a person who can believe all of this without insisting that others see it the same way that I do. I’ve even learned to love, appreciate and gently laugh at the (now) 138 Roman Catholics who have spent an email (and in some cases, good money on books) trying to convert me to the RCC. (Just this week someone mailed me their phone number if I have any questions. Please don’t send me anything from Steve Ray. Please.)

God has shown his mercy to us in some unusual ways. He’s shown me the unfortunate side of how Christians respond to a cry of lament that they don’t understand. He’s convinced me that among those of us who look at one another as brothers and sisters across the reformation divide and long to love one another as best we can there is far more of Jesus-shaped Christianity than there is among those whose intention it is to argue the other person into the dust and treat the other side as the enemy.

I’ve found a lot of happiness in what we’ve experienced, and I don’t believe the adventure is over. While God isn’t doing it my way, he is leading me to know him better his way. His path, as Merton said, may appear identical to wanderings in the wilderness. But it all his chosen way to bring us closer to himself, to a greater appreciation of the Gospel and to a passion for conformity to Jesus Christ himself.

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Jeff Dunn: Crossing Over http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/jeff-dunn-crossing-over http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/jeff-dunn-crossing-over#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 04:01:28 +0000 http://www.internetmonk.com/?p=51823 Crucifixion with Saints, Fra Angelico

Crucifixion with Saints, Fra Angelico

This was first posted in August, 2013.

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9, NIV)

Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. (Revelation 2:4, NKJV).

I hope you will allow me some leeway in today’s homily. I want to invite you to journey with me, a journey that started forty years ago today. It is my journey, yes, but we may find it intersects in ways with your journey as well.

It was August 25, 1973, a Saturday, and I was trying to find a way to get out of a commitment to my friend Steve to go to an outdoor concert at his church. I had three lawns to cut that day, but amazingly I got them all done before Steve came to pick me up, so I was stuck. I had to go.

It was a beautiful afternoon. A stage was set up in the parking lot of Centerville First Baptist Church, and various local “Jesus music” groups were singing and sharing testimonies. I don’t remember anything that was said or sung that day, but I do remember the other teens my age. They were laughing and smiling—genuinely happy without having to drink or smoke anything to make them that way. By the end of the afternoon I said to myself, “These guys have something real, and I will give up anything in my life to have what they have.” That “something real” was Jesus. That day I met him face-to-face with his grace and mercy and forgiveness.

I threw myself into that church. Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday night services. Saturday night youth coffee house. This was in the height of the Jesus People and charismatic movements. This small Ohio Baptist church was bursting at the seams with those hungry for Jesus and eager to learn from Scripture how to follow Jesus in their daily lives.

Coronation of the Virgin (detail), Fra Angelico

Coronation of the Virgin (detail), Fra Angelico

When it was time to head to college, I chose Oral Roberts University, a charismatic university in the far-flung reaches of Oklahoma. (It was 1976, not 1876, yet my friends still thought that most people in Tulsa would be riding horses, and some of them were—really—concerned about Indians.) There I studied broadcasting while continuing to seek the Lord with all my heart. I was startled to meet others who, though they professed to be Christians, did not have the same zeal as I. They didn’t have daily devotions, they didn’t go to Sunday night vespers. Many were not even “baptized in the Holy Spirit.” I began to judge these as lesser Christians. After all, they didn’t believe the way I believe, the way I had been taught, so they must not be as good of a Christian if even Christian at all. But it was ok, because those who came to preach in our chapel told us just how much God wanted to bless us and do all sorts of good things to us if we would only give more and dream big dreams. By the end of my four years, I had found myself (if I were to be honest) somewhat lazy in my faith as well.

Graduation gave way to marriage, then children. We found ourselves moving several times between Ohio and Oklahoma, with a one-year exile to Orlando. Each move brought a new church home, always staying in evangelicalism. (Including six years in a Methodist church—but it was a charismatic Methodist church …) And with each stop I felt farther and farther from the God whom I loved.

I was no longer experiencing discipleship. I was being pampered and coddled. Instead of being shown how to love one another, even when it is hard to do so, I was told just how special I was to God. Instead of communion being the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world, it was about how partaking would bring me healing and strength and blessing. I was told that if I believed the right beliefs (which seemed to be a moving target), Jesus would come into my heart and be my personal savior, with the emphasis on personal. Leaders of these churches planned and worked to meet my “felt needs.” Evangelical books I was given to read were just self-help platitudes with scriptures dropped in here and there. Worship songs talked about how good it feels to be loved by God rather than the rich theology of those dusty old hymns. There was very little theology, as a matter of fact, very little need to train my mind to think of God. After all, God thinks good thoughts of me all day, and that is all that matters.

On top  of this, I spent many years working in Christian media, both broadcasting and publishing. While no one actually spoke these words, we knew that in order to increase our business we must manipulate people into buying our books or listening to our music using faith as the tool. We did it again by dealing with “felt needs.” I came to a place where I felt dirty and cheap, using Jesus to sell things no one needed.

In Douglas Adams’ humorous sci-fi novel The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe, he introduces us to the ultimate torture chamber, the Total Perspective Vortex. Victims put into this box see the entirety of the universe and themselves in perspective as a tiny dot on a tiny dot. It is designed to drive men (and other various creatures in the universe) mad. Zaphod Beeblebrox, sometime president of the galaxy, is placed in the Vortex by a ghost named Pizpot Gargravarr.

The door of the Vortex swung open. From his disembodied mind Gargravarr watched dejectedly. He had rather liked Zaphod Beeblebrox in a strange sort of way. He was clearly a man of many qualities, even if they were mostly bad ones. He waited for him to flop forward out of the box, as they all did.

Instead, he stepped out.

“Hi,” he said.

“Beeblebrox …” gasped Gargravarr’s mind in amazement.

“Could I have a drink please?” said Zaphod.

“You … you … have been in the Vortex?” stammered Gargravarr.

“You saw me, kid.”

“And it was working?”

“Sure was.”

“And you saw the whole infinity of creation?”

“Sure. Really neat place, you know that?”

Gargravarr’s mind was reeling in astonishment. Had his body been with him, it would have sat down heavily with its mouth hanging open.

“And you saw yourself,” said Gargravarr, “in relation to it all?”

“Oh, yeah, yeah.”

“But, what did you experience?”

Zaphod shrugged smugly. “It just told me what I knew all the time. I’m a really terrific and great guy. Didn’t I tell you, baby? I’m Zaphod Beeblebrox!”

Zaphod survived the Vortex because he was not a tiny dot on a tiny dot in relation to all of creation. As far as he was concerned, the universe did not exist without him. He was the center of everything that existed.

That was what I had become: the center of my universe. And what a small, crowded universe it was. There was no room for fear and awe of God—God, no doubt, was in awe of me. After all, that is what I was being taught at every turn. And I was sick of it. With no sacraments to serve as anchors, my ship was adrift on the endless sea of me Me ME.

Transfiguration (detail), Fra Angelico

Transfiguration (detail), Fra Angelico

My first love had turned into a plodding existence, saying and doing all the right things so as to fit in with all of the others who passed through the Total Perspective Vortex and came out smiling smugly that they were they center of all things. I had become Mary and Joseph, walking three days back to their hometown before they discovered Jesus wasn’t with them. He was about his Father’s business, while I was about my own.

I longed for, yearned for, a return to my first love. I sought programs and activities and services to get me there. I got up earlier and prayed more and read more and did more. I fasted and confessed and … and then I just gave up. That is when God met me. About six years ago the Lord began emptying me of myself. He began to strip away the nice Christian wallpaper I had put over my real self. He helped me to see that I really am just a tiny dot on a tiny dot in the vastness of things, and that was freeing to me. For with myself so small, I could once again begin to see just how big and wonderful and awe-full God truly is. Now I find silence to be louder and sweeter than Christian noise, and I find it much more peaceful to have simple dreams than big dreams.

So I have come to the 40 year mark of my journey of faith with barely any faith left. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years before they finally assembled before Joshua at the edge of the Jordan, ready to enter the land promised to them. I’m sure it took those last several years to get everyone fed up enough and tired enough and hungry enough to leave the familiar wilderness for the unknown. And once they crossed over, things were not easy for them. There was much building and fighting and learning and praying and believing to be done. The last several years of my life have been years of upheaval and tumult and pain and hunger and a longing for Jesus as he knows himself to be, not as I think he is in my own Total Perspective Vortex. I will not be the center of things when I cross the river. And I am now prepared to cross over.

I am at the river’s edge. But for me, the river is not marked Jordan.

It is the Tiber.

• • •

Postscript, October 2014:

I was confirmed into the Catholic Church this last Easter. What I discovered through the whole process was that I was really Catholic all along

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