Friday, September 25, 2009

What are you so mad about?

Now that I am years along in my exodus from the Church As We Know It, I can say that I have gotten to the point now where I can say that what I experience on a day to day basis is normal and no longer reactive. This is a good place to be, because it helps free me from the one thing I did not want to become, and that is angry.

In my experience, Anger was a sanctioned, justifiable evangelical vice that shaped me slowly, much like a steady flow of water makes it mark along it river banks. Over time it has an enormous effect, though at the time it was never really evident. But eventually I came to realize its constant force, and that it would take great effort to recover from it.

Running the risk of hyperbole, as a young man of faith, it seems like everyone I listened to, most every source of teaching, felt like it was motivated by some kind of anger. God was angry at what a lousy follower I was. He was angry that I didn’t read the Bible enough. He was certainly pissed that I was not more concerned for the unsaved or that I didn’t give enough money.

I learned all this from those who spoke for Him. They were quick to remind of all these shortcomings, and usually with a sense of anger in their voice. Therefore if God was mad, then that gave license to be the deliverer of the Good News in a very livid way. Even last night, on my way home from work, foolishly tuning into my Christian porn radio station (porn is any medium where its power is a promise of something it can’t deliver), the preacher was boldly defending your right to attack people doctrinally. Yes, attack was the word he used. Some easily accept this premise. My spirit rejects it.

I reject it because of what I believe the nature of anger is meant to do. It is a reaction. Not a motivation. This is why I believe the Scripture is descriptive of God being slow to anger. It’s also why we are to never discipline children in anger, or let the sun go down on our anger. Anger reacts, but to what does it lead us to do?

Love, on the other hand, is a motivation. It acts. It doesn’t react.

So the anger I absorbed from the pulpit, I have now come to see it as a reaction of shortsighted men. Were they really speaking for God, or were they aware that without their anger, they would find themselves powerless, out of control, and maybe even deeper, fearful that they were going to be punished by the God they were attempting to serve?

No, I am not one of those that pick and choose the verses out of the Bible he wants to believe. The anger of God is evident throughout the Whole Story, but maybe we are inclined to preach that way because it is that with which we are most familiar. The lack of love experienced leads to a lack of love expressed.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Francis Schaeffer, Toby Keith and Me

Years ago I read a little book by Francis Schaeffer titled Escape from Reason. It’s a comparatively thin paperback, which is probably why I felt I should attempt reading something by Schaeffer. In it he drew a timeline describing how a cultural change will unfold. On the one lefthand extreme of the line he started with the works of the writers and philosophers, and how we tend to see ideas written and espoused long before we see actual cultural change occur. These folks are labeled extremists and often pegged as weird, since their thoughts are just too far away from the norm.

Next from the philosophers, are the artists and musicians, whose work will also start to reflect a desire for societal change. Often theirs may be reactionary or angry, but their yearning will become much more accessible, because their efforts are visual and auditory, and not just in written word form. I am old enough to remember war songs from the Vietnam era, and also now today in the Iraq conflict. While there are the occasional Toby Keith “boot in the ass” songs that express support, art will generally make its voice known in opposition and there is a reason for that.

While not its only role, good art raises questions. It makes you think and ponder what lies beyond, to what could or should be. Artists are artists for a reason. They don’t always fit in. They march to a beat of a different drum. They think differently. It’s this mentality that allows them to be known by labels such as starving or strange. Their thoughts are not like everyone else’s.

The third point in Schaeffer’s continuum is the general public. Eventually norms or mores start to shift due to enough impetus from the leading edge, and social change starts to become mainstream. Our last presidential election was an example of this. The use of the key words, Hope and Change, merely helped seal the deal that had been brewing for several years. The status quo was not working for enough people and a swing occurred.

The final place Schaeffer says that change will come is in the area of theology or the Church, which makes sense, because the theologians are the keepers of orthodoxy and tradition, which is not a bad thing, because in our world that had embraced the phrase “thinking out of the box” for everything from food prep to redesigned floor sanitation devices (a broom still works fine for me), we lose the place for ideas that don’t budge easily.

All this is to explain why I believe I grew restless with the Church As We Know It. It is my natural inclination to think ahead and ask, “How can I do better?” It really is as much a curse as it is a gift, because it makes it hard for me to shut my mind off and rest. Take this morning, for example. What am I inclined to do when I wake up at 5am and can’t go back to sleep? I step out on my patio with my laptop and I write thoughts like these. I wish I could just watch a movie or even go back to bed, but the fire in my bones always smolders and it won’t let me.

This is why Schaeffer’s time line makes sense to me. I am pulled far more by the thinking on philosophical/artistic side than I am the theological side. I lived in a world for many years that required me to sell a never changing product that I myself wasn’t even using, and it had nothing to with whether I believed in God or not, but it had everything to do with how that faith was expressed. Once it became clear to me that this cursed gift I hold needed to somehow be set free, I could live with new found joy and sense of place.

It is with this realization that I will probably never fit back into the Church As We Know It ever again. Knowing this, I no longer feel the need to look back into the tunnel and curse my darkness, but now look forward to open waters and blue skies again.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Riding the Storm Out

My friend Bill wrote me an encouraging email yesterday, expressing his thanks for our friendship and what he referred to as my life outside of what is the church norm. I often feel misunderstood for my move away from the Church As We Know It, and that’s one of my top fears as a communicator, but to hear someone say that the direction I am taking now makes sense to them, that’s a pretty good feeling.

For so long my writing on this blog has been wrapped up in what I am not doing, about what I don’t believe any longer, and reasons why I stopped going to the Church As We Know It. I recently decided that I wanted to steer away from a negative stance to more of a positive one. I had no idea how hard it would be to generate thoughts accordingly.

Regular readers have noticed a lack of posting, and I have to admit that I feel I have very little to say in my new found theme. As a writer it makes me feel inadequate, and I in turn call myself into question, wondering if I really do have anything to say about the Church of the Future.

To lend myself a break, I would guess any true explorer experienced the same vague uncertainty. Pioneers, settlers, astronauts, scientists, entrepreneurs; the list could go on. The one difference in most of these is that what I am exploring has nothing to do with geography and everything to do with an inner journey. They mapped out the frontier, I am still charting my own heart.

I went to the State Fair last night to hear REO Speedwagon, a band I cut my rock-n-roll teeth on in the 70’s. It’s been several years, so I don’t know what triggered this thought, but I asked myself, “Why do I feel so free here?”

It had less to do with the freedom that I could enjoy the music with a cold one in my hand and not fret about being seen by someone at church who would report me back to an elder or other church member and call my integrity into question and recite a scripture about me making someone stumble and me not being concerned about giving an appearance of evil and that I should make a commitment to never drink in public or if I was in full maturity to never touch the stuff ever again…Whew.

No, I was simply enjoying a wash of freedom, of being glad I am alive, of reliving the sapling memories of my teen years, of holding on to today, and not grasping at tomorrow, of the preference I have for this kind of presence of soul.

And this is a sign of what I am looking for as I search for the Church of the Future, that I just might be on the right trail.