Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Being Versus Doing Distinction

I’ve been talking about this stuff with a pastor friend of mine on and off for years. A pastor friend who has stuck his tongue in his cheek for years, as I’ve tried to explain my problem with this Christlikeness way of talking and writing and thinking about who we are.

A pastor friend who has politely chuckled as I’ve tried to help him understand the problem here. As I’ve tried to get him to see this fecal material floating in the punchbowl here.

But then the other day I decided I would set it out so that even a chuckle-headed pastor could understand. I said, “Look. There’s a difference between being and doing. Being means we are claiming to have a divine nature. A divine nature, as Jesus had and has a divine nature. The unique son of God nature.

“We appear to be claiming that if we don’t begin with a divine nature we can acquire one over time by working at it.

“We are claiming that we can actually be divine in the sense that Jesus was divine.”

“Well, that isn’t right,” he said, his chuckling subsiding. “That isn’t possible.”

“Right,” I said. “That isn’t possible.

“We certainly can do as Jesus asked us to do. Or try to. But we cannot be like Jesus in any meaningful sense.”

“Being and doing,” he said. “I get that. Everybody should be able to get that.”

“And this conflation of the two meanings is at the heart of much that has gone wrong with us. With us Christians. With our faith. Our faithfulness.

“We’re so focused on being like Jesus, we have little time or interest or patience with what Jesus asked us to do. We’re so taken with the idea that we’re divine or that we’re signed onto a program that will make us divine that we begin to want to insist we have the same intimate understanding of things and relation to the Father that Jesus had.

“And then of course it’s Katy bar the door. Look out everyone, the Christians are coming. The divine ones are coming.

“It just makes for the most embarrassing kind of evangelism. The most embarrassing sort of conversations with non-believers, particularly here in Western Culture.

“No wonder non-Christians hate us. If I weren’t a Christian, I’d hate us too,” I said.

The "Little Christ" Hogwash

I don’t know whether anyone’s tried to tell you that the word “Christian” means “Little Christ.” I’ve heard this from several. Several of the pastors who have tried to set me straight about our objective as Christians. Our objective to be like Christ.

But it is apparently false. This understanding of the word Christian is apparently false.

Having no idea myself, I looked it up this evening in one of Zondervan’s Understanding the Bible reference series: Zondervan’s Bible Dictionary.

It says that the word Christian is derived from the Greek, Christianos. Further it says, “The Latin termination –ianos, widely used throughout the [Roman] empire, often designated the slaves of the one with whose name it was compounded.”

“Slaves,” not “children” or “followers” or “friends” or “companions” or “colleagues” or “brothers.”

“Slaves.”

A name that was applied first in Antioch, if Acts is correct, by non-Christians to followers of the Way. A name that stuck and was adopted by Christians themselves.

Which suggests to me that the first Christians did not imagine themselves to be little Christs.

They did not act as if they were in any way diminutive copies or duplicates of Christ. They did not behave as if they were in any sense equal to or roughly equivalent to or approximately the same as Jesus.

No. They acted like Christ’s slaves would act. Like people who didn’t have anything remotely resembling the social or political or spiritual standing of their master.

Two Women

I’ve known a woman—a Christian woman—who was so convinced by the Christlikeness story. The Christlikeness propaganda. That she gave up. She gave up being a Christian altogether.

She was so far from being anything like Christ, she thought, that there was no point. No reason for continuing the charade.

She couldn’t live with herself, given that the objective of being Christian was being Christlike.

Given the Christlikeness instruction that her pastor had given her. Had given her frequently over a period of years.

She could at least eliminate the weekly reminder of what a despicable person she was by staying home. Sleeping in on a Sunday morning. She could at least end the hypocrisy. And so she did.

Another woman I know continues to go to church, but she has little joy. You’d think Christians of all people would be known for their joy, because there’s so much good news in the story of Jesus. In the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit.

But this second woman was taught at a young age by Christian parents and her Christian pastors that she was a sinner, deeply disappointing to God, and that the only way she could possibly redeem herself was to seek holiness. A holiness that is sinless and pure. That her way forward was and is to be like Jesus.

And she believes this is her only option. Her only way of understanding God and herself.

And she discovers sin in herself every day. And this is why, she says, she doesn’t have much joy.

Perhaps you know people like these.

What I Do Know Is This

I was sleeping and then I was not. To sleep or not to sleep, that is the quotidian.

Thinking of my children and my wife. Wondering what I can possibly do or mean for them.

Thinking about the poets I have known. The many fine poets I have known. For whom saying what they know is everything. Was everything. Will be everything.

Poets who stare into the air and take from it everything they might possibly mean. Saying whatever their breathing in of that air might make of them.

The wind moving in that air might say to them.

There is an ache that will not stop. An ache in the night that brings one forth. That unfolds one. That skins one. That opens one like a hunter’s knife.

And takes one’s insides out. Spills them.

Thinking about God and what he might want from me. Why he would wake me and drag me out. Spill me out of my sleep into this broad waking. This hard, dark waking.

What I do know is this. I want my children home. I want my wife warm and yessing. I want my God warming my family like a fire that knows nothing but a banked burning. All night and day. In this cold weather.

I want to say, “All will be well. All manner of thing will be well. Forever.”

I want to say this all night. I want to whisper this in their ears. I want to murmur this through the night.

I want to say to God, “All will be well. All manner of thing will be well. Forever.”

And so I do this. Even in this weather. Even in this dark season.

I do not know what it means. I do not know why I mean it. I do not know what I am doing.

All I know is this. This waking. And this saying. And a desire to ask forgiveness of everyone.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

What Can I Possibly Mean?

As I was having lunch today, it suddenly hit me. The reason I seem to have it in for You Know Who. Or You Know Whom. I’m not sure which. The People we’ve been speaking about up until now. The People who would like us to believe they have God’s own particular authority here on earth. The Spatial and Special Chosen People of God. Here on this cosmic plane. Or on this cosmic construct.

But I suppose it is hyperbole to say that this (what I’m about to spout off about) is the whole reason for my torque. I think there may be multiple, as I’ve already intimated. Some personal. Some logical. Some theological. Some epistemological. Some moral. Some accidental. Some occidental. Some oriental. Some celestial. Some mathematical. Some aesthetical. Some rhetorical. Some historical. And some hysterical.

But this one is decidedly parental. Or is it parenthetical?

My children have had for as long as they have had moral identities a penchant for guilt. Profound guilt. Self-pummeling.

Where would that have ever come from? I’ve asked myself for about an epoch now. But I don’t rightly know. Certainly it has something to do with me. How exactly the pieces fit together, I’m not sure. And I’m not completely sure I want to know.

However that may be, my children often beat themselves up. Often cannot seem to forgive themselves. Appear to be whipped by the ideational forces of holiness. Of human perfectibility. Of Christlikeness. Ideational forces released by the Apostle Paul, fanned by Augustine, and brought to an unholy conflagration by John Wesley and his descendants.

There is a pernicious set of ideas loose in Christendom that run right up against Jesus’s central story about God and the followers of God: “The Parable of the Lost Son.”

Just as background, you should know that in my office I have a print of Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal Son.” You should also know that there are dozens of prints of various drawings and paintings representing this story that are hung about my present church. And you should also know that prints of the Rembrandt painting also hang in my current church and in my brother-in-law’s church, a church in which he is senior pastor. In workplace and worship-place, the story is literally represented almost everywhere I look.

You might say that I take this story pretty seriously. You might say that if I were forced to reduce my understanding of Jesus and the Christian faith to one paragraph, that paragraph would be a paraphrase of Jesus’s “Parable of the Lost Son.”

And as I was sitting across the table from my son today, across a table heavy with sushi—the very trope of Jesus himself—my stomach was grinding away on the idea that there are among us many who have just gotten the whole business of sin and forgiveness wrong. Through no fault of their own.

As I was chewing my sushi, it occured to me that the whole Christlikeness business is doomed. The whole holiness idea is doomed. The whole perfection idea is doomed. We can never measure up to Christ. On this earth and in this particular cosmos, we will always fall short. We will always fail.

We are sinners. He is sinless. It is that simple.

And to attempt to be sinless when we are sinners is the very definition of self-inflicted punishment. The very idea of mortification. The very essence of turning our backs on God and becoming fascinated with the rending of our own flesh, the rending of our own souls—fixated on our own guiltiness and sinfulness and unworthiness. This is a morbid business.

This is work that is doomed, and there are many among us who seem to want to encourage us in this.

But this is wrong. This is backward. This is upside down. This is inside out. Jesus has not asked us to do this. Jesus has asked us to do the opposite. He has asked us to seek and accept forgiveness from the Father. To accept the Father’s unconditional love. And to share that love with others.

We should not be reinforcing those whose penchant is for self-inflicted punishment. Whose desire for love and to love has been changed through no fault of their own into self-torture. We should not be saying that our goal is perfection, or holiness, or Christlikeness.

We should be saying that our goal is to be loved by the Father, to share the Father’s love with others, to accept the Father’s forgiveness, and to share the Father’s forgiveness with others.

We should be saying that our goal is to live by direction of the Father through his Word and through his Holy Spirit.

We should be saying that judgment does not belong to us. That we have no role to play in judgment, either as it may be applied to ourselves or to others.

We should be intolerant of those who would turn Christ upside down and make him and the Father and the Holy Spirit an unholy trinity who demand (or request or prefer) perfection in us.

The last thing God wants from us is perfection.

The first and last thing he wants from us is our love.

Friday, December 21, 2007

It's Not About You Or Me

Well but Bill, you’re saying. Or you’re thinking. What in the Sam Hill are we Christians doing, anyway? What’s going on in that beady little brain of yours? Where are you going with all this pastor bashing and Christ-likeness bashing? What in the heck do you think you’re doing, for crying out sideways!

Okay, so here’s where I’m going. It’s not about you or me. It’s not about us. It’s not about the mystic believer priests. It’s not about the pastors, ministers, and priests. And it’s not about the theologians, biblical scholars, and religious writers.

This is not a narcissistic exercise. This is not a moral exercise. Conduct is not the focus of Jesus’s concern, and it should not be ours. If it were his focus, forgiveness and grace and acceptance of the tax collectors and the prostitutes and the thieves at his table would not be Jesus’s thing. His approach. He’d be a Pharisee if moral rectitude and concern with moral conduct were his focus.

Moral rectitude and moral improvement of oneself is a narcissistic activity. A narcissistic motive. A self-centric view of one’s role as a Christian is narcissistic. And narcissism is mistaken, off the mark. It leads to hubris. To grandiosity. To pride and arrogance. To cruelty. To callousness toward others. And away from humility. Away from service. Away from generosity.

Jesus directs us toward him, through the participation and activity of the Holy Spirit. And he directs us toward others.

Love God and love your neighbors. He doesn’t say love yourself.

So. What does being a follower of Jesus mean? It means first doing what he asks. It means listening to the Counselor. Doing what the Counselor asks. Following the lead of the Counselor, who is God in us. God among us. God with us.

It means doing what he asks in the Gospels.

It means the Isaiah charter. It means caring for the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the demonized.

It means spreading the Gospel by engaging the help of the Holy Spirit.

It means opening our hearts to the activity and the counsel of the Holy Spirit. It means allowing the Holy Spirit to have his way with us.

There is nothing more exciting than the Holy Spirit’s presence. There’s nothing more thrilling than being urged in one direction or the other by the Holy Spirit and to find oneself actually doing what one has been asked to do.

We will never be like Christ. But we can do what he asked us to do. We can find ourselves inhabited by the Holy Spirit. We can experience God’s presence in us, all around us, in others, in what we do.

So what is our job as Christians, according to my particular understanding of the Gospels and of the promptings of the Holy Spirit? Our job is to do what Jesus asked in the Gospels. And to seek the Holy Spirit’s presence and guidance. And to do what the Holy Spirit asks.

Some Pastors Drive Me Crazy!

Some pastors drive me crazy. I think God put some pastors on earth to personally teach me patience. To personally teach all us believer priests patience and forgiveness.

Once upon a time, when I was a new-minted Christian, fresh off a several-decades-long agnosticism binge, I had a pastor who seemed fine to me, at first. Fine in the sense that what he said in his homilies made sense. It actually seemed to square with the Bible. Seemed not to egregiously contradict what appeared to be the sense of what God seems to want us to get about him. In the Bible. At least most of the time.

But I was really not paying very close attention for awhile there. Because you see at first I was radiating. I was mostly electrified by the Holy Spirit in worship. And after worship I sat in a kind of spiritually lit state. So that when it came time for the sermon, I was basically glowing. Was just taken up in that Holy Spirit glow a person will sometimes get.

But after about, oh. I don’t know. A year, maybe. I find that the guy is talking about how Christians mature. Ripen was what I thought. But no. It was in his talk (and therefore in his mind) more of an ascent. More of that same getting better and better in every way sort of a thing. Now he didn’t say better and better in every way. He wasn’t that obvious about it. But this was his drift.

Oh, he presented the idea in terms like “maturity,” “growing closer to the Lord,” “walking closer with God.” Phrased the idea in metaphorical terms that are a bunch of tired, worn out, stick-in-your-throat-and-gag-you clich├ęs.

(Don’t you hate that, by the way? I mean doesn’t it almost make you ill the way these guys drag out tired, old, dead and rotting figures of speech to describe Mr. Excitement himself. God himself. And ideas about God. And our relationship with God?

You’d think these guys—if anybody—would understand the raw power and freshness and originality and creativity that are God himself. And would therefore be ashamed and embarrassed to drag their putrid language about him out and show it to us like it is really something to be admired. Language that alternately wants to make us go to sleep or throw up.

You’d think somebody would pull these guys aside and whisper in their ears and say something like, “Look here buddy. You are dishonoring God here. You are making God appear to be as tired and bored and unimaginative and silly and dull as you are. Stop it! Go read some Annie Dillard, will you? Go read some George Herbert, some John Donne, some Gerard Manly Hopkins, some Rilke, some Dostoyevsky, some G.K. Chesterton, some Tolstoy. Would you please inform your thought and your soul and your tongue and your sermons with the world’s great literature about God and the things of God rather than with cartoons and Evangelical pastors’ illiterate books about God?”)

Where was I? Where am I? God, forgive me for what I sometimes think of some of these guys. God, forgive me for what I sometimes say about some of these guys.

Oh, yes. So the guy uses these worn out metaphors that tell you close to nothing about what the Christian experience is about, what being a Jesus freak is about, but where they’re all headed is this ascendancy or moral progress idea. They imply that we’re getting closer and closer to God as we mature in our faith. They imply that we are getting to be better and better people. That by degrees we will eventually achieve rough equivalency with Jesus.

So this is where it started for me. With this first minister after decades of abstinence. This insidious idea that we get better and better. This idea that we become more and more God-like as we spend more time with God in prayer and study and worship and works. This idea that we become more and more righteous as we spend more time close to Righteousness himself. Justice himself. Beauty himself. Truth himself. Love himself.

And then you know what happens? I bet most of you can guess. As this guy is prattling away along this line of discourse in his sermons, he is simultaneously wooing his secretary! Now this minister is married with a handicapped child at home! His secretary is married with a few young children at home! And this guy is wooing this woman, and she is accepting his advances, and they both end up running away together, after the guy is given the boot by the church for his behavior.

So I was given an object lesson early in my recovered Christian career. Here’s what a mature Christian looks like: A guy committing adultery. Here’s what a Christ-like guy looks like.

So with this experience and a lot of other experiences since then—experiences of pastors and other Christians—I’ve come to several basic conclusions about this pastor-invented idea that the work of Christians is to become more and more like Christ. These are in no particular order.

Conclusion Number One: We are all sinners. We all do sin, daily, and we are all capable at any time of monstrous sin.

Conclusion Number Two: We all would like to think we are capable of being Christ-like, but we are not. There is a difference in kind (not in degree) between God and his people.

Conclusion Number Three: We all would like to think we become better and better in every way, but we don’t. If we think so, we are deluding ourselves. If we are pastors and talk this way, we are dangerous to ourselves and others, because hubris is the result, a supersonic aircraft of a sin that carries us and those with us straight to hell in a fiery crash.

Conclusion Number Four: We should always keep our bull-crap-ometers turned on around Christ-likeness people. It could save us from swallowing a euphemism.

Conclusion Number Five: Pastors and others who buy into the whole Christ-likeness thing don’t get something fundamental about being followers of Jesus.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Emotionally Healthy Church?

Just finished a book. Another book. By another pastor. But not so much written by a pastor as inspired by one, I think. But I don’t know. Who am I to know such a thing. I only know what I read.

Peter Scazzero’s the fellow’s name. The actual writer appears to be Warren Bird. But it’s written as though it’s written by Scazzero. The “I” of the book is Scazzero, and Bird is invisible. So its premise is a kind of a little fib. Not a big fib, because the ghost-writer’s name is on the book. But a fib, or maybe a kinder word is a fiction, nevertheless.

I always wonder about a book like this. A book written by a kind of ghost-writer. A book that is supposed to be by a guy it isn’t really written by.

We’re supposed to be looking into the mind of the writer, into his most intimate thoughts and emotions. Words like eyes are windows on the soul, in some sense. But with a ghost-writer this theory goes out the window, in a manner of speaking.

Anyways, the book starts off talking about how a pastor who isn’t emotionally healthy needs to get emotionally healthy because otherwise he’s going to be one unhappy camper, his wife is going to be one unhappy camper, and his entire church will be a church of unhappy campers. The book is called, paradoxically enough, The Emotionally Healthy Church.

Now just so you know, there’s a little test in this book so that you can know whether you are emotionally healthy or not. So I urge you with all expediency and cupidity and duplicity to buy this book so that you can figure this out. So that you can take this very informative test.

Because you wouldn’t want your pastor getting a bad name. I mean if you are emotionally unhealthy, that would mean you had an emotionally unhealthy pastor, now wouldn’t it.

So this is one of the beautiful things about this book—that it will tell you about your emotional health. But the most beautiful thing about it is that it will help you get well! If you follow its advice, you will turn into a God.

That’s right. You will incarnate. No kidding. I kid you not. That’s what the book says, whether you believe it or not, Mr. Ripley. That’s what it says. There’s even a chapter on it. On incarnation and how to do this.

You see, before I read this book, I thought, as I have already mentioned in a previous post in this blog, that becoming like God was a no-no. Trying to be like God could get you into some deep kimchi.

But here I discover that it’s the opposite of what I thought. I must have been living in a bizzaro world and living a bizzaro life is what I now conclude. Since I’ve read the book.

The way this works is that most of us find ourselves in deep kimchi because of our upbringing or whatever. We’re just screwed, most of us, by the random what-not of the universe. We accumulate funny ideas. Screwy ideas. Steamy emotions. Loopy emotions. Depraved emotions. Illicit emotions. Distorted emotions. Inauthentic emotions. Lusty emotions. Dusty emotions. Dank emotions. Illegitimate emotions. Hostile emotions. And what gets us out of this kimchi is us becoming better and better in every way.

I made a little fun of this before, but apparently I was grossly mistaken. I was extremely off the mark. Ready, shoot, aim was my problem.

No, what this particular book tells me is that to become emotionally healthy, I have to incarnate. I have to become a living God. Not THE living God, one presumes. But A living God. Kind of like Jesus Christ. For the layman, just think of the result of reading this book as a bunch of Gods growing and growing in number and covering the earth like a plague. Or like an invasion of the body snatchers.

So what I think is the message of this book is, buy more copies of the book, and give it to your friends. Give it to your buddies so that they can become perfect like you are now. Now that you’ve read the book and have all the necessary secrets and have had time to apply all of its secrets.

How you actually accomplish the perfection isn’t all that clear. So I suppose there must be some mystery to it. But I get the impression that if you are good, and if you adopt a more sympathetic attitude toward other people, and if you try to understand your particular personal history, and if you seek the presence of the Holy Spirit, there will be some real results. Some real returns on your investment.

And so here we are again, ladies, gentlemen, children, and the congenitally ambiguous, listening to pastors or their surrogates talking about being like Christ. Telling us we need to get serious about this Christianity thing. Telling us to do our blanking job. The job of turning ourselves into Christ. Or Christ-like beings. Turning ourselves into Gods.

And of course it’s a process. Of course it’s a journey. Of course there’s no magic formula. Of course this perfection-process under our control may not happen all at once, but of course it happens. It happens all the time. It happened, apparently, to Peter Scazzero, for example, or else he wouldn’t have written or not written the book in question. And of course we all know scads of people who are perfect or so close to it, there’s not a meaningful difference. Of course we all know hundreds of perfect or near-perfect incarnate Christian Gods.

Oh, by the by. I have been rereading the Gospels lately to understand what Jesus has to say on this subject. I mean. If it’s the main thing we ought to be doing as his followers, there’s probably quite a lot he had to say about it.

So I’ve been rereading the Gospels, and I’m coming up a little dry. A little short on ammo. A leetle short on things he said about turning ourselves into Gods like him. About becoming perfect like him. Sinless like him. Or so close to sinless, there’s no essential difference. But I’m a slow reader. And I don’t always understand a sentence or a paragraph, for example, on the first read-through. So I’m probably missing something, is what I’m thinking. My reading comprehension score on this one is probably pretty low. If I got a pastor to test me on this, I bet he’d say I needed to work on my reading comprehension.

So what the heck. I’m planning to ask a pastor friend about this. The pastor friend who recommended the lovely book in the first place. What a blessing, I’m thinking. What a blessing of a book. And I’m sure once we talk, everything will become clear as glass.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Do You Ever Get the Feeling You're Not All Here?

I do. I mean. I sometimes feel like I have no idea what I’m saying or doing. It’s a little like someone else has stepped in, you know? Like I’ve been set to the side and some alien has stepped in and taken over the controls. Taken the con, and I’ve been relegated to observer status. A guard by my side.

Or maybe not so much coerced as operated on. As though sections of my brain have been removed, unbeknownst to me. I wake up. I do not know exactly what I’m doing here, wherever here is. I’m doing something or saying something to someone, but I have no sense of context. No appreciation of what has really been happening in this movie up to now. I’m playing a part, but I don’t remember having been coached or helped to understand the motivation. The character. The backstory.

From the way the other actors are responding—shrugs of the shoulders, questioning expressions on their faces, lower lips pushed outward, heads shaking—I’m getting the impression I’m supposed to make it all up as I go and hope everything will turn out okay. Like they’re doing.

Then as we go along, I do begin to pick up some information about what the rest of them believe went on before. Before I came to myself. No, that isn’t right. Before I came to consciousness. Before I found myself here.

Like the other night. Sitting with a man. I’ll call him Joe. Alzheimer’s. Last time I saw Joe was a few months ago. In a chair then. Able to walk about. Able to complete very short sentences. But now he’s in a hospital bed. Not a lot of conversation to him.

He starts a sentence but then trails off, like he had the idea, but then it slipped away. Like someone is removing bits of his mind. Bits of him. As we’re speaking. As we’re watching The Andy Griffith Show. I ask him questions, but he can’t answer, see, because he can’t think his way past the first word or two of a sentence.

I wonder what movie he thinks he’s in. I wonder what part he thinks he’s playing. What character he’s playing.

It’s clear to me, even though it may not be clear to him. He’s the man who is dying of Alzheimer’s. That movie. That same movie. A movie they’re making over and over and over these days. Like Hollywood. Same idea.

But what I really want to speak about is pastors and me. It’s like I have a problem. I’m not sure what it is. I hear them saying things, and a missile goes off somewhere. Or a bomb. I don’t know why. It’s like I’m in a war zone or something. Me against them. Or them against me, maybe. I’m not sure.

This isn’t all the time. No. Not even most of the time. It comes and goes.

Some of my best friends are pastors.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s a personal problem. Maybe I had some sort of a traumatic event in my childhood that makes me come apart around pastors. Maybe some pedophile priest had his way with me on many occasions when I was a boy and the trauma was so great that I can’t remember them. Or him. Maybe I have it in for pastors as a result.

Or maybe I expect anybody who tries to be God’s particular and special representative on earth to be perfect. Or to be a cake eater. Or to have an enormous hubris. Or something.

Maybe I don’t trust anybody who would claim to be God’s particular and special representative on earth. Or maybe I secretly want to be one of them and think I could do a better job. Or maybe I think somewhere down in the dripping and murky caverns of my soul that they are doing the job I should be doing. That they’ve all taken my job away from me. And I resent it.

Or maybe they all remind me of my father. He and I never did get along. At least when I hit puberty. Something chemical, I think. Yelling and hitting and that sort of thing. Lot’s of anger between us in my teenage years. Better now. We haven’t tried to hit one another for years. Decades. But still we keep our distance.

Who knows. Maybe I hear things or see things that aren’t there. Maybe I make stuff up so that I can have an excuse to get bent out of shape. Maybe I get a thrill out of getting angry. Maybe it floats my duckie. I don’t know.

I don’t know. Anything’s possible.

It does seem like an impossible job.

I’d never do it. No way. Ridiculous. Your job’s never done. Always could have done better. All the needy people. The broken people. And God looking over your shoulder all the time, telling you where you screwed up. Other people doing the same thing. People like me. And the communion of saints looking on. Looking over your shoulder. Too.

But there’s something heroic and courageous and noble in it. Something in these people I really do like. Some of them. Throwing themselves out there into the abyss of us. A willingness every day to bare their necks to us, who are carrying so many knives. Or me, anyways.

Friday, December 14, 2007

For Example (Heh-Heh)

For example, heh-heh. The other day, I’m grouping. Just minding my own business. Just home grouping. Discussing one of those. One of Rob Bell’s DVDs. I forget which one. And one of the home fellowship people says something like, “Oh it’s like Christlikeness. It’s like what Paul said about the old man and the new man. And how we’re all gradually becoming like Christ.”

And I’m thinking, okay. Take it easy. It will be okay. But then one or two or three or four other people including a pastor say something like, “Yes. You’re right. It’s through the Holy Spirit we are becoming like Christ. Because that’s what we’re about here. That’s what we want to do here in this Christian business because after all we are little Christs. That’s what Christian means. Little Christ. This is what we’re about after all.”

And then I’m thinking okay. All right. I hear you God. Okay. And then I start talking about Christlikeness and how wanting to be like Christ is a pretty dangerous sort of a thing to be trying to do. A pretty reckless sort of a profession to be professing. And how seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit is great. A real bona fide super fine deal. But being like God. Trying to be like God. Is a big mistake. A really big no-no. If you get my drift.

So we go back and forth like this for awhile, the pastor fellow saying, “Okay. Okay. It’s alright. We’re really saying the same thing here. We’re saying the same thing. We’re just using different words is all.

“Look,” he says. “This. We can’t accomplish this on our own. This isn’t us who is capable of doing this. It’s the Holy Spirit. We’re all wanting the same thing. We all want to be like Christ, but the way this. The only way this is happening is through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

He says this a few times, as I say. And finally he says, “Okay. We’re really saying the same thing here. Just using different words.”

After I’ve said, well. “No. We aren’t saying the same thing. I don’t want to be like Christ. I don’t want to be like God. This is the last thing I want. Look. There’s this situation this wide,” I say, using my hands. Waving my hands around like I’m describing the Grand Canyon or something. “Between me and God there’s this canyon. A great big divide, see? There’s no way. I’m not ever getting there, see? I’m not ever crossing this divide between little sucky old sinful me and perfection Himself. God himself.”

Then somebody says how it’s a process and how we just keep getting better and better. In every way. And I say, “No. Maybe you do, Kimo Sabe. But I don’t. I’m just plain old Bill. I’m never changing from plain old Bill. Leastways, not while I’m still down here on this earth.

“Yes, God may choose to perfect me later. Much later, if you dig my jazz. My razzamataz. But in the here and now, that’s not happening.”

“Yes,” he says. “I believe we’re saying the same thing. But let’s talk some more about Mithras and the Romans and that kind of stuff. Let’s get back to the DVD, okay?”

And so like a good little Christian I let it ride. I let the pastor declare the reality he wants to declare or declaim or what ever. And I am generally supportive. Mutter generally the right noises at the right time to keep everything on track. Keep the group process on track, if you know what I mean.

Kind of like one of those treadmills. I don’t know. Have you ever been to a gym where all these people are lined up on these treadmills, walking briskly or trotting or running in the same direction and getting nowhere, watching about half a dozen or a dozen TVs suspended from the ceiling. News shows mostly. What’s going on in the wide world. Oh, maybe about thirty or forty treadmills. All the electric motors whirring. Everybody plugged into one of several channels listening to what they want to listen to. Taking their morning constitutional. Sweating like a bunch of energetic pigs. Disciplined energetic pigs. Focused. Very focused.

It feels something like that. Being herded in the same direction. Being driven down the same chutes into the same holding areas. Under the same fluorescent looking sun. Everybody listening to a channel of their choosing.

And then I email him later, saying basically. Hey. I think we do actually disagree. You are saying wanting to be like Christ is what we all want. I’m saying I don’t want to be like Christ. So we’re saying different things.

Then he emails back, “No. No. We’re really saying the same thing. It’s just a matter of semantics. Just a matter of saying the same thing with different words.”

And so finally a cork somewhere blows off, or a gun. A forty-five caliber semi-automatic pistol goes off somewhere in my mind. Somewhere fairly close. And I answer back that he’s full of hot tort tuna. He’s full of gratuitous grits. He’s full of scintillating Styrofoam.

I point out that the first time our species decided we wanted to be like God, bad things happened. We got degardened. Deparadised. We got work to do. We got pain and suffering. We got the boot. We got the entire kit and caboodle of this world. This world right here full of fuming volcanoes and ice ages and serpents and the whole nine yards.

When people try to be like God, bad things happen. People do some pretty unfortunate things. Start off in the wrong direction, you’re liable to drop off a cliff.

Pastor. Yo, pastor! Please stop telling me that we’re saying the same thing. For Pete’s sake. Please understand me this time. Please. You are saying you want to be like Jesus Christ, and I’m saying. Well. I don’t.

But then he writes back and says for the life of him he does not know what the heck I’m talking about. I mean, he’s very flummoxed and wondering what he could have possibly said. Because frankly he doesn’t remember saying anything like what I heard.

And he agrees that if he did say such a thing it wouldn’t have been scriptural. So he doesn’t have any idea at all what I want from him, but maybe if I want to follow this billabong further, we should do it face to face because as we all know billabongs are hard to follow in the bush at night and that’s the very situation we find ourselves in, in this complex darkened world of today.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What is a Mystic Believer Priest?

It can be you. He or she can be you. Or me. Or anyone. It’s like grace. It belongs to all of us. This role. This function. This way of being with God. This way of being with other mystic believer priests. Other humans who believe. Other humans who don’t.

And this is called for. Called forth in us. This being in us is called forth by God to be with him. In him. Through what he’s placed in us. To join with him. Directly with him and one another. Eye to eye, hand to hand, and heart to heart.

This freedom. This frightening, exciting nakedness before him. In him. Around him. This dancingness in his presence.

And dancing here. There. All around. I don’t want him removed. Obscured. I don’t want someone telling me that I can’t dance. That I can’t dance naked in his presence. I don’t want someone turning off the music. I don’t want someone trying to talk over the music. I don’t want someone trying to tell me to sit down please and let me tell you what God is all about.

And so I’m tired. I’m tired of ministers and pastors and priests. Aren’t you?

And with them, I’m tired of bishops and archbishops. Tired of theologians and biblical scholars. Tired of people who like to act like they know what they’re talking about when they talk about God. But clearly have only something. Not the everything that they think they have. And certainly not God himself. Whole. Enormous. God-sized God. But clearly do have something of him. Just not the everything they claim. Or want to claim.

I’m tired of priestly or pastoral or ministerial people who want to convince me to believe one way. People who believe I’m not believing the right way. Who would like to cast me into outer darkness. Who would like me to know that I’m an idiot. Or who think that I merely and kindly need to be corrected. That I am merely and kindly misguided or rebellious or immature or poorly mentored or something.

I’m tired of Christian writers giving me quizzes or inventories or checklists or things to do. I’m tired of Christian writers who want me to improve myself. I’m tired of Christian writers who discover things about themselves that they’d like us to believe are shocking, or revelatory, or profound, when they are obvious and trivial. I’m tired of Christian writers who continuously manufacture some garbage to write about so that they can get us to buy their books.

I’m tired of people quoting the pope or Rick Warren or somebody by the name of Graham or somebody who is supposed to have a direct line to God, unlike the rest of us. The rest of us who are not quotable. Who are a bunch of nobodies. Whose thoughts and whose lives count for something that is very very close to nothing. Who are supposedly a bunch of idiots when it comes to God.

I’m tired of going to church and hearing somebody tell me for twenty or thirty or forty minutes what God is all about. I’m tired of hearing somebody tell me about how important and full of lessons their own particular life is so that the rest of us normal people can understand God better.

I’m tired of ministers and pastors and priests acting like I’m depending on them to interpret God for me. To understand God for me. I’m tired of the specialists. I’m tired of the ordained. I’m tired of the selectively called. I’m tired of the orthodox. I’m tired of the righteous. I’m tired of the anointed.

I’m tired of new movements and denominations. I’m tired of divisions and revisions and reformations. I’m tired of theologically endowed people parading their endowments around. I’m tired of new theologies. I’m tired of theological marketing gimmicks. I’m tired of denominational distinctives. I’m tired of differentiated theological products.

I’m tired of pastoral compassion. I’m tired of pastoral judgment. I’m tired of pastoral posturing. I’m tired of pastoral journeys.

I’m tired of. Well. Everything pastoral or priestly or ministerial. I’m tired of people inserting themselves between me and God. And I bet they are too. I bet somewhere in them something hates this about themselves.

I don’t trust them, see? Do you trust them? Why should you? Why would you? Don’t you read the news? Haven’t you read any church history? Don’t you understand? Don’t you want the real thing? Aren't you that afraid you might be missing out on the most exciting adventure the universe offers?

Here’s the deal, real quick. The deal is. It’s really all up to us. God has really left it all up to us. The unwashed. The ignorant. The nobodies. The uncalled. The unanointed. The unordained. The sinners. The dime-a-dozen. The morons. The children. The defectives. The custodians of the dirt.

He really has. Left it all up to us to come to him and dance naked. Loin-clothed if you prefer. Left it all up to us to choose him. To dance with him.

And the others? Yes, the others. The ministers and the pastors and the priests. They may also dance with him. They may also join us on the dance floor and dance with us and dance with him. They may also come down to us from their high stages and lecterns and pulpits and platforms and high moral standing and high-sounding talk and learn how to dance here with us. And him. Learn how to live their lives again down from the stage. Down here with us. In the dirt. In the street. In the offices. On the commons. In the green grasses of the earth.

Nothing special. Nothing more special than you and me. Just several among us. Simpler now among us. Easier now among us, I think.

The believer priests. All of us believer priests just dancing with God out here. The mystic silent dance with God out here where every possible music is. Where everyone needs to be if he claims to be with us and God.