Tuesday, September 4

Discovery: Not All Religion is Rosy.


I was stoned – and fighting weakly, as it seemed that a gang of demons were struggling to gain full control of my mind! I had eaten some “magic mushrooms” that night with the intent of connecting with my animal “spirit guide.” Would it be a hawk or an eagle? What hidden wisdom would I discover? After eating the mushrooms, I had followed my impulses and driven out to a swamp out in the county, and taken a walk through the boggy woods. As I walked, the drug began taking a stronger hold, and so would the “animal spirit” sensation. Not a soaring hawk, or any other romantic notion, but I began to feel like a skulking wolf on the prowl. It was as if some other personality were settling in around my own like fog onto a smoking candle! Leaving the swamp, I began to drive back to town. Somebody I recognized was out hitchhiking, and I pulled over to give him a ride. As soon as I did, this strange personality started to close in on me. Under my seat was a long butcher's knife from my food service job, and I was getting this strong, other-worldly, urge to kill this man for food! 

Looking back, it is still frightening to think of how that might have ended, with the sheriff's office trying to figure how a car had left the road with the grisly remains of a full-on knife fight in the front seat. Looking back, at the time, I saw that man a day or two later. I didn't tell him what had been going on with me, but he said that he had been aware of a really evil presence in my car that night. I had devolved into an odd kind of scavenger, always on the lookout for the next thrill, and all the time seeing myself as one of the “religious” kind of beatnik as I read the books that were popular on the religious scene of the day –books on meditation, Chinese philosophy, and, until the swamp incident, something that was being sold as a Native American spirituality. “Organic” psychedelics, mystical music, occultic mysteries, and dangers like death and prison all combined to form what I felt was my “religion.”

Wednesday, August 29

X-Formation: The Beginning!


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My trial title, X-Formation, is a bit of a puzzle. We know “X” from school as the unknown factor,. What we are talking about forming, we really don't know. In fact, St. Paul said, “We do not know what we shall be, but we know that, when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” While most of us read that verse as if it is about seeing Christ up close in the next life, isn't the Christian life here and now about seeing him more clearly, day by day? I used to work in electronics, and some of the common words we saw on diagrams were xfmr and xstr, for transformer and transistor. “Trans,” meaning, “across,” was printed as “x.” Again, the Bible calls for each of us to, “be transformed, by the renewing of our minds.” It is that transformation that allows us to know God's will (in that same verse), and, knowing it, to be able to pray, and receive, according to his will. So, this book could have been named, How to Know the Will of God, How to Get Your Prayers Answered, or even, You, Too, Can Predict the Future! I prefer X-Formation. Finally, the X stands for the Greek letter, “Chi,” which sounds closer to “key” in our language. We see it as shorthand for “Christ” in “X-mas,” and the Person of Christ is “key” in this, key formation of Christ in us. St. Paul, again, wrote, “Little children, for whom I labor and travail until Christ be formed in you..” And isn't “Christ in you, the hope of Glory,” and, as St. Peter wrote of, “being made partakers of the divine nature...” God's goal for each of our lives?

Saturday, February 6

A New Parable!

"A Sower went out to sow," and as he cast the seed, a wind picked up the holy seed and, while some fell and grew where it was cast, much more was spread on the wind and landed far and wide. Some fell on open ground, some in forests and thickets, and some among tares. As they grew, they came to share one and all in the same semblance, being all of one kind. Each plant grew from seed in the Sower's bag, itself having come from the Sower's own crib and field. Now, as time passed, fences, and even walls, went up, that the plants could not see beyond. They lost touch with their brothers and sisters far away, or even near by, if there were walls blocking the way. They remembered the Sower, and they knew whose plants they were, but since they were not in a great wheat field as intended, they tended to be only conscious of the Sower but not of their fellow stalks. 

As you might expect, the Sower was wise and diligent. Each seed that had come of his hand was just as important to him as any of the others, whether it were growing in the choice field or a forest far away. So wherever the stalks were growing, the Sower would be watching, and making sure they were fed and watered. His helpers were watching all this, and asked why he didn't transplant the stalks back to the home field, and why not weed out the tares, the false wheat, from around the good seed. The seed was scattered, he told them, so that it would produce a better harvest. And the tares were harmful, yes, but they also provided competition to cause the good stalks to grow straighter. He would sort out the tares in good time.

Harvest time came, and the Sower sent out his helpers to bring in the stalks. They harvested the home field, and they went out and brought in all the wheat from the faraway fields and thickets as well. As they were gathered all into the barn, some of the stalks began to complain, that foreign grain was being brought into their barn, and that these "outsiders" were not of "their" lineage. The Sower stood by, quietly listening. When there was a loud enough outcry, with all the stalks of such opinion were voicing their complaint, he directed his helpers, "Go  and remove those tares from among my wheat, and take care to burn them thoroughly, lest any of that bitter seed remain!

This story occurred to me as I was thinking about the way the fellowship among Christians, and the effectiveness of Christ's Church, has been splintered since the Roman bishop decided to "excommunicate" the entire Eastern 4/5 of the Church, and then another Roman bishop, and a Swiss priest, a few hundred years later started the trend of everybody excommunicating everybody.  The Eastern churches seem to have held it together better than most, in terms of keeping things on a "fellowship" level more than a military-style,  "allegiance" scheme, but how does Jesus see it?  How many times does the Bible tell us to build bureaucracies, or judge the Faith according to class membership?  He said to follow Him, and to love one another, to receive His Spirit, and bear witness of His Resurrection and Lordship.  Anything else?

Saturday, October 31

Church Tribalism

We were surely all shocked at the news of the brutality that swept
Rwanda, and, more recently, Kenya. No doubt this bolstered the prejudices of people who had been brought up under Darwinism to see the African people as in some way less-evolved and more volatile. Groups ranging from the Mau-mau of the Kenyan revolt to the Black Muslim/Nation of Islam have profited from Mr. Darwin's opinions on this. To look closer, though, we have to notice that the skin color does not make a person more or less human, whether that means reflecting God's image or whether it means marring that image to near obscurity. After all - the first "race riots" in the US were whites in New York City protesting the threat of blacks being freed en masse, and a black slave on temporary contract in Boston wrote his Southern master complaining of being treated like an Irishman! In the West, many of the Native tribes called themselves by names which translated simply as "people," "human beings," or, "family." Simple and noble in one way, but what would that imply about an outsider?

We have seen, in the US, violence and discrimination against people for all kinds of other"-ness, which can all fit under the greater heading of, "tribalism." A recent visit to Ontario, Canada, where they pride themselves for their lack of prejudice, revealed that they do "reserve the right" to hate "idiots." If a cause can be found to classify someone as an idiot, then that is not discrimination, I was told. So there is not a code against black people, but Haitians, Jamaicans, etc., are marginalised as "idiots" because of some excuse gleaned from an editorialising  Press.  Americans, I was told, are all idiots because "they" all voted for George Bush, "and Bush is an idiot" according to their own, unquestioned, Accepted Wisdom. If this is from the people most widely hailed as being free of prejudice, we're all in a heap of trouble.  There is something in the human animal that demands a "lower class" to despise, or we somehow feel incomplete!

Is the Church exempt? What does "all things are new" really mean here, or is there a problem with the "in Christ" part of that promise? Does being baptised, received, confirmed, having prayed the prayer," "received the Spirit," or being "wholly sanctified" make us immune to such nonsense? Is there anyone we exclude from our own "tribes" of Accepted Human Beings?

Of course, there are Spiritual Formation issues- We want to make sure that a pastor has a godly lifestyle like we want our surgeon or air pilot to be reasonably sober, and it would be nice to know who is watching our children, but do we use circumstances which may be beyond a person's control to keep them away from our fellowship, and from sharing in the grace of God? In the last count, do we only love the ones we choose? Has the Church become like the proverbial Dog in the Manger who has no real use for the straw he sleeps on, but chases off the hungry ox to protect his own comfort? If we fail to welcome someone, or somehow keep them away from the eternal life Christ died to give to us all, then are we better, or worse, than the frenzied  Rwandans who denied their neighbors earthly life?

We can leave this where it is, and most readers will close the page thinking of all the ways that other people need to read this. Is that so? Today in America, millions of black churchgoers are in need of a studied theological message in their sermons, and millions of white churchgoers will leave church this Sunday with their hearts no more touched in the service than if they had been watching "Mr. Rogers"  re-runs. Cross that line, and do not expect a call from the pastor the next week. (At least there's not the likelihood of a midnight visit from the deacons!) How about the man who tells the pastor, "I so adored the service?" What about a single dad? How many members are actively working to care for those in need during the week? Do we think that the "Sheep and the Goats" is just a parable Jesus forgot to explain? Wouldn't the little dog rather go rest in his Master's lap than wear himself out snarling at the Master's other creatures?