Tuesday, July 31, 2012

#253-Supporting Chick-Fil-A Because Something, Something, Family.

A quick note: Lately I’ve felt a bit of yearning to write for the blog and it just so happens to coincide with Joel and Glen starting to write again. With that said, this post isn’t going to conform strictly to the “Apostolics Like_______” model. It’s going to be sarcastic and hopefully funny. But, yeah, deal with it.

The recent ballyhoo over Chick-fil-A’s support of “pro-family” groups is just ridiculous. I’m not going to rehash it here, you can go ahead and read up on it yourself; the odds are good that you’ve at least heard about it by now, anyway. What I want to suggest, nay, beg, is that Christians stop posting statuses, tweeting, and writing letters in support of Chick-fil-A as a “Christian” company.

Side-bar: Before you read any further, open up a tab on your browser, log onto facebook, scroll down your homepage, and skim the first twenty or so statuses and updates from your “friends.” You were no doubt annoyed, disappointed, or marginally disgusted by some of what you saw, right? Of course you were. Several of those offending blips on your page were from self-professed Christians too, right? Right. Here’s a very unscientific, but nevertheless true statement: Christians are easily the most annoying people in social media. Don’t agree with me? Righteously offended? Reserve your judgment for a week or two, keep slogging through Scentsy testimonials, six month late KONY 2012 commentary, spammy “I’m not ashamed of (Insert Christian Thing), like if you aren’t either!,” posts, disturbingly violent, subversively racist anarchic threats directed at our President, lengthy miracle testimony from somewhere really far away that probably didn’t happen, and links to terribly made youtube clips featuring bland Christian rock with a Bible verse taken out of context, then decide for yourself whether I’m right or not.

You aren’t protecting “The Family” or doing God’s will by making some stupid quip about how much you love mass-produced, mayo-slathered chicken byproduct, you’re being stupid. Willfully stupid. Then again, it’s not surprising. Every decision we make is imbued with political, moral, religious, philosophical, and economic value and yet we are very often ignorant of the implications and impacts of those decisions. This is by design. Businesses and governments pay billions of dollars to advertising agencies and public relations firms to shape how we view the products and services we use.

Would you buy hot dogs if all you knew about them was how they were made? It's common knowledge, of course, but we still buy them, because decades of careful advertising has conditioned the American mind to associate hot dogs with childhood, cookouts, leisure apart from work, and national holidays. Somewhere in our minds we know that the least desirable parts of the animal (and stray factory worker fingers) go into making a hot dog, but we’re willing to put aside that knowledge or laugh it off because of the more positive associations that obfuscate the unpleasant reality of what we’re ingesting. Happy commercials of idyllic families eating “healthy” turkey dogs and colorful packaging belie ingredient list on the back—which the producer, mind you, only prints at the behest of government regulation. Look up “Mechanically Separated Meat,” you’ve eaten a lot of it.

Aside: Given the American predilection for simultaneously being distrusting with the government and allowing it to engage in covert political, economic, and military skullduggery, I’ll forgo illustrating an example.

The problem with PR and marketing is that isn’t always so stomach churning. It’s often more insidious and the “Christian business” is a perfect example. Leaving aside whether or not the Bible makes it untenable for a person to follow the teachings of Jesus and make the decisions necessary to be a competent Capitalist, the idea that a business should market itself as being Christian and that other Christians should support it on those murky, hard to define grounds is patently absurd. Seriously, what does it actually mean to be a “Christian business?”

It closes on Sunday? If this makes sense to you because you believe it honors the Sabbath, then please be sure to shut off your electricity every Sunday, turn your cell phone/landline off, do not go on the internet, and don’t drive. All of those activities require services that run on Sundays and your use of them means that businesses and government offices need to remain open, thereby keeping other people from honoring the Sabbath—you’re actively causing other people to stumble. You’re a stumbling block! Except you aren’t.

Does it mean that a company is inherently good in its transactions and dealings? I’ll answer this question with another question: how many times have people had nasty fall-outs at your church when they went into business together? Lots. Were there accusations of lying, cheating, stealing, and dirty-dealing levied on both sides. Yup. Guess what? That stuff happens all of the time, because it’s what businesses do to make profits. It happens; it’s just rarely exposed until Christians start dealing with one another directly. Spend some time with your town/city’s non-church (or other-church) going population and you’ll frequently find that the “Christian businesses” at your church have awful reputations, with accusations of hypocrisy and underhandedness figuring prominently.

You’re saying to yourself, “that’s not what I believe makes a business ‘Christian!’” which is a completely logical response that gets at the real issue: nothing makes a business a “Christian business” except saying that it is one. “Christian” is such an impossibly broad term that it’s all but impossible to nail down what it actually means when it comes to personal belief, let alone as a designation for a business. There’s nothing to stop a business from calling itself “Christian” and, depending on where it wants to make its money and which population it wants to target, everything to gain.

This is how you get random businesses professing Christianity; it just makes too much sense for a circus to market itself as a “Christian circus” when it rolls through Central Illinois. It’s just good business logic for a company like Christian Mingle to market itself on some watered down notion of finding “God’s Match,” via its servers and algorithms. And it’s only logical for Chick-fil-A to call itself a “Christian” company and take a stand on hot-button political and social issues. There’s nothing to lose and money to be made.

The majority of Americans operate under two convergent myths: that faith is sacrosanct and that faith should be the penultimate arbiter in our political and economic decisions. Both of these are false. I’m not talking about your faith in Jesus, that’s between you and Him, so just keep trembling (Phil 2:12). No, what I mean is that when other people talk about faith, particularly politicians and businesses, we need to stop behaving as if, simply because they’re something vaguely Christian-sounding, that it should be a priori free from suspicion. If you need me to list for you all of the times politicians and televangelists waxed weepy about Jesus’ love and condemned sinners, only to be exposed as liars, criminals, and sexual deviants, then stop reading now, find a shovel, and dig yourself out of the hole you’ve been living in. Seriously, why do we assume that a profession of faith automatically makes a person more trustworthy than someone else? Ok, sure, you’re saying that we don’t always believe it when somebody says they’re a Christian. Only if they’re white. If they’re black, then we disregard their numerous assertions of Christian belief and go on believing they’re Muslim. It’s a holy ghost “seeing in the spirit” kind of thing, yup, nothing racist about it.

Yeah, so.

That faith continues to loom so large in our political and economic decision making is unsurprising, but foolhardy, nonetheless. Let’s run down the list of political candidates who make a point of letting you know that they’re Christian: George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romeny (kinda, sorta), Michelle Bachman, and Rick Perry. Notice a trend? They’re all Christians! When you put a microphone in front of them, they have no idea what they’re talking about! Seriously, tell me with a straight face that you really think Rick Perry or Michelle Bachman have any business in higher office based on their plans for government or their ability to handle complex foreign diplomacy issues.

Didn’t think so.

But people voted for them! It’s true! It’s a well-worn truism that Americans don’t vote with their brains, but with their guts—at least our guts are bigger than our brains, that helps, right? Even so, it’s plainly obvious that members of a certain political party talk about their faith because they know that they can buy votes. It’s too good of an opportunity for a politician not to mention his or her faith prominently, it’s like burning votes.

That’s why we need to drop Chick-fil-A. Again, Chick-fil-A is not saving the family or standing up for God because it donates millions of dollars to organizations like the Pennsylvania Family Institute and the Family Research Council. What are these groups? They’re political advocacy groups that advocate for the family—whatever that means. Again, I’m not going to elaborate where you should really be doing the thinking for yourself, but let me say this: the FRC is a PAC. Like every other PAC, it spends millions of dollars trying to keep lawmakers from legalizing gay marriage or holding up stem cell research. Those are facts, here is another one: Everyday millions of Americans struggle to make ends meet. Children in Christian and non-Christian homes go to bed malnourished in squalid living conditions. They do not have access to affordable healthcare or an equal education. They lose out on the basic necessities and resources that should be their birthright in “The Greatest Country in the World.”

Yes. Jesus really cares that Chick-fil-A supports gay people not getting married. Oh, and the Chick-fil-A Bowl, because Jesus likes football, too. I’m sure that our Lord and Savior, who spent LITERALLY His entire time in the Gospels preaching and ministering to and about the meek of the Earth just loves that the flock regularly ignores them and funnels billions of dollars into partisan issues. Keep the meek meek, amirite?

Chick-fil-A’s stand, and other Christian’s active support of them, is dumb and shameful. I’m sorry that’s not poetic. Seriously, we’re stupid, you guys. How dumb is it?

Sarah Palin think it’s countercultural and edgy to buy crappy chicken. That’s really, really dumb.

Parting shot: Remember up top when I said a lot of “Christian businesses” do underhanded things because they’re businesses and businesses do underhanded things? Chick-fil-A does that, too. They created fake profiles on Facebook to defend their product. This is like Jesus and Zacchaeus in Luke 19, except the exact opposite. Seriously, they don’t even trust the Christian base to adequately defend them. That’s a whole other kind of depressing. Not only do they think Christians are too stupid to think critically about their position, but also that they’re incapable of the aggressive ignorance and hand-eye coordination requisite to post feeble defenses on Facebook statuses. Ouch.

Odds and Ends: Here are a few untimely meditation that aren’t substantial enough to merit their own post.

1. Pathetic Critiques of Gay Marriage: In the interest of full disclosure, I support the right of the GLBT community to get married and start families. I didn’t put this into the body of the article above because I wanted to try to isolate support of Chick-fil-A as a foolhardy thing in its own right, apart from the issues it supposedly stands for. My rationale is pretty simple, I’m not convinced enough by biblical evidence that homosexuality is any more a “sin” than interracial marriage/relations were one time sins according to widespread readings of the text (hey, wow, some Christians still can’t handle it, apparently! ), or that slavery and servitude were just fine, as long as you were nice (Ephesians 6:5-9).

2. Realistically, why would non-Christians and former Christians care what the Bible says about homosexuality? Do you care what the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita, the Analects, or the numerous writings of Buddha have to say? Jesus used the scripture because He was speaking to an audience that believed in its cogency. Paul, on the other hand, became all things to all men, including, for example, engaging in Platonic discourse with Greeks and Romans who would have summarily dismissed a Judean subject ranting about their one God.

3. The more personal complaints about homosexuality strike me as objectively paradoxical, particularly in light of the political inclinations of the people who launch them. The pro-family lot is generally politically conservative, favoring a smaller, less intrusive government, American values (whatever that means), and policies in support of the “free market.” Well and good; so you basically want the government to stay out of your business, but not other people’s business. This emerges in some weird and predictably stupid ways.

a. Take the so-called, “But what about my children/grandchildren? How am I supposed to explain two men kissing?!?”

i. Why am I supposed to raise your kids? Do it yourself, that’s what ‘Murrica is about. Seriously, these are the same people who flip out about schools giving their children shots because of intrusive federal policy, but when it comes to homosexuality, it’s someone else's job to handle it or, better yet, make it go away. If your child/grandchild can’t handle the idea that adults can fall in love with someone of the same sex, but can learn on their own about the centuries of horrific torture and murder falsely committed in the name God or learn to subtly look over Brother Smith at church, who dresses flamboyantly, regularly quotes Barbara Streisand movies, found his "calling" in the music ministry, and has remained a bachelor because God just hasn't sent him the "right one" yet, then you’re a patently terrible parent/grandparent.

ii. I would further remind you that these are also the same people who picket and attend political rallies for Tea Partiers who threaten to slash funds for government programs that do some of the following for children: Food Stamps, low income area schools, education loans and after school programs for the at-risk, and medical insurance programs.Why should they have to pay for other people’s children to have basic services? I don’t know, because it makes you a decent person and a baseline Gospel living Christian? This is what people mean when they say Christians are hypocrites.

b. Gay homes are bad homes. It would be one thing if this has been proved sociologically, but it hasn’t and won’t be. I’ve never seen someone come out and say, “My parents were gay, it just ruined my life.” What I do see is, “My parents are gay. I had a childhood pretty much like everybody else. In fact, it was probably better, since unlike many a straight family, it wasn’t a forced marriage because they were too stupid not to use protection. They actually wanted me and were prepared for it.” (Paraphrasing, of course.)

i. Even if the “Liberal Media” were doing a really great job at covering up these counter-narratives, there are how many Christian channels that these children of broken gay homes could run to? Certainly enough to make millions of dollars in tithing and gift giving drives. Enough to keep Kirk Cameron in a job, making terrible movies about bananas as God’s ultimate weapon or something.

ii. Why does it blow people’s minds to imagine a gay couple as a family? Especially because families are already so problematic in the first place. Think about how weird it is to talk about your family life with others. I don’t mean just the sort of genial stuff that normally pops up in chit-chat, like, “Yeah, my dad always steals from everybody’s plate at dinner” or “I hate/love the appointed time my family gets up on Christmas morning.” It’s the type of stuff that fuels bland conversation, while also humanizing you enough so that the other person thinks you’re probably safe and well-adjusted. What I’m actually talking about is the private stuff, the things you’d never ever talk about with the majority of the people you meet for fear of ridicule or the chance that you’d never make meaningful friendships.

iii. As a child, your own family is really the only referent for what constitutes a “normal” family. It isn’t until you get older and start visiting other peoples’ families that you realize, to your eternal shame and mortifying embarrassment, that it’s only your dad that lounges around the house all day in his underwear, scratching himself freely. Other families keep their ketchup in the refrigerator to keep it cold (disgusting), keep aside an hour per day for family prayer, don’t get into semi-violent debates over the logical paradoxes of time travel (and its overall merit as a plot device) in the Back to the Future franchise, or don’t have relatives that maintain multiple virtual marriages over the Everquest Online servers. You found yourself defensive, offering weak, “but, in our family we…” apologetics and coming to secretly loathe your friends and cousins for saying the same. In other words, part of becoming an adult is understanding that everyone’s family is different and, in the process, learning to accept your own dysfunctional home.

iv. My family is not typical. My dad left us when I was thirteen, it sucked, a lot. Before he left, he was an angry, abusive monster. After he left, my mother struggled to make ends meet and raise three kids. If you don’t think that it messes with your head that your family doesn’t look like other  people’s normal families, then you’re wrong, it does. When you get older, when you can move past the hold that images and representations of families have on our minds and understand that a real family is much more than what it looks like, it becomes fairly obvious that if two men or two women can love and protect a child, it constitutes a good family.

4. On How We Trust Testimony: We've already discussed how the Evangelical Christian, with a few exceptions, strongly distrusts the government for, among other unprovable crimes, being the harbinger of various Apocalyptic prophecies contingent on the current month's issue of End Times Magazine and Irvin Baxter's latest soon-to-be-false misreading of the Bible and the New York Times. Like his fellow Evangelicals, Peter Pentecostal is raised to suspect that what the government tells him is in all likelihood a lie or at least part of a much larger and incomprehensibly complicated Rube Goldberg scheme to trick otherwise unsuspecting Christians out of their precious bodily fluids .

a. This explains part of the fascination and fanatical devotion to noted crackpot and blubbering mess Glenn Beck. I'm not going to write a post or even take the time to map out how glaringly terrible Beck and his chalkboard conspiracies are, other than to say that he is the very antithesis to the postmodern experience. In this poststructural empire of pure signs and endless, malleable meaning that we all live in, Beck and his followers are the solitary self-referents. They stand for nothing and represent nothing but their own profound insanity. It would be quite remarkable, if it weren't so loathsome.

b. But that was an unintended segue. My problem here is the glaring disparity between how we trust the government, which lies and screws us over in ways that Americans haven't historically cared about (keeping money in the pockets of wealthy individuals and corporations, enacting laws that protect property, while consistently striking down or severely hampering any attempt to gain civil rights for non-white, straight men) and how we distrust it, mostly for things that are actually for our own good or things that don't exist anywhere but in our imaginations. That same type of deeply ingrained distrust doesn't exist, however, when it comes to church authority figures. Why? Again, it comes back to our blind trust in the faith of others, that a profession of faith and, even better, the agreement by someone else--like a pastor--that this person knows what they're talking about, breaks down the endemic mistrust we spend our whole lives cultivating.

c. This next part is tricky, so read carefully: Some, maybe even many of the "prophets" who come to your church or show up on TBN are charlatans, liars, and crooks. Please be mindful that I'm not trying to cut out an entire fold of the ministry, so to speak. Lord knows I don't want to completely disillusion the flock, thereby excluding many an enterprising future prophet out of a potential post-mid-life crisis career change. That would be wrong, because there will in all likelihood continue to be too many men who need a way of the turmoil of a failed business and marriage on the rocks.

i. The real problem isn't with the individual prophet, I don't think that they're intentionally doing the morally reprehensible things I've just charged. Neither am I discounting the miracles and works of God that occasionally happen in the presence of a prophet. Rather, I want to point out the environment that creates and feeds them. I'm not going out on a limb when I say that every person who has ever claimed to be a prophet believes or has believed in God. Marjoe Gortner believed in God, but then he stopped believing in God and used his reputation as a revivalist to con Christians who believed him wholeheartedly. It was easy for Gortner and remains easy for nutcases, er Prophets, like Benny Hinn, because the baseline for proof is so ridiculously miniscule. How many prophets come to your church that you've never heard of? Probably 2-3 per year, depending on the amount of money your church is known to be able to muster in donations or how willing you've been in the past to "sow seeds."

#. "Sow Seeds" is not-subtle code for money. Everything that we do is not "of this world." We're not supposed to be like the world, we're separate unto it. Except for money. God's cool with money. Are you an intrepid, daring individual? The next time a prophet comes to church, please do an experiment for all of us. When he asks for a seed offering, because he will, why don't you march up to the front and suggest that everyone donate Saturdays to do work on the church or general work/help for struggling families in the church/community? See how well that flies over.

##. If you don't think that churches have reputations (like, whether the congregation responds to excitable preaching or how much money they're willing to give) on the preaching circuits, you haven't been invited to enough post-church Cracker Barrel meals with the visiting preacher.

ii. Too many asides. What I'm trying to say is that if Evangelical Christian really is an authority distrusting, Free Market disciple, then he needs to apply this same skepticism to the prophets who visit. Only in a church can a person get away with telling about the great things God does through them, but never showing. A prophet's miracles always happened somewhere else, usually the last church he just left, where they're still having revival, supposedly. Honestly, do a serious, unblemished tally of all of the miracles and prophecies the prophet made: Did they happen? Yeah, turns out not everybody in the church got rich, got an expanded mission for God, got a promotion, had all of their lost family members returned, huh? Turns out, 40 minutes of dance and singing induced oxygen deprivation and an endorphin high will do that. Maybe he'll get it on the next try?

###. I was assuming, of course, that the prophet spent time actually sweating on, touching, and yelling breathlessly at everyone in your church. LOL what a big assumption. He probably stuck, somehow, almost miraculously, to the biggest tithers in church, right? Crazy! I mean, he said "Now, church, I don't know this man. Pastor, I've never met this man, right? But I've got a word from God for you: He wants to (Insert Promises)." God must have led him to them, just like God somehow always leads them to the same people, cause that's exactly what Jesus did.

iii. After a prophet visits, do some people decide to "give themselves" to God? Yeah, that's a really great thing. The prophet didn't do it, God did and He would have done it if the prophet was there or not, because He's in the business of loving people and wanting to save them. That we attribute this work of God to a prophet is our own particular sickness. Prophets are the Evangelical equivalent of the Rally Monkey in baseball. They look and act ridiculous. They happen to be there when really cool things happen, but in reality, they have nothing to do with what's going on and when looked at from the outside, it makes everybody involved look stupid.

Conclusion: If you’re on one side or the other, it won’t change your mind. Just some thoughts.

Monday, July 30, 2012

#252-The Ordeal of Offering Procedure. And How to survive it....

I am coming to grips with some cold, hard facts about church.

One of these facts: There will be an offering.

Another fact: No one will have any clue how offering works. Not even the pastor.

Seriously. For instance recall the many services you have attended as a guest at the church/special service. Now recall the moments leading up to the offering at these services. At that moment, you realize you have no clue how the offering is going to go down. You ponder the possibilities...

1) You realize the offering could be traditional. And by traditional, I mean 19th century. 19th century offerings are no fun. You do not have a chance for the bathroom. The offering plates will simply come to you. Just stay seated and let that little bowl full of money move it's hot self right across your lap. And all you can ponder is how in the world no one takes money out of the plate. Then you answer this question with a question: Is it a violation of the Rules of God for that Usher man at the end of the pew to be watching me put money into the bowl? Sure, he's standing there placing the fear of God in you so that you never consider ever stealing offering money. But at the same time.... he likes sees everyone man. He knows how much I give. He knows for instance that I tend to give nothing but offer a phantom offering as if I was putting offering in the plate (For appearance alone of course). The gaze of the usher men.... Me thinks that seriously may ruin the whole not letting your neighbor know how much you are giving bit from Jesus. The One advantage: No need to worry about procedure. Like a good Calvinist salvation model, everything is already done for you. Just sit there and take the bowl as it comes and pass it on. 

19th century offerings: Pray against them. You will feel violated. Violated of space. Violated of bathroom opportunity. Violated of creepy usher watching me give phantom offering into bowl.

2) Scenario 2 is the most common. If you're a guest and the church goes this route....well it's like global warming. Except worse. And this really is cause for all the angst. All the sweat. All the nervous smiles that you gave up until now.. It all leads to the this moment.... The fending for yourself as head out into the great unknown of the offering march....

That's right: It's Offering March Time. And you're the guest. And you've got no clue.

First rule: I hope to God you are not in the first row. If so, good night. You mind as well just choose the guillotine at that point. 

Second Rule: Observe. Take notes. Watch the order of everyone that is moving before you towards the offering plates. They are setting the precedent for you. Hopefully they aren't guests like you. Watch them close. Watch them make the whole offering order seem routine and normal and ridiculously easy....they even seem pleased with themselves... happy even. Pathetic. All of them. Know that Offering marches are not as easy as those who go before you make it seem. But from them we can learn the "gist" of the march. They will provide the pace and general direction of where to walk. Wipe the sweat off your brow. Maybe make a "whooo" sound. Act like you're not nervous.

Third Rule: Observe the worship song being played. It's always lighter and more cheery....usually "meta" even. Probably one of those corny offering songs they are used to. The reason for the "catchy" upbeat song is that offering is the one point in the service that the church can literally not afford to let the Holy Ghost take over. If the Holy Ghost takes over during offering and we all fall out.... well, the air conditioning won't be on next week. Be glad for the cheery, offering worship song.

Fourth Rule:  That usher at the end of your pew is your own demise. Good Luck. Everyone hates you. 

The usher will give you a right hand here pointing in a direction in front of him. As if to say "right this way my guest friend." He is pointing you to the offering path. If you choose to ignore this suggestion, he'll act like everything is fine and you can go on and sit there in the pew without partaking in the offering.  He'll even smile and nod his head to give you a peace of mind. A smile that says there is no judgments. He will even move on. 

Be rest assured that if you forsake the offering march, you have disturbed the entire fragile balance of our cosmic universe. If you skip the offering march and sit down instead, there will be a tsunami that will kill dozens of innocent children in Guam. Do not whatsoever, forfeit the offering march. Besides, you basically just gave up your bathroom opportunity as well.

Fifth Rule: Choose then to follow the suggestion of the usher and go on the march. Follow the person in front of you. Keep with his/her pace. If you see the girl that you are secretly in love with, do not let her know how your brain is going all haywire re: Offering procedure. Give a confident nod. A coy "i know exactly what I'm doing, thank you very much" grin to her. Do not stop for her. Lest you want to ruin the offering march and any future chance with her right then and there. You stop and you will die. Stampede. Everyone behind you will march on your corpse. Good luck. 

Follow the person in front of you. There will be confusion about which kind of money should go in which offering plate. Take your single dollar. Rip it up into three pieces. Put one piece of the dollar in each plate. 

Awkward: since the usher will be holding the offering plate, there really is no fear of you stealing it. This means he doesn't have to watch you give. What this does mean is that he will probably stare at you because what else can you do when you are the usher and you're trying not to see  how much money someone is giving? You stand there and smile. And make things awkward. Deal with it.

Okay, now it gets insane. Option 1: Follow the person right in front of you right up onto the platform. You have no idea why you are on the platform but there's many gathered here with you and they are exceptionally bubbly today. Now once the offering ends you will slowly realize that you have joined the choir. You do not know the song they are singing. You don't know the words. You don't even know how to sing really. 

All you can do at this point is pray extra hard for a Holy Ghost fall out right then and there so that no one will notice you creep off the platform real quick and on the sly. This option depends heavily on God. He may not show. The other option is dowsing yourself with the gasoline that you always carry with you for such a scenario as this one. Next: Light yourself on fire. All eyes are on you, but at least you don't have to fake like you're in the choir.

So let's say you're about your wits enough to not end up in the choir after you gave money in the offering march. Well the other option then is to figure out how to get through this rat maze of a procession. There are usually like 6 paths you could walk down. No more than 1 or 2 are correct. If you walk down the wrong path you will walk into someone. There will be bruises. Apologies will be exchanged. Because you are a guest the other person will take the blame even though it is your fault. Choose your path wisely. Hopefully you choose the correct path and somehow, through providence or intellect, you will be standing at the sink in the church bathroom looking at yourself in the mirror, cooling your face down from all the sweat you gathered.....even drying your face off.... and as you look at your hideous appearance in the mirror as if you just woke up from a nightmare, you'll notice an usher standing behind you in the reflection... The usher is staring, real creepy at you. Grinning....

And you people expect me to be funny about these things....

Monday, July 23, 2012

#251 - Not "The World"

Editorial Comment: Another Glen Post because he's in his element right about now when it comes to this stuff. Think a Footloose Kevin Bacon. Think Holden Caulfield. Think a 1967 GTO that's just cruising man.

The following post will be split into two parts, so enjoy and check back in a few days for the conclusion.

This is a post about humanity. It is not about pitting belief against unbelief or liberal against conservative. It’s about living on this planet, as part of the human experience.

In the last post I mentioned that I grew up believing things about “the world” that preachers often said over the pulpit, and those things turned out to be, more often than not, completely untrue. After a recent conversation with a friend about a mutual acquaintance I realized that there is a lot more to that little blurb that I wanted to expound upon.

Before I go on, allow me to say that this is not going to be an introspective-lay my soul bare-tug your heartstrings post. Nor am I saying the world is safe and without danger. I'm simply saying be realistic when discussing it. I intend to get back to the roots of SAL with this post. Brace yourself, this could get grimy.

M. Night Shyamalan’s film The Village tells the story of an 1800’s group of people, living in a compound, located in a clearing, surrounded by woods. Occupants of this village are discouraged from venturing outside of its borders due to creatures dubbed ‘those we don’t speak of’ living in the woods. The creatures are scary. Wander outside the village and you will die, complements of the creatures, or so the villagers were told.  When one of the villagers falls ill a request is made by Joaquin Phoenix to travel through the woods to ‘The Towns’ to get medication. He is told that the towns are "wicked places where wicked people live." There are a few more interesting scenes where villagers go to great lengths to scare Joaquin into not wanting to go to those places that no one should ever want to go. (note: it’s interesting to note that leaving the village was necessary for survival, and that beneficial things that could help were only found outside the set parameters) In the end we find out that the villagers are actually living in modern times and went to great lengths to form this colony and live in a ‘simpler manner’, so as to escape the world they grew to despise. There were never any creatures or danger, it was all just a ruse, devised by jaded people to create their idea of a utopia and convince themselves and their children that their way of life was better, using fear.

Growing up in church we often heard a term. This term was ‘the world’. Now, this term didn’t mean ‘Earth’, or ‘the planet’, or ‘the population of Earth’, or anything like that. This term was a pejorative. This term divided two very distinct and separate things. Its antonym was ‘the church’. You were either in ‘the church’ or you were in ‘the world’. Choose you this day which side you are on. The world or church.

Lucky for us, our parents had already chosen for us. And they chose the good side. We grew up ‘in church’. Basically what that meant was that you were saved, spoke in tongues, regularly attended church, followed standards, refrained from any controlled substance, didn’t curse, didn’t go to the movie theater and ate Applebee’s at least twice a week.
Example: “She was wearing pants and went to the theater? But I thought she was in church?”

See what I did there? ‘The church’ was the safe place. ‘The church’ was innocent, under the right hand of God (God help you if you’re under the left hand). The church was safe from all harm. It was blameless, spotless, pure, and holy. Not perfect. But clean and separate man.  And when you put it like that, is there even a choice?

Now here’s where it goes south. The antithesis of ‘the church’ was…


So, what exactly is ‘the world’?

It was described in graphic detail through countless sermons and lessons for me.
The following is the picture that was painted:

-In the world, there is alcohol. Oceans of alcohol. Alcohol abuse is the norm. In the world, everyone drinks, usually excessively and if you drink at all you will not be able to stop yourself from going overboard. Most preachers admitted that, Biblically speaking, there was nothing wrong with a glass of wine but alcohol is so highly addictive and controlling that 99.9% of those who take a drink will not be able to just drink socially and responsibly, inevitably getting drunk and ending up an alcoholic.

-In the world there are drugs. Tubs full of needles. Illicit drugs everywhere. Drug addiction is rampant. Marijuana is always a gateway drug and will lead you to doing hard narcotics, whether you intend to or not. You will become addicted to marijuana, and you will do irresponsible things while high. Drug dealers are waiting around every corner, preying on you, seeking to get everyone in the world addicted and forcibly spiral you into an unchecked drug habit. Anyone who sells marijuana also sells cocaine, heroin, PCP and meth, and if you so much as smoke one hit of a joint you will inevitably end up on crystal meth.

-In the world there is inappropriate sex. All forms. All of it out of it outside of marriage. And if you are married and in the world, adultery is inevitable. Indiscriminate, promiscuous sex is normal. In the world multiple sex partners are average and deviant sex is now conventional. It is totally acceptable to have sex on the first date, or with people you don’t know. You will have sex with so many people that your spirit will literally be joined with all of them, and they to you, and since that wasn’t God’s plan you will begin to have psychological disorders and attachment issues. If you don’t have sex with someone in the world by your third date they will break things off because the world has created a normalcy of sexual expectancy and if you deviate from that you’re going to be outcast.

-In the world, crude, dirty, profane speech is normal and widely accepted. Cursing is just part of the language and if you don’t speak that way or are offended by it then you will not fit in and be ostracized.

-Morality and selflessness are Christian in origin and cannot exist outside of it. Thus, if you are ‘in the world’ you are the only one looking out for you. No one cares about your well being, no one will help you, doing the right thing because it’s the right thing doesn’t happen. No one can be good without God.

But the most important, and by far most inaccurate description of what the world is like is the feeling of despair. The world is a bleak, hopeless place where everyone is very sad and miserable. They all are just longing for something more. I was taught that all of these things, and more, are rampant because people long for God, they just don’t know it’s God they long for, so they’re trying to fill that void. They lay awake in their beds at night, staring at the ceiling, trying to figure out why they hurt so much. They try to go about their lives as normal but there is a constant undercurrent of depression and confusion due to their lack of God. Not only does everyone in the world recognize that there is something missing from their life and they are depending on you to tell them that the reason they toss and turn every night is that they have a Jesus shaped hole in them. And you have to tell them. If you don’t tell them they’ll never know, and if they never know then they’ll go to hell. On judgment day, they will pass you while you walk into heaven. And when you walk past, their eyes will well up with tears, and through stammering tears and angst they’ll stutter and stumble over their words as they painfully ask, “why didn’t you tell me?”

Now, what I just told you seems a bit extreme. It wasn’t what was described in just one sermon, but rather the summation of the picture painted through many. It’s what I was taught growing up. The world, and everything in it, is bad and dangerous and you should stay away. Everything in the world is a slippery slope (a topic we’ve covered in the past), and hedonistic depravity is widely accepted as typical.

There’s a problem though. You could argue theories with me. You could argue that I’m being insincere and using hyperbole. But you cannot argue with personal experience. I know for a fact that drug addicts exist. Sex addicts exist. Pain, angst, addiction and suffering are real things in the world. Not ‘the world’, just the world. Like it or not we live on this planet and those things are real. The answer isn’t to stick our heads in the ground like an ostrich and pretend we can build walls tall or thick enough to keep them from getting to us, we can’t. The answer isn’t to scare our children into believing in a boogeyman, just to keep them in line. The answer is education and moderation.

See, I grew up with these misconceptions. I feared this mythical land of ‘the world’, without realizing I was setting foot into it every day. I grew up so fearful of what could happen to me if ‘the world’ got hold of me that I missed out on my teenage years. I was bullied a little in school, and while it was terrible it was nothing compared to what I suffered at the hands of religious indoctrination. I missed out on making friends in high school. I ate my lunch in the library. I attended one football game in all four years of high school, and I sat alone. (However one of the big, bad worldly girls let me use her blanket because I was freezing.) I didn’t attend a dance. I got a note from my pastor to be excused from gym class. I didn’t go on any class trips and I was forbade from playing hockey for school, even though I was good at it, because we all know high school sports teams spend their time between games getting drunk and blowing up mailboxes.

But none of the things I missed out on were actually dangerous. Our sports teams took random drug tests. No crazy parties took place after prom. There was no Project X. No one I went to high school with got pregnant, no one overdosed, and I don’t remember a single fight breaking out. I also never had condoms passed out in a class while a teacher encouraged us to have safe sex. All in all, high school was a lot more mundane and a lot less like what MTV would have you believe.

I was led to believe that the ‘creatures in the woods’ of my school would tear me to pieces, but there never were any creatures. Just kids. Some bad, some good, just like church. And I missed out, for nothing.

*Disclaimer – The next paragraph is NOT meant to criticize, tear down, call people out, condescend or anything like that. It’s simply meant to make a basic point*

An interesting thing to point out is that much of what is feared in the world goes on in the church on a regular basis. It just gets a blind eye and is only discussed in whispers. Fornication abounds in youth groups. As does sexting. Naked pictures of youth group girls are literally passed around like trading cards. I’ve seen as much adultery and divorce in the church as I have outside of it, if not more. I’ve seen many praise and worship leaders lead on Sundays hung over. I’ve seen pastors go on to pastor for years, despite being entrenched in illicit affairs, and I’ve seen pastors help in covering up other peoples adultery. I’ve seen drug abuse, alcohol abuse; you name it I’ve seen it, first hand, in the church. Like I said, this is not to criticize or justify. I’m simply saying it gets a blind eye turned against it. It’s treated as if it’s not really there, and if it is it's simply an uncommon fluke, an exception to the rule. It can’t exist here because it only exists in ‘the world’, and if it existed here that would mean we’re wrong, which is impossible, so we’ll just pretend we don’t see it.

As I got older and started asking questions, my questions weren’t met with real answers.

“Why do I have to throw away my CD’s?”

“Why can’t I spend more time with my classmates?”

“Why can’t I go see Passion of The Christ at the theater?”
“Spirits. And we have a bootleg copy for you to watch.”

My mom has worried for years when I joke with her about various taboo topics because I’m ‘entertaining spirits’. When I first told my parents I was moving to Los Angeles the most serious part of the conversation centered on ‘the spirits’ out here, and that ‘the spirit of homosexuality’ would get on me..well..behind me…and I wouldn’t be able to get loose. These are real worries that Apostolics have. I’m not going to launch into that, except to say this – there is absolutely no scriptural evidence, whatsoever, that such a thing as a ‘spirit of this’ or a ‘spirit of that’ exists. It doesn’t. One spirit of something is mentioned in the entire bible, and that is the spirit of prophecy in Revelations 19:10. There is nothing to indicate there are spirits of various sins. Not in the bible, not in real life, not anywhere, not ever.

Anyway, when I started realizing that my questions went unanswered because those answering couldn’t give it to me straight I decided to find the answer myself. I listened to secular music. I didn’t catch a spirit. I went and saw I, Robot at the theater. It was awful, but I didn’t catch a spirit. And I didn’t make out with anyone in the back row. (If I paid $10 for a ticket and $15 for snacks I’m watching this thing the whole way through) I started reading the books I was told never to read. And as I started realizing it was all smoke and mirrors, and there was just a little, insecure person behind a curtain pulling levers, I started asking more questions, trying to find out what was so bad. And everything I found consistently led me to the same answer – there is really nothing to be afraid of here.

I’ve been ‘in the world’ for a little while now. I’m still not in rehab. I haven’t got anyone pregnant. Haven’t OD’d. Haven’t got into a drunken fight. I haven’t been sexually promiscuous, and as a matter of fact my life has pretty much stayed devoid of sex altogether. And there’s no gaping hole in my heart longing for something. I don’t lay awake depressed or fearful of what will happen if ‘the Lord comes back tonight’. I don’t really think about it at all. My focus now is my purpose. I finally have one. I can do the right thing because it’s the right thing. I can love freely, without being told to. I have a life to lead, limited time on this Earth and I intend to make the most of it. In fact, it was in church that I used to sing about shackles and freedom, but it’s in the world where I truly feel unshackled. It’s out here that I truly feel free.

See, what people in ‘the world’ are actually like is this – they want to be happy. That’s it, just happy. Their happiness is contingent on their well-being and the well-being of loved ones around them. They don’t feel like they’re missing anything. They don’t lay awake at night, lacking purpose and direction. A lot of them don’t drink. Most of the ones who do drink, get this, drink in moderation. A glass of wine for dinner, a night cap with their spouse or partner. For the most part, cursing openly and publicly is considered in poor taste. Personal business is kept personal. What they do in their bedrooms is their business and no one else’s, and usually treated as such. Work and family are priorities. It’s rather mundane, actually. Get this, they have morals. Morals! I know right?! I thought the same thing. Even the icky gay ones, like Ellen Degeneres, who said the following: "I want to be clear and here are the values that I stand for. I stand for honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated, and helping those in need. To me those are traditional values. That's what I stand for." Crazy, huh? The most surprising part – they’re not a whole lot different from church people.

One of my best friends got married last November. He’s a youth pastor for a church that has recently made some tough decisions to abandon tradition for tradition sake and actually pursue Christ, and not just put the Christ label on a personification of their own dogma’s. At his reception there was dancing. No alcohol, just dancing. He danced with his mother. His wife danced with her father. And the new bride and groom danced with each other. And it was beautiful. After the sentimental stuff was out of the way he plugged in his iPhone and put on some 90s music and the attendees danced. They didn’t bump and grind, there was no gyrating or hypersexual moves, just innocent synchronized steps. During this a woman who had grown up in Pentecostal churches turned me and said, “can you believe for years we were so afraid of this that entire sermons were preached about it?” I can. I’m not so young that those sermons weren’t preached during my lifetime too. It’s why I couldn’t go to my high school dances, despite nothing sinister going on there either. While I’m happy with how far I, and some of my friends have come, I still mourn those being misled, and I mourn the time I spent being lied to. I mourn for lost time of others. I mourn for unnecessarily stifled thoughts, ideas and creativity. I mourn for the confusion and the stress that comes when you have to sort out the fact from the fiction that we’ve clung to all our lives. I mourn for the relationships that will break that don’t have to. I mourn for the emotions spent and the heartache caused by being misinformed. I mourn for those who will go through what I, and so many I know, went through, getting bitter, confused and hurt. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can change it.

To be continued…

Friday, July 20, 2012

#250- Not saying heartless comments in the wake of a tragedy

I've seen things no one would ever want to see. Two weeks ago, I saw a video of a 15 year old girl named Tamana,  murdered in the name of an "honor killing" in Afghanistan. Honor killings happen publicly. Tamana was one of 42 such honor killings in four months. Someone in the Taliban would tell you Tamana committed a sin that deserved death. 

Last night a man (pictured) went into a movie theater during a midnight premiere of a movie.

He let off some smoke bombs and then opened up fire on the audience.

He has killed 12 people by the time of this writing and injured 59.

Today someone on Facebook claiming to be Apostolic wrote this status:

(names have been changed....even though he doesn't deserve it).

The man seems to be implying that the movie theater's tragedy would serve the purpose of revealing the sins of an Apostolic who is committing a sin of watching a movie at the movie theater.

Now whether or not you think going to a movie theater and watching a movie is a sin or not, I don't care.

Tragedy is really messed up. And I wish there was some way of getting some kind of meaning. But I can't. I pray for the victims and their families and just look to the skies and say "God, you there? We need you more than ever right now."

So let's agree on this:

Tragedy.... especially something like this shooting.... as mindless and confounding as it is... should never ever be recast to serve any kind of agenda. Religious, political, or ideological.

Just saying that you're "not trying to be un-sensitive to the situation!!" [sic] does not in any way forgive your errors. The status is insensitive (correct spelling). That status is stupid. That status is heartless and pathetic. And it is not representative of anything that resembles being a human being who has real feelings that empathize with one's neighbor.

And with that said, I have no problem admitting that on behalf of all of us who are human, who have a heart, who are not indifferent and callous to human suffering....

on behalf of Apostolics

I will freely admit that the man "Mr. Superior" who wrote the above status.....is NOT Apostolic. No matter how much he'd like to think so. And no matter how many movie theaters he will not be visiting for the rest of his life.

True Apostolics don't equate sinful acts with the right to murder. There is no lesson in death.  Let's not make one up. No matter how "honorable" you think your cause is.

Mr. Superior is not Apostolic.