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Self-induced Social Isolation, a Paradox

I’ve had trouble with social skills all my life and I haven’t a clue as to why. At one point, I considered the possibility that I may have some syndrome such as Asperger’s.  However, I don’t have most of those traits. So, if it is something (genetic) like that, it must be a mild form.

But it is funny, going back to my pre-teen years, I could observe the behavior of the popular folks and then try my best to mimic their behavior, the next time I was in a social setting. It wouldn’t work for me. For example, a guy at a party is loud and talks constantly of his great accomplishments seems to be adored by everyone. Then I would muster up the courage (speaking of my younger years) and try to do the same, and I would come across like an ass. I just could figure it out.

A great example of this social inconsistency comes from the movie Tootsie. When Dustin Hoffman is playing the roll of the woman, Dorothy Michaels, he has a very personal conversation with the woman of his dreams, Julia, (played by Jessica Lange). Julia tells him that her romantic dream in a man is for a stranger to come up to her and say he finds her very interesting and would like to make love to her. So, then Dustin, now as the male role Michael Dorsey, does just that (see the video clip below) and it really upsets her. I call it the Dorsey syndrome.

In the case of Dustin Hoffman’s characters, it appears to be that he was just not that attractive of a man. If he had been tall, dark and handsome, maybe the scene on the balcony would have turned out just as Julia had said she was wishing for. But that wasn’t my problem, at least in my younger years. Yeah, now as a sixty-year-old, I may look like death-warmed-over, but there was a time when that was different. My problem was my lack of social abilities and will never understand the skills of which I have no command.

I don’t know why I’m writing so egocentric this morning, but something brought this to my mind. Speaking of which, meaning being egocentric, I’ve been told that the best way to make friends is to focus on the other person. I don’t think that’s my problem. I do have a gift, and I really think it is a gift, of feeling great empathy. It is for that reason I have worked in chronic pain medicine for almost 40 years and have done well with it. I do enjoy (maybe wrong word choice) sitting all day and just listening to other people tell me about their pain, physical and mental pain. They know I care, because I really do care. But I’m not sure who we, the listeners, talk to? God?

But, God has given me the destiny of being lonely. Probably just part of the great Fall. I’m not alone in this loneliness, no pun intended. I think many people find themselves alone, despite their desires not to be. Yes, I have a wife. Yes, I have five wonderful children (whom I don’t get to see very often). But it is one of those perplexing things that I, as a arm-chair social scientist, have never been able to figure out. Denise tells me, often, that is my fault or our fault for not having more friends. Maybe it is a lack of energy. Maybe it is that I love to think deeply, and I find so many social settings so shallow. I don’t know.

Maybe it is this, which has stirred my thinking. I recently spent some time with someone who is very arrogant. He really is full of himself. He is not the kind of person I would want as a friend. When he walks into a room and he expects everything to stop for him. Yet, where ever he goes, he seems to know everyone, and everyone seems to adore him. He is surrounded by friends. It is one of those things I don’t get my head around. Some days I do feel as if I’m from a parallel universe. Maybe someday, God can explain this all to me.

 

 

My Next Church, will be No-Church

In the past few months, I’ve done more listening, than writing. I really enjoy listening to people in their twenties or early thirties, I think I like this group because that’s where my kids are. I would say, about five years ago, I became acutely aware of the mass exodus of this group out of the Church. It first concerned me (and still does) but now it more intrigues me.

Beyond sitting with someone in a coffee shop and talking, I’ve joined several social media groups that reflect this exodus. For example, Exvangelical, a Facebook group. I listen to their stories. I hear their anger at times (especially for those who were spiritually, if not sexually abused within the doors of a church). I have also read many articles and surveys on-line about this exodus. I went to those places to learn and to figure out how we can hold on to those people. I finished, thinking that I understand where they are coming from and they make some good points. I still feel bad for those with a bad experience with one person (eg. pastor-pervert) and it has tainted their entire view of Christianity. Many of these (I think for emotional reasons) call themselves atheists and are deeply pissed.

Image result for remains of a church

So, here is why my next church will be no-church. It some ways it is hard to explain, but it is because my present church is a great church. The kind of church I’ve been looking for. The only other church models that I would more enticing would be either a grand, stone, cathedral with classical music (think of the Church in Europe just after the enlightenment) but with a scholarly and humble pastor / priest. The other model, which attracts me, is a close-knit group of thinking Christians who meet, spontaneously, as needed in homes, coffee shops, bars, and boats. That really is my dream church.

So, I have given up on finding either model of my perfect church. Each time I hear of such a church, it turns out to be a great disappointment (as a house church in Denver I spent time with and quickly realized that leader was, like many leaders, was molding in into his personal cult).

I am happy where I am, for now. But, if anything bad happened here, I would then know that I have found the best and it has come up wanting. My only next choice would be to follow the twenty-somethings out into the wilderness.

So, why do they (the twenty-somethings) and I, find the organized church so unappealing? I will try to explain.

I am no fan of The Navigators. I was with them for 17 years and saw some things that were bad. I’m sure they have good people with them now, indeed I know some of these good people. However, my experiences led me into the abuse by the leadership role and cult-like alliances. With that said, there is one thing that I heard from a Navigator speaker once (this was in the 1970s when they were considering creating their own churches or calling their chapters churches). This man said, “Christianity started as an informal relationship on the hills of Galilee. It next became an institution. Then it became an enterprise. Next, when it came to America, a franchise.”

When you have grown up, either physical or spiritually, within the organized church, you know nothing else. It had been deeply ingrained into your psyche that the organizational church is God’s plan and place. In that paradigm, you cannot leave that institution, without leaving God. It is like the dog who is trying to carry his huge bone through a fence, sideways. He thinks he has no choice but to drop the bone and move on or stay inside the fence and enjoy it. But he can turn to vertically and go through into freedom. This is the sad part about this journey into the post-Church world. They did not realize that there are more options. God is everywhere and uncontainable, physically, or by human ideas.

But what if, we were taken back to the informal relationship of Galilee model? In that context, there is no temptation to tame or enclose God within our institutions. There is no temptation to define God by institutional mores. Within that mindset, there is enormous freedom in the way we worship and think about God.

I will pause here to clarify what I am saying. Unlike one vocal leader to the house church movement back in the 1990s, Gene Edwards, I do not want to destroy the organized church. I hope it the best. I understand that the majority of Christians know nothing else and delight within that structure (but it is moving toward extinction due to the exodus of young people). That’s fantastic, that some people love it. However, I see the back door where the youth are leaving by van-fulls, due to disenchantment.

What are my personal qualms against the organized church? It really mirrors what I’ve heard from the twenty-somethings.

  • Restraint of Authenticity. We had a long discussion about authenticity within my church’s small group, where we are studying John Pavlovitz’s book, A Bigger Table. The group is wise enough to know that is what we should strive for. But, and I may be wrong, I think it is impossible to reach real authenticity within the organized church. It is due to over a thousand years of tradition. The church culture is a place of pretense and it is extremely difficult to change that. When you try to be brutally honest within the church institution, you are quickly demoted along the popularity and spirituality spectrums. For example, I was seen as very important when I considered (and faked it) that I was “Godly” and I was preparing to be a missionary. I am now seen as an insignificant church person when I’ve tried to live honestly. No one is interested in what I have to say.

Here is one very simple example of this restraint of authenticity:

Church Christian #1: “We are having a church meeting tonight and it is very important.  You should come.

Church (trying to be authentic) Christian #2; “I’m not interested. I am exhausted from a hard day’s work and would rather fiddle around in my shop and watch some TV than go to a meeting where a lot of people argue over their views and nothing substantial gets done.”

Church Christian # 1: (thinking) “What’s wrong with that person? They are so rude. They clearly don’t love the Lord.”

There is much more to say about this, but I must move on.

  • Complexity of the Enterprise. I have heard many young people say, in laymen’s terms, they don’t want to go to a church because they don’t have the time. You may think, “An hour a week is too much time?” But what they really mean, is that don’t want the church to start consuming their lives with programs and meetings. Churches are very complex enterprises and require layers and layers of structure. It becomes a blood sucking behemoth. What sets it apart from a social club or business (which may also be a behemoth) is that it has always used guilt manipulation. It may be verbal, implied, or self-implied. What I mean by self-implied, is that you put the guilt on yourself from your years of being within the church. Then you find yourself, not giving just 4 hours a month to church services, but 15-20 hours a month to various church functions and even at that, you are asked to do more and more and you feel ashamed that others step up to the plate to maintain these programs when you don’t.

The relationship in Galilee model never had such an organizational quagmire. The hardest choice was, what do we eat today? No calendars. No day-planners and no comments about you were not at the meeting # 14 this month.

Honestly, I think this organization is just what humans default to and is extraneous to the Christian life at best. It is harmful to a good Christian life at worst. For example, I deeply need the rest of Sunday. Sunday rest is scriptural as that is what the day-of-rest was created for. But if I did everything I’ve been asked to do, I would have no rest. I have a demanding, extremely emotionally draining job and if I treated Sunday just like any other work day, but doing church work, I would quickly burn out. It is not the way we were designed to function. It seems that churches have had to give up their concern for you, in place of the necessity of keeping the programs going.

This is getting long, and I will have to pause. But I will end this segment by saying, these organized programs have great merit. But what I’m saying, rather than having layers and layers of committees to organize a program for helping the homeless, I would be far better off just loving the homeless from my heart. If you love someone, you pause to talk to them on the street. You give them food. You invite them to live in your house. You don’t need an enterprise for that. I honestly think the role of the enterprise-ization of these gestures is for merit. We want to be noticed. We want to be appreciated when we do good deeds. But when we do these personal gestures alone, where no one can see us, when we don’t brag about it, then it is just as fruitful to do them alone (maybe more-so) than as part of a big enterprise.

I may be back to finish this thought. This may be my last post forever. The remaining topics are concerning intellectual freedom (freedom to be intellectually curious rather than follow simply following mandated doctrines).

The Crossroads

So, I’m facing an existential crossroads. I’m getting notices that my subscription to this web page is ending on Monday. It is $98 for an annual fee. Is it worth it? I almost never write here anymore, because I’ve been so busy. It is busyness with life and work. I am hoping that I can emerge from this cloud of overwhelming work soon.

Image result for Crossroads

The other reason is that I feel that I’ve lost my voice. Maybe, it is that I never found it. Years ago, I had a blog, where I wrote weekly, if not daily. It seemed to have a following (maybe 100) and we had meaningful conversations. It was messy as I was so busy then too. I often typed with one hand while ordering coffee in the morning. It had typos, which I didn’t have the luxury to expunge by proofing. But this present feeling of vocal disenchantment seems to stem (as I pull from a bit of self-analysis) from my book Butterflies in the Belfry.

It took me ten long years to write that book. I gave it my heart and soul during that time. I felt like I was making many insights, not just into my own world, but into the universal world. Many of them came to me in profound moments of inspiration. I feel like I have so much to say to those who have been disenfranchised by Evangelicalism or the Church. I felt like I had so much more to say beyond that book. But I must now pack those thoughts away in dusty trunks and carry them to the figurative attic of my life.

My two favorite authors, NT Wright and Phillip Yancey, both read Butterflies and they seemed to like it. I had other deep thinkers and writers read it and like it. But I never found an ear for it with the common person. It was a total financial failure with sales in the 100s (to be successful you must have sales in the tens of thousands).

I had a “rebound” writing experience (sort of like a rebound relationship after a breakup) when I wrote The Waters of Bimini last year.  I had given up on ever trying to write a “Christian” book again. That market is too bizarre. Even close friends (from my evangelical days) would not read it out of fear that it might say something unorthodox. Why not buy something just because a friend had written it? You know, as a favor. Every time I hear of a friend who wrote a book, I buy it. . .  out of kindness. The Waters of Bimini was truly a labor of love, where as Butterflies was more of a cathartic.

If you have tried to be a successful writer, it is a brutal process. To break it big, (meaning that the books pay for themselves), you must have an agent. Each agent accepts about 1-2 books a year, out of thousands of submissions. It is very hard to catch their eye with any writing.

With my Waters of Bimini I decided to approach the big publishing houses again (as I have in the past a few times). This time, I had a nibble. Penguin Books kept the manuscript and the rights to it for a whole year. Then communicated that it was under serious review. But then, in the end, I got a short letter that they did not think it was financially viable. If I were famous of course, it would be worth it to them, because they knew it would sell.

So, maybe I have suffered another author’s disenchantment. I still have the manuscript and now the rights are mine again. I will see it in print later this year, probably publishing through my own company, Mount Erie Press. But it will cost me money to get it out there and I just can’t afford doing this much longer.

So, this convoluted explanation comes back to the moment when I must consider what to do about this page being about to expire. Is it time to pull the plug on my writing for good? This question is for myself and it is a hard one to answer.

 

Heavenly Exotica

I’m sitting in a coffee shop alone this morning, in a foreign land. I’m writing a novel. This is my sweet spot in life, my perfect place. But I use the article the without precision, because I have a few other sweet spots. Having all my kids in one room, where I can protect them with my life is one. Denise and I have several of our own.

mexico coffee shop

I’ve done a lot of sitting alone in coffee shops in foreign lands, writing. Some, modern of glass and steel, with comfortable seating. Some of stone or concrete with hard, three legged stools. A few of tatch. The most rudimentary, just a kind soul making me coffee or tea over a single burner benzene tank sitting on the dirt, and us sitting on stones. There have been hundreds, and yet each time it’s returning to a very special moment. As I sit here and am enamored within a world being built with my words on a computer screen, flowing from my own imagination, a part of my mind is still attentive to the exotic world around me.

apartment malta

Starting with the olfactory, there are new smells of unfamiliar spices, new perfumes, strange foods (yet all with either a base of garlic or onion) being cooked somewhere, and the all-pervading smell of burning paper. I’ve smelled burning paper in every city I’ve visited within the developing world. It is the background smell, and least pleasurable, to all the others. I traced down the smell of burning paper once in Kathmandu. It came from a vacant lot where people were standing around a big fire … of burning paper. In Cairo it was where, like Kathmandu, vacant lots had been turned into makeshift landfills and then someone—for reasons unknown to me—sets them on ablaze. Paper is the dominate fuel of garbage. The smell is sometimes infused with a hint of burning plastic.

My auditory sense is dominated by the languages, which are not my own. I strain at the very primitive edges of language learning in these situations. I hear the same sounds repeated by different people within different sentence structures, and I start to see patterns. I am deeply curious to the conversations, for which I long to participate. (In Malta I was thrilled beyond belief, at my outdoor cafe, when I was able to understand a whole conversation between a father and his daughter, once I suddenly realized that Maltese is really Arabic). Here, I notice the inflections in voices, giving emotions to the syntax.  When I understand the emotions of other humans, using language that I can’t understand, it only intensifies my curiosity.

Surrounding the intentional conversations, I hear the disorganized sounds of children, laughing and crying. I hear stray dogs barking in packs (therefore no one’s pet). I hear traffic, which is different from that in my normal world. The horns are dual and within a high-pitched range. Engines race more intensely in the developing world. In America, such racing is perceived as hostile, a fit of road-rage. In the developing world, I believe it is from aggressive driving without ill intent, which seems to come from living perilous lives. When you struggle to feed your family, life is more of a race to an end and fatalism begins to dominate your world view.

Tying all these sounds together is the music. Each world with their own, gorgeous sounds, (sadly, accented with American rock or pop). Sometimes, in densely populated places, this music emanates from a dozen points; radios, TVs, live bands, and car sound systems passing by with the doppler effect. I wish I could understand the lyrics to give sense to the beautiful voices and melody.

CoffeePalestineStereo

I will not even endeavor into the visual because it would take pages to describe.

This sweet spot got me thinking this time. For some, maybe many, the afterlife is seen as a place of great comfort. Where you come in, into the perfect home. Where you rest comfortably in your favorite recliner, surrounded by the people most familiar to you.

I now think that my hope is that the new world, or Heaven, (if you believe in that idea), will be an immersion into the very unfamiliar. A passage into the totally exotic. Where, the beauty of the unknown, is most deliberate. Where the unaccustomed, liberates my curiosity to its fullest extent. Where I’m not only surrounded by people that I’ve never met, (I do want my friends and family there too, but that’s beside the point for now), but those people are very different from me. They look, smell, and behave differently. They challenge all my ideas of the perfect. That they speak a language that I will have to acquire. This is my hope of a new earth, of a Heavenly existence, a lovely place of eternal unacquaintance.

Curiosity (written the night before the Parkland Shooting)

Life has its seasons. We change with them and by them. Often, we don’t see the change until the results have seeped in and settled in place. It is like we are passengers, sometimes passively, on a journey. The world changes us. The experiences that we face and the thoughts that sneak into our minds remake us. It is from the things that we see, the words that we read, the turmoil that our souls endure. Our personal reformation is so comprehensive, that once on the other side, we have only two choices. One is to conform to the new us. The other is to pretend, pretend we are who we use to be, as any actor taking on a role that is very different from who they really are.

The year 2016 was a watershed time for my spiritual journey. While the intellectual process had been at work for decades (see my book Butterflies in the Belfry) there was a feeling of finality that came that year. It was if I passed through a turnstile, allowing passage in one direction, without possibility of return.

While I have no longer considered myself to be an evangelical, at least for the past 15 years, the distance between me and them became amplified by several factors during 2016. Before that year, the chasm was traversable. I could flirt with the other side. I could converse with friends from my previous life and be taken as one of them, while I was not. But now the languages are no longer translatable. True empathy no longer is possible between us. I can’t pretend to think like they think as I don’t feel it. I don’t understand it. The breach has widened into two different universes.

There were several defining experiences that year. First, it was the year that I completed my fifteen years of study as I prepared my book. Secondly, it was the harsh reception of that book by the evangelicals. They wouldn’t read it because of fear of unorthodoxy (based on the title and the cover photo.

But the most profound event by far, which I have eluded to many times, was the American presidential election. I am not a Democrat. I’ve spent most of my life as a Republican. Now, I consider myself as an independent. I have never been partisan and would as likely vote for Republican as a Democrat (although that might be changing). But as I watched my evangelical friends line up, one by one, to support Donald Trump, it was as if the world no longer made any sense at all. Was I really one of them at one time. If 2016 was 1986, would I too be a big Trump supporter? Maybe, because then I too had been duped.

But it is not about this one man, it is about the total loss, by the evangelical, of objective truth. It has been coming for a long time. It started with the pseudoscience that they use to prove that the earth is only six thousand years old. This distrust of science was only one part of their social paranoia. More so, it was the thinking that they were being persecuted by the “liberal-humanistic” society. While the Church was intended to be the torchbearers of truth, the evangelical Church became the founders of fake news. This evolution has been catastrophic. The Evangelical Church, has become irrelevant to our society both from an epistemological and moral perspectives.

I am writing tonight because earlier this week I got a strange e-mail. It was from someone whom I knew, professionally, in my evangelical days. Even in those days, he was an extremely critical person. He, (taking off the mask of semantics), hated gays, Muslims, Arabs in general, people who drank alcohol and said, “cuss words.” He was a constant stickler for having correct (evangelical) theology. I honestly think he has some type of personality disorder because he was so harsh on people. He is now a pastor of an Evangelical church somewhere.

I was very surprised to be getting an e-mail from him after such a long period of time. But I opened it and immediately he started with very hateful and condemning words toward me. It was so brash, that I hit the delete and “block” buttons before I became angry. The words reeked of hate towards me, Why? Because somewhere I had written something positive about Arabs. Maybe it was in my book or some other writing. He was furious that I would give support to the “people whom God hates.” I feel that that whole evangelical movement is so far off course that they are hopeless. Seriously, unredeemable.

I do believe that God is there. It is easy to not believe that God is there, and for that reason, I respect atheists and agnostics. But my belief is not with certainty. It is not because I am weak of faith. It is because we humans have fallen minds and souls and are unable to know certainty. I am eternally curious. I do believe that God makes us curious and it takes an artificial force to make us stop asking questions and to accept the oughts.

I still believe that Christianity is true, but with the same uncertainty. That uncertainty is not a moral or spiritual problem. It reflects the honest state of our ability to know. Our perceptions and reason are good but without perfection.

But at this juncture, I am ready to leave the American Christian culture. To be part, is to conform into that which is not healthy, non-curious. Not thinking, but only accepting that what others have determined that I must believe. I cannot know God unless I am free to inquire to search, to seek, and to ask questions, all without thwart.

Rock Harbor

I’m posting a section of a book I’m working on, called Rock Harbor. Halem is a barista in the coffee shop. She has her regulars and tourist that come through their little, isolated harbor village. One day a stranger, Winston, rows in. He is very unique and has the uncanny ability to see people’s souls and to help them out of their self-imposed labyrinths.  In this scene, his is confronting Halem, whose mother died of breast cancer when she was twelve. Her father had sent her away, near the end, to spare her the pain. She therefore never grieved as the whole event seemed surreal to her. Winston had been talking to her about the need to grieve properly before she could move on.

This is a very rough draft (first of about ten drafts). I am asking, am I able to capture the moment and how can improve this scene? The first man mentioned is not Winston. Yes there are typos. I wrote this as fast as I could (which is normal for me, since the only time I have to write is between seeing patients in a busy medical practice). I will do many passes of corrections.

 

 

Chapter 8: Rain

The next day, the coffee shop was a busy as usual. The loud San Diego flotilla had sailed off with the previous evening’s gales. Halem remembers a group of boats going out through the rift just before sundown. But the winds also brought new sailors to town. The motorboats, Nordic Tugs and others come and go whenever they want. But, for the first time ever, the wind was a fearful force for her. She knew why. It would eventually carry Winston away as well.

That morning the coffee shop was full, yet to Halem, it seemed empty. Winston did not come. She felt nervous. She felt, deep in her soul, that she didn’t have closure with Winston yet. He could be gone on the next gust coming down the mountain side, and she would never see him again. You only meet a few remarkable people in your life. Winston was one of them. Several times she exited the shop, to look down into the harbor. She wind coming down the mountain side and in from the sea, was stirring up that salty-musty smell that Pugetians were well familiar with. Her heart felt a wave of relief each time her eye visualized his boat, still moored at the same spot.

Jamie walked in, more subdued than normal. The only belligerent comment he made this morning, was him saying to Halem that he told his mother what she had said, that she wasn’t anorexic. His mother’s response was, “Well, she could gain some weight. She doesn’t look good being so tall and walking around looking like a skeleton.” She didn’t respond to that comment, although it stirred up a subliminal fear that her lack of better looks, may not keep Winston around. Maybe if she were a five foot six, busty blonde or blue-eyed brunette, who was the life of the party, he might stay longer … and who knows, take her with him. Then she had to chuckle to herself with that thought because she had just described the blonde from San Diego, whom they all despised. But really, she would go with him, if asked. At this moment in time, especially with the fear of him leaving so pertinent, hell yeah, she would go with him.

Closing time seemed to never come. Sandra came to visit, at the end of the day, carrying two gallons of fresh, mainland, milk. She walked up on Halem standing in front of the shop. “He didn’t leave did he?” she asked, as if she had been reading Halem’s mind.

Halem turned her gaze from the harbor and looked at Sandra, “Nope. His boat is still here, but he didn’t come to the shop today.” Sandra just stood beside her and looked over the harbor. Halem turned to her and asked, “So, what time did you get in last night?”

Sandra looked down and back up with her facing carrying a guilty smile. “Oh, it must have been 3 a.m. I know I left the harbor in Anacortes at 2.”

“Isn’t that dangerous crossing over at night and alone?”

“I think it’s safer. There are fewer boats. No ferries and those boats out there are well lighted. My only fear, as I’ve said before, are the dead wood in the water. It’s hard to spot a long in daylight, and at night impossible.”

They entered the shop together and Halem noticed a man, a newcomer who came into the shop that afternoon for a simple pour-over. He was standing at the counter. “May I help you?” She asked as Sandra put the milk away.

He only wanted to order another coffee, an Americano, “to-go.” She made his coffee and then rang him up. Sandra waved as she went back out the door. As this man, (and he said his name was Will), was leaving, Halem started to do her last clean up. She started the dishwasher and stepped outside again. It was a minute after closing time and there was no sign of Winston anywhere. As she turned to go back into the shop, her eyes caught a motion up on the highest level of the village. There was a figure running across the small area of parked cars and then to the stone stairs. The figure, which now she observed was Winston, was skipping down the stairs to her level and then turned right, rather than continuing down to the harbor at the bottom and was heading directly at her. Her heart was warmed. It really was him and he was coming in her direction. She watched him closely. As she caught his eye, a big smile came to his face. He looked wonderful. She was caught, arms folded and leaning back against the front of the shop. She was—irresistibly—staring at him, like his face was some type of tractor beam holding her in its grips. She couldn’t move.

Winston walked up and asked hastily, “Am I too late?”

“Too late for what?”

He looked perplexed, “Uh … coffee?”

“Oh, no. I was just closing but I can make you some coffee.” She turned to go back to the door and he walked beside her. She looked at him, “I was worried about you.”

“Because I didn’t come in this morning?”

“Sure. I thought you had probably sailed off, but your boat was still here.”

“I’m sorry. I told Jamie this morning where I was going.”

“He was here but he never mentioned it to me. He doesn’t have a very good memory about passing on messages.”

They entered the shop together and Halem locked the door behind them. Winston was the only late-comer she wanted to have. She came around the bar and put new beans into the grinder. She asked, “Cappuccino?”

“I’m still savoring the memory of that Turkish cup from the other night. I know that’s a lot of trouble, but it was fantastic.”

Halem shook her head, “That’s alright. I don’t mind.” As she was changing the settings on the grinder to fine, she looked back up, “As you were saying about where you’ve been?”

Winston continued, “Oh, when you’re cooped up in a small boat, sometimes for weeks, your lower body starts to atrophy. I do use my legs when I row. But when I make landfall, I have to get some different type of exercise, so my legs don’t get weak. So, I headed out before day break and walked the logging road up to the top of Mount Constitution. Then I hiked around a bit up there. I was thinking my decent would be faster, but it wasn’t. That’s why I’m late.”

“Was it pretty up there?”

“You don’t know? Have you never been up there?”

Halem laughed, “Believe it or not, I have not. I was never much of a hiker. I grew up as a city girl and did all my walking in downtown Seattle.”

“Well, then I will take you up there for a picnic before I leave.”

A warm smile came to Halem’s face and she hit flipped on the grinder.

Halem made two, well-crafted, cups of Turkish coffee the same way she did the night that Winston stayed for the roasting. She came around and sat at the bar, beside him. She reached down and was rubbing her foot. “My feet are really tired today. I think I made thirty trips outside.” Then she caught herself and regretted saying that because Winston never lets a hanging thought to hang very long.

He looked down at her feet. She had her thin slippers on. “Why do you wear those? They have no cushion for your feet.”

Halem blushed a bit and answered, “Well, when you’re a girl and you’re almost six feet tall, you do everything you can to not look any taller.”

“That must be why short girls wear those crazy high heels,” Said Winston.

“Yeah, … and to make their asses look tight.”

Winston looked at her, “Are you serious?”

“I am.”

He tried to sip his coffee, but it was too hot. Then he looked at her again. “Why so many trips outside?”

She decided to be honest, “Uh, well, to check on you for one. I was really worried that you had fallen in or something.”

Winston began laughing. “It would somewhat of a story if I survived a capsize in the stormy Southern Ocean east of Cape Town, and then fell off the dock in the peaceful waters of Rock Harbor and drowned.”

“Really, you capsized?”

Winston looked up into the air to gather thoughts, “I did three times. Once in the Indian Ocean and then Cape Town. The scariest one, was 200 Kilometers east of the Fernando de Noronha Island, dead center in the Atlantic. That time it wasn’t a storm but a rogue wave. The weather was calm that day, nothing like the thirty-foot swells east of Cape Town. But a fifty foot rogue wave came out of nowhere and literally blindsided me. Maybe it was tsunami or something. But, there was no chance of rescue there. I wasn’t even near a viable shipping lane. I was completely alone. That one caught be by surprise too. After my first two capsizes, I had my boat modified in Cape Town to make it safer.”

Halem looked puzzled, “How can you make a small boat like that safer?”

“We added some weight to the bottom. The boatyard had done this before. They shaped an iron plate that bolted directly over the keel, adding 200 lbs. to the lowest point. My original deck cover, was made of canvas. It was okay when you were storing your boat in a harbor or dry docked. But it was worthless during bad weather as it leaked and flopped around in the wind. They created for me a neoprene deck cover that secures tightly around the boat, leaving an open space for me to sit and row or to hold the tiller. It was almost like the cover of a kayak cockpit. That modification was a godsend on that last capsize. I was even able to right the boat and crawl back in. Without those modifications, the boat may have sunk, or I could have died clinging for weeks the hull of an overturned boat, with nothing to eat or drink.”

Halem shaking her head, “I’m glad you’re okay.”

“Anyone at sea for long will have stories to tell.” He sipped his now cooler coffee. He closed his eyes and sloshed it around inside his mouth to savor the taste. Halem sipped her coffee as well.

Winston sat his cup down and looked at her and said, “Now, let’s talk about you.”

Halem smiled and looked down into her cup and back up, “I don’t have many stories to tell. I mean, I’ve lived a pretty quiet life as compared to you. I have no adventures.”

He rolled his lips inward and gave a slight grin to his pursed mouth. Halem didn’t know how to interpret that expression. Was he irritated?

“Halem, you have endured one of the most treacherous journeys any human can survive, as a child, losing a parent.”

Halem sighed in frustration. “Do we have to go there again? I’m more than that. I’m more than someone who lost a mother. As they say, I won’t let that define who I am, and I don’t want others to do either.”  Her rising intonation seemed to express annoyance.

Winston listened calmly and then responded, “You’re exactly right. You’re far more than a grieving child. You have tremendous talents and things to offer this world. However, those gifts to the world are being held back. You are being defined by your grief.”

Halem finally erupted in frank anger, “How can you say something like that!  I’m not sitting around moping and feeling sorry for myself. Like I told you, I never even cried at my mother’s wake. I moved on. Some people would consider that very brave for a twelve-year-old.”

Winston sipped his coffee and turned to look out the big front windows. It was like he was going to let the conversation go. But, to Halem’s disappointment, he didn’t.

He turned back around and looked her squarely in her eyes. “Halem, if you had cried for weeks or months and couldn’t even find a way to dress yourself, after loosing your mother, I would have no qualms with how your mother’s death impacted you. That would have been a healthy grieving process. It would be time to move on now. But, from what you have told me, you did not grieve. Those facades of self-preservation must come down. You must grieve, before you can move on.”

Halem stood up and walked around the bar, rinsing out her cup and then putting it in the dishwasher. She looked at him across the bar and said sternly, “Are you done?”

“With the conversation?”

“No, with the damn coffee!”

Winston took one last sip and handed her his cup. She rinsed it and put it in the dishwasher. She turned to look at Winston again, eye to eye. Raising her index finger and pointing it in his direction, she said, “Who the hell are you that you think you can come into my coffee shop and tell me how to run my life! You don’t know me. I only met you four days ago. This is none of your damn business. Haven’t you heard that you should never tell someone how to grieve.” Halem was realizing that her angry tone, maybe closing the door, permanently, on any hopes of a more romantic relationship with this man. However, at that moment, that place in time, her anger was stronger than any romantic aspiration.

Halem was expecting, as any normal conversation with any normal person would have gone, that Winston would apologize and end the pursuit of her grief. But Winston wasn’t normal. He said to her, “I’m afraid that I cannot let this go. There’s too much at stake. I saw that tear yesterday … you know, when Jamie said he would like to meet your mother. I sense a real potential here for you.”

Halem, now washing out the ibrik and putting it away, suddenly turned and slammed the side of her right fist on the bar top. She yelled, “What do you want from me! It has been ten years since the wake. Do you want me to cry? Would that make you happy?”

Winston stood up. “I want you to embrace your grief, head on. Yeah, you need to cry.”

Halem seemed despondent. She walked around the end of the bar and out to the window and looked down on the harbor with her arms folded across her chest. She could see Winston’s white dory bobbing in the water, riding on the wake of a trawler making its way out to the rift. All day long she was hoping it was still there. Now, she honestly wished that it was gone, that Winston had sailed off with the San Diego group. Winston remained silent, sitting at the bar. She was hoping he would leave. Most men would have after such a display of anger. But he didn’t. He just sat there like a wart that you wanted to go away but doesn’t.

Halem saw her reflection on the inside of the glass. She felt ugly. Jamie’s mother was right. She was too tall and too skinny. Her hair never looked good. Not grown out or chopped off as it is now. The thought passed her mind that if she were prettier, Winston might not be talking to her this way. He may have been seduced into her smile and working to bury any rough spots. That’s what lovers do. That’s what she did with Finn for almost two years. She tried he best to bury his faults. He had no interest in hers, only her in bed with him in thoughtless love making. Maybe if she had been in Winston’s league, that’s where this would be going. Not him seeing her as a pathetic stray puppy who needs help.

Winston remained quietly at the bar. Finally, since he wasn’t leaving, she walked back with a sense of emotional exhaustion. “What do you want from me?” She asked again.

He gave her a warm smile. “Sit down here and tell me all about your mother.”

She slowly sat on the bar stool, one removed from his. She faced inward, at the Lira. “I think I’ve told you everything. She was thin, beautiful, and full of music and life.”

“Was she tall like you?”

“No. Not like me. Not six feet. No, I remember her being a good head shorter than dad, and he’s about six-foot one.”

“What color was her hair?”

Halem had to think for a minute. “I would call it auburn. Or, as some would say, a ‘dirty blond.’”

“What was her favorite music?”

“She listened to all kinds. She, like everyone of that era, loved the Beatles. She loved the Mommas and the Papas. She used to sing their songs. I can hear her singing as she did dishes, ‘gonin to the chapel, going to get married.’ Her favorite song of all songs, was Fields of Gold by Eva Cassidy. They played that at her wake. But the music she performed with dad was more folk music. Some Dylan and Seger stuff and a lot of stuff they made up. They were silly songs, that children liked.” She smiled. “One song, dad had written, was called ‘Katie the Caterpillar.’ It was about a caterpillar that loved its life climbing around in the trees and eating leaves so much that it, unlike her brothers and sisters, did not pause to build a cocoon. So, while her brothers and sisters came out as beautiful butterflies, she stayed in the caterpillar state. I can still remember the chorus, ‘Katie, the caterpillar lady, didn’t build a cocoon, because her schedule had no room, so she couldn’t leave the leaves and fly to the blooms.’ I know, that sounds corny, but with the music it was very catchy.”

“What do you miss about her the most?” asked Winston.

Halem smiled quickly and then frowned. A furrowed brow was barely visible as she looked down at the floor and mumbled. “Everything, I guess.”

“How would your life be different now if she had never died?”

Halem looked up at Winston and he could see that her eyes were turning watery. “It would be totally different. She was not just my mom … she was my best friend. She used to come into my bedroom every night and talk. When I was little, she would read me a story. But as I got older, she would talk about my day. I could tell her everything. If I had a crush on a boy. If girls at school were being mean to me, when I had my first period. She always knew exactly what to do. Dad wasn’t bad at those talks either, in those days. He’s so different now.”

“You lost him, too didn’t you?”

“Yelp.” She said with a smile, looking back down to avoid eye contact.

Winston added, “So, in a moment, you went from this loving family, full of life, security and safety … a safety that seemed to never end … and, for no good reason, it was taken away from you. That, no matter what you believe about an afterlife, you will never see, talk to, or hold your mother again. You will never, ever feel her kisses, her soft cheek against yours, the smell her perfume, see her creative touches to your house and the world around you. You will never hear her songs again. You will never get to introduce your Prince Charming to her someday, or to help you pick out a wedding dress. She won’t be there, when you give birth for your first baby or feel the joy of holding him or her. A joy so strong that the two you, mom and daughter, are filled with tears. Halem, your life has been cheated. It was not fair.”

“Stop!” shouted Halem with her hands over her ears. She was still looking down at the floor. “If you are trying to make me cry, you are doing a pretty good job of it. But I’m afraid … ” and she left the sentence hanging.

“Afraid of what?”

“If I ever start … I may never stop.”

“They will stop, when it is time.” His voice seemed strained and raspy.

Then she looked up at Winston, sitting on his barstool but leaning in her direction. Down his face was a stream of tears. As almost a reflex, a blitz of her own tears began to pour out of her eyes as if by some outside force and to her own surprise. She quickly wiped her face with her hand and they continued to flow out. There was a continuous dripping from her chin, like the rain drops from the trees after a spring cloud burst. Her wiping with her bare hand could not keep up. The stream of unhindered water was soon followed by sobbing. Her whole body was shaking as in an epileptic fit. Winston handed her a wadded-up bunch of napkins off the counter and reached out and took her hand. It was limp. She was shaking and crying and began to bellow out loud. “Why?” and in an almost desperate and angry tone, “God, why? I want my mommy back, God please! God please! God, damnit why?” Her sobbing was uncontrollable crescendoing in its effects. She could no longer sit and slumped to the floor, with Winston holding both her hands to lower her gently. In an extremely strained and high-pitched voice she screamed out, “I never got to say goodbye! I never got to be with her when she drew her last breath! I had so much to tell her, about school, about my friends. I never thought I wouldn’t see her again. But then it was too late!”

Winston slid down the front of the bar, beneath the Lira to sit beside her. She fell onto him and he wrapped his arms around her, holding her like a baby. She was shaking so hard, that Winston could not contain it. He too, was sobbing too hard to speak. He held her tight. Her shaking was so intense, that the whole bar was shaking and the cups on the top of the Lira clinking together in the rhythm of her sorrow. She knew that Winston was continuing to cry too. She could feel the drops of his tears on the back of her head as she succumbed to his lap.

They laid in that position, her laying across the floor with her head buried in his lap and Winston stroking the back of her head. He said nothing, or at least nothing that you would expect. He never said, “Stop crying now,” or “It’s going to be okay.” Just now and then he said the same mantra, “I’m here, I’m with you.”

They kept this position for over two hours, during which Halem never stopped sobbing. Winston had his back to the bar facing the big windows and watched as the shadow of Mount Constitution meticulously came down the side of the village until it overtook the harbor itself. Once Sandra came up to the glass and looked in. He assumed it was because Halem never came home and she was worried about her. She pressed her face up to the glass and shielded her eyes above with her hand, so she could see inside better. Winston watched her look around the room until she spotted them, beneath the front of the bar. She looked horrified at first, probably assuming that Halem was injured, or maybe the two of them were being intimate. Winston smiled at her and nodded, then he flashed and ok sign with his hand. This did seem to dispel her concern and she walked away.

At 10 p.m. Winston slid from beneath Halem who was now quieter. She even seemed to be drifting in and out of sleep, only to awaken and start to sob again. She looked up at him, her eyes so swollen that they could barely open beyond mere slits. He kneeled back down in front of her and whispered, “Can I get you something? Some milk or water?”

“Milk,” she said in a horse—barely audible—voice. He opened a jug of the fresh milk and poured, both of them, a glassful. He helped her to sit up on the floor so that she could drink hers. He drank his quickly and returned their glasses to the dishwasher. He sat back under the bar and she laid her head back on his lap.

At 4 a.m. she woke again. Winston was still seated with his back to the bar and her head on his lap. He said to her, “Let me walk you home so that you can go to bed.”

Looking up at the clock on the wall, she said in a weak, low voice, “I need to open the shop in three hours.”

“I don’t think you can. You’re in no shape for that.” In a moment he asked, “Didn’t you tell me that Sandra was a good barista in her own right?”

Halem didn’t immediately answer and he continued, “I’ll talk to her about filling in for you.”

He walked her home, his arm around her waist to support her. They got to the door of Sandra’s house and he helped her in. She looked at him and said, once again with tears dripping out of the slit of her engorged eyes, and down her rosy cheeks, “Please don’t leave me. I don’t want to be alone.”

He helped her to her bedroom and promised that he would sleep on the couch just outside her door. Her hand slipped, gently, out of his and she closed the bedroom door between them. That night, the grief that had been chasing Halem for over ten years, finally caught her.

Updates

I am not posting much these days. There is so much chatter on the web, that I don’t want to muddy the waters anymore.

My book, Waters of Bimini, is still being seriously considered by DAW, a part of Penguin Books USA. This process seems to take forever. I do have a back up plan with a small local press.

I am almost finished my second novel, Rock Harbor. It is about a unique, but isolated harbor village in Puget Sound. One day a drifter comes in on a small boat. He is the most interesting person that anyone has met. He can see through the cloud of human dynamics into the very heart and soul of people. By the time the wind takes him away again, all the people of  the village are changed forever leaving them to wonder, “Who was that man?”

That’s where I concentrate my writing these days. When my ideas for novels dry up, I may return here if I have something to say.

 

The Post-church, Church Part III

Finally, I’m getting to my point. I will restate my original premise. The Church in America is dying (and has already died in Europe). Unless God works in some mighty way, I don’t see how the hemorrhage of Millennials and iGens will stop and after this present generation is gone, the church buildings will be up for sale as museum spaces. I have this pessimism, not because the challenge is so hard, but because there is a lack of will to do anything about it. I hope that I’m proven wrong.

The reason there is a lack of will, is human nature. We humans, to simplify and organize life, we create methods. Methods mature into traditions. The traditions is where behavior is considered automatic around some mutually accepted framework or mores. Traditions age into culture. Culture takes over all aspects of our lives, whether it is the corporate culture of our employer, our local club subculture, and certainly our concept of church. The problem is, to preserve this culture, we tend to institutionalize this culture as absolute.

Image result for millennials

We have been warned to not do this with the way that we think, Christianly. One of my favorite verse is Col 2:8, See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. Despite this warning, it is very hard to escape culture. Like my previous example of wanting to create a “bar-church,” the response I got was anger, pure anger (in other words, a subdued rage).

First, we must discriminate between the baby and the cultural bathwater. If our church culture is mostly bathwater, then it is extraneous, but not necessarily evil. But if it stands in the way of adapting to be inclusive to these younger people, then it could be evil.

Don’t Blame the Customer!

At this juncture, I must be clear. Whenever I start this conversation within the walls of a traditional church, they start to misinterpret what I am trying to say. I’m not saying their sense of church is wrong. I’m not saying we need to tear down the ancient institutions that they love. As long as they are alive on this earth, the old structures (both physical and organizationally) can remain to meet their needs and wants. The older generation should not feel threatened. What I am saying is, don’t force the younger generations to conform to your ideals of good church. They have already rejected that culture. Don’t take it personal.

The chatter, which I often hear from my generation, is to blame the younger people. They criticise them on the rejection of our culture. But we are tempted to make it a moral issue. The best example is the negative label of the Millennials as “snowflakes.” I see them very differently. I see values and morals that exceed my generation. They have less tolerance for bigotry than the Christians of my age. They have more respect for God’s grand creation. I could on and on.

But to blame them would be akin to the Coke corporation creating a new drink. They give away free samples across the country. They put millions of dollars into advertisement into this new product. Then, no one wants it. It taste like cat pee. So, in this metaphor, the Coke company gets really angry at their customers and calls then names. “Idiots, don’t know a good drink when they have it.” Or, “the customers are too lazy to enjoy our new drink.” But the real Coke company would never do this. They are too smart.

Natural Christianity

What I call “natural Christianity” in my book Butterflies in the Belfry, is that very raw form of original Christianity. To find it, simply read about Jesus’s ministry on this earth, without seeing it through our cultural spectacles. So, Jesus wouldn’t be walking around with his hands folded and his head surrounded by a halo. He also wouldn’t be speaking in poetic or mystical rhyme. Think of an organic Jesus, a man who walks on this physical earth like any man. Look at his relationships with his disciples. They hung out together, they ate together, and learned from him in the context of real life. It was relational. That’s it. That’s the baby. That’s the essence of the church. A relationship with other people, centered around the person and teachings of Christ. This is not what the Millennials and iGens are rejecting. They are rejecting the bathwater, the institution.

There must be a great resistance to adding to this raw center, at least not adding from what now exist. Allow the Millennials and iGens determine if they want to add any extraneous. I suspect that they would not choose a brick and mortar church or professional staff. They would not create new programs or projects. This would release them from the time and money it takes to sustain such a huge human institution. From my conversations with this group, they would not have the traditional Sunday morning worship service. If this seems strange, then go back to the raw ministry of Christ.

I have said many times, if the present generation could meet Jesus, they would adore him. What he teaches is still the ideal of what they desire … at least for the most part. This generation has a keen sense of fairness, and justice. They have a deep compassion for those disadvantaged. They devalue the material wealth that my generation was taught to strive for. If the real Jesus was known, he would instantly go viral.

The danger with such a loose interpretation of the Christian Church, is deviation from true Christian doctrines. However, with the present system of strict theological training, well-worked out theological positions unique to each domination, and the great emphasis on Bible study and Sunday school, most churches still get it wrong at points, some very wrong. There is probably more danger with having too much certainty, in areas that God is not so clear.

So, the essences of Christianity could be simplified in the same way that Robert Fulghum simplified life in his classic book, All I really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten. God has done this in His Ten Commandments and in the verse, which I often quote, Micah 6:8, He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. That’s it! I can see the hair starting to stand on the backs of some people’s necks. They are getting pissed.

I could add a few caveats to the absolute, theological, limits of Christianity, outside which, it would not be considered Christian. I would lay out the boundaries as the following;

  • God exist. He (pronoun without sexual identity as God doesn’t have a penis or a vagina) is personal Vs simply an impersonal universal force. Such a universal force is typical of pantheistic ways of thinking, which are not Christian.
  • Jesus was given by God, fully human and fully God, coming to take away the consequences of the failures of the whole world, and teaching us how to behave within a society.
  • All humans have failures, and all who have confidence in Christ, have been fully exonerated.

That’s it. I will not be tempted to add more to the simple essence.

So, let the Millennials create their interpretation of the church, with the freedom to meet whenever they meet. To get to know the real Jesus of history and to put their confidence in his being and his method of living.

The Post-church, Church Part II

I have thought about this a lot. I’ve spent years working on answers and trying to put some of these answers into practice, but without success. While my focus now are the Millennials and the iGens, which includes kids born during the 30 years that span from 1982 to 2012, I will share a true story at a time when the concern was the “unchurched” in general. If you are wondering why my shift to this younger group in my concerns, go back and read my Part I of this series.

In the early to mid-1990s, I was an elder in a mid-sized (300 member) evangelical church. There were several articles published during that time, which focused on the growing number of “unchurched” in America. Because of this, it became a concern of our church, especially the pastor. We started to brainstorm what we, as a church, could do about this problem. There were thoughts about door-to-door evangelistic thrust. One idea (not mine) was a float representing our church in the Forth of July parade. That idea came to reality as an exercise in vanity (in my humble opinion). It required a lot of work.

There was another effort and it was to create a preschool program for the public. That project was probably more successful. It took a huge amount of work, getting a state license, getting background checks and etc. for those involved. But I think it did bear some fruit.

However, I felt that something was very seriously wrong in our thinking as I observed the discussions month after month. I suggested that we had to think far outside the box to have any hope of reaching this group of people. Most of this group of unchurched had been raised in the church, but had voted with their feet to leave. We can’t bring them back by doing the same things they had originally rejected.

I met with the pastor and described a scheme I came up with, to reach these people. I tried to put myself in the shoes of those who were not coming to church on Sunday morning. I had spent years researching church structure, from the first churches during the Ante Pacem (time before 313 AD, when Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire). Much of this research became part of the base of my book Butterflies in the Belfry. What I discovered was a wide spectrum of church experiences in the early history, and very few mandates for church structure. However, culture (not always so pure culture) had a drastic impact on the Church over time.

In my plan, I wanted to go to where the unchurched lived (metaphorically). I decided to create a “church” that met in the main town bar on Saturday night (their busiest night). I went to that bar several times and just sat around and spoke to people. I spoke to the bar manager and described my idea. He was intrigued (this was in a relative conservative area when Christians did not drink alcohol and would never, ever be seen in a bar), and gave me the permission to do this. The bar had a line of walled booths, with sliding doors for private parties. Each booth area would hold about 5-7 people. My plan was to show up each week, take a booth. I envisioned that this is a new kind of church would have a picture of beer on the table and where people were welcomed to sit and talk about their personal lives. I had already been listening and most were already talking about their personal lives, especially after a few drinks.

Image result for church in a bar

In my bar church, after we discussed each other’s personal problems; being laid off, wife leaving, kids on drugs, or whatever, we would then turn to scripture in an impromptu manner. This was at least my plan.

With the pastor’s support, I presented this idea to the rest of the elders. The point I wanted to make was that this bar church, would be a “church plant” by this established evangelical church. This bar church would be under the supervision of the evangelical church’s board of elders.

However, as I was sharing, I saw the look of displeasure on the faces of many of my fellow elders. Bob, the chair of the elder board, had an angry look on his face. He could not believe what he was hearing. He saw a bar as a filthy place of Satan’s domain (not listening to my content).  He finally asked me point blank, “Will you require these people to come to church on Sunday morning?”

I responded, “Require? How can I require them to do anything, they’re adults? No, for most the Saturday night group will be their church.”

The board of elders, overwhelming, voted to not support my idea. I gave up on that project before I got it off the ground. But I decided to take another direction.

I noticed that the public library had adult education courses on math, history, how to do your taxes, and etc. I decided to create a class on, the comparison of the philosophical perspectives between eastern (Hinduism, Buddhism and New Age Spirituality) vs western (Christian) traditions. To my surprise the library allowed this class. I did this class completely on my own for 12 weeks without even mentioning to people at my church, fearing their rejection. I thought it was successful.

But I started to become disillusioned with the traditional church. This was after I had a crisis of faith a decade earlier and had come back to the church. But I felt this sense of hopelessness growing. It really was a problem of wineskins (look that up if you are not familiar with the concept).

I must admit that something is wrong with me. I am a thinker, writer and idea person. But I am poor at implementing ideas. I lack the gift of charisma and the ability to get people, especially church people, to follow my ideas. So, I gave up. I did focus on writing my book with the hopes of reaching those, like me, who have become disillusioned with the faith or the Church.

Image result for millennials in a coffee shop

So now, back to the Millennials and the iGens. That group, as I have shared in m previous posting, is leaving the church in droves. The American church is on death row. We must first look at the whys. Because I don’t want to take up more time here writing about all the whys, and because others have done a good job writing about them, I will give two links where this question is answered: 1 (http://www.recklesslyalive.com/12-reasons-millennials-are-over-church/ ) and 2 ( https://exponential.org/5-things-millennials-wish-the-church-would-be/ ). From these links and other places, I want to just focus on a few of  the important reasons. Then I want to translate this into what the post-church, Church, should look like in my next post.

I keep hearing the following three themes as to why the young are leaving; A) lack of authenticity or honestly. B) not making important, what Jesus made important, C) not having the freedom to discuss tough things at church, and D) being far too demanding of our time.

Evangelicalism, as just about all previous Christian traditions eventually become quite dishonest, emotionally. Everyone on the church wants, so much, to look like decent people that they try their best to bury their faults. They feel that they must have the exact right doctrines and culturally approved behavior. It becomes such an artform of pretense, that the younger generations see through it and it makes them nauseous. They want no part of the Christian games.

They also see a real inconsistency between Biblical ideals and the group’s aspirations. The teachings of Jesus are about compassion, caring, sacrifice and the devaluing of the material (meaning money, not the physical earth). The Bible sums up its greatest agenda in the verse, Micah 6:8: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Yet, the American church is often consumed in political conservatism. This conservatism now means hawkish on war, anti-people who don’t follow your sub-cultural mores, and now, “anti vagrant.” I use vagrant in the broadest terms to include refugees, homeless, immigrants, mentally ill, drug addicted, etc. This political conservatism also values material possessions. The young people see clearly the contrast between what Jesus taught and what the church often emphasizes.

The other things that relates to this idea of authenticity, is the importance of talking about hard things within the context of the church.

When I was in Minnesota, I was the main adult Sunday school teacher in a very large church. For some strange reason, as soon as I came to our little island, I was not seen as qualified to be a teacher. I am often seen as unspiritual because I don’t follow the evangelical mores.  I am also not an effective self-promoter. The last time I attempted to teach a Sunday school class, was a high school class at my previous church. I wanted to have a discussion on the real reasons the kids believed in God and in the Christian faith. I discovered, as I expected, that most of the class believed in Christianity only because they “ought to.” In other words, they were raised in the church and that was their only basis of faith. That is a horrible foundation of faith and it will not sustain anyone.

I thought the class was going swell until the pastor got work and quickly ended my Sunday school teaching career, once and for all. For reasons that I can’t explain, my new church has never allowed me to teach Sunday school, even though I had asked to several times when I first came to it. But I digress.

But, I believe these younger generations are desperate for this stirring of their thinking. If it is not stirred within the walls of a church, where possible good answer can be given, it will certainly be stirred outside the church.

The last reason, which I want to discuss, is the modern church’s approach to any problem is a very labor-intensive project. The Fourth of July Parade float is one example. This younger generation wants to avoid getting roped into time-consuming task after task after task, and these tasks make up virtually all modern churches. The problem is, within the church setting as compared to a social club, is that it is often turned into a spiritual matter. “We need you to help the in the church’s basket-weaving ministry, which meets three times a month. We’re sure that God would be very disappointed if you turn down all of these opportunities to get involved.”

In the next post I will finally get into what the new church must look like if this younger generation is to be saved (I don’t mean “saved from hell’s fire”). But I will say at this juncture is that this new church must stop approaching every problem with time-consuming projects. This generation would much rather have a spontaneous relationship-centered meeting. A group of this new church people and their unbelieving friends, spontaneously going out to a coffee shop or bar and talking about their lives, rather than an “evangelistic thrust” project.

Mike

 

P.S. Once again I only had time to type as fast as I could. I will proofread tomorrow. If I had to proofread every writing project before I posted it, I would never have the chance to write.

 

The Post-church, Church; Part I, Restating the Problem

 

The Christian church (small “c” intended) is dying, at least in the western parts of the world. It is inevitable. When I say this, it pisses off all my Christian friends.

This whole idea came home to me once again recently, when I expressed this concern within the walls of a church. The response was denial and . . . well not quite hostility . . . but, an unease toward my comments. It wasn’t just seeing me as the bearer of bad news, but a bad guy, who was trying to stir up trouble with cynical news. This is the attitude I have always faced when I have attempted to have this discussion from within the church. That’s why I have given up. It left within me this haunting feeling that the church cannot be saved. It is as if you could go back in a time machine and board the Titanic. As soon as she struck the iceberg you would be screaming for people to board the lifeboats, but they in turn, lift their champagne glasses into the air and dismiss you as a negative person who was unlearned in the fine arts of nautical engineering. For truly the Titanic was indestructible . . . or was it?

Image result for old church ruins

Most of us have seen the statistics from the Barna Group1 and Pew studies.2  They show a decline in church goers in general, evangelicals in particular, and basically all labels for Christians in America. The great exodus has already occurred in other parts of the world, such as Europe. In these new studies, not only does it show a mass exodus from the church of children who were raised in the church, but—different from the past—these young people are not returning when they get older and “settle down.”

I have said before that the church, which I presently attend, is one of the healthiest I have ever been associated with. I am not a big fan of the American Sunday morning church service tradition, but I enjoy this church’s Sunday morning service more than any before. I think this church has the most dynamic youth program than I have seen in a long time. The youth leaders and pastors work hard. Yet, like all other churches, this church has a big hole in the 20 to 39-year-old group.  Sometimes, like at holidays, some of the twenty-something children come home and attend, but they do not associate with any church the rest of the year. So, this means this church will not be viable in 20-30 years, when us old farts are all gone.

When I have been able to get past the first couple of sentences about this problem, (at the last 4-5 churches I have attended), the verbiage that I hear in return is always the same. First, there is a defensive statement how that particular church has a fantastic youth program. Then, there are comments of how bad the youth are, in general, today. Next, they quickly attempt to put the blame on anyone, but ourselves. It’s the media they are exposed to.  It is the non-Christian colleges they attend. It is the temptations that youth face now. It might be cell phones or Face Book (I think the Millennials have moved beyond FB by now). I grow distance, as the chatter continues, knowing that I am not making sense to them. Then, the conversation always ends with them telling me that when a child is raised in a good Christian home, he or she never leaves the faith. This is wishful thinking and simply not true. Being unsinkable was the wish of the Titanic passengers too. The same rate (>80%) of leaving applies to the kids from the best Christian families, hauled week after week, to the best youth groups. I see this both in the studies and in personal experience.

This simplistic attitude is exhibited by the “Answers in Genesis” website. Unlike many, they at least do see the problem, but blamed in on the kid’s training, as shown by this statement, “The above results [same ones I quoted] are alarming. They indicate that there has been a failure on the part of Christian homes and churches to teach the Christian faith. The results of this research have been compiled into a new book that we will release in the fall.” 3

I had this same conversation recently with a good friend, who is an elder in a PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) church. He pointed out that this was not true in his church, where they have a very dynamic and growing 20-30 year-old group. He implied, or I wrongly thought he was implying, that it was because of being a good denomination. However, I think the reason his church is doing so well, (and I’m glad they are), is that they just sit off campus of a major university where 18,000 on-campus students reside. This is also in the Bible-belt, where church attendance is the highest in general. But the vast majority of the 18,000, maybe 17,000 +, don’t go to any church. I will also give him credit that his denomination is one of the few growing churches in America, at least for the past 4 years (previous it, too was in decline).  However, to be fair, his denomination as a whole is also the oldest one in America (average age 59) with the least number of members in the 20-30 age group, (see figure 1). While his church is oldest, they barely beat out my own denomination, which is the second oldest.

It is too early to measure, but I suspect that the exodus of the Millennials and the iGens (those born from 1995 to 2012), has greatly accelerated in the past few years. During the election of 2016, it became clear that the younger generations did not share the values of the evangelicals. In 2016, 27% of Millennials identified as being Republican and 26% as conservative. As few as 7% of the non-white Millennials voted for Trump and at the top end, 32% of non-educated, white male Millennials voted for Trump. At the same time, 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump. This separation of values can only fuel the exodus from the evangelical churches.4

In Part II I will start to look into the future of what the church of 2050 will have to look like, in order to survive.

FIGURE 1

Age structure and median age of U.S. religious groups

1 https://www.barna.com/research/americans-divided-on-the-importance-of-church/#.V-hxhLVy6FD

2 http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/

3 https://answersingenesis.org/christianity/church/yes-we-are-losing-millennials/

4 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/11/09/exit-polls-show-white-evangelicals-voted-overwhelmingly-for-donald-trump/?utm_term=.7579f79228df