God of Reality and the Artistry of Pretense

In my old blog space, I use to write a lot about the dichotomy between reality and the world of pretense. It is still one of my top issues, through which I see and measure the world. Like Salinger’s Caulfield, the majority world looks phony to me. People project what they want you to think about them, rather than who they really are. I’ve said before that some of the areas that are most prone to pretentiousness are advertising, politics, religion and dating. In those worlds, faking who you are and what you are is the norm.

We are in the season of politics and the branding (borrowing from the last post), positioning, projections of a false reality (on both sides) is epidemic. Reality fades further into the distance. Each—political—side has one ambition and one ambition alone, to assume power, simply for the pleasure of power. Sometimes I think Friedrich Nietzsche and the linguistic deconstructionist were at least partially right.

However, if God is there, and I think he is, then he dwells within reality and is the author of it. The more skewed reality becomes to us, the further away from God we are. To quote from my own book I see discipleship this way:

True discipleship is not memorizing the established answers and then being smacked on the back of the head every time we deviate from the rote. It is a lifetime of journeying, circling closer and closer to reality, the place where God dwells. Jesus’ twelve friends all knew reality much better at the end of their little adventure than when he first commandeered them out of the Galilean normalcy.

For this reason, I think that most TV evangelists are more dangerous to true Christianity, than is Isis. The more we live in the world of pretending, the more removed we are from the Gospel.

As I watch the Republican Convention, and I’m sure I will feel the same when I watch the Democratic one, I feel sick. When I hear a few people within the Black Lives Matter movement proclaim that all policemen are bad and are racist, I feel sad. When I hear (mostly white Evangelicals) saying that the Black Lives Matter movement is all fake that there is NO racism, I feel even sadder. Each is taking a giant step away from reality.

I am a hopeful person, despite being a critic. I think I am hopeful because I see how shallow human mischief really is, and therefore how easy a remedy a true Gospel can bring. I do believe that God wins in the end and all will be fixed. I do draw some consolation when I read others who have seen the world this way and—at least some of us—desire to live closer to reality despite that resistance we feel in doing so.

I will close with one of many possible quotes that I could use from The Catcher in the Rye:

Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them—if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.

― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

The Christian in the Age of the Branding Lens

It is hard to separate the notion of branding from the normal influences of simple culture, but yet, I think they are very different.

The principles of culture formation are as old as living animals have been on this earth. For humans, the first time they had a clan or family there was culture formation. One family simply thinks and feels differently from another family or clan. I can see it now as I—a Tennessee boy—married a girl from the Midwest. We have some issues that we approach so differently, it is hard to understand how the other side even thinks. Then of course there are the larger human organizations that take it to new levels of culture such as villages, cities, states, and civilizations.

But branding is a newer concept and goes far beyond the typical cultural constructs. It was probably invented on Madison Avenue in the 1950s. It takes abstract thinking to define branding and how it is different than culture itself. Here are some of the things I have come up with to define branding;

  1. It is a deliberate organization of things under a chosen label,
  2. It is more well-defined than other general cultural concepts, with very defined boarders and is intended to evoke a certain image,
  3. Branding is less tolerating to deviation from the main belief than regular culture,
  4. Branding can change at a moment’s notice, but only from the top down.
  5. However, the perception of the branding can change from the outside, bottom and up.
  6. The difference between #4 and # 5 is that “Coke” will not change their belief system unless it is verbalized from the top with great purpose. However, the perception of “Coke” by the masses can change if—say—a photo is released on Facebook of a dead rat in a vat of Coke syrup at the factory.

Now, I will try to get more specific about how branding applies to Christianity.

Last time I wrote about church denominationalism. I love diversity within Church cultures. But, I am not a fan of it when it goes to seed as absolutism. I constantly hear from supporters of different cultural interpretations of the Church that they have found the only true Church and if you are not part of it, you are inferior. I am a candid person and when I talk about struggles (such as my struggle here with branding) someone always steps up to tell me that they have found the only true Church, which has all the answers. They are, of course, wrong.

We must have the freedom to celebrate church life in a variety of ways and respect people who differ. I have greatly enjoyed services in the Orthodox, Lutheran, Coptic, Catholic and many smaller denominations. This is not relativism because it does not touch the essentials. We must also acknowledge that no one gets it 100% right. We must humbly accept our church’s failures as we see the failures in other churches.

Branding is a lens by which we see the world. It should not be that way. The lens through which we see the world should be 1) our senses, which God has given, 2) our reason, which God has also given and 3) Scripture.  However, we have to be very careful with the last one. Most of the time we see Scripture through the lens of our brand and it should be the other-way around. Two people, from very different perspectives, will read scripture the way they want to read it. Scripture is not relative, but it is not always clear. We pray for God’s guidance, but we can’t full trust ourselves to get it right every time.

I will not hesitate to say that I’m not a big fan of Donald Trump. He sufferers from narcissism and I mean that literally. If it makes anyone feel any better, I’m not a fan of the Hillary pretentiousness either. She is a chameleon for votes. But this is what I find amazing. I heard a poll yesterday that the Evangelical brand supports Trump at almost 90%. Late yesterday I heard a report that black churches in some areas support Hillary at almost 100%. It is as if the brand dictates your thinking before you have the chance to think. The “Conservative” brand is a lens through which Donald Trump looks like a savior. The “Black church” culture may be doing the same with Hillary.

Then, with the terrible shootings this week all my friends lined up exactly according to their brands. The conservative branded friends (Fox-News-Evangelical friends) starting posting what I expected them to say. I know that brand well and was not disappointed by my—low—expectations of them. I heard their chatter that “Black Lives Matter” does mean what the proponents say it means. It means “Blacks deserve more rights than whites.” I saw video tapes of preachers, Fox News hosts and others pointing out that it is the failure of black society that is the problem. That the two black men shot were bad people. The scariest posts were a couple of black evangelicals supporting that same brand view. In their cases their evangelical brand was the lens they defaulted to rather than their black community lens.

Then, on the other side I heard what I expected.

So, here is the point I am trying to make. If events are controversial, without clear interpretations, you think that you would see a wide “bell-shaped” curve of views, based on people’s perceptions of those events. Those at the highest point of the bell curve would be those most right.

However, what we see are rows of rectangle columns.  Each column is a topped by a bright neon sign touting the brand and everyone who subscribes to that column falls in line with the brand view. There is no personal thinking but that has been relegated to the brand leaders.

This is what is wrong with American politics at this time in history. The brand dictates the thinking and it is brand alone.

It is time that we forsake the brands and humbly ask God to forgive us and give us the insight to see things as they really are, not how our brand dictates how we should think.

Denominationalism

There is one thing that I have had a hard time understanding this side of evangelicalism, and that is denominational favoritism. Now, if was simply the idea that someone really likes a particular brand of church, that would be fine. However, the prevailing attitude that I sense is that brand x church is the ONLY church who has their act together. They are the ONLY church who has their doctrines correct. If you are not part of their brand, you are inferior.

They approach it as God playing the shell game. He has several hundred walnut shells on the table but under one–and only one–is the correct church. Our mission is to seek out and find that one faithful church in the midst of imposters.

Some have gone so far, if you read between the lines of what they are saying, that you cannot be a Christian if you are not part of their denomination.

Right now I have good friends who believe that; the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), Catholic Chruch, Wisconsin Synd Lutheran Church, Eastern Orthodox, Mennonite Church or the Southern Baptist Church is the ONLY correct church.

I think about this and, as I always do, try to figure out what is the psychological force behind this thinking. I think it is a lack of understanding of the brokenness of humanity and seeking a higher feeling of self-worth, knowing that you are one of the few who are smart enough or moral enough to have discovered the one true church. Broken humans cannot produce perfect church organizations. This is not to be a bummer, as is all is hopeless. It is liberating. We don’t have to look to a particular church as our one savior. We can enjoy a variety of traditions without guilt, keeping one eye open for mischief within that brand.

I’m also not saying that theological truth is relative. It is not. But each person in these particular groups above thinks that they have a corner on theological certainty. This is not possible. We should seek theological purity, but we never arrive.

So what is the problem with this ecclesiological branding? The problem is, I have noticed with these friends:

  1. When they live in places where their church brand doesn’t exist, they half-heartedly join other “inferior” brands and stand as a perpetual critic from the inside.
  2. They don’t support important ecumenical projects in the community so they can avoid mixing with those outside the “right church.”
  3. They, while not admitting it, look down their noses at people outside of their brand. They may not notice it, but those on the other end of that long nose get it.

I am often accused of being anti-denominational (or like I said above, seeing theology as relative). I am not. I favor the true, simple gospel and I adore all life that God has created.

Related to this, I will close with a quote from my book, Butterflies in the Belfry, Serpents in the Cellar, about this issue:

Even champion thoroughbreds require constant shoveling or their stalls will fill with shit. We are ALL wrong on some points but that should not stop us from meeting. However, this plasticity should never be an excuse for trivializing important theological doctrines or attempting to revise the corrupt history of our particular church movement to make us feel better. We often worry that we—or worse, our friends—might be wrong on some important theological point. However, what really should keep us awake at night, is the fear of becoming certain about a view that is absolutely wrong. As long as we know there is a chance we might be in fault . . . we are safe.

Mike

Another Hard Week in America . . . and the World

There is really nothing left to say. There have been many great blogs, articles and etc. written this week about the horrible shootings and I can’t add to that. Of course, and sadly, there as been some really ugly things and some really out-of-touch statements.

I am left thinking, what do I do?  How do I repent? I think of my heritage, growing up in the south. I was raised racist. I’m sorry about that. I am shocked that even now  when I spend time with my old (strong Christian) friends, who still live in the south, they say some horribly racist things and don’t even realize it.

But I know that I am not clean yet. I want to find out where I am still racist and purge that part of me. That’s all that I left to say. Forgive me and help me to see how I can make this better. How can I help the hurt of the black community and the police?

Mike

Why I support Isis

Now that I have entered my name on every watch group in the world (by that title to this post) I will quickly give the disclaimer that, of course, I don’t support Isis. Someone recently asked me what would be the group’s proper name in Arabic. My Arabic is rusty these days, so I had to search and work to find the vilest name that I could come up with, in Arabic. It was simply, people whose brains are made of dog shit.

So, I really don’t need to say much to point out how evil and disgusting Isis really is. To be part of that group, you would have to be classified as a sociopath to start with, but that is just the mental health description. The moral explanation is beyond any words that I can conjure up while sitting in this humble coffee shop in the afternoon.

However, I do support Muslim people with my whole heart. Why? Because they are humans, created in God’s image. Because they are created in God’s image, they are deserving of love and respect and that settles it. I feel the same way towards Jews, homosexuals, transgenders, Hindus and any other group that just happens to be human before they became under that secondary label.

I am deeply concerned these days, not about the terrorists coming for us (which has been the same saber rattling within Christendom since Mohammed took Mecca in 630 AD), but about the attitude I am seeing among my Christian friends. Virtually all my evangelical friends are on the same page. I am the misfit or outcast. Their mantra is, “Islam is evil, it is against God . . .  they are all evil and murderous. We must kill them all because we are the shining lights of morality for the world.”

 

For years, I pondered how on earth could have decent German people allow their country to become so morally corrupt that they could allow Nazism. How could they look the other way when the outcast; Jews, disabled, homosexuals and the like be executed because of their label? I have even met some of these people (I know one now) who lived in Nazi Germany and probably supported their government, at least at the beginning.

I think I now know. It is insidious. It creeps out through the cracks of frustration (over terrorism in the present case) and congeals on this side as camouflaged hate. It is camouflaged by the patriots as standing up for freedom and the American Way (which I think Superman coined). It is veiled by Christians as being on God’s side. But hate is hate. Hate is the fuel of Isis and if we become like them, we are no better than they are.

I think what shocks me the most is that this attitude is one of solidarity among my Christian friends. I am grateful that I go to a church where the dominant attitude is not this way.

How do I explain Isis? Is it a Muslim feature?  I would need a book to explain that clearly but I will just summarize here in closing. If you take a country, say “Zenderland” and subject it to domination by other, far away countries and subject it to injustices (like all countries experience at one time in history or another) you will create a general ill-feeling among the Zenderlanders. As that discontent and anger grows, there will the minority spin-off nut-job groups who allow their anger to go to seed as raw hate. This is human nature. If they want, they can look into their personal philosophies to find the supporting foundation for that anger, to make it metaphysically bigger than themselves. Study the Christian Thirty-Years-War and you will see how we did the same rationalizations, using Christian theology. Yes, there are things within Islam that you can use to support a violent Jihad, even though most Islamic scholars would disagree with that attitude.

This is the mess that we are in. When I even suggest that we, good-ole white skinned, Christian Americans have done injustices to other people groups in our past and we have made some huge political mistakes (like invading Iraq), this really pisses people off. How dare I say that we have anything to do with the horrible evils that we wittiness on TV? My Christian friends get the most pissed at me, and that is where I hear the question, “Why do you support Isis? I thought you were a Christian.”

But is it not a foundational Christian principle, which Jesus himself taught, that we should first look at the log in our own eye?  Of course, what Isis does is pure evil, but does this let us off the hook from taking any moral responsibility?

I am confused. I scratch my head and wonder how could we be so blind. The huge problem of the world is not a shortage of hate and we need to generate more hate to fix it.

Mike

Peephole into the Previous Life

I joined Facebook about five years ago to see photos of my grandson, who lives in Minneapolis. Now there are two of them, so I have a greater need to stay on it. I don’t know the genius of FB, but the algorithm is incredible. Out of the dust of long-forgotten memories, came people that I knew. Somehow if I find one friend, then their friends appear and so on.

Over the years, I have had to “un-friend” some of my old evangelical friends when they said things that kept me awake at night. Thinks like, “We should be bombing the Syrian refugees as soon as they get in their boats . . . take them out with a drone . . . we all know they are coming here just to hurt us.”

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I still have a lot of old friends, from that previous life, that I want to keep. I try not to say much, unless they say things that need challenging. For example, the massacre in Orlando required a rebuttal from me.

But looking through the peephole of FB, I see a world that has changed very little from the world I was in, when I was in college. These old friends see me as the liberal compromiser. I have left the world of godliness and entered the “humanistic” world of moral relativity (that is me reading between the lines). This is where they see me as having moral relativism:

  1. I don’t believe, like they do, that all Muslims are disgusting people and because they worship an idol, they all want to come here and kill us and covert us.
  2. If a Christian gives up their right to discriminate against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders, they are the victims of religious persecution. I don’t agree with that either. My question is why would any Christian want that right?
  3. I don’t see Donald Trump as the torchbearer for moral absolutes in a relativistic society.
  4. I don’t see that we are in the last days because America is going to hell in a hand-basket (as exemplified by too many brown people being here, humanist teaching that the world is 13 billion years old, people living together out of wedlock). I think we are living in the best age the world has known. When I was a kid, a lot of “decent” church-folks were sleeping with their friends wives, drinking themselves silly each night and wearing bigotry as god-given right. We all feared being nuked any day.

I want to come back to this thought, and I mentioned it briefly above, but one of the major areas of contention is that virtually all my old evangelical friends have jumped in line behind Donald Trump. In the early days, where there was a Republican choice, not all of them were on board. But when he became the only choice, they felt they had no choice. As one said, “Ben Carson is a godly and brilliant man, if he thinks that Donald Trump is a good man for Christians and American, he must be right.”

I want to come back to this idea soon. Trumpism is a serious symptoms of something dark deep within American Christiandom. I think it is the concept of “branding” that America has bought into, but I have to think about it.

My disclaimer: I only have the chance to write here when I am between patients. I can’t proof-read, so please forgive any typos. If you find typos in my book (which I have carefully proof-read as has professionals) then you can criticize me.

Mike

Butterflies in the Belfry, Serpents in the Cellar is Underway

For over ten years I have worked on my manuscript. Today is a milestone day when I submit for the final stages of publishing.

I have published two other books, both publish on demand (self-published). I had a dream where a real publisher would want a book that I had written. Never did I imagine that I would have to turn down two such real publishers, which I did this time. The book will be available in about two months. I have decided to publish under my own publishing brand of Naked Christian Press. I have chosen this route for several reasons, the main one is to give it the priority that I think it deserves. While, I am not in this (only in my other dreams) to earn a living but to get an important message out, especially for those post-evangelicals.

A few years ago I had an early rough draft of the book on my website Christian Monist.  The final manuscript is radically different from the first draft. It is half as long and only a few of the original stories remain.

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