The Absolute Boundaries​ of Sadness Part II

I had planned on continuing this thought but once again disruptions have been intrusive. The major one being the fact that the lawyers, reviewing my present manuscript. sent it back asking me to rewrite a couple of areas. It is the fear of being libelous. I am amazed but also respectful of their concerned. I had used fictitious names for everyone in my book. Every story is absolutely true, although not all are flattering to others or myself. So, suddenly I was forced into re-reading and editing my entire 21-chapter manuscript.  I hope to finish that tonight for the last time.

I will add one last thought to the topic of sadness, although I lost my original thought.

I want to talk about depression. Depression is to sadness as cancer is to a wart. Those who have ever experienced true, clinical depression don’t have any idea what it is like. It is a disorder of mood and perception. The disorder of perception is best illustrated through the act of suicide. When someone takes their life, it is when their perception is so warped that they see no value left in their life for themselves or for the people who love them.

Depression is rarely the result of one’s own sin. While behavior and wrong thinking can worsen depression the cause is most often related to genetics and life experiences. The life experiences that accompany clinical depression is most often horrible experiences as a child when the depressed person was an innocent victim.

Can our bad behavior be part of the problem? Yes, absolutely. One of the worse aggravators of depression is self-medication through using substances that have the potential of being addictive (alcohol or others). Allowing yourself to continue thinking negatives thoughts such as “I am worthless . . . no one loves me . . . I am a loser” is not constructive.

In most Christian, at least evangelical, circles depression has to be hidden, because, there is a real stigma if you are depressed . . . it is your fault and a spiritual failure. They feel this way (those who hold this stigma) because if they have never struggled with depression, they feel superior as if they have earned the position of not being depressed by being so obedient.

As I said in my last post that I don’t think I have a high tendency towards depression but I have had at least two serious episodes. I consider then serious when suicide enters my thoughts and the way out seems elusive.

Because of these bad experiences, I am cautious when I am sad. I want to experience the sadness in its fullness (rather than living in denial) however, I know the black hole of depression is surrounded by a slippery lip like a funnel.

I really worry about those who say they are never sad because they are a Christian. That means that they live in a world that is not in contact with reality.

The Absolute​ Boundaries of Sadness

Grief and sadness, like so many human emotions, has not been well-understood by the Christian. There is the misconception that the fruits of the spirit paint perpetual smiles on our faces. When the smiles are not there, it means we have something wrong . . . or does it?

Human emotions were designed by the creator. Now, I am not saying they are perfect, but they are real. So I must think about the idea that God designed sadness, happiness, grief, rage, anger, love and all the rest. Our spiritual job is not to deny these human emotions, but to stake out the boundaries between the healthy emotions and those tainted by the fall of Adam.

My personal Achilles heel is anxiety. There are lots to be said about the Christian view of anxiety. I have three books started, not to mention the one at the press now. One of those in a rough draft form is Made Fearfully–Celebrating the Gift of Fear and Anxiety. With that said, I will add that I have also been over the edge into the abyss of depression twice in my life and I know what depression is like, although that is not my Achilles heel.

My wife and I had the discussion last night that we both feel sad. While I have periods of sadness, that stay within the boundaries of “good sadness” it is very unusual for her or at least for her to admit that sadness.

The reason that we are sad is simple. It is life experiences. I won’t name them here for the sake of expediency. I will simply say it is being empty-nesters and watching the flow of time speeding up as we get older. We are starting to question why we go to work every day. I even spent a couple of hours last night looking for ways we could  quit our jobs and go to help Syrian refugees.abyss

However, the bigger question is how do we find that edge between healthy sadness and that horrible abyss or black hole of the devil that we see on the surface as clinical depression. That is truly a terrible place to dwell.

Real sadness, the healthy kind, should never be shunned. As I have said and will say over and over, God, if he is there, and I think he is, dwells in reality. The closer we are to reality, the closer we are to God. So, if we deny sadness, we are stepping back from reality one pace. The more paces we take in the backwards direction, the more out-of-focus God becomes. So there is this art form to feel and to feel deeply true sadness without becoming obsessed with it and then stumbling over that terrible edge.

I worry when I see someone whose loved one has died and they, being the good Christian that they are, are happy because they “know that they are in a better place.” I worry too about those who have lost loved ones decades ago and they are stuck in grief. Not that they can or should “get over it.” Getting over the death of someone we loved is another step away from reality. We must stay in the grief for life because that is the shape of this fallen world. But, at the same time, we must eventually stand up, dust ourselves off and be about the business of bringing peace to this world.

I am now late for work, for that job that I question is what I should be doing. But hold that thought and I will try and finish this tomorrow. Sorry again about typos but the sun is now up, I am sitting outside and I cannot see my screen due to the sun shining on it.

 

The Psychology of Spirituality Part II

I am sorry but I did not get back as soon as I had hoped. Two things happened. The first was the legal review of my manuscript was complete (the legal review is always part of the publishing process to avoid libel suits). A few items were marked for re-writing and this morning I finished those points. In my book, I write with great candor. I have changed the names of all involved, however, according to the lawyers, you can make enough inferences from the manuscript to for some people to figure out who I was writing about. The lawyers (who know much more than me about this) also say that anytime you show someone in a negative light, even if you are being totally honest, they can sue you. I think Christians would more likely to sue than others. The reason is, and this relates to these posts, is that they have the misconception that they are morally above everyone else and for someone to disclose that the fact they were also pedophiles (in one case) or a pastor with a life-long mistress (the other case) would make them want to sue you out of the rage of exposure not true libel (false information in a public place).

So, with some regret, I have removed several stories. I didn’t tell the stories to insult anyone or to make someone look bad. I told the stories because they were true and added to the point I was trying to make.

The other “distraction” is that I have had guests this week. One was my daughter, who I only get to see a couple times a year.

Back to my original thought of my postings.

I joined FaceBook a few years ago as an avenue to see my grandsons. That was my only motivation. But quickly, like a landslide going down the hill picking up more and more trees, houses, boulders and etc., my FB contact list began to grow and grow. Soon there was a group that represented a cross-section of my life going back 40 years. Within this group are people I’ve known in an evangelical context, those who I know in a business context and those I know through my family. Oddly, I don’t think there are any of the Christians I have known in my post-evangelical context.

With so many people from so many walks of life, I ignore most of the posts that show up. Some of the posts I strongly disagree with, but I really try to restrain myself. I have never (that I remember) made a negative comment to those posts. Now I do, sometimes, post an article about a view that is in sharp contrast to what my, mostly evangelical and some family, friends are posting. It is not a direct response to their posts but just another view that comes independently.

My evangelical friends often publish pro-Donald Trump and horrible Hillary Clinton rhetoric. They often post pro-gun ownership and global warming is a myth, views. They post the view that all Mulsims=Terrorist views as well as, All Black Lives Matter is a farce and not a justifiable, views. I don’t comment on those and, even though I am diabolical opposed to most of those, I try not to associate the person with the views. In other words, they are not my friends because they hold the save views as me but simply because they are my friends.

Now, when I post my views that all Muslims are not terrorists (usually some news story to support that), I have some of my evangelical friends get very angry at me. Some have now blocked me (or un-friended me) and that hurts.

Last week I had an old evangelical friend send me a pretty condescending note. His wife has already unfriended me because I posted an article about Ben Carson’s support of Donald Trump was a mistake for him and his evangelical supporters.

I scratch my head because, like I said, I don’t think I have ever confused the views of my friends and family with my relationship with them. I have a sister and a sister-in-law that post things that I hate, but I really try to not associate their political views with them as a person.

This old evangelical friend wrote to me, in my summary, that I am a buffoon for ever posting my views on FP, which everyone knows is the wrong place to post political things. He pointed out how foolish my postings make me look. He did not think about the fact that he, his wife and family, often post articles they see as helpful, such as how Donal Trump will save America, while my article was political because it made the point that most victims of terrorism are Muslims.

I was surprised how horrible this made me feel. I really felt like a buffoon. I felt ashamed. I felt angry and finally I felt sad.

I had to go back and rethink my postings. I have now had several old Christian friends say the same thing, which makes me suspicious that they all heard it from the same source. So it goes like this, we (the evangelical) can post things that they see as true and helpful to support God (loosely defined) but if other people post things that they don’t agree with, then it is the inappropriate (morally) use of FB and that person is an automatic buffoon.

I have several pastors and full-time Christian professionals on my FB. I have noticed a strong pattern among that group . . . they never, ever, ever post anything that is controversial especially political. I suspect that somewhere, during their training, they are warned that they should never take public positions on social or political issues unless it is unanimously held. An example of that would be strangling puppies for personal pleasure is not a good idea.

I respect those professional Christians. I mean I could imagine a church split starting around a political posting of a pastor. So they post pictures of church functions, kittens playing with yarn or rainbows. But never anything more divisive.

So, as I come out of my guilt I started to think about the psychology of spirituality. The MO of my prior Christian experience was to work as hard as I could to make myself look great, spiritually. One way was to redefine my motives as “From God” and if anyone opposed me for any reason, I had re-define their actions and motives as inappropriate or from the devil. This is the psychology of spirituality.

True spirituality is simple. We are all a mess. God cover it all up. Now, we are pure in His sight and that is all that matters. We have the freedom to love those who are different. We should have the freedom not to feel guilt . . . which is a lesson that is hard for me to learn. But I will continue to post things now and then, that support my views on issues. Otherwise, all opposing voices would be silenced.

 

The Psychology of Spirituality Part I

This is a topic that I have spent many hours thinking about in a very candid way. I have written about this exhaustively on my prior blogs and in my coming book. I think it is an essential but also slippery topic. It is hard to grasp without it squirting between your fingers and then you loosing track of it.

I will start with my premise. The very essence of most human behavior and introspection is the desire for self-worth (in my book I call it the “Economics of Self-Worth”). It is at our core. I can be theological about this and to say that this is the way God has created us . . . but that is not quite right. I believe that God created us all, with this longing totally satisfied. But that satisfaction has been lost in the fall of Adam. Now we are left longing for this sense of self-worth with a deep desperation.

God has solved this problem once and for all, in the creative act (we have tremendous value because we were created by God) and in the act of Christ on the cross (all of our moral failures have been erased forever). However, we never quite grasp that either . . . none of us.

So far, what I have said is consistent with what most Christian people believe. However, I will now diverge into the area that most Christian people will not fully agree with and that is in this area where psychology intersects with the idea of spirituality.

I was a hard-core evangelical for seventeen years, so what I am about to say I say with great confidence. We believed that once we became a Christian, that we immediately changed in tremendous ways and it was a supernatural change. We also believed that we would go on to change much more drastically over time through a process of maturation or “sanctification.” This process—so we believed—can be enhanced through certain rituals such as going to church, studying the Bible and prayer.

Here is where I piss off a lot of Christians by saying that no change comes in an instant (at least not a supernatural change), and the real change, which comes over time, is only a slight course correction through a very slow process. The reason it is slow and minor is that the human persona is housed in the material brain and the brain changes very, very slowly if at all.

So, if we believe that we change tremendously from our previous life as a non-Christian, but in reality, we do not, then we have to fake the exterior to look like we are different. The real—inside—change is only slight. In the end, the real us is really not much different than the non-Christian. Some of the non-Christians, who started off—through genetics and life experiences—much better than us, well, they may be much better morally than we are in the end. A simplistic example is where a serious kleptomaniac, who then becomes a Christian, may be more likely to steal than the non-Christian who never had those tendencies.

Sure, we can go through social change, just like any person joining any subculture . . . but the character, the tendency to do good versus bad, is really not that much different.  The social change includes things like smiling a lot, saying sweet things (nothing negative) and using a lot of God talk.

Don was a unique man that I roomed with for a few years while I was in graduate school. While he looked like any typical southern white boy, he was born and grew up in the remote bush of Africa. His parents were missionaries there. He would often say things that were so frank that people in our parachurch group would be offended.

We were once attending a weekend spiritual conference sponsored by our group. One workshop was “Determining God’s Will for Your Life.” After an intensive day of note-taking, we had a very complex technique worked out for always knowing God’s perfect will for every decision that we made.

Don just snickered. He commented, “So, what we were just taught was how to create an intricate story to explain how the thing that we always wanted to do—for selfish reasons of course—was really God’s idea.”

He went on to explain, to be more graphic, that if he saw a beautiful girl he would like to have a lot of sex with, we could spend months creating a narrative of how God had magically called her to be his wife. The narrative would be filled with all kinds of signs such as, “we both like [certain Christian singer/artist] and we each had the same life verse, we bumped into each other at the library twice in a week.” This process of spiritualization was totally new to his brand of Christianity.

Don would have said, “God gave me this desire to have sex with women I find beautiful.  It doesn’t matter which one, so that’s all the information that I need.”

He was not liked a lot, especially when he asked four different women in our ministry to marry him in a matter of a few months. He didn’t try to convince them that God had called them to marry him in some magically and super spiritual way, but that he thought they were beautiful and he would like to have them in his bed every night. He would say that God would bless the marriage if they would allow it, no matter what their motivation was in the beginning.

So how do I connect all of these dots? Christian spiritually is a game. The early (first century) Gnostics believed that God had created some people special and above all other people. By the luck of the draw (wink, wink) they happened to be the ones that God had picked to be special. Therefore, they looked down their noses at all other—non-Gnostic—Christians and way down their noses at their non-Christian associates.

So, really, all of us want very much to be loved by others and by God . . . yet, none of us feel loved. This lies on a spectrum. I would say even the narcissistic people don’t feel adequately loved. Therefore, most of what we do is towards that goal of feeling loved. It shouldn’t be that way if we truly understood the Gospel.

So, behind the scenes (the personas behind the curtain operating the puppets in the front) we are all desperate to be valued and love. All of us build up this idea, like the Gnostics, that we are more spiritual, more moral and more valued by God than others. We get this feeling because we believe we go to the right church, believe the right things and have higher thoughts than others.

When I come along and say, “Sorry, we are all self-absorbed and evil, but, the good news, covered by the cross” it can make people angry. Well, they don’t so angry if I saw it in those exact words, but if I say it in more practical terms, now that pisses them off. I also feel angered when others imply that I have faults. I am too desperate to feel loved and valued and most of the time, just like everyone else on the inside, I do not capture that feeling. All hurt feelings, all church splits, all wars, all racism and all hatred is tied up in this perpetual process of us trying to find personal value and others doing something to contradict that hope. Hold that thought until I come back. If you are starting to feel uneasy with these thoughts, such as not giving God credit for supernaturally changing us . . . then please come back and hear me out to the end.

Mike

 

 

 

To Air the Dirty Laundry

We each have our personality quirks. Sometimes we might say that “I love myself just the way I am.” While that may be a product of 1980s popular psychology, there is one place for it. The one, proper place is to help counter-balance the attitude of self-hatred.

I do believe that we are who we are based on genetics and life experiences (nature and nurture). Because we live in a fallen world, we too are not right . . . none of us. The one thing that evangelicalism and pantheism share in common (and I say this as an ex-evangelical) is that they often believe that the way we are is exactly how God (or the Universe with a capital “U” as the pantheist would say) intended us to be. I disagree. We are an amalgamation of the good, the great, the not-so-good and the horrible

One bad trait of mine that I would like to change is this horrible combination of being a risk-taker and a sufferer from severe anxiety. I could give many examples of that but I will pare it down to one specific area. That area is the fact I have social anxiety and, yet, I speak very candidly.  My standard for what I will say is not “will it make me look good” but simply “is it true.”dirty laundry

One book, which I loved dearly, is Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety.  I bought the book on an m3p format and listened to it on a mountaineering expedition. That experience was a microcosm of my problem. I really, really wanted to do it . . . but was scared shitless. Listening to the book was a good distraction while I stepped over and sometimes jumping over 200-foot-deep crevasses.

The author tells a fascinating story and I can’t remember if I read this in the book or I heard the author, Daniel Smith, say this during his interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. It is a story that I related to well. He was working for a magazine publishing company (The New Yorker I think).  He was a proof-reader, which was relatively safe for him. Then he was challenged to be a reporter and write a story, which he did.

His story went out with the journal to a few million people. He got some compliments from his colleagues. Then the hate mail started to arrive. He was ill-prepared for such an onslaught upon his persona. It was a terrifying experience that made him want to hold up in his apartment forever.

In a couple of months, I have a book coming out. It is an important book. It took me ten years to write it and I had a lot of help. Parts of the book are very candid. I tell stories that are absolutely true, but will invite a huge amount of criticism. I take criticism very hard and that is the social anxiety of my persona.

My wife, who does not suffer from any type of anxiety, is appalled how vulnerable I am when I write or talk to people. She says she could never do that. I say things that reveal personal weaknesses that are chinks in my armor. These chinks are irresistible to those who like to shoot flaming arrows at anything that doesn’t support their own narrative.

When I was an evangelical, both with a parachurch organization and working with churches, it was a golden rule that we never talked about or revealed the weakness of our perspective groups. As an elder, I had privy to much awfulness within our churches, but that bad stuff was top-secret. In other words, we had to give the façade that we were perfect.

I remember being scolded in graduate school that I was “airing dirty laundry” when I explained to someone (who had asked why a certain campus ministry closed) that it was because the Christian staff left his wife and ran off with a young coed. I didn’t mean to spread rumors. We all knew it was true, but we were not supposed to talk about it. We were supposed to say that it was God’s will that the ministry closed and leave it at that.

So in my book, I tell some ugly but 100% true stories. I don’t do this to create drama or sensationalize my personal history. I tell these stories to illustrate what is wrong with some of the ways that we think. It is story-telling with a serious purpose.

I suspect that I will reap tremendous criticism, especially from my old evangelical friends. They will be mad as hell that I talk about some really ugly things that have happened within church life, including the life that we shared. There is a code of silence among evangelicals in the same way that some Catholic circles had a code of silence around the habitual molestation of children by priests. These old friends will hate me for breaking that code.

But when you cloak the bad with a pretense of the divine, the badness sits and rots. It is good to air the dirty laundry so there is hope of bringing redemption. Now, if only I can bear the consequences.

 

 

When Narcissus Became a Christian

I must start this story with a premise. I discuss how I got to this premise in my book, but I will allude to it here but only from a distance. It is simply, as Christians, we are mostly who we were before we were Christians. Now, however, we camouflage who we really are with Christian epitomes of persona. Does that make sense? In other words, I think we retain much of our flaws after we become Christians, but through a process of socialization, we cover the not-so-good intentions with a spiritual window dressing.

The Gospel is of course, transformative. We do get better, if we allow God’s process to work in us. However, what most of modern Christianity has neglected, is that the material really matters. God created us in this material world as physical beings. Our brains are plagued with real flaws from the Fall of Adam. Some of those flaws are genetic. Some are from early, childhood experiences and some are the results of our own mistakes (a softer word, perhaps, for ‘sin’).

American evangelicalism, at least, promotes the idea of instant transformation at the point someone embraces the Christian faith. There are scriptures (and I will not get bogged down at this point discussing those) that they base this idea on, but I believe they get the hermeneutics  wrong. They also believe in a process of sanctification or growing in godliness that can be enhanced by studying the Bible, meeting with other Christians, prayer and by the magical working of the Holy Spirit. So, within our Christian social circles, there is a tremendous pressure to project this “better self.” According to that paradigm, the only thing that stops us from becoming a new and nearly perfect person is continuing sin. So we have a great incentive to fake the fruits of the spirit, otherwise, it would indicate that we are still deeply entangled in personal sin.

If our flaws are physical (brain), then reformation of our selves can happen, but at a snails’ pace. I know that after 40 years of hard discipleship, my nature is just a few millimeters different from where I started. This should not trouble anyone, because the gospel is about grace and forgiveness not making us perfect.

With that said, I will leap to my next thought, which is connected. I am thinking a lot about politics these days. I try not to post about things here or places like Facebook. It is very tempting. I will reveal my hand right now and say that I am neither a Democrat nor Republican. I am disgusted with both. So I am not here at all to say one candidate is the best.

This is the thing that has amazed me in the past few weeks. Of the estimated 20 evangelicals that I still have routine contact with (it is hard to define who is an evangelical and who is not) I would say that 18 are staunch Trump supporters.  I stand as a psychologist (although I’m not a real psychologist, per se) trying to figure out what the hell that is all about?

We are all narcissists. It is our birthright as humans. We want what we want when we want it. We are above the rules (in our own minds) and the purpose of others is to serve my needs. Now, this natural narcissism is on a continuum.  There are people with narcissistic personality disorders, selfish people and then people on the other end that, appear at least, to be very empathetic towards others. But even the people on the good end still serve themselves first.

When we become Christians, that narcissism has to be totally covered under spiritual shrouds to make it palatable. A wise friend told me a long time ago that the spiritual process of “determining God’s will” is simply an exercise to find a way to cover what you really want to do with what looks like God’s leading. So if you really want to marry a certain girl, you will find a way to make it “God’s will.”

As I listen to Donald Trump, I really think he is striking a harmony, not with our inward fears and patriotism, but a very primal—reptilian brain—narcissism. Listen to the message, as I will translate:

  • We need to be the number one country in the world.
  • We need to think of our (white) selves as the number one race (read between his lines).
  • We need to think of other races as inferior.
  • We need more money.
  • We need less responsibilities I the world (refugees, etc.).
  • We (men) need to feel good about seeing women as sex objects and nothing else.
  • I can pollute all I want for my needs and screw the planet.

As I scratch my head trying to figure out what my Christian friends see in him, I think it is the self-interests that he promotes.

What would Jesus be saying if he ran for president?  The true historical Jesus, not the American-Evangelical Jesus. You know, the one who walked in Galilee?

I think his platform would be:

  • Give up your money for the poor.
  • Welcome the refugees.
  • Your country is not as important as the people whom God has created.
  • Don’t kill people . . . any of them.
  • Love people . . . all of them.
  • Bring peace to the world, even if that peace hurts you.

I think a candidate like that would be considered weak, disgusting and a filthy communist.

I rest my case. I would say something about the rigged Democratic party, but I’m too tired.

Mike Jones

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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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