Friday, 25 December 2009

Brooklyn Trip


  It's nice every once in a while to remind myself that I can just pick up, from my routine, humdrum life, and just take off and go somewhere far-ish away.  I'm not like some people I know who have to leave the continent every time they get a few days off work (Gina), but I did leave the country.  And I convinced my over-daddying brother-in-law Mish to come along.
  My friends live in Brooklyn.  It's a nightmare to drive or park near their place.  Every time I do, I have to continually go out in the wee hours of the morning to move the car so it doesn't get ticketed, and the last twice I went there, I got ticketed both times, and got a dent in my car.  So this time, I decided to park my car (van) at my uncle's house in New Jersey, and take the train in.  I wasn't sure how practical this would be. It turned out to be very practical.
  I'd heard there was a snowstorm in that area, but being from Canada, I assumed that, given a few days, they'd have it all cleaned up.  Good thing I didn't drive down with that assumption and try to park in Brooklyn, it turned out.
  Mish and I left before lunch on Monday and drove down at a leisurely pace.  I am now up to a three-for-three record of times I've been hauled out of my car at the border and handcuffed for having the same names and birthdate (including year) as a local felon.  As always, they were scared at first (eight officers taking up position tactically along the supporting pillars) and then apologetic and embarrassed.  Mish and I celebrated our successful entry into this somewhat paranoid country by stopping to eat at a Flying J for the all-you-can-eat buffet.  I can't eat much, but I love buffets for the variety.  We arrived at my uncle's place in New Jersey in the evening when it was good and dark.  We had to walk in a surprisingly chilly cold snap to the train station a mile away.  (My uncle and aunt were in Florida, so weren't there to visit with, nor to get a ride to the station.)

  The train swept us to Penn Station in New York City, which was packed.  [This picture, like the others in this post, is grabbed from the Internet.  I couldn't be bothered taking pictures which would look just like other people's on the 'net, and Mish had his videocamera to get notable stuff on.  There was a time when I used to photograph everything, and it really detracted from my enjoyment of really being at the given place, in the moment.]  Mish and I enjoyed seeing a Tim Hortons restaurant in the concourse of Penn Station in New York, because Tim Hortons is such a Canadian-seeming thing (it's a doughnut and coffee shop named after a hockey player).




  Leaving Penn Station and going down to the subway, we were soon in the dingy, greasy, oily, grey, depressing environment that's been down there beneath New York City for I have no idea how long.  It's all grit and blackened gum ground into the dead cement.  It always makes me think of Ron Perlman as Vincent in the 80s romantic/action TV show Beauty and the Beast, in his lion-faced makeup, heroically getting around New York on the tops of subway cars.  A look at the top of any subway car reveals he'd never fit, or would leave a greasy smear all along the roof for a few miles.











  Mish and I were travelling light, especially for me, though I did bring a modified XBOX (classic) loaded with games.  We arrived and saw that we'd been very sensible not to try to park a car in Brooklyn.  Not only wasn't the snow cleared away, it had been plowed (by earth removal equipment like bulldozers and backhoes) right over all the parked cars, trapping them in snowdrifts which also contained the mostly torn-open trash bags of the uncollected week's garbage.  I saw a shiny new SUV with a snowplow attached to the front and one of those inverted cone things which one can push or put on the back of a lawn tractor to seed the lawn with, attached to the back to salt the road.  The seed-thing was red, and made of plastic.

  Mish and I arrived in time to say goodnight to the kids, hung out with Michael and Bethany, picked up some snacks and played XBOX games.  Mish and Michael got kinda fixated on Rocky: Legends.  Burnout: Revenge, Soul Calibur II and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas were also big hits, as they hadn't played these before, being dads and all.

   The next day, Mish, Michael and I set out for the city.  We had a couple of plans in mind, including seeing the Dakota hotel, in front of which John Lennon was killed (I'd read Let Me Take You Down and was anxious to put visuals to what I'd read about), and seeing the American Museum of Illustration.  We had a long, chilly walk through Central Park, and got to the Dakota and were a bit sombre, then set off for the museum.










We had a slow, careful look at the art on the walls in the Museum of Illustration.  It was a bit different from looking at art in a modern gallery, as it is very accessible, used as it tends to be for magazine covers and, well, illustrations and the like.  We were amused by the Afrodisiac comic art displayed.



 As night fell, we went on a couple of missions of mine: to revisit The Strand, reported to be "The World's Largest Used Book Store, with 18 miles of books."  I got some graphic novels and things, and a free canvas tote bag to put them in.
 
Next we saw a store called Gothic Renaissance beside one (or part of one) called either Halloween Adventure or New York Costumes.  We had fun checking out all the stuff in there.

 You never did see so many choices in top hats, bustiers, frilly black shirts, severed limbs, Roman armour, wigs, props, hats and masks.

We then hit Forbidden Planet, the city's biggest comic book store, and goggled at more stuff that we carefully didn't buy all of, and I came out with a free canvas tote bag containing two t-shirts (a "Recognizer from Tron" one, and a "Captain Marvel's nemesis Black Adam" one) for $30, because that was the sale they were having.  Then we were hungry and adjourned to the nearest authentic-looking deli-ish place we could find, which was called Silver Spurs, and was great.  Kosher pickles and corn chips made on the premises, a myriad hamburgers, all of unusual size, and a decor which was an odd mix of industrial and western.  I had a sandwich on flatbread, with deep fried cajun spiced fish filets in it, with lettuce, tomato and some really awesome tarter sauce.  The washroom had some free postcards advertising Bored to Death, which I like, but only the main character was left, and not the Ted Danson or Zack Galifianakas ones.


  We then went back to Chez Michael and Bethany, where the kids had been playing Lego Star Wars II on my XBOX (they don't have a video game system and thought the XBOX was great).  The little one went to bed and I played an hour of LSW II with the elder son, who is about 7.  Then the room mate took over babysitting the sleeping children and the lot of us packed up Michael's 100% graphite (i.e. no wood) guitar and went to his studio to check out his stuff.  A long, chilly trek later we were in a studio in an industrial part of Brooklyn.  Right next door was an Apple/iPod repair centre office, with a Bill Gates welcome mat to wipe one's feet upon.  Paintings were admired, beer was drank (in my case, Michael gave me a giant bottle of Ruination beer.  In Mish's case, a six of Pabst Blue Ribbon in cans with the plastic rings) and Michael's bargain-bin records were played.  Stevie Wonder and James Brown, along with Johnny Cash and Billy Preson were enjoyed.  Then the graphite guitar (and a second guitar which was kicking around the studio) came out and we found there was no pick.  As artists use all the margarine tubs they can find, Michael took an Exacto knife and cut a pick-shaped bit of neon green plastic out of the cap for an aerosol can of varnish and I played with that, though it was rigid and curved.  Fun was had.  Then Michael's studio neighbor Joe, who makes quirky little sculptures with motors and gears, all designed to do a bunch of whirring and clicking, and then have the outcome of all the action be something anticlimactic like a small nail tapping or something, came in and we went and looked at all of his things, which were fired up and let run all at once, affixed to the walls of his studio.  Bethany gave me a neck and shoulder massage, as my muscles there have been tensed right up since probably October.  It was amazing.

 The next day Mish and I got up late and did the whole trip in reverse, taking the subway to Penn Station, eating some awesome pizza in the concourse (mine was chicken with sour cream and mozzarella), getting a train to New Jersey (I accidentally hit the touch screen an extra time and bought three tickets, so will have an extra one to use in future, perhaps, as they don't refund them.  The machine spit out some new gold little American dollar coins as change), walking a mile from the train station to the waiting van, then driving back up, stopping at the same Flying J for a repeat of the meal we'd had two days earlier, crossing the border with no trouble and getting home late, happy to be back in our cozy little country.

Now I have a metallic gold decorated Black Adam t-shirt to wear with a black suit coat to teach in.  How tasteful and chic.


Monday, 21 December 2009

Avatard


Went to see Avatar(d) with some good friends.  It was like witnessing a head-on collision between Battleship Earth and Disney's Pocahontas, or dating the retarded love child of Fern Gully and David Lynch's Dune.  James Cameron has effortlessly out-stupided Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer in one go.  A bigger piece of shit than Armageddon and the American Godzilla combined.  The 21st century's answer to the Final Fantasy movie.
Visually stunning, of course.  But then, so would being beaten violently about the head with a brick garishly painted in day-glo colours by a blind autistic child, be.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Getting Far Too Silly With my Examples For My Grade 11 Jane Eyre Work Sheet

Sample Jane Eyre Chapter Commentary Done Well:

 

Chapter 5: Jane Takes the Children To The Park

  In chapter five, Brontë depicts Jane taking the children to Blasted Heath Park, where they have candy, fly a kite, meet Bert the sidewalk artist and have a magical adventure inside his chalk drawings.  Brontë first introduces the aforementioned Bert in this chapter.  Bert strikes the reader as charming, funny and maybe a bit of an American doing a fake British accent.  Although Jane’s conversations with the children are those of a governess or nanny speaking to children who must obey her, the most important and revealing conversation in this chapter is the one between Jane and Bert, who speak as equals.  Jane is a bit sharp and critical at first, but soon starts to flirt right back at Bert, who obviously is trying to get somewhere with Jane romantically.  This is most unquestionably seen when Bert says “I find your whimsical feminine posterior undeniably pleasant today, Miss Eyre, comfortably ensconced as it is, pleasantly residing with ghetto aplomb behind its happy panniers to the wonder of all who gaze upon you.” (Brontë 178)  In this chapter, Brontë finally reveals that Jane is secretly a man.  I predict that Bert will be revealed to be a French illusionist in need of an assistant well versed in the art of female impersonation, and the two will elope to Paris, rather like in the Dickens novel Great Expectations.

 

 

Sample Jane Eyre Chapter Commentary Done Poorly: (what is wrong with it?)

 

Jane takes them to the park

  In chapter five, Jane took them to this park, were they fly there kite and meet Bert, the sidewalk artist and went inside his chalk drawings.  First they went to a zoo, where Bert danced with the penguins.  Then they went to a café were Jane and Bert sang a song.  And they danced on the ceiling with Jane’s uncle, which they defiantly enjoyed.  Brontë introduced Bert.  Bert strikes the reader as nice.  Jane is speaking with someone her society would consider her equal, someone she has authority over, or something who has authority over her.  “I found the liver pudding to my liking, though it was perhaps not quite up to Mrs. Poole’s usual efforts.  The paté was unlike any I have had the indisputable and unique pleasure of placing within my visage, though many a tasty morsel has been thus encompassed.  As if the gustatory delights unfolded from the murky shadows of your bottomless picnic basket did not suffice, I find the company of your darling wee charges quite pleasant as well, though doubtless you and I could lead the conversation into considerably darker and deeper channels without their precious ears taking in the heated descriptions of lands far beyond their ken.  I am rough and blunt I affirm, but know that this is my accustomed manner of speaking and that I will not change it a whit for anyone.  Why mr. whipstock (I cannot find it in me to call you bert!) I ejaculated.  Is it too much to ask that you confine your wayward tongue to exploring the repast I have provided and to discourse more app8ropriate to the hearing of these little ones?  Ah, but miss eyre, you really do raise a fire within my pounding breast.  I find your whimsical feminine posterior undeniably pleasant today, miss eyre, comfortably ensconced as it is, pleasantly residing with ghetto aplomb behind its happy panniers to the wonder of all who gaze upon you. mr. whipstock I really must protest! I of course replied, with a blaze of crimson burning hotly in each cheek.  Your manly crudity is undeniably appealing to my feminine nature, though it rankles somewhat and smacks of ill breeding as well.  He lit his pipe and gazed silently upon me for a time.  Finally the day grew dim, gentle reader, and with reluctance and a rising sensation of tingly warmth in my tummy I took the children by the hands and led them homeward to Hogwarts. In this chapter, Brontë finally revealed that Jane was a man.  I beleive that Bert will be nice in the next chapter to, and indeed, threw out the hole rest of the play.

 

 

 

[If you are curious what they've been asked to do that this work is samplematic of, it is this:]

 

 

Work For Jane Eyre

For the first ten chapters, do 1-6. (numbered here for clarity.   Do not number them when handing them in.)  After chapter 10, drop the plot summaries.  After chapter 26, start doubling up chapter entries (27/28, 28/29 and so on) I will not insist that this chapter work be typed, though I prefer it unless your spelling and handwriting is that of a goddess):

 

1. Chapter Subtitle (for example “Chapter 28: Jane Buys A Motorcar”)

2. Plot Summary:  Write a one-sentence chapter plot summary.  It must be no longer than one sentence and start with the words “In chapter __, Brontë describes/reveals/depicts/has Jane/relates…” and continue in present tense.  (Use a lot of “ing”s on your verbs unless you choose “has Jane…” or “relates”.  Try out “describes,” “reveals,” “depicts” and all the others.)

3. New Characters and Settings: Address the introduction of new settings, and new characters.  If it’s new and it may matter, talk about it.  This should start with “Brontë (also) introduces ____________ [new character / setting] in this chapter.  ________ strikes the reader as ____________, _______________ and maybe a bit _______________.”  (To save work, do not introduce more than three new people per summary.  Pick the three you expect are more important.)

4. Conversations: This is the main stuff.  Take note of the most important conversation you feel Jane has in each chapter.  If you haven’t already covered the conversation in the plot summary, do a one-sentence summary of who Jane speaks with and what the conversation is about.  In a Victorian novel, chapters with no long, eloquent conversations are few and far between.  Then briefly record whether Jane is speaking with someone her society would consider her equal, someone she has authority over, or something who has authority over her.  Then concisely note whether or not Jane acts in accordance with this societal expectation: note whether Jane is honest, rude, opinionated, forceful and/or blunt and etc., or whether she is quiet, meek and/or deferential and etc. (in other words, is she bowing to authority, position or status, resisting authority, position or status, wielding authority, position or status herself, or is she speaking comfortably as to a person of equal authority, position or status.

5. Use of Quotation:  Go back and, for your choice of 1-5, and not picking the same section for every chapter, support what you have said using a quotation from the chapter itself.  You should write something along the lines of “This is (most) [clearly/obviously/tellingly/graphically/ unquestionably] seen [in the words/when Brontë writes/when [character] says] “your quotation here, with square brackets to put fix verbs and pronouns so they work well.”

6. There are about two important secrets which are revealed in the last third of the book.  When Brontë finally reveals what she has kept secret throughout the book, record this.

 

Bonus: You will demonstrate extra ability if you personalize a chapter response by adding to any one of tasks 2-6, a short statement beginning with something like “I feel..,” “This reminds me of…,”  “I predict…,” “I believe…,” “I think…,”  or something similar.

 

Sunday, 1 November 2009

"Get Over It!"

A few thoughts on When Something Bad Happens To You.

(I'm getting this from what it's like to be hit in the face.  Hasn't happened for a while, and it was never my parents who did it, but I think the basics apply)

There is a bit of a delay before you realize what has happened.  Confusion, doubt, denial can happen.  In fact, the deeper the wound, or the more sudden and damaging the Bad Thing is, generally the more "shocking" it can be, in terms of you going into a bit of a state of shock and not being able to grasp what is going on and what has Just Happened.  The parade of faces shouting "Get Over It!" are expressing their own frustration alright, but they aren't doing much good at this point.  You don't even know what "It" was.

Once you realize you have been Hurt in some way, feeling hurt is a pretty natural and proper response to it.  You have been hurt, and so you feel that.  You feel betrayed if you have been, and you feel abandoned, fooled or blindsided if that happened.  There is a real tendency to retreat slightly as this point, often to recover, or to get your head together as the numbness of shock is replaced by actually feeling what happened.  There is a tendency to want to warn others that they too could be hurt like this.  There is a tendency to talk with others who have been hurt too.  The parade of faces shouting "Get Over It!" are expressing their own frustration alright, but they aren't doing much good at this point.  You are still processing what "It" was, and how exactly "It" happened, and most of all, what "It" will mean to your life now.

Once it becomes possible to live a life which deals healthily with the fact that Something Bad happened once, but which life, you decide, will from now on no longer be Only About That, resolve sets in.  You have a life, with connections and activities which are in no way related to What Happened.  If What Happened kinda "sticks with you" a bit, kinda haunts you without defining your life, you may also now have a fraction of your life which you devote to fund-raising, blogging, support group attendance (creating or running), interviews, memorials, charities, novel writing, documentary making, whatever.   The parade of faces shouting "Get Over It!" are expressing their own frustration alright, but they aren't doing much good at this point.  You have both "Gotten Over It" and "Moved On" as much as you are going to, and this is The Scar.  When we are hurt, people have to learn to get used to scars.  Scars aren't weak.  They are a tiny part of ourselves where we were once hurt, and are now tougher there than other people, so it looks weird to them. Not every scenario in life is about being tough, but in that one area in which we Were Hurt, tough is what we've got.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

All Hallows Eve

I am working on "modeling" analytical writing for my grade 11s.  I want to show how to analyze normal, everyday stuff with language suitable for English class.  I want to break the cycle of using overblown, pseudo English class writing which is almost completely lacking meaning, let alone analysis.  I think I'll show them opening sequences of TV shows and have them analyze the images chosen and connect them to the nature of the show.  Here is a sample of what I will give as an example:

 

    The opening credits to the live-action 1970s television show The Incredible Hulk make no attempt to inject cheesy comic book fun into the Incredible Hulk story, but try instead to present a dramatic, action-filled story shot through with audience sympathy for the plight of David Banner, played ably by a stoic Bill Bixby.  The opening credits have Ted Cassidy of The Addams Family’s deep voice giving the Hulk’s origin story as the video tells the story over music which is at first a strident, ringing piano riff, sliding into typical 70s orchestral music which combines drama and longing.  The first image is an extreme close-up of a red flashing indicator light which reads “DANGER.”  The cropping of the image is such that, until a slight snap-zoom out, the “D” is not visible, and the light warns of “ANGER,” the emotional state which triggers Banner’s uncontrollable transformation into the destructive, berserk green monster.  The opening credits provide a quick recap of the scientific process which inflicted this condition upon Banner, with quick cuts of the machines responsible, some x-rays and medical images, the transformation into the Hulk, and some fire and explosions to show how destructive the monster is, as well as a shot of Banner standing by his own gravestone to show that he now has no place in society.  A shot of Banner warning an investigative reporter away, with the now-famous, amusingly understated, “Mr. McGee, don’t make me angry.  You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” is included to introduce new viewers to the investigative reporter character who is used to require Banner to keep on the move and drive the story forward each week.  The montage ends with a paused split-screen image which combines one side of Banner’s troubled face with the unbridled fury of the Hulk’s own rage-contorted visage completing the image.  The origins of the character (a comic-book combo of horror-classic Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) are seen in this quite clearly. In fitting book-end symmetry, the beginning and end of each episode depicts David Banner, with a forlorn knapsack containing his meagre worldly possessions, trudging off by himself to the strains of a tear-jerking piano piece entitled “The Lonely Man.”

Today the intention was to go into the city to buy a new classroom TV from a pawn shop.  My classroom TV is nice to have, but is quite small.  I decided, on the off chance that the local, always-about-to-be-shut-down, rarely open pawn shop was open, that I'd call.  They were open until 3pm on a Saturday, so I went.  

Their TVs were disappointingly expensive, and really, none were very big.  In fact, they were all about the right size to put under your arm and climb back out a broken window with.  I was going to unhappily buy a medium sized Sony which had clearly been dropped, when I saw something up on a shelf with the radios.  It was a PC projector, which every classroom needs, and for only $200.  I got it.  Now I can project anything I can put on a computer, DVD player or VCR onto the wall, large as all outdoors.  I got waylaid by a BB gun scope which will be perfect for my replica of Han Solo's blaster from Star Wars ANH, and Rock Band 2 for Playstation 2.  I picked up those too, and took them to my parents' house.  When I have just been paid, I can really just wander around of a Saturday, bleeding money.

My sister was doing OK, though she's still undergoing tests to see why her heart rate goes through the roof when she exerts herself even slightly.  She's never tried singing into a game, so I just hooked up the microphone to their PS2, and she and I sang a bunch of the songs, collaborating to open up the new ones.  It was nice, because it got her out of the doldrums, and "into" something without feeling sick, and it was almost creative, somewhat emotive and we worked together.

The kids were quite excited about trick or treating, and we took them to the neighbors, who never get many kids, so make extra nice gift bags with toy dinosaurs and crayons and things besides all the candy.  My nephew was terrified at first, but soon got the idea that if he eagerly went into or up to houses, he'd get candy.  Then he wanted to go straight in and leave immediately as it was handed to him, without looking at the friendly adults who wanted to coo over his parrot suit.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Still...

I realize that working in a high school with teens all day rubs off on you. I realize that when you coach the Reach for the Top team (like a Jeopardy game played between schools) and some of the kids, though staggeringly well-informed, always start giggling hysterically when the answer to a question is something like "Joey Smallwood," and then kids just have to whisper "Small. Wood." to keep the giggles from dying down, that it tends to make you more juvenile. Still, when someone on Facebook is going on about truly loving a dear old hymn, and how the "praise" just wells up inside them until they are swelling with it, and how they loved it when they slowed the tempo and the HUGE organ just let all that burst out to soar skyward, I know that they are expressing a serious, personal, orgiastic (ha) religious experience. Why, then, am I thinking "Heh heh. He said HUGE organ." Juvenile.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Obeying Divisiveness

  The things discussed in the bible in the four gospels happened inside Judaism.  Judaism was everywhere, but when Jesus of Nazareth came, he had to "call people out" of it in order to get anything done.  The religious practice around him was all very religious, it was all very traditional and orthodox, but it simply didn't work, had lost touch with what it had once been, and didn't lead anywhere.  It was perpetually looking back and analyzing itself without connecting God and man.  When people spoke of God or of the Old Testament scriptures in Jesus' time, they became more and more abstracted, more and more apt to share what the traditional views and teachings on interpreting these things were, and what some alternatives might be.  Each teacher shared what had been handed down, respectfully, from generation to generation.  

  The original work was about God dealing with people.  Added to it were more and more layers of interpretation, extrapolation and speculation, until the original was more or less buried.  Learning about God or the bible in that day was learning what scholars and religious men thought.

  Jesus taught under his own authority, rather than addressing interpretations at all.  He took scriptures and raised questions with them instead of giving all answers, and what these scriptures might encourage people to DO, a second component altogether more troubling and interesting for anyone approaching the scriptures.

  So Jesus was dealing with Jewish people, but he was calling them out from the orthodoxy, the assumptions, the interpretations and traditions.  He didn't generally speak in synagogues or places set aside for endless religious discussion.  He gave love a new importance in spirituality.  He encouraged his disciples to forgive people, told them that the measure by which they were forgiving of others was the measure by which God was forgiving of them, and encouraged people to remember that God doesn't owe us things, and we don't earn favours from Him.  We ask Him for things because we think of Him as our Father, and fathers give children things.  It's not about a paycheck or a black belt, earned after hard work.  It's about His generosity (what can also be called His grace).

  Jesus instructs Jews and a few gentiles about how the "kingdom of heaven" works.  He wasn't talking about a place called Heaven, he was talking about what we might today term "God's system of running things and living."  Many of his sentences started with "the kingdom of heaven is like" and he was saying "God's system of running things and way for people to live works like this" rather than "Up in heaven, it's like this."

  God's system involved an end to selfish, jealous, judgmental greedy meanness and spite.  Humans at their worst are frightened, arrogant grabby creatures, thoughtlessly living lives characterized by all of these vices.  Humans who are in touch with God, and who grasp that they were created (designed, formed) in God's own image show His generosity, His unshakeable convictions about people He loves, His forthrightness, His unending creativity, His unwillingness to judge, and His ability to forgive.

  Jesus was here to remind humans what God was like, Who He was, and what a human being living according to God's way of doing things would be like to live around.  Every time Jesus encountered judgmental religious figures, purported to speak for God, he'd have to say "No.  Not like those guys.  These guys aren't helping.  They're fake.  They're transparently jealous, spiteful and vindictive.  The kingdom of heaven is like THIS:" and then he'd probably give an example in the form of a story or analogy.  He quoted old testament scripture not so people would think he was right (correct, traditional, orthodox, scriptural) but rather, because he knew those scriptures had worth in them, and points of their own worth pondering.  He mined them for these points, rather than using them to support his own.

  When Jesus has left the earth and gone to "prepare a place for" his people down here, a system is set up.  It involves human beings using him as a way to become reconciled with God, to be accepted and adopted by God under the umbrella of the acceptance that Jesus, as a human being, had won the hard way.  It involves human beings doing things the "kingdom of Heaven" way, rather than the traditional, orthodox, flawed, all-too-human way.  Mainly, it was to be characterized by deference, unity, sincerity, helpfulness, grace, love and peace.  Because the world needs that.  It always has.

  It wasn't easy.  The apostles wrote things, trying to help the growing groups of Christians not fall into merely creating a "Christian" system of men which was just as ineffectual as the traditional Jewish one had been.  Great care was taken to try to stop these new Jewish Christians from becoming religiously oppressive and intolerant of others, to keep them from repeatedly turning their backs on each other and splitting into warring factions competing for power and followers.  Many letters were written telling these people that, if they hated their fellow man, they couldn't claim to be Christians, that they were to defer, to submit, to tolerate, to be considerate of and long-suffering to their brothers, that they were to be united.  Jesus had audibly prayed to His Father that these people would be one in exactly the same way he and his Father were.

  The apostles set up leaders to shepherd people, to kindly help new converts not think Christianity was about rules, about lifestyle or dietary abstinence, not about Jewish traditions like circumcision or not eating pork, not about competitive piety.  The Christians were to defer to one another and to these figures as well.

  But things went very wrong.  Eventually, the leaders were no longer shepherding new converts into paths of unity, tolerance, long-suffering grace and generosity.  Eventually, factions and divisions and spiteful religious spats were happening.  Leaders were fighting each other and demanding supporters.  Paul the apostle wrote of the people getting pulled into this (often by their own zealotry about what was "correct" or "scriptural," yet ironically acting horribly and unscripturally in trying to fix things they felt horrible or unscriptural).  Some said "I am on Paul's side in this argument" and others said "I am with Apollos.  I think he's right." Others said "I am on Jesus' side.  What we're doing is what he wants and the rest of you are wrong."

  These people were missing the point.  Christianity is about unity and tolerance.  It remains unspotted by incorrect teaching because its teaching is strong and has a clear sense and identity so long as no one is watering it down or subverting it in order to pursue their own agenda.  The teaching says not to be judgmental.  Too many Christians did things like judge someone to be judgmental, and then decide to punish the judgmental person and anyone who sided with her, demanding that everyone be obedient to their power and right to judge judgmental people to be judgmental and punish them once sentence had been handed down.  Nonsense had been made of sense.  Stupidity was being used to defend against it ever taking hold again.

  As we go through history, we find the Christian community increasingly divided up into groups which not only are not united, but who, at various points in time, have had members of other Christian groups punished, tortured and killed.  We had the Inquisition.  We find people who call themselves Christians going off "in the name of God" to kill every Jew and Muslim they can find, seeking to send them to Hell, rather than teach them about Jesus.  There was no longer any Christian teaching which had seductive power, which worked, which people wanted to try.  Now there were traditions, interpretations and systems which threatened anyone who wasn't orthodox.

  Every year nowadays, some Christian church or other at some point on the globe has a "split."  We know that there are Methodist churches, and Free Methodist ones.  We know there are Presbyterian churches, and Reformed Presbyterian ones.  The groups divide and redivide and subdivide, like little after-explosions popping all over the globe.  The point of Christianity (tolerance, acceptance, love, unity, long-suffering spirit, grace, forgiveness and so on) seems lost.  Men stand up and preach that the government, or the President, or the church down the road, or a character on TV, anyone, really, is The Enemy and to be feared and opposed.  Christians stand for nothing besides taking stands against people and things.  They'll stop at nothing, so they certainly aren't stopping just because of anything Jesus said.

  This is a mess.  I'm often accused of "just being negative," and "generalizing my own experience of a divided group until I think that all of Western Christianity is like that."  I think I'm seeing something real, though.  Something problematic.  I see traditions, interpretations and questions of who should be the religious authority figures, how much power should they have, and the like, taking up all the head-time and heart-time of the Christians I meet.  Each time someone finds out I'm a Christian, they always ask "What church do you go to?" to establish what my allegiance is, what stand I take and who I side with in this ceaseless global display of disagreement and disunity.

  I tell them I don't go to a church.  Atheists, Satanist, pagans and Christians alike agree: you can't be a Christian and just not go to a church!  What is the defining characteristic of a Christian?  Why, church attendance, of course!  And which church one picks, and which ones one doesn't is of vital importance.  Otherwise, the brainwashing will wear off.

  I grew up going to a church.  I was taught to obey the authority there.  Not only obey them, but in a very Winston Smith way, to try never to think, feel or want anything the authority system wouldn't understand or approve of.  The word "brainwashing" refers to the process of taking a person with a presumably "normal" mind and doing things with it to manipulate the person and break or reshape his will.  There aren't as many, or as good, words to describe being born into a system designed to break and shape wills, to grow up with a brain which was never allowed to grow normally, tearing itself apart inside from the strain of trying to fit into that unnatural shape, and then finally breaking free of its moorings to lurch drunkenly into the world, a stunted, misshapen dwarf of a psyche trying to stand upright on crippled feet, not knowing how to do anything other than judge everyone and everything as a sole means of interaction.

 I obeyed this system until I was an adult.  I didn't have a TV.  I didn't go to the movies, swear, smoke cigarettes, dance or embrace popular music.  I was told I had to attend the street address the church occupied, and that five times a week, plus youth group activities.  I did all of this.  I was told that it wasn't right to attend any other Christian group's functions, because they weren't correct or pleasing God the way we were.

  Then there was a split in my group.  Suddenly half of the people who'd been telling me where I had to attend, and that I had to attend stopped attending there and went somewhere else and wanted me to go "have to attend" there with them in their new place of disobedience to the authority figures in the place I was in.  I decided to obey the ones who said I had to stay, rather than the ones who said I had to go with them.  Eventually, my thinking became so unorthodox (this happened, the more I took an interest in what Jesus said and did, and talked to a broader and broader circle of people about that stuff) that they decided to kick me out, and they did.

  Now I am told that, as a Christian, the "problem" people have with me is that I am "not integrated into the Christian Community," and that I am "not under the authority of any church system."  Well, I can tell you that going to one segregated church does not integrate one into our divided, shattered Christian Community.  It doesn't even necessarily integrate you into that individual church, especially if you're judged to be growing steadily unorthodox.  So, I meet up with Christians in groups of two or three of us.  We talk and I see how much connection and openness can ensue.  I find that people tend to reserve connection and openness for their immediate families only, though they tend to claim to connect with others at their church.  And then they marvel over how much warmer, more sincere, and connected they feel to people they are typing to on an Internet forum or something.  I find that Christians in general grow up holding themselves back, keeping themselves in reserve, not connecting wholly, trying to show a pure image which they've concocted, or at the very least a "censored" version of their heart to others.  This is a judgment, yeah.  It's also just me voicing frustration about not being able to connect.  That's real.  I wish I knew who all the Christians around here were, and had some sort of passing acquaintanceship with them all.  We're not like that, though. We separate so we can avoid dealing with people who are different from us, especially in matters of professed doctrine or styles of worship.  I don't think that's going to cut it when God asks "Why didn't you all hang out and get along?"  I don't think we can just say "Well, I wasn't too into these guys' worship style, so I never spoke to them or bothered introducing myself" or "Well, they didn't come to our church, so what else could we do....?"  We gotta pull our heads out of our churches and see the light of day.

  I have no idea how to "put myself under the authority" of "Christian leaders" in my "area."  They all disagree and would give contradictory orders, particularly about the main point of where I should even show up to hear what my orders are.  No matter what I do in terms of meeting up with Christians and talking with them about Christ, no matter what I do, the message is the same a) that doesn't count because b) it's not what we think of when we think "church"

  I don't think what goes on in churches is anything like what went on when the apostles were writing.  I know that the apostles never wrote separate letters to warring factions, accepting schism as a means of dealing with Christians you disagreed with, nor did they write to one faction to show their support for one side over the other.  I know that apostles did not divide among themselves and take followers away from each other.  I know that apostles did not ever teach Christians to cut other Christians off and stop having dealings with them.  I know that apostles did not appoint elders in one church, and also separate ones in an unaffiliated one down the street, and tell the local Christians to "just pick one and be subject to it, unless you think it's unorthodox and unscriptural, in which case ignore their authority and go somewhere else and be subject there until you catch them being unscriptural as well."  That's all nonsense.  What's going on is nonsensical.  I can taste it.

  So, I find a gulf between me and many other Christians.  When asked "Are you doing what the apostle Paul said to do?" most will say "Yeah."  I will say "I don't know how one does it anymore.  I do what I can, and it doesn't involve church membership, because I'm certain that's nothing he'd have had anything to do with."  That's not good enough for most.  And the more like Jesus I try to act, the more tempted Christian people are to nail me to something.

Monday, 12 October 2009

This Week's Bible Story: Jezebel

Never let me stand accused of not being willing to shamelessly appeal to the lowest common denominator to a degree that only the bible is likely to surpass.

As even Wikipedia will tell you,  in the Old Testament (the part of the bible that Jews, Christians and Muslims all hold to be important), there is a particularly emancipated, empowered woman named Jezebel.  She wore a lot of eye makeup, and was known for running the country due to having the King by the Johnson, and later, through having her sons on the throne.  Her being Phoenician (and knowing how heavily she applied eye-makeup), she may well have looked quite like the woman in this picture here.

Jezebel is noteworthy in Jewish history for having her husband the king replace the Jewish religion, which was an approach to Jehovah to see who He Was and What He Wanted, with a violently enforced policy that "all Jews shall henceforth worship deities humans have made and therefore understand fully, which more conveniently serve us as instructive outer representations of inner human psychology."  

Far easier to make gods which help you understand yourself (Oprah, Dr. Phil) than it is to see yourself as having been made in the image of a fairly complex and unknowable Creative Force with a personality which is reflected in you.  AC/DC had their fingers on the point with their song "Who Made Who?"  That is, indeed, the question which the Old Testament seems to be about.  If (and it is a story which relates things this way) there was only one actual deity, and He was doing everything He could to be known by humans, right down to meeting them on their own level in helping them out with the violent, barbarous wars of conquest which He clearly found repugnant; then why did these guys continually choose man-made gods over Him?

C.S. Lewis tackles this in a characteristically allegorical and off-centre way in the Narnia books which repeat that Aslan (the Jesus-Lion) "isn't like a tame lion."  He goes where he wants and does what he wants and redefines every situation he involves himself in.  He isn't predictable, He isn't like Santa Claus (who shows up conveniently once a year with what you asked for, like people going to church at Christmas).  He isn't like Jupiter or Apollo.  (neither of those were makers or fathers of mankind, but mere power figures and archetypes for human psychology)

Jezebel uses what she's got to have her husband order the deaths of anyone who worships this "untamed" God, this God who does not serve us or merely function to add structure to our calendar year.  This is not a god who needs the sacrifice of children or young men like a clock needs to be wound (or plugged in).  This is not a god who turns into a swan so he can date-rape human women.  This is not a god who is into golden showers.  This is not a god that human women can manipulate using their feminine wiles.  This is not a god whose respect and temple-building go-aheads men can gain through acts of ruthless violence.  This is a Person who lets human men and women know how He intended them to effectively function (and what their special features are) when He made them.  This God doesn't tell us who and how to be.  He tells us who we are and who we can be.

Back to Ms.  Chesty Larue: Jezebel is queen, due to who her father was (King) and who her husband was (King), and decides that if she wants stuff (land, resources and so on) it should be a capital offense to deny it from her by, for instance, claiming to have possession of it in the first place.  She decides she wants a property which is being used as a vineyard, and has Naboth, who owns and tends the property, killed so she can take it.  God doesn't like stuff like that, it turns out.

Suffering a defeat when a prophet from God named Elijah calls a nuclear strike from Heaven at will, Jezebel just continues her rule through her son, who becomes (King) in his dead father's stead.

By the time she is dead (due to being thrown out a second storey window to the stones below, and grawed by dogs until only the palms of her rapacious hands are left) she has caused numerous bloody coups, betrayals, wars and religious cleansings.  Some atheists hate the bible enough (and some feminists hate men enough) to identify with Jezebel, just because it and they don't, which is quite similar to people who hate Jews identifying with Hitler, just to show 'em.

In the New Testament, the same attitude(spirit) seen in Jezebel is identified among the early Christian groups (in Revelation).  Eventually, most of Europe is peopled with ostensibly Christian countries, and the pope (at times when there was only one, anyway) rules from the Vatican, surrounded with gold, gems,  expensive spices, incense and fabrics on real estate no one else on earth could afford.  (is the security system in Rome called "Vati-Cam"?  I wonder stuff like that)

These "Christians" decide they want, not a vineyard, but the continents of North AND South America, as well as India, Australia and chunks of Asia and Africa.  Pretty much everything.  They even plant their flag on the shining face of the moon.  Apart from in the case of the moon, these "Christians" take these "vineyards" one by one, with shining steel and proudly ruthless hearts which don't recognize as equally human any mortally bleeding person who claims to have been there first.  Then they feel they've "earned" the land and its riches, because killing people and their families is such hard work.

These "Christians" go around torturing and killing people who will, for some reason, simply not go against their own consciences and pay lip service to the newly-enforced religious and political ideologies.  They simply take countries with oil, with jewels, with gold.  As they do this, they are followed around and blessed by "holy" men in special clothing with special symbols, who accompany them and pray to God to help them take this land "for Him."  Holy men who quoted "Thou shalt not kill" had to stay home, no doubt, under threat of execution.  They "bring the word of God" to natives, and wipe out their ancient cultures and kill them if they don't conform to the outer, idolatrous forms of it (if they don't kiss the rings and bow before the people, statues and symbols).  They invade countries who do not pledge allegiance to the King, the Queen, God, Democracy or Marxism (whatever their "thing" is) and remake these areas entirely in their own violently acquisitive images, with a structure that keeps them and theirs firmly on top.

These "Christians" not only take countries, but people as well, building the richest countries in the world on the backs of the poorest people in the world.

And then people want to make those obvious connections between angry, poor youth (the descendants of the above-mentioned slaves) being violently acquisitive as a way to get their hands on something good, this occurring in the cities owned,  rented out and run by the "Christian" descendants of the "Christians" we've been talking about.  And then some crazy people want to allow the slaves their freedom, the right to own guns and property, to marry women from the Conquering Race, to vote, to hold public office.  At every step, "Christians" are there to oppose this, brandishing crosses (burning and otherwise) and doing their best to outshout and out-pompous everyone opposed, claiming to serve God, and not a ghastly idol they've made to replace Him so they can do things He will have no part in.

And now, "Christians" in democratic countries who rule or bully most of the world are panicking.  They are panicking because a man (who draws heritage from a union of Conquering "Christian" race with the descendants of slave people) is claiming to be a Christian, claiming to be acting in a Christian way, and he's not hating the right sinful people enough, he's trying to change things to help the less important and deserving people out, and most of all, he's not as into killing dark people in the East as he should be.  They can't decide whether to criticize him for not "supporting the troops" over there, or for sending additional troops over there to "support" them, for intending to end this invasion (usually called a "war" like starting it was a two-sided thing) or for not having ended it yet, for being too weak and peace-mongering, or for winning the Nobel Peace Prize without having achieved World Peace yet.

Today, the "Christians" who can afford to be on TV (popes, politicians and preachers alike), with gleaming studio sets, teeth and jewelry, with their fleets of private jets and homes in countries around the world, with their mini-armies of armed security personnel, these "Christians" are feeling threatened.  They are threatened by people who don't take them seriously.  They are threatened by people who want to remake society so that they (and their "non-profit organizations") cannot legislate that they be treated specially.  They are frantic that people with different views (and different sins) may increasingly be allowed to speak, to marry, and to hold public office.

They wonder where God is, and why He doesn't seem to care about the state of their crumbling empires.  Where is God?  Some of us think we know.  Some of us think He is sending prophets to say it is time to throw these Jezebels down from their windows and let the dogs have at them, to not view them and their cracked plastic personae with even a modicum of seriousness or respect.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

I'm Not a Preacher

If I were and I didn't know the answer to certain questions I'd been asked, I would be looked down upon, rather than respected, if I sensibly went ahead and said "I don't know." 'Cause that's not the job.

And if I was, and (as is the case) I had nothing in particular to say on a given Sunday, I wouldn't be allowed to do this.  

To just have nothing to say, and then just sensibly go ahead and not say it.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Reaching Out

I was born, like most people, into a religious system and given many assumptions I have spent my whole life sifting through, seeing what I want to keep, and what I can't, in good conscience, have anything further to do with.  I could make a chart.  I won't.  It's still a work in progress.

Some things, though: the assumption that was seeded all through the thinking in my little Plymouth Brethren group (like in almost every religious and irreligious group) was that we were "getting it right" in a way that no other group was.  We understood things better, and the way we went about our lives was more supportable by a larger number of scriptures (if not by the intent of the writers) than the approaches of the other Christians.  We admitted that those groups "certainly had those within them who Were The Lord's" but felt that they were getting it all a bit wrong and should listen to us.  

Plymouth Brethren groups are particularly shameless in defining themselves as a group that is getting stuff right that other groups are getting wrong.  Check out a random PB website.  Look at the helpful books and articles and essays you can get:

Is the One Man Pastor Scriptural? By Dave Binds, former denominational pastor.  What I Have Found Dave Binds' testimony concerning the New Testament pattern for the church. Is It Possible to Meet as a New Testament Church? By Gospel Booklet Press Choosing a Church or Gathered in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ?  A letter written by Jeff Fires to encourage a brother in Christ. My Reasons The reasons for Dino Sealand's resignation as Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Newcastle, PA., and from the Baptist Ministry. Headship and Headcovering in the Church By Tim Badborn Should Women Speak in the Church? By Robert E. Savings, Jr.

They might as well have titled them like this:

Why other churches having a One Man Pastor is not Scriptural! By Dave Binds, former denominational pastor who saw pastorship was wrong and selflessly gave it up to come gather with us and forever after be more correct.  What I Have Found Is that the Other Churches Are Doing Everything Wrong! Dave Binds' views concerning the New Testament pattern for the church that other groups are fucking up. We are Definitely Meeting as a New Testament Church, Unlike Most Groups! By Gospel Booklet Press Attending With Us Isn't Just "Choosing a Church," It is Being Gathered in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ! A letter written by Jeff Fires to encourage a brother in Christ to choose our group because it's right. My Reasons For Thinking Y'all Are Wrong! The reasons for Dino Sealand's resignation as Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Newcastle, PA., and from the Baptist Ministry, which he decided God thought was wrong. Why Other Churches Letting Women Have Authority, and Not Making Them Cover Their Heads is Wrong!  By Tim Badborn(an alleged man) who enjoys keeping women in their proper place Why Women Should Not Be Allowed To Speak in Church, Like They Are In Some Other Churches (Ours Aren't)! By Robert E. Savings, Jr. (another alleged man) who enjoys keeping women in their proper place

I believe, though I have changed the wording and authors' names but slightly, that I have kept the preoccupations and spirits (attitudes) intact.  It's not that I'm saying PB groups like this one are wrong (Heaven forfend!).  I am saying they define themselves, right out of the box, to complete strangers who might not know anything about the bible or Jesus or God, as people who aren't doing what the other Christian groups are, but instead are righter.  I think this attitude is immature.

Anyway, like most groups too (religious, irreligious and in other ways cultural) I knew that I'd be looked down on it if I "went out" to find friends and a wife, rather than "bring them in" to our circle of belief. 

Well, it didn't work out very well.  Most left, most "went outside" and then didn't reconnect with or "come back to" the people and approaches which had gotten them, in varying degrees of smug, stunted brokenness, to adulthood.  I wasn't content to "just leave" it.  I wanted to make sure I kept what I wanted to keep, and only lost what I wanted to lose.  

I also had a big problem with tossing out any attempts to reconcile, connect, re-evaluate or compromise with the people who were in a very real sense "my people."  I believed that throwing them out with the holy bathwater was something I could have nothing to do with.  I believed that having no loyalty or lasting concern and affection for each other was, in fact, my biggest problem with them to begin with, and that walking off into the ecclesiastical sunset with a different girl under my arm wouldn't fix a thing for anyone but me, and that too, I'd probably find myself needing to revisit the problem anyway.  

We have a way of finding ourselves not being able to really get away from the really real stuff from our childhoods.  We end up on the other side of it, doing the same bad stuff to today's children or those under our care or authority, or we end up doing things that are so mirror-image opposite that they might as well be us doing exactly the same thing.  Then we really  have to think and work on how to deal emotionally.

Many people I grew up with used careful techniques to keep this thinking and dealing away:

Some filled every waking moment with work, with busy, darting here and there activity that added up (from the perspective of even six months later) to little besides keeping them in a state of perpetual leaving to go somewhere else.  You could talk to them, but you were made all too aware of where you were keeping them from being, and how little time they had.  Ignorant shallowness maintained through over-commitment of time.

Others used a cult-like technique of filling their heads at all times with little mottos, slogans, jingles, aphorisms, poems and songs.  You couldn't talk to them.  You'd make a perfectly obvious comment, and they'd spit back something facile that someone else had come up with, as if thinking about stuff like that was a waste of time.  They hadn't even thought about the thought-substitutes themselves.  They were just using them as corks to jam in the faucet.  George Orwell called this "protective stupidity."

Others used alcohol whenever they got trapped alone with their thoughts and feelings.  I believe the strategy was two-fold: if they were drunk, then their brains wouldn't work properly, so the thoughts wouldn't flow properly.  Secondly, anything they thought that evening could be dismissed out of hand the next morning as "stuff they thought when they were drinking."  You could talk to them about meaningful stuff only when they were drunk and their brains didn't work right, and every epiphany or depth of understanding they reached faded in the morning light.

Others used drugs for a similar purpose.  Unlike the booze-hounds, they often claimed, however, that the drugs made them "think better" or "just 'get things' more" instead of seeing their brains as impaired while in that state.  True, all sorts of random, out-there, interesting thoughts flew into their minds while they were messed up, but these flew just as easily right back out again and were almost always lost.  You could talk to them, but although the state made them believe almost anything could be true, it at the same time made them feel that almost nothing was false, which kinda ruins any attempt at thinking.

Having children helped many others stave off thinking and dealing even more than over-involvement in partying or jobs.  Nothing takes your thinking time away like kids.

I didn't allow myself any of that or failed to really get into it.  I was far too lazy and disinterested in money and career to throw myself into those, and I wanted to be a teacher.  I wanted to be a teacher when there was a teacher glut going on, Mike Harris was doing odd things to Ontario and I just couldn't.  I had a series of jobs where I'd have to do things like sit on a couch all night long after having put some handicapped people to bed with their pills, or sit in front of a machine and press a button every five minutes or so.  It paid the bills, and usually kept me sitting up all night with nothing to do but think and no interruptions of any kind.

I waited until 21 to try alcohol outside of a Sunday morning service.  A couple of years later I noticed that I'd now reached an age where my peers were either cutting back on their partying due to maturity, or realizing that they were drinking (or smoking up or dropping hits) at home alone and at all times of the day and should really think about the sense in that.  It was too late to be a drunk 14 year old who'd gotten his hands on some of Dad's beer anyway.  (My Dad has never had any beer anyway.)

So, I approached thirty, having spent countless years of weeks of hours thinking and dealing.  Most people I knew were not doing much thinking, at least yet.  They viewed all of this with suspicion and distrust.  They assured me that I had to quit all this thinking and reach out and connect to other people more.  (I was, but like most people, I wanted to connect to other people who were doing what I was doing, and main thing people like me did was not go where there were rooms full of people.)  Many of them have contacted me since, and are showing signs of just starting, around 35 or 40 years old, to re-evaluate the thinking they grew up with, and which they have already engraved into their kids' souls.

My religious group had a couple of huge acrimonious split-ups caused by how they tended to do things (to check to see if you agreed, and if you didn't, to walk away from you ideologically and socially and pretend you were dead, kicking you out of the church group just to be safe).  Some of us thought a lot about this approach, but most people quickly put the thinking to rest with "We were right, they were wrong.  End of story.  End of discussion.  End of lesson."  This freed them up to do more kicking out without a pang of conscience or overmuch reflection on the worth of eliminating people rather than the problems which proved to be not limited to individuals.

Eventually they kicked me out for thinking.  (to be fair, my "thinking" involves discussing things with others, making parody versions of things I think don't make sense, like religious literature and hymns).  This really kick-started the thinking in a big way.  The Internet, and having a blog and a web page (and Facebook and Youtube) started to connect me to people of similar thinking.  It also forced people who, in their circles, can have people like me shut up or kicked out, to need to approach me and my thinking and that of my friends in forums and ways the Internet made suddenly egalitarian.  They could say they wished I was not allowed to write things, but they couldn't make me stop.  Now THAT made me need to think!

How much time should I be spending talking on the Internet, and what should I say and how should I treat people who are throwing iRocks at me, when I seemed to have this iShotgun in my hand now, so to speak?  Jesus is hard to know how to use as an example.  The iRock-throwers tend to insist Jesus would never stoop to name-calling (though he certainly did) and that he was always meek and kind and nice (though he certainly was not).  They insist that deconstructionist thinking (the sort of thinking that post-modernists engage in) is unhelpful, not constructive (see what's happening there?) and totally lacking in value or merit.

It was amazing hearing an mp3 of Tom Wright, the Archbishop of Durham, speaking at Harvard.   He said that what we think of as "traditional" 20th century thinking and approaches to truth are what the rest of the world would label "modernist" (mindless optimism about the system we live in and how we need only follow it and support it and protect it from Philistines and it will spit out cool thing after cool thing).  

He suggested that the rest of the world (in the 90s, quite audible in Kurt Cobain's voice) had moved from that into post-modernism ("Does this REALLY work?"  "Is all of this REALLY necessary?" "Is this perhaps more than a little ridiculous, once you think about it?" "Why not just say fuckit?"  "What's the use of anything?")  Post-modern thinking, Wright thought, questioned that mindless optimism about the system we have served thoughtlessly (actually, I think he said it "gave it a much-needed poke in the eye"), and the task of a Christian isn't to hide in outmoded modernist thought, nor to wallow uninspiredly in post-modern nihilism but to respond to what is happening in the mind of the world so we can show we HAVE something to say in response, rather than simply that we're not thinking about it.

For the last ten years, people have been saying that, for my own emotional health and growth, I need to "leave all that Plymouth Brethren stuff behind and get on with your life."  It struck me that for these past ten years since I was kicked out of my group for thinking and feeling things thought to be gratuitously unorthodox by the very old I have been reaching out trying to find other Christians outside tha' PB who won't crucify me if I act like Jesus in ways they're not used to.

The orthodox way to do what I'm attempting is simply to visit the local churches and try to integrate myself deeply and unthinkingly into one.  I'm trying something harder.  I'm shooting for something deeper.  I'm trying to relate to Christians as a whole, or failing that, one-by-one.  I'm trying to move outside my upbringing's narrowness, its willingness to coldly cut off all contact with people.  People, by the way, it is told by scripture to love and care for, and claiming this was necessary in order for them to protect and preserve their own position of correctness before God. (see what's happening there?  Incorrect actions to dodge any association with people thought guilty of incorrect beliefs or thoughts)

Here's the trouble I'm having: the local churches are full of people who left my group and haven't changed much, and other people an awful lot like them.  People not differenter enough to make this about expanding my horizons at all.  In other words, the conventional Christian approach to community and sharing doesn't work for me and they're telling me I have to make it work for me and that there is no other path to success open to me but through them and what they're doing.  I've heard that one before.  In tha' PB, actually.

The Internet is generally a cold, plastic, too-convenient, etiquette-free way of connecting to people. It can lead to MSN, to phone calls and sometimes even face-to-face meetings with people who turn out to be awesome or creepy, but who don't live near enough to become a regular part of one's yearly routine.  It's what I have right now, though.  I've "met" some extremely awesome people on it.  It's working.  I want to connect to locals more, but am having trouble.

People accuse me of looking for "a perfect group."  I'm not.  I just need one that doesn't fill me with disbelief, nausea and conscience-questions (now I guess I'm having to decide if I should try to connect to people I don't know whom I don't understand, and if I can connect in any depth.  This is uncomfortably like, or backwards to, people in my own group deciding not to continue to remain connected to people they know intimately and grew up with and are related and intermarried to.)  

As usual, I am told there is an orthodox way to do things and it doesn't work for me and I'm told I have to MAKE it work.  Going into a room at a given time once a week (Sunday morning) and listening to a guy try to pull me along his own path doesn't work for me.  It's too much about unthinking conformity and just as unthinking hate.  It's too much about stopping at nothing while standing for nothing, but just standing in opposition to whatever they can find to hate.  We're all infected with that.  I don't need more of it.  People in groups don't act well, and the larger the groups, the more anonymity, the more evil can hide, the more power is there to be abused and the more people are there to prey on.  I don't see even the slightest sign of the spirit in which it sounds like New Testament Christians hung out.  That's just not how I holy roll, I guess.

I am determined to meet people one (OK, maybe two) at a time.  I don't need to join anything.  I don't need to chair anything, mentor anything, or work in a facilitatory capacity on a committee of any kind.  I am determined to grow into a more mature, deep, effective, warm, loving person and I don't believe the path to that is systematic, formulaic or in any way one-size-fits-all or institutionalizable.  

Guess I'm on my own, mostly, then.  The rest of the Christian world seems devoted to polishing and remarketing, structuring and funding the modernist system they already follow, which system doesn't work for me.  Christ as a person works for me.  Christendom as a system works against everything He and I are trying to put together.

I don't have faith in the idea that somewhere, somehow, there is a group which isn't perfect, but would be a "good fit" for me.  Fitting into a group like a wad of hamburger shoved into a patty mold isn't my spiritual aspiration.  Looking into the eyes of friends and strangers alike and being able to deeply connect to and have conversations with them and "get" on a number of levels what is going on with them and sharing what I see and being able to take in and benefit from their perspective on me and what I'm up to and other stuff, and being able to agree on things and share similar reactions to stuff in common: That's what I live for.  That Jesus stuff that Jesus was able to do.  Because it's good stuff to be able to do, and good stuff that needs to be done.  I can't do that in a church.  I've tried.

There is this false dichotomy being thrust in my face.  You see, in case you don't know, there is this verse in the bible which says "forsake not the assembling of yourselves together as the manner of some is."  This verse is continually used to whack "church forsakers" like me in the snout with.  In a more modernly worded translation (and with more of the context) it says "let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another."  (some translations say "exhorting" which means "to urge strongly").  

I stand accused of not "meeting together" with Christians because I don't go to church Sunday morning.  You see, Christians and atheists alike (and anyone else for that matter) will all agree that we can recognize a Christian in one simple way: a Christian goes to church.  If they were asked "Can a person be a Christian and never go to church?" they'd probably be a bit confused at the idea.  They'd probably say "Well, if he's a REAL Christian acting like one, yeah, he'd go to church."  The first question one gets asked if one identifies as a Christian is always the same.  It isn't "In what way do you want to live like Jesus?"  It is invariably "What church do you go to?"  And if you don't go to one, that derails the whole conversation and it will no longer be about him, but will be about "Why not?"

When the average, unthinking and systematized, institutional Christian is in complete agreement on a subject with people who are far outside that system, either the point is inarguable, or something very interesting is going on.  They may have all missed exactly the same thing at exactly the same time.

The false dichotomy can be worded like this: 

You have a choice.  You can either go to a church and thereby be connected to and involved in the dealings of The Christian Church, the Christian Community worldwide as represented in your area, or else you can stay home and have no significant connection or involvement at all, really, in the dealings of The Christian Church, the Christian Community worldwide as represented in your area.

Bullshit, I say.  (or, "not fit even for the dunghill" one could opine more in the language of scripture).  I know (because I've done it) that you can attend a church and have no involvement in or connection to the Church worldwide as represented in your community.  You can equally not join or attend a church and be a crucial, beneficial part of the lives of a large number of Christians.  (I know that because I'm doing it, with varying degrees of success.)

So, I'm at home this Sunday morning.  Writing this.  Listening to David Bazan and Thrice because Jerry said they were really good.  They are.  I'm sure my Christian fellows will do their usual things, and warn people not to read stuff like this, point out the complete lack of bible droppings (Hez 3:12) in it, describe it as anti-church and see it all as a plan to tempt young people away from church and into an eternal hell.  The other Christians who are more like me will either decide it's too long and not read it, or will read it and not tell me or anyone that they read it, because they're like that.

But, one thing I'm learning is that I reflexively flinch and prepare for the worst whenever dealing with Christians.  This is, of course, a reaction trained into me.  Wouldn't it be great if a couple of people showed me that I'm underestimating them?

Sunday, 27 September 2009

My Latest "I'm a Christian, but I just don't get this about them" thing

All the old hymns that we were raised with seemed to be about "Life is hard.  Trials,  troubles, temptations.  Nothing good or nice that can be trusted or enjoyed.  Don't worry though.  We'll all be dead soon enough and won't have to worry about that stuff anymore."

Here are some examples: "All my trials, Lord/soon will be over" "One glad morning when this life is o'er/I'll fly away...Just a few more weary days and then/I'll fly away "Faithful 'till death said our loving Master/a few more days to labour and wait" "Then when all of life is over and our work on earth is done" "Now little brother has done gone on, but I'll rejoin him in a song/we'll be together again up yonder in a little while" "there, close by the side of that loved one/'Neath the tree where the wild flowers bloom/When farewell hymns shall be chanted/I shall rest by her side in the tomb" "Through many dangers, toil and snares/I have already come/T'was grace that brought me safe thus far/and grace will lead me home" "There's a better home a'waiting/in the sky, Lord, in the sky"

It was like the emotional focus of the bible was one thing, the focus of the "teaching" of it at church was quite a bit different, and the emotional heart of the hymns was ever farther in that direction.

Now, I am kinda used to the idea that we are to view the onerous human life and the horrible world in which it takes place as "nothing but trouble and work and saying no to temptation."  I was raised to that.  

When I read the New Testament, though, I don't see that monochromatic, sit-down-and-shut-up-and-do-your-work-and-you-can-fall-down-dead-if-you're-good spirit in there much.  Most tellingly, the attitude of "life is so hard, but soon it will be over and I'll be dead and can just go to Heaven and not worry about that stuff" was not apparently held by Jesus himself, who of all people could have been forgiven that attitude.  

His life was more about hardship, duty, obedience, temptation and sacrifice than ours ever will be, yet he seemed to want to treasure his moments with his friends, he seemed pressed for time, I believe he viewed not only bearing sin, but going through death with absolute horror and loathing, and he never once was heard to say "Well, the son of man is going to be finished with his labours and can rest very soon, thank goodness.  Won't that be nice!"  Not only did he not say that, I find nothing to suggest that he felt that way either.  The closest I think I can come to finding a New Testament attitude like this one (and discounting emo Old Testament people like maybe Elijah who just wanted to be dead and were therefore from that point on useless as servants of the Lord) is Paul, toward the end of his life, saying he was serene about both possibilities, whether he lived a bit longer, or died.

Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, has a pretty strong rant against the "Christian" (in the sense of  "being after the manner of Christians" rather than "after the manner of Christ Himself) preoccupation with and "life hope" of finally being done with this life.  He points out that the Jewish and Christian hopes alike are (in my words) "more life/bigger life/perpetual life" or "Life 2: The Sequel," (the resurrection) and not "just two more months until 'retirement'." In my book I tried to echo his views on what the bible is actually saying by the wording "the afterlife will be more like graduation than retirement."

See, my life isn't the most exciting or rich one.  Even I know, however, that drinking with friends is good (and Jesus made it a sacrament right before he died, after having done that all along, including at a wedding where he supplied more wine when they ran out).  Friends are good to have.  Jesus was at Bethany with Mary, Martha and Lazarus and it sounds like "down time."  He even kinda scolded Martha when she wanted Mary to stop the chitchat and get the work done.  Having a spouse or a child is good.  Food is good, nature is good, pets are good, laughing is good.  Even sneezing is good.  Life, you see, is good.  The only thing that can make life not good, is people who (and situatuions which) are impeding your ability to enjoy it.

I think one of the key errors inherited from ages past by the religious system I was raised in was in labeling as "evil" and "temptations, blandishments and wiles of the devil" many of the best things God provided in life.  

If you thought a girl was stunning, someone quoted "Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain" or the hymn "life at best is very brief" or warned how quickly looks fade, and how what you wanted, if you were a young man, was to find a hard-working, sensible, godly young woman who would keep you on the straight and narrow, not an exciting, fun one.  If a young woman dressed in such a way as to delight young men in any way, these same verses would be quoted, or, as in the case of my sister, her mother might just say "Oh, you look AWful!"

If you were at a church social event for teens and twenties, there would certainly never be any alcohol of any kind, except on Sunday morning, and if you laughed a lot Saturday night you would often be warned "Tomorrow is the Lord's day..." as if to say that Saturday nights not alright for anything but solemnity, and that we needed to avoid the temptation of foolishness.  Whenever I "laughed too much" my father quoted "foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction driveth it from him."  I am unlikely to forget that verse, as it was written in black magic marker on the wooden paddle I was punished with, growing up.  

Any form of spectator sport, drama, comedy (or entertainment of any kind) was "temptation to avoid."

I could go on and on.  I really could.  My point is, the system of Christianity I grew up with created a miserable human life by asking members to dutifully remove from their lives anything that might make life bearable, and then tell ourselves that "all my trials, Lord, soon will be over."  Oh, and "rejoice evermore" and stuff about how happy we should be to be Christians.  Can YOU say "mixed messages"?

So my thoughts on all of that is that perhaps there is something screwy with a system which demands that you make yourself miserable, avoid enjoyable things, repress all urges to enjoy anything, and try to instead, through willpower and this joy-starving thing coupled with a continual exposure to hymns and the bible, remake yourself into the sort of person who would find joy only at the prospect of being done with this life, and perhaps in singing songs about being done with this life.  It was so death focused.  Even Jesus' life was all made solely about his death.  We were far less interested in what he said and what he did, and just that he died and it was our fault for wanting to enjoy things we shouldn't.

My Christian upbringing, my "participation in a Christian community of faith" made me want to be dead.  Very strongly it made me want that.  This reached a peak when I was 17.  Most of my peers either said "Screw all this noise" and "ran off and joined the world" (like "the circus") if they reached this point, or got kinda insane, broken apart and split down the middle inside.  Many of those who "ran off" in their teens lived lives that were purely about "What can I enjoy?  What can I indulge in?  Can I declare victory over my past by giving in to every 'temptation' and not dying?" and then later "came back" and having had a good taste of it all, repented and "saw the error of their ways" married sensible people who would keep them on the straight and narrow and worked with youth, harassing them about stuff they enjoyed but didn't know was dangerous and wrong.  

The idea that, if you indulge in some bible, in some prayer, and let that compete with TV or beer for your life, that Jesus can actually win out as more enriching and deep and answer-providing quite easily, this idea was never entertained, as it were.  We were always told that, of course the bible and church could never compete with "the world" (movies and concerts) and that we therefore needed to keep from those things lest we become involved in world to the exclusion of them entirely.  It was always a black and white, this or that thing.

I think a lot of people have figured out that it isn't like that.  Sure, at any given moment you can be deciding between "I think I'll go read a bit more of Matthew's gospel" and "I want to watch a rerun of House right now though."  But in my life at least, I can do both.  And they "talk" to each other.  Points, questions, issues, discussions and themes in the one echo when raised in the other.  It's cool.

What hope do the life, death and resurrection of Christ give me?  That my life can mean something besides temporary work and "I didn't sin today!" sacrifice, and that after I die, I have the hope of resurrection, with a human body phase II existence, and stuff to do and things to enjoy and people to meet.  This is, I agree with Tom Wright, a Christian hope, rather than "It will all be over soon."