Saturday, October 29, 2005

Godscrum: Episode 2 is Live!

Yes, Episode 2 is live! No interview tonight, just a family update, some Bass Ale, and a riff on how the spirit of the Pharisee is alive and well in our church today. No, strike that--it is alive and well in us. All of us. In me. The spirit of the Pharisee is alive in me, and I need to fight it anew every day. I've been the Pharisee. No one is immune, so when you listen to the podcast please keep in mind that I am not pointing the finger at any particular person. I may say one thing and do another, but I'm not a hypocrite.

Well, yeah I am. And I thank God there's a heaven for hypocrites like me. Take it away, Eli!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Why My Name Isn't on This Blog

I am researching this week's Godscrum podcast topic of how the blogosphere is a force for change in the church, and I came across a transcript from the recent Christian Bloggers Convention (GodBlogCon, which I sadly missed due to scheduling conflicts). On a panel of pastor bloggers, this from Andrew Jackson of Smart Christian really hit home:
Here is my pet peeve. I cannot stand people who don’t use their name. They don’t want to expose themselves. How else is anyone supposed to know who they are? You don’t do that with books. We need to get past the faddish beginning of pseudo-names and tell people who we are, what our backgrounds are, and what we are about. Real identity gives you a good context.
Ouch. For the record, I have precisely two reasons for maintaining anonymity on this blog: first, to be able to discuss intimate personal histories and issues relating to my life and my family's life while protecting in particular my wife's deep concern for privacy, and second to protect myself professionally. Unless and until this blogging racket feeds my family, I have to earn my paycheck in other ways. And given that people are getting fired for crap that other people find they wrote on the internet, I can't afford to take that chance. I've been through the experience of having a professional enemy committed to my downfall. I had a woman at my work who saw me as a career threat to her, and she stopped at nothing to ruin me. This was 1998; if it were today I promise you she would be crawling the internet looking for incriminating evidence. She dug through my frigging trash looking for something incriminating against me. Literally. Imagine what she could find here if she was to arrive at it just by searching on my name.

I know Josh at Stupid Church People has a pet peeve against this too, and I'm sympathetic, but I have to uphold this policy for the reasons I just mentioned. If I ever decide to break this anonymity, I'll probably just abandon this blog and do something different. Something safer, unfortunately.

Also, for the record, I will send my real name and real email address to anyone who emails me and asks for it. I've already done that with a number of you, and some of you I've shared my phone number with. I am a real person, and everything you've read here about me, my family, and what I think and believe is the absolute unvarnished truth. I'm simply trying to be anonymous to my enemies and to keep my wife and daughter anonymous from the sickos on the internet. I'm genuinely sorry that it has to be this way.

Monday, October 24, 2005

The First Church of the Blogosphere

I've been missing church a lot over the last few months since Mrs. Zeke has been caring for my mom in Phoenix and I've been coming down on the weekends. Well, let me clarify that: I haven't been attending church. I haven't really missed it. And I'm not sure that's a problem (Mrs. Zeke is probably rolling her eyes back in her head as she reads this, but hear me out honey).

If you ask people why one should attend church, they'll commonly respond:
  • To hear the Word of God
  • So as to not forsake the fellowship of the believers (Heb 10:24)
  • To receive encouragement
  • To serve the Body of Christ
I agree that all of these are important, but I disagree that the mode the modern church offers to fulfill these--at your typical church, Sunday morning service; at my AoG church, Sunday morning and Sunday evening, along with the ancillary meetings and events for all types of churches--is the way that you get these benefits. Fact is, what I find rewarding in my association with my church is the ways in which I serve (which frankly should be at the top of the list for all Christians and yes, serving is a benefit and not a cost). My time on the Board, my time on the worship team, pulling weeds and painting and the like. The rest of church is near a waste of time for me as far as getting anything from that list of benefits. The nicey-nice banter before and after service is annoying and the sermons are boring. And it basically doesn't matter who's speaking, so no one should take that personally.

So am I really missing anything by not attending services? Is that the only way for me to get those benefits, however imperfectly? Well, no it isn't.

Amidst my wanderings back-and-forth in the blogosphere, posting and commenting, emailing and podcasting, I and the friends I've made here have been having church. Of course, we have no physical building and for the most part we don't see each other. Very few of us even speak by phone. But the exchanges we have are more transparent, more real, and more uplifting than the flaccid, be-happy banter that I get (and frankly give) on Sunday mornings at my church. Because of the transparency of our exchanges, I get to see the humanity of my blogosphere friends in a way that I rarely see at church. Because I myself am more transparent here than at church, I have been able to receive encouragement that is more targeted and significant than the general well-meaning platitudes I've received from my fellow churchmembers.

And I have grown as a result. The First Church of the Blogosphere--and no, it's not formal, there is no building, no membership rolls, no belief statement, and no paid staff or even staff at all--is diverse, dynamic, heavily pollenated, passionate and fun. It engages, challenges, and plows new ways to receive and give as human beings.

Let me tell you about the people in my congregation. A couple of brothers, a seminary student, a programmer, a diverse collection of ex-pastor guys, a poet/bard, some Florida radio buddies, a psychologist, a megachurch guy, and many more. What's coolest about this congregation is that through our relationships, we are connected to an incredibly diverse group of people. Think of it as six degrees of Blogger; everyone who has a blog is connected to another blog by x degrees of separation. In other words, the whole world can end up on one of the many doorsteps of our church. We are not bound by geography or limited by a calendar or clock. No one "teacher" is burdened with coming up with a weekly message; new messages blossom up daily from all corners of our church and they can be accessed at leisure.

It's my belief that this new form of having church will force change within all churches, the evangelical church included. Just as the blogosphere has dramatically challenged traditional media, so it is challenging traditional church.

An interesting aside: in Left Behind, Tsion Ben Judah, the Israeli philosopher who became sort of the Bible teacher to the tribulation world that could no longer attend church out of fear of persecution used the internet to teach the Word. So if you believe in the version of the future that Left Behind teaches, it's just a matter of time before we do church on the internet anyway. And please don't take this comment seriously.

There's a lot here, so the next episode of Godscrum will deal with just this.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Godscrum: Episode 1 is Live

Episode 1 is live, featuring the interview with Pastor Dan Burchett. Forgive the audio problems in the interview (good lord Sager, you make it look easy).

So, the show ends up taking the evangelical church to school on the issue of how it deals with gays in its midst. Give it a listen, and feel free to comment on the content and to let me know what you'd like to hear in the future.

Friday, October 21, 2005

South Park Zeke

Before I shaved the goat, anyway. If I ever leave the biz world that puppy is coming right back on. Mrs. Zeke said it tickled, but she's cool about it.

And by the way, I have never once seen more than about ten seconds of South Park. Sounds witty, but a little over-the-top vulgar for my tastes.

I do indeed like beer though.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

20 Questions: Ask Pastor Dan

For my debut episode of Godscrum, I will be interviewing Pastor Dan Burchett of Open Door Ministries, a gay-friendly church in Southern California. Feel free to submit your questions over the next few days and I will be happy to ask Pastor Dan. Dan's a thoughtful, open dude so just let it out and I'm sure he'll answer honestly.

For those who are interested in learning more about Open Door's teachings on homosexuality, Pastor Dan has a study series available for download. I'm not taking a position on his teaching one way or another, as I'm committed to providing grace to gays amidst my own questions and doubts about how to fully integrate gays into the church. I don't have to have all these questions answered to my satisfaction.

I'll post here when the podcast is up, and you can download it at Godscrum.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Intervening God

There's been a recent round of 20 questions in blog circles that I move in, and Jeff from Demerging is the latest volunteer. Last night I asked him if he had ever heard the voice of God, and what he came back with was a great story about how God intervened in the life of his family at the time of a major decision. No audible voice, but the Lord's hand was obviously there in the mix of things.

Hearing stories about the interventions of God in the lives of his people is powerful and comforting to me. So, while I won't be playing the 20 questions because of my commitment to preserve my family's anonymity, I thought I'd return the favor with a few stories of God's personal involvement in our lives.

"I Guess I'm a Christian Now..."
My first story is of Mrs. Zeke and I, early in our dating relationship. She told me on our first night out that she was a Christian, and I was pretty much just a searching deist who believed that God set the world a-spinning and was not personally involved beyond that. A cosmically detached God, if you will. Anyways, part of her ground rules was that we attend church. So there we were, a few weeks into our relationship, at a little Four Square church that I had just signed up as a client for health insurance, on Father's Day in 1994. The preacher was going on in your typical way on a father-themed sermon, and all of a sudden--literally right out of the blue--I was flooded with an overwhelming sense of peace and contentment. And then the voice of Jesus said to me:
Forgive your father
Follow me
And I will show you what it means to be a man.
My reaction was, "Wow. There really is a Jesus. And I guess I'm a Christian now."

Innocent as I was, I immediately starting reading the Bible voraciously and attending a local church as often as I could. At the first men's meeting I attended, I shared this story with a new friend of mine--and learned that this experience was not a typical conversion experience. I also learned that some Christians are very suspicious of anyone who claims to hear from God that way. And I decided that night to keep this story to myself, and the only one I've told of my encounter with Jesus outside of my old friend Tom the Christian (who was a Christian role model for me at the time, and still is), my pastor and that man was Mrs. Zeke. Until now, but since this is an anonymous blog I can feel comfortable doing it. Obviously, it changed my life and I'm not ashamed of it, but not everybody understands. What can I say? It's just the truth about how Jesus called me out.

"You Two Seem Awfully Relaxed About This..."
The summer of 2000, Mrs. Zeke got pregnant. Because of her medical conditions, we definitely proceeded into conception with fear and trembling, but we both believed that this was what God wanted for us. Miscarriage followed shortly after her first ultrasound, and as we sat together in the emergency room we felt a deep peace about what had happened--certainly a "peace that surpassed understanding." The doctor who was attending to her was so put off by our reaction, given that so many couples in the same situation despaired. "You two seem awfully relaxed about this," he said. We simply explained that we believed that God was with us and our child, and that he had given us a peace about it.

Back from the Brink of Death
Later that same evening, just a few blocks from the hospital on the way home, Mrs. Zeke nearly died. Sitting next to her, I saw her go cold in an instant, her skin turning clammy and her eyes rolling back in her head. Inside, she felt like she was falling into a dark hole, demonic laughing echoing in her ears. I rushed her back to the hospital, where doctors spent the next couple of hours trying to figure out what happened. They never could figure it out.

"We Should Give All of it"
A few years ago, a representative from Asian Outreach visited our church and was asking for our support to help build a couple of churches. They were looking for our congregation to come up with $7,500 to help two Chinese congregations finish construction on their new home churches. During the collection, we were both praying about how much to give, and we were both given the answer: All of it. So we did.

"God, Please Give Me a Sign..."
Missy was praying recently for God to give her reassurance that he was with us, as she had been struggling with her faith. That same day, Mrs. Zeke poured boiling oil all over her hand but was uninjured, and Missy got her reassurance.

"God Told Me to Tell You that Everything Will Be OK."
I might have mentioned that we took in a young woman who, under intense pressure, had given up her infant son to a Mormon adoption agency and was living with us while she fought in the courts to get him back. One day, while she was working behind the counter at a restaurant, a woman came in off the streets that she had never seen before. The woman pointed to a locket she had around her neck and said, "You have a picture of your son in there, yes?" She did. The woman then said, "God told me to tell you that everything will be OK."

I feel, like Luke, that there are so many other stories that this blog couldn't contain them. I would love to hear some of yours. Our God lives!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Baby Steps in Grace

I've mentioned here that I believe that we in the evangelical church are called to give grace to gays. I took a baby step in that direction tonight when I attended a midweek service of a gay church (I would call it 'gay friendly', but I think that Missy and I were pretty much the only straight people there). I happen to know the pastor, who was on staff (and in the closet) at my church a few years ago. I really love this guy; he's a true lover of Jesus, has ministered to the sick and dying as a hospice pastor, and is a genuinely fascinating man. When I heard that he had taken over a gay-friendly church in my area, we exchanged a few emails and I decided to come see his congregation.

Nothing particularly special to report, insofar as it was pretty much what you would expect from a modest, 30-40 person midweek service. Since the topic happened to be one in a series on relationships, the same-sex nature of the partnerships was made more obvious but I doubt that if the topic had been outside the realm of relationships that there would have been much that would have distinguished the evening from any other church service--except the notable absence of Christianese. And hey, I'll count that as refreshing.

See, here's the great thing about grace: it's not about having to approve what you and everyone else knows you disapprove of. It's about loving people despite all the other stuff. You think homosexuality is an offense to God? Fine, so are you. And he loves you anyway, so turn around and love the homos too.

Please, for God's sake and your own, if you believe that Christianity is holding a thin red line against the assault of homosexual perversion on America, God's last bastion of righteousness in a sea of sin, just spend some time in the company of gay Christians. Give just enough grace to them to sit with them, drink tea with them, break bread with them, and let them talk about what God is doing in their lives. Your approval is not required. Neither is your preaching. Hold on to your Bible verses and your fears and your statistics, and simply be with other human beings that Jesus died for. People a lot like you, full of faults and weaknesses, looking to Jesus to give them a hope and a future.

Get off of your position statements, politics and prejudices, and fall into grace.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Can Gays be Christian?

Just read this belief statement from a "gay-friendly" church, and you tell me. Stop the madness.

Statement of Faith

1. The Bible is the inspired Word of God, the only guide and rule of our faith and practice.

2. In the Triune-God - equal in every divine attribute as three distinct persons executing distinct but harmonious offices as God the Father, the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

3. That by the Shedding of His blood, Jesus Christ made provision for salvation to all who believe.

4. That salvation is by God's grace alone and is received through sincere, Godly repentance and a wholehearted acceptance of Jesus Christ as one's personal savior.

5. That water baptism, by immersion, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is commanded by God, not as a saving ordinance, but as an outward sign of an inward work.

6. The Lord's Supper (Communion) is a type of the broken body and shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that all Christian believers, regardless of church affiliation, may partake of the Lord's Supper.

7. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is a definite experience, not identical with conversion.

8. That the power of God to heal the sick, in answer to believing prayer, is provided for in the atonement, and that God is willing to, and does heal today.

9. In the rapture of the church and the second coming of Jesus Christ.

10. That there will be a final judgement, whereby all will stand before God.

11. That the "Great Commission" of Jesus to "go into all the world and preach the Gospel (Good News) to every creature" (Mark 16:15) is the joyous challenge given to every follower of Christ.

Welcome Back, Mr. Spider

He's back. For the uninitiated, "spider" is the characterization I use for my episodes of anxiety & depression. I use this blog as a mechanism to just observe and comment on what brings the episodes on, what works and what doesn't for coping, what I experience physically and emotionally, and the like. For more, see here, here, and here.

Triggers that I can identify this time are money concerns (a regular), extended time away from Mrs. Zeke, a lost contract, and some real concerns about our ability to get product supply for my work.

What's interesting to note is that I think it actually started while I was asleep, though I had been teetering on the brink after yesterday's sermon. I had two exceptionally vivid and violent dreams. In one of them, I was literally in life-and-death combat against demons. In the second, my cousin suffered a devastating gunshot wound, and I was unable to get her treatment. What makes them worth pointing out is that it's the first time in weeks or months that I can recall having such a vivid dream, and I woke feeling bleak. Things progressed downward from there.

One positive development that I'll note is I made a conscious decision this morning to take whatever time and effort it requires to deal with some of the underlying issues. At core, I really don't believe that I deserve success in any meaningful area of my life. I feel like I got lucky with Mrs. Zeke, and I've muddled my way to middling success in my work life, but always in the context of disappointment that it doesn't amount to so much more. This is an objective assessment, not me trying to make it worse. I hear this from people in my life who are confounded as to why I make what appear to be totally irrational and destructive decisions given my other qualities. Simple reason is because I think I'm pretty shitty and don't have much faith in my ability to be successful.

I recognize that this is just a belief, and not reality, so the real work is in changing the belief system. Doing it in the presence of the spider is actually helpful in that it's hard to think of much else anyway.

I may not share much about the process, as this has already become much more personal over the last days that I am comfortable with even given that this is an anonymous blog. But I'll share what I think relevant, as I know from the feedback of others that they've been helped by what I've shared.

Reaching the Goal is not Avoiding the Boundaries

I've an increasing conviction that we in the Church have an unhealthy focus on the Dont's of the Bible. That the multitude of "Thou shall not" and "it is forbidden to" admonitions in the Bible are not what should characterize Christian behavior. That they are useful only as boundary markers on the road to Life. That they are only an indication of what not to do, and only serve us in our walk with Jesus to know that we have strewn far off the path.

Scripture makes this clear in my mind. The best example of this is in Mark 12:
28One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"

29"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' 31The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

32"Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." [emph.]

34When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

See also Luke 10:
25On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

26"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"

27He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

28"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."

Paul twice confirmed this as the encompassing goal of the law:
The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." (Rom 13:9) [emph.]
The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." (Gal 5:14) [emph.]
Note that not only is "love your neighbor" the greatest commandment (Mark 12:31), but the sum of all commandments (Rom 13:9, Gal 5:14). Finally, Paul puts it all in perspective in the famous 13th Chapter of 1st Corinthians: If we have not love, we gain nothing. We are nothing.

So what, then, is the usefulness of all of the rest of the law? Why all the "do not" admonitions? My best judgment is that they are useful, as I said at the start, as boundary markers on the road of life. As ways for us to clearly know that we are not in the loving way. For instance, we men know that we are to love our wives as Christ loved the church (Eph 5:25). We can certainly know that we are not loving them by comitting adultery in our hearts or by divorcing them. But not divorcing our wives and not committing adultery in our hearts can hardly fulfill the commandment to love. Love can only be positive action. It can't be arrived at by simply avoiding the illegal.

I've got a purely secular, practical parable: A man was hosting a wedding party, and gave invitations to two of his friends. To one, he told "Go north on the King's Highway, turn left at Roman's road, right at the Street Called Narrow, and stop at the fourth house on the left." To the other, he said: "Do not go on Ceasar's Way. Do not go on the Damascus Road. Do not go on Appian Way. Do not go on the road to Jerusalem." He continued, providing directions only by telling the man what not to do. "Do not turn south, west, or east... do not go backwards, do not go forwards, do not turn right..." So I ask you: which of the man's friends arrived at the party on time?

When a quarterback calls a play, he directs his position players on what to do, not what not to do. Also, while on the field they have a single purpose: get the ball across the goal line. No one would suggest that the purpose of a football team is to avoid taking the ball out of bounds.

My most recent exchange on the blogosphere about this was on Adam's blog. He had started with his brother's conviction that "the Christian life is not about doing what is good or bad, but about doing what is best." I heartily agree, but I felt that Adam missed the point by returning to focus on what was permissible and impermissible situationally:
Therefore, I study the Scriptures, I reason to see when and where I can or cannot drink. So as when confronted with the decision, I can parallel it to my previous discovery and see which option is the best. I search for permissibility given all variants so when confronted with specific variants, I can know what is permissible and what is not.
Again, this is focusing on the boundaries rather than the goal. Given the specific example Adam was dealing with--whether or not to drink--the question is not for me one of turning to Scripture to see what situations are approved, but of using the judgment and liberty that God gave me as to when drinking is a loving act and when it is not. When does drinking help me serve my goal of loving my neighbor? Drinking is obviously useless as a loving act if you are doing it at an AA meeting. But it can be a way to love your neighbor if you are sharing a beer with a friend, and the act of sharing the beer helps to lower the barriers between you.

This brings us into the realm of Christian liberty. If we were only to avoid breaking the law, then liberty would be meaningless. We would be slaves to the law. However, our commandment is not to avoid breaking the law, but to keep it. And we can only keep it by loving our neighbor. To do that, we need the liberty to search in each situation what it means to love our neighbor, and know that sometimes this may look to another person like lawbreaking.

For instance, Paul was forced to deal with a controversy in the Corinthian church around certain practices. Some people were eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols, and others in the local church were scandalized and sought out Paul to settle the matter. This is how Paul responded:

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. (1 Cor 8:1)
There was Paul, getting right to the heart of the matter: don't be a legalist, but take the loving way. We are free to act on our consciences--the essence of Christian liberty. We are not bound to do not, but to do the loving in all things. Here was Paul's guidance to the church:
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol's temple, won't he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall. (1 Cor 8:9-13)
Thus, the only situational ethic that we need to concern ourselves with is how we love our neighbor in any given situation. We can't arrive at that solution by searching the Scriptures for knowledge about what not to do. This kind of knowledge puffs up and leads to controversy. Tell me you haven't seen that before. The legalists love controversy, because it lets them show off their knowledge of Scripture. The legalists come to Jesus to settle their debates, not to learn how to love.

Adam also brought up cussing. When is it OK to cuss? When it serves the goal of loving your neighbor, and never when it doesn't.

Now, I will be the first to admit that my use of cussing is more like carpet bombing than pinpoint targeting. I'm not even sure that I can come up with very many solid examples of when cussing can be a loving act, but my point is that if it serves love, it's perfectly legal.

I supposed one way in which cussing can be a loving act is when it forces someone to confront their issues surrounding it. A great example of this is the oft-mentioned time when Tony Campolo said to an audience at a Christian gathering, "The United Nations reports that over ten thousand people starve to death each day, and most of you don't give a shit. However, what is even more tragic is that most of you are more concerned about the fact that I just said a bad word than you are about the fact that ten thousand people are going to die today." I would say that is definitely a loving use of cussing.

In a comment I left after Adam's post, I said "As for cussing, I believe that as long as you are loving perfectly you can do whatever the f*** you want with your Christian liberty." (And I used the asterisks in the comment as well, for a very specific reason that I'll get into shortly). That provoked the following response from someone: "Boy. That's convenient."

See, some people look at the concept of Christian liberty as an excuse to sin. That we can always rationalize our sin as being somehow loving. For myself, I would much rather the debate center around love than around sin, around whether I had loved the right way in a given situation than whether I had run afoul of some Scriptural regulation. We can be right about whether Scripture has ever said not to do something and still miss the point. This is why we are repeatedly reminded that all those don'ts are really all about the Big Do: Love your neighbor.

Now, as for why I used the *** after the "f": because I wanted to provoke a response without actually using the "f" word, which I thought would have been gratuitous in that situation. Fact is, "f***" could just as well stand for flip, frik, frak, or fril, and any one of those could be used instead of the f-bomb, but everyone would know that they are just a more acceptable placeholder. A mild form of cussing, as it were. But ultimately, I wanted to stress that the illegal is permissible when it is used to fulfill the Law of Love.

Wow, that sounds so profound that I'll dub it "Zeke's Rule No. 1: The illegal is permissible when it fulfills the Law of Love." Chew on that, Adam, and let me know what you think.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Robbing God, and a Promise Unfulfilled

I took Missy to church with me this morning, taking advantage of the rare opportunity to do so since I have been going every weekend to be with Mrs. Zeke and my mom in Arizona, where my wife has been caring for her the last couple of months. I had a feeling during our drive to the church that it wouldn't be a typical service, but I didn't know what to expect. Turns out it couldn't have been more difficult.

It was all about money. About how it all belongs to God, and you're stealing it if you don't send at least 10% back into the "storehouse," which is the general account of your local church. And the New Testament doesn't get you off the hook; now we should be providing our full tithe plus giving beyond that. But there's good news: whatever you give, God will give back more! Pressed down and running over. That's the promise, straight from the Bible. See Malachi 3.

So, as I sat there in the pew, knowing that the plate was going to be coming at me, all I could muster up was equal amounts of shame and anger. Shame at not putting in my full 10%, anger because there was a time when Mrs. Zeke and I gave way beyond our full 10%. We gave in a big and dramatic way several times, and in lesser ways many other times. We also gave to neighbors and family. We bought computers for those that needed them, provided food and shelter to a family for over a year asking for nothing in return. Took in desperate women. help pay others' legal bills. What followed was a desperate financial crisis, and there I was this morning sitting in the pew with not enough money to make it to the next paycheck, and I was being told about how I was robbing God. So I was angry. Damned straight I was.

What good is a promise to be paid back if it doesn't have a due date? When you loan someone money, is it with the understanding that they will pay you back in some way, at some time? Let's say, five years after loaning a man $50,000 with no attempt to pay you back, the man comes to you and tries to explain that he's been paying you back ever since "in other ways that you haven't seen." Will that satisfy?

I promise you, not a red cent was given by Mrs. Zeke and me with the expectation that it was going to be returned with interest. But that's beside the point. The point is that I was given a personal promise in Scripture that it would come back. I'm still waiting. And in the meantime, I've become a God-robber. Fan-freaking-tastic, is how I'm feeling.

Yes, he's God and I am a whiny little child who just doesn't understand. Yeah, I've probably received more than my due since then in other ways... illnesses that could have been worse, finding some work when there could have been none, etc. etc. But the fact remains that Mrs. Zeke and I loved to give. And want to give more. We just don't have it.

So that's where the shame comes in. I'm ashamed that I can't give more, haven't given more, to both my church and my family. And if the pastor hadn't pointed out repeatedly that "You can't outgive God! Test him! Test him and see!", then I would just be ashamed and left it at that. But he drummed in the promise, and I wanted to stand up and say that if you do give abundantly, you might have to wait five years or more before the promise is paid off.

Part of me thinks that God has made a liar of himself. Another part thinks that this is just what a stupid, selfish little brat would say. Another part of me hears Mrs. Zeke telling me to count our blessings as a family, which actually isn't hard to do. But money isn't one of the blessings, and nobody's accusing me of robbing love or time from God. The church is presenting me with a bill, and I feel like I can't make the payments because God is behind on his payments to me.

I know how screwed up that thinking is, you don't have to tell me. And you especially don't have to smooth my feathers and tell me it will all be better. And please--whatever you do--don't go quoting Malachi to me.

So, like the Psalmist with nothing but honesty and openness about where I am at, I ask you, God: when will you fulfill your promise to me? How much longer do I have to wait?

Back to the Serious Stuff

Yeah, it's fun to tweak the nose of Churchianity. It deserves it for distracting us from what's real, and poking fun at it is a good way for me to dispel the negative energy I have around it. I'm headed to church this morning, and let's just say it's better to chuckle at it than go through the front doors resenting it.

It also helps me to separate it as a phenomenon that all Christians have some weakness around, and forgive others and myself as much as possible when we practice it. As I said before, I love the Church and want to serve it. So just like with our neighbor, loving the Church involves receiving and giving a lot of forgiveness.

I have a post coming on fear and how it separates us from God and each other, and I wanted a clear breaking point between that and the silly Book of Churchianity stuff. I also felt the need to not be misunderstood about where I stand. I am not out-churched, out-of-church, emerging, or whatever you want to call it. I'm not on the outside looking in, I'm on the inside looking around and commenting on what I see.

The Book of Churchianity: Psalm 4

My heart is heavy and my soul weak
Like a sheep in the desert I long with thirst.
Where is my salvation, Lord!
Every Sunday, the new worship leader plays a new song of praise
A song strange and unknown to me.
When will you intervene, righteous Father?
With bass and drum, they proceed in 4/4 time
My madness increases with every beat!
In the days of my father this music of the Caananites was nowhere to be heard
Of the Philistines, nowhere in the land!
Stretch your mighty hand out
Snap the string and break the drumskin!
Bring back the organ and piano
As in the day of old, when men worshipped you in Spirit and Truth!

The Book of Churchianity: Psalm 3

Lord, I give thanks in a joyful song of praise
And by that I mean of course an old time gospel hymn.
We do not play with the drum and the bass, like the heathen.
A piano alone satisfies the soul. Selah!
But an organ works too.
Blessed be your name!

The Book of Churchianity: Psalm 2

God, you made me a straight man
A man of but one wife, Lord.
And you made me worthy to serve on your Board
How awesome are your ways, Lord!
Never has alcohol passed these lips
Or smoke entered these lungs
Not of cigar or cigarette, Lord, not even of chew!
For I adhere to the lifestyle preached to me when I was a boy
Back then everyone went to Sunday evening service!
And wore fine clothes too.
Surely, a man would be ashamed to wear jeans or shorts
But I have never insulted your name in that way, Almighty God.
For you made me clean and obedient, Lord
Not like those disgusting homosexuals.
Praise be to your name in all the earth
Attend another service in his name, people of the New Covenant!

The Book of Churchianity: Psalm 1

Oh Lord... I just wanna pray right now Lord Father God
In Jesus'name, Lord God, That you would, dear God... you know...
...I just wanna humbly ask, dear Lord Father God Almighty Savior
In all humility, Father God
Not with human words, dear Lord God
But Father in heaven, with my
heart Father God Lord Jesus...
...I just...
...ummm... me remember, Lord God Blessed Father in Heaven Precious Jesus, what I wanted to pray about in the first place.

Friday, October 07, 2005

M. Scott Peck and the Stages of Spiritual Growth

M. Scott Peck does not subscribe to mainstream evangelical thinking and doctrine, so don’t expect what’s to follow to fit in that box. However, I did find it interesting to reflect on, so I’m passing it on. -Z.

M. Scott Peck, in an article published on FactNet, found over years of therapy that when patients with traditional, fundamentalist beliefs came to him for treatment they typically left agnostics or skeptics. He also found that when agnostics or skeptics came to him for therapy, they left with a more spiritual bent:

Over the course of a decade of practicing psychotherapy a strange pattern began to emerge. If people who were religious came to me in pain and trouble, and if they became engaged in the therapeutic process, so as to go the whole route, they frequently left therapy as atheists, agnostics, or at least skeptics. On the other hand, if atheists, agnostics, or skeptics came to me in pain or difficulty and became fully engaged, they frequently left therapy as deeply religious people. Same therapy, same therapist, successful but utterly different outcomes from a religious point of view. Again it didn't compute--until I realized that we are not all in the same place spiritually.

With that realization came another: there is a pattern of progression through identifiable stages in human spiritual life.

So Peck then developed what he considered to be the Four Stages of Spiritual Growth:

Stage I: Selfish, antisocial and lacking integrity.
Stage II: Fundamentalist, legalistic, dogmatic.
Stage III: Skeptical, individualistic, typically atheistic/agnostic. Active truth seekers.
Stage IV: Universalist, mystical, communal.

Here’s another way of viewing the Stages, from the perspective of how people at these stages would view Jesus:

Stage I: “Jesus? What has he done for me lately?” Also, one who professes Jesus but does so for cynical self-interest and not in belief.
Stage II: “Jesus is the one and only true God, and all who don’t believe in him are hellbound.”
Stage III: “I don’t know if this Jesus is who the Bible says he is, but he certainly taught us that men should love one another. That’s what’s really important.”
Stage IV: “Jesus was the Christ consciousness that showed the way to true salvation: unconditional love and oneness with God.”

With regard to Christians, Peck characterized Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Benny Hinn (of all people) as in Stage II of development, and Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King in Stage IV.

Now, what Peck believes about that those that reach Stage IV would mean, for Christians, a rejection of some of the important tenets of mere Christianity:

At Stage IV, "Jesus is my savior" is translated as "Jesus, through his life and death, taught the way, not through virgin births, cosmic ascensions, walking on water and blood sacrifice of reconciliation - man with an external daddy Warbucks that lives in the sky - mythological stories interpreted as literal accounts, but rather as one loving the whole, the outcasts, overcoming prejudices, incorporating inclusiveness and unconditional love, this, with the courage to be as oneself - that is what I must follow for my salvation."

Not exactly orthodoxy, I'm afraid, and this part of his analysis I of course have to reject. I don't believe for a moment that anyone who believes that Jesus was born of a virgin, ascended into heaven, walked on water and died for sin is stuck at a low level of spiritual development, and only by becoming apostates can they become enlightened.

What is interesting and useful for me in his analysis is that Christians moving beyond small-minded stupid church/Churchianity perspectives can move through a period of questioning and doubt before reaching a final higher spritual level of development. This may come as some comfort to Steve and Josh.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Missing Out on the Power of Team?

For the most part my work is details and execution, much of it alone from my home office. Sometimes though, I get to see how powerful it can be when people on a team pull together. How creative energies can be tapped into, how perspectives can blend with each other, how the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. Man is at his best when he is on a team and the team is at its best when all are pulling for a higher, common goal.

At the risk of sounding like the business management book du jour, this is all really true. And it works. And it’s got me wondering why the church isn’t more effective that way. After all, not only do we have access to the same dynamic that all human teams can have—it’s just the way God designed it, and non-believers do a great job of tapping into it—but we have the Spirit as well. To borrow a phrase from our secular neighbors, we should be kicking ass.

Instead, we have church.

This isn’t to say that church is flaccid and useless. Obviously it isn’t. But church has become 90% of what we do spiritually. All of our tithe is supposed to go into it, and frankly, it’s pretty much expected that all of our Christian effort will go into it too. Our new pastor announced in his first sermon to us, “I believe in Sunday service! I believe in Sunday night service! I believe in Wednesday night service!” I ran the time in my head: including driving, that’s about nine hours a week for me right there. Add in my board and leadership team commitments, and that comes to about 50 hours a month. In other words, more than a full work week worth of commitment. I think that more than qualifies as “not forsaking the fellowship of the believers.”

Fact is, very little of those 50 hours are spent building teams and acting like teams. 40 of them are spent in service or driving back and forth to service. And a full ten hours of those 40 are spent sitting down listening to sermons. Five hours are spent in worship, which arguably is a team effort. Worship serves God and ourselves, but it doesn’t serve those outside the church.

Fact is, not one of those 50 hours that I would be called upon to devote would be serving the outside world. All of it is inward focused, and very little of it is spent in actual teamwork—just the time I would spend in Board and leadership meetings. And pretty much all of that time is spent focusing on church matters that don’t involve the outside world.

I’m sure there’s reasons that church life has evolved this way. I’m not sure what they are, but when I look at it like this it doesn’t seem balanced and effective. It neglects real team efforts—diverse people uniting to take action towards a common higher goal—in favor of diverse people uniting to hear somebody else talk about taking action towards a common higher goal.

Mrs. Zeke and I don’t really see church as our primary avenue for service to God and our neighbor. There are lots of other avenues for that, some of which I’ve mentioned briefly in other posts. In my mind, church should be where we tap into the power of team and add the Spirit to make a potent brew for serving this world that our God created and that Jesus died for. That we spend so little time doing that really troubles me.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Business Trip Blues

Thank God I have a job that pays most of the bills and keeps us in clothes and health insurance. I'm blessed, brothers and sisters!

Now that I've made my positive confession on the eve of my four-day business trip, let me admit that I despise business travel that lasts more than a day and a half, and I just in general do not do well away from my wife and daughter. What a change... right when I got really cool with just being a single guy, I got married. First couple of years were pretty rough as I was learning to not be a single guy anymore. Now, I'm sold out lock stock and barrel to being married and never get bored of it. I wonder if I've gone over the edge and formed what the shrinkers would call "an unhealthy attachment" to my family. I doubt it, but maybe Nicole would have an opinion on that.

Enough for tonight. I am off in the morning. May not post while I'm gone, so Peace in the meantime.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Tag, I'm It Part One

Well, there's apparently a tradition in blog circles of answering some personal questions and then forwarding the list to several others (aka "tagging" them). Ninjanun has tagged me on one of these, so I thought I'd knock it out before I leave town for a conference.

My life, 10 years ago
Single and 30, I was just on the precipice of my new age wanderings. I had attended a weekend personal growth seminar and was about to leave on a weeklong second phase of it, where we went through lots of exercises that were intended to shake up our world, and they did... I remember one in particular where we had to stand in front of every other attendee and classify them as a "giver" or a "taker" based upon their experiences with me. I was floored at how many people considered me a taker.

A few months later, I would move to the hills above Los Angeles to share a house with a gay roommate. It had a patio above the garage, but since my roommate was gay we called it a "lanai."

5 years ago
Mrs. Zeke and I had been married for nearly a year and had been in our current home since the spring. Money was good--very good--and we were treating ourselves to nice things for the first time in our relationship. We had taken a three week summer vacation, and I bought a Suburban to haul the family and a friend of Missy's across country to visit our pastor friend in Louisiana. A few months later, the tech market crashed and we kept our business on life support until September 11th, when it got killed deader than a possum on the Interstate.

1 year ago
Missy started college early at 17. Erica, our semi-adopted daughter, is pregnant and her Marine husband is getting ready to ship off to Iraq. After he leaves, we take care of her until she delivers. I held the video camera in such a way as to catch the birth without filming... well, unnecessary detail. Afterwards, we have a new baby in our home until Marine Joey returns safely from Iraq. Jackie, who has been living with us since she was 16, gets pregnant after having been kicked out, moves back in, and has a terrible miscarriage. Her baby's lower half came out the birth canal while she was in the bathroom with cramps. I waited for the paramedics to come while she cried, terrified and wounded. Before long she went back to her old ways, and I just recently had to ask her to leave again.

I flew to San Jose to visit a customer in the Salinas valley that we are bidding a lighting retrofit project for. My contact, a Stanford MBA grad, talked over lunch what it was like to move from Palo Alto and live a single guy's life in agro country. Our lighting designer and I talked on the way back; he's getting a divorce. Last time he and I talked family I thought they were doing fine.

5 snacks I enjoy
Hershey's kisses, Baked Lay's (Original and Sour Cream & Cheddar), chips & salsa, pretzels, and beer.

5 songs I know all the words to
None without hearing them, but I know the bass lines to every song on Permanent Waves.

5 things I'd do with 100 million dollars
1. Split it into 5 groups of 20 million:
-one for charity
-one for family
-another for charity
-one for... charity
-and one more for charity.
2. With the charity money, establish a foundation and put Dorsey, Steve, Josh, and Ninjanun on the Board just for giggles. No salary, guys--this is charity work.
3. With the family money, I would:
3.5. Pay off all debts and give our duplex to our beloved friend Veronica.
4. Take a ridiculously long vacation, driving across the country in an absurdly opulent motor home with Mrs. Zeke, our dogs, Missy and her beloved Cockatoo. On the drive, scope out and buy the land on which we will build our dream home, where we will grow old and die.
5. Move my mom and dad to wherever they wanted to go, even if its right in our home with us. Give a nice chunk of change to close relatives, too.

to be continued...

Tears of the Wedded

For many I love, it has been a difficult season for marriage. My father was recently divorced from his second wife. The wife of a fellow board member had an affair which ended the marriage. Our semi-adopted daughter and her husband continue to try to pull their relationship back from the brink. And another comrade of mine on our church board has divorce papers in his drawer that he hasn't turned in yet. He just takes them out and looks at them wistfully, then shuts them back away. We spent over an our talking last night... he told me of how when he goes in his house his wife cries, shouts, and throws things, so he stays in a trailer in his back yard. And he acknowledges that she has a right to be angry with him, and yet he is unwilling to change.

I told him about a dark period in my own marriage, when Mrs. Zeke wept unconsoleable for hours in the bathroom while I sat impotently on our half-empty bed, convinced that I had utterly failed as a man and had no hope of becoming a better man in time to save my marriage. These are not moments that Mrs. Zeke or I would wish on anyone else, but by the grace of God we made it through and are stronger for it.

For those that are in the eye of the hurricane in their marriage, I hope that somehow they can stick it out, be willing to take on change, and trust that the marriage that endures trial has gifts to give that can't be imagined until they arrive, unbidden. You just work hard and struggle through, and then find one day that you have a better marriage than you ever imagined. That's how it played out for Mrs. Zeke and me, and we're nothing special. We all have every reason to believe that hard work and humble service to a higher goal will have its own rewards.

Keep fighting the good fight; we are not alone.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

I Love the Church

I admit that in the span of the posts I've put on this blog since starting back in July, there's been a lot of bellyaching on my part about the church. Churchianity, Christianese, stupid church behavior, lack of grace towards gays, all of these have been targets of mine.

Let me say that none of these posts should be construed as the slightest murmurs of a pending out-churching on my part. Some get so fed up the walk out the doors of the church, vowing never to return. Some abandon their faith altogether. This is so not where I am at, and I want and need to make that clear. The most precious human beings I know are in the church. There's real love in the church, and it is much, much bigger than stupid church behavior. The church is the bride of Jesus, the one who I have committed to follow. If I criticize it, it's to make it better. I'm a reformer, not a destroyer.

So, my church installed a new pastor tonight. This whole day has been a reminder to me of all the things that are so great about church: the sense of community, of shared mission, of tender concern for one another, of appreciation for hard work, and of the sense of being a fragile vessel for the spirit of God. All those were present today, and they made the occasional Christianese and stupid church behavior (and there was some) simply not worth recounting.

The gates of Hell continue to pound on Jesus' church, and still it soldiers on. Neither moth, rust, nor stupid church baloney can destroy what Jesus has been building for the last two thousand years. Tonight, I felt really touched to be a small part of it.

Yancey on "The Monastic Cycle"

If you don't read Philip Yancey, you should. One of Christianity's more sensitive, thoughtful writers, he never fails to reward.

In a recent essay, Yancey wondered aloud why it is that countries with Christian heritages--primarily Europe and America--tend to be perceived both as wealthy and decadent, given the humble lifestyle of Christ. This seems to non-Christians to be an odd development, to put it mildly.

Yancey spoke of the 'monastic cycle' as defined by Gordon Crosby, pastor of Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C.. In essence, the monastic cycle describes the evolution of idealistic Christian orders from discipline and self-denial--which generates wealth and success--to the decadence that comes from the enjoyment of success. Crosby looks to the idealistic Christian movements of the past such as the Benedictine monks of the sixth century as a model of this phenomenon:
In the sixth century, early Benedictines worked hard to clear forests and cultivate land, investing their surplus in drainage, livestock, and seed. Six centuries later, according to historian Paul Johnson, "Benedictine abbeys had virtually ceased to be spiritual institutions. They had become collegiate sinecures reserved very largely for members of the upper classes." The abbots absorbed about half the order's revenue in order to maintain their luxurious lifestyles, becoming "unenterprising, upper-class parasites."
Crosby saw this repeated not only in other Catholic monastic movements, such as the Dominicans, Jesuits and Franciscans, but in Protestants as well. Even John Weseley warned his followers:
I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.
Crosby's hypothesis is as reasonable an explanation for the paradoxical wealth and decadence of Christian nations as any I've heard. And so for us, the struggle remains not so much how can we avoid getting sucked in by the apparent downward suck of our culture into more and more base impulses, but how we can recapture for ourselves the discipline and dependence on God that contributed to our success in the first place.