Sunday, November 30, 2008

Channeling GOD

As I've written here on several occasions and in various ways, the thing
I ponder most often about our Faith is this single question:
What does GOD do, and what do I do, in my life? How is it possible,
for example, that I work hard to achieve something and then turn around
and give thanks to God for it? Sometimes it certainly does seem that God
is completely absent in our daily lives and that it is WE who
"do all the work"... Shouldn't we then thank ourselves when things
go favorably for us? Or when we sometimes "succeed" in our struggle
against sin? Or when we perform some act of Kindness toward someone else?
Aren't these, and so many other good things, a direct result of our own efforts?

Well the more I understand the Faith the more I come to realize that this
precise juxtaposition of God's movements and my movements is the absolute
"ground zero" of the Faith: We Christians believe that the very Holy Spirit
of God comes to LIVE inside us - inside our very being - when we turn to Christ
and renounce the Old Life; we believe that the person I call "me" is actually
now TWO identities, and that the Christ-life (the second Identity) intends
to make us New Persons from the inside out...

There was a movie in 1990 named "Ghost", in which Patrick Swayze's character
is murdered and later uses the body of a small-time "medium" (played by
Whoopi Goldberg) to communicate with his still-living girlfriend... Now of course
the whole subject of "mediums" and "channeling" and so forth isn't something
Christians subscribe to, but these scenes in the movie can be seen as perhaps
a kind of illustration of the Christian idea that WE -- you and me, human beings
right now, right here, today -- ARE, literally, the Body of Christ in the world today.

This is not merely a philosophical idea, or an interesting theological musing;
Christ has come to live IN us, to establish His kingdom through us, to
the glory and praise of God. Everywhere we go, God goes with us, not only
above and beside us but also IN us; everything we do, everything we look at,
every thought we have, happens in the company of TWO persons...

God's method is an inside-out Transformation, a Metamorphosis,
in which He works relentlessly to accomplish two things: Personal change
in us, and outward expressions of Love and Grace and Mercy to as many people
around us as possible through us. Indeed, the "me" that God intends to produce
is a person that is not only in complete harmony with His Will, but also one who
can be USED by Him to do the very work He would be doing if He were,
as He once was, encased in a body of flesh and bone.

This is where virtually every other World View and Religion gets it all wrong:
Most of the Religions of the world -- and certainly New Age thinking -- focus
on working toward the "best You" you can be, and the Eastern religions center
on a "you" that achieves its OWN "peace", "nirvana", "balance", etc. But these
all miss the point: What good is my own "peace" when the end result still
leaves me at odds with a Just God? How can we settle for a "nirvana" that falls
far, far, short of the Glory that God intends for us? You don't create a
champion by setting up mediocrity as the goal, and the Saint isn't made so
that he or she can commune privately with God.

God wants to CHANGE us and also to USE us -- to "channel" Himself through us,
so to speak -- to accomplish His ends. The musician practices long hours so that
not only can he enjoy fine music himself, but also that the orchestra as a whole
can play fine music.

And as we "practice" our Faith, being changed by God in the process, we are
becoming fit to be used by Him -- literally and physically -- to DO His work.
When you eat a typical candy cane, which part are you eating, the red stripe or
the white one?

Who knows? Does it matter? It's the sweetness of the whole that we enjoy.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pop Goes the Economy

I am resisting, with as much effort as I can muster, a daily urge
to post my thoughts about Obama and what Sean Hannity calls
"Obama Mania Syndrome", this cult-of-personality CRAZE that seems
to be swirling around the country these days... And before
Obama has even spent one single day in office!

Today, though, I just have to say this:
The news today is apparently making it official that the center-piece
of the Obama economic "strategy" is that he IS, after all,
going to soak the rich in order to spread the wealth around,
something we all KNEW is a key component of how he has looked at
economics for a long time (books he's read, people and causes he's
been associated with, statements he has repeatedly made that show his
Socialist orientation, etc.)...

But the key point I want to make is that Obama clearly has no firm
grip on how Economics works, and so his forthcoming economic proposals
reflect more of a pop culture, class-warfare approach,
centered on 2 statements that accompanied the news story today:

"...the Bush tax cuts were disproportionately targeted
to the very wealthiest Americans"

Obama has not shown one single shred of evidence, in the two years
he's been stumping to become president, that any kind of "unfairness"
does or ever did exist in the Tax breaks that the so-called "wealthy" were
granted under President Bush. Instead, his tactic of stirring up mob mentality
among the "less wealthy" (certainly the "poor") is nothing but a mean-spirited
appeal to Envy, as if being "rich" make you Public Enemy #1...

And I bet my lawyer brother would agree that using the word "targeted"
implies INTENT, and Obama would have to demonstrate very clearly that Bush
tipped the federal hat to the "rich" on purpose...

The fact is, most of the "rich" people I know, or have read about, contribute
VERY heavily to Charitable organizations... But Obama needs to DEMONSTRATE the
"disproportion" in Bush's tax breaks; if all he means is that "wealthy" folks
got more BACK, any high schooler could explain to him the very BASIC
fact that if you paid more in, you get more back...

"...those who were making more than a quarter million dollars
a year can afford to pay a little more"
What??? Here again, this appeal of, "they're rich and we're not!" is
ridiculously immature when it forms a major component of a
"presidential" platform on economics... How does OBAMA know what any
"wealthy" person "can afford"?? And who does he think he is to presume
that a certain Income level automatically means that more should be going to
the government??

If I were among those "wealthy" who makes more than $250K annually, I would be
furious, and my attitude would be, "It's none of your BUSINESS, Obama, what I CAN
and can NOT afford to pay in taxes, and how DARE you presume to be able to see into
my personal finances!"

One thing that I learned during the campaign: Many small businesses
file Taxes as "Personal", or "Sole Proprietor", and if they make over
$250K annually, as many of them do, guess what?? Obama's "punish the wealthy"
approach to economics will target the very businesses that are the strength
of the American economy... So in trying to "save" the economy, he will
be destroying its core, and of course he'll blame someone else...

So name your Cult Guru: Britney Spears? Puff Daddy? Mr. Bean? Kid Rock?
Apparently ANYBODY can put an "economic policy" out there, and whether it
makes sense or not, whether it demonstrates an understanding of basic
economic principles or not, if the Facebook-driven, Text-message-sending,
Post Modern masses like how it sounds -- when the Mob has its torches lit
and everyone is shouting for blood -- then apparently what's "popular"
trumps what makes the best sense...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Choking on the Bible

The blogosphere is buzzing in the last 48 hours over a situation
in San Francisco involving a small group of Christians who
meet on Fridays in the "Castro district" to pray and to engage
the local gay community in discussions about that lifestyle...

Predictably, the locals are more than a little antagonistic
toward the group, and the story made news yesterday because
extreme gay activists literally drove them off the corner, requiring
riot police to provide them a safe escort...

Right-wingers love to proclaim that this country was "founded" on
Judeo-Christian values, and that World Views contrary to those
values are distinctly anti-American... The passage of "Prop 8",
denying marital status to gay couples, has fanned the flames of the
decades-old Values debate, and the not-so-subtle "hint" by some
is that to be American is to be Christian...

Here is the problem I see in this struggle: It is absolutely silly
to expect any demographic in our country to appreciate, AT ALL,
Christian values when they do not, in any sense, accept the
fundamental framework of the Christian World View. It's way past time
for Christians to stop attempting to cram the Bible down the throats
of those who reject it as revelation by God, reacting angrily and
sanctimoniously when our would-be converts repel -- sometimes violently --
an approach that features any kind of strong-arm tactics.

Efforts to shoe-horn Christian principles into the Laws of the Land
usually result in the detractors taking up the wearied weapons of the
"culture wars" and taking their conflict to the streets (and to the
media, who, as a group, are increasingly firmly entrenched in the
anti-Christian-Values camp themselves).

I've maintained for a long time that the "Laws of the Land" should
be primarily about Utilitarianism, that is, focused almost exclusively
on keeping people SAFE from one another, so that conversations about
Values (and everything else) can happen at all. Freedom in America
is a delicate balance between saying whatever you want to say and
respecting the rights of other to say the exact opposite; there isn't
a whole lot of discussion going on in a war zone, and nobody was ever brought
into the Faith through intimidation, condemnation, or coercion.

The Bible is very clear in its insistence that the World is just NOT
going to "get it", and that Biblical Values are, at best, going to
be ridiculed and misunderstood, and at worst, the cause celebre
around which those violently opposed to Christ will rally...

We will not win the hearts and minds of the unsaved -- no matter what
their particular brand of debauchery is -- by clashing with them in
the public square; and if they REJECT our Faith, we can certainly
expect them to fight passionately against what they view as a crusade
to impose that Faith on them. And let's never forget about the
debauchery we Christians find still lingering in our own hearts...

The Christians on that street corner have a "right" to be there, and
the locals have a "right" to speak out against them; I admire the
courage of those believers in attempting to be a light in a very dark
corner, but if Christians "win" the culture wars, will Souls be lost?
And if our country continues its descent into Relative Morality,
as it almost surely will -- a la Sodom and Gomorrah -- will Christians
be found still working to WOO the Unbeliever into Christ's kingdom,
through genuine Love and sacrificial service?

The real battle, anyway, is in the coffee shops and book stores and
neighborhood conversations, discussing the Truths of the faith
one-on-one; the real "fight" is against the "Gay and Christian" mindset
that twists the Scriptures to fit a preferred lifestyle...

...but let's not shove the Faith down the gullet of the Unbeliever.
They don't want it. And that should not come as a surprise to us nor fill our
hearts with hatred against those whom Christ views with compassion.
    knowing this first: that scoffers will come
    in the last days, walking according to their own lusts,
    and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming?"
    The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some
    count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us,
    not willing that any should perish but that all
    should come to repentance.

    -- 2 Peter 3:3,4,9


Thursday, November 13, 2008

The "Change" we REALLY DO need

I've been toying for some time with the idea that the Christian faith
is a "Not Yet" proposition... A map that we follow toward our Great Hope
(the Hope of Glory!) but largely devoid of the kinds of water-in-your-face,
nose-against-the-glass, "real" experiences that comprise our everyday lives...

...and this is in fact the "trump card" that the Evil One has in his deck:
"Why wait for someday," he whispers, "when you can enjoy the pleasures and
self-actualization that I can offer you right now?"

This idea gains strength in my mind to the extent that I sometimes call myself
a "Skeptical Christian"... that is, I consider much of what I hear from
many Christians to be complete baloney: "God answered our prayers and gave us
a nice day for our church picnic" (of course, the farmer in the next county
prayed for rain, and was disappointed)... "God told me who the next president
is going to be" (and then the other candidate wins)... "Please God help me
win a spot on the dance team" (a team made famous by the skimpy and sexy
outfits they wear on the sidelines)...

With these two thoughts book-ending many of my musing about Christianity,
I often feel a kinship with people who admit to the nagging sensation that
God is quite simply nowhere to be found, not in this life... Bertrand Russell
was once asked what he would say to God if, after a life of atheism, he found
himself presented to the Creator... he is said to have replied, "God, you didn't
give us enough evidence."

But the more I read about and ponder the work of what Christians call the
"Holy Spirit", I think I'm beginning to understand the very real "here and now"
aspect of the Christian life:

It struck me most clearly in a sentence from C.S. Lewis that I read again today,
from a sermon I've read dozens of times (the best thing, IMHO, that Lewis ever
wrote), entitled, "Weight of Glory"

    Those who have attained everlasting life in
    the vision of God doubtless know very well
    that it is no mere bribe, but the very
    consummation of their earthly
    discipleship; but we who have not yet
    attained it cannot know this in the same
    way, and cannot even begin to know it at
    all except by continuing to obey and
    finding the first reward of our obedience in
    our increasing power to desire the ultimate

    Just in proportion as the desire
    grows, our fear lest it should be a
    mercenary desire will die away and finally
    be recognized as an absurdity. But
    probably this will not, for most of us,
    happen in a day; poetry replaces grammar,
    gospel replaces law, longing transforms
    obedience, as gradually as the tide lifts a
    grounded ship.
So then, it would seem that what we CAN begin
to enjoy in the Here and Now -- a kind of "foretaste" of Glory -- is an
honest-to-goodness CHANGE on the inside... An increasing desire for
God, and perhaps even an increasing ability to "hear" Him as He speaks...

The more I understand the Scriptures, and the work of the Holy Spirit, and,
frankly, a bit more (on an amateur level, of course) about human psychology,
this new picture of "everyday reality" begins to take hold...
    " continuing to obey and finding the first reward
    of our obedience in our increasing power to desire
    the ultimate reward..."
The Scripture says "Don't quench the Holy Spirit's fire" (1 Thes 5:19)... So,
as a believer, I can DO things to weaken the Holy Spirit's influence in me?
Conversely, I can make Choices that stoke that influence, and which actually
increase it? I can begin to EXPERIENCE glory here in this life??

    Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only
    in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to
    work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God
    who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."
    -- Phil 2:12,13

And as I've been pondering this, I realized all over again that Scripture is
absolutely FULL of Verbs, things Christians are called to DO as part
of our faith... We DO things, outwardly, and God uses our "co-operation" to
CHANGE us, inwardly... And so THIS, then, is the sort of experience we can
begin to have, the experience of Change on the inside: We find ourselves
WANTING different things, Sensing different things, things that match,
more and more, what Scripture says God is like...

Now here's the somber part: The sword cuts both ways...
Here's something else from Lewis:
    "People often think of Christian morality as
    a kind of bargain in which God says, 'If you keep a lot of rules,
    I'll reward you, and if you don't I'll do the other thing.' I do not
    think that is the best way of looking at it. I would much rather say
    that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part
    of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different
    from what it was before.

    And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices,
    all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a
    Heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature
    that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself,
    or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with
    its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature
    is Heaven: that is, it is joy, and peace, and knowledge, and power.

    To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and
    eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to
    the one state or the other."
    --Mere Christianity
So why can't we hear or feel or touch God, now, in this life?
Well, if God's primary concern for us is the Redemption of our Souls, and if
CHANGE -- from God's perspective -- means transformation from the inside out,
then even "signs" and "miracles" and "appearances" are, in that sense,
inside out, upside down, backwards even... The Biblical story of the rich
man in hell has him asking Abraham to go and warn his family, so that they too
would not go to that place; Abraham replies that if they will not listen to
Moses and the prophets, they will not repent even if someone rises from the dead...
(Luke 16)... Talk about real-world experiences!

But if, through the Spiritual Disciplines and through Godly Wisdom we begin to
experience that Transformation of our very selves, I think we'll begin to seek
"external" experiences less and less...
    Be imitators of God, therefore...For you were once darkness,
    but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light...
    everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light
    that makes everything visible...

    Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise
    but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because
    the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand
    what the Lord's will is."
    --Ephesians 5


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A Christian Response to an Obama presidency

Another "Katrina" -- similar to the tragedy that impacted New Orleans
over a year ago -- has, in many minds, struck the shores of American
politics in the last 24 hours... We all knew in our gut that it was
coming, and now that the McCain "levees" have burst, we Conservatives
find ourselves struggling to breathe, struck with more than a
little bit of dismay over the dark days that lie ahead...

... that is, at least, how it feels, and time will tell how much truth
there may be behind those feelings...

If our Hope was tied to American politics, and if our confidence and
security were tied to temporal things that now appear to be at an
unprecedented and grave risk, then we have much to fear by the victory
of perhaps the most Liberal candidate to ever assume the Oval Office...

But if our treasure -- and therefore our hearts -- lies elsewhere,
then we can continue to rest in the Sovereignty of God and our
Great Hope that He will ultimately "wipe every tear" from our eyes.

So how then shall we respond to these discouraging developments?
Here is one Christian's perspective:

Guard our hearts
The Scriptures tell us to "love our enemies" and "pray for those"
who mistreat us. It would be very easy to allow our hearts to descend
into a bitter spiral of negativity, disdain, anger, and even hatred
toward the new president, his staff, his supporters, and every single
person who cast a vote for him. This would be, I'm sure, contrary to
spirit that God would have us harbor, and it would expose in us the
idolatry of an America as we might wish it to be. We don't have to
pretend to "like" Obama (et al), but we do have to remain keenly aware
that God sees our hearts and wants to be pleased with what He finds there...

Pray for Obama
"The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much",
we are told... We can and should pray for Obama, that he might gain wisdom,
and to have a personal revival in his heart, to lead the country effectively,
and to surround himself with people who can advise him with discernment
and a renewed dedication to America. And we know -- so says his new
veep -- that he (and therefore the country) will be "tested", so for
the good of the country, every true patriot should pray for courage and
strength and success for the new administration.

Strengthen our Faith
All indications are that Truth is now in full retreat, and those Christians
who cannot clearly articulate their faith in a way that is engaging and
compelling for non-believers are going to find themselves very much at odds
with those around them who do not share that faith. Now more than ever,
the Love that is supposed to characterize ALL Christians needs to be
obvious AND combined with the willingness and ability to draw the
non-believer into honest, respectful and humble conversations about
World Views and true spirituality. Now more than ever we need to share
the Gospel, winning the hearts and minds of those around us one at a time,
building bridges to Souls who, having said as much with their vote, are
more confused and ungrounded than at perhaps any other time in history.

Try, try again
On a practical level, the only productive way to respond to defeat is to
get back up and try again, and again... We can begin now to look toward
the mid-term elections in 2010, where through personal effort and open
discourse, perhaps each of us can redirect the views of just one or two
around us toward the more fundamental positions that once made America
a great nation: Limited government; Personal Responsibility; Fiscal
Convervativism; a Strong Military, including Border Protection; Lower Taxes;
and a return to the spirit of Self-Reliance and Hard Work that should burn
in the heart of every American. We cannot be silent; we must teach our
children these values, and help others teach them to their children, and
impress upon the nay-sayers that these values are what should define
our unique and shining position in the world.

Listen to what Andrew C. McCarthy, from "National Review" has to say
along these lines:
    Our country has had an election. Our side got trounced.
    We’ve strayed far from our principles. We’ve too often failed
    to make our case even when it was right there for the making.
    If the best we have to offer America is Democrat-lite, Americans
    can’t be blamed for deciding they’d just as soon have the real thing.
    If we operate in stealth and incoherence, abdicating our duty
    to convince our fellow citizens of the rightness of measures taken
    for our security, they can’t be blamed for suspecting we are
    in the wrong.
I said several times during the past few months
that the strengths of the Conservative positions were not being
loudly and firmly and repeatedly declared to the America people,
inspiring them to return to these core values; perhaps our next
Nominee will learn what a dreadful mistake that has been.

But if we fail in any of these areas, then we have truly lost.