The Late Great United States

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” –John Adams

In 1787, prior to the signing of the U.S. constitution, Ben Franklin had this speech read to the other delegates, being too weak with age to read it himself:

“In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other.”

Since 1979, I’ve been saying that we, as a nation, are headed for despotism. Really, I sensed it as early as 1973, but could not have articulated what I was sensing. I don’t see how any thinking, wide awake person can deny that this is now inevitable. I loved liberty. I refer to it in the past tense because I’m old enough to remember when we had it, or, at least, all such things being relative, far more of it than we have now. The reason for this can’t be stated any better than by John Adams and Ben Franklin in the above quotes. Man is corrupt; males, females, leftists, conservatives, gay, straight, all of us – our propensity is toward corruption, and our corruption comes from selfishness. Anyone who has ever raised a child, if they’re honest, knows that this tendency toward corruption is inherent – not learned. Indeed, resisting corruption is something that must be taught. No one needs to be taught to be bad.

Events of the last couple of days testify to our slide into despotism. Predictably,  a leftist I know  rejoiced that Rand Paul was attacked and had his ribs broken. A deranged man killed more than two dozen people in a church and in response people run to their soapboxes and express outrage at those with opposing soapboxes.

That second event, the church shooting, will serve to illustrate where I stand on the current state of affairs in this country. I love our Constitution, including the second amendment. I don’t personally own guns, but most of the people I know do. In the area I’ve lived in most of my life, there are, literally, many times more guns than people. None of the people I know have ever shot anyone. But this is irrelevant. Because despite the fact that many people, maybe even most people, choose to exercise good character (in spite of their propensity toward corruption), the nation, collectively, is rotten to the core. So while I do not advocate repealing the second amendment, or any other of our liberties, nothing can be done to escape the pit we are being pulled into. In practice, if not in theory, all of our liberties are being hacked away. They are becoming shells of their former selves.

I am using the second amendment only as a relevant example. My thoughts today, as a Jesus follower, are about how I must respond to the times I live in. What would Jesus do? He who laid down his life, not only for me personally, but for the whole world? Jesus didn’t come to create a Utopia on earth. He came to provide an example of how to respond to a broken world. He never commanded that we build a certain brand of society and then fight to preserve it at all costs. What if, to fulfill our calling, we need to lay aside our liberties? The thought horrifies me as much as it does you. Lord, help me. Help us.

The Simple Truth

IMG_2442I’d like to say something today about the nature of Truth. It’s been a source of frustration to me that truth is something that needs to be explained at all. It’s very simple, but it’s debated by great minds even going back to ancient times. Actually, that fact is one of the things that caused me to be disillusioned about philosophy, which, for a brief period in my young life, I really enjoyed. Why the strenuous debate?

Very simply, truth is what is. It is independent of what anyone thinks or believes. I can fully understand strenuous, ongoing debate over what is true, and over our ability and means for discovering truth. But as for the truth itself, nothing could be simpler. The well-worn parable about the blind men and the elephant says nothing about the nature of truth; it only describes the problem with perspective. Despite the various perspectives of the blind men who all encountered the elephant differently, the truth is, there is an elephant.

In order to learn what is true, I need to value the truth more than anything else – more than any preferred conclusions, for example. Today, we have done so much damage to the notion of truth, thanks in part to a corrupt academia that takes strange comfort in materialism and relativism, that very many people don’t know what it is, though they may talk about it all the time. Beliefs and opinions are formed according to the world we prefer rather than what is. This is tragic.

The search for truth often starts with a premise. If the premise is wrong, but I am objective, meaning, I have no agenda but to know “what is”, hopefully I can discover what’s wrong with the premise and change it. If I am committed to the premise, insisting on into matter what, I will no doubt find “facts” to substantiate it. As someone has said, you can proves anything with “facts”. Anything you like.

Naturalism in science is an example of this. Naturalism is defined as “a philosophical viewpoint according to which everything arises from natural properties and causes, and supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted.” Proponents of naturalism claim that allowing for supernatural causes allows for superstition to be used to account for certain phenomena. There may be some truth to this, though the history of science has demonstrated otherwise. But that’s beside the point. It has never been demonstrated that there are no supernatural causes. If there are such causes, then this is a flawed premise and can’t help but lead to incomplete or even wrong conclusions.

Statements like that always lead to an outcry from materialists and I’m not going to enter into a debate on that subject as I’ve done many times in the past. I offer it as an example. My real motivation for writing this article has to do with far more ridiculous examples from my own tribe. I am a Christian. False premises based on religious legalism and literalism have led to some very bizarre beliefs, held with militaristic fervor, that are actually destructive to the cause of Christ.

I recently had an argument on social media with several Christians who believe in geocentrism – that the sun orbits the earth – that the earth is flat, that the moon produces its own light and that the planets are wandering stars, and NASA is nothing but a huge conspiracy to fool us all (to what end, I don’t know). Presumably (we didn’t get into this, so I am assuming), the universe is a few thousand years old.

Why do they believe this? Because, in their minds, that’s what the Bible says, and to not believe everything it says 100% literally means you are without faith and are offending God. Actually, they are more than literal; they are extra-literal. You see, Pharisaism never went away. The Pharisees were so intent on keeping the Mosaic law that they invented their own laws which went beyond the Mosaic law. For instance, their law forbade cooking a young animal in its mother’s milk. In order to avoid breaking that law unintentionally, they would not allow dairy of any form to be placed in any utensil in which meat was used. One rationale for geocentrism that I was confronted with was the story in the Book of Joshua in which Joshua asked God to make the sun stand still, which God did. How could the sun be made to stand still unless the sun revolves around the earth?

Have you ever had someone completely misspeak something they were trying to say, but you didn’t correct them because you knew exactly what they were saying? Is there a single praying person in the world that hasn’t seen that God often does not answer our prayers exactly as we asked? These are not stupid people I’m talking about. What leads to such nonsense? It can be nothing but fanaticism, with maybe some elitism grown in the same culture.

I’ve spoken many times about the fact that, as an evangelist, one of my biggest obstacles is the bad behavior of other Christians. Non-Christians see that and say, “Nope, I don’t want any part of that god”. And I don’t either. I haven’t brought it up much, but stupid beliefs like these, and more, by people who are not stupid is another obstacle. As a Christian, it’s extremely embarrassing.

The Invasion of the “Dones”

IMG_1332Have you heard of the “Dones”? They are those who are “done” with church. They still love Jesus, but find church to be frustrating, or disappointing, or heartbreaking, or simply a waste of time. Some of the articles I’ve seen written about the “Dones” state that the “Dones” have left and will not be coming back.

Well, I am a “Done”, have been since 2004, and no, I won’t be going back to what I left. My perspective about the church and what troubles me about it are similar, but also different from nearly all the comments made by other “Dones” who responded to some of those articles, as well as those made by others who I have talked to personally. I find the problems of the church to be deeper and more fundamental than most of them. But I digress.

I had gone back to a church maybe a year ago. It is a good one. But I went back with few expectations; one, actually. I just wanted to be in community with other believers. That’s all. And even at that, my expectations were low, because I know what institutional church does to people (I have since moved out of state to be part of a community that actually works very well).

I have a problem with the “Dones”, even though I sympathize with them. I’ve spoken and written a lot about the shortcomings of the institutional church (though not on this blog so much). I believe the condition of the I.C. (institutional church) to be dismal, contrary to scripture, contrary to the model the apostles provided, a waste of time at best, producing stunted infants at worst. Harsh criticisms, I know, and it brings me no pleasure to say it; quite the opposite.

Some of the complaints of the “Dones” have to do with never being provided an opportunity to do the Kingdom stuff. Ministry, in other words. That is the stunting effect I mentioned; that the I.C. has succeeded in convincing its members that they can do nothing without its leaders – professional leaders, I might add.

Isn’t there a scripture that says something like, “I can do all things…” Yes, I know, context, but still…

The “Dones” have to take their own responsibility for this. Aren’t we each responsible to examine what we’re taught for ourselves? Here’s an example: One of the primary teachings that keeps us in our pews facing forward quietly is the one about “covering”. No matter what one might endeavor to do, someone will ask, “Who’s your covering?” You can’t go to Bible college without “covering”. You can’t go out in the street and do much of anything if you haven’t been released by the man who is your covering.

My question is, where is that in the bible?

Here are some scriptures that ARE in the bible: “Ye know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Not so shall it be among you.” (Mt 20:25) “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?” (Lk 12:14). “Not that we have lordship over your faith” (2 Cor. 1:24). “Then comes the end when he shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have abolished all rule, and all authority and power, for he must reign till he hath put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Cor 15:24-25). Note that rule, authority and power are among his enemies. Also see Matt 28:18.

Now someone will undoubtedly take me to Hebrews 13:17 (someone always does), which says, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit to them”. Trouble is, the words translated “obey” and “rule” in my bible don’t carry the sense of the original. I believe it was Frank Viola who suggested that a better translation might be “Allow yourselves to be persuaded by your leaders”. In other words, whether you choose to be persuaded by your leaders is between you and God, and none of the leader’s business. You are also responsible for what you submit to. The leader is just a man. Or a woman. They are not God.

A church I know of found itself without a place to meet. It split into several groups, but that process of forming the groups took awhile. During that process, I heard one person complain that they never got to fellowship with their church family anymore. My response was, “What is stopping you from spending time with your church family?” Yes, it’s harder when all these things aren’t done for you by someone else. But this is exactly the attitude that makes and keeps us weak and stunted.

Here’s my advice for the “Dones”: go back*. For the community. If you see something vital to healthy Body life that needs doing, then do it. Is someone hurting? Take him or her out for coffee, and listen to them, THEN pray for them. Do you want to minister on the street? Do it. Do you want to pray for the sick? Go to Wal-mart, find a sick person and pray. BE who you are. And don’t wait for anyone to tell you you’re ready. Go make mistakes and learn, and be humble and loving about it. If everyone did this – wisely, humbly and lovingly – we’d have revival.

So go make your own miniature revival.

*My exhortation to “go back” is rhetorical. The point I want to make is consistent with Paul’s admonition to learn to be content in whatever state we find ourselves. But we do have liberty. It is not necessary to leave; only to adjust our expectations. Likewise, it is not necessary to stay. What is necessary is community, and that possibly can take a variety of forms. I stress this as someone who is very much a loner for whom the idea of a hermitage is very appealing.

How We Do Church

135955_138246479568862_100001505317592_229273_6551792_oWhen I was first learning to snowboard many years ago, and having an awful time, a friend I was with noted my problem: “You’re fighting the snowboard”, he said.

I instantly understood exactly what I was doing wrong. I WAS fighting the snowboard. I was trying to stand up on it on the side of a mountain and by an act of my will and with all the physical strength I could muster, trying to force the deck to hold still while I got my balance. I was fighting against physics.

From that point I began to simply stand up, allow the snowboard to go where it would and then simply ride it, avoiding hazards as best I could. My riding improved 200% immediately. After a while, I could go in any direction I wanted as long as it was downhill. Snowboarding became a lot more fun and exhilarating.

My first strategy – that of insisting that the laws of physics adapt to my capabilities (or lack of them) was silly. And it reminds me of the church’s approach to the world it finds itself in.

I see the culture clearly changing, quickly and dramatically, and the church – with some notable exceptions – insisting that it remain the same. It’s like asking a target to hold still so you can shoot it. This is as clear an example as any that the church has lost its missional edge. It has long been my observation that mission, or outreach, barely attains to the level of afterthought in the church’s collective consciousness. It has seemed that outreach might be given a shot IF there were enough money, IF there was enough interest, IF there weren’t more pressing concerns maintaining the status quo, etc., and even when it happened, it was usually a random event, not a commitment the church made.

Now the church is obviously becoming more and more irrelevant to the world around it. But the church insists on continuing doing what it has always done, the way it has always done it.

Irrelevance combined with futility is sad. Really sad.

Although I was frustrated with these facts almost from the beginning, I don’t hold myself above anybody, because for all my fault finding, I didn’t really have any better ideas. I haven’t been that creative. I just knew this church thing was not working.

On December 20, my roommate, Phil, noting that the next day was the winter solstice and that Canadians observe the event by making and eating meat pies (Canadians are obviously absolute geniuses!), put out the word that the next day, we would observe the solstice at our place with meat pies and a “moonshine mass” on the beach in Salem harbor. In addition to letting our church, The Gathering, know, we invited a few friends who don’t happen to be Christians. It was a huge success! We had Communion on the beach with moonshine and pretzels, spoke a few words about God and the wonders of creation, then went back to our place and ate some really amazing meat pies, got out the guitars etc., and just had a great time.

Afterwards, having cleaned up with help from Alex (one of our new friends), Phil looked at me and said, “Now, THAT was church!”

I couldn’t agree more.

“Pallet”-able Mission

IMG_1842I was blessed to be a part of my city’s New Year’s Eve celebration on Wednesday. This was a family friendly event held in the late afternoon/ early evening at the Old Town Hall. Phil had a great idea for an interactive art project after the same general idea as the ones he has created at Burning Man. See, we like to build these weird looking structures, but the structures aren’t the art. They’re designed to have people interact with them, and THAT is the art. Phil brought Burning Man to Salem! That’s way cool, you know.

So we arranged twelve old pallets in two semi-circles, with twelve more on top of those to make a structure looking sort of like a corral nearly eight feet high. It was called “The Palette Of Your Life”. It was a calendar, representing the twelve months with the four seasons; a clock, with the twelve hours, and the four compass points. People, including children, were encouraged to write things on strips of colored paper and staple the strips to the pallets, or to just write on the old wood with markers. They wrote their resolutions, their hopes for the new year, things they wanted to leave behind with the old year, etc. This led, as we had hoped, to conversations about life with people. I personally walked one couple through some forgiveness issues and through identifying lies they had come to believe about themselves, replacing the lies with truth. There were lots of other activities going on; live music, hula-hoops, face painting, balloons, etc. The building was packed. It was incredibly noisy. It was awesome fun!IMG_1826

I can anticipate based on experience many of my fellow believers asking, why should the church involve itself in such activities? My answer is, because I love this city and I love its people. I am pleased to bless them and to serve them. I love to create opportunities that lead to meaningful interaction with people. I love to be present when they are thinking and talking about things that matter to them. And I think Godly love is reason enough. Don’t you?

The city, and the people, loved our art project. They were impressed with the structure, which is nice, but what is really important is they saw the value in the actual art, which, as I said, was THEIR interaction with it. Without that, it was just a pile of old pallets.
Thank you, City of Salem, for your confidence and favor toward us. It’s a pleasure working with you.

IMG_1837We want to do similar things at festivals all over the world. We want to provoke meaningful dialogue about temporal and eternal things. We want to show and impart to people the Kingdom of Heaven and its principles.
If you’d like to hear about our foolish adventures, please, feel free to “follow” this blog, and also check out any or all of Phil Wyman’s blogs. Here’s a good place to start: