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.

Shame, shame

131292193_11nMan, this election! Like a lot of people, I’ve gotten into some intense conversations and Facebook threads about it. My comments have mostly been toward Trump, but not because I think he’s worse than Clinton. These candidates are each SO bad that talking about one being worse than the other seems ridiculous. They’re bad! REALLY bad! On any reasonable scale for rating candidates’ qualification, both of these would be WAY into negative numbers.

Actually, my focus on Trump doesn’t have much to do with concern about who our next president is going to be. Both candidates are prone to be despots, and I don’t have a preference as to what KIND of despot I come under. I despise any kind. Our wonderful experiment in self-governance has wrecked on the rocks while we were busy not paying attention. Sad as that is, it has not been where my hope lies since becoming a Christian. My focus on Trump comes from my deep concern for the Church, primarily Evangelical Christianity, because that is my tribe.

I’ve been hearing “prophecies” declaring Trump to be God’s choice to save the nation. I’ve heard the bizarre justification for supporting this clown (Hmm. I wonder if the current clown sightings is prophetic?) that God can use Pharaoh or Cyrus, or a donkey (let’s not confuse a donkey with an ass).

First of all, if and when God uses a seriously flawed man or woman to rule over a people, that is not a good thing. It means something evil needs to be exposed, and not in the ruler but in the people who are ruled. It should be a time of mourning, not rejoicing, unless you’re rejoicing over your own exposure and consequent acknowledgment of sin and repentance.

Second, as a prophet myself – a reluctant one, I’d like to add – I don’t have much respect for what passes as prophecy in this country. To reframe an old joke, if you were to lay all our so-called prophets end to end, they would still all point in different directio. Heck, I not even very sure of my own prophetic inclinations. But I’m really sure about something I’ve known since my conversion in 1979; tyranny is coming to this nation. I don’t know that this is the time that this will happen, but it kind of looks inevitable (to those Christians praying for God’s mercy on the United States, pray neither of these turkeys becomes president).

I am also pretty sure about this: If there is a purpose in this infuriating insistence Evangelicals have to support Donald Trump, it’s to expose something very ugly and unChristlike in that camp. I have written a little about this before, as have lots of other folks. Maybe I’ll write more. I don’r know. But frankly, a lot of you folks are a big embarrassment.

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.

Doing Something Different, Even If It’s Wrong

321092_10150295591436641_576766640_8236307_1685146041_n“Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it” –George Bernard Shaw

Evangelism is on my mind. It’s always on my mind, and I do mean always. My dreams at night seem to go on and on, and they are always about ministry and outreach. I’m always with my fellow missionaries at someplace like Burning Man, or the streets of Salem. This goes on night after night. I have no other reason than evangelism, which is the motivation for whatever ministry I do, for being here.

We’re living in a time when the institutional church, and in particular, evangelicalism, is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the times and the culture we live in. It’s been a long time since the Body of Christ actually grew much. We hear about “church growth”, but it’s pretty much always some trendy, novel new church drawing believers away from some other church whose novelty is fading. Church leaders keep coming up with new programs to draw people in, but as others have noted, there is a very small percentage that might potentially respond to such methods. The majority of the population will not.

They won’t come. Not at all.

Are we to ignore those who we know will not respond to any sort of marketing ploy to get them to “come to church”? Should we be content to sit and wait for what will not happen? Or will we say, “Here am I. Send me!”?

Paul said, “For I have a great sense of obligation to people in both the civilized world and the rest of the world, to the educated and uneducated alike. So I am eager…. to preach the Good News.” (Romans 1)

I have that great sense of obligation. I’ve left much behind to pursue that obligation. I’m not complaining. I don’t miss it most of the time because I am able, by grace, to not look back.

Evangelism is not magic, nor is it a formula. It can’t be limited to preaching a one-sided monologue to a crowd in some hall or stadium. It’s awesome when those things happen, if they bear fruit.

But there are a lot more people who cannot be reached this way than those who can. Among those who have no use for or interest in the church are a whole subculture that are changing the world as you read this, and although you are certainly aware of their influence – and maybe a little uncomfortable about it – most people are completely unaware of the origins of much of the changes that are happening (See “The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World”, by Paul H. Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson). Festivals are magnets for people like that. That’s why I go to festivals. To influence the influencers – as well as to minister to the hurting among them. And it’s just ordinary evangelism to me, because I truly feel like one of them. I love the culture and the people. I’m often criticized for that, and yet most believers don’t criticize the missionary who loves the culture and people of, say, Papua New Guinea. We applaud them, and support their missions.

“Ordinary” evangelism – day to day evangelism – is simply about being able to identify with the people all around you. Notice I didn’t say “your target people group”. People know when you have made them into a target, or a project. You have to be genuine, and you can’t fake this. If you are genuinely interested in a person, they will value what and who you are – but you have to value them first. If this is faked, people will know. If you’re like me, the methods promoted “at church” – handing out tracts, knocking on doors, approaching random people to ask if they would like to talk about Jesus – are just too uncomfortable. These methods make me feel phony. Unsurprisingly, many of the people that are the recipients of these methods see them as phony, and they are not appreciated. They turn people off and put up walls to the gospel. Now, these methods do work among certain people groups, usually those with a church background, and it’s vitally important that these be called back to the fold. So if you are doing any of these kinds of ministry and getting results, please, keep up the good work.

The misunderstood directive to be “in the world but not of the world” makes evangelism awkward and unnatural. If you truly felt free to rub shoulders and truly immerse yourself into the culture of your neighbors, you’d be evangelizing without even thinking about it. After all, Jesus didn’t say, “You will witness for me”. He said, “You will be witnesses unto me”. Think about that. It’s not so much a call to action, although it is that, as it is a simple statement of fact.

Alan Hirsch, in his excellent book, “The Forgotten Ways”, makes this observation:“I discovered that when surveyed, the average non-Christian population generally reported a high interest in God, spirituality, Jesus, and prayer that, taken together, indicated that a significant search for meaning was going on in our time. But the same surveys indicated that when asked what they thought about the church, the average non-Christian described a high degree of alienation.” Hirsch, Alan (2009-04-01). Forgotten Ways, The (p. 34). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

This is what I have found everywhere I have gone. The groups I have ministered to range from Witches and other neo-Pagans, New Age proponents and practitioners, and festival goers. They are so willing, even eager, to talk about Jesus. Many times, their understanding of Jesus is based on fancy, but other times, they have some surprising insights into the person of Jesus. Regardless, they are open to really considering another’s viewpoint, providing that you are willing to treat their points of view with respect.

I truly like and appreciate people who organize and attend transformational festivals. I listen to them. I work alongside them. I am willing to, and do, learn from them. Who can deny that any one of us can learn from anybody, even a small child? I am not afraid of being tainted, or defiled, or negatively influenced by them. And you know what? Even if it IS risky getting so close to such strange people with such radical ideas, aren’t we at war? Have you ever seen a movie scene where any kind of rescue is taking place, like in a war movie? Or, are you a “first responder”, or have you ever had to rescue anyone from anything? Isn’t rescue risky? I’m willing to take risks to rescue people. I’ll bet you are too.

I really, desperately, want to hear from YOU. Please leave comments. Ask me questions. Criticize me. Offer suggestions. While I am quite comfortable with what I have been doing, I know I’ve only scratched the surface, and I am NOT satisfied with the amount of fruit. I know my flesh is a hindrance to the Holy Spirit, and I am trying to “decrease” while immersing myself even more deeply. I KNOW much more is possible.

If you’re reading this, I’ve prayed for much increased revelation of God’s will for you, and that you will experience His presence in intense ways!

Shalom and thanks for reading!