I Awoke from a Dream this Morning

It is, at this moment, 9:39 a.m. I awoke from a dream this morning. It was a vivid dream, short.

I lay in bed for a few minutes, pondering the dream. I realized I had to post it, this morning.

I went to my computer to check the time. It was 9:05 a.m.

I dressed and poured myself a tumbler of coffee as I pondered the dream and the meaning of the dream. “This is weird.”

I deliberately reviewed every detail, since I knew I would soon be writing down the dream. I know what happens when you don’t record a dream immediately upon waking. You walk away and forget.

I paced around my two-room flat, thinking about the dream, and the meaning of the dream, and the urgency of posting the dream. No, God had not threatened to take my life if I did not publish it.

But I knew I must. 

I got in my car. The dash clock read 9:15 a.m. I drove down the driveway to the frontage road to the local county library. When I turned off the engine it was 9:29 a.m. I stopped briefly in the parking lot. A man was handling book carts in the back of a large, library  utility truck. “Strapping them together so they don’t rattle around back here.”

Knowing that he might handle such deliveries, I chatted with the bookish man about interlibrary loans as he strapped three carts on the right hand side of the compartment, and bound another two on the left side. He had obviously done this before. He worked systematically until all the wheeled carts were securely tightly in place.

As I walked between the automatic doors I glanced at my cell phone. 9:31.

In the dream I was seated with two people at a long table, the kind they have at church pot lucks after the service. I was sitting across from someone I haven’t seen in decades. Patty.  I told her I was going to speak with someone at the Bible college.

She looked at me skeptically. “Going to cause trouble?”

I responded dryly. “Me? You know I would never do that.”

In the dream I was suddenly escorted into a wood-paneled office decorated with a potted plastic plant, by a man several years shy of middle-age. He gestured toward a chair.   

“Have you filled out your EFCU financial aid packet?” 

“No, I haven’t.”

He looked mildly impatient, and started talking about something.

I said to him, “I have a question.”

He accepted the interruption. “Yes?”

“Do you do any financial counseling with your students before you enroll them?  Do you tell them they will be in debt tor thirty, forty or seventy thousand dollars when they graduate?  Warn them about the chain around their neck for the rest of their lives, in debt up to their eyeballs?”

And I woke up. I considered the dream and the meaning of the dream. They think that if God leads you to Bible college, he will provide a way.

There is a way, a tried and true way used by many. And that path leads straight to a bank.

At this moment, it is 10:20 a.m.

Dream. Verbatim. What I do not understand I leave unedited.

Posted in Abomination, Banks, Christendom, Christian Colleges, Church of the Nazarene, Deeper Life, Discipleship, Simpson University, Southern Baptist | 2 Comments

Got It

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God Bless You and Your Ministry, Pastor Berman

Pastor Berman, I want to thank you for your comment on the “Who is Ronald Goetz?” page. I took the initiative to check out your Christian Life Fellowship website. Your congregation has an vibrant ministry to multiple age groups, a ministry that I’m sure is appropriate for Swanzey, New Hampshire. Congratulations and glory to God. I am certain you have witnessed many personal miracles.  I’d like to introduce my readers to your vital ministry.

Man-Up Men’s Ministry

The priorities of your men’s ministry are excellent, just what we need in our success-driven, hierarchy-obsessed, bullying culture. The goals of your organ-ization speak for themselves.

The Man-Up Men’s Ministry is dedicated to teaching men how to be strong Men of God, good husbands and fathers. It is also dedicated to influencing, guiding and mentoring young men in the ways of God.  The Man-Up Men’s Ministry is solidly based on the teaching of Jesus Christ.

The activities you sponsor sound great for aspiring men of God, young men needing direction and structure for their lives, and wholesome opportunities to socialize: especially your edgy skeet shoots and your March Meat Madness (grills and meat). The various other events, focused on “cars, guns, camping, fishing, hunting and more eating”, sound fun as well.

Children’s Faith Factory

Your Faith Factory sounds great, possibly in keeping with Jesus’ example of how to recruit, train, and motivate large numbers of disciples, all of whom will one day conform to strict measures of virtue, the righteousness of self-control, and a sober world view.

Virtue Women’s Group

The girl’s nights, shopping trips, and parties you organize for young women, moms, grandmas, and teens sound like a real draw, and your goals of growing closer to God, women understanding their callings, strengthening marriages and families, and increasing women’s knowledge of the Bible are totally appealing in our rootless culture, as inundated as it is with cultures and values that undermine our God-given stability and order.

Illuminate Drama Team

Your drama team sounds like dynamite. Involving people in special celebrations like Christmas and Easter is an excellent way of making sure people stay involved. In my youth I used to pooh-pooh church musicals as unspiritual. My mind was changed when one young professional man said, “This musical has been the most important church experience in my life.” You know the saying, “Use ’em or lose ’em!”

Women’s Jail

I really like that you have a ministry in the jails. Many churches prefer to reach out to nice, middle-class folks, who share their same bourgeois values, who can help keep the lights on. The fact that you’re in the trenches with unwed mothers, women suffering from opiate addiction, sex workers, and women who have been abused and crushed by worldly systems–what can I say? Bravo!

Bravo.

Kingdom Disciples Motorcycle Ministry

Your motorcycle ministry sounds radical! You seems to have found an interesting balance between being inclusive (allowing both men and women to participate), and drawing expected boundaries between insiders and outsiders. (“Non-Christians are welcome to ride with KD MM but cannot wear the colors as this is a Christian Ministry.”)

For people interested in an outreach to and ministry for bikers, you can read their guidelines here: BY LAWS.

Comment

I think that the hardest thing for many Christians is to give other Christians space to live out their Christians lives and ministry in our own communities according to their best lights. I am genuinely torn, though, when Godly virtues like love and justice seem, from my perspective, to be ignored and violated.

I know that I can get pretty steamed up about how some Christians treat various moral and ethical issues, and I know that they sometimes get just as steamed up about people like me. In the typical state of ideological conflict, I think one of the most appropriate passages for us is this one in Mark.

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.”

I know this is not a slam-dunk proof text that will shut down anyone who disagrees. Goodness, I know there are limits to tolerance. I hope I wouldn’t have “tolerated” the “German Christians” who surrendered Lutheran, Evangelical, and Catholic churches to Nazi domination. I hope I wouldn’t have supported segregated churches and anti-miscegenation laws in America. And I hope I would never have driven my gay or lesbian child out of my life, out of my congregation, or out of life itself, because of some rejection of their affectional inclinations.

But you know what? I was raised by white, middle-class activist(!) parents in the sixties, in East Oakland, right in the middle of free-speech Berkeley and flower-child San Francisco. Lived in Lockwood Gardens Housing Project at 65th and East 14th: family was on welfare, surrounded by drugs and out of wedlock playmates, To get to high school I used to transfer buses at 90th and East 14th, right across the street from Black Panther headquarters.

By temperament and upbringing, I was doomed to be a questioning, skeptical, left-wing intellectual. In all seriousness, my adolescent rebellion was to become a GARB Baptist. I took a long detour into fundamentalism, evangelicalism and neo-monarchism. I dwelt for many years in the land of A.B. Simpson (was even licensed in the C&MA for a while), graduated from Simpson College when it was still in San Francisco, before they fled the gunfire of the urban jungle.

If I’d been born ten years earlier, in 1945, in Biloxi, Mississippi, to some equally solid, equally white citizens, I have no idea what would have happened, or who I would be.

It is a cliché, that we are all so different from one another, and have such different backgrounds and upbringings. But for being such a commonplace, it is remarkable how little we take it to heart. Let me recommend a highly underrated Christian virtue: humility.

_____________________________________________________

So you won’t be left in the dark, here’s Pastor Berman’s comment.

That is absurd. if you are against a sin and the person says the sin is ok, you can’t allow that person to be a bible leader. Its not the struggle with the sin, its the acceptance of it. If you reject a person committing adultery from being a Pastor and he says its ok, to commit adultery, does that make you a hater of the person? Or does it make you a person who says you can’t continue to commit adultery, say its ok, and at the same time be a pastor? you know the answer! your logic is absurd and you are deceived.

Posted in Autobiography, Biker Ministries, Humility, Institutional Religion, Liberal Devotion, Pastoral Ministry, Prison Ministries | Leave a comment

Durban Muse

Image may contain: sky, ocean, twilight, cloud, outdoor, nature and water

photo by Nicky Lucas

 

My Facebook friend Nicky took this picture from the porch of her home in Durban, South Africa, and posted it. I think she posts one every day, but I don’t know for certain. I’m not on FB regularly.

 

There’s a beach, of course, several piers that extend into the water, and a worn cliff that juts out into the ocean. I was pretty sure it was the Indian Ocean, but I just searched maps to make sure.
Her pics of Durban bay have been a treat for me for years. Sometimes the sky is sunny and clear, other times overcast. Occasionally there is a freighter or a tanker in view, but not always. Some shots focus on the beachgoers. They make me feel a connection with a place that, previously, I only heard about in news stories about apartheid.
Nicky seems to always be in roughly the same spot, so the same piers and docks appear regularly. Dramatic storm clouds, calm sunshine, vision-obscuring rain. Some of the shots have the orange hue you can see in the photo above. She obviously used a filter of some sort, but I that’s all I know.
I live a short distance from the Pacific, and for the last three-and-a-half decades the “eternal” pounding of the surf has been one of those “fly speck in the galaxy” reminders for me. Before there was a Homo Sapien on the planet inclined to kill its Neanderthal cousin, the same water was rolling up on these same beaches. The water flowing past San Diego the last few months has been here before, around the time Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for heresy.
There’s a comfort in that eternal beach feeling. I prefer to walk on the beach early in the morning, or after dark. Fewer people, less visual discomfort. They say the gentle roar of the surf is like the gentle roar of the womb. Makes sense to me, but I don’t know if it will be proven empirically.
I’ve heard people say that the fact that God is in control of everything comforts them. That never resonated for me. But it just occurred to me that my experience with the eternal surf seems to be my equivalent, and to me it seems like a real equivalent.  I suspect that all those other feelings, of reassurance, relaxation, calm and peace–they are part of the experience, too.
Posted in Devotional | 2 Comments

“Rapture Ready” Lee, Thank You So Much!

A “thank you” to “Rapture Ready” Lee. He sent confirmation of a thesis of mine. I am chagrined that I didn’t discover this reference myself.

In the Bible, in addition to this word’s more typical meaning, the word grind also refers to sexual intercourse. (Brown, Driver, & Briggs)

A primitive root; to grind meal; hence to be a concubine
(that being their employment):—grind (-er).

I must disagree, in one regard, with the Brown, Driver, and Briggs acknowledgment of grind‘s sexual usage. The Biblical examples do not support the “concubine” spin, unless rape victims qualify as concubines.

  • Then let my wife grind unto another, And let others bow down upon her. (Job 31:10) *
  • They took the young men to grind, and the children fell under the wood. (Lamentations 5:13) **

Here is the full reference Lee provided.

#2912 טָחַן tachan {taw-khan’}

a primitive root; TWOT – 802; v
—Hebrew Word Study (Transliteration-Pronunciation Etymology & Grammar)

1) (Qal) to grind, crush
—Brown-Driver-Briggs (Old Testament Hebrew-English Lexicon)
A primitive root; to grind meal; hence to be a concubine (that being their employment):—grind (-er).
—Strong’s (Hebrew & Chaldee Dictionary of the Old Testament)
#2912.
טָחַן
tachan (377c); a prim. root; to grind:—
NASB – grind(3), grinder(1), grinding(3), ground(1).

Examples of the sexual use of grind in the Hebrew Bible include the following verses.

  • And the Philistines laid hold on him, and put out his eyes; and they brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison-house. (Judges 16:21)
  • Then let my wife grind unto another, And let others bow down upon her. (Job 31:10)
  • Take millstones, and grind flour, Remove thy veil, draw up the skirt, Uncover the leg, pass over the floods. (Isaiah 47:2) *
  • They took the young men to grind, and the children fell under the wood. (Lamentations 5:13)

FYI: Discussions of Wartime Rape of Males & Children

*  Parallel meanings is the hallmark of Hebrew Poetry. “Grind” in line one is parallel to the gang rape of line two (“let others bow down upon her”). Hebrew parallelism applies as well to the phrases in Isaiah 47:2.

** The venerable Catholic translation renders this verse more clearly, though less literally. “They abused the young men indecently: and the children fell under the wood.” (Douay-Rheims Bible) “Wood” is a ubiquitous phallic reference, e.g., “morning wood.” Yes, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes it’s not.

 

Posted in Grinding, Lesbian Grinding, Poetry, Two Women Grinding Together, Two Women Grinding Together | Leave a comment

Hating Sin: A Motive for Ministry?

god-so-hated-sin
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Meet My New Online Friend!

I logged on today to find several interesting comments from Lee, a chap in the U.K. Here’s the dialogue.

Lee:ABSOLUTELY FALSE TEACHING ! HOMOSEXUALS WILL TRY ANYTHING TO MANIPULATE THE WORD OF GOD.”

Ron:  “Lee, you made an interesting assumption here.”

Lee:  “Romans 1:27
‘And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.’”

Ron:  “Here’s another one, Lee.

I Corinthians 14:34
‘Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.’”

Lee:  “1 Corinthians 6 9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals,[a] nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”

Ron:  “Very good, Lee. Have you heard the one about the monogamous married couple?

Leviticus 20:18
‘If a man lies with a woman during her menstrual period and uncovers her nakedness, he has made naked her fountain, and she has uncovered the fountain of her blood. Both of them shall be cut off from among their people.’”

__________________________________

Lee’s cut-and-paste passages were relatively short, for which I’m grateful.

In the future, when I get really lengthy chunks, do you think I should remind the poster of Fair Use Laws, or would it be adequate to inform them I own over a dozen Bibles, have access to scores of translations online, and have read already their proof text in numerous versions?

Posted in Clobber Passages | Leave a comment

One Episcopal Priest

When my son was a pre-teen, he became an acolyte in our church (Episcopal). He loved serving at the altar, was active in the youth group, attended an Episcopal high school. He loved (and still loves) the beauty of the liturgy, and was so attentive to detail that he was the one people asked for to serve at weddings, baptisms, funerals, and was always crucifer or thurifer on Christmas, Easter, and other high mass occasions. He was a favorite of the Bishop, who always requested that he serve for confirmations. The compliments he received were numberless and frequent. Tall, handsome, reverent, detail-oriented, he was the epitome of the parish acolyte.

In a tearful, gut-wrenching episode, he came out to me in his late teens and changed forever my understanding of what it means to be a gay youth. Through him, God was able to change my heart and open my mind to the reality of gay teens – the pain, the fear, the incredible efforts to conceal his true self.

About this time, our long-time parish priest retired and the conservative element in the parish brought in a man who began to preach what had never been said from our pulpit: That homosexuality was an abomination. That gays (and Jews and others this priest considered unworthy) were going to hell. That the only way to avoid it was to renounce, repent, change his very nature. Within a year, we had heard this venom so often that our family changed parishes, and my son left the church he loved, returning only sporadically in the intervening 24 years.

He still loves God, he will attend church with me when we’re together (he lives all the way across the country), he knows that there are Episcopal churches out there that are welcoming and where he would find a home, but the betrayal was so profound that it has left him quite afraid to commit to a place. He knows how quickly acceptance can change to rejection. He knows that the very people who asked for him at the important events of their lives wouldn’t accept him into their lives on a personal level.

I believe there is at least one Episcopal priest who will have a lot to answer for when he accounts for his life and ministry.

Posted in Testimony | 16 Comments

The Holy Spirit? A Sly and Cheeky One She is!

C. Baxter Kruger’s newest book, Patmos, is currently being widely reviewed. Its ostensible theme is radical mysticism, the union of humanity with God, contained in the oft-repeated slogan, “Separation or Union.” For many people the notion of humanity’s union with God, or even the slightly less radical notion of the union of Christ with his own body, is relatively unfamiliar.

On the one hand, Patmos seems intended for college-educated, theologically aware readers who are relatively open to “new” theological ideas. On the other, its protagonist, a Mississippi theologian named Aidan Macallan, is portrayed as a man who never met a clichè he didn’t like, who habitually amps his emotions through a Marshall stack cranked up to 10 at a Who concert.

Patmos Genre: Satire

It occurred to me, roughly half way through the book, that the appropriate genre label for Patmos is satire, and that the character of Aidan is the satiric representation of both Christians in general and more educated Christians. I have to emphasize the book’s genre as satire in order to justify, and I mean this literally, to justify Aidan’s excruciating portrayal.

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that C. Baxter Kruger deliberately intends to arouse distrust and disgust.  Distrust, that his book not be accepted as a font of wisdom, that his audience not continue to worship the sanctity of a printed page, possibly not any printed page. It is possible that this says more about me than about the author, but at several points Kruger points to a hermeneutic of suspicion. First distrust, then disgust at Aidan’s insipid shallowness.

Patmos Cultivates the Hermeneutic of Suspicion

For example, Kruger attempts to lull his more traditionalist readers into relaxation, and lower their guard to his most subversive theme(s). Before the exploration of the reality and depth of apotheosis and deification, there is a preemptive affirmation of commonly held beliefs. In addition to many familiar and comfortable bromides, there are numerous affirmations of conservative beliefs in Patmos. Kruger’s St. John affirms 1) the inspiration of Scripture (38), 2) the existence of something called orthodoxy (38-39), 3) the existence of heresy (39), 4) that the writer of The Gospel of John was an eyewitness to he events contained therein, 5) the early dating of the entire Johannine corpus (the Gospel of John, the Revelation of John, and the Johannine epistles) (44), 6) the evils of assimilation (read: syncretism) (passim), 7) the Trinity (passim), 8) defends and models didactic ministry, and 9) the rejection of the “pious forgery” understanding of Deuteronomy (125).

Monestized Hierarchicalism Acceptance

Related to practice in discernment (read: distrust), or logo-skepticism, are “The Patmos Shuffle” (ch. 5), “Secrets” (ch. 21), and “Apostolic Fishing” (ch. 22). I think, however, that while the label logo-skepticism is a relevant label, that a better way to label this theme is Monetized Hierarchicalism Acceptance (MHA).

The Bible is multivocal when it come to hierarchy. David and Solomon were both kings blessed by God, but God told Samuel not to worry about Saul’s selection as king, that the people were not rejecting prophet, but rather God. Paul said that teachers are among God’s gifts to the church, but John disagreed.

But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true–it is not a lie. So just as he has taught you, remain in [koinonia] with Christ. (I John 2:27)

There are similar conversations about money and employee remuneration.

Kruger comes down firmly, though indirectly (read: slyly, with a lot of cheek), in favor of hierarchy and financial support. Thus we have MHA: Monetized Hierarchicalism Acceptance.

In the middle of the “Secrets” chapter there is an episode that is initially puzzling, occurring after mentions of “The “Patmos Shuffle” and Ophis’s Crop-Dusting. “Ophis,” from the word for serpent used in The Book of the Revelation, is the Patmos’s label for Satan. After the mentions of the shuffle and crop dusting, both Kruger’s St. John and Aidan burst out in a fit of uncontrollable laughter.

“Shame is Ophis’s crop dusting! The Patmos Shuffle!” “I burst out in a sudden fit of laughter, and my whole body shook. I fell backwards hitting the sand, and then I started pedaling my legs like a cartoon leprachaun….  We found ourselves caught up in a spasm of hilarious cackling,… overwhelmed with such laughter, then rolling around the beach like we had gone mad” (161-2).

This laughter episode seems to go on and on and on. They obviously find something hysterically funny, but not something immediately evident, at least not to me. At this point I got “that detective look” on my face, one of this St. John’s signature looks.
The “shuffle,” as in “The Patmos Shuffle,” refers to a con job, to the magic of misdirection, of getting the audience to look up and to the right when the real action is down and to the left.

Dictionary Time: Con Job

A con job is an act or instance of duplicity or swindling, an act or instance of lying or talking glibly to convince others or get one’s way. The glib explanation for these spasms of hysterical laughter is that the Holy Spirit has a sense of humor. But preachers have been saying that “God has a sense of humor” for a very long time; so I have to say, “Nothing to see here. Move along.” What is notable, however, must be what it is that these two men find so absurdly funny.

Clue number one to this hysterical joke is “The Patmos Shuffle” (ch. 5). Clue number two is “Apostolic Fishing” (ch. 22). With the obvious reference to the Great Commission, some details of apostolic fishing seem quite evident. The laughter’s subversive nature becomes more evident when the phrase fishing for “trapped fish” is paired with the Roman pursuit of the Initiate and the Master up the ravines of Patmos.

All in all, apostolic fishing is a predatory activity based on observation and experience, which are then used to develop a technique that can be taught to others. “Good Lord! Trapped fish!” (168)

Much or all of Patmos is intended for pastors and Christian creatives  — more or less intellectual Christian leaders, and this focus can be seen clearly in what I call the No-Secrets Sandwich. The bread consists of two chapters: “The Patmos Shuffle” and “Apostolic Fishing.” The ingredients of the sandwich are in “Secrets” (ch. 21). Without commentary, let me run through the familiar ingredients inside the sandwich.

  • “There are no secrets in the kingdom of light.” (163)
  • “When we met Jesus on the first day, at the first moment, we knew that he could see right through us. Believe me, that rattled us.” (163)
  • “The burden of our sin depends on secrecy, darkness, hiding, pretending…. Confessing our fears to Jesus’s ‘I am” within us more clearly.” (164)
  • “Our secrets — the very things that we hate and loathe and pretend are not so — they become the way of victory?” (164)

Following the sandwich metaphor, the “secret” ingredient between the bread in this sandwich isn’t too flavorful.  As important as it is to prevent the damage of harboring guilty secrets, the idea itself — that we’re only as sick as our secrets — is no secret. No, the flavor of this sandwich not what’s between the slices, it is in the bread, and this bread seems intended mainly for an audience of Christian pastors and writers. The bullet-point secrecy outline is sandwiched between two slices of rye bread. Slice one is a reprise of “The Patmos Shuffle” chapter and slice two is “Apostolic Fishing.”
Again, the Patmos Shuffle refers to a con job, to misdirection, getting the audience to look up when the real action is down low. In the main discussion in “The Patmos Shuffle”, Aidan more or less suggests that John take his presentation out for a tour on the road.

The Dirtiest Motivation for Ministry: Money 

Kruger discusses the “TV preachers . . . who are always wanting money.” Televangelists are notorious for asking for money, for making outlandish statements and promises–some being utterly bizarre (e.g., God’s 1987 threat to kill Oral Roberts), in the pursuit of that money. Pastors, technically speaking, have a similar job: evangelism. Since most pastors operate within the institutional confines of Christendom, they share a similar need for money. One major difference is that, compared to the local pastor, the televangelist is in possession of finely honed money-raising techniques, whereas traditional pastors — not so much.

Another major difference is that, compared to the televangelist, the pastor may not like to ask for money, or even refuse to preach, for example, on tithing. Their callings didn’t involve on broadcast studios, cash, and cars. Some pastors struggle with the ethics of finances, the issue of knowing, or refusing to know, who their “big givers” are, which is directly related to showing favoritism.
Many pastors remain conflicted, however, having joined themselves to organizations that require massive amounts of institutional maintenance (“churches”), a requirement not emphasized in the recruitment process. They thought they were signing up to be evangelists, healers, and teachers, not business administrators, sales managers, and promoters. Thus, some pastors hide in secrecy, hide that inevitable need for cash, denying or at least minimizing the need for cash as a motivation in their preaching.

Of course, this is why we write and preach”

Note: one phrase Kruger uses as a sure-fire red flag that something cheeky is going on are the words “of course.” It seems to me to be as reliable as the word wink, and I’ve never seen so much winking as in Patmos. In the middle of giving a respectable explanation of why preacher’s preach, Kruger’s St. John says, “Of course, this is why we write and preach. As we proclaim the truth of all truths, Jesus, the living Word, the great ‘I Am’ reveals himself in us , shares his eyes with us” (147). Apparently without fail, the words “of course” introduce one of those unquestioned, unexamined sound bite rationales for why we Christians do what we do. Significance to the present discussion: In reality, “We preach to keep the doors open, to finance our hobby, and to put food on the table until we are old enough to retire.”

Kruger’s solution: take the need for cash out of the shadows and into the light, and have an uproarious laugh about it with your closest confidant, with your mentor. That is his apparent solution. And yes, you do hear a note of disapproval in that. It’s something that remains of an old tribal ethos I picked up, of maintaining a clear conscience, and not shipwrecking your faith.

According to Kruger (if we can believe that his St. John represents some aspect of his own voice), there is no place for crippling idealism or defeating purity. Our clerical and pragmatic embrace of Christendom requires MHA.

Cheek: a New Attribute of God

As I’m sure he would admit without shame, C. Baxter Kruger is a cheeky fellow, and his book Patmos is characterized by everything the word cheek implies: Impudent, irreverent, sometimes disrespectful, sometimes rude, and always quite cunning.  Throughout the dialogue on Patmos, Kruger repeatedly describes Aidan and his own St. John as cheeky. And he doesn’t merely call them cheeky. The content of all the discussions, the content and substance of virtually every line of conversation is saturated with sly disrespect and ironic wit. People with a lot of cheek continually say and do things that must be hidden. They are shady, annoying people who play tricks on people. They are mischievous, and feel no shame in what is shameful or low class. People with cheek are brash, impertinent, even saucy, and can even rise to the status of cunning genius. (See “Cheeky”, Urban Dictionary website)

When not using the words cheek or cheeky, the narrator in Patmos (Aidan) a few times expresses Kruger’s St. John’s cheek with the words sly or slyly. Once or twice he describes some look on his face as the one he gets when he knows something no one else knows.  Kruger’s St. John is most often described with the word confident, which is certainly Biblical enough. The word translated boldness in the Greek Scriptures is parhessia, which means “boldness bordering on arrogance.”  On one occasion the narrator actually describes Kruger’s St. John using the word smug.

Now you think might think that I am making more of this cheeky cheek than is warranted, but I am not. Kruger elevates cheek to the level of an attribute of God.

“The Holy Spirit is cheeky too,” he said seriously, but nodding. “That may strike you as strange, but look for it and you will do well.” (90)

According to Patmos, God’s union with humanity includes everything about us, including the things about which we often feel shame, shame being one of the book’s major targets.
Following the secrecy-bullet-point-outline comes the chapter “Apostolic Fishing”, Kruger’s St. John begins to speak, and Aidan narrates, “He sounded like a Cajun starting a Boudreaux and Thibideaux tale”, thus reminding us of that piece of our disapproved common humanity that enjoys a dirty joke (167). I would remind the reader that in Galilee, Jesus put on his sandals one foot at a time and squat when he shat.

What I am about to write seems accurate to me. If people feel inclined to “finesse” it, or express it in a more “nuanced” or “subtle” fashion, so be it. But to me, here is the most significant theme In Patmos. A key element in Kruger’s understanding of Union is his unashamed union and experience of everything that causes us shame and guilt.

God is in perfect union with us in all our sly cheekiness, in all of the church’s financial exploitation of trapped fish, in all our frustrated and unfrustrated desire, in all the amusement and relief we derive from dirty jokes, in all of our deception and calculating technique.

Now if you’re like me, following a statement like the one above, the following Johannine statement comes to mind: 

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light, in him here is no darkness at all.” (I John 1:5) 

There are several ways to go with this unfortunately categorical assertion. The most common way to respond is to take it as an encouragement, warning, or even a demand, to stop sinning, to stop bringing dark thoughts and shameful behaviors into our lives. If we are in union with God, such things have no place. I have long felt that this verse, and this interpretation, were dangerous and counterproductive, energizing scrupulosity and irrational guilt. 

Another way to deal with the black-and-white absolutism of I John 1:5 is to rely on God’s grace and forgiveness, to know that when Jesus looks at us he looks through tinted lenses called “positional righteousness.” As explanations go, the idea of God’s willful ignorance, of choosing to not see what is clear to any intelligent person, makes God an odd character. There is a certain acceptable, psychological logic to this theological construct, but it often doesn’t seem to justify the shame-inducing effects of I John 1:5 on the poor, hapless church members.

The way Kruger puts forward seems to be this. Whereas we are in union with God through Christ, and whereas there is no darkness in God, therefore we are mistaken when we think that the “sin” in us is actually sin. If it is true that “in him there is no darkness at all,” and we are indeed “in Christ,” then we are mistaken when we think that all our impudence, irreverence, disrespectful rudeness, and cunning are dark and shameful.  All our sly disrespect and ironic wit, everything we must hide due to social sanctions; all of our shady, mischievous deceptions, which would terribly annoy people if they only knew; all the low class, shameful things we do in secret; our brash, impertinent, saucy, and shameless behaviors — if God has declared through the logic of the Bible that these things are not darkness, even though their secret practice may rise to the level of cunning genius.

This problem is not only present in I John 5:1. Paul says some behaviors exist, “things that are shameful to even speak of.” (Sorry Baxter, Augustine did not introduce separation and shame into the Western tradition, but you already knew that! Yes, ya’ gotta choose your battles.)

If we live life in continual defeat, in continual guilt and shame, then this understanding of I John 1:5, this spin, if you will, must necessarily be at least examined, experimented with, tried out. The idea: what is socially proscribed is not in reality darkness.  I myself am certain that, for many people, this third understanding of I John 1:5 is not constructive, that Kruger’s cheeky spin on radical union would be destructive, and necessitate extreme social sanctions to control their behavior. Some people would need to be cut off from their people, so to speak. But for others, for people sufficiently tamed, it may be a key to spiritual and emotional freedom.

Okay physician, say your patient has hemophilia. Are you writing a prescription for a blood thinner? And for the patient with blood clots — are you going to prescribe a thickening treatment like vitamin K? Different medications for different patients. “There is a time for every purpose under heaven.”

A brief note: I have felt for many years that the Twelve Step Tradition was more faithful to the priorities of Christian koinonia than any so-called church of which I am aware. The radical honesty about one’s own condition, the Tradition’s stripped-down, pragmatic statement of faith, and the total renunciation of Monetized Hierarchy are uniquely conducive to liminality, koinonia,and spiritual growth. And the doctrine that “addiction is a disease” removes the key element of the most destructive cycles of our common humanity. (Enter the search terms “lying amygdala” for an illustration.).

One with the “Circle of Life” Food Chain

All interdependent groups of organisms require food for survival, and except for organisms that subsist on minerals, crystals, or elements on the periodic table, we eat one another. We dine after a fashion that is sometimes parasitic, other times symbiotic, and — at some moment in the food chain — predatory. 

Aidan and The Apostle spot food in the water. “Good Lord! Trapped fish!” (168)  The Ancient Apostle shares with Aidan his fishing secrets, secrets based on careful observation of both the abundant food source and its environment, from which he has developed a definite and detailed technique.
There are two main events in the “Apostolic Fishing” chapter. After catching the fish trapped in the pools, John and Aidan spot that feared enemy we hear about earlier in the book. the Roman soldiers. “The Roman soldiers bore down on us like a swarm of praying mantises ready for he kill.” (169) The image of the Romans works on at least two levels, to 1) parallel the pursuit of the fish by John and Aidan, and to 2) echo the judgment and separation that Rome brought into the church. Also, “a swarm of praying mantises” easily describes the feeling of some people when descended upon by pious people seeking to convert them. 

The fish struggled to escape the pair just as Aidan and his mentor struggle to escape the Romans. Their flight from the Romans is strictly symbolic, playing no role in the non-existent drama. Also, note that mantises are solitary hunters. They don’t swarm, and thus more resemble solitary preachers than clouds of gnats. The Roman soldiers are never a real threat, there is no drama, they are symbolic.

One can go quite a ways with Kruger’s analogy. Through his spokesperson, he faults the “Romans” for introducing judgment and separation into Christianity. In the “action” on Patmos, they symbolize some “natural” predator/prey dynamic. I will not discuss Constantine’s role in convening the Council of Nicea, but will simply mention Kruger’s total neglect of Constantine’s role in his history lesson to Aidan.  Ya’ gotta choose your battles.

You can justify to yourself being “fishers of men”, making a living from a reliable protein source, as well as derive solace in your pursuit of the prey by understanding that not only is such fishing commanded by Jesus (Christian Ideology: religious and expansionist), but it is part of some “natural order of things” (Roman Ideology: naturalistic and geopolitical). Note: Soylent Green, New Seoul’s recycling program , and male guppies could be invited in to play around here somewhere, but not just now.

Cliché Master Aidan

What made Patmos such an unpleasant read were Aidan’s non-stop flow of clichés and his melodramatic emotionalism.  Aidan can hardly speak one sentence without uttering a cliché. For example:

  • “An idea popped into my head.” (192)
  • “I am as blind as a bat.” (174)
  • “A night sky that took my breath away.” (174)
  • “My entire life flashed through my mind.” (179)
  • “Till the cows come home.” (175)
  • “…nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.” (78)

You might think I’m just stylistically picky. The problem is that, for at least 3/4 of the book, Aidan seems to utter between three and five clichés per page. Someone reviewed one of Kruger’s previous books and appreciated his downhome, folksy style.  I’m assuming such clichés were what the reviewer was referencing.

If I had known at the outset that Patmos was a satire, it is possible I wouldn’t have twice been tempted to stop reading. I would have realized that Aidan’s love for clichés and his over the top emotionalism weren’t the result of bad writing, but a deliberate attempt to help the reader feel Aidan’s uttter shallowness. And that is a positive accomplishment, instead of telling the reader that Aidan is shallow, show it, show it to the point that the reader feels it, feel Aidan’s shallowness and experiences reverse peristalsis.

At one point Aidan offers this description of St. John: “The apostle looked at me like he had just taken his first bite of Spam” (149).  For me it was worse than Spam. It was as if I had just faithfully finished Dr. Darden’s 3-Day Anchovie Diet. (See also Robert Darden, Heftige Übelkeit, 2d ed., Fromme Scheiße Verlag GmbH & Co., Würgender-Gestank, Germany, 2012.)

One of the most irritating features of Patmos were Aidan’s innumerable emotional affectations. Aidan trembles so often that I was tempted to wonder if he had a neurological condition. On a few occasions Kruger mixes it up with a more intense shudder, and even more intense is when he begins rocking. But the absolute topper are the two or three occasions when Aidan clutches his chest. Aidan’s trembling is not sprinkled in four or five places throughout the book, but more like five or six places in each chapter.

This seems to me to be due to Kruger’s all-too-successful technique in enabling the reader to actually feel the revulsion experienced by the Spirit and the Bride when confronted by religious cliché.
The fiction of this narrative spans a mere three days. More frequent than these “physical manifestations of the Spirit” are Aidan’s ceaseless narrations of how he feels or how he says something.  He is continually filled with awe, wonder, and amazement. He is several times unable to take it all in, and less frequently feels like he will burst. Condensing an intense, three-day experience into 227 pages is a quite a feat. This leads me to make a personal observation.

(Long Pause) 

I am an intense, serious kind of person. My habit, developed from my youth in a G.A.R.B. church and from my training in evangelical hermeneutics, is to do close readings of the text. And when you do close reads, not forcing Scripture into a predetermined system but allowing, for example, its gnostic-influenced lines to stand in their ethereal light, and those narrative inconsistencies that uncover attempts to obscure politic intrigue, you will never again be content to be spoon fed pablum paraded about as meat.

I have had a number of life-altaring experiences. And the really significant ones do last at least three days.  And a moment-by-moment account would be intense.  I have experienced Aidan’s rocking, and have clutched my chest, and felt overwhelmed. And the revelation of the Bride’s transcendent union with the Son (becoming one flesh with him), the realization that I and all of my companions had been incorporated into the Godhead, was one of the very experience that prompted my own shuddering, chest-clutching, and dread. It lasted well over three days, and I deal with the fall-out to this day.
While studying at Simpson College, Jeremiah 15:19 impacted me deeply.

“If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokesman. Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them.”

Like Aidan, “I blurted out” worthless words, with no filter between my brain and my tongue. I learned to practiced silence.  I still remember the first moment — ever — that a thought entered my mind, that I reflected on it, and made the choice not to utter it. While most people learn in childhood not to blurt out everything that enters their head, I didn’t experience that until I was a ways into adulthood.
Like Aidan, I lived with suicidal ideations for many years. Undiagnosed bipolar disorder, hardwired and genetic, had me in suicidal depressed for months at a time. It’s been so long since I wanted to die, decades. Thank God for the Providential care of a loving wife who read the mental health articles in Good Housekeeping. (Hon, I miss you so much.)

And, as I think C. Baxter Kruger would encourage, I have learned to accept my “shadow.” Better to manage impulses that ensure the survival of the species than to wallow, defeated, in crippling guilt. Paul and Luther would agree with that, I know. When I first read Civilization and its Discontents I furiously despised the work. Years later, when I re-read my photocopy, including curses and imprecations I had scribbled in the margins, I realized that I had absorbed Freud’s dangerous truth completely.

So, these are highlights from my marginal notes, cross-referencing, abbreviated concordance, and a sample of reader-response criticism, and confessional response. If you decide to buy a copy of Patmos: Three Days, Two Men, One Extraordinary Conversation, you’ll have an idea of what to expect.

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Patmos: Three Days, Two Men, One Extraordinary Conversation, by C. Baxter Kruger. Published by Perichoresis Press, Jackson, MS, 2016.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Posted in Apotheosis, Book Reviews, Bride of Christ, Father Son Spirit Bride, Mysticism, Perfect Union, Satire | Leave a comment

Loyalty: Spider’s Web, Titanic, or Original Design?

It took the Mormons and the Southern Baptists over a century to forsake much (but certainly not all) of their institutional racism. In rigid, authoritarian institutions, it takes multiple generations to sever the strands of the web. Many are bound by strong threads to be the spider’s next meal.  Our spiders will have fewer and fewer meals as the decades pass.

Some of you are primarily motivated by Loyalty, and you must be faithful to your most basic motivation. Captain Edward Smith went down with the Titanic. Many of his uniformed subordinates, and passengers, however, did not.

Survivor reports made later White Star ships better able to fulfill their intended mission, to do that for which they were originally designed.  It is possible to redirect our Loyalty impulse, and those of the people around us, toward other important objects.

Leading by example counts.

Posted in Devotional | 4 Comments