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.

________________________________________________

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

Persecuted Homophobic Christians? God Warned You to Behave.

It looks like anti-gay Christian leaders are using identical talking points as they instantly responded to the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision legalizing same-sex marriage throughout all fifty states.  The warning being parroted across the land is, “Prepare for the coming persecution!”

Persecution

Chief Justice Roy Moore, Alabama Supreme Court

The chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Roy Moore, said, “Welcome to the new world. It’s just changed for you Christians. You are going to be persecuted according to the U.S Supreme Court dissents,”

The U.S. Supreme Court just made it easier for Christians to be persecuted, the chief justice of Alabama’s Supreme Court said Sunday.

Franklin Graham: Persecution is Coming!

Franklin Graham, heir to Billy Graham’s evangelical machine, has warned that the warned that the legalization of gay marriage in the U.S. will result in the persecution of Christians.

Immediately after the announcement of the Court’s decision, Graham said, “You better be ready and you better be prepared because it’s coming,”

“There will be persecution of Christians for our stand.”

“I’m disappointed because the government is recognizing sin,” he said. “This court is endorsing sin. That’s what homosexuality is – a sin against god.”

Rick Santorum: Supreme Court Decision could lead to Persecution of Christians!

“Those who want to live their life consistent with biblical teachings are not being given space to do that.

“They’re saying marriage has nothing to do with children, it’s all about adults. It’s all about what’s best for adults. It’s not about creating an environment where children can have stable homes and be raised and the next generation be taken care of.”

Paul’s Warning not to Meddle in the Lives of Non-Christians

The Bible warns the church not to meddle in the personal lives of people outside the church. The Apostle Paul tells us it is none of our business, judging those outside the church. Here is I Corinthians 5:12 in several translations:

∙ “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” (NIV)

∙ “For what have I to do with judging outsiders?” (NASB)

∙ “It is not for me to judge those outside the church.” (NLV) (Note)

Don’t Suffer because You’ve been Meddling in Other People’s Lives

If anti-gay fundamentalists suffer persecution, it is because they have set themselves up as targets. If homophobic Christians suffer persecution, it is because they have interfered in other people’s lives. If they feel they were called by God to pry into other people’s affairs, to meddle in other people’s matters, and to poke their noses into other people’s business, then they should have the courage to live with the results of their convictions.

If lawless government employees break the law, then they need to live with the results of their actions.  Frankly, I don’t see any serious persecution in the future. But they can provoke persecution if they really want to. It is, as they say, a free country. But you do need to live with the results of your actions and quit your whining.

The Apostle Peter commands us to not suffer because we have interfered in other people’s lives. Check I Peter 4:15.

∙ “Let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evil-doer, or as a meddler in other men’s matters.” (ASV)

∙ “If you suffer, however, it must not be for murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs.” (NLT)

∙ “Suppose you suffer. Then it shouldn’t be because you . . . poke your nose into other people’s business.” (NIRV)

∙ “None of you should suffer as one who . . . tries to be the boss of other peoples’ lives.” (NLV)

The gospel of Christ suffers because some outspoken leaders in the church meddles in other men’s matters, pokes its nose into other people’s business, tries to be the boss of other people’s lives. It’s how we get a bad reputation.

The church, and individual Christians, will suffer because they disobey the word of God. This disobedience includes interfering in the lives of non-believers, trying to be the coercive boss of their lives, and interfering in the personal lives of people outside the church.

IF you suffer persecution, it’s your own fault. The apostles Peter and Paul both warned you.

I Corinthians 5:12

I Peter 4:15

(Note) I have cited several different translations so people can see the agreement among various translations.

Posted in Gay Marriage, Government Persecution Church, Homosexual Marriage, Marriage Equality, Meddling, Persecution of Christians, Same-Sex Marriage | 13 Comments

You Can’t Quote Genesis to Prove that God Rejects Homosexual Couples

Debunkers of the Clobber Passages have been very effective in exposing the exegetical fallacies of Christians who are anti-gay. So effective, in fact, that anti-homosexual campaigners had to search for more Bible ammunition to use against their opponents. Their most recent addition to their ineffective arsenal has been the creation of Adam and Eve, which they say is the pattern for human marriage.

Debunkers of the Clobber Passages has been very effective in exposing the exegetical fallacies of Christians who are anti-homosexual. So effective, in fact, that anti-homosexual campaigners had to expand their search for more Bible texts twist and distort. One of the most recent addition to their arsenal has been the creation of Adam and Eve, which they say is the pattern for human marriage.

So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
    for she was taken out of man.”

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”

(Genesis 2:21-24)

This argument from the second chapter of Genesis used to be accompanied by stale jokes about Adam and Steve and by plumbing discussions. If we are going to draw lessons from Genesis 2, it becomes a matter of deciding which is the intended lesson.

In all seriousness, my wife wasn’t formed from my rib, so I guess I’m not following the Biblical example? Is that the point?

I didn’t awake from a deep sleep, or a coma, or major surgery, and discover a mysterious woman with whom I was supposed to copulate without the benefit of marriage. Am I not following the Biblical example?

I didn’t awake from a deep sleep, or a coma, or major surgery, and discover a mysterious woman with whom I was supposed to copulate without the benefit of marriage. Am I not following the Biblical example?

Here is a well-known explanation for what the Adam and Eve story means:

Eve was not taken out of Adam’s head to dominate him, neither out of his feet to be trampled by him, but out of his side to be equal with him. Under his arm to be protected by him and near his heart to be loved by him.

Of course I could just as easily say that since woman is derived from man, that man is superior because he was created first. Then I can say no to all that egalitarian and equality stuff. One of Paul’s disciples took that approach:

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

It’s interesting how we can get contradictory meanings from the same passage of Scripture.

Genesis says that God realized that it was not good for the man to be alone, that he created a helpmate suitable for him (Genesis 2:11). This could prove that white men need white women and that black men need black women. Or it could prove that God created one unique, special woman for every man, and that it is the responsibility of every man to find that one, perfect woman created especially for him. Or it could mean that there are potential mates created for gays and lesbians, mates that are suitable for men who like men and women who like women.

The problem with drawing precise meanings out of a story which provides no precise meanings in itself? Many different meanings can be drawn out of such a story, or read into it, even contradictory meanings. For example, if I take the story of the temptation of Eve, then temptation is meeting a talking snake in a garden who then tries to get you to disobey a direct order from God. I’ve never met a talking snake, so maybe I’ve never been tempted. I did see a talking snake though, in a Harry Potter movie, and I hear Aesop has a good story about a Farmer and a Snake.

Consider the automobile. A Flemish Jesuit missionary named Ferdinand Verbiest is believed by many to have built the first automobile in 1672. It was steam powered, and built in China. Subsequent automobiles range evidence a wide range of designs whose fuels continue to change.

Consider the first time piece. Lost in the mists of history, and in use as early as 5000 and 3500 BCE, the gnomon (sundial) was a vertical post or pillar. The shadow indicated the time of day. Most modern sundials are landscape ornaments. Subsequent time pieces evidence a wide range of designs and materials using springs, batteries, and nuclear power.

And marriage? In the Bible, examples of marriage include unofficiated unions like that of Adam and Eve, the polygamy of Kings David and Solomon (authors of a considerable amount of Scripture and found among the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah), and the quasi-marriages of hundreds of concubines to men who could afford them.

The creation of Adam and Eve is an important story, but it does not prove that one-man-and-one-woman heterosexual unions are the only ones acceptable to God.

You can’t quote Genesis to prove that God rejects homosexual couples.

But these arguments and comparisons will not be persuasive for most evangelicals, and certainly not for fundamentalists.  Conservative religion appeals to people who are hard-wired to submit to authority, who respect hierarchy, the chain of command. Your voice or mine are to them the voice of the enemy. They have been innoculated against Scriptural logic and independent thinking. They are taught to distrust themselves and to trust their leaders, who are wiser and better educate than they are. Many don’t want to be bothered with thinking things through; they’d rather just be told what to believe. They’re in their churches for a sense of belonging, security, and safety, and will not put those at risk. And the price of this sense of security and belonging is intellectual freedom. But that freedom doesn’t matter to everyone. That is one of the species of diversity.

Posted in Gay Marriage | 6 Comments

Students Remember Mrs. Goetz

Diane Goetz, taken 6/25/2014, two days before the hemorrhage.

Diane Goetz, taken 6/25/2014, two days before the hemorrhage.

Venissa Ledesma Remembers Mrs. Goetz

Yesterday morning I woke up to devastating news. Someone who has been a big part of my life for the past three years had a brain hemorrhage and was pronounced brain dead and was later taken off life support.

Mrs. Goetz was never actually my teacher but she had a bigger impact on my life than any of my real teachers. She was my FNL adviser and Link Crew adviser. She was always there whenever I needed her…Words cannot describe how much she means to me. She genuinely cared about her students and was the sweetest lady I have ever met. I will forever cherish the memories that keep replaying in my head…

Like my freshman year when she drove me and three other high school students up to Camp Marston for YDI and would randomly start laughing for no apparent reason — and no explanation either. I didn’t really know her then but it’s one of my fondest moments with her. Or this past May at the Excellence in Prevention award ceremony when I got to sit down and have dinner with her and talk about plans for next year and about all the things she had done in her life. She was so full of life and happiness and so selfless in everything she did for me and others. Her classroom was always open for anyone who needed a place to go and she had this way of making people feel comfortable enough to talk to her whenever.

I remember when she gave me her phone number and told me to call her if I ever needed anything, she didn’t know it but I was having a rough day that day and she made it so much better with that simple act. It’s selfish to cry but I am completely heartbroken. Mrs. Goetz taught me so much about myself and believed in me and my ability to lead FNL and Link Crew even when I didn’t even believe in myself.

This has been very difficult to write and I wasn’t going to write anything because the grief was too much, but I didn’t think it was fair to Mrs. Goetz because not everyone had the honor and privilege of knowing her, but I don’t believe this conveys how truly amazing Mrs. Goetz is. I’m going to miss her so much. She has been with me every year of high school and senior year is going to be tough, but I hope to make her proud. You will always have a special place in my heart Mrs Goetz, may you rest in peace.

Venissa Ledesma
July 1

Alicia Guerra Remembers Mrs. Goetz

I just found out that my high school government & economics teacher Diane Goetz passed away from a cerebral hemorrhage. Mrs. Goetz and I both shared a genuine interest in politics; we even started a Political Science Club together so that students could discuss current events on campus. I admire her strong political convictions and civic knowledge (even though I’m not a Republican anymore :P). Economics was a hard subject for me, but she helped me get through it. There’s no way I would have passed my AP/IB exams without her. If I get accepted into a PhD program and become a college professor someday, I hope to be half as good a teacher as she was. I’m extremely upset that she’s gone. My condolences to her family.

Alicia Guerra
July 1

Gabe Otero Remembers Mrs. Goetz

Truth be told I had been avoiding writing a post like this for quite some time. I didn’t want to believe that Mrs. Goetz had passed. But with the fact that I’ll be out of town during Mrs. Goetz’s memorial service, I figured I should find another way to share the wonderful memories I’ve had with her.

I saw Mrs. Goetz just about every day since sophomore year in high school. She was the new Key Club advisor and I worked very closely with her as a treasurer with things like membership dues, depositing money, and working with the club. Mrs. Goetz was always there to help me with things that needed to get done, and she was incredibly supportive. If on the off chance we both didn’t quite know how to do something, we would work during lunch or after school figuring out how to do it ourselves.

In my junior and senior years of high school I became the president of the club and, even if I wasn’t going in her class for key club related things, I was in there just because I felt comfortable and welcomed in the environment that she created. I think it was because she was always there for us. Her classroom was a home to a lot of us that ate there, studied there, or went to meetings there. If she knew we were struggling in economics, she would go out of her way to help us study on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings. She would also be willing to sit with us during board of director meetings on Friday afternoons when most would be itching to get home. She was dedicated to her students and passionate about their success and activities.

These were also the years in which I really got to know Mrs. Goetz. I would enter and exit her class always met by laughter, a laughter so genuine and smile-inducing that it was special. Mrs. Goetz believed in me. I remember when someone joked about my position in Key Club. I didn’t think much of it, but Mrs. Goetz pulled me aside the next day and told me how great a leader I was and that she was proud of me. It was a kind of reassurance I’d never gotten before and it meant a lot to me. I think she believed in all of her students like that, knowing that they’d get good scores on IB and AP tests.

Before we left for summer, the club had a banquet celebrating our year. We all felt that we needed to show Mrs. Goetz how much she meant to us, and so we presented her the “Advisor of the Century” award. I hope that’s still around somewhere for all to see. Lastly I’ll share this picture of the club and Kiwanis get together. Mrs. Goetz was always smiling like this. Me and I’m sure all of the Bonita Vista key clubbers will miss you greatly and thank you for all that you’ve done for us. Rest in peace.

Gabe Otero
Saturday, July 5, 2015

 Alicia Guerra Remembers more about Mrs. Goetz

Ever since Diane Goetz passed away a few days ago, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about her. It’s been 6 years since I was her student in AP US Government & Economics, but I remember her like it was yesterday.

Mrs. Goetz was one of the few teachers at BVHS that was genuinely passionate about the subjects she taught. She invested hours upon hours watching the news, reading the newspaper, and studying academic journals. She possessed an extensive amount of knowledge about politics and economics; she could’ve given the anchors on C-SPAN or the Nightly Business Report a run for their money. She was a voracious reader and learner, qualities which she inadvertently passed on to me.

Although she was notorious on campus for being a “staunch Republican”, liberal students still loved her. She did not fit into the liberal stereotype of conservatives — she was very compassionate and embraced diversity. Mrs. Goetz and I came from very different backgrounds; she was a white conservative Christian and I was a Mexican libertarian atheist. But that never mattered. I always felt safe, comfortable, and accepted around her, which was important for me because I didn’t have a great support system at home. I was one of the most economically disadvantaged students in her class, but since she treated us all equally, I never felt that way at all.

Economics wasn’t really my strong suit. I found it to be painfully difficult and boring, and on top of that, I had an attention disorder that I wasn’t being medicated for. I struggled with her class; I was not one of her top students by any stretch of the imagination. But Mrs. Goetz never gave up on me. She would stay after school tutoring me for several hours at a time so that I could keep up with the class. She’d often have to explain concepts to me more than once. But she never made me feel stupid about it.

She always chose to focus on my strengths instead of my weaknesses. She knew that I loved science and information technology, so she had me do research projects and make powerpoints for her government class.

By the end of the school year, I earned A’s in her classes and passed all of my AP/IB exams. If I would’ve had a different economics teacher, I probably would’ve failed the class, flunked out of high school, and be working at McDonald’s. But today, I’m close to finishing two STEM degrees at UCSD, and I can only imagine how proud of me she would’ve been.

Throughout my entire academic career, Mrs. Goetz is one of the most memorable teachers I’ve ever had and I’m very sad that she’s gone. May you rest in peace, Mrs. Goetz.

Alicia Guerra
July 4, 2014

Former Student Remembers Mrs. Goetz

Hi Ron,

My best friend in high school just passed along the blog post you wrote about your wife. My condolences.  I took her senior Econ Class at Bonita Vista High School around 2000.  That year was especially rough for me.  I was having suicidal thoughts, and my always straight A grades were plummeting.  Thankfully, due to the intervention of some of my teachers, I was referred to the school counselor, which ended up into getting into therapy, because I really had no one else to talk to.  While the road after high school was equally dark, I have since righted the ship and have a lot going on for me. I’ve held the same job for 8 years, I’m able to practice my art of writing, and I’m six years sober and incredibly active and of service in my recovery fellowship.

Econ was especially rough for me. The concepts behind it all was so confusing, but I really had a lot of fun in your wife’s classes with my friends.  When things were really rough for me and my grades were suffering, your wife was nice enough to tutor me a few times after class to help me out and get me back on track. Overall, the kindness and care that I experienced from a few of my high school teachers has saved my life, and has also laid out a blue print of being of service to the people in my life today, as they led by example.  I only wish I could have gotten the chance to go back to San Diego and thank your wife person for all of her help during that really difficult time for me and let her know I really did turn out okay. My thoughts and prayers go out to you and the family during this time.

(Name Withheld by Request)

Olivia Gonzalez Remembers Mrs. Goetz

Hi Mr. Goetz,

I am a former student of Mrs Goetz’s (graduated 2009) and wanted to send my sincerest condolences. I know myself and my 2009 classmates were heartbroken to hear she had passed and we all had fond memories with her. Do know that her students are very sorry and we send you and your family out best.

On my first day of Econ with Mrs. Goetz, she showed us a picture of a bunch of black spots on the overhead projector and said “how many of you see a cow here?” The picture had the outline of a cow taken out so that it was only black spots. I did not see the cow, but when she mentioned it, I looked a little harder and saw the outline that would’ve been there. But it took her telling me it was there for me to understand. “Some of you will naturally see the cow in economics, and others won’t, those of you in the second category should take a different approach and I will show you.” Since I was an Econ student who didn’t naturally see the cow metaphorically, Mrs. Goetz showed me. She was patient, effective, and kind to her students and made sure that nobody left the room with only seeing black spots on the projector.

We all looked forward to her class and were grateful to have the caliber of teacher that we did. Every day she came in and smiled at us, even if we misbehaved and didn’t deserve it. She look underdogs under her wing and helped the strong students grow. She was even-handed, caring, brilliant, and maternal. You could tell she loved economics and that she loved her students and wanted to inspire us. And she did. That is something we really thank her for. The role she played in the International Baccalaureate program was one of great value.

The classroom she occupied with such presence, grace, and strength will always feel a bit emptier without her there. As an alum, I will be sad when I visit Bonita to not be able to pop my head in and disrupt her 5th period with a spritely hello from a Bonita alum. But I will think of her and be grateful to have had such a wonderful teacher.

Olivia Gonzalez
7/10/14

Posted in Deeper Life, Humility, Servanthood, Testimony | 4 Comments

Obituary: Diane F. Goetz

Diane Falkner Goetz
1955–2014

Diane Goetz, taken 6/25/2014, two days before the hemorrhage.

Diane Goetz

Diane F. Goetz suffered a cerebral hemorrhage on Friday, June 27th, and was pronounced brain dead on Sunday the 29th in the Sharp Grossmont Hospital ICU.  Diane was a  Gift of Life Donor, with her liver going to a young man in the L.A. area, and her kidneys to two people in their 50’s and 60’s local to San Diego.

Birth and Early Childhood

Diane was born Diane Lynn Falkner in Orlando, Florida on June 23, 1955, and spent her early childhood in the beach town of Indialantic, Florida. She loved walking barefoot on the beach picking up sand dollars. She stored her treasure, as children do, in a cigar box.

Diane and her brother Joe used to collect soda bottles to redeem for a nickel a piece.  Once they picked up a bottle they found in a field. The bottle contained a brood of deadly coral snakes and their mother.  Joe said he quickly tossed the bottle away and shouted, “They’re coral snakes! They’re coral snakes!”

Diane was a bit of a tom boy, and loved little critters.  Tree frogs were ubiquitous in Florida. She described how they would crawl on the screen doors of their house at night. She occasionally crammed frogs into her pockets  to smuggle them into the house. Her mother, of course, found their remains while doing the laundry.

She described the town of Indialantic as being cut down the middle by railroad tracks. On one side was the white part of town, the other side was black.

Diane’s memories of elementary school were a total blank.  As a child she had a recurring nightmare about elementary school, where she would be locked in the school at night, chased down the hallways by shapes. The shapes were all the childhood colors of the primary grades: red, yellow, blue, green. She hated elementary school.

High School Years

Her feelings about school changed with the academic challenges of junior high and high school.  After attending Campus Crusade’s Explo ’72, she was inspired to share her faith. High school in Scottsdale was an eventful time for Diane.

Diane organized a well-attended “Meet Around the Flagpole” morning prayer meeting before school, with upwards of fifty students in attendance. When the principal told her the prayer meeting had to be moved to a less conspicuous location on campus, she went toe to toe with him. She walked into his office and told him it was their legal right to gather there before school.  The principal stood down.

She was especially empowered by Jesus Movement events like Explo ’72.  When she returned to San Diego after the event, she began carrying “Four Spiritual Laws” booklets wherever she went. She read through the booklet with students on campus and strangers at the beach, leading many people to place their faith in Christ.

College and Marriage

Diane attended Simpson College from 1972 to 1976, graduating with a B.A. in psychology and her teacher credential.  She and I met there, fell in love, and were engaged. Following her mother’s wise advice, Diane made sure that her education provided her with a means of supporting herself, and earned her teacher credential within her B.A.  Years later we also attended graduate school together.  She earned her M.A. in English from San Diego State University in 1992.

We were married on Saturday, August 28, 1976 at Pacific Beach Bible Church, with her dad, Rev. Joseph E. Falkner, performing the ceremony. We waited several years to begin having children. Our daughter Lissette was born February 1, 1979, Melanie was born April 30, 1981, and Jonathan was born March 22, 1985.

A Natural Teacher

Diane was a natural teacher. Her mother says that when she began teaching Sunday school, her opening questions appeared at first to be unrelated to the subject, but were inevitably excellent openings for the discussion.

Later, when she taught in junior and senior high, she often told me that when she entered her room she could instantly “take the temperature of the class.”  She knew the mood of the students immediately, a sensitivity I sincerely admired.

Diane taught at San Francisco Christian High School for four years (1976 to 1980). After moving to San Diego, she taught underprivileged students English and history at Southwest Junior High School near the U.S./Mexico border in San Ysidro. It seemed as though every year one of her students died from gang violence or adolescent stunts like dashing across the freeway. She grieved the loss of each of her kids.

Later she taught economics at Bonita Vista High School, having never taken a course in econ. Economics came under the social science umbrella. She was learning the topic just two or three weeks before she had to teach it. It was quite stressful. About half way through her first semester she said, “Ron, I don’t know if I want to teach economics for the rest of my career.” For many years her students have had the highest AP pass rate in the school district.

Survivors

Diane is survived by her three children, Lissette Ryan, Melanie Potter, and Jonathan Goetz, her three grandchildren, Thomas Potter, Jack Ryan, and Rosie Ryan, her parents, Rev. Joseph and Myrtle Falkner, her brother Joseph E. Falkner, Jr., and me, her husband.

Memorial Service

Date: Saturday, July 19, 2014

Time: 1:00 p.m.
Place: First United Methodist Church of El Cajon
772 So. Johnson Avenue
El Cajon, CA 92020

Light refreshments will be served after the service.
Time for sharing your memories will be available during both the memorial service and the refreshment time.

Diane was a woman of laughter and joy. Please come and share her joy and love with us.

Posted in Obituary | 33 Comments

Seeing in a Mirror the Glory of the Lord

Perfect Union: Father Son Spirit Bride

Perfect Union: Father Son Spirit Bride

The next passage I want us to consider is 2 Corinthians 3:18.  For all its profound depth, it is expressed quite simply, and boils down to one simple question.  When you look into a mirror, what do you see? You see yourself. Simple. But the Apostle Paul takes that simple fact one step further.

Seeing in a Mirror the Glory of God

Seeing in a Mirror the Glory of God

The New American Standard Bible, considered by many to be the most literal translation available, renders the verse like this.

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18, NASB)

The New Revised Standard Version renders verse 18 very similarly.

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

Thus, when we look into the spiritual mirror and see ourselves, we are seeing God’s glory. We are the glory of God.  This is a reality that must be contemplated, thought about, but words are inadequate to express its meaning.  I can talk around it a bit, as many students of the Bible have for centuries, but what it means for you can only be discerned by you.

People often say they don’t “feel” the presence of God in their lives. They wonder whether or not God exists. Often they use the word “doubt” in describing these feelings and questions.

Ultimately, the thesis of this book is that, according to Scripture, you are the presence of God on the planet. God is not some being distant from us, across an unbridgeable chasm.  We don’t pray to a God who lives up in heaven somewhere, up in the sky.  Even the idea that God dwells in us is only partially complete.

According to 2 Corinthians 3:8, as we behold, or “see” the glory of God reflected back at us in this spiritual mirror, we are being transformed to increasing degrees of glory.  You could say that the more you contemplate the spiritual reality of being the glory of God, the more that reality becomes a reality in your life and consciousness.

The veil referred to above is the veil that prevents us from perceiving spiritual reality, and refers to the story of Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai. His face shined with such a bright glow that the Hebrews were unable to look at his face.  Moses reportedly continued to wear the veil to prevent the Jews from perceiving the fact that the glow had faded.

While this background information is important in understanding that the veil hides the fact of the presence of God, we must not get bogged down in it. We need to abide in the spiritual truth that when we contemplate or behold as in a mirror the glory of God, it is we ourselves who are that glory, that radiance of God.

Posted in Apotheosis, Bride of Christ, Deeper Life, Father Son Spirit Bride, Meditation, Mysticism, Perfect Union, Perfect Unity, Sanctification | Leave a comment

Spoiler Alert: “Blood Doctrine” — An Unpromising First Novel

Blood Doctrine Just Doesn’t Deliver as a Novel

I really regret having to pan a writer’s first novel. I know how much hard work and hope goe into a first novel. While Christian Piatt’s Blood Doctrine has relatively plausible fictional premises, as a novel it just doesn’t deliver.

If you begin with The Da Vinci Code, add some Jurassic Park and strong dose of Jesus and the Essenes, you have the main elements of Blood Doctrine.  Yes, Jesus genes exist in our time frame, preserved in a 2,000 year old blood sample which blood is basically cloned. There is no bloodline, at least not yet.  That comes, perhaps, in a sequel hinted at in the last line.

I look for a few things in novel.  First, I like it when there is at least one character that I care about, one character who is likable. There is no character in Blood Doctrine who is likable.  No character in the story is developed enough to care about.

The opening scene was reminiscent of the birth scene in the movie Willow. While a screaming mother separated from her newborn conveys a lot of shock value, it is virtually the only thing that actually happens until the last 40 pages of the book. By page 50 I was angry that I had committed myself to writing this book review at all, and by page 100 I was furious.

There are two episodes of violence referred to in the first 140 pages, but they occur “off-stage”, out of range, to people we have never seen and with whom we have no emotional attachment. These killings are unreal, and do not generate the sense of danger and foreboding they were designed for.  Dramatically speaking, these two murders are simply cerebral ideas.  The killings do not move the action forward, at least not emotionally.

Allow me to list what I see as dramatic problems with Blood Doctrine.

  • There is not a single character I like or care about, not a single character with whom I identify. The best developed character is the “plucky reporter”, but there is no spark of individuality as she stands now.  She is just a one-dimensional stock character, imbued with a determination to follow in the footsteps of her father as a fearless reporter.
  • There is virtually no characterization in the novel, and absolutely no character development. Perhaps we are to wait for that in the sequel, but I don’t see a hint of an ability to develop characters.
  • The fact that Jacob grew up in an orphanage, being separated from his biological mother at birth, seems designed to create some sympathy for the character.  But this element is so truncated that if fails to create any emotional connection with the blood clone.
  • Blood Doctrine hijacks a universe of assumptions and tropes (genetic technology, church schemes, powerful bishops, secret societies, plucky reporters, etc.), but fails to live up to that literary heritage.

Rumor has it that the book is aimed at young adults.  If it is, then the book seriously underestimates the reading interest and endurance of the YA audience. The young people with whom I am familiar are reading “adult length” novels: Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief (377 pages), Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (309 pages), Divergent (487 pages). Obviously length is no measure of quality, but the sparse 186 pages of Blood Doctrine fail to deliver as a novel on any level.  It’s just too short–it leaves out too many elements of a satisfying read. At the same time, it’s too long–like driving across the plains of Canada at night: nothing happens and you can’t see anything.

One of the central problems is that the main motivation for writing the book is ideological and theological.  I have no problem with the ideological and theological premises of the book.  And there is no  disputing the fact that every novel reflects its cultural and ideological context.  The problem here is that embedding those ideological and theological premises in a novel is absolutely no guarantee that that the story will work in its incarnation in the fiction genre.

Despite the bare similarities between Blood Doctrine and The Da Vinci Code, as a novel Piatt’s book has more affinity for the urban fantasy genre. Urban fantasy generally has an urban setting, a brash female heroine, and (especially more recently) a gritty feel (read: several “fucks” per page). There are two other ways in which Blood Doctrine resemble urban fantasy.

One similarity is that in urban fantasy, the heroes discover their secret powers gradually as their stories develop. This is certainly true of Jacob, Jesus’ present-day blood clone, as he discovers his (one suspects) mutation-based ability to heal.

The second similarity between this book and urban fantasy is the racism and sexism that often mar urban fantasy.  But in the case of Blood Doctrine, the specific species of racism is anti-semitism.  Piatt’s portrayal of first-century scribes and Pharisees is the most shrill I have ever encountered.  He seems to begin with John’s gospel and then ratchets it up a couple of notches.

While Blood Doctrine has the look and feel of the more gritty urban fantasy, it is structured much like a mystery, which in large part accounts for the sense that nothing really happens in the book. Numerous “clues” build up in the beginning of the book, but they are not enough to build up a real sense of suspense.

Another technique Piatt uses is a triple narrative, concerning first-century followers of Jesus, the blood-clone Jacob, and the reporter tracking down her dangerous story. Unfortunately, these story lines do not build any compelling suspense either.

Blood Doctrine attempts to answer the question, “What would Jesus be like if he were born today?”  Piatt postulates that he would have genetic healing powers, possibly rooted in a mutation.

The difference between Jesus and Jacob, however, is that Jesus was nurtured in pious environment, and all of his experiences directed him toward the enhancement of his intrinsic healing abilities and toward an eventual Messianic identity, which is enhanced by the many years he spent among the Essenes learning their esoteric lore. In terms of environment, everything in Jesus’ “silent years”, especially his years spent with the Essenes, resembles Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.

Jacob, on the other hand, lives his life in a decidedly impious environment, where “fuck” is the adjective of choice, and where the blood clone actually does “fuck”, with the logical result. Piatt’s generous use of “fuck” from everyone in this timeline seems to me either the reduction of “realism” to profanity, or an insult to the intelligence of his “young adult” readers.

In addition to the gift of healing, the single symbol of the Jesus clone’s “eccentricity” is his preference for jazz and playing the sax.

What I don’t know is whether I am dissatisfied with Christian Piatt as the author, or with Frank Schaeffer as the editor. Schaeffer reportedly cut Piatt’s manuscript in half. But in either case, the only reason I would ever be interested in re-reading Blood Doctrine would be to see whether my intense disappointment with the novel, as a novel, is deserved.

A novel should move on at least two levels, one is intellectual, the other is emotional. On a feeling level, there are many kinds of feelings that can be aroused.  Likewise, there are many different intellectual levels or premises available.  I did not find the intellectual premises in Blood Doctrine offensive.

While I don’t embrace Piatt’s Essene Jesus, neither do I reject it.  What was lacking, almost totally, was a requisite level of emotion.  There was one scene of shock value emotion in the first chapter, and a tepid level of emotional involvement in the last fort or so pages.  The book doesn’t fail as a piece of ideology, it fails as a piece of fiction.

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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.

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PDF of Debate Over the Law Free from Sermon Index

Debate over Paul’s Abolition of the Law

A few years ago I engaged in a prolonged debate with some of the folks over at Sermon Index. One of the topics included Paul’s cancellation of the Torah.

Free PDF of Debate Available at Sermon Index

The folks at SI have been kind enough to offer a complete record of the Torah skirmish without charge. If you’d like to download the free 36-page PDF, click here.

For a list of my posts discussing Paul’s cancellation of the Torah, click here

Galatians 5  12

Posted in Homosexuality and the Bible, Leviticus | Tagged , , | 2 Comments