Saturday, December 31, 2005


I haven't had an entry since Monday because I have been deathly ill with the flu, 103 degree fever, bronchitis, and other things you don't really want to know. I haven't eaten a real meal all week, my chest rattles when I breathe, and I get exhausted doing the simplest things. I am getting real familiar with soup, fruit and orange juice.

So no big end of the year wrap-up from me. No prophetic pronouncement, no declaration of the glories of Catholicism, no politics, no exhortation for us all to just get along. I am going to stay up until midnight and then Seanie go seepers.

I had some good ideas for this week too. Maybe I'll give you the topic and let you discuss it amongst yourselves first. OK, the topic is "Prayer/ What Is It Good For?/ Absolutely Nothing?"

See you next year.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The rhino in the manger scene

This is a legendary picture in my family, the picture of four generations of MacNairs. The man on the left is my grandfather, A. Stanley MacNair Jr., in the center is my father Richard MacNair, and on the right is my great-grandfather Arthur Stanley MacNair Sr. The little boy at the bottom is me. The picture was taken in 1971 on the occasion of a joint birthday party for myself and Great-Grandpa Mac- I was 5 and he was 90.

We have a lot of traditions in our family related to Christmas. My grandmother published an annual Christmas newsletter for 50 years. It was a way for her to catch everyone up on what people in the family were doing; it was also a way for her to give us a not-so-subtle nudge when we hadn't written for awhile. If you found your name in the sentence "I haven't heard from _____ lately," you knew that you had better fire off a letter toute suite.

Every year we looked forward to what became affectionately referred to as the "California box." My grandparents and my aunts Evelyn and Barbra lived in the same area of California, so they would send all of their gifts together. It wasn't really Christmas until that box arrived. Sitting on top would be "the envelopes." No explanation was needed. My grandmother had written some checks.

At different times in my life the gifts and form of celebration took on different forms. Somebody was getting an assortment of cheese and sausage from Swiss Colony or Wisconsin Cheeseman. For several years my grandfather and father delighted in getting each other the most difficult jigsaw puzzles they could find. My grandfather could be counted on to add a rhino to the manger scene. When Christmas Eve arrived we would each get to open one present. As a kid I spent the previous week planning my strategy. What would I open? Would I go for the biggest gift, or the one I was pretty sure I could identify?

Christmas morning came early for us kids. We would wake up to find our stockings on our doorknob, and we spent the hours until our parents woke up unwrapping crossword puzzle magazines, pencils and candy. Breakfast came and was always the same- shoo fly pie. Oh man, if you haven't had shoo fly pie you are totally missing out, man! Once that was out of the way the present opening extravaganza began. This wasn't some paper-flying free-for-all, oh no sirree. One present at a time, order determined by age. This wasn't a big problem when it was just the six of us, but on the rare occasions when the extended family was able to gather together, to my young mind it was torture. And my grandmother always insisted that we peel the tape slowly in order to save the paper. Present opening would easily last four or five hours.

December 26th may have been Boxing Day in Canada, but in the MacNair household it meant only one thing- thank-you notes. My father kept lists of who got what from whom, so you had no excuse for not writing a thank-you note. I did it but I hated it. When I got older I procrastinated more and more, until some years came and went without my writing a single one. Later on I realized that the act of saying "thank you" wasn't the sole reason my grandmother wanted to see those letters arrived. She wanted to hear from us. For most of my live I have lived on the opposite side of the country from my California relatives, so they didn't get to see us very often. For my grandmother in particular, family was the most important thing in her life.

Christmas time reminds me that death really sucks. My Great-Grandpa Mac died in 1979. I always felt proud that I had the chance to know him, even though I didn't know him well. In 1996 my Grandpa Mac died, and that really hurt. Even though my grandmother and two aunts were still there in California, some things would just never be the same. But my grandmother carried on. She still wrote the newsletter; she still sent the envelopes and the cheese and sausage; she still looked forward to the thank-you notes.

My Aunt Evelyn died in 2001 of two heart attacks. Another empty space in my heart. This one hurt even more than my grandfather's death just because Evelyn was not only my aunt but one of my best friends. She gave me permission to dispense with the "aunt" title when our relationship changed from "aunt-nephew" to one with more equality. My grandfather was old, he had been ill for a couple of months, we knew at a certain point that his death was imminent. Evelyn was 49. I came home from work to receive the news that she had had two heart attacks, and within the hour got the call that she had died. Crap crap crap crap crap.

All of a sudden my grandmother, a dynamo, independent before it was cool, a bundle of energy, working as a part-time secretary on into her 80's- she got old. When I got off the plane to attend Evelyn's memorial service and Grandma Mac picked me up I thought to myself that she had aged quite a bit. The only time I saw her cry was at a family gathering when she said that parents aren't supposed to bury their kids... and she trailed off.

It was the last time I saw her alive. In 2004 she had a stroke. Being the feisty woman that she was, she battled through therapy and a lengthy hospital stay, and progressed to the point where she got to move back home. Not long after she suffered a second stroke, and all the fight drained out of her. She decided that it was her time, and after a period of a couple of weeks in which she refused to eat, she died. I spoke at her memorial service and said that things would just never be the same now.

And they haven't been. We can attempt to carry on the old traditions, but some just need to be carried away on the winds of time. No more Christmas newsletters, no more big boxes delivered by UPS. It's time to carry on with our own traditions. My parents are Grandma and Grandpa Mac now; in fact, they are great-grandparents now. I don't take inventories, I don't even care about what I get; I care more about my kids getting the lion's share of the spoil now.

But some day, when my wife and I can live in a house and have room to put up Christmas decorations, somebody is going to look at the scene of Christ's birth, and out from the straw they will see two grey rhino horns, and wonder who in their right mind would think of such a thing...

...And Grandma and Grandpa Mac will be smiling.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

And so this is Christmas....

Been a few days since I've written anything, but people still come to visit, so I thought I would give a shout-out to all my homies here on Christmas Eve.

To Grandview, Missouri, Winnisquam, New Hampshire, Independence, Ohio and Claremont, California- thanks for stopping by. Sitemeter lists you as the most frequent visitors. I hope I've given you something for your time.

To Greg Burnett and Jaeson Ma, my most read blogs- keep it up. Even when I don't agree you give me something to think about.

To Mike Bickle, Scott Hahn and Living Stream Ministry- thanks for helping me stay on the path.
To Heather Clark, Day of Fire, Bethany Dillon and Misty Edwards- thanks for some great tunes this year.

To Barack Obama and Howard Dean- thanks for giving me some faith in the process.

To the Strat-O-Matic, APBA and Replay sports game companies- thanks for all the enjoyment you've given me over the years.

To Cathy Roman- thank you for being a friend.

To Mike McDermott, Mike Baty, Karen Kocuba, Tom and Cathy Leston, Mike Kobylski, Karen McDevitt Cameron, Jennifer Barnard Kee, Lisa Barnard, Mike Peterman, Chris and Patti Pfreim, Myk Porter, Mike Schafer, Matt Simmons, Johnny Amanse, Jerry Zellers, Ted Thiry, Father Bob Wenz, Mike Sirilla, Kim Strong, Micci Wicks, Len McDermott, Bruce Neubauer, Brian Del Turco, Kim Resil, Robin Tighe, Greta Lenhausen, Sherri Allard, Leslie Pesta, Beth Donovan, Louis Slater, Thomas Reggio, Eldon Teller, Keith Meredith, Jim DeGrandchamp, James Gambino, Barbara Fowler, Condida Grammatico, Bill Bowen, Bob Madison, Glen Smith, Olvin Smith, Jim Barth, Peter Schreffler, Barry Cox, Richard Gaberdiel, Vic Podis, Vinny, Jo and Carmelena Mancini, Mark Miller, Andrew Huffman, Chris Rowe, Chris Howell, Steven Shipley, Mark and Cheri Schwartz, Dean Finnegan, and any name I add after this entry has long since been published- you've had an effect on me, even if you don't remember me now. Hey, now your name will come up in a Google search :)

Rich Reed- come back from Iraq safe.

And thanks to John Lennon for closing me out.

So this is Xmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Xmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young

A very Merry Xmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Xmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong
And so happy Xmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let's stop all the fight

A very Merry Xmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Xmas
And what have we done
Another year over
A new one just begun
And so happy Xmas
We hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young

A very Merry Xmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

War is over, if you want it
War is over now
---John Lennon, "Merry Xmas (War Is Over)"

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


It wasn't really my last blog entry. I took as my inspiration a play by Samuel Beckett titled "Krapp's Last Tape".

And it was fiction. Meant to make people think.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Krapp's Last Blog Entry

Oh, the hours I’ve spent inside the Coliseum
Dodging lions and wastin’ time
Oh, those mighty kings of the jungle, I could hardly stand to see em
Yes it sure has been a long, hard climb . . .
Someday, everything is gonna be smooth like a rhapsody
When I paint my masterpiece
Someday, everything is gonna be different
When I paint my masterpiece.
---Bob Dylan, "When I Paint My Masterpiece"
(The scene: a weary looking man, about the age of 61, although the scowl on his face adds about 5 years to any estimate. He is dressed in a pair of ratty pants that may have been a decent pair of blue jeans at some time in the past, and a white undershirt, stained with sweat and the remains of drinks gone by. He is seated in a recliner in a sparsely furnished apartment; on the endtable near his chair sits a glass of milk with a water ring forming underneath.

He holds a bound journal in his lap, the brown cover worn at the places where his fingers would usually hold it, and he absent-mindedly turns the pages. At one page he suddenly stops. He stares at it for several minutes, and then begins to read.)

The man: "I went to services this morning for what I think will be the last time. It's not that I don't believe in God anymore, I do. Or I think I do. But the whole thing leaves me wishing I were somewhere else. If I want to sit around and have people not talk to me I can stay at home and accomplish that goal while I sleep. I can just imagine God himself sitting in the back thinking, 'You know, they invited me, but they don't seem to care if I'm here or not. I gave up a $6 breakfast at Denny's for this?'" (The man chuckles, but maintains the scowl. He continues to read.) "Was it always like this? Does turning fifty mean that the things you formerly took comfort in are now drained of their meaning? Surely it must have meant something at some point. Ten years ago it wasn't like this...."

(The man stops now and stares at the page for a moment. He lays the book on the end table and slowly extricates himself from the recliner. He ambles across the room and over to a small closet. Opening the door, he begins to pick through an accumulation of years of detritus. He is undeterred. Finally he finds a cardboard box, the years having left the packing tape bereft of its stickiness. He carries the box to his chair and sits down. With the box on the floor he digs through a collection of journals and notebooks in varying conditions. He settles on one and turns the pages as quickly as his elderly fingers will allow. Finally he stops at an entry marked "August 27, 2005", and begins to read.)

The man: "What drives Jennifer and Father Michael and the beloved baklava makers and the choir members who sang so beautifully I wanted to weep? Is it the same thing that drives Pastor Jeff to preach out of the authorized King James Version of the Bible every Sunday and go out of his way to see people brought into the fold? Is it the same thing that causes some Evangelical Protestants to make a spiritual U-turn into Catholicism, becoming book-worms and tape-worms and following speakers around from conference to conference like 1970’s Deadheads who want to hear “Dark Star” just one more time? Is it the same thing that drives that one person out of 10,000 to put up the John 3:16 banner because they actually want someone to read the Bible verse and not just to get on camera? What is it? And how can I get me some?"

(He stares off into space for a moment, and then starts talking to himself.)

The man: Has it always been like this? Today I look back ten years at myself looking back ten years. Has there ever been a time when these things that people fight wars over, these things that people devote their lives to.... (he trails off for a moment, lost in thought. He then bends over and looks into the box, allowing the book he was reading to drop to the floor. He finds a spiral notebook marked "1995". He opens the book about two-thirds of the way through and settles on an entry marked "February 15, 1995." He reads slowly, his voice trembling.)

The man: "I miss Mike, I miss Johnny, I miss the meetings in Marie's apartment, I miss Toledo Bible Fellowship, I miss Christian Assembly, I miss... I miss that sense of immediacy, of spontaneity, of closeness to God... the idea that you can crack open the Bible and that's all you need. The experience. Something tangible that you can grab ahold of and know that God is there. The correctness, the (seeming) sterility of having all your doctrines in a row isn't as important as the fellowship of believers with JESUS CHRIST!!! at the center of the conversation. I fear that I have lost something that will be well nigh impossible to regain."

(A tear slowly rides the valleys of the passage of time down the man's aged face. The memories come crawling across the screen of his mind. Hand-clapping guitar Masses. Friends old and new shouting the verses of hymns. Six guys getting a hotel room and spending a whole night trying to figure out what an apostle was. And now he had reached the point in his life when the only thing left to hope for was that he would have a painless death.

Surely this was not how it was meant to be.)

Like a song I have to sing
I sing it for you
Like the words I have to bring
I bring them for you
And in leather, lace and chains
We stake our claim
Revolution once again

No I won't, I won't wear it on my sleeve
I can see through this expression
And you know I don't believe
I'm too wrong to be told 'exactly who are you'
Tonight, tomorrow's too late

And we love to wear a badge, a uniform
And we love to fly a flag
But I won't let others live in hell
As we divide against each other
And we fight amongst ourselves
Too set in our ways to try to rearrange
Too right to be wrong, in this rebel song

Let the bells ring out
Let the bells wring out
Is there nothing left
Is there, is there nothing left
Is honesty what you want

A generation without name
Ripped and torn
Nothing to lose, nothing to gain
Nothing at all
And if you can't help yourself
Well, take a look around you
When others need your time
You say it's time to go
It's your time

Angry words won't stop the fight
Two wrongs won't make it right
A new heart is what I need
Oh God, make it bleed
Is there nothing left
---U2, "Like A Song"

(my thanks to Samuel Beckett for the inspiration)

Friday, December 16, 2005

I/ I wanna be/ A-nar-chy!

I am an antichrist
I am an anarchist....
---Sex Pistols, "Anarchy In The U.K."

I've been a Christian for about 23 years. Catholic theologians and apologists would say that I've been one my whole life; after all, I was baptized, which leaves an indelible mark on the soul. I would even be acceptable to the traditionalists since I was baptized in 1966, which places me before the new rite of baptism. So I'm in like flynn. Hey, I've even been baptized in a non-denom group, a Church of Christ, and a Baptist church, so I have all of my bases covered.

But for the sake of my current essay, let's just say that I've been an active Christian for the past 23 years, since 1982, when it began to actually mean something to me. You've already read about all my adventures so there's no need to recap. I took to the Bible pretty quickly, and I consider myself a connoisseur of good sermons. I've also attended a boatload of Bible studies, and I quickly gained the reputation for asking the sometimes tough and sometimes ridiculous questions. Have you ever met a little kid who always asks why? That's me. You know that Mountain Dew is the Biblical drink, right? Psalm 133:3- As the dew of Hermon settles upon the mountains of Zion, there the Lord commands the blessing, life forevermore. There it is. And it fits, too, because if you drink enough Mountain Dew you'll be up forevermore. But I digress.

Did you ever wonder who the antichrist was? Some people have stopped reading at this point, not believing that there is a specific antichrist, but rather that there will be a general "spirit of antichrist" that settles in the land. Heck, it's probably already here. But people for years and years have hunkered down with their Bible and the daily newspaper, comparing scripture with scripture and watching it all tie in to current events, and they've figured it all out. Until the next generation comes along and reads a different newspaper.

I just did a Google search on the phrase "who is the antichrist?" and found some interesting links. The second entry said that George W. Bush is the antichrist. They have it all figured out. You see, the Hebrew language has numerical values that correspond to the letters. This is how they lay it out:

G = 3 (gimel)
e = 5 (heh)
o = 70 (ayin)
r = 200 (resh)
g = 3 (gimel)
e = 5 (heh)
B = 2 (beth)
u = 70 (ayin)
s = 300 (shin)
h = 8 (cheth)
total = 666 (Antichrist)
Interesting. Only problem is, it could also be George Bush Sr. Oh well, let's try again.

Another site says that David Hasselhoff is the antichrist. I found this site to be fascinating (as well as less politically inflammatory). They assign the letters of the English alphabet numbers from 1 to 26. Now check out how they do this:

4 1 22 9 4 8 1 19 19 5 12 8 15 6 6
Now, since thirteen is such a fitting number for evil, let's multiply the first 13 numbers together. The total (65,874,124,800) is approximately 6.6 billion. Tack on the remaining 6's from the end of his name, and you've got yourself the mark of the beast.
Another tactic you could use would be to add the letters in "David" (I think you should get 40) and the letters in Hasselhoff (99) and then multiply them together. 40 x 99 = 3960. Now, 3960 is 660 x 6. And of course, 660 plus 6 is -- again -- the mark of the beast.

---(from their site)

The numeric alphabet angle is pretty popular, since another site says that the Pope is the antichrist. Add up the numeric values in the title "Pontifex Maximus" when it's written in Latin, and there you have it. 6-6-6. It's all there, man! Only problem is, which pope? John Paul II? He's dead, in case you haven't heard. Benedict XVI? No way, not a pope who takes his name in honor of gourmet breakfast food.

I am here to lay it all out for you. I know who the antichrist will be. His name is the number of a man. Let the reader understand.

Ronald Wilson Reagan.

It all makes sense. R-O-N-A-L-D? Six letters. W-I-L-S-O-N? Six letters. R-E-A-G-A-N? Six letters. 6-6-6. And he had Alzheimers, which could qualify as the "fatal head wound" prophesied about in the book of Revelation. "But he's dead, Sean!" Oh yeah, bring that up. The antichrist is supposed to rise after three days to mock Christ. Maybe if you take the days...hmm, no... maybe the days are symbolic of political regimes? Hmm. First was Bush Sr., then Clinton, then... nah, we already ruled out Dubya.

Maybe John Kerry was the antichrist? I honest-to-God had people tell me that.

If you haven't figured it out already I'm writing tongue-in-cheek. I really don't know who the antichrist will be and I don't lose sleep trying to figure it out. Something tells me that when he hits town, I'll know. He'll be the one making kids eat beets. Ugh.

And with that, I have to change the Barney video my son is watching. Barney. Hmm.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Before I start, I would like you to read an old entry of mine entitled November 18, 1988. Go ahead. I’ll still be here when you get back.

Back already? Good. Let us begin. November 18, 1988 was obviously not a night of mere Bible study. In fact, I don’t think that Bible study was the intent at all. Our intent was to sing praises to the Lord that we said we loved. What happened was far more than we expected. We experienced the world of the spirit in more ways than one.

But how do we process a night like that? What is the line by which such experiences are measured? Those of an evangelical bent would say that we need to judge all experiences by the word of God. The Word is the standard. If it isn’t in the Bible then it isn’t of God. And my answer to that would be threefold. One, the Bible isn’t an encyclopedia. It doesn’t outline every single experience that people can have. For example, in July of 1996 I attended a concert on the Kiss reunion tour. I can remember shouting the words to every song and almost being in tears just out of the sheer joy of being entertained and having fun at the show. Was my experience unbiblical? The Bible talks about joy but doesn’t have much to say about entertainment. Should I not seek to be entertained?

Two, who appointed you to be the judge and jury of our experiences that night? (And by “you” I am speaking to anyone who would attempt to say “you were not having an experience of God.”) You weren’t there, you don’t know. I was there. During the time of worship and praise I felt God’s presence like I’ve never felt it before. During the times of deliverance from evil spirits? All I can offer is an opinion. In at least one case I think it was likely a psychological event, a release of the heavy burdens of the past that hadn’t been given an outlet to be released before. But it was very real to the woman who was going through it. It wasn’t happening to me, so I don’t know for sure. As I said in the essay, deliverance ministry was never readily offered to men. The spiritual lives of men and women are often very different.

If you were to look at videos of Toronto Blessing services, or attend services of some of the crazier Pentecostal/Charismatic churches out there, you would see quite a few women who, when they “receive the Spirit”, scream, moan, and behave in an almost sexual manner. Why is that? This will likely come off as misogynistic, but I believe that women are more prone to ecstatic experiences than men. Not necessarily because they are wired to be more emotional anyway, but because society forces women into specific roles with specific standards of behavior. If a man gets angry, he’s a man; if a woman gets angry, she’s a b*tch. If a man likes sex, he’s a stud; if a woman likes sex, she’s a slut. So pent-up emotions are channeled in different ways for men and for women.

Back to our program. My third response to people who say that every experience needs to be judged by the Word of God is why do you then ignore spiritual experiences that are clearly outlined in the Bible? I mean, heck, there are some crazy things there. Jesus wiped mud in someone’s eyes. A prophet prophesied naked. Another prophet married a whore. So if someone falls out on the floor under the power of the Spirit, and while there has a vision of Jesus halting the beatings that their mother gave them when they were little, the average evangelical/fundamentalist will say that that experience wasn’t Biblical. But when someone speaks in tongues, they say that that experience isn’t valid either, even though speaking in tongues is pretty clearly there, in the Bible. A person dancing in the Spirit is acting in the flesh, but a fundamentalist preacher, who spits and hollers and repeats a point until he gets a loud enough Amen isn’t in the flesh? Oh man.

Let me conclude this portion by saying that in the context of a local church’s services and programs, some spiritual experiences have to be judged. And Scripture is clear on that point. I can’t just get up at Mass and proclaim messages from the Lord. In a church I attended a few years ago, a woman got up after the offering and started confessing to molesting her nephew. She was quickly ushered away. So I do believe in judging in some circumstances. In my private spiritual life, though? Especially if the experience causes me to love God more, confess my sinfulness more, perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy more? It’s between me and the Lord.

In truth, sublime words make not a man holy and just;
but a virtuous life maketh him dear to God.

I had rather feel compunction than know its definition thereof.

If thou didst know the whole Bible by heart and the sayings of all the philosophers, what would it profit it thee without the love of God and His grace.

---Thomas a Kempis, “Of the Imitation of Christ”, Bk. 1 Ch. 1 v. 3 (emphasis mine)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Are you experienced?

If you can just get your mind together
Then come on across to me
We’ll hold hands and then we’ll watch the sunrise
From the bottom of the sea
But first, are you experienced?
Have you ever been experienced?
Well, I have
---Jimi Hendrix, “Are You Experienced?”

When I was growing up we were Catholic, at least nominally so. I can remember getting ready for Mass on numerous mornings, and even at eight, nine, ten years of age I approached the Holy Sacrifice in an attitude of prayer. “Oh God, Thou who hast created all things, whose mighty hand and outstretched arm set the stars in the sky and created dry land where no land appeared before, please, I beseech Thee, put sugar in the gas tank so the car won’t start and I can stay home.” Yep, I was a regular Praying Hyde there :) I thought Mass was boring. I couldn’t stand it. Until… I was 14 years old and I went on my very first religious retreat. It was called a F.I.R.E. retreat, the meaning of the acronym escaping my memory at the moment, and it had its roots in the Marriage Encounter movement. Obviously kids and teens wouldn’t be attending Marriage Encounter retreats anytime soon, so this was a way of reaching out to them.

I signed up for this retreat at my parents urging. I don’t know if I had good or bad feelings about it, but my parents had gone to the Marriage Encounter weekend the year prior and they were as giddy as a high school cheerleader who just got asked to the prom by the quarterback, so their enthusiasm spilled over and I decided to go. What the heck. Might even be able to pick up a girl there.

The weekend ended up being a pivotal moment in my spiritual life. There were two things about it in particular that have stuck in my mind to this day. One was a guy named Ted Thiry. I’ve written about him before. Ted, if you are out there, if you or somebody you know finds this blog by Googling your name, I want you to know that you had a big impact on me. Ted was the very first bonafide Jesus Freak that I ever met. He even had the look- 70’s style long hair and a Resurrection Band t-shirt. When we passed around notebooks yearbook-style at the end of the weekend to get everyone’s signature he wrote “Jesus Saves!” in big letters on mine. He was a walking, talking, living, breathing commercial for Jesus Christ. And that was attractive to me. His enthusiasm was contagious. I wanted to be around him. He wasn’t just talking about the Lord, he wasn’t spitting out catechism phrases by rote, it meant something to him.

The other part of the weekend that made an impression on me was the Saturday night Mass. After spending the better part of two days talking with each other encounter-group style, with laughter and tears and plenty of hugs, we shared the liturgy together. And I will swear to my dying day that the liturgy is most meaningful when you attend with people you’ve formed a bond with. It was certainly meaningful to me, perhaps the first time that I ever encountered the Mass as my own person as opposed to being an attachment of my parents. It was this experience that caused me to think about the claims of God the Son on my own, apart from the way I was raised.

It only takes a spark to get a fire going
And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing
That's how it is with God's Love
Once you've experienced it
Your spread the love to everyone
You want to pass it on
---Kurt Kaiser, “Pass It On”

Bible camp attendees nationwide have roasted their marshmallows and confessed their sins to the strains of this Kurt Kaiser classic without pondering the deeper meaning. The more cerebral among us would argue that you don’t have to experience God’s love to pass it on, that it’s all a matter of obeying Christ’s commands. He said preach the gospel to every creature (or in the New Living Campfire version, “pass it on”), so it doesn’t really matter if I want to pass it on- Jesus said it, I believe it, and that settles it. “Love is not a feeling it’s an act of the will”, as Don Francisco sang. End of discussion.

But that isn’t the end of discussion. When God created us he didn’t create us merely as cerebral beings. We are not just walking brains. If anyone thinks that they can comprehend by reason alone the majesty and wonder that is Almighty God, then they are sadly mistaken. Yet that’s the attitude I encounter among people who, in their zeal to distance themselves from those whose excessive religious experiences make them uncomfortable, deny the place of experience entirely.

Experience is woven into the fabric of our lives. God created us with tongues, He created us with noses, he created us with ears and eyes and every other part of the body that encounters the world and those who reside in it. Certain sounds are pleasant to the ear. Certain things are pleasing to the eye. Prime rib is delicious. Beets are not. Roses have a specific pleasant smell. Human waste has a specific unpleasant smell. Except for mine :)

Catholic moral theologians are quick to remind us that the primary purpose for sexual relations is procreation. Maybe so. But woven within the act are feelings of pleasure. It is not purely functional. If someone doesn’t receive pleasure during the act one time, OK, maybe next time. If someone never receives pleasure during the act, that person is considered to have a problem and is referred to either Rafael Palmeiro-shilled pharmaceuticals or a program on the Lifetime channel. The lack of pleasure during sex isn’t considered to be a normal state of affairs. (Pardon the pun.)

Why is it then, that when it comes to our spiritual lives, we deny the God who gave us experience? I don’t deny that some people go overboard. I know that we can’t live on a constant stream of spiritual highs. But aren’t we allowed to feel the presence of the Lord sometimes? Are we only supposed to talk about God’s love, or can we feel it as well?

Back in the 90’s, when the Toronto Blessing was at its peak, the news emanating from that little church at the end of an airport runway polarized people. On one hand you had people who said that this was absolutely not a move of God; it might even be the hand of the devil at work. On the other hand was the crowd that said that God is doing a new thing; we needed to give God back his church, jump in the river, soak, do carpet time, etc, etc. I don’t think that either side had a very good grasp of modern church history and the fate of “movements”; if they did, they would see that this too would pass. Movements flame on and flame out; personality-led movements usually fade with the death of the personality. I didn’t feel like I needed to take a side. “By their fruit you shall know them.” We don't always have to have an opinion on another person's experience of the Almighty. Sometimes we can just shut our piehole. You know what they say about opinions, right? They're like... err... "orifices". Everybody has one and they all stink.

Speaking of flaming out, I’m doing just that. See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Thy will be done

I tried to write a play once. I have this weird sense of humor, and some of the things that I find uproariously funny others take offense at. I thought this was good.

SETTING: A man kneeling in a pew, about to say the Lord’s Prayer.

MAN: Our Father, who art in heaven…
(A bearded man in a bathrobe appears. He is carrying a bowl of cereal.)
UNKNOWN MAN: You called?
M: (gives the bearded man an annoyed look and shifts a little farther down the pew. He continues.) Our Father, who art IN HEAVEN (emphasizing the last two words as he looks at the other man), hallowed be thy name…
UM: Why thank you! (He eats a spoonful of cereal.)
M: Can I… help you?
UM: Oh no, I was just enjoying my breakfast when I heard you call on my father. Go on, continue. I’m sorry for bothering you. Go…go (making little waving motions with his hands).
M: (rolling his eyes and clearing his throat) Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come….
UM: (with a quick snort and chuckle) You know, I’ve heard that line a few billion times, and I always find it hilarious. Most of the time you people don’t even know what you’re asking. (shakes his head) Oh man….
M: What do you mean?
UM: (putting his cereal bowl down) You Americans, you don’t even know what a kingdom is! You don’t know what that means! Oh, Bill and Hillary tried, and Dubya sure thinks he’s building a kingdom, but you have no clue. A kingdom has a king. Absolute authority! If the king says jump, you say “How high?” If the king says run, you say “How far?” (adopting a faux military tone) Have I made myself clear?
M: (jumping to attention) Sir, yes sir!
UM: I can’t hear you!
M: (louder) Sir, yes… (stops and looks around sheepishly, as if he can’t believe he’s doing this)… sir (weakly)
UM: That’s better. And don’t call me sir, I work for a living. Now go ahead, continue.
M: …Thy kingdom come, thy will be done (bearded man rolls his eyes at this statement), on earth as it is in heaven…
UM: (begins to laugh uncontrollably) Stop, stop, you’re killing me! (takes a minute to catch his breath) Do you think about these words as you're repeating them? Don't they register with you at all?
M: Sure! Who wouldn’t want God’s will to be done?
UM: Yes, great sentiment, and my father is pleased with the good thoughts. But consider the wording here for a minute. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” ON EARTH… as it is… IN HEAVEN. Now, when you were driving in to work last Friday morning, what happened?
M: Well, I hopped in the car, listened to sports talk radio, thought about what I had to do for the day, and got to the office 20 minutes later.
UM: Did you kiss your wife goodbye and tell her that you loved her?
M: (looks down at the ground and doesn’t say anything)
UM: You slammed the door on your way out because she hadn’t ironed the right shirt, didn’t you?
M: (sheepishly) Yes.
UM: And on the morning commute, did you bless those on your right and on your left?
M: (sarcastically) Why don’t you tell me?
UM: Well, you asked for my father’s condemnation on three people, and you questioned whether one man’s mother was a female canine…
M: (interrupting) He cut me off!
UM: And what did you say this morning when you were driving to church and an elderly woman was crossing the street?
M: Well…
UM: C’mon…
M: (quietly) I wondered how many points I could get for hitting her.
UM: Would that have been my father’s will?
(the man says nothing)
UM: You see, there’s a part of my father’s will that requires you to take an active part! You can’t pray that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven if you aren’t willing to be an agent of that will!

And that's where it ended. I never finished it. But it caused me to think about some things. What did I say a couple of posts ago? "Jesus is Lord. The implications of that statement are still being determined." My problem is never with the ambiguous issues that have implications yet to be determined; my problem is always with the things I know to do and never do, or the things that I know I shouldn't do but do anyway. "I confess to almighty God, and to you my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do."

I don't need to pray to know God's will; most of the time I know God's will, I just need to do it.

Go ahead and discuss amongst yourselves.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Three is a magic number

The three men I admire most
The Father, Son and Holy Ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died
---Don McLean, "American Pie"

We as Christians accept a certain set of truths at face value. At least in theory we do. Jesus came, he saw, he died and rose again; there is a God who is three, yet one; stuff like that. What a lot of Christians don't do is ask questions about these beliefs. The cool Christian bloggers out there have it all together and know the answer to every question, and ridicule those who ask why (just read Triablogue's commentary on my essay "What Would Jesus Flood?" ). But those who know me know that I have a bit of a rebellious streak in me. I used to ask questions at Bible studies like "Is Judas in heaven?" just to spark a conversation and get people to think.

So here's what I've been thinking about lately. I believe in the Trinity, that God is one yet three; that doctrine is on my very short list of essentials. If you don't believe that Jesus is God then we have issues. But here's my question: I know that the Trinity is, but why? Why three? Why not 4, 6, 20? The Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost, and the nosy next door neighbor? The Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost, the nosy next door neighbor, the aunt who came for a day and stayed two years, and the brother-in-law who borrowed your table saw and just won't return it? I know of the existence of the trinity, but what of the function of the trinity?

I have no answer to this question, but I have read some things recently which seem to make sense, that give me some insight into the subject. I've been spending a lot of time in the writings of Witness Lee lately, and in his book The Economy of God he discusses God's plan to dispense Himself, his divine life into the believers as being the reason that God is Triune, three in one. (The entire book can be read online here; the quotes I'm looking at are here.)

God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit are one God expressed in three Persons: God is the source, Christ is the expression of God, and the Holy Spirit is the transmission bringing God in Christ into man. Thus, the three Persons of the Trinity become the three successive steps in the process of God’s economy. Without these three stages, God’s essence could never be dispensed into man. The economy of God is developed from the Father, in the Son, and through the Spirit.
---Witness Lee, The Economy of God, pp. 9-10

So why couldn't the Father just dispense himself into us directly? Witness Lee goes on to explain that the Father is invisible and unapproachable. "No man shall see me and live" (Exodus 33:20) In the incarnation God came down to earth. Jesus was fully God and fully man. "In him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Colossians 2:9) The unapproachable God is now approachable in the person of Jesus Christ. "Through the incarnation of the Son, the unapproachable Father is now approachable to man. By this, man can see the Father, touch the Father, and commune with the Father through the Son." (The Economy of God, pp. 10-11.)

So Christ is the embodiment of God who lived a human life. Witness Lee coined the term "the processed Triune God", which sounded strange when I first heard it, but it made more sense when I actually read his explanation. First of all, God the Son came to earth and lived as a man for 33 years. He experienced all the common and ordinary things that make up human life. He ate; he slept; he thirsted; he was angry; he wept. "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15)

Christ died. He didn't pass out; he wasn't revived by the disciples later; he wasn't faking it so Mel Gibson could make a great movie later and some people in the Phillipines could hammer nails into their wrists every Good Friday. He died, like all of us will someday. BUT... whereas we will stay in the ground for a few centuries first, he passed through death and came out on the other side, resurrected. And even though he did some supernatural things after his resurrection, appearing in locked rooms and such, he still bore the marks of his humanity. He invited Thomas to put his hand in the wounds. He cooked up some Fish McMuffins for the disciples on the beach. He later ascended into heaven and now sits at the right hand of God.

We need to remember, then, the seven wonderful elements that are in Him: the divine nature, the human nature, the daily human life with its earthly sufferings, the effectiveness of His death, the resurrection power, the transcendent power of His ascension, and the enthronement. All these elements are mingled in this one marvelous Christ.

God, however, cannot come into us through the Son. According to the first stages of His economy, the Father placed Himself in the Son, and the Son has the seven elements mingled within Himself. But we still need another stage, a third and final step, for God to dispense Himself into man. The first step was that the Father embodied Himself in the Son; the second step was that the Son became incarnate in humanity to have all the seven wonderful elements mingled within Him; the third step is that both the Father and the Son are now in the Spirit. All that is in the Father is in the Son, and both the Father and the Son, containing all the elements in Christ, are brought into the Spirit.
---Witness Lee, The Economy of God, pg. 13.

So God is the source of all things, and Christ is the embodiment of God who also lived a sinless human life. He ascended into heaven with his human body intact; where he went in a human body is beyond my understanding, but the fact that he did go is indisputable. What next? Why the Holy Spirit?

Notice the following verses: “One God and Father…who is in all” (Eph. 4:6). “Jesus Christ is in you” (I1 Cor. 13:5). “…His Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Rom. 8:11). These three verses reveal that God the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are in us. How many Persons, then, are in us? Three, or one? We should not say that three separate Persons are in us, neither should we say that only one Person is in us, but that the Three-in-one is in us. The three Persons of the Godhead are not three Spirits, but one Spirit. The Father is in the Son, and the Son with all His seven wonderful elements is in the Spirit. When this wonderful Holy Spirit comes into us, the Godhead is then dispensed into us. Because the three Persons are in one Spirit, we have the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit within us. Later, we will see that the Triune God is in our human spirit to be our spiritual, inner life. This is the very mark of God’s economy, and this is the method whereby the Godhead is dispensed into us. The goal of the divine economy is to dispense the Triune God in one Spirit into our human spirit.
---Witness Lee, The Economy of God, pp. 14-15.

So that's his explanation. The Father is the source, the Son is the embodiment, and the Spirit is the means of transmission. Although Witness Lee has taken a lot of flak, with some accusing him of having led a cult (he died in 1997), his explanation seems as good as any for something that is a mystery to the human mind.

If God had a name what would it be?
And would you call it to his face?
If you were faced with him In all his glory
What would you ask if you had just one question?

If God had a face what would it look like?
And would you want to see
If seeing meant that you would have to believe
in things like heaven and in Jesus and the saints
and all the prophets

And yeah, yeah, God is great
Yeah, yeah, God is good
Yeah, yeah, yeah-yeah-yeah

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home
---Joan Osborne, "One of Us"

Friday, December 02, 2005

Who are you/ What have you sacrificed?

Every time I look at you I don't understand
Why you let the things you did get so out of hand?
---“Superstar”, from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar

Do you think Jesus knew what he was starting? When he told Simon Peter that he was going to build his church, did he have his fingers crossed behind his back, saying to himself “oh God, please don’t let him screw it up?”? When Pat Robertson opens his mouth does Jesus sit up in heaven and think “oh crap, he’s at it again”?

Of course he knew what would happen. He’s God, right? When God created Adam and Eve he obviously knew that they would eat the fruit, otherwise he wouldn’t be God. So when Jesus made his final instructions to his disciples, telling them to preach the gospel, start Christian rock bands and sing “Kumbayah” a lot, he knew that some of those future disciples would be real a**holes. Unless he wasn’t God while on this earth, and I’m not even going down that road.

Christ you know I love you
Did you see I waved?
---“Simon Zealotes”, Jesus Christ Superstar

So let’s imagine Jesus walking through the sands of time. The church starts, everything is cool, the Romans hate their guts but the believers give a collective middle finger to the Romans and meet anyway. The Romans throw them to lions and find many other ways to separate the believers from their lives, but it doesn’t matter. They have a fresh vision of Jesus. Jesus is all that matters to them. Some of them even saw the man face to face.

Then when we retire, we can write the Gospels
So they'll still talk about us when we've died.
---“The Last Supper”, Jesus Christ Superstar

Gospels are floating around now. Everybody and their brother put pen to paper and churn out Gospels like network TV churns out reality shows. And even if someone didn’t know Jesus personally, they probably knew a friend of a friend who shared the Passover meal with an apostle’s cousin, and if they say Jesus would have done something this way, he probably would have.

And so it began.

When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"

---Matthew 16:13-15

“And the people said, ‘Let us make Jesus in our own image, after our own likeness.’” Over the course of time people began to develop interpretations of who Jesus was based on what they wanted him to be. Jesus automatically approved of everything the Church did, because after all, he started the thing. The apostles ordained successors, and so on and so on, and Jesus smiled on the whole chain.

Pretty soon Martin Luther said “you know, screw this” and broke off, starting a revolution that revolved around the belief that Jesus wouldn’t make us do works, it’s all about grace. Jesus wouldn’t approve of this hierarchy stuff…Jesus would want us to read the Bible for ourselves…Jesus wouldn’t baptize infants- what do they know, anyway? And branches continued to fall from the tree.

Look at the artwork. Jesus Christ became a white man from the Middle Ages instead of the man of Middle Eastern descent that he actually was. In the 1700’s and 1800’s Jesus had no problems with people owning slaves because, well, that’s what the people wanted so they projected it onto Jesus. Marcus Garvey said that Jesus was a black man, because he wanted him to be one. To the emerging women’s movement Jesus was the first feminist. After all, Mary Magdalene was the first to see him after his resurrection, so to hell with all the tired old white guys running the show- Jesus obviously favored bra burning and reproductive freedom. To the hippies Jesus was the first hippie rebel. He stood up to the man, man! He fought the power! He had long hair and a lot of crazy ideas about love and freedom.

“Not so fast,” the fundamentalist movement intoned. Jesus didn’t have long hair- long hair was a shame to a man. To them Jesus was a short haired Bible thumper- just like them. Jack Hyles even wrote a book entitled “Jesus Had Short Hair.” Jesus was the original fightin’, feudin’ fundamentalist who spoke in King James English. 1611, straight from heaven baby!

Along about 1976 Jesus Christ took the form of a peanut farmer from Georgia. Oops, my bad- that was Jimmy Carter. Same initials, though. A born-again in the White House- who woulda thunk it? But he was a Democrat, so he was destined to disappoint the crowd who was quickly seeing Jesus as the first Republican. When the 1980 elections rolled around old J.C. found himself thrown out on his peanut shells. The world had a new savior- old Ronald Wilson Reagan himself, the great white hope.

(Just as an aside, you know that Reagan was the antichrist, right? Do the math- Ronald has six letters, Wilson has six letters, and Reagan has six letters. 6-6-6.)

In 1987 and 1988, when Bakker and Swaggart took a dive, it was no longer cool to say “Jesus Is Lord.” Smacked too much of pushy televangelists and an image Christians were trying to get away from. Jesus was your buddy, your friend. He’s not going to push anything on you, man! He just wants to share a Budweiser and some smokes with you, maybe shoot a round of pool or go club-hopping. He was straight-edge before Fugazi took their first breath. Jesus was a vegan- he wouldn’t have eaten poor, defenseless animals! Lamb of God? Oh , umm, well….

How about the pro-life crowd? “Jesus loves the little children…” they intoned while chaining themselves to abortion mills. Some of them got the idea that it might be kind of cool to kill a few doctors- after all, Jesus did say “the kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force.” Most of that same pro-life crowd are now pleased that we’re killing a lot of Iraqis for Christ. After all, George Bush is a man of God, and Jesus told him to invade Iraq.

A few months ago a fellow blogger challenged me to say who I believed Jesus is. I had every intention of making that an essay, too, but then I realized that it would be pointless. Nobody really cares who Jesus was. They only care about the carefully crafted image they’ve made of Jesus. They have a Jesus that they’re comfortable with, and everyone else is wrong.

You want a statement of belief from me? OK. Jesus is Lord. The implications of that statement are still being determined.