Set the Captives Free

The longer I look at it, the more I cannot imagine that my mission is pivotal in God’s work among humans.

Let me reiterate some things my regular readers already know. The gospel message is freedom. It’s the opposite of sectarianism. While a great many Christian denominations use terminology like that, what they mean is that there should be no sects other than their own. “Everyone should be free to do it our way. Who could want anything else?” The problem is that they keep religion a slave to reason. Thus, whatever “freedom” means, it has to pass through the filter of reason — and we all know that reason is the conscious cover story our minds offer for very unreasonable personal wishes.

It is utterly impossible for reason to fill in the blanks of ultimate moral purpose; reason must start from certain moral assumptions and those always rest on the individual’s personal collective mythology. Need we note again that said mythology is itself a moving target? It is simply not possible for any human to be objective. We are all born with an instinct to propagate our genes; most of us are born with a certain drive to propagate our personal mythology. But only a few of us are born with the talents to make either form of propagation happen on a wide scale (and those two talents are often found in the same person). These folks honestly believe: “My way is God’s way.” Thus is born a particular brand of religion that sweeps in larger numbers of people.

And people are taught to disregard some of their own personal mythology in order to participate in some grand vision of conquest. “Everyone should taste the privilege of living like I do.” We see this in secular politics; religion never escapes politics. Despite words to the contrary, nobody in the religious propagation business really wants to make room for significant variations in reasoning and explanation. This reluctance is wired into the culture itself. There is this a priori assumption that it can’t be worth the trouble unless the results bring in large numbers under one single Great Man’s leadership. A part of the Curse of the Fall is an endless supply of human demigods.

Instead of boring you with yet another recounting of my long journey through madness, I’ll cut to the chase and remind you that coming out the other end of the Valley of the Shadow of Death was possible for me only by tossing aside the primacy of human reason and the instinct to lead. Do not follow me. Don’t trade your old demigod for some dream of making me into another one. My mission is to destroy that very thing. What I really want to do is set you free to find Christ on your own path. I’m fully confident that Christ in your heart can lead you where He wants you to go without my interference. I’m just along for the ride.

But this is no small task. It’s made all the larger for all the cultural mythology that demands we cling to a false definition of “holiness.” If there’s one idea that comes from Satan, it’s the truculent insistence that “truth” has to result in one concrete intellectual construction. It’s the big lie that this concrete physical universe, which we experience through our senses and grasp through our reason, is the sum total of all that is. It’s that endless quest for more data so we can nail down what can be, and thus what ought to be. Whatever is meant by “truth” must be some static, dead and cold “reality.” Even when we get people to admit that there could be other realms of existence, they still insist that whatever we can learn from any other realm must result in one single concrete answer here.

And all the while, this “here” is not concrete in any way. That “concrete objective reality” is the ultimate lie of the Devil. The world seems to have somehow agreed to that one underlying assumption, even in the face of vast unresolvable disputes about how we shall define that concrete reality. So we have endless wars because we all agree that there can only be one definition of concrete reality, but we cannot agree on what it is. That’s crazy.

But because everyone buys that fundamental lie, we end up finding ourselves under threat of force to buy one or another false mythology. So we all band together with others, buying into one or another great myth so we can stand together and fight back. Nobody seems to notice how the New Testament taught that we should just nod our heads and salute whatever flag someone runs up the pole because we don’t really care. The reason we don’t care is that we are conscious that this whole thing is one big lie. We play along with the game because we aren’t in a position to reach inside other people’s heads and turn on the light of revelation. Only God does that.

And His chosen instrument for that process is each of us living by our own provisional reality, consciously aware that no two of us have the same answer. But most of all, we are aware that no two us should have the same answer, simply because we cannot. God reveals Himself differently and individually to each of us. We would not dare tell God what He has to show anyone else. Nor would we dare to demand that the net result of revelation in some soul should come out with a concrete reality that looks the same as ours.

Yet by the very miracle of agreeing that we should not see things alike, we are able to unite in a bond of faith stronger than any shared identity mere men can dream up. We find fellowship and communion, ties of compassion and affection, and we worship the same Creator and Savior and Power to live in this Shadowland of lies and deceit. This world is the prison of souls.

So if there’s one thing I want you to remember me for, it’s that I helped you break out of the prison.

A Shift in Emphasis

This is a “get to know me” post.

I really thought I was coming home from Europe to become a church pastor. I had been ordained for a decade and had been quite well received by the chapel folks in the military. But as soon as I got back to the US, I ran into all kinds of trouble. So I distracted myself for awhile in secular education work, but then I really stirred up trouble, so I quit that work. Once I had time for contemplation and study, I found myself completely out of place in the mainstream of religion. The harder I tried to make things work, the more they broke. It finally hit me that I had long been an outsider, so I began reaching out to those who had been similarly disenfranchised from religion.

That’s how my online ministry started. The virtual nomadic hunter-gatherer life was far more fruitful in spiritual terms, while the domesticated fields were full of toxic rot. This engagement of the fringes manifested in all sorts of ways — switching to Linux and Unix, learning about obscure networking stuff, developing a writing style to captured like-minded readers. But in the process I began turning over a lot old rocks and ruins, and discovered that whatever “mainstream” meant, it was all very wrong. I moved farther afield and discovered that a lot of non-Christian folks were using stuff that reflected the more ancient biblical viewpoint. A lot of real weirdos and kooks starting hanging out with me (in virtual space).

Too be honest, I really believed we could still find some place to stand near the mainstream, if not inside of it. But after more and very consistent rejections, I gave up on that. It was pretty lonely for awhile, because nearly everyone who really liked what I was doing were people I’ll likely never meet face to face.

Those who were too conventional became scared off by my explorations. You should imagine that process brought even more radical changes in my outlook. Eventually, I began to discover where I really belonged. Oddly enough, this space became its own new “mainstream” in the sense that I was ready to starting working on a whole new society. In other words: While I was at one time reaching out to marginalized folks, there came a point when I moved out there on the margin and put down roots. So now I’m reaching back into the mainstream to pull out folks who need to escape. The field of focus remains folks who are marginalized, but it’s people who aren’t self-consciously so. They aren’t standing out on the margins intentionally. This change wasn’t a conscious decision process; I’m not self-absorbed enough to think I can create a new reality all by myself. This thing coalesced around me bit by bit. Now I look around and realize I’m not alone; I’m not some kook raging in the wilderness. There’s a village growing up around me.

And that village keeps looking at me for clues. Personally I wonder if they haven’t all made some huge mistake, because I’m not sure I can do them that much good. But this thing persists and I refuse to just run away. This is where I belong, so if you’re going to keep hanging around, let’s try to make the most of it. This is what’s behind the recent series on building a new Christian Culture. The interaction I get seems to call for this kind of effort and no one else seems to be working on the question.

Fear Is a Prison

So perhaps you’ve read today’s post over at the parish parlor blog and you know that I’m being treated for a potentially deadly problem with my heart.

In the words of Lenny LeBlanc in “O God, You Are My God” from the album Pure Heart

So I will bless Thee
as long as I live I will lift up my hands to Thy name
So I will bless Thee
as long as I live
and in the shadow of Thy wings I sing for joy.

As long as I’m still alive, I will continue to seek His glory. This is not the time to be afraid of what might happen; I’ll follow the best advice I can find, but only God can make it work. And if God is ready for me to report in person, no one and nothing can keep me here. I don’t care for this medication so far, but the doctors insisted I should be able to live as before. And probably far longer than any of us could guess.

So, let’s get to work and make the most of what time we have together, long or short. We are in a time of tribulation and miracles will be tossed out to His adoring children generously. Aside from the blog itself, everything we do as an online parish should continue fine with or without me. You are all still the same wonderful brothers and sisters walking in heart-led conviction of the truth.

Natural Cathedral

IMG_20160528_160305Notice the new header image. Let it speak to your heart. Granted, it doesn’t do the original scene justice; it’s a vertical scene and I have to crop it to fit a wide display parameter. Still, it oozes with an experience of worship. Thanks to Iain for the image.

Random side note: “justification by faith.” Think about what we’ve said about faith over the past few weeks. Faith is a commitment to walk in the guidance of the heart over the intellect. You aren’t justified by “having” faith. You gain receive justification by living it. Walking in the heart-mind is faith and it is justification. It projects divine justice back into Creation and feeds back to include you in His acceptance.

Faith Will Not Forget You

Faith has not been forgotten while I devote so much time to recovering from surgery. And you can be sure faith has not forgotten me, because recovery would not be possible without it.

If you want some religion chatter you can go back to my post A Word for Men and check out the lively exchange of comments between Steven and I. He’s Eastern Orthodox, and if that sounds interesting, he offers a couple of links. It’s not for me, but that should hinder no one who feels drawn to it. Being familiar with the early history of how that branch of Christianity came into existence, the theological disputes from that period were enough to turn me away from it. I can’t summarize it here, but if you read explanations of their unique beliefs, you’ll see why I say it’s too cerebral for me. It reminds me of the difference between Western mysticism versus ANE, because Greek thought (wedded to Greek language) is where Western thought started.

But while this blog seems rather silent, I can assure you that my faith is working hard carrying me forward. Sometimes there isn’t a lot of energy left to ponder things I might say because I’m pondering what I need to do. It’s not so much the physical therapy stuff and trying to move the leg as much as it can take, but exercising faith during this silence while the City considers my claim along with all the other crap they have to do.

I still believe someone out there with a higher public profile will be drawn to our parish. I still believe mainstream Christian religion is headed for a major problem like never before, with some level of exodus from the membership. I’m still certain America as we know it is doomed under God’s wrath, and it will most certainly affect other countries. And I still believe it was God’s requirement of me to let the City of OKC have a chance to do what’s right. I am convinced I’ll still be out there riding and taking pictures for the glory of God, once this recovery has taken its course.

Faith is an adventure like nothing else.

A Bit of Cultural Mythology

Brother Ed is a dirt-grubbing peasant.

That’s my social background. Not blue-collar, but brown-collar, at best. Yes, I managed to get a really great education, because I went to college back in the days when state and federal government was passing out big grants. All you had to do was make the grade, and I didn’t suffer from any goofball sense of entitlement.

America doesn’t have a genuine upper class. We have some insufferably snotty rich folks with massive educations, but they remain some version of cultural bourgeois. We do have a strong element of DIY cowboy ethic in there, but most of the wealthy and powerful remain elitist petty snobs. They like to imagine themselves as upper class. And maybe the European upper class is no cultural marvel today, but it takes a special blindness to ignore the difference between upper class culture and that of the merely wealthy.

The current massive SJW whining about micro-aggression is hardly mainstream. However, it is also little more than a caricature of how most “respectable Americans” tend to think. In other words, the whining is over-the-top, but essentially the same culture. Americans have a very poor tolerance for sarcasm directed at them personally. If you can find acceptance into some in-group, you’ll get away with it more, but whining about offense is simply the essence of what we are.

And it’s just crazy how easy it is to get over that. Most people who become aware of the virtues of social resilience — not taking yourself too seriously — have little trouble moving down that path. It’s too obvious. But it seems increasingly rare that you’ll find someone with the good sense to simply laugh when another party says something preposterous about him.

Sometimes you just wanna growl at someone: “Grow a pair!”

Veiled Compassion

It’s not from me; it uses me.

It’s hard to apply the compassion of my heart to people I’ve never met. What I can do is hold that compassion out there where others can see it. I already know by experience that most folks will recognize it on some level, but what they make of it varies. Precious few will actually have some grasp of its nature and celebrate with me.

I won’t claim to actually understand it.

There’s a huge question hanging in my mind right now. In the past, I knew that talents and skills were just tools to surrender to that compassion. Sure, I found entertainment in learning about computers; it scratched an itch. And I knew that my ability to fix them was a gift God could give to others. So I continued with an enthusiastic exploration of things I could figure out and keep helping folks in little ways.

And I suppose I wasn’t really too shocked when my enthusiasm for all of that died. I didn’t just toss away the knowledge and skills, whatever passes for expertise, but it has become work. I don’t mind doing work, but I certainly don’t mind when some chores take care of themselves. Fixing computers doesn’t bring a sense of peace and contentment. It’s a valuable tool, but realistic or not, I long for a time when, either they didn’t pollute our world so much, or we simply didn’t need them to carry out the gospel mission. I’ll keep using them until that day comes.

What I don’t understand is the bicycle and photography thing. Fun, yes, but there’s more. There’s a powerful moral purpose at work here, an action of compassion, but for once I don’t see how they bless others. At least, I don’t see how the harvest of blessings matches the depth of drive in me. Sure, the chatter about riding and exploring is a good thing, and the pictures of stuff you won’t normally see is entertaining. But for the life of me, I can’t yet see why I felt it was so morally necessary that I ride through West Elm Creek Valley Monday and take just a few pictures. (Actually I took more than I posted, but not all of them were worth sharing.) Sure, I learned something I didn’t know — the second lake is already on the way — but I can’t see how that is such a big deal. My conscious mind still doesn’t see why it was so important, only that it was important. It was like a sacred time in itself and I simply cannot see through that veil.

Curiosity and my sense of wanderlust don’t explain it. Were it merely my personal inclinations, I’d be out riding in far distant areas with more popular scenery. Today I have a divine appointment to ride to another area just a few miles away that I’ve not seen, and again it’s important that I take a few pictures. I’m not documenting anything, or I’d sense a need for far more images. One or two good shots and I know I’m done. But for some reason, the mere act of sharing them on the other blog doesn’t seem the end of the matter.

My theory for now is that I’m doing this in preparation for something that, if I knew what it was too soon, the knowledge would ruin things. Meanwhile, I’m puzzled how something that looks and feels like a retiree’s hobby can have such a powerful moral drive behind it. It’s a mission from God wrapped in a veil. Compassion says I must keep at it.

Yeah, I pray for a better camera, but a larger burden on my heart is the need to hear from God what really matters in all of this. If not some kind of “why” explanation, I would at least need the assurance that comes from obeying, and the assurance that I know I am obeying. Somebody will get a blessing from this, and I need to make sure it’s as lavish as I can make it for the glory of our Creator.

Easter versus Resurrection Sunday

This is a rant.

This is a personal reaction that need not apply to you. The mainstream Western Christian celebration of Resurrection Sunday has worn thin on me, and even the corrective blog posts and articles have gotten trite. Over the years it has gotten so annoying that I took a New Testament option of not celebrating the holiday at all, but celebrating His Resurrection every day (Romans 14:5). But I wanted to wait until it was all past to write about it.

When I was a kid, I knew it was Easter because it was after Christmas and we would all go and buy new dress clothes. Mom and my aunts would buy extra eggs and talk about dying them. Parents would sneak around getting cheap baskets, fake grass and chocolate bunnies.

Do me a favor, would you? If you want to celebrate Easter (the holy day of Oester), go ahead. But don’t squish into it some passing ritual mention of Christ’s Resurrection, okay? Don’t do Easter stuff at church unless you plan to hold a separate ritual event for the Resurrection. That’s pretty much the minimum if you want me involved.

Sometimes Scripture discusses things directly, usually in its own historical context. Sometimes we have to search for clues with fear and trembling that we don’t blaspheme in the process. The Apostles saw nothing wrong with scholarship and expertise in pagan mythology. The knowledge was not a threat; it was a necessity for dealing with the pagans. Not all pagan religion is a threat to faith. Sometimes there are parallels and insights that actually accord with the Bible. A solid majority of the Covenant of Moses reflects common custom and belief among pagans in that part of the world. God chose to use such things where they were consistent with His revelation. If you don’t know that, then be very careful what you advocate as a believer, because you’ll likely come up wrong on a lot of things.

On the other hand, the Apostles flatly warn us against idolatry. They didn’t word it with quite the severity of Moses because Moses is more about symbolism and national identity, while the New Testament presumes no national identity on the same level. It’s more cosmopolitan about things because our identity is rooted consciously above this realm of existence. We understand the symbolism but we strive to see through it to something difficult to put into words. So Paul lays out a basic guideline that you avoid celebrating a pagan deity. Don’t let your pagan friends think you are worshiping their deities. Find some place in your behavior where you draw a line that they will see and recognize. Don’t be a grouch, but don’t be herded into a festival that is blatantly idolatrous. The whole point is distinguish Christ from the rest.

Obviously I reject the legalism you can find on any number of websites about how “evil” it is to celebrate common cultural holidays in any way. Culture is culture and a lot of our pagan Anglo-Saxon legacy is buried under secularism. You can decide for yourself where to draw the line, but in the back of my mind I never forget that decorating Christmas trees is a pagan religious ritual, as is dying eggs and making chocolate hearts. We aren’t the First Century church, but we do well to realize they celebrated Christ’s Resurrection as a fulfillment of Old Testament celebrations, Passover in particular. That Old Testament stuff is not our heritage of culture, but it is our heritage of faith and revelation. It would be far better to create entirely new rituals for our own context.

Take a moment to consider what an awful thing it was that Constantine managed to seduce the Christian leaders of his day. He offered protection from persecution and favorable imperial policy, and even money, to capture them in his very intelligent scheme of making Christianity more like his favored religion of sun worship. He was a Solarian and he paganized the church to some degree. A great deal of Roman Catholic ritual descends from his influence. We struggle today to unravel the garbage he inserted into the Christian religion of his day, and there is room for debate on a lot of specifics.

On the one hand, I am very conscious of the rhythm of life on this planet. We are obliged as humans to recognize the hand of God in that continuing cycle and celebrate the rich provision for life. On the other hand, I tend to flatline the highs and lows of sentiment that other people seem to want for themselves. In my soul, that roller-coaster stuff is a serious problem, so I try to avoid it. That means I am pretty giddy and nutty every day, but I downplay the holiday celebrations. I might use any contextual factor as leverage to prod people into a stronger awareness of God, but I don’t care for Christmas trees, colored eggs and chocolate hearts. Meanwhile, I love coniferous trees in nature, I eat eggs every day, and I love dark chocolate. I am deeply cynical about flag-waving and other kinds of herding activities, but I am a disabled veteran. I am fiercely nonconformist under whatever you see on my exterior. I won’t piss on your parade without very good reason, but if you begin to sound idolatrous, that might provoke me — especially if you try to rope me into your celebration as if it were a moral obligation.

This is why I didn’t post anything specific about Resurrection Sunday.