28 December, 2007

Choosing a Church in which to Bloom

I have already said each of us should attend the church nearest our home, and given incontrovertible reasons. There is, however, one reason not to attend the church closest to your home.

You should only attend a church that's alive.

How can you tell whether the church nearest your home is dead, and that you should attend a little further away?

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, chapters 2 and 3 give us a pretty look at 7 churches. Let's see what Jesus has to say about each of them. If you'll forgive me, for the sake of brevity I'm only going to focus on the negative.

Ephesus left their first love. They quit loving Christ Himself. That's MASSIVE. But it was not too late for them to repent, do the first works again, and stay in the presence of the Lord. That surely means they are alive. I would not pass on a church because they had grown a little cold in love. If you join them and let the fire of your love burn, who knows what might happen?

Smyrna was faultless, but poor and about to enter a fearful time of persecution. It might take courage to join a Smyrna, to join a church in a difficult neighborhood perhaps, but there's a crown of life in it for those who dare.

Pergamos holds false doctrines, commits idolatry and fornication, and has a serious clergy problem. Join or run? This one is truly a tough call for me. I think I'd go in with about the same attitude Jesus seems to show. I'd join and let my specific concerns be known to people with power to promote repentance. There's still a spark of life there, so I'd have a hard time passing them by. There's one thing I'd watch for ... but more about that later.

Thyatira suffered a fornicating prophetess to teach false doctrines and develop a following. I'd join that church in a heartbeat, though, because Jesus says He only has anything against those who follow her. That church is definitely alive. Entertaining such seduction is not a sign of death.

Sardis teaches more about attending the nearest church than any other. Sardis is all but dead. There's almost no reason whatsoever to even give wretched Sardis a chance. But Jesus doesn't see them as dead; He sees them as alive and dead. There are just a few with clean garments, and He sees that as long as those few are there, the whole body might still return from their long winter. You see, the only way those few could leave their church would be to pack up and move to Philadelphia or Smyrna. They were stuck. But Jesus holds out a hope of life to them. Even a church alive and dead might still be vibrant one day.

Philadelphia is tiny and weak, but she's earned the commendation of the Lord. Maybe those couple Sardisians really SHOULD move! Personally, I'll take a tiny church any day, but that's a personal thing. I don't like crowds. I like to know everyone, and feel connected to everyone, and even at 90 people that's a stretch for me. So, I'm all over the tiny churches.

Laodicea receives not one word of praise. They are lying to themselves about their riches, about their vision, and about their beauty. They could hardly be more messed up. Really. Think about Laodicea being the church nearest to you. Laodicea would talk about their mission to the community while they shooed beggars out of their shadow. They would look at their beautiful stained glass and confuse it with spiritual wealth. They would beam proudly in all the city celebrations while everyone around them depised their hypocrisy. Could you join this church? Should you join this church? I don't know, but Jesus had this to say to them, "As many as I love, I rebuke...."

5 of these 7 churches had real problems, dirty problems. They had the kinds of problems that cause people to say, "You know, I still haven't found a church where I feel at home." But the Lord was still dealing with all seven of them. The Lord had not walked out.

On this basis, I would honestly consider attending a church that suffered the evils of lovelessness, false doctrine, idolatry, fornication, bad clergy, renegade prophets, death, poverty, tininess, or hypocrisy. (Probably not all 10, though.)

There's one thing, though, that I'd watch for in any church. If I saw it deeply entrenched I'd probably move on - peace.

If I see a church at peace, I'm out of there.

Peace is what the dead rest in. Even in the best church, peace means no one is thinking any more. Whenever you have three people thinking about anything, you're bound have an argument, so if there's no struggle, I'm probably getting nervous.

Pergamos and Laodicea were the worst of the lot. If I had to choose between the First Church of Pergamos on my block and the Laodicean Church of Jesus right next door, I would visit both and the one that was still fighting is the one I'd join. Fighting is awful, stressful and bad, but fighting means there's life and passion nestled somewhere in that body. There's still a fire to blow into a flame.

When there's sin but no fire, the sin has won and it's time to move on. Up until that point, it's fair to hope the Lord might blow on that spark. And if the Lord might blow on the spark, don't you want to be there to help?

1 Cor 7:14
For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.

How much more might a church be sanctified by each of the people who give themselves to her?

27 December, 2007

Philosophical Answers

My boy asks me philosophical questions. I always answer, though not always with the same degree of sincerity.

Regularly he has asked for years now, "What is the meaning of life?"

My answers have ranged all across the board, from hot dogs to knowing God and loving Him forever.

The other day he asked, "What is the meaning of death?"

To this, I had a ready answer - separation. Death is being separated from anything irretrievably.

Then our eyes lit up. If we KNOW what death is, then don't we know what life is? Life must be connection, right? Or more properly, the meaning of life must be to connect. Period. I can't find anywhere that answer doesn't fit snuggly.

It was pretty cool.

26 December, 2007

A Night with Codepoke

Work until the last possible minute.

It's been so boring at work for so long, it's hard to leave with an interesting project finally in my lap. Stay another 15 minutes writing up the bug list for tomorrow and accidentally fixing one.

Decide I can't leave without checking the blogs. I don't get to read deeply and certainly don't/can't comment, but my bloglines are cleared before I power down.

Home in 20 at 5:55.

I know there's no email waiting on me, thanks to the Blackberry. It's hard to check the email that way, and very annoying to answer it, but I'm hoping to hear I have an extra match in the tournament starting tonight so I've checked it four times today. No such luck, so when I get home I resist the urge to check it again.

My neighbor gave me some raviolis, so I start water boiling in case I decide to eat before the night starts.

I plan to look in on the tourney tonight and see how well the young bucks hit. Some day I'll be ready to play them, probably, but for now it's the 35's that I'm trying. The 35's don't start until Saturday, but one guy is playing in the open event tonight also, so I hope to scout him out.

Ah! That's an excuse to get on the computer. I'll see when my possible opponent is playing. That let's me cure that addictive desire to check email even though I know there's nothing there at the same time. A beautiful coincidence.

He plays at 7:00. It's 6:05 now, so do I eat dinner or just snack? The water's already boiling, so I'll go for it. I have some sausage spaghetti sauce from last week, a little quiche from Christmas breakfast, and I can throw together a quick salad.

Eat to The Week magazine. It seems there are still a couple untouched spots on this planet, and the new Daniel Day-Lewis movie gets 4 stars. He plays such an evil bad guy these days, and the Christians in the movie seem to be portrayed like mindless fanatics, so I'm still leaning toward skipping it.

Clear my dishes. Leave the boy's in the sink. He's out all night so I'll probably wash them when I get back.

Receive a call from the ex. She has a migraine. We seem to have that in common, but mine are slowing down and getting weaker. Maybe my new plan is working, or maybe the weather is just steadying out. A couple minutes of logistics with her, and back to the dishes. She's able to tell me where the boy child is. That's nice.

Change into tennis clothes and load 130 pounds of gear into the trunk. 6:50 was my goal, but it's only 6:45. I audibly cheer. It is at this moment that I think it might be funny to blog the whole night. How many people do I know who cheer because they've freed 5 extra minutes on a work night?

The car starts. I'm driving the boy's car because he says it's not starting for him. He's had to jump it twice now. The first time, it was his dome light and I drove it for a day and verified everything was good. The second time, the ex's boyfriend jumped him. I explain the domelight issue to him again. He's in a hurry, because Mr. Boyfriend is waiting on him, and he gets flustered. I quickly figure out that he's hearing "park lights" when I say "dome light.". Anyway, the car starts for me, but I don't cheer that - I knew it would.

Arrive at the tennis club and introduce myself to the tourney director. Maybe I'll have a better chance of being subbed in for doubles or something if he knows my face. I asked him via email why I could not play two events like the guy I'll be scouting. Simple. He knows that guy, and knows he won't flake out on him. Maybe next year, now that he knows me. Fair enough.

Find my scouting mark. His opponent is beating him with big angles. I don't know if I'll be able to hit as hard as this kid, though. The kid hits 2 hands on both sides, and is blasting lasers to both corners. He'd be hard to beat any time by anyone, and it's a close match at 4-3. My guy is only down one break. This guy is the #2 seed in the 35's, and on the other side of the draw. I have to beat a no-name like me and the #1 seed to get to him. The odds are less than 50/50, but it's still fun to be scouting. It's the first time I've ever done it.

If I play him, I need to pressure his backhand to draw the short ball, then play wide and hard to his forehand. I should be able to handle his serve, and if I hit soft balls to him to gain time, he won't be able to hurt me much with them. He hits soft enough he would have killed me three months ago. With any luck, I've learned enough not to fall apart against his no-power game any more, but he's a good player and I don't know how things will end up.

The tourney is not crawling with people. One wants to chat up future opponents, but the crowd is thin.

My scouting target has pulled up even again. We have the classic big hitter verses steady plodder dynamic going on. The big hitter jumped in front with bold winners, but you just can't keep being that bold. Eventually you start missing, and your nerves get rattled. That's why I said earlier I didn't know if I could do it. Guess what? Neither could he. My guy just won the first set. This could be over quick now. Tennis happens that way.

My guy's serve is getting nastier. Yep. I told someone in the stands he'd get better as the night wore on. He is. There's a reason he's a high seed in the 35's draw.

Well, I'll check the final score later. It's 7:50 now, and I need to get to the courts. 12 more minutes of idle chatter, and my guy is serving for 4-1 if I'm interpretting the cussing correctly.

I figured there must be a shortcut to the courts from the club. I was right. I think I shaved 3 minutes.

I work a good drill. Moonball, drive, approach shot, half-volley, putaway. I do alright. My serve is going alright too. Then the machine quits working. I fiddle around for a while before I finally figure out it may be because the battery's dead. How did it get to be 9:42? I wore the machine out again. Wimp.

I shut down the lights at the court, but one doesn't go out. I look a little closer, and the full moon is directly behind that light. I'm seeing it's halo through the clouds without seeing it. It's really a beautiful night, and that's a cool picture to go home on.

When I get home, my little rock statues are still standing. A little over a year ago, I heard about rock stacking. It just so happens I had a rock garden in my front yard based on the whole zen sandtray idea, so I was set. I stack those 7 rocks in in odd little formations that challenge me and seem interesting. It's fun to wake up every morning and come home every night and see whether they're still standing. I stood these two stacks up on Christmas Eve. One is three rocks high, and the other is four. Literally, I could hit them with quarter, and they'd fall. It's so precarious when you do it right, but they'll stand for days if no one throws any quarters at them. I even took some rocks, pea gravel, and a basket in with me to work. Those stacks will stand for a week or two sometimes. Then my neighbor will close his drawer too hard, and I get to do it again.

Whenever someone asks whether I used glue, I always take the tiniest little piece of pea gravel and throw it at the stack. It always falls, and the person who doubted me cringes. It's a great chuckle for me, and I assure them I'd been meaning to rebuild it anyway.

By 10:25, I'm unpacked, freed of ankle and knee braces, had my protein shake to make sure my muscles remember anything good they learned tonight, and typed up to here. I've also been thoroughly mocked by my son for being completely inadequate at his new shareware game (Jardinains, if you're into that.) I scored 200,000 after an hour. He just ripped of 740,000. We won't talk about how long it took him. Whatever. The dishes are done, and he's copasetic with trying his car again tomorrow.

Anyway, we have a fun chat and he heads off to exercise bike for a while at 11:05. (When I can no longer play tennis, I'll bike. My favorite family exercise was when we had the 4-seater bike. It was a true joy until it was stolen. Pretty cheaply manufactured, but I'd spend the money again if the seats would be filled.)

I have three posts in mind right now, but I don't think I can do any of them justice tonight (no, this one doesn't count.) I always want to start getting ready for bed before 11:00. I always end up starting around 11:40. From the moment I start, it's an hour before I'm there unless I rush, and rushing has the opposite effect of what one wants when preparing for bed. Anyway. Tonight will probably be a 12:30 night. Tomorrow I'll think about those 3 posts about this same time, and make the same decision. And Friday, I'll be able to stay up a little bit later and I'll put one of them up. By then, I'll have had 2 more ideas and one or two of tonight's posts will be gone forever.

And since nobody blogs from Friday night to Sunday morning, I'll have put up another post out of synch with the rest of the world, and any comments it gets will be late in coming. I noticed almost a year ago that if you want comments, post Monday through Thursday. Friday and Saturday it's almost like everyone has a life, and only some of the crowd catches up on Sunday. Most people do their catch up on work days.

Ah well.

So, I figure if you've read this, you should be ready for bed, if not asleep already. Sleep well. :-)

UPDATE: I received a callout from work at 12:25 - not very usual for me. Not a bad one, though. I had it resolved in 15 minutes, and I'll go in an hour late tomorrow. I wasn't even asleep yet, so it was pretty smooth.

24 December, 2007

A Blooming Christmas

My pastor surprised me with an opportunity to share for a few minutes with several other saints at tonight's Christmas Eve service on, "What we can give to Jesus?" WooHoo! I'll put my thoughts together here.


The song Mary (name changed) shared with us yesterday really moved me. Singing to us how God had a beating, human heart was beautiful. God gambled the fate of the universe on a simple human heart beating against every ploy of Satan, every curse of the fall, and every random chance that can stop it. It's a scary thought, but the human heart must be a pretty amazing thing if God was willing to invest so much in one. And it's still beating today at the right hand of the Father.

Jeff has asked what we can give to God, after He has given so much to us. After Jesus suffered so much for us, and overcame. When all the cattle of a thousand ranches are His, and we can do nothing that He did not do better, what can we give Him?

We can answer His prayer requests.

We know Jesus' prayer requests. We know what He prayed, and we know He wanted us to keep praying for the same things after He left.

Jesus prayed that we would know His Father. He prayed that His name would be treated as a holy thing in all the Earth, and that His kingdom - His church - would come to Earth. He prayed that the will of God would be done here, and that His children would receive daily bread, find forgiveness from sins, and be protected from temptation.

Jesus wanted all these things for the Father's sake, and the first step in seeing the Father get all these things was for one tiny heart to start beating in Bethlehem. Jesus came that all these things be given to His Father.

And now there are fifty beating hearts in this room, brought here for the same reason Jesus was brought to Earth - that God might be made All in All.

We can bring Jesus' prayer requests to life on Earth. We can live as a people with a Father in heaven. We can honor the Name of our Redeemer. We can do the works of healing and love that define His kingdom, and do His will by reaching out to those in need around us right here in North Columbus. We can make sure every one of His children has bread, someone to laugh with, and a shoulder to cry on. We can confess our sins to one another, and find forgiveness in presence of His brothers and sisters. And we can see His children through times of trial and temptation.

I'd like to thank each of you for the way you've done this for me. I commend you to the Father and to Jesus for making so many of His prayers come true for me. As individuals, many of you have blessed me, and as a church you have renewed my hope. May the Lord bless His church, and may we submit to Him to continue returning this perfect gift to Jesus in 2008.

Merry Christmas!

22 December, 2007

Bloomers Pt 3

It seems there's always someone looking for tips on how to choose a church, and I would like to talk about exactly that. But it seems like the wrong place to start. First, one must talk about what you want a church to do.

We universally want a church to feed us the good things of the word of God. On top of that, most of us want an opportunity to worship in a natural way, to receive the sacraments, to pray. A good number of us want to serve in some capacity. Lastly, a few of us want to really share fellowship.

And outside of our personal needs, we want the church to stand for something in the world. We want the church to defend the truth, to reach out in evangelism, to offer a hand of support to the needy, to keep the testimony of God holy. We want the church to be the bastion of truth against the encroachments of government, culture, and decay.

None of those things is bad, and I'm not getting ready to disrespect them. I will, however, reprioritize them. I see the church from a different perspective, and it causes me to see different things as most important.

The church is God's chosen means for answering His Anointed One's prayer requests.

In some ways, this is a pretty big leap. I'll forgive you if you think it sounds a little odd. Still, we do know Jesus' prayer requests because we've heard the Lord's Prayer. We know what He prayed for, and that He wanted us to keep praying for the same things after He left. Therefore, we can take some well-educated guesses at how He figured those things would come to pass. Since the Father believed the best way to start the ball rolling was for the Son to come to Earth, it's a pretty safe bet the best way to keep it rolling is for His children to continue the work Jesus began. That's a tall order, but God has a proven track record of giving tall orders to people. Fortunately, He is also known for following up with the grace to bring them to pass.

Facing heavenward, Jesus prayed we would know the Father as Father, that His Name would be treated as holy, that His empire would come to all the world, and that His will would be done. Facing humanward, He prayed that our needs would be met, that we would gain forgiveness, and that we would be kept from catastrophe and sin.

Those are our marching orders. The same way the Son prayed and worked, we pray and work. Every time we pray for the kingdom to come, we also must work to bring the kingdom. Every time we pray for forgiveness, we must forgive. The Father gives the grace, and we exercise the gifts we receive from Him. In the end, the manifold wisdom of God is revealed by exactly this process. (Eph 3:9-11)

The work of the church, based upon what we know of the Lord's Prayer, should look like this:

The church knows the Father, and lives as if they do. The church lives out the Name of God on Earth, so that all the world can honor it. For example, God is our "Provider," so the church should provide in His Name. That's how His Name becomes hallowed. The empire of God is an invisible kingdom of love, so the church loves, shining its gifts on both the just and the unjust just as He does. And it's the church that sweats to see God's plans and intents, His will, brought to full fruition.

The church also looks out for the daily bread, the needs, of all her children. No member of the church should be allowed to go hungry, and no member of the church should be allowed to go lazy either. The church has received forgiveness, so she should extend forgiveness to each of her members, and thus live without bitterness. And it's the church that should bear people up through every temptation and deliver each member from the evil and catastrophe working against us in the world.

Those are full-time, around the clock jobs for every member.

That's what the church should be doing. In order to prepare the church to do those things, she should engage in solid preaching, worship, and prayer. She should fellowship, take the sacraments, and do all those things that Christians do because those things prepare her to work. Just don't confuse the preparations with the work. Preaching prepares us to work, but it's to the work itself that we were called.

A jungle of red tape stands between the church and doing the work she was called to do. That red tape guarantees all the preparations happen - the doctrine is taught, the preaching is promoted, the worship is well coordinated - but at the expense of freedom. And it's free men and and women who provide, love, and work. It's in freedom that the church cares for needs, forgives, and comforts.

In choosing a church, I recommend you look right past all the red tape.

You could spend months finding a church that agrees with you on 90% of the doctrines you've studied out. You could search out a church that sings the right mix of songs, and worships with a comfortable degree of enthusiasm, and that prays for the things that matter to you. I ask you to consider, though, that this would be a waste of your time, and a waste to the kingdom of God. You might find a church with tape just the right shade of red and that makes oh so gentle chains, but you've missed the greatest blessing.

If you want the greatest blessing, choose the church nearest to you. You'll get everything that matters, and life to boot.

You've heard it said a hundred times, you get out of church exactly what you put into it.

It's true.

You know the church nearest to you. Picture it in your mind. You drive by it how many times a week? And you've always wondered what those people are like, right? But their red tape is boring or wrong or lazy. They're just not your type. You know why you don't go there, right? And you know you're right, right?

But what if you did go there?

What if you went there to do the work of the church in that church? What if you ignored their red tape, and lived out the high calling of God just blocks away from your home? What if you decided you're not going to church to receive, but to pour yourself out to God and His children?

If you live out having the same Father as those saints, if you live out the Name of God with those saints, if you live out the kingdom of love with them, if you do the will of God with them, if you care for their needs and receive care from them, if you forgive and are forgiven beside them, if bear each other up through every adversity, will you not change the world?

Let me handle a question now. "I could do these things in any church. Why not go to a church that is "as close to scripture"/"enthusiastic"/"dedicated"/"???" as possible? Why go to a church I'm not comfortable with just because it's closest? That seems like exactly the wrong way to choose a church."

I will give you two reasons to go to the church nearest you, and I cannot decide which is the more important.

First, you will be more likely to really get to know those Christians who live nearest to you if you attend a church near to you. The more of us start to fellowship nearer to our homes, the more our Christianity will work its way out of that building and into our neighborhoods. If you tell your neighbors you go to some church on the other side of town, what are the odds they will want to go with you? But if you tell them you go with a few families down the street?!? That packs a punch, because nobody does that any more.

Second, you MUST go to that church, because you won't fit in there. Our churches need more people who don't fit in! We're too comfortable with each other, and it's costing us dearly. The whole world has caught on to the importance of diversity but Christianity. Our emotional denominations need some intellect. Our intellectual denominations need some action. Our active denominations need some tenderness. The high churchers need some casual folk and the low churches need some precise people. We've split ourselves up into these cozy little comfort clans, but we need each other! We need more people who don't fit in.

That intellectual person in the emotional church right down the block is going to feel a little like he's personally desegregating the South. He'll worship differently than everyone else, and that's a hard thing, but it's a great thing. The active person in the intellectual church will squirm in the pew, and the emotional person in the intellectual church will want to burst. It won't be easy. And especially since they won't try to change the church. They're just there to be themselves, children of God amongst children of God - ignoring the paperwork that says they're not free to live to Christ the way they know they must.

If you should decide to attend that church nearest to your home and live the Lord's Prayer toward saints, you'll be really changing the world. More than any other single thing any of us average Joe's could do, being different in the church of Christ can make a difference. Just by showing up in that little body of believers (few people really live close to a mega-church anyway, so your church will be probably be little - and smaller is better for this idea) and giving them your heart, you will breathe life into that assembly. By being different and loving, you will challenge their preconceptions about your denomination and open their minds and hearts to a whole new world. By living close to them, you will encourage them to reach out to their nearest neighborhood. Could you do anything more important?

Most importantly of all, you will know that you're going to church, to that church, for a reason. You are going there to be an answer to the Lord's Prayer.

16 December, 2007

Modern Debate

As some of you may recall (hahaha) I orginally started this blog in hopes of it being a debate site. The kind of debate I wanted to do was the boring kind with lots of data and the implicit understanding that the debaters were not trying to convince each other, but the audience.

I quickly had to release that idea before I sunk with it. It happens.

The popular kind of debate, the kind where one loud guy asks another loud questions until the commercial break, gets plenty of play out here on the internet. I don't want to add to that culture. But I have a hero. There is a man who has entered that arena and come out victorious in a good cause.

His name is Jon Stewart.

If you have 15 minutes, watch this video of Jon appearing on Crossfire. If not, I think you can find some versions of this that are half as long in the margins of the youtube page.

Curious how well Jon did in this debate? 2 months later the show was off the air after a 23 year run.

15 December, 2007

Complete Fun

Yes, it's tennis post time.

It's been months since I last burdened you with a blow by blow of my court wars, but yesterday was special. I walked off the court happy.

I won, but that was not the thing. I hit a lot of winners, but that was not the thing. I made a number of mistakes, but that was not enough to discourage me. I even played both with and against ladies, without affecting my mood either way. And it was the first time I really enjoyed myself that way.

I hit every stroke right.

For the first time in my life, at least once, I hit every stroke correctly. That's a flat, top, and high-top forehand; a top, flat, and slice backhand; slice, top, kick, and flat serves; forehand drop and drive volleys; backhand drop and drive volleys; and backhand and forehand overheads. You can only imagine how happy it made me to have to hit every one of those shots during a series of doubles matches, and to deliver under pressure. It was glorious.

I am a more sensitive duck than most. Most people experience a kind of a direct line between growth of skill and growth of confidence. I don't. When my skill doubles, my confidence goes down. I merely know how much further short of the ideal I am. It is not until my skill is "adequate" that I begin to relax and experience this "confidence" thing other people talk about. This time last year, I was able to hit a tennis ball better than most 4.0 players, but I did not have faith in my knowledge - so I lost to 3.0 players all too often and never beat a 4.0 player.

Does that sound strange? Arrogant? Like a cockamamie excuse?

I'll tell you what it is. It's frustrating. I would rally aggressively with these guys, and my shots would be deeper, harder, heavier, and better placed. The match would start, and their shots would get 5% worse, while mine got 30% worse immediately, dropping another 5-30% as the match wore on. Sometimes I would finish a match hitting like a 2.0 player.

It's that horrid emotional sensitivity.

Every little whisper in my head would be magnified to conversational tone, and every statement became a shout. Every doubt was backed up with historic evidence, and every fear was in itself a thing to be feared. It takes almost nothing to knock me off my game.

And then I took that coaching in Sept.

Joan Ramey showed me exactly how to hit the ball (all of the strokes I listed above.) She left no room for doubt. On the forehand, the right foot twists on the balls of the feet, which causes the hips to rotate, which allows the torso to twist and the shoulders to open up. The right shoulder is catapulted forward by the action of the whole body and the racket starts about 6 inches below the eventual point of the contact with the ball. The head tracks the ball back to the point of contact, even as it moves forward toward the eventual target. Finally, the racket strikes forward in a flat line toward the point of contact. It will naturally rise those six inches toward the point of contact in order to hit the ball upward enough to clear the net. The racket is gripped in a semi-western fashion, so the downward tilt of the racket will impart all necessary topspin. No wrist flick or forearm twist is required. Those things will merely introduce points of error. After contact, the arm follows through directly beside the left shoulder, not way up in the sky.

These are all coarse-grain movements by major muscle groups.

In other words, they are repeatable. No matter how much pressure I was under last night, I was able to do all those things the same way, and hit a solid, dependable ball. When I'm in the zone, I can add lots of fine-muscle touch to the gross motor motions of a basic forehand. But when I'm out of the zone, I can still hit the ball well enough to win points, and keep my opponent from figuring out how sensitive I am, and how quickly I might fall apart.

I spent the whole fall grooving in my baseline game, groundstrokes and serves. Two weeks ago, I started working on my net game, volleys and overheads. On Tuesday, I went and paid hard earned cash for an hour of pure volley lessons. Then I grooved those lessons in my basement Wednesday and Thursday. And it worked.

All night, Friday, even as I made mistakes (and I still made plenty) I was able to remember the coarse-grain, gross motor skills I'd learned and keep my head from falling apart. As the night wore to a close, I was still together. Tennis is a game that wears my personality down. At the start of the night, I am typically overconfident, and brimming with great shots. By the middle of the night, the burst of self-belief has passed, and I'm grinding out the things I do best. I've quit trying for anything new, and am pretty much shooting only for safe targets. By the end of the night, I'm holding on by the skin of my teeth. I've missed so many shots that I'm struggling to remember that I ever could play the game at all.


It was only recently I learned most tennis players don't go through that personal erosion. I always have. It's as if I know my back is only good for 2 hours, so I have to play as much as I can before it goes out. I know my personality can only handle so much, so I have to nurse my mind the whole time I'm out there. I have to practice good self-coaching, and not get too excited or too depressed, or the wheels come off.

Well, last night none of that happened. I played 6 sets or so sets of doubles, and I was as mentally fresh at the end of 3 hours as at the beginning.

They started me on the 4.5 level court. I feel barely qualified to hit with these guys, but I stand in the best I can. I probably lost 2/3 and Phil lost the other 1/3. That's not bad, because 1/2 & 1/2 is perfect. I'd much rather be the 2/3 guy, but I'm hanging on here. We played to a 7-7 tie with no breaks of serve, and we won the tiebreak 5-1. That means I held my serve 3 times. Three times the whole thing was on my racket, and I delivered.

The biggest trial was the volleying at 4.5 level. Volleying at that level is a very visceral, instinctive thing. From a max of 40 feet away, the ball is hit at 50-80 mph, sometimes right at you, some times out of reach. You have to decide whether to come in and face that barrage, or whether to back away. In the past my volley has always been so weak I have stayed back. Last night, I found I had just enough confidence to stay in. The thing is, if you do it right, the volley is good for an instant point. It's worth the gamble. I hit a few serious, perfect volleys at the 4.5 level last night. I also hit some bricks. That's OK. I don't mind failing when I know I'm headed in the right direction. Last night was a step in the right direction.

The rest of my matches were 3.5 level. I hate to step down, but it gave me a chance to build confidence. My daughter tells me that it's better training to beat up on people just slightly worse than you than to constantly lose to people better than you. So, I did. I stayed in, and made some volleys I never could have made before. It was a pleasure.

I've been a little technical here, so I don't blame anyone who hasn't gotten this far. The bottom line is that I've always been scared and nervous, and last night I finally got to see the fruit of all the coaching to which I've exposed myself. They say that "training" is something that happens to you, and "learning" is something that happens in you, and that if all goes well training results in learning. Last night I got to see that the learning is happening, and not just the training.

None of this is trite to me, though it rings so in my ears.

Every animal on Earth learns to survive by playing. Somehow I messed that up in my youth, but I'm gaining ground on life now. 2 years ago, when I started this whole blog thing, I was a 3.0 player who thought he was a 4.0 player. I would say the same applied throughout my life.

I don't talk much about the coaching I'm getting in life, religion and relationships, but it's almost bizarre how perfectly my experience and growth in tennis is matching my experience and growth in all these other areas. 2 years ago, I was the best tennis player on my team - so I quit my team. It was good for my ego and bad for my tennis to stay.

The biggest thing I've learned in these last 2 years is that I'm not really a head-case on the tennis court. I see now why my shots were failing me 2 years ago, and I found I could correct those errors. As I have begun to find reason for confidence, the confidence has come. Other people have a gift for confidence without cause. I do not.

Learning that about myself has allowed me to address the biggest problem in my emotional life. Learning that I can stabilize my emotional "strokes" to work under pressure, and that I can find confidence based on cause, even after 30 years of lacking it, has freed me to try some pretty un-Codepoke like stuff of late. I'm happy with the results, and looking for more "causes."

I left the tennis court Friday night, not euphoric, but blissful. I'm not there yet with regard to all my emotions, but the light at the end of the tunnel is getting closer, and I can smell the fresh air now.

And I'm looking forward to playing in the Midwest Indoor Championships.

14 December, 2007

Christian Republican Bloomers - Pt 2

The Irish Republican Army was orginally supposed to "ignore" the British Empire into submission. We all know it didn't turn out that way, but let's imagine for a second that the founding idea was still worth mentioning in polite conversation.

And I have likened the denominational hierarchies of Christianity to the British Empire. For sake of convenience, let me define denominational hierarchy as any Christian relationship defined and documented in a legal contract form. Yes, that includes vice presidents, deacons, orders of worship, statements of faith, and missionary callings. And foremost, it includes church membership rolls.

I realize there will be some argument against my definition of paper as the enemy, but I think it's pretty close. The real enemy of the church is the flesh of each of her members. I attack paper because it's our generation's go-to defense for our flesh. Lurking behind every piece of paper you'll find a sin waiting to happen. Whether it's the church budget allowing greed, the bylaws enabling sloth, the calendar supporting procrastination, or the membership roll feeding pride; red tape is always the first defense of the bureaucrat and the cheapest ammunition to fire at messengers of the Spirit.

Here is my proposal.

Ignore all paper in the church.

Statement of Faith? Burn it. Bylaws? Owe all men nothing but love; against such there is no law. Denominational missives? Chaff. Membership rolls? Printed lies.

For anyone who wants to play along at this, doing it will not be easy. Salguod hit it square on the head in his comment on my first post.
Ignoring the establishment while standing in it is hard to do, and not for the faint of heart. You have to be willing to feel disconnected, outside the mainstream, misunderstood and just a little bit odd. Most folks can't stomach that, and instead go to find somewhere they can belong.

I understand. It's getting hard for me too. In my youth, I carried this feeling with me everywhere I went, and used it as a neurotic defense mechanism. These days, I'm starting to enjoy this thing of being accepted and acceptable. I must be getting older. A couple weeks ago I was cornered into telling my pastor I'd not be signing up as a member. I experienced a new feeling, and a rather unpleasant one. I felt unhappy about being a troublemaker and a strange person. Oddness has always been something of a badge of honor for me, and feeling uncomfortable as the odd man out was decidedly healthy.

And yet, I think this might be worth the trouble.

You see, here's what might happen if we ignore all the paper in the church.

We might remember that people are the only thing in the church that matters. We might start thinking that being found helping each other is more important than convincing each other of anything. We might start respecting each other for maturity of love, instead of maturity of doctrine; holding the hurting instead of holding offices; being bound to brothers instead of being bound to definitions. And we might stop reading about people "shopping" for churches.

I know there's no current example for this. I know there's no church out there that keeps nothing written down on paper. Still, there just might be a little thing arguing in favor of living without bureaucracy - the family.

Can you imagine life if America reinvented the family right now?

Hey guys,
I'm new to the Columbus area, and I'm looking for a new family. Any good suggestions? I'm comfortable with old stuff, so I don't need a lawyer family, or anything like that, but I don't want a "rusted out '72 Vega" family either. But they can be into '70's music, 'cause retro's seriously hip these days. And they can't be into spanking, 'cause I won't let anyone touch my kids. But great holidays are a must. I can't stand those families that downplay Xmas.

How long would it be before we invented a contractual definition of the family? No one wants to commit their lives to anything that might change, right? But God didn't protect us against change, and so we go on fostering unprotected love between genetically related people. God thought it was enough that we shared the same parents for us to be brothers.

So how about copying that plan in the church and see where it gets us?

The bible gives us plenty of ways to know when someone is not in the family. We don't need to invent a statement of faith and membership roll to be sure.

In Pt 3 I'll try to list some ideas about how to bloom where you're planted.

11 December, 2007

You Might Be a Chained Sheep If....

When I talked in my last post about chained sheep, I was picturing something very specific. ~100 sheep all chained around the ankles to at least two other sheep. Some of them I picture with the chains on different forelegs, others on the same foreleg, some on front and rear legs, but all of them rattling every time they move. And I picture this one poor sheep out in front of the rest, with a chain on his back leg pulled as tight as he can stand it, pulling with his other three legs in the direction of the best food he can see, bleating his true little heart out.

And none of the sheep knows about the chains.

I figured it might be important to tell those sheep how to know whether they were actually chained. You know, kind of as a PSA. With that in mind....

You Might Be a Chained Sheep If....

+ Someone keeps selling you on how nice it is to be outside during the driving rain, instead of in that boring, old, warm sheepfold.

+ Everything seems to work exactly the same whether the Shepherd is around or not.

+ The view never changes. It's always that same fuzzy butt.

+ The grass looks greener about 3 feet away, but your foot is headed the other direction and you must follow.

+ The local wolves have thick, shiny coats even though they've completely forgotten how to run.

+ You sing "Trust and Obey" or "That's the Sound of the Lambs Working on the Chain Gang" a lot.

+ The "voice of the Shepherd" bleats remarkably like your own voice.

+ You keep trying to figure out what the Shepherd actually needs with the grass you keep giving as a "love offering."

+ Whenever you pass another flock of sheep, you notice none of them come over to visit. You don't notice that none of your flock goes over to visit them.

+ You find gamboling about excitedly disturbs everyone else you're chained to.

+ Almost everything else in your life is more exciting than trudging out with the flock to be fed again.

10 December, 2007

The Christian Republican Bloomers

Last week I was watching "Michael Collins," which was billed as the Irish, "Braveheart." Produced in 1996, it tells the story of maybe the largest figure in the establishment of the Irish Republican Army in 1916.

The movie starts in the middle of a toe-to-toe symmetric battle between Irish freedom fighters and British soldiers. The Irish, not being a nation and all, are hopelessly outgunned and eventually surrender. Mr. Collins is thrown in jail and, after couple years, released to start the battle all over again. There's lots of stuff about how cruel the Brits were and how crafty Mr. Collins was, but I was arrested by one line out of this movie.

You see, I feel a certain affinity for the freedom fighter.

We live in the colonial era of Christianity, under the rule of denominational monarchies. In my deepest heart of hearts, I cannot feel free in the church.

There's an Irish freedom song called, "The Town I Loved So Well." It's about a lad who returns as a man to Derry, the town where he grew up. It spends three verses talking about what the town meant to him as a child, adolescent, and finally a young man. Then it says this:

But when I returned how my eyes have burned
to see how a town could be brought to its knees
By the armoured cars and the bombed out bars
and the gas that hangs on to every tree
Now the army's installed by that old gasyard wall
and the damned barbed wire gets higher and higher
With their tanks and their guns, oh my God, what have they done
to the town I loved so well

When I look at the church, this is precisely how I feel.

My eyes burn as I see how children of God can be brought to their knees by armoured doctrines and bombed out shells of worship. There's a haze in the air because the fresh wind of thought is shielded away. The denominational HQ looks over every teaching and practice, and the damned barbed policies get higher and higher. With their rules and their tools, what must God think of what they've done to the church I loved so well.

The song concludes like this:

Now the music's gone but they carry on
For their spirit's been bruised, never broken
They will not forget but their hearts are set
on tomorrow and peace once again
For what's done is done and what's won is won
and what's lost is lost and gone forever
I can only pray for a bright, brand new day
in the town I loved so well

I cannot tell you what that song does to me. I've sung it for half-hours at a stretch, and never quit crying the whole time. I could not resist singing it again just now. And every time I sing, I see the same thing. I see 20 of us brothers and sisters sharing our lives and love. I see us daring and living and loving in Christ, without a single other care in the world than Him and each other. I see prayers and laughter and sermonettes and Christians blooming on the Earth in Christ's Name.

And I then see faces in a crowd looking up at a pastor.

I see brothers who have to whisper their thoughts and questions in coffee shops and ideas that will never be tried. I see songs conceived in sisters' hearts that will never be written, and never be sung. I see meals that will never be offered, and risks that will never be shared. All because the government of man cannot handle the dynamic confusion of God's sheep unchained.

The Shepherd doesn't bind the sheep. They know His voice, and they follow Him. But no denomination can abide that kind of gamble. Without chains and leashes the sheep could end up anywhere. So they add a rule here, and a principle there, and soon the house of God is ordered. Soon, wherever the lead sheep goes, the flock must follow.

Paul said it was for freedom we were made free.

In the movie, Michael Collins is dealing with the British government. Offscreen I know the Brits are doing many "good" things for the Irish, and they are "helping" in so many fine ways, but a nation's worth of services won't make up for liberty stolen. The government'll do anything but let the Irish be free. Mayhap you can see how I might identify a bit with the situation. If not, it's OK.

One of Mr. Collins' compatriots, the intellectual leader of the bunch and president of free Ireland, writes a letter to him that concludes with this line:

We defeat the British Empire by ignoring it.


Absolutely brilliant.

I have been looking for a way to free the church for 25 years. If you think I've shown dedication to tennis or to any other thing about which I write, you've not seen my heart. The children of God deserve to be free. God deserves free children. This thing needs to happen.

But there's nowhere to start. There's nowhere to put a lever, no fulcrum, and no force to apply. What's more, there's no coaches. There's loads of amateurs with wonderful ideas, but none of them with the convincing "ring" of expertise.

I get loads of coaching from amateur tennis players, even players who are better than I am, but they're just getting lucky out there. They can hit the ball because they've got serious talent and received enough coaching, but they don't know how they hit it. They cannot teach anyone else how to do what they do because they don't understand it themselves. And when they get in trouble, their game collapses.

In trying to change the church, the problems are goliath. For starters, the sheep don't want to be free - but then nobody wanted to fly either. And then the establishment got that name by being so well established. They are firmly entrenched. And there's nothing they say that's false. They lead their chained sheep around speaking accurate truths about freedom, and the sheep nod and feel lucky.

I learned the hard way 10 years ago that I cannot fight the establishment.

But what if I ignore them?

What if I don't change them, but just quietly forget they exist, even as I fellowship wh brothers and sisters in their sanctuary?

What if I hang with the other sheep, and kindly refuse to put on their chains? They are all voluntary, you know.

I cannot field a government that can beat theirs. So what? I didn't want to end up with a government anyway.

That's the most I can fit in this post. More another day.

08 December, 2007

Abandoning Faith for Faith

My computer was nice enough to give me a second chance to write this post. Hopefully, this time my work will meet it's high standards of perfection, and it will allow me to save my efforts.


I was reared Assemblies of God. It was a charming little combination of Fundamentalism and Prosperity Doctrine. We believed that you had to live perfectly uprightly (no movies, no alcohol, no unprofitable speech, everything - as I recall it, anyway) and that God answered prayer (healings, job miracles, relationship miracles, the whole bit.)

We had the answers.

If you lived holily, and if you clung to Christ, and if you asked for your holy heart's desires wholly believing, you were pretty much set for life and afterlife. God could do amazing things for a man like that, a man willing to do selfless things for God.

Being raised there left me with a twisted view of God.

When Vanessa decided I really wasn't her type at age 18, the event left me baffled. Nothing, and I mean nothing, about her departure made a lick of sense. I was plenty upright. I prayed plenty. I lived plenty holy. I had plenty of faith ... and that's what I want to focus on, faith.

Looking back, I could not have had more faith than I had, at least not in the way I'd been taught. Faith was defined as "the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen" (Heb 11:1). Well, Vanessa was certainly hoped for, right? And since that bad afternoon, she was definitely unseen. So, faith was surely going to be the bridge between her departure and her inevitable return!

And be twice assured that there was no shortage of faith. When they teach about faith they say believing is not good enough. They say you have to trust, and illustrate trust with the famous tightrope across the Grand Canyon metaphor. "Believing" a dude in tights can wheel you safely across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope in a wheelbarrow is not enough. Instead, you have to exercise "faith" by getting in the wheelbarrow and enjoying the ride.

I set a higher standard. I danced a jig in that wheelbarrow, and never looked back.

I never looked at another girl, because Vanessa was coming back. I wrestled with my heart and kept its sorrows in check, because God was planning the perfect answer to the perfect story. I just needed to wait Him out. I consoled myself that faith was my companion during the long, but surely finite wait.

5 years is not a long time, unless you're 18 (or 43, or breathing.)

It was only after 5 years that I finally let go of my illusions. And it was hard. The mental habits were hard to break, but harder was ltg go of the insane conviction (I use the term advisedly) that if I hung on just a little longer my dedication would be vindicated. In surrendering my wishes, I was sure I was disappointing both God and myself, not to mention poor, deprived Vanessa.

I now know there was no real faith in my time pining after Vanessa. What I had was something else. I also know, though, there was some real faith, and that it kept me alive for that five years and the little year that followed.

Let's talk about the difference between faith and optimism.

Optimism is a general outlook that things are going to be OK. Science, psychology, and culture all believe optimism is a great thing for people, and so does Codepoke. Optimism has been proven to extend life expectancy, quality of life, and desirability at parties - all good things. Optimism doesn't actually change whether life throws you lemons or truffles, but it causes you to taste a little bit of everything thrown your way and not throw the truffles back. (Not throwing the truffles back is a good thing.)

Pessimism is a general belief that everything goes sour eventually. You might see a truffle, smell a truffle, taste a truffle and have friends coming over for the first time in a month of Sundays to have a truffle, but by pessimism you know those truffles are really lemons in disguise. You're a realist, and you know only a fool would rely on ever getting a real truffle. So, the safest thing to do is figure out how to make people like you for your charm and good nature, rather than sharing a bunch of sour truffles with them. I think I'll call pessimists "truffle tossers" from now on. Why not? Nobody understands what I say anyway. So why not say whatever I feel like?! It won't make any difference. I'm just wasting my time blogging.

(In case you missed the joke, that last bit was me tossing truffles. So was the bit about pessimists winning friends with their charm and good nature.)

Relative to pessimism, optimism is a most excellent thing.

But it's not faith.

Just a little past Hebrews 11:1, the author of Hebrews (yes, it WAS Priscilla!) actually defines what faith is, "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."

Faith is a firm trust placed in a promise, based upon the character of the person who makes it.

It takes several things to have faith. It takes someone making a promise, the promise itself, evidence of that person's dependability, and someone to trust the promiser. Faith is always a reasoned response to a promise plus visible, measurable evidence of faithfulness. Faith is a rich, full-bodied decision undertaken by someone with their eyes wide open.

People refer to "blind faith," but that's always a misnomer. What people call blind faith is really blind optimism. Blind faith invested in the "Flying Spaghetti Monster" is actually blind optimism, since there is no evidence of the FSM's dependability. Actually, optimism has to be blind. As soon as there's data to back up optimism, it quits being optimism and starts being observation. Faith, on the other hand, thrives in an atmosphere of fact and data.

Knowing all this would not have brought Vanessa back, but it might have kept my head screwed on in a generally forward direction.

The two facts, 1) that I wanted Vanessa back, and 2) that God was kind did not equal any promise by Him that Vanessa would be delivered with bells on. Instead, I was praying for something I wanted and being optimistic. I thought the powerful impressions made on the mush in my skull constituted a binding contract with God. He did not share my illusion.

But what about the optimism part?

I've been waiting for this moment. I get to mention a word now, that was never once uttered in the same breath with "faith" during my whole childhood.


I was going to call this post, "The Dance of Wisdom," because when I first got the idea last week, I pictured the answer as a square dance in my head.

It's wisdom that tells us when to lean on faith alone, and when to add optimism to the mix. If you've ever seen a square dance, I picture optimism on the left, faith on the right, and wisdom in the middle.

Faith and optimism are both great dance partners, but it's wisdom that swings its partners round and round, and changes back and forth between them as the music plays. Sometimes wisdom grabs optimism for a couple dosey-does and keeps our chins up. At other times wisdom takes faith in arm, and spins her round and round and remembers what God really has and has not promised. Done right, balancing faith and optimism can actually be fun.

It almost makes me wish I could clap in time to marching music, but a man has to know his limitations. Watching me try to dance would not be a pretty thing. People with rhythm have walked up to me in the past and asked me to what I was clapping, because it sure wasn't to the song I was singing.

Wisdom wanted to tell me that Vanessa was gone, and that gone is gone, but I shut her up. I knew that listening to wisdom was abandoning faith. I spurned wisdom and crowned optimism as the queen of my judgement. I placed a sash over my queen's shoulder that said, "Faith," and told Solomon and his Proverbs that I had something better in hand. I had the crystal ball of my own heart's wishes, and if I wished anything this powerfully, it must come from God. God would make this wish come true. He had to. I had faith.

But the whole time that I was dancing exclusively with optimism, God was growing faith in the quiet back-reaches of my heart.

Looking back, my faith in God's love was far stronger than my optimism for Vanessa. I questioned God's method of bringing her back, for easily imagined reasons, but I never questioned His unchanging care for me.

And His care was a thing He really had promised.

It was the wreck of my make-believe faith that eventually opened my eyes to true faith. Seeing God keep, even in the smoking wreckage of my life, every promise He'd ever made settled my fears. My heart finally rested on the granite of His worthiness. His promise was always true, and His love was always faithful. Finally, faith began to get a little playing time in my life.

I wish I could say wisdom had. ;-) Shortly thereafter I married as foolishly as I'd loved before.

Such is life.

03 December, 2007

Big Miss(elanea)


I got out and played an hour and a half of tennis tonight, and I have another migraine.


Some day when I can read, I'm going to have to look up "exercise induced migraine" and see whether there is such a beastie. If there is, I bet it looks like a nasty little imp with a toothpick.

We hates them, little imps's's.

Anyway, under the heading of bizarre coincidences that looks almost like it's probably just fact of life put this little thing that I should have learned years ago. I pulled the clothes out of the dryer a little early yesterday, and guess what? No static.

Hmmmm. I bet static is caused by overdrying.

I bet I start setting the dryer to run to "less dry" a lot more often.

Ah well. The migraine doesn't seem to want to be a bad one, and I sure drilled some stuff I want to have down pat by March. It was a good night, and I bet I sleep well.

Lord bless you all.

(Word verification is extra annoying when you cannot SEE!)

02 December, 2007


I have been reading my absolute favorite theologian some more, NT Wright. I love the way he orders his arguments, and I love his priorities. So far as I'm concerned, he does as good a job of putting important things first as anyone I've read. He's a joy to read.

He's an Anglican.

That's cool. I love Anglicans, and I dearly love the Truth of Christ that he spells out so patiently and lovingly. Still, I have to admit I have trouble with his view of liturgy. He's a practitioner and mild advocate of high liturgy. He does a really good job of presenting a core Christianity that doesn't require him to dwell on liturgy, and when he does he's quite amiable about it. I respect his viewpoint deeply.

Still, after reading his stuff for a while I need to vent about the pain liturgy causes me - Anglican, Episcopal, Baptist, Assemblies of God, PCA, all of it. After all these years, I still assert we will not see all the church should be until we break through the wall of liturgy again.

Oh, I know all Christian services are allegedly "liturgical," and the only difference is whether they are "high" or "low" in their liturgy. Whether you meet in a living room or a cathedral, whatever you do is supposed to be a liturgy of some form.


Allow me to quote 1 Cor 14:24-33, and you tell me where the liturgy is.

24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. 26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

I beg you to come up with one single denomination on Earth today to which Paul might have to write anything remotely similar to this. Each one has a hymn? Each one has a lesson? Let two or three prophets speak? Let others weigh in? Let the first prophet speaking pause to allow another prophet with a "breaking revelation" to interrupt?

And these instructions are Paul's "corrections!" These are not the problem. These are the cure. In our age, we have applied the cure where there was no disease and ended up with a patient who is so "well" she can hardly speak any more.

I bring my car to the mechanic and tell him that it's shaking at 65 mph. A week later I pay him my money on his good word that it doesn't shake at 65 any more. And sure enough, when I get on the road the car won't go over 25 mph.

The car no longer shakes at 65, but I am emphatically not a happy customer.

Even so with liturgy.

Paul had a problem with the church in Corinth. It was not their biggest problem, by any means, but it was one that needed handling. They were so puffed up with knowledge that their meetings were circus shows, three rings rollin' 'round the clock. They had people drunk at love feasts, people interrupting, and people just flat talking in unknown tongues during the whole affair.

That's a heap o' problems.

So Paul cured them. And then he stopped. We didn't stop, though. We kept going until we got to where we are today. Paul did not tell them to restrain all worship to that led by a minister of worship. Paul did not tell them shut up and listen to one man speak - "you can all prophesy one by one." Well, you could in one of Paul's churches, but you certainly cannot in the 21st century.

My problems with the liturgy are these:
+ A man determines when the meeting will end - and makes the call before it even starts. You cannot possibly believe the Spirit always takes exactly 65 minutes to say to the church what needs to be said?
+ A man determines who will speak and what roles each will play. Could this be any more directly against scripture?
+ A man determines the content of the meeting.

Have you ever had a revelation during a church meeting? It hurt didn't it? You saw something beautiful that would have been helpful to everyone, and you had to stifle it. That feeling of pain is called "quenching the Spirit," and it's supposed to hurt. Pain is a natural warning that something is happening to you that is not good for the body.

The correct response to pain is not to ignore it, and yet that is the only option allowed us.

Ever wondered what it must be like to come to church expecting to share something sometimes, instead of receiving everything week after week after week? It feels like responsibility, and responsibility feels good.

I recommend it to anyone.

28 November, 2007

Current Ruminations on Divorce in the Christian's Life

I asked a few weeks ago what everyone thought about this crazy idea I'd heard that maybe God might allow divorce for causes other than adultery. I said I would go away and think about it and come back.

Here's the "come back" part.

It will be a year or two before I'm fully comfortable with any position after such a major change in perspective, but I'll tell you where I am today and that I'm surprisingly enough, pretty comfortable with it. In this post, I'm not going to go into a lot of explanation regarding the scriptural digging that brought me here. If the whim strikes me, or someone asks, I might put together such a tour de doubt. We'll see.

Anyway, here's the score. I do not stand behind the accuracy of these opinions yet, but I throw them out for thinking out loud purposes.

From my earliest age, marriage was presented to me as a sacred union, in the sacramental sense. The bonding of two people in marriage was a spiritually "creative" event. Where there were two people before, now there were almost three. There were the first two people, and there was this third person who was the combined spirits of those two people. God saw them as one person, and that mingling of spirits happened before God as much as on Earth. Their union became a conduit for the grace of God into their lives and into the world, and its maintenance as much a sacred requirement as the Lord's Supper or baptism.

At the same time, marriage was presented to me as a profound spiritual failure for anyone who might have a call of God on their life. This was never explicitly stated, but it always seemed to be written between the lines. Paul thought it was better if I abode alone. The person who marries will have tribulation, and will have split allegiances. Jesus found those who eunuched themselves to be rare and highly gifted people. Some had the gift of singleness, and the rest succumbed to putting out the fire of selfish sexual or emotional desire by marriage, even at the detriment of the kingdom.

As frequently observed here and elsewhere, I am a little hard on myself at times. I doubt anyone ever actually put these burdens on me, but that they tried to present a balanced message. I probably heard the burdens much more strongly than they were intended. Still, I believe I was hearing an actual implied "ideal" behind the pragmatic "balance" that was being presented. I believe the unrealistic ideal of celibacy was mentioned, and the second best ideal was a high spiritualization of marriage.

Let me file away the thoughts on celibacy for a minute, and concentrate only on the elevation of marriage to a sacrament.

Adam says he will become one flesh with his wife. Nowhere in the Old Testament does anyone go beyond this simple description of marriage. It is not until Paul says in 1 Cor 6 that being joined to a harlot is a joining of a body dedicated to Christ with sin that the definition of marriage begins to get a little sticky, especially when that passage is linked to "be not yoked unequally." But even then, Paul never says anything about the spirits of the believer and the harlot having been joined. The joining is human, not sacramental.

At some point some man decided he could gain power by making marriage and its act a matter of direct spiritual concern. Some priest came up with the idea that marriage should be handled with the same gloves as new birth, baptism and the Lord's Supper - namely priestly gloves.

This was not a blessing to anyone.

Instead, as I look at scripture I am come to see marriage as a contractual relationship. I don't see any other contractual relationship in scripture that parallel's marriage, either. Marriage towers above every other contract I can think of. In almost every other part of life, we are told to let our Yes be Yes, and our No be No, and that everything more than this is sin. In marriage, we see conditions and penalties like in no other binding agreement. The partners must provide shelter, food and the duties of marriage to each other, or the marriage is justly made null - even when the wife is merely a freed slave. If a man marries a slave and he later abandons her, she goes out from the marriage a free woman. She goes into the marriage in bondage and leaves the marriage a freed woman without paying the price of a slave's release. (Exodus 21:7-11)

Per Moses, the three duties of marriage listed above are contractual obligations binding upon both parties. And God played by those rules. He provided for Israel, and betrothed Himself to her. In Israel the betrothal period was no cooling off period before the marriage, but the true and binding beginning of the marriage, even though it was a period of chastity. So God was fully, if yet chastely, married to Israel when He divorced her. She had violated the duties of marriage, and God justly cast her from Himself. God expressed regret for her decision, but no remorse for His own action. And He did not consider Himself to have hindered His right to be fully and desirably married in the future.

If marriage is a spiritual sacrament, extending into the heavenly realm, then such freedom in divorce is not available to humanity. If marriage is a contract with valid binding/freeing conditions, then freedom equal to God's is available to us. When our contractual expectations are violated, we have a right to require the breach be remedied in some appropriate way. When no other way is appropriate, then divorce is a fully allowed option. God used it.

But Jesus changed the rules. Or rather, Jesus' words to the rabbis have been interpreted as a changing of the rules. Jesus seems to say that there are no longer three contractual obligations in marriage, but only one. The man need no longer provide food and shelter to the woman or even sex, as long as he refrains from fornication.

Given the perceived tightening of the rules by Jesus, I have always maintained that divorce is legal in all conditions where it is desirable, but remarriage is only allowed when one spouse has committed adultery, and then only for the victimized spouse. Hence, I have always felt personally justified and free to remarry (except for the celibacy discussion which I am defering until the end.)

This has been a hard place for me. I have friends who initiated divorces because of abuse, and I could not have blessed their remarriages. Then again, as ladies who had already had children and who had been abused in marriage, not one of them ever had a desire to remarry so my silence was a moot point. It was an awkward thing for me, even if not really for them.

If Jesus truly ramped up the requirements of marriage, then I must stand by His words. Those women should not divorce, but could. If they did divorce, though, they could not remarry without committing adultery. This passed every test of doctrine, but failed the ultimate test of all doctrines - does it leave the donkey in the pit until the end of the Sabbath? (Luke 14:5) Any time a doctrine hurts someone honestly doing everything in his or her power to please God from a true heart, the doctrine is wrong. It's just a matter of figuring out how and why.

Then I read the argument about which I asked my question of everyone. The argument stands on its own two feet, but the proof to me is that it allows me to pull donkeys out of pits on Sabbath days. It allows me to bless the honest remarriages of honest women who are brave enough to try again. (Please remember that for my own case, I had been given my "get out of pit free" card already.)

The argument is simply this. Jesus was asked by the rabbis whether ambiguous term "duties of marriage" meant any of the hundreds of legitimate duties of marriage, or whether it specifically meant fornication. Jesus answered strongly that divorce is separating something that God put together (flesh), and that it was only permitted for fornication. The argument was that the rabbis did not ask about divorce for lack of food and shelter because those were obvious points. Divorce simply was allowed in those cases. The point up for debate was what the ambiguous term, "duties of marriage," meant. Therefore, Jesus also did not state the obvious, but only answered the point up for debate. "Duties of marriage" could not be made the legitimate cause of a divorce except in case of fornication. (And "fornication" is "porneia" in Greek, which includes things we hardly call fornication these days. Divorce for pornography addiction is legitimate even by the tightest interpretation of Christ's words.)

The argument delved into other Greek which I am not going to do here, but it was persuasive.

More importantly to me, the argument aligns with the things I see in 1 Cor 7, and other such places. It aligns with the donkey stuck in the pit. It aligns with marriage being a joining of flesh on earth, as opposed to spirits in heaven. It even aligns with marriage as a flesh and blood type of the marriage of the Bridegroom to His church, because He divorced the fornicating bride and married one whom He had made pure.

So divorce for true and continuous violation of any of the three contractual obligations is authorized by God, and a remarriage afterward is pure.

But this brings me back to the discussion of celibacy.

I have believed for the last 4 years that I could be freely and cleanly remarried, but I've not believed it in my heart. For the last 30+ years, my gut has believed that marriage is the lesser path. The scripture says some people are given the gift of singleness and some people are not. Full Stop. So if remarriage was a lesser path the first time around, then how empty must it be the second time?

Only that's not what the scripture says. And I did not realize it until recently.

Paul actually says refering to marriage:
1 Cor 7:7
For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.

Every man has his proper gift, and to labor to exercise a gift that is not properly mine is a recipe for a misery God does not have planned for me. There is no honor to God in living outside of the gift He's properly intended for me, even if such self-denial seems spiritual as an act of "will worship."

I have made this last little argument briefly and in the first person, because I'm the only person I know who has struggled with it. It's awkward talking in the third person when I don't know anyone else to whom it might apply, so there you have it.

I hope no one thinks prematurely that they have found answers in these thoughts, because they are not yet safe to be leaned upon. They are not yet proven in any way. But if they have helped anyone in their personal sifting of the scriptures for wisdom, then I'll be quite happy.

May the Lord grant us wisdom.


I just got back from a vacation, and stumbled across this site somehow. I figured all you survey-type people might enjoy it. It tells you what type of vacation best suits your personality, and wherever I heard about it, it was pretty highly recommended.

Maybe you'll figure out something about why your trips with your spouse don't always click. :-)


25 November, 2007

Meditation: The True

My first analogy regarding contemplative prayer involved alcohol, and I still think it's fitting in a number of ways.

+ Some people enjoy alcohol well. That doesn't make it harmless.
+ Some people experience a form of relief while drunk. That doesn't make it healthy.
+ Some people cannot control their drinking once they've started. They must be supported in staying clear of their personal enemy.

Even the scripture is ambiguous about wine:

Prov 31:6
Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts.

Prov 20:1
Wine [is] a mocker, strong drink [is] raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.

Alcohol is a difficult subject, because it's potent. Wine does stuff. If you tell a person who profits from wine to forego the benefits, expect resistance and appropriate resistance at that. If you tell someone who is overcoming the damages of wine to taste its benefits, expect even stronger and equally appropriate resistance.

Ah, but what about the person who is of legal age, and has never tasted alcohol? (That's a fictional character, I know, but this is analogy not history.)

Here you have the chance to teach straightforwardly about the risks and benefits of alcohol. You can teach how alcohol eases social tension, and tends to lighten the mood of a group gathering. You can teach not to drink alone, but with upright people you know and trust. You can teach that some people simply need to avoid the stuff.

Meditation is potent too.


When I was a teen, I went through some stuff that was too heavy for me. I think most people would have taken it in stride, but it knocked me out. My emotions were both exhausted and hyper; my mind was overtaxed, out of answers, and exploring down the wrong roads; my will was taken out of the game. What I did to survive was an anti-contemplative prayer, and what I found has stood in me good stead over all the years. I found my spirit.

When my soul was beyond the pale, it was very easy to find my spirit. It was the thing not moving. It was like my soul was wind, rain, and sea all thrown into a horrible hurricane. The rock unmoved in the middle of it was my spirit.

In the middle of the hurricane, I found a profound, healing, and desperately needed silence. On nights I had forgotten what it used to feel like to want to live, I would fight through to that silence again and remember. In the height of the blow, I would suddenly find my soul warm and dry, filled with joy, and truly happy to be alive. When I woke up the next morning, the silence would be gone but I remembered enough of it to know it was real and that God was still true and good. I could fight through another day on the energy of that night's prayer, that night's meditation.

There's nothing "ascended" or "second blessing-ish" or special about what I've described. Every Christian has touched something like this (though not every Christian is as emotionally delicate as I am to take it quite as hard as I do.) What's more, any New Age afficianado will describe the same experience. The difference is how they get there and how the Christian gets there.

The New Ager, and the deceived Christian contemplative, get there by emptying themselves of all thought through the use of a mind-stilling technique. In so doing, they place themselves in a passively receptive state and place themselves in spiritual danger. The Christian fills himself or herself with Truth of God.

Look at any of David's Psalms of desperation for an example. Ps 62 is a good one. See how David does nothing to empty his mind? Instead, he tells the Truth about God, then he tells the truth about his enemies, then he tells the Truth about how the two compare. David's soul is in great unease, or he'd not have had to write that song. But David repeated the Truth to himself. In verses 2, 6, and 7 he reminds Himself his God is a Rock, and by the end of the song the little rock/island within himself is answering in full song to the continent-sized Rock that saves him. David declares that mercy belongs to God alone, and He will not withhold it.

Christian meditation has always been, is, and will always be the filling of one's heart with the Truth, whether comforting, challenging, daring, scaring, or drawing. And when the Christian's heart is filled with the Truth of God, there will be silence. We actively tell God and ourselves the Truth about Him, and the storm within us is becalmed to a blessed silence.

The counterfeit of true meditation anaesthetizes our minds to achieve a cheap silence, then backfills us with a lying feeling of expansive oneness with [fill in the blank - God, the universe, the All, the Cosmic Christ, etc.]. They tell us that we cannot know God, and that to pretend we can allows pride to block our true approach to God. They tell us that meditation focusing on truths "about" God is the best we can achieve, and that such meditation cripples us; that our minds cannot apprehend God, our wills cannot serve Him, our emotions cannot appreciate Him. And so they say we must be silent, and let His Spirit move in our silence.

They lie.

Read Psalm 62 again. They promise to reach God in a higher way than David himself used, and higher than God chose to reveal in His word. We can know God. You can know God - as you, just as you are, just as David was. You don't need to be emptied to know God. You need to be filled with His Spirit of Truth, and nowhere does scripture talk about anything human being emptied out of anyone to make that happen.

Would you like to try an experiment in Christian meditation? Would you like to test to see whether Christian meditation beats contemplative prayer?

Do this.

+ Go somewhere that you won't be disturbed for a while. This is "enter into your closet" type prayer.
+ Place firmly in your mind the biggest problem in your life right now. Fix it there, and don't let it go.
+ Ask that the Holy Spirit would reveal to you the Truth about God as it relates to this problem.
+ Tell Jesus the gospel as it applies to that problem. Pray the gospel to the ear of the Man Who lived it for you. Tell Him everything He did.

Nothing fancy here. No mind tricks. Just tell Jesus your life story from His point of view, leading right up to this moment. Start at the beginning, don't leave anything out the Spirit brings to your mind, and if a moment of trust and appreciation comes praise Him for what you see.

Some examples:
+ Just before Genesis 1, God knew you would have this problem, and He loved you for caring about it.
+ Just before Genesis 1, God declared that Jesus would pay the price necessary to allow God to embrace you as a daughter or son, and let Him handle this problem.
+ Just before Genesis 1, God knew exactly how beautiful you would be after He led you through that valley of the shadow of death, and after this problem refined your character such that it would look like Him.
+ He looked into Adam's and Eve's eyes, and He knew you were coming. He loved all humanity in loving them, and in killing the first lamb to cover their nakedness, He was proving that He'd not forget you when your time came.
+ He called Abraham so He could bless Abraham's Seed - you.
+ Jesus came to Earth, and He endured what you are enduring, so He could comfort you as a Friend. Instead of telling the starving man to wait, dinner would be along soon, He joined us in our suffering and starved right alongside His brothers and sisters until we could all sit down to the feast together.

And get personal.
+ Tell Him what He must have been feeling when He first touched your heart to draw you to Himself.
+ Tell Him how deeply He thrilled the day you turned to Him for life, and repented of your dead life before.
+ Tell Him about some of the little moments that got you from that day to this, and how careful He must have been of you all along.

And finally, tell Him that you don't know how He will overcome this problem, but ...

[You fill in the blank.]

24 November, 2007

Movie Review: No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men is a hard movie to review. What do I mean, you ask? For example, I will buy this movie on DVD, but I'm not sure I'll ever watch it again. I simply must own this movie and want the director to know someone out there thought it was worth the $10 and another $15 too. I just don't know whether I could sit through it again. It's that intense.

Reviewing most movies, you have to dance around plot spoilers. Not so much with NCfOM. I could tell you the whole plot, and not feel too badly about doing so. This movie is not about plot. It's the ambience I don't want to spoil, the feelings the movie creates as it goes from point A to point B.

I think I can safely say this. NCfOM is a profoundly disturbing movie. If you don't like to be disturbed by movies, then write this one off and enjoy the rest of this review. If you don't mind violence and some of the thoughts and feelings that go along with that, then maybe you should watch the move yourself before reading any more. RottenTomatoes's critics gave NCfOM a 95% rating and the public gave it 90%. Those are some wicked-high numbers for a mass opinion site, and I would call them underrated. The movie is storytelling par excellance.

==== Here there be spoilers ====

For those of you who remain, and those of you who returned to talk about the movie, here's my take on this one.

I liken NCfOM to a 2-hour chase scene done at a cowboy's rambling, steady gait. Everything happens in slow, cowboy motion. And somehow that keeps you from tiring of the suspense. The modern chase scene is packed with harrowing close calls, loud explosions, flashing lights and a hundred other moments of fear. But those chase scenes fatigue me and seem to go on and on and on. After a relatively short while, I just want them to end. By doing the entire chase in NCfOM at a panicky saunter they increased my hunger for every grain of sand to fall through the hourglass.

There is a scene where you see the bad guy's feet casting a shadow under the door. And then those feet walk away. And then the lights go out. You knew it was going to happen from the moment it began, and still they tell the story at their own pace. The whole scene could have been done in 15 seconds. It probably takes over a minute, and feels like a quarter hour. I was gesturing wildly the whole time, because I just could not stand to sit there and do nothing. I was literally on the edge of my seat, and that does not happen often.

But the biggest thing about this movie is the delivery of its message.

I am fed up with the Anne Rice/Quentin Tarantino thing. All their movies explore evil as wrapped in lovely cinematography, dramatic passion, and high sympathy for those driven to act out the lusts they cannot defeat. It is what I call the beautiful portrayal of evil. I hope there's a better term for it, but that's the best I can do.

They show us evil, and call it evil just as they should, but they give it a pomp and circumstance welcome into the room. They rain flourishes and glory all around it, though not directly on it, as they warn us of the badness of the whole affair. They present the evil man bedecked in chains, but in their stories he steps out from a strech limo for a red carpet entrance into the 5-star restaurant at which they've arranged for us to learn about him, about evil.

It's the conflict between presentation and message that gets me. The message of their movies is "this is bad," but the presentation says, "and don't you wish you could get you some of this?"

NCfOM does no such thing.

The movie's three primary characters are evil, bad and good respectively, with no mixing of the three. The evil is evil to the core. The bad is just foolish. The good has no hidden evil streak against which to spend the movie wrestling. In this, the characters are true to form from beginning to end.

And now we get to real spoilers so, seriously, if you are going to see the movie - tune out now. I'm going to blow the whole message of the movie here, and you really don't want to hear this.

The point of the movie is one with which only a Christian can honestly disagree. It is that American society has lost. The evil has won, and there's no more point in fighting it. Bad, the movie shows, cannot even oppose evil and win, much less good. Good never even gets a chance to try. Evil is relentless, overpowering, and victorious at every turn.

NCfOM is absolutely the best feel-bad movie I've ever seen.

And it accomplishes what no Anne Rice or Quentin Tarantino movie could ever hope to accomplish. It makes the audience walk out wondering how to fight evil, how to win, how to find the courage to stand up against the times, or at least how to be good enough to stay out of evil's way. When you are done with this movie, you don't want any part of evil, and while you may fear to fight it, you know opposing it is the only answer.

Lastly, NCfOM is an art film.

The message of NCfOM is delivered in crushingly understated moves. Most of the true violence happens just off-screen - not all of it, they're not afraid of blood - but so much of it that you're kept on the edge of your seat for 2 solid hours. So many things are left unsaid as to astound. At one point, you only know one victim is dead because the possible killer checks his boots for blood. It's a brutal scene, but you didn't see a thing.

I have to find a real cine-buff's review, but I think the movie used every device in moderation. There's a 1 minute space at the very beginning in which only 6 words are spoken. The same three words are uttered by two of the three main characters. It's a powerful device, and since the whole movie has so few words (it has to have one of the lowest dialogue counts I've ever seen), it's that much more powerful. But I never saw the device used again. There were dozens of such tricks spread throughout the movie, and none too thick or too thin.

Anyway, I pretty much stink at movie reviews so I don't know how helpful or not this was to anyone. I just know I liked the movie, and highly recommend it to the right people.

Migraine Experience?

An odd thing happened on Thanksgiving Day. I had finished a hard workout and was sitting at the trusty 'puter, getting ready to shower and head off to my Thanksgiving meal (thank you, thank you, thank you to the church for the kindness in taking in orphans) when the migraine struck.

That's not an odd thing. It's been a little over a month since my last one, so it was almost overdue. And a hard workout will provoke the onset if it's sitting out there waiting for a chance to pounce. No sweat. Wait a half hour or so for my vision to return, so I can drive safely and off we go. As I've said before, my migraines meet the technical definition of a migraine, but they are not terribly painful. I just have to work a little harder to think or socialize.

Then again, depression was singing her siren song to me, so I thought about staying home and licking my wounds. Knowing I was impaired, I figured I'd keep getting ready to go, and probably feel like it when the moment came to either put the key in the car or crawl back in bed.

Then I hopped into the shower.

Bam! The symptoms were gone.


I was in full aura-mode, and could not really see the bar of soap when I hopped into the shower, but as soon as that hot water hit the back of my neck I could see again. All the pretty little rainbows were gone, and I could read the print on the back of the shampoo.

As the day went on it felt kind of like I was on hour 24 of the migraine instead of hour 3. It was there, but it was the downhill slide when I am at a good 80%. And the next day I played 3 hours of tennis and today I did an even harder workout without provoking an incident. So, I did not merely postpone the migraine. I seem to have actually gone through it.

Has anyone had a similar experience?

My working theory is that the hot water on the back of my neck caused the blood vessels in my head to constrict. I believe migraines are confirmed to be caused by some kind of vascular swelling or some such, so anything that would tend to make them constrict would alleviate the symptoms.

Next time I feel the symptoms start, I'm putting a hot pack on the back of my neck immediately, and see what happens.

Just thought I'd throw it out there.

23 November, 2007

Anatomy of an Apostasy

I met Jeanine (pseudonym) in 1989 when we all decided to move to the same neighborhood and start a home church together. She lived two blocks away, and my wife and I both loved her. Most everyone did.

She was one of those very positive people, and one of the people who was always building, not destroying. She added something to every meeting, and did a lot of the behind the scenes work that so often gets forgotten. As one of the oldest people in the church, and oldest in the Lord, she was pretty highly respected and did a fine job of living up to those expectations. Mostly, she was just a lot of fun. She knew how to enjoy wine, people, and laughter and her husband was brilliant to boot.

I still miss Jeanine.

She was predisposed toward ecstatic experience. She dripped of life and imagination, so for her to experience everything to the full was only natural. She had already progressed a good way down the path to successful contemplative prayer (I'm tired of typing this, so I will call it ConPrayer for the rest of this post) before she ever joined us. Under the tutelage of our leader, she took to it like a fish to water. She was a trailblazer all the way.

Of the thirty or so of us, there were 5-10 who really got it, 5-10 who were doing something other than ConPrayer but thought they were getting it (I was one of these), 5-10 who mostly slept, and a handful whom we never quite figured out why they were there at all. (Some things never change.) Jeanine was in the first group.

I suspect initial success at ConPrayer is personality-driven, though its practitioners assure everyone that anyone can do it. Either way, Jeanine shared loads of her experiences and we all got to know her experience of ConPrayer pretty well. Some of the group resented her openness, feeling that she was faking or at the least grandstanding, but I was fully convinced that she was experiencing the things she described, and that her personality would have grated on her detractors in any case.

In the seventh year of our home church experience, everything started falling apart at the foundations. The church was in dire crisis, and the pressure it put on everyone individually and as families was incredible. I think about half the marriages in that church have already ended in divorce, and hers was the first. My marriage was broken during that period as well, though we held on for another six years.

Handling her divorce was hard for everyone: her, her husband, and all of us who had to decide how to act and react. She and her husband were both hurt in the proceedings, but for better or worse we muddled through. The decision was made that her husband should leave the church, and he did. That left Jeanine with the solace of fellowship, and we hoped it would be for the best.

One day we learned she was in love again.

Her new man was a little bit older than her, an acknowledged pot smoker, and into Native American spirituality. He was the prototypical old hippie who had not decided to adjust. He was a good guy, but semi-unemployed (which is a deal-breaker with me - don't bring no unemployed man home to me and hope for a blessing.) He was not even remotely Christian. That should have been a deal-breaker to Jeanine. It was not.

Jeanine had changed over the years.

She had discovered the intoxicating glory of ConPrayer, and discovered that it worked no matter whether it was Jesus or "the God force within us all" that she invoked. She was right. She found that as she threw off the fetters of narrow Christian law, her prayer times were only better, not worse. She found freedom, love, and acceptance by everyone except the Christians who had rejected her divorce in the first place, and now rejected her new live-in arrangements.

I talked to her a few months ago. It seems she has finally found a stable man, and settled into a productive life. I'm happy for her, of course. And she keeps praying that I will continue to follow my interpretation of God. She has outgrown my interpretation, of course, but she understands and accepts me the way I am. I can only return the favor to a degree. I accept and love her still, but cannot accept the decision that sets her in opposition to Jesus Christ.

I still hope some day to embrace my sister again. May the Lord so bless us.