30 January, 2008

There and Back Again: The Honeymoon

At midnight on Dec 31, 1989 there must have been almost twenty of us gathered in one of our living rooms. We were together to take the Lord's Supper for the first time as a new-born church, intimately surrounded by another fifty or more folk. That's right. There were 70 or more people crammed into and around a normal little ranch style home. Very few of us could sit; very few of us could wiggle a finger without poking someone! It was all part of the way Gene had chosen to celebrate our birth as a new church. We committed ourselves to the Lord and to each other that night with intimate prayers, and vowed our hope that we would, one distant day, bury each other. We were committed with everything we had, and we were in for the long haul.

Later that night, out on the front lawn, Gene taught us all get into a big circle and hold hands. Then he broke the circle in one place and made one person the "front" of the line. He had that person start walking a circle within the circle, drawing the whole line behind her. As the line circled within itself over and over, the center of the circle grew smaller and smaller until there was nowhere to go. It was wall-to-wall circles of people holding hands, as tightly packed as human beings can be. Then he had us all throw our hands over each others' shoulders and sing the loudest songs we could out on the front lawn at 1:00 in the morning.

It was simple, brash, innocent, exciting, intimate, and declarative. It was one of the purest moments of joy in my life, and I'll never forswear those memories. It was one of those rare "real" moments, like when you raise your right hand and swear to defend your country and realize you can never look back again. These people whose hair was in my face and arms were on my shoulders, and whose voices were maxed out inches away from my ears, were one solid mass of love to Jesus. I was a part of a single organism with 70+ voices that weighed 14,000 pounds and was committed to loving Jesus with everything it had - forever. Our bond was more than lifelong, it was eternal and it was spiritual and it was real.

Les Miserables has a song:
Do you hear the people sing?
Singing the songs of angry men
It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start when tomorrow comes.

This was as different from going to church as joining the Marines is from watching war propaganda. All but 4 of us had left everything behind to be in this place with these people. (There were orginally two dear local families, but they were forced to leave within the first year or two.) We expected a hard beginning followed by a life-long struggle, but we were safely under the caring eye of a man who had been hand-chosen and broken by the Lord. And we had broken bread together.

I have a hard time imagining a life I would have coveted more than mine at that moment.

The next 4 years were a whirlwind.

We had all moved together into a pretty nice neighborhood, but most of us could not afford to purchase there. That meant any who might want to join us would have the same problem. So, our first order of business was to find the perfect neighborhood to start a new church. By April, we were moving into Ormewood Park in Atlanta. By '91, we all lived within a stone's throw of someone's house. Our unofficial standard was that any member of the church should live close enough to everyone to push a baby stroller between homes in the rain. I think all told we ended up with 10 houses in a three block area.

Next, we needed to get the word out.

That was easy. Gene was one of the most charismatic speakers any of us had ever heard, and he was as excited as we were. Every 6 months we ran a conference of some sort, and brought Gene down from Maine to speak. We would send out hundreds of fliers, rent a place for everyone to gather, schedule Gene's speaking, find everyone somewhere to sleep, schedule meals, time airport pickups, answer myriad questions - first from each other and then from attendees, and generally run around like lunatics trying to pull everything together at the last minute.

We learned about "PCC - Pre-Conference Crud." In the last 2 weeks before a conference everything, and I mean everything, would fall apart. Plans, communication lines, relationships, tempers, and feelings of spiritual "greenness" all shattered. We would come closer to hating each other the closer D-Day approached, and we fully loathed the attendees before they ever arrived. Then the first saint would show up from the airport, and we would fall in love all over again - with all the attendees and with each other and with Gene, too. And when Gene started preaching, the revelation of Christ Himself would fill us all with wonder and thankfulness. Our great blessing in being where we were, doing what we were doing, would fill our hearts and the PCC would fade into a distant memory.

Between choosing a neighborhood, moving, setting up housekeeping, running a conference every 6 months for 4 years, and trying to earn a living we lived church. We met often, but it's hard to describe how often. Some of us met every morning at 5:00 or 6:00 am. Some of us usually ate dinner with some other family (especially the single brothers) and a few saints made beer and pizza a regular event. A couple nights a week we did something together - sometimes it was a song-learning meeting (or how could you really belt a new song out during a meeting?), sometimes a planning meeting, sometimes a brothers' or sisters' meeting. The brothers' meetings were where we made all our decisions and set all our plans.

And in between all that, we planned for "the big meeting." Every 3 months or so, we had a meeting where every member of the church was encouraged to share the best thing they'd seen of Christ. The concept was that we were working in the garden of the Lord, and we were to bring our harvest of Christ to be shared with all. That meant that for 3 months, we were responsible to be farming! We only had one key rule about sharing - don't bore anyone. So our "big meetings" tended to major in skits, songs, and stories. Sermons were deemed boring by default, and in 9 years I think we heard maybe 4 sermons by all the members in the church combined.

So, anyway, preparing for the big meeting usually meant meeting once or twice a week with a team of people to get something cool and rich together.

And did I mention several of us had infants?

There was babysitting, and cooking, and one brother was gutting and remodelling his whole house, and another worked loads of overtime (and so did I) and a couple others were self-employed and had unpredictable schedules.

I don't really expect that description to profit you much, except to communicate how we envied one armed paper hangers their easy, structured lives.

We ate, slept, and breathed somehow. I'm not really sure how. There was hardly a waking moment in any of our lives that was not filled with something of great importance. Whether it was a spiritual thing or a family thing or a work thing, none of us was bored for more than a moment. And it was all good. The most common sound to come out of any house where any two or more of us were gathered was laughter.

Not surprisingly, people started to wear down, and that was cool too. No one accepted any disdain toward our tired people. We all knew we'd all need rest some day, and pretty much everyone took time off in some fashion. In fact, Gene made that a constant subject of admonition. He would remind us over and over that we would all need to take a year off someday, and that we should make sure we rested from the blistering pace the church seems to set. So we did. We jealousy guarded anyone who was experiencing any kind of downtime, even when it was Gene being impatient with them. That's not to say we didn't feel some guilt, but we managed our energies as best we could.

With all this excitement going on, you might imagine there were some decisions that needed to be made along the way. And you might imagine there were some strong opinions about those decisions.

You would be right.

The government of the church was simple. The decisions were complicated. Gene was up in Maine, and we did not rely on him for much in the way of decisions, but structure could not have been simpler. The brothers made all the decisions as a group in prayer before the Lord. The brothers then presented the decisions to the sisters who had unquestioned veto power over every decision we made. If the sisters approved our ideas, it was done. Period. Simple. (No, the sisters didn't exercise their power often, but the time or two they did it stuck.)

There were always somewhere around 8 of us brothers in the brothers meetings, and some of us were secretly of the persuasion that we had a vision of what the Lord wanted. In fact, all 8 of us were pretty confident of that very thing. For a long time, we thought one of us was a follower, but we turned out to be wrong. We were all chiefs.

None of us was surprised that we were all Type A's, though Gene seemed to be dismayed at how much friction it caused. It was the most natural thing on Earth. If you call for people to gamble everything for the chance to start something bold, you're not going to get many shrinking violets.

It was in the brothers' meetings that the church seemed to evolve. It was not so much that the decisions we made steered the church, as that we grew together into being the church. And we went through a lot of changes. There were countless formational conflicts. We wrestled with things, and we wrestled with each other. We wrestled with praying and with pontificating. We wrestled with our own natures and we wrestled with the brothers around us. Along the way we learned a lot of respect for each other.

One of our early, and quite famous, conflicts was over tithing. We were Gene's only church (though other churches might have disagreed, Gene always called us the first) so it was important to get things like this right. Should we require a tithe on our own gross incomes? It's not like buying houses had made any of us any richer. But another church with which Gene had a very close relationship, and of which we were in awe, mandated an absolute and accounted tithe of anyone who would participate. Their example was flawless. They were absolutely legalistic on the subject, and they were the freest, most beautiful group of people any of us had ever met.

Our pattern of addressing problems showed through with this first one, and never much changed over the years. Harry (I'll tweak the names since I've not asked anyone's permission to use them) contributed his opinion to the discussion, and then worked hard to gather everyone else's. He formed a solid consensus around a modified position to which everyone could agree, and pitched the case in the brothers' meetings. Everyone was ready to commit to an accounted tithe.

I voted, "Nay."

This is a good time to remember how aggravating Boromir was before he went mad.

For all our years in Atlanta, Harry and I were pretty nearly irreconcilable. Don't get me wrong, I eventually came into conflict with every brother, but Harry and I seemed to be custom-made to rub each other raw. I could not brook his moral flexibility nor his political style, and he could not stand my priggishness nor my stubbornness. I was immovable, even when the whole church stood behind Harry. For my part, I was willing to bow to the brothers' decision, as long as they didn't ask me to agree with it, but that just seemed priggish to everyone. We smoldered together on this one issue for months and months. We dedicated week after week to trying to talk this issue to death, but it wouldn't die. I would not flex.

Amusingly, the decision we finally reached was vetoed by the sisters, and Gene gave all us brothers "a rest" for almost a year while the sisters took over the running of the church.

Liberally mix the excitement of being together with the tension of the brothers' meetings, and you begin to get a feel for those first four years. Everything was at a constant fever pitch, the highs and the lows together, fatiguing us and thrilling us around the clock.

During our honeymoon, it was easy to have the big fights and the living bonds of love flowing deep and strong together. In fact, it was almost natural. More than that, it was what Gene had taught us to expect. A big part of Gene's core message is that every Christian must be broken, destroyed really, before the Lord can use him freely. We knew our fights were a sign that we were still fleshly, still in need of breaking, so we overlooked the conflicts and focused on the feelings of love for each other and for Christ that lifted us above it all.

Until July of 1994.

That summer's conference surpassed everything we'd ever experienced. Gene was in full flight, and his messages the first weekend set us all on fire. Beyond that, though, it was a 9-day conference, and 40 people must have stayed for all 9 days. The first 3 days were at a retreat center, and they were delicious. The next 6 days beat them hands-down. The second part of that conference was other-worldly. We moved 40 people into our few homes, and for a week we had a church of 60 with nothing but free time to worship the Lord, encourage each other, and practice the things we'd learned in that first weekend's messages.

We cooked, we delegated, we laughed, and we hardly slept. We had guest speakers and surprise plans and last-minute saves beyond counting.

It was unbounded joy.

The day after everyone went home, Gene asked us to set the dates for our winter conference.

We said, "No."

We were too tired, and we were going to take that winter off. Pulling off a conference in December would mean getting to work in August, and there was no way we could imagine jumping back on the conference hamster wheel again in a scant month or two. We were thrilled with everything we'd just experienced, but we could not envision ourselves doing it again so soon.

We'd never said no to Gene before.

History has a funny way of morphing, but I will tell you what we told each other after Gene left. We told each other Gene was pissed. His face, his body language, his words; everything said we were in big trouble. There's no word to describe what we felt. The blood literally drained from our faces, and we went into damage control mode. We talked for hours about what to do, and how to balance our exhaustion against Gene's desire to minister. Mostly, though, we talked about how to get out of trouble.

We did not find an answer. We were already too fractured, too exhausted, too hurt to overcome our fear. All those little stress cracks between the brothers turned into fractures. We'd been so high coming off that conference, but within days we were in our first full-blown crisis.

The wheels came off the church in Atlanta in July of 1994.

For the next two years, we had nothing. The meetings were flat. The morning prayer gathings were dry and empty. Gene did not ask us to put on another conference in all those two years, and we didn't know what to do in the silence. Gene refused to come and lift our spirits.

We were alone.

We had spent four years on a high, and we crashed hard.

I cannot communicate the depths of despair we reached. A traditional church keeps meeting every Sunday, and the sermon keeps being preached and the songs keep being sung. We were not wired that way. We needed to be planning and preparing, but planning and preparation require hope and we were too shell-shocked to hope.

For two years, we went through the motions with all the heart we could muster. We had our usual big meetings, but they fizzled. It was not hard to know why they fizzled. We did hardly any preparation for them. We would come up with an idea, and we'd work up some enthusiasm, but one or two people would be too tired. Then a couple people would start hanging around with the tired people, and get tired. Pretty soon, we were nagging each other to work on preparations, and nagging is never encouraging. Then the big meeting would roll around and too many people would try to throw something together at the last minute. The meeting would flop. We'd all pretend that it was great, of course, but it was flat. There was life in Atlanta, but no vitality.

2 years is a long, long time when you live a stone's throw away from the people you're avoiding.

2 years is more than 700 days, and every single sunrise took its toll.

We'd start talking about trying too hard or being more natural or not trying hard enough or being more diligent or who was leading too much and who was following too little. We'd get down to the root of the problem, and how Christ was lacking, and how the real problem was being too tired, and how much we'd rested. If was dark enough and quiet enough, we'd talk about Gene having abandoned us. In the end, we'd usually come around to this being a time of testing.

We needed to stay faithful. We needed to wait on the Lord to return to His church. If we had been abandoned, we'd be remembered again. Gene taught so often on suffering and it's place in the Christian's life that we could not be surprised to be suffering now. It was for this we had moved to Atlanta in the first place.

We were almost 30 strong. A couple of families had joined us from Texas and Carolina on the energy of that July 1994 conference, so we were larger than we'd ever been. Those poor families didn't have the experience of joy in the church, though. They only knew the desert. We all worked to make sure they knew they were loved, and promised them that the rain would come back some day, but the drought went on.

Then one of the core, founding families moved to another of Gene's new churches in another town.

In scant months the church in Atlanta crashed from almost 30 members to fewer than 10. Remember that leaving the church in Atlanta meant selling your home, leaving your job, and giving up on the dream. Once the first family moved, though, 3/4 of the church vanished overnight. Before a year had passed, 20 of our brothers and sisters were gone.

Les Miserables has another song. It really doesn't deserve to be read, but to be sung by a man in or near tears. When I sing this one, I almost always give it its due:
There's a grief that can't be spoken.
There's a pain goes on and on.
Empty chairs at empty tables
Now my friends are dead and gone.

Here they talked of revolution.
Here it was they lit the flame.
Here they sang about `tomorrow'
And tomorrow never came.

Oh my friends, my friends, don't ask me
What your sacrifice was for
Empty chairs at empty tables
Where my friends will sing no more.

None of my brothers was dead, but the hole they left in our lives still bleeds. It always will. They are good brothers, and our love was true. Nobody left that church with a heart unscarred. Gene had promised us that 364 of the pills might kill us. Now we knew what he meant.

In 1996 Gene returned to the handful of us who remained. We wept together and poured out our hearts. There wasn't much to say that we didn't all already know, but Gene listened and comforted us all. When we were done, he asked whether we wanted to shut down or continue.

We decided to continue.

That night Gene explained to us that Dec 31, 1989 was the official start date of his mature ministry. And he explained that 40 years would tell whether his ministry was a success or a failure. 40 years was the time of testing, and no church's testimony could affirm his work before Dec 31, 2029. He was willing to fail, and to let the church fade away if that was what the Lord and we wanted, but he was willing to throw his back into it if we wanted to stay.

That was enough.

After Sherman visited Atlanta in 1864, the phoenix became the city's symbol. It seemed we would need to take that symbol to heart ourselves. Gene committed to rebuilding the Atlanta church from the ashes, and we committed to being there to make it happen.

The second church in Atlanta was a very different girl than the first.

28 January, 2008

There and Back Again: Falling in Love

Joining Gene Edwards' church in Atlanta, 1989 was both the culmination and beginning of a dream.

The beginning because Gene intended with us to change the face of Christianity throughout the world. From the seed of that one little church, he planned to farm seeds that the Wind of the Spirit could use to foment a whole new reformation. And I was going to be there.

The culmination because I had been working toward this dream for 8 years. I was saved in '71, and left the organized church in '81. I sat in a pew for a few months more when I was chasing a girl, but after that brief compromise my resolve was unshakeable. The forces of evil had entombed Christ's bride in a maze of power struggles, filthy money, and weapons-grade theology. I was just the man to save her.

(I leave the reader to discern whether I was an idealistic youth or an egotistical glory hound. I'm not sure there is is a difference, but I can testify that recovery is a slow process.)

I joined two or three home churches between '81 and '87, depending how you count them. They all failed. Home churches have a way of doing that. Lacking power to struggle over, money to hold people through the hard times, and a binding theology beyond home being better than church, it's tough to keep a home church breathing.

Along the way I found Gene Edwards' books.

I found "The Early Church" in '82 and devoured it and half a dozen more books as they came off the presses. I read each one over and over. He was echoing everything I'd ever felt, and extending miles beyond anything I'd thought or heard before. I fell in love. And I fell into despair. As I read his stuff, and as I read between the lines, I could see how the Lord had revealed so many things to him in scripture and history that I should have been able to find on my own. Instead, I was getting so little from the Lord and everything from a man. I began to question whether I really was the man to save the church.

I accepted that the Lord was not revealing things to me as He had to Gene Edwards and C.H. Spurgeon and Jonathon Edwards and Thomas Watson and Watchman Nee and William Bridge. (I include that little list, because one of these things was not like the others - only I didn't know it at the time.) I was not going to be the next Martin Luther, but I prayed over and over that the Lord would send me to an old man, someone who could at least make of me a decent foot soldier. When I actually did find such a man for a little while, though, he rejected me for another kid.

I was so ill-equipped life as to astound. I was a bright child, but not a sensible one. The only reason I survived those years of failure at so many things, and love the largest, was my surrogate mother in the Lord, Fay. I spent about 8 hours a day in her little Christian bookstore and we talked for hours about everything except whatever was on my mind. Theology was purposeful. Weakness was not. But she loved me anyway, and we had a grand year together talking about a hundred things that an older boy is brave enough to bring up. She was and is my mentor in all things spiritual, but she had no ambition to make war for the church so she could not cool the fire driving me. I had seen the way church ought to be, and I ached to see that vision lived out in my time.

With options closing all around me, I joined the army. It seemed like the thing to do at the time, and I've never regretted it - except one little day. I figured out which of my list of favorite authors was not like the others. Every other author in my list was dead, long dead, or almost mythical. All the authors I loved were dead. I had blindly assumed that Gene Edwards was dead, too. I had been a member of the US Army for about 6 months of my 4 year commitment when I read an invitation in the back of his latest book for all comers to join him in Portland, Maine.

I was crestfallen.

There followed a long, long 3 1/2 years of waiting for Uncle Sam release me. Getting married and having a daughter filled the time pleasantly, but I was not where I wanted to be. Still, there was a consolation. Gene announced he would be starting a new church in 1990 in Atlanta, GA. I would be getting out in Feb, '89, so there was plenty of time! My new wife knew the score before we married. When we got free of the Army, we would move East. Our life would really begin in Atlanta. Everything else had been leading there, and I would be blessed to be on the ground from the day this new church began. That was important, maybe even important enough for the Lord to keep me out of Portland.

Gene made it clear in his writings and sermons (I had volumes of his transcribed sermons by this point, and had immersed myself in them) that being in a church from the raw beginning was a prerequisite to eventually planting churches yourself. Being there from the beginning would be thrilling to boot. Getting to Atlanta and established 10 months before the church began was beyond dreamlike for me. I could not have written the story any better than it was playing out before my eyes. I simply stood in awe of the Lord's grace.

And it worked in terms of my fantasies for the Lord's plan for my life, too. There's no reason to believe Timothy was given the kinds of revelations Paul received, so maybe I didn't need to be an idea guy. Maybe I didn't need direct revelation to serve the Lord. I was tickled pink to have Timothy's chance.

I could tell stories for pages, happy, sad, scary, encouraging, funny stories about the church and everyone who came, but that really isn't the point of this writing. When things finally started there were 8 of us brothers, about as many sisters, a handful of children, and hardly two nickles to rub together between us. After we'd pooled all our wealth, there was one shared TV and VCR. We'd carry it around between our houses a couple nights a week. We shared everything, including meals and family fights. We lived so close to each other it was hard to do anything alone, and we loved every second of it. It's hard to describe the camaraderie of college-age kids in love with the Lord. Mix into our natural chemistry the certainty that we were about to turn the world upside down, and we bonded tighter than anything I've ever experienced in my life. It was love all over again.

Gene came down for a week from Maine, and officially launched the church on Dec 31st, 1989. He's a man who understands drama and circumstance, so our planting was a gorgeous affair. It was a several days long conference, in which he preached to us several founding messages. I remember all the stuff he'd want me to remember from those sermons, and several things beside. You can find his core message online if you're so inclined, so I'll not try to reproduce it here. The bottom line was that the church was God's dearest beloved, she needed to be free to love Him the way He loved her, and Atlanta was going to be a church wholly free and wholly Christ's.

I marked two scary things from those messages. I marked them, and I embraced them both. The first was that the biggest natural enemy to the church is the family. A sister whom I knew and respected, visiting from another city, called Gene on that. When the two of them were done with their discussion, Gene had made himself crystal clear. In his church, the family would need to take care of itself. Gene was not there to protect the family, but the church. On the contrary, the family naturally imposed its needs and priorities over Gene's main purpose, and God's purpose for all humanity, the bride of Christ.

I was not sure what to make of that. In retrospect, the decision should have been easy but I was obsessed with saving the world and every sacrifice sounded noble to me. I decided that the paradox was easy enough to live with. I would give myself wholly to both the church and my family, and everything would work out fine. In my wisdom I understood the problem with most people was selfishness. As long as I put both church and family in front of myself, I was sure everything would turn out hunky dory.

The second point of import was that Gene squarely addressed the "c" word. He knew, and we did too, we would spend every year of our existence trying to convince the world we were not a cult. Of course, the first order of business was naturally to convince ourselves that we weren't a cult! Gene took this concern by the horns and discussed it with us honestly.

He foreshadowed the red pill/blue pill dilema of The Matrix by telling us that home churches were like vitamin pills, only most were secretly poison. The vast majority of home churches would end in division, and the average Christian could only survive 2, maybe 3, divisions in a lifetime. So, if we joined a home church that ended up going through a church split, it could cripple us for our entire lives. He painted a picture for us of 365 vitamin pills, of which 364 were deadly poison. He was absolutely threatening about how dangerous home churches could be, and that this one he was planting would be just as dangerous as the rest. He absolutely could not promise us that this church was the one vitamin pill. We would be gambling that Gene was actually a man called, broken, and sent by the Lord, and what we would be gambling was our very spiritual lives.

It beat everything else I'd ever heard, and I loved that he faced the problem directly. I never really had to think about that one.

Who am I kidding? I loved everything. I burned every moment of that conference into my memory banks the way I had recorded the birth of my daughter. My son was born a couple days after the conference ended, so it was one of the most watersheddingest watershed weekends of my life. I don't think a soul could have been on much higher of a high than I was those few days.

In light of the very real risks, Gene gave us some warning signs to watch for. We were to constantly self-evaluate our church, and protect ourselves and our brothers and sisters from sliding into culthood. It was a kind of top-ten list of signs that a church is really a cult.

I only really remembered one. It was one of the last ones. Gene told us, "If the leader of your church ever says to you, 'We are THE work of God on Earth,' don't walk away, run."

9 years later, in November of 1998, Gene Edwards said to a small conference of us in one of our living rooms, "We are THE work of God on Earth." He listed off all the other works that had earned his respect over the years, and how they had fallen by the wayside, and told the little group gathered there that we were the last true work of God on Earth. I was running the recording equipment, and almost wept. I'd been trying to decide for months whether to leave, and that few seconds ripped the decision out of my hands. Gene's church was not a cult, but it was not a healthy place to be either, and he had finally jumped over the line.

And the church was not the only thing growing sicker.

I got sicker with each passing year. My obsession with the pure church had come to define my relationship to God, and it had quietly driven me mad. I've already told how Boromir was driven mad by the lust to power. Here is a good place to remind yourself of his story, but there is another movie that tells my story even better, even word for word.

There's a scene from, "A Beautiful Mind," I cannot forget. Our hero, Dr. Nash, has come to grips with his schizophrenia and is slowly working out how to embrace life again. Now an old man, broken but hopeful, he returns to the office of an old buddy from the school where he was once a professor and asks permission to hang around the campus. He wants to be part of school life again. He humbly pitches his case, but his old buddy hesitates to take the risk. Should he really give a madman an office on his college campus? In that brief moment of suspense, an ageless friend of Dr. Nash's dashes up to the office door. Breathless he shouts and implores, "Tell him about your work! Make him understand how important it is! You cannot let him hinder you now. Your work is too important!"

That old friend was a psychotic delusion, and so was the good doctor's work.

I cannot forget that scene because the blood rushed from my face the first time I saw it (a couple years after leaving the church.) Those exact, senseless words rushed through my mind over and over again while I considered leaving Gene's church, as I left it, and for years after I was gone. "What about your work, Kevin? You cannot abandon the church in her time of need! If you hold on just a little longer, you'll have a breakthrough. Don't quit now! Your work is too important!"

Just like Dr. Nash's delusion, mine was the product of stress interacting with my arrogance and fears. Also like Dr. Nash, finding my way back to reality has been a wearying, worrying and worthwhile experience. About 2 months ago, when I finally seemed to see the church for what she is instead of what I imagined she needed to be, I felt like maybe I had touched bedrock again. It was then that I felt it might be time to tell my story, to work through it in words and see what came up.

In my next post, I'll look at my first years under Gene Edwards.

26 January, 2008

There and Back Again. A Sheep's Tale

I imagine most of you have read/seen The Lord of the Rings trilogy. For the couple of you who have not, it's a tremendous tale of friendship and love - and power.

In ancient times a ring of power was forged by an evil super-being named Sauron. That ring fell out of his control, but has spent millenia try to manipulate its finders into carrying it back to its rightful owner. It is currently held by an unprepossessing hobbit as a kind of good-luck charm. The wise Gandalf has finally divined its true import, though, and knows that it must be destroyed before it can find its way back to Sauron again. Doing so means that this hobbit, Frodo, must carry the ring back to the place where it was forged - Sauron's own furnace.

The journey takes a couple thousand pages (though others have proposed an alternate solution) and demands everything of Frodo. In the end it is love that allows him to succeed, the love of Frodo's steadfast friend, Samwise Gamgee.

There are countless stories of love in The Lord of the Rings. Faramir's love for Denethor, Gandalf's love for the world, Aragorn's love for Arwyn, Merry's and Pippin's love for each other, Eowyn's father's love for her, Gimli's and Legolas' strange and beautiful bonding, Elrond's love for Arwyn, Frodo's pity for Gollum. The list is long, but none compares to Sam's love for Frodo, and that's the real story.

But Tolkien makes time for one other little story, and one other little character who has always meant more to me than any other of the saga.

Boromir's is the story of power.

And Boromir's is the only story of failure in the whole saga.

And Boromir's is my story.

Boromir's story is simple. All told, I don't think he adds up to 5 pages in the whole book. He was born in the city of men, the eldest son of the Steward of Gondor. Gondor stood for centuries, the sword, stone, and blood of men, holding back the armies and evil of Sauron the great. Denethor led his sons, Boromir and Faramir, in holding back the rising flood of Sauron's evil, but the evil is grown too strong. It is the end of the age. Evil is about to overflow Gondor and ravage the idyllic world of hobbits, elves and dwarves.

If you want to understand Boromir, watch this commercial. Boromir would know his brothers instantly.

Boromir is men's representative in quest to destroy the ring. He is the ninth of 4 hobbits, 1 elf, 1 dwarf, 1 wizard, and 1 ranger.

As the quest wears on, the truth of his mission weighs on Boromir's mind. The ring Frodo bears, the ring he will destroy, is The Ring of Power. The ring Frodo will destroy could guarantee Sauron's destruction. Gondor could save the world, if but Boromir wore the ring.

Boromir is driven mad by the thought and by the tempting seduction of the ring. At the height of his madness, he attempts to steal the ring. Too late, the spell of the ring is broken in his heart, and he repents. By his fall, the party of 9 is broken into 3 parties of 2, 2, and 4. His last act is to sacrifice himself to allow Frodo's escape, but it is the bitter sacrifice of sin's price.

I hope you will forgive and indulge me in retelling that story. I don't know whether it ever leaves my heart.

Tolkien tells it perfectly. The good intentions of a heart do not reduce the evil it can commit. For every good intention, there is a true intention behind it. Sometimes those true intentions are wise, foolish, evil, loving, thoughtless, but they always play out. They have played out in my life so far. There are many years left to measure, but so far the Lord has had to work double-time to redeem the messes I've made.

Just like Boromir.

In Feb of 1989, I joined a new church, one that was going to change the world. In Nov 1998 I withdrew. It's been 9 years since I left that church, and I think it's time to tell the story.

For those of you who like to read ahead, here is the man whose church I joined:
Gene Edwards

And here is his bookstore:

Stepping Heavenward

I have an hour to call my own, and so many things to do. Well, at least one of those things is writing a little bit here, so let me make a start at that anyway. :-)

Tari recommended to me, Stepping Heavenward, by Elizabeth Prentiss.

I was prepared to say something nice to her about it after I'd read it. I was not prepared to be utterly floored by it, and reduced to tears countless times. I don't believe there's a single book of doctrine or Christian experience on any of my shelves that could not be profitably replaced by this thin little story of Katherine Mortimer. Every element of life and of Christian life is captured in little Katherine's journal. Every tear, joy and disappointment rang true for me, and most of all her constant disappointment with herself.

There are so many levels at which I recommend Mrs Prentiss' book (here or here or elsewhere. The version I read was unabridged, but with a bazillion typos.) to you - now. First, it warmed my heart to read a real Puritan's advice on life. The Puritans receive such a horrific rap in our culture. They were beautiful people with a joyful, vibrant love for Christ Himself. Mrs. Prentiss writes with all the beauty and passion of these dear Christians. Second, every pain the young Miss Mortimer experiences on up through the end of the book is so intense and real. I know those pains. I know those mistakes. I envied her the joys of having escaped some of the pits that swallowed me, and joined her in rejoicing at the salvation of the Lord that came to us both. Third, you have questions about the Christian life. You do. You will find all of them asked and lived through in this book. You won't find answers, but you'll find someone who went there with you and with Him.

Seriously, there should not be a Christian of any age who has not read this book, and read it recently. I will be buying handfuls and giving them away.

May the Lord bless you by it.

25 January, 2008

Church Survey

Ummm. Yeah. Still not thinking straight, but it suddenly occurs to me that none of you have contributed to Eclexia's survey, and it might be because you don't know about it. So, as a PSA, here's a link. I think there's still time.

Why Church?.

23 January, 2008

The Lone Ranger

Does everyone need the church? Is it a sin to "be a lone ranger," as is popularly asserted? Will you automatically fall into sin and be discouraged and ultimately fall away from the Lord if you forsake assembling yourself with other believers?

Of course not.

Christians have served the Lord alone for generations and generations, whether by choice or by force. Some are uniquely suited for going it alone as believers, and others find refreshment and survive in spite of their weaknesses. In fact, I can point you to dozens of believers who are making it on their own right now. You know them yourself. The next time you sit down in your church to hear your pastor preach, take a look around. Many, maybe most of the people on whom your eyes fall are going it alone as believers.

So very many of the people who attend our churches are doing just that, attending churches. Their lives are as heavy as yours. They come to church every Sunday faithfully praising God and receiving the teaching of the Word and the elements of worship. They ask after everyone and hear everyone at church is doing fine, and they tell everyone they're doing fine, too. They could hardly be more alone.

Maybe you could hardly be more alone?

The international science community has finally figured out what Solomon told us years ago. The primary indicator of happiness is relationships. The more high-quality relationships we have, the happier we are. It could hardly be simpler. Wealth, comfort, knowledge, recreation, luxury? They all take a back seat to relationships. If we love some people deeply, and know we are loved in return, the rest settles out happily for us.

Ecc 4:9 - 12
Two [are] better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him [that is] alone when he falleth; for [he hath] not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm [alone]? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

God made us this way. It's a matter of depending on one another. We feel valued when we know someone cares for us, and we feel valuable when we know someone is depending on us.

Let's look at two people, Joe, who attends church and Jane, who is a real part of that same church.

Joe attends every week, sings from the heart, worships with passion, and receives the sermon with great hope and attention. He always greets some brothers and sisters, and knows a number of the members by name. If he missed church even one week, he would miss out on one of the anchor points of his life, and he would feel ill equipped to face some of the things that are weighing down on him right now. Joe attends every week to have an affirming experience with God, and without that blessing he begins to feel distant from Christ.

Jane also attends every week. She visits two older ladies every week, and brings them tea and cookies. While she's there, she tells them about her children and the problems she's having with her husband. They don't always have answers, or even ideas, but every Sunday they ask how the family is doing. She also checks in every Sunday on a couple of the teens that she used to babysit when they were just kids. Once last year, when one of them got dumped by her guy, Jane got to take her out for an ice cream. She keeps checking, but everything's pretty much OK these days. She trades babysitting for date nights with a couple of the other young marrieds in the church, and does her turn in the nursery every couple months.

Some day, life will crush both of these people. Life does that. It never goes like the commercials say it will. When that day comes, both these people will run to the Lord. Both will know that only He loves them and cares for their every need. But Jane will be able to rest in the prayers of her brothers and sisters. She will be comforted by the love of God through the church. Joe may or may not "break down" and decide to tell his problem to someone, but if he does, it will be hard. It will be like telling his problems to a stranger. It's always like that the first time, but if he makes it through, having a real brother will be a source of strength for him for the rest of his life.

There's a more important way to look at Joe and Jane, though. Whenever life crushes any of Jane's brothers and sisters, she'll know about it and she'll be able to help. Because she is close with a half-dozen people, she'll hear about it when anyone in the church is having a hard time. She'll be able to add her support to the church's love. Sometimes she'll be able to help directly, and sometimes she'll be able to pray. She'll always be able to avoid laying a burden on the burdened. She'll know with whom to rejoice and with whom to weep, and she'll join the whole church in praying the Lord will break through and rescue one of His own. Joe will never hear anything but that everyone is fine, and he'll be the poorer for it.

So test yourself in this way. If, so far as you know, most people in the church are doing fine, you are just attending. If no one in the church knows the thing that is eating at your heart, you are just attending. If no one in the church looks forward to receiving some gift of your time and love, you are just attending.

We don't all need the same kind of help, but we all need each other. We're all so very, very different, but in this we are alike. We need one another, and every one of us for a different reason. There is no sin in being the "lone ranger" Christian, but there is loss. The body loses because it lacks your gifts, and you lose because you lack anyone to receive them.

Paul tells us that we are like a body, each of us with different gifts. The foot rejoices in having 200 pounds come crushing down on it over and over all day long, while the eye can hardly bear a mote of dust. The hand might relish holding a thrashing fish, but the ear is soothed by a song. Some of us are strong while others are sensitive. Some are gregarious and others are thoughtful.

The body has a real need for every member's strengths.

If you're a nose, you need to be doing what noses do best - you need to be in the wind sniffing for rain, and savoring the aroma of good spiritual food, and rejecting the stench of meat (and advice) gone bad. You need to be inhaling the pleasant incense of the Son of God, and sharing with others in the body how good He is.

The foot with nothing to support is pointless. The hand with no mouth to feed, the eye with no heart to thrill at the sunset, the ear with no body to lead in a dance; these are all Christians with no brothers and sisters. We have strengths, and we need to pour them out on the Lord's children.

If you would please the Lord, and be happy yourself, join a good church now - maybe even the one you attend!

PS: I've been working on this post for 2 weeks. I could not find the feel, the place to put my lever, the picture that made it all come together for me. Well, I finally found it. Phew. Then I read a post somewhere out there that put some stuff into words for me. I sat down and had to finish it, even though I felt bad. I posted it without linking back to the post that really is represented here.

The blessing post was one that emphasized that people can sit in pews and be pursuing a very personal journey, rather than a corporate one. I thought it was Beyond Words, but it might have been Eclexia. They had some good conversation (along with several others) going in this post right here.

I'm sure I'll find it tomorrow at a glance, but today has not been one of those days. Today I spent 4 hours troubleshooting a problem because I transposed a 2 and a 3. I was working away on server #237, wondering why nothing was quite right. I was supposed to be working on #327. I'm blaming it on the 95* anti-fever I was running. (It seems to be letting go. Phew. I'm looking forward to getting my brain back.)

Anyway, somehow I've read the appropriate posts and cannot find the thing the stirred me, and I have to get to bed. Rather than do nothing, I'll just link them both and hope they don't mind my bouncing off their great discussion and seeming to take credit for their thoughts. It was not intentional.

21 January, 2008

Long time no write...

Well, I was about 7 paragraphs into a post explaining how little I felt like typing when the browser crashed.

Guess how much I feel like rewriting.


Suffice it to say I feel like doo-doo, but in an encouraging kind of way. I'm a happy camper.

Instead, let me tell about this funky little part of a little dream. I believe in prophetic dreams, but I don't have any like that. I just dream what I'm thinking about. It says a lot more about me than about anything God might have to say.

I was trying to work out some way in my dream for 4 people to be happy. It was kind of crazy, but I knew it was possible, so I didn't give up. When I was done, I had a bizarrely realistic answer.

I had 1 wall and 4 people wanted flowers on it. I also had a gate. Sun always shines from the South, and the wall was at the North side of my yard, so it is a South-facing wall. The gate itself points due South when closed, and can be opened either way. So the gate opens such that it is parallel with the wall.

I hung lattice on the wall on both side of the gate, and I hung lattice on the gate itself, on both sides. Each of the 4 people was allowed to plant a crawling vine flower of their choice - one on the fence inside the gate, one on the fence outside the gate, one on the gate toward the inside, and one on the gate toward the outside. And throughout the day, we opened the gate to the inside, center and outside such that each of the flowers got a fair amount of sunshine.

I woke up immediately after testing this Rube Golberg garden in my dream, and just smiled. The thing had worked. How amazingly silly was that?

15 January, 2008


I'm returning back to the hotel room, and I click the "up" elevator button. The left hand elevator is on 7 and headed up. The right hand elevator is at G2 (2 levels below me) and not moving. The brain in the elevator system lets the left hand elevator continue to 8, stop there, unload, and come back down rather than send the right elevator up 2 floors.

I've long suspected the elevator brains were whacked, but due to someone's short-sighted honesty in telling us where the elevators actually are we can see it for a fact. The elevator in my parking garage is at least this stupid. I have watched one elevator door close, hit the button, and ridden the same elevator like 7 hours later when it finally gets back.

What must the programmers of these "convenience" devices be thinking?

Pagan Christianity

I link you to a book review of "Pagan Christianity" by Kruse Kronicle.

I have not read the book. I link it because the review provides a pretty good summary of the content of the book, and is material worthy of discussion in and of itself. I also link it because I have a little history with Frank Viola, and it's just funny to see a review of a book by a guy you know. Not enough history to really guess at the quality of this book, but he tied into the group I left about a year before I quit. We never really met, but we heard about each other and have talked since.

If you read the review, and read the list of pagan elements that have been added to Christianity over the centuries, you are reading my history. These were the things I learned in 1983 that put me off the organized church for a quarter century. As I read the list again, for about the hundredth time, I really don't know what to think. I was willing to do anything to see the church cleansed from those pollutions. I was aching to die on that mountain for decades, and I still see all those additions to the word of God as mistakes. But the passion is gone for me. And that's usually a bad place for me.

I think, this time, it's the right place for me.

The shift started when I took my latest position at work. I was made responsible for coming up with processes that worked for 400 really smart, regular people. Over 4 years of dealing with these folk, I learned that esoterica is completely ineffective. Nobody cares. Nobody. Not one person. Everyone wants to be part of a team that works. They don't care why it works or the hidden subtleties that play out in the background. I have been a high idealist all my life, and have always wanted all the subtleties to come together in a perfect picture of elegance. Learning that most people don't even see the things I treasure was a shock. Learning that they tend to be more successful than me was a crisis. But learn I have.

I'm currently taking a course in ITIL. You don't even care what that means, believe me, but it's a massive framework of subtleties. I should be able to take this back to my job and make all sorts of tweaks and tunings, but I cannot. No one could. If I'm going to introduce new ITIL concepts at work, I need to prove that they'll work. Nothing else matters.

Pagan Christianity seeks to tear down a bunch of stuff that is working for people.

I sought to tear down a bunch of stuff that was working for people.

Neither Frank nor I is going to have much luck.

I'm sure Frank has his eyes wide open to that fact. I know I did. But it didn't matter, because that was the hill I was tasked with taking. I had these truths, so I was responsible to shout them from the rooftops - the watcher who sounds no alarm, and all that stuff. I was looking forward to dying on that hill. (You know how it is - I was young.)

Then, about 2 months ago, I had this radical change of perspective. All we need to do is bloom where we're planted. Leave the pastors and the sermons and the church buildings where they are, and focus on fellowshipping deeply with those closest to us. The idea is radical to most of you, because it means being of one mind with a church with which you may not completely agree. It's radical to me because it means leaving behind years of ranting against everything those churches stand for.

This may or may not make sense to you, but seeing Frank charging up that hill spurs a little soul-searching. It's more than nostalgic, but less than melancholic. I've given up exactly the fight Frank is carrying forward with this book. And it's impossible to see that without questioning whether I've made the right decision.

Sally-Jane says I have.

Sally-Jane wants to love her Lord and serve Him successfully. I will always believe she would be best served to do so in the way Frank is presenting, but Sally-Jane cannot make that jump. She cannot. She cannot imagine a Christianity without buildings, sermons and services and every time I try to describe it to her she battens down the hatches and waits for the storm to blow over.

Frank's Christianity necessarily becomes elitist. It becomes a gathering of people who are curious about esoterica. It becomes a disorganization in opposition to the organized religion around it.

And in the end, who cares? The bible does not forbid church buildings, sermons, and sacramentalism (yes, I know some of you hold that it explicitly orders all these things - that's fine.) So, why spend time fighting them? I can make the smart people at work start doing ITIL if I can show them that their current methods are not successful, and my new methods will be. I need both a stick and a carrot. Frank believes he has both. I have to disagree.

The home church movement elevates the practice of gathering to a division-level doctrine. This has to be a step in the wrong direction.

This was way more than I meant to write on this subject, and it is more disjointed than I like but I'm not going to edit it. I hope it makes sense.

11 January, 2008

Thinking about Migraines and a Wonderful Evening

Today was the first day in months I can say I had moments of being completely migraine symptom free. Several times today, I actually felt like I could exert myself without bringing on the dreaded aura. What a glorious, free, happy feeling.

My heart goes out to people who don't have days like this.

I've always had great sympathy for you, and I've always tried to be one of the voices saying, "I believe you, and I'm sorry." I know there are so many people who doubt that anyone can really be in serious pain for years. I know they can. And this last three months have been just a teeny, bitter taste of your lives. I love you, and I never take the effort you put into even being sociable for granted. Thank you.

Those of you with Chronic Fatigue, Fiber Myalgia, Lupus, and other autoimmune diseases will almost certainly find that what is working for me is not an option for you. I understand, and again, my heart goes out to you. I'll give away the ending, because I don't want you guys to be disappointed when you find out it's just exercise that's helping me. I know, understand, and completely believe that exercise becomes a non-option at some point in those disease cycles, and I have the deepest respect for the way you keep your heads up when so many things you'd be delighted to try are just impossible for you. May the Lord bless your spirits beyond the degree the fall ravages your bodies.

In my case, on a scale of 1-10 I'd rate my migraine pain at a constant 3 with occasional runs up to 4. I'm a complete wimp to be talking about it at all, but I'm going to anyway. They are real migraines. I know, because when I describe them, people who suffer the big bangers nod their heads.

They feel like this. Imagine putting a rubber band tightly around your wrist. Now leave it there for half a day. At first you don't notice it, but then it begins to kind of feel funny, then your hand just feels so engorged with blood everything you do with it hurts. And then it doesn't get better. It just keeps being engorged. Very quickly you cannot do needlepoint, and eventually you can't really write. Before it's over, it hurts just to sit there and do nothing, but it hurts worse to not do nothing, and the very worst is that even if you decide you will accept the pain, you can't do anything well. And when you take off the rubber band, the symptoms continue for a long, long time. It doesn't get better just because it's better. In my case, it's about 8 hours ramping up and 30 hours ramping back down.

Except it's your brain. The aura is always the first thing I notice. The words I'm looking at vanish. Words about an inch away I can see fine, but I cannot read words I'm not looking at without concentrating really hard, and concentrating is just what I cannot do when the migraine is going. Soon, there are little rainbows in a circle around the center of my vision. The little rainbows get wider and wider, and soon, I can see what I'm looking at, but I can no longer see the words an inch away.

It's like there's doughnut hole of white erasing the ink on the page. Then it slowly changes into a doughnut, and I can see into hole, but not around it any more. Then the doughnut gets bigger and after a half-hour or so I can see again with my whole vision. But by then I'm pretty blue, because I know my brain is not going to be working for the next day and half. I can make it do stuff, but the more complex it is, the harder it is. Interacting with people is the hardest, because it's hard to really engage in the dance of conversation with them. I keep having to simplify the discussion, and that's frustrating, and I cannot sail to extremes of emotion with them. My range is limited, just like that engorged hand.

And I'm going to tell you something odd. As I type these words, there's a deep gnawing fear working at me that merely remembering the sensations will bring on the migraine. I REALLY don't want to be describing it, even though my mind says it's safe to do so. For three months, the most random things have brought the symptoms forward. And like I said, they've been in the background the whole time. Even now, as I type, I feel an unpleasant sense of pressure at the back of my head that lets me know it might be back tomorrow. And about every other second as I've been typing thus far, I irresistibly, mentally probed my vision to see whether the doughnut hole of white is creeping up on me.

But tonight, I actually played tennis with a slight degree of abandon. Twice, I felt like I might be getting too intense, and reeled myself back in, but that's a remarkable improvement over the last 3 months. And it was such a delightful night of tennis too! I hit with two guys that were better than me, and I worked them both. They beat me soundly, but not easily. And by the end of the night, I was holding my own with the one, and holding my serve against the guy who's actually played in challenger tournaments in London. I was HITTING with people much, much better than me.

Please read this next sentence with all the pathos and joy you can muster.

It was so much fun.

What a night. :-)

So, why do I tell you all that about migraines?

Mostly because I want to tell where I am in my fight against them. I'm going to tell you why I think I'm on top today, and I'm going to warn you immediately - even I know there's zero reason to believe this going to work for me for long, and definitely not that it will work for anyone else. I just want to put my thinking out there, half for me and half for anyone who has an interest.

I think the migraines are stress induced. Plain and simple. Long ago I said that they were emotion-induced, and especially unacknowledged emotions. Now, I think unacknowledged emotions were just one more stress, and that's really been stress the whole time. Over the past 12 months, I have had a completely new stress in my life that I had no clue how to handle. I still don't, really, but I'm doing what we all do, and moving forward. And over the last 6 months, my primary refuge has transformed itself into another huge stress. I frankly love working, and love my job, but for the last 6 months it has been one kick in the teeth after another. And they have done the world's absolute worst thing in the world to me - they've bored me.

Some people don't like to be bored. That's not me, because I usually cannot be bored. When I'm bored I break things, and then I'm not bored any more. Really. No exaggeration there. I could tell you stories about things I've done for sheer boredom that have made me a quite a desirable reputation. That's because when I break things, I can usually put them back together better than they were before. That's why I don't get fired. But for the last 6 months, I have been in a position in which there was nothing for me to break. I didn't think that could happen to me, but it happened, and in the silence I've been slowly consuming my own mind.

On top of that, I have obsessed about tennis. Tennis, when done obsessively, can be quite time-consuming, and quite energy consuming. It's a joy, but after a certain point, it becomes a stress, too. Especially when you're trying to improve your game in an unheard of way, and you're doing it with the raw energy of Codepoke trying to find something to offset the things that are eating him alive. And then, of course, it's stressful because I really don't like to lose. I'm truly, deeply, competitive. The marrow in my bones creates as many competition cells as it does blood cells. And playing above my level results in a lot of losing, and a lot of not hitting as well as I did in practice. And that's hard to swallow.

Here, I want to say again that I deeply respect people who are actually suffering. I have not yet resisted unto blood in striving against sin, and my body has really been very good to me over the years. It's really held up pretty well considering how stupidly I've treated it for the 12 months. My pains do not compare to those of some of you who are reading this, and I know it. I'm just telling my little story.

Now, tennis is not aerobic. You may think it is, but it's not. It's more like weight-lifting. You can get your heart rate and breathing up by lifting weights, but it's not going to strengthen your heart. And when I train for tennis, I train anaerobically. I do resistance training with rubber bands, and a lot of body-weight squats. And I've been doing that for over a year now.

I did not realize how aerobically weak I had become.

I've recently become pre-hypertensive, and I'm breathing just a little harder going up stairs than I used to. It's almost unnoticeable, because I can play for 4 hours and I'm one of the most fit people in a fitness game. But when I got on the exercise bike, I noticed my migraine symptoms asserting themselves immediately, and worse for two days thereafter.

My motto is, "If it hurts, I've got to get me some of that!"

I dove in.

When I put the constellation of symptoms together, it made sense to me. A migraine feels like a blood pressure issue. I have the beginnings of a blood pressure issue. Increasing my heart rate for a long period of time brings up my blood pressure and my symptoms. If I increase my aerobic strength, I should increase my ability to handle stress, and should increase my body's ability to throw off migraine symptoms.

So, I did what all good Codepokes do.

Yep, you guessed it.

I should never be a doctor.

I looked up my max heart rate for my age - 153, and got on the bike. I sustained 163 for 5 minutes to see what that would do. Dude. What that did was really, really hurt. It took me a full week to recover from that. But that encouraged me all the more. If I can directly cause my symptoms, then I can do something to cure them. Every mechanic knows that. If you can make the engine act bad, then you can make it quit acting bad.

I pegged out my brain last Friday, so this Wednesday was 5 days later. I got back on the bike and didn't let my heart rate go over 130 for 20 minutes. I was shooting for 40 minutes, but I could last that long. I backed down to 120 for another 8 minutes, then I surrendered. It was the right move. I felt truly, measurably better the next day. I took that day off and just rested. Then, of course, today was Friday and I played tennis at nearly full throttle for the first time in a long, long time. It was so encouraging.

I will tell anyone who's interested whether things fall back to my old, steady migraine after a while, or whether upping my aerobic capacity gives me back the ability to resist stress. I actually started down this path of reducing stress + increasing aerobic capacity about 3 weeks ago, and things have been getting steadily (but not surprisingly, slowly) better. That gives me some degree of confidence that things will continue to get better - or I wouldn't risk typing these optimistic words. But I've been wrong about too many things too many times to be anything like certain.

And some day exercise may not work for me any more, even if it works today. And "reducing my stress" is some doctor's evil fantasy suggestion. That's just not possible. If/when those days come, I'll try to live up to grace of those I know who are truly hurting, the great cloud of witnesses I've known to be such blessings and testimonies to me over the years.

There comes a time when death comes for us all, and the last three months have given me insight into how it sometimes comes in little doses. It's to the Lord's glory when He enables us to praise during those little deaths. May the Lord be glorified in His children, and may they be comforted to remember His mercy and how He suffers alongside them, every one.

But tonight was too wonderful, and I had to share my joy. I hit the ball with joy and without pain, and whatever the reason, I thank the Lord.

09 January, 2008


This is a pretty solid idea: Works For Me Wednesday

Ya'll know I've got nothing like the dedication to do anything every Wednesday, even post a question, but I'm impressed nonetheless.

It just so happens, though, that I actually do have a question for everyone. I've always wanted a bird. I think I'd love a bird. They seem to be like dogs, in that they need and love companionship, but without all the dogness that being a dog seems to require.

Anyone have any experience with birds?

I don't think I'm home enough to have a loving, handfed, solitary bird - it would be alone too much and go nuts. But maybe a little corner piece with 4 songbirds would give me a nice feel and pleasant noises. I don't often turn on the TV, radio or music, so breaking the silence pleasantly would be nice. Especially if they were hand fed enough to accept the occasional shoulder-ride.

... Once I put all the cats out, that is. Grrr. I love the one cat, but the other two have just about driven me past my tolerance. I'm too civilized to dispose of a living being for convenience sake, but just hillbilly enough to give it hard thought from time to time.

08 January, 2008

Happiness, Bonding, and Geography

The Kruse Kronicle found an astounding article today, and not just because it affirms so many things I believe. I don't often quote the Christian Science Monitor, but when they're right, they're right (and especially when they have good data backing them up.)

Here's a couple of quotes:

Jean-Paul Sartre famously declared that "Hell is other people." Sartre got it wrong, or perhaps he was hanging out with the wrong people. The emerging science of happiness has found that the single biggest determinant of our happiness is the quantity and the quality of our relationships.


We can be anywhere, the apostles of a placeless future tell us, a message that dovetails nicely with the self-help movement's we-can-be-happy-anywhere mantra. Rumors of geography's demise, though, have been greatly exaggerated.

The article would have us travel to be happy. That's alright. With so much good thinking in there, I don't mind if they miss the conclusion. We need to start connecting in our own neighborhoods if we want to be happy, but one day they'll figure that out. No worries, though. We're ahead of that curve around here.

Thy Will Be Done

Sure, yeah, we all want God's will to be done, but what is it?

The question has often been reduced to, "Should I break up with Sally and go steady with Jane," but that ain't what was on God's only Son's mind when He taught us to pray. Once I even read a post on a popular site insisting the will of God was:

1Th 5:18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

With answers like that, who needs questions? The attitude that allows an answer like that reminds me of another verse:

Pro 25:20 [As] he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, [and as] vinegar upon nitre, so [is] he that singeth songs to an heavy heart.

Saying "cheer up" to the weeping is always, always, always cruel.

But I'm way off topic now. When we talk about the will of God, that tends to happen because we just don't know what it is. God wills our sanctification, our deliverance, our steadfastness, our transformation, our thankfulness, and that Paul should be an apostle. But none of that is "God's will."

The Romans had a name for "the father" of every household. He was the "pater familias," Father of the Family. The Jewish family was set up in a reasonably similar way, though the Jewish father lacked the power of life and death a pater familias had.

Since Jesus started His teaching prayer with the words, "Our Father..." it seems appropriate to focus on the pater familias.

The family of that day was the primary economic unit. There were not companies. There were families. And the pater familias was in charge of that economic operation. He brought into the family new sons in law, faithful servants, his own sons, and hirelings as needed toward the goal of building the business. He had the power to decide what and when to buy and sell to ensure the family for whom he was responsible lived in comfort.

Review the parables Jesus told, and you will recognize this pattern over and over. Jesus likens His Father to a pater familias repeatedly.

The pater familias was responsible to keep his family disciplined, profitable, and healthy. Therefore, it was his greatest honor to find evidence in the world around him that his family, his business, was run with excellence. To that end, he required of his family that they be honest, diligent, responsible, forward thinking, and thankful for what he provided.

That list, if you didn't notice, looks a lot like the list of things you'll find required of us by scripture.

The will of our Father in heaven is nothing less than that the world would look on His family and see honesty, diligence, responsibility, forward thinking, and thankfulness. He wants to see His church honoring His legacy on Earth by defining it.

The purpose of Christians is not to make more Christians. Yes, that must happen, but it is not "the" will of God. The purpose of Christians is to profit the business of our Father in heaven, and that happens because ALL the gifts are exercised in the church. Not just evangelism, but helps and care and the greatest of these is love.

And if it's not just evangelism, then it's not just evangelists and pastors and elders who are needed. It's every member of the body. Someone has to pluck weeds, and someone has to grind wheat, and someone has to carry loaves to market. Someone has to cook casseroles, and someone has to comfort the grieving, and someone has to notice when people are feeling down.

The will of God is that His church be the most wholly, actively loving family on Earth, and that requires you. When you are choosing a church, make sure you are choosing the place where you can contribute the most to your Father's goals. In the end, you'll both be happier.

Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.

Kruse Kronicles' Household of God Series
NT Wright's New Testament and the People of God

07 January, 2008

Blooming Outside Your Comfort Zone

Choosing a church is always uncomfortable. Every time you walk through the doors of a church, you shiver a little inside. You're not sure whether you're going to like what you see, and what's more, you're not sure anyone's going to like you. Even you extroverts have to feel this a little bit. :-)

We all want to increase our odds, so we scout our churches a bit before we walk into them. We start off by narrowing our choices to one or two denominations, and then we head off to their churches' websites. We try to get a feel for the music and the preaching and scan for testimonials through Google or some such. We ask our friends, and talk to people who might know something about all the local churches in our denomination. By the time we walk through the door of a church, most of us have the best idea what to expect we can get.

Attending the nearest church to your home strips you of a lot of that prep work. You end up going in blind, or pretty near to it. And if the church differs from you in a couple of meaningful doctrines, it's that much riskier. Who knows whether you'll be accepted? And who knows whether you'll be able to accept them?

It's a big "ask" to ask someone to join hearts with a church based on an accident of geography.

If you decide to take the plunge, though, maybe these couple little tips might help.

First off, remind yourself often of the benefits.
+ The time you invest getting to know these people will be well spent because they're children of the same God as you. They were born again to the same kingdom you were, and that family-love will overcome any foreign-ness.
+ After you've gotten to know them, they'll be close enough that you'll be able to call them when something goes wrong, and help them when they have problems.
+ Being around different beliefs will stretch you.
+ Being around you will stretch them!
+ You'll be able to tell your neighbors you fellowship with their neighbors, and that's unheard of. Americans don't do anything with the people nearest them, but the kingdom of God should.

Second, be up front with whoever is your official contact. If no one approaches you by the second or third week, maybe you're in the wrong church, but probably the pastor or an elder will take on the job of making sure you feel welcome. Go ahead and tell that person what denomination you're from, and that you'd like to attend their church anyway. Assure him you don't want to correct their beliefs, and you don't expect yours to change, but you want to fellowship with the nearest brothers and sisters to your home. Chances are this will be as new an idea to them as it is to you, but hopefully they'll be open to the idea.

Third, keep your promise not to try to change their church. If the pastor wants to talk about your doctrinal differences, that's fine, but otherwise avoid discussing differences like nasty medicine. You're there to love the Lord with family, not make sure everyone conforms to your estimation of the Truth. For 90% of you, this point is a great relief. For the other 10%; let that pet doctrine go! Thanksgiving dinner is ruined every year when your crazy uncle brings up yet again how Mondale should have won, and stirring up your favorite doctrinal hornet's nest won't cheer the church (no matter how much that one guy enjoys debating, and no matter how close that one lady is to changing her mind.)

Fourth, keep on being yourself. Keep giving the church the unique blessing of your beliefs, even if it sounds a little strange to everyone else. If crazy uncle Mondale-lover turns his concern about big politics into a concern for the people around the table, he just might find an audience. Maybe Mondale cared about the environment, and someone around the table bought a Prius. Or maybe Mondale cared about the poor, and someone volunteers at a homeless shelter. Bring whatever it is you're crazy about, whatever your passion is, to the table. In time you'll show you care more about the people than being right, and love covers a multitude of gaffs.

Fifth, dare to care about these people. If you'll step up to seek out their needs, pray for them, and actually get involved in their lives you'll find that you're not a stranger there for long.

You might look around in 6 months and find you know and love almost everyone in the room, and that's what it was all about from the get-go.


Do these things sound too easy? Too obvious? They were things I needed to hear about 25 years ago and still needed badly 10 years ago - but then again, somehow I made it to adulthood with almost no social skills. Steps 3 and 4 seem the hardest to me. I mean we are all good at one or the other of them, but to get them both right seems to require a degree of practice and maturity.

05 January, 2008

Joining My Church

I eat my own dog food.

That's a programming phrase. Programmers who don't use their own programs are roundly riduculed. If, for example, Microsoft were running all their servers on IBM software, they'd be in for a pounding. Programmers call using your own software, "eating your own dogfood."

I attend the church closest to me. There are benefits to practicing what I preach beyond the moral high ground. I know what it feels like to look in a place so close to home for Christian fellowship. I also know the strange feeling that if I mess up, I don't have 500 other churches to choose from. This is the closest church to my home. Messing up here would be a lot like speeding in your own neighborhood. It's just not smart.

In August of 2005 I joined the LifeBridge. I wanted something very different for myself, but 7 years had just been too long without believers in my life. I'd moved my ex's bed in the spring of 2004, and my daughter had moved in with her in June of 2005, so it was just me and my boy.

More to the point, I'd been without a Christian in my life since '98.

I'd been hanging out at the Thinklings for a long time, but I was beginning to notice that commenting on a wildly popular blog was a long way from fulfilling. First off, I had too much skin in the game to not get hurt when I got no response. Second, they were people, but they were people a long way off. Eventually, I had to leave my screen each night, and when I did they were gone and there was no one. And really, when I eventually quit commenting over there in early 2006 no one even noticed (except Milly :-).

The closest church to me is named, "Neighborhood Family of Jesus" or something equally appealing.

I held my breath and walked in.

The people could not have been friendlier. They took me in like a long-lost cousin and made me feel as welcome as I could possibly hope. I shook hands, pointed in the direction of my house, and let them know there wasn't a wife any more. They smiled and understood and casually made sure I knew everyone, including the other single. They were good people.

Then I wandered over to the literature rack. They didn't believe Jesus was as truly God as His Father was God. I didn't bolt, but there was no chance I'd be sticking around. I enjoyed their sermon, especially because it was delivered by a woman. It was all true enough, and I was delighted to see a woman preach, but they don't hold Christ as Christ, and that's the end of that.

Going to the church nearest does not mean taking on responsibility to rehab an anti-Christian organization. If anyone ever reads this who's thinking about giving themselves to a nearby church, make sure it's a living church that loves Christ at least as much as Ephesus did in Revelation 2. Join a church, not a missionary project.

The next week I suited up again, and visited the next nearest church. This one had international flags up in their front yard, and was a part of the Christian Missionary Alliance. I found it hard to be against that, so I stepped into Lifebridge Church.

The church was almost entirely made up of seniors. I'd been in a Free-Will Baptist Church like that back before I was married, and I'll always remember it with a grin. I heard more stories in 30 minutes about attractive granddaughters than I ever knew existed. I was a fool and I never went back, but what's done is done.

The literature rack at LifeBridge was stocked with the preachers of my youth. There was nothing there to blow me away, but nothing to scare me away either. A seeker could do worse than to read their stuff. (I'm a very harsh customer, in case you didn't already know.) I was greeted by four or five kind people, and everyone seemed normal. Nobody offered me a possible bride, but other than that they seemed friendly enough. My hopes were pretty low, but they seemed to be well above them.

I found a seat pretty much exactly in the middle of the auditorium and waited. The hundred or so seats were about half-filled when they started. I'd been going through one of my phases of listening to Christian music, so I actually knew most of the songs they sung that day. That meant I had to decide right-away how to sing. Left to my own, I sing about twice as loudly as most people can. And since most people don't sing anywhere near as loudly as they can, I can make quite a spectacle of myself. I decided I was there to sing, and I sang.

It wasn't long before I was crying. It had been too many long, long years since I had joined my voice to others in praising our Lord, and it was beyond moving to do so again. I'll never forget those first three weeks when I wept every time we sung. I hear there's a move to minimize the singing in many churches because us guys don't like it. I assume that's the truth, but I'd follow the singing wherever it went. I can replace a sermon with a book, but singing alone is completely different from singing with brothers and sisters.

I'm an intensely harsh customer when it comes to preaching, but the sermon was solid. There was no doubt this church and its pastor loved Christ as the Lord.

As long as I was teeing off on things, I figured I'd swing for the bleachers after the sermon was over. I walked up to the pastor and explained exactly what was going on. I was divorced, and I believed a lot of things they'd call heresy. I had chosen the church because I believed in home church, but I was not going to have a home church any time soon, so I was at going to go to the church closest to my home. If he could live with that, I'd be back.

We talked for a minute or two about home church, predestination and amillenialism and he was completely open to me being me. He understood a lot, and what he did not understand he was willing to live with.

I could not have been more relieved. There were another 6 churches almost as close to me, but I am not much of a shopper. I'm a harsh customer, but when I've found what I want and a price I can afford, I quit looking.

I instantly felt warm with these people, and that was what I needed.


Looking back over my 2 1/2 years with LifeBridge, it's been a wonderful choice. The people have been a cool drink of water for me more times than I can count, and they assure me that I've been a blessing to them too.

I've found that to be true every time I've given myself to Christians.

That's why I stepped back into a church even when I thought it was wrong to do so. Christians prove themselves worth the risk over and over.

I did not go back because it's some kind of are you. though. If you want to make me angry, quote Hebrews 10:25 to me.
Hbr 10:25 Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some [is]; but exhorting [one another]: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

I spent 6 years alone as a Christian before starting at LifeBridge. I spent 10 years before that in a home church that many people felt was a forsaking of the assembling. In the 8 years or so before that I was fellowshipping in ways hardly anyone would recognize as Christian. I've had that verse quoted to me too many times, and to too little purpose to take it cheerfully any more. Take your Hebrews 10:25 and interpret it in a room with no windows. (presumably, that's somewhere that the sun don't shine, right?)

Hebrews 10 is about Christians approaching God with boldness, and provoking one another to do so. I'm "for" that. I quit church a quarter century ago precisely because no one was obeying it so's I could tell. The problem was partly mine, and I'll own that even now, but provoking me to assemble with someone was ALWAYS counter-productive. Provoke me to approach God, and show me how your assembly will help me do that, and I'll be there. Provoke me to show up, tithe, and sing on cue and I'll go off on one of these rants of mine.

When I stepped into LifeBridge, I didn't just assemble myself with believers, I approached God with them. Two+ years on, I still am. I'm glad I finally matured enough to handle that, and I'm glad my doctrine of the church is coming in line with something that gives me so much joy.

I don't know. That was pretty rambly, but I wanted to look at that history again.

May the Lord bless your search.

04 January, 2008

Movie Review: Juno

Not much to say about this one. It hits every note right. I could get all gushy with the praise, but if you watch movies, you will want to watch this one.

I really cannot think of a single thing about which to criticize it. It asks every question, and it answers them pretty well for 2008. I may buy this one as a message to Hollywood.

03 January, 2008

Getting Church Right

Prov 21:2
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD pondereth the hearts.

I had to let that sink in a little the other night, before it began to speak to me.

EVERY way of EVERY man IS RIGHT in his own eyes.

Can you compute that? Mitt Romney is right in his own eyes, even though he's passionately defended opposite positions several times in his career. Hilary Clinton is right in her own eyes even though she's never changed her mind on anything.

I'm right in my own eyes. I humbly thought through everything I believed 27 years ago, and was convinced I was right. Since 1981 I have changed positions on 'most every doctrine I affirmed. (Quiz me, I dare you.) And when I sit down and humbly assess myself in 2008, I'm still right on all of them again. Amazing how that happens.

You know what? That's not a sin. That's not pride. That's not a blind spot. That's simple math. If I thought I was wrong about one of them, I'd change my mind about it. From past experience I'd say it'd take me between 1 day and 6 months to change my mind on that thing, but I'd change it and guess what? I'd be right in my own eyes again.

There's no sin in thinking I'm right.

And yet all my rightness could be traded at profit for a plugged nickel. I've been right for 43 years now, and had to abandon settled positions over and again. My current doctrinal positions have learned to wear the crown uneasily.

Fortunately, that doesn't matter. God ponders the hearts. Most versions say He "weighs" the hearts. Whether He ponders or weighs, God doesn't condemn our hearts, and He doesn't count our mistakes in this judgement. God loves right past our ways, and weighs our loves.

We must do the same with ourselves. We must ignore our "rightness" and watch our actions to learn about our hearts. Do we suffer long with brothers? Are we kind? Do we not vaunt ourselves and not seek our own benefit? Do we give and bless and labor for others when it's in our power?

How weighty is our heart?

02 January, 2008

Random Thoughts on Blooming Where You're Planted

(Every night I have to ask, "How can it be so incredibly late so very early?!" I hate clocks and how they just keep running. Oh well.)

First, I don't know how many times this has happened to me. I reject folk wisdom over and over only to find after a careful, years long inquiry into the issue, that the folk were right. They usually are.

The recommendation that a man should bloom where he's planted is as old as the hills. I realize it is somewhat dense for me only now to be catching up to it's wisdom. Still, I am beginning to see why it's so right. And this part has happened to me countless times too. I can usually profit a little beyond the folk wisdom because I forced myself to find out why it was wise. We'll hope I have not just wasted twenty good years figuring this stuff out.

Second, I think I see why doctrine creates such division amongst Christians.

We need doctrine. We ALL need doctrine, and there is only one true doctrine, but none of us has it. We just have our view of the facts, and our best guess of what God is like. That alone makes it obvious why doctrine must create divisions. But there's more.

I'm going through the exercise of writing a book on the basics of being a Christian. I'm targeting something in the 70 page range and describing what one does to become a Christian and to "do" being a Christian the right way. It was inspired by the way my tennis game improved when (after 30 years) I was taught the right way to hit each shot. Learning the right way to strike the ball made everything else to work, so I'm trying to teach the right way to strike the iron in life.

As I approached the end of the first draft, it dawned on me that nowhere in the book is it obvious what my doctrines are. I could not tell from my own book what I believe about anything outside of the rawest salvation, and I think I know why. All of us, every true Christian, basically believes the same things about what we can do for God. We only argue about what God can do for us, and what we have to do to free Him to do those things for us. Since I'm writing about what we do, I've never needed to open a single controversy.

We only fight about what God can do for us.

Predestination versus Free Will?
- Can God save us apart from our decision?

- Will God pull us out of the fire at the end of everything, or will He help us endure it?

- Does God infuse us with grace through physical actions, or by invisible spiritual acts?

The Trinity?
- Is it important for God to have 3 personalities to reach out and save us?

Home church?
- Can God work in the world when the church is so buried in fithly lucre?

Caring for the poor?
- We all agree we should do this.

In fact, we all agree about almost everything we should do as Christians. We should pray. We should care for the saints. We should avoid the evil that's in the world. We should reach out to the people oppressed by that very evil and give them the Truth of Jesus' work.

And that's why going to the closest church is so important. We agree with those people about what we should be doing. We only struggle with them over what God is doing for us. Why let our confusions separate us? We should open our hearts and lives to them as freely as to someone who agrees with us.

Bringing me to the third thing, we are a geographical species.

My son noted something the other day. He was in the break room with six other people, and they were all talking ... but not one of them was talking to anyone in the room.


We live a cellular life these days. We are completely separating ourselves from our geographical "place." But we are a geographical species. We naturally connect with where we are, and with the people we expect to see in our places. To do most of our connecting with a TV screen, a cell phone, and a computer monitor is neither natural nor healthy, and yet we are almost there. How many people are fighting for the privilege of telecommuting these days? When work contact is gone, what's left? And when we add the windshields of our cars to the church equation and drive there 3 times a week, we are only shooting ourselves in our God-given, natural, geographical feet.

We were built to connect with the living people around us. Life is connection, and connection happens best across a table or a fence, not a down modem line or up a cellular tower.

The church has the fantastic opportunity to be the last thing in America that NEEDS eyeball to eyeball, handshake to handshake, living connection. We can become the single American place people go when they want to remember what it's like to touch someone and be loved - well that and singles bars, I guess. But we cannot give this to ourselves, much less to anyone else, when we all drive 20 minutes for the chance.

Fourth, I thought about the phrase, "boots on the ground."

That's such a pregnant sentence. God has chosen to fight His war against this Earthly insurgency with precious few boots on the ground. Each of us needs to love to maximum efficiency. We need to give ourselves every opportunity to strike a hug for the cause. And where can we have more effect than in a church where we're a little different? Where can we have more effect than amongst our own neighbors? Where can we have more effect than face to face with people whose hearts are silently calling out for real connection with people who'll really care?


I know none of this makes much sense, and I've hardly made a cogent case here. I just cannot seem to find the time to post, so it's either spray out these random thoughts or burst from keeping them inside for weeks. I cannot think of a time I've been more excited about the real possibilities standing open before the church. I cannot think of a time I've felt more like an idea might really be possible, doable, and even going to happen in some degree.

I've spent years wrestling with myself over how to fight the church and build it at the same time. Even as I started this series it was with fighting the church in mind. I wanted to fight the evil paper that was choking the church, but somehow that's just not right. It's like when us soldiers would talk about the Geneva convention. You were not allowed to shoot a 50 caliber machine gun at people, it was too big for the rules, but you could shoot it at the equipment they happened to be carrying. Shooting at the paperwork in the church might meet the letter of the law, but it's still not right, and I've known it all along.

As my mind is gnawing on this whole concept, an odd thing is happening. I am coming to consider the paperwork in the church to be an exact manifestation of the sin of the Nicolaitans in the Revelation. Therefore, it is a manifestation of a common sin within the church, and therefore it should be pitied and healed rather than assaulted. Rather than waging war against paper, I need to do exactly what I'd do in any other case of sin: exhort, encourage, rebuke, and most of all, love and forgive.

I'm not sure I'm ready for all this growth.

Ain't life grand. :-)