Wednesday, July 31, 2013

I, Calvinist?

Afraid I ain't.

Beside the Beloved Himself, the man most responsible for the shape of my faith - living or dead - is my earthly father.

My ancestors were Appalachian folk primarily, and still are. "The quintessential mountain family," said one mid-twentieth century newspaper of my great-great-grandfather's homestead. Clergymen, doctors, statesmen, and lawyers are scarce in my direct bloodline. We were far better at farming, birthing babies, avoiding politics, and - true to our Scotch heritage - imbibing copious amounts of moonshine.

My father was different. When he at last left his rascally behavior at the foot of the cross, he was ready to sink his teeth into something more substantial - more dogmatic - than the superfluous [yet sincere] mountain religion of his forefathers which still lived in the Second Great Awakening. Their worship, I'm convinced, was and remains a delight to the Beloved. I was raised on a good deal of it myself. But my father had questions - real questions, not mere doubts or insecurities - about God, the church, and the faith which a simplistic mountain Christianity could not satiate.

When I was eight, my family - for centuries clapping to That Ol' Time Religion - underwent a shift in thinking. We had become Calvinists. We had gone from mountains which had never heard the echo of "ism" to becoming an ism ourselves.

I cannot express the good this did me. Introduction to strange new ideas colored my mind with inquiries and forced my brain to turn inward on itself. Who is God? Who are you? Are you saved? How can you become so, if you are not?

These questions would run me into a hellish three-year period of doubt and God-hating during the teen years. Really, the ugliest days of my life. Nonetheless, the very spirit which brought me to ask would in time bring me to the Answer. Sometimes I think atheists are inquirers who stop inquiring too soon. The trouble is not that they keep asking questions; it's that they stop. They let go before God blesses them. If they could learn to wait on the Lord...

But moving on...

My father - due, no doubt, to acting in the fear of the Almighty - maintains an exemplary relationship with his father, my grandfather, despite diverging profoundly [though perhaps not essentially] on core Christian doctrines.

It is in that same spirit that I write this series of blog posts expressing my concerns with Calvinistic Christianity. It is not that I find these teachings untrue, per se, but misleading and oversimplified. I come before you a humble Anglican, fearful of what I am saying and imploring the Beloved's help.

It is also in the same spirit as my father that I depart from Calvinism: thirst for Diviner substance. This is the result of three years' experience, culminating the past six months into a galloping departure from the staples of Calvinistic thought.

Frankly, I am more interested in maintaining fellowship than being right on peripheral issues. And it is in that interest for fellowship - to grow and be enriched as a single church Body - that I write these....criticisms. This blog is meant for the good of the church catholic; God help me if it is not!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Marriage: what is the point?

The question was put to me, "What would be your goals in marriage?"

This is but another way to phrase, "Why get married at all?"

The answer to this is, ironically, the same answer to the call to singleness. Any example we are given in scripture of a man devoted to celibacy is of a man who is not actually devoted to celibacy. His devotion is elsewhere. Perhaps oversimplified, but adequate, we will say it is in the ministry. A single man is called to lay down his life for the church.

The point is a man cannot be called to live and die for himself. Always he is to lose himself. A man is never actually called to "singleness," because a single man does not a Church make: Adam is not enough; he must have Eve. A man's calling is to be laid down for another, and this is not always in marriage.

I must lose my life. I cannot keep it. It's not allowed. If I try to keep it, I will definitely lose it in the most colossal way. Either I break myself on the Rock, or the Rock crushes me to powder.

The goal of marriage is to lose my life, and let live another.

This is an ancient jab at the monk-ery and hermit-ery that has been romanticized in the Christian faith. Yet any time man is called away from man, as Jesus was for thirty years, it is only temporary, and only to prepare for an ultimate sacrifice, as Jesus also did. To make matrimony with solitude til death do you part is nothing short of an act of rebellion toward the Great Commission.
"Marriage License," by Norman Rockwell
This is also an ancient jab at the modern reluctance to produce offspring. For clearly, the cause is unwillingness to lay down one's life for another. And another. And another. Most think they are happy where they are in a marriage; or they are so miserable they don't think they could handle another blessing. They like change at their own pace. They think they know their limits (an adorably faithless sentiment), and could not stand to love a bit more.

And this makes perfect sense. If we are called to broaden our romance into another life - that is, if we are called to die (and therefore live) a little more - we are immediately afraid (makes sense: faith thrives amidst things wildly out of our control) and uncomfortable (also makes sense: dying is uncomfortable). All this is a sad misunderstanding of love and underestimation of the human spirit and calling.

Unloving people are frequently reasonable for what they do. They make such sense it's boring.

Don't be ordinary: get married - not to find yourself (Hooray! Another ancient jab at homosexuality!) - but to lose yourself. -->

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Morally Straight

My brother Isaac (11) crossed over from the Cub Scouts into the Boy Scouts only a few months ago. In his mind, he was crossing into the field of knights. The Boy Scouts has become an unspoken right-of-passage in our family over the years. Since we helped start the troop in 1989, four of my siblings and myself have earned the Eagle Rank: the highest in scouting. The most recent recipient is my younger brother, Zachary.

Isaac was supposed to be next in line. This was his moment. Adventure was in his eyes and thunder in his heart. He had the vivacious spirit of a boy who wanted so badly to be a man.

"Men of Tomorrow," by Norman Rockwell

Isaac is a thinker. He is a firework. Questions pour out of him endlessly. He loves to work outside; he especially enjoys mowing the lawn. He loves to run errands for his daddy and is usually found at his heels. He loves to smile. He is good at it. Bright mind, bright face.

Once, Isaac ran into the kitchen and stood pumping his arms and running in place.
"Mom, mom!" he said. "We need to go to the track!"
"Why now?" asked mom.
"I feel like running, and I need to before I stop feeling like it."

Another time, he ran to me and, with a wolfish grin, said in the tone of a challenge, "Blake, let's go find snakes and weird-looking bugs!"

Isaac is always running. He is one of the fastest in his cross-country team.

Adventure is out there!

Today, Isaac did not run. His face was not bright as it leaned over my laptop. "They voted, Blake," he said. "I won't ever become an Eagle Scout."

The decision today removed a long-standing policy that the BSA would not allow openly gay scouts to join the program. Many are praising it as a long-overdue development toward equality and inclusion. But by including some, they have excluded us. We are in a dilemma: either betray conscience by endorsing the modern mythology of gender orientation, or run the risk of suit.

My own feelings were old hopes badly bruised. But when I stepped into the kitchen, I saw future hopes dashed.

"A Guiding Hand," by Norman Rockwell
Isaac stood in the center of the room. He was sobbing quietly, bravely, in the arms of his silent older brother, Zachary. Isaac believed he was holding the last Adams to receive the Eagle award, and that the passage was closed to him. I saw his broken little world clinging to a far-off, older one - a confused boy embracing one of the last great Eagle Scouts.

Perhaps I am being melodramatic. But I want Isaac to know I would rather be in his rank than wear a hollow badge - a spotlighted badge which has come to represent the evils of idealism and absolute freedom. I do not wish to identify with an organization that preaches traditional virtues of leadership one moment, then recants at the first bully the next.

Boy Scouts of America, expect my medal in the mail.

Honor the King

I am compelled to speak of my least favorite topic: politics, and why it is my least favorite.

I've been boxing merchandise for a right-wing warehouse the past few days, as a side-job. While some of the hundreds of bumper-stickers I've stuffed into envelopes are humorous, and a rare few genuinely insightful, most are alarmingly and needlessly disrespectful.

I am a journalist. I recognize both sides spray their share of venom. But I fail to find a reason for it. In fact, it seems to consist of reason's abstinence.

Conservatives, especially in the South, tend to view the Constitution as infallible dogma [a heresy for another time], but at the same time [bizarrely] choose not to give equal reverence to the one American closest to it. In another time or culture, such a phrase as "I hate Obama" would be a citizen's last. It would be perceived as a mellow but fatal act of treason.

America has done a fine job killing the honorary ambiance associated with Presidential leadership. This is thanks largely to our first anti-Federalist President, Thomas Jefferson. Washington and Adams before him attended their inaugurations in stately dress and carriage, and were each addressed as "His Excellency, the President." Jefferson, however, put an end to the title, and attended important meetings in his slippers, where he preferred to walk without the fancy horses, attendees, and other prudish riff-raff. These efforts, which were never rotated, immensely helped characterize the President as a common ordinary American who neither commanded nor was entitled to special admiration and reverence from his subjects by virtue of possessing his last glimmer of a title: Mr. President. While Jefferson had sound reasons for his actions [and we've come to applaud them as a culture], he soundly succeeded in turning the Presidential status into nothing of serious note.

I no serious.
I do think reverence is the proper word, for the role of Presidency is a sacred one, however sacrilegious its pontiff. In what may be the tidiest verse in all of Scripture, "Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the King," [I Peter 2:17] that final bit uses the Greek word kebed. We translate it as "honor" because it's our best English substitute. However, a more literal translation would be "weightiness." To honor something, then, is to give it weight or importance - to regard it seriously. An honorable man, it could be said, is a man who is spiritually substantial. He is solid, dignified, founded firmly, and resilient. His word is not blown away easily; he is not one to toss aside; his presence his heavy on us. A thing of weight should be regarded, measured, paid attention to.

To dishonor is literally to "take lightly." The very definition of a fool is one who considers important and weighty matters as laughable or stupid.

Yet this is precisely what we Americans have done to our President. We ridicule him. We scoff at him. We rant and curse at him. When he is mentioned, we role our eyes, growl, or sigh wearily. It is true we have a duty to question our authorities and keep them in check. And with that, we also have the right to murder his reputation. The law enables us to say most anything we like about our sovereign. But perhaps we are too free with our freedom. Too often and too easily we shift from good, clear, honest keeping-in-checking to downright, disrespectful, and abusive noise. We've let the title of "Mr. President" stand, while we hollowed out the man beneath it. He becomes just an upright suit standing at the center of a target.

The second crime of inflammatory rhetoric is it reduces whatever issue being discussed to mere passions. Making the issue an emotional one is dangerous, because the victory always goes to him with the biggest megaphone or the largest head-count. It's a good way to lose and the worst way to win. The issue itself is unaddressed; instead, we find ourselves catering to euphoria - whether ours or our enemy's. Perhaps there would be a place for this kind of dialogue, except nothing good has ever come from it. I don't mean passion should be excluded or even toned down. I'm asking for passions of an entirely other sort.

Another danger with reducing a matter to passions is that passions can be dismissed. And this is why I hate discussing politics: most of it is not worth listening to. I spend most my time ignoring and failing to care. If this spewing is what caring is, then caring seems exhausting, disoriented, and, frankly, silly. If you think you can make me care [or convince me of something] by being angry enough, you are greatly mistaken. I will only slam the door on you with an easier conscience.

I did not vote for Obama. I do not agree with Obama. I may not even like him. Or his dog. However, I honor Obama, I respect Obama, and I will obey Obama, provided said obedience does not come before conscience. The Presidency is a seat of honor; to not honor it would make me a fool, by definition.

The law does not restrain us from spewing overheated nastiness at our country's leaders, so we must restrain ourselves.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Why the Greatest Argument for Homosexuality is No Argument

"When ranks are almost equal in a people, all men having nearly the same manner of thinking and feeling, each of them can judge the sensations of all the others in a moment: he casts a rapid glance at himself; that is enough for him. There is therefore no misery he does not conceive without trouble and whose extent a secret instinct does not discover for him. It makes no difference whether it is a question of strangers or of enemies: imagination immediately puts him in their place. It mixes something personal with his pity and makes him suffer himself while the body of someone like him is torn apart…On the contrary, as peoples become more like one another, they show themselves reciprocally more compassionate regarding their miseries, and the law of nations becomes milder."

- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America.

I confess I approach homosexual temptation from the luxury of having never suffered from it. We all have our pet sins. Homosexuality is not one of mine. The notion itself was so foreign to me I would not hear about it until I was twelve. Yet no matter how acquainted I've become with the issue, the initial and enduring sentiment is that it just makes no sense

I have sexual urges. I also, by God’s enabling grace, do not act on them. I do not need sex. Whatever your sexual orientation, there is no reason you must act on it ever. People have not died of virginity. Thus to engage in sex at all suggests some element of choice. I do not need a "why" to eat or breathe. These are self-apparent. Eating and breathing ensure life. But there is a why to sex, because the ends of sex is not itself.

"Called it."
Someone might say the role of sex is to please. That is the "why." Yet it is bad form to say a thing is meant to please because it tends to please. If pleasure were the ends, I would be licensed to any sexual behavior I liked, provided it was pleasurable. Even rape. But this won’t do…

...because there is an actual point to sex, found prominently in its results. Namely, to procreate. I never needed the chat from my father about the "birds and the bees." I was raised with puppies and kittens. I knew from an early age it took a mommy dog and a daddy dog to make puppies. Consequentially, I understood sex as something natural, but without the erotic baggage; it was sensible, not sensual; every spring, it made the world blossom with color – it was not something nasty committed under cloak.

While the male dog would fornicate with furniture, other males, and the legs of our guests, it was only in the absence or incompliance of the female. The point of his urges was plain: a response to the seasonal compulsion to fill the earth by gettin' jiggy with a lady-friend.

Babies are not a result to the ends of pleasure, but are a legitimate cause to engage in a pleasurable activity.

Sex committed without cause, or reason, has no reason to be about. It has no point. If you crave sexual relations with a member of the same sex, so what? The desire does not warrant the deed. You don’t have to do it. If you do, it is because you want to.

That said, nobody, least of all society, needs homosexuality.

Do you see my confusion?

Aside from a few intellectuals at the head of the movement, most practicing homosexuals consider their chosen lifestyles to be exactly that: chosen. It is a thing they want. Yet bizarrely, in the wanting, they consider themselves entitled. It is not necessary to have a rational basis. One is free to live irrationally. This is America, after all.

Studies show an infinitesimal number of Americans fall under LGBT categories (about 4% of the total population). The majority of people supporting homosexuals, then, are people like me who do not have homosexual urges.

Forgoing the rational basis for sex (to procreate), I would think heterosexuals would see homosexuality as I did: sexual license, committed by selfish people looking either for pleasure or sexual release. Perhaps it was so in a bygone era. But a few things began to reveal to me how the modern age sees it.

The thing is, American are free to engage in aberrant sexual behaviors. They are also free to live together. They do not need permission to share a bed. It's when they want to be legally recognized as married that I scratch my head. If it was just about two people desiring to indulge with each one was stopping them. They got what they want, it would seem, so why are they still complaining?

Clearly, there is something more than sexual urges at work. They want to engage in the enterprise of marriage! That is the whole modern debate.

Now for the big revelation: in a bizarre historic turn, modern homosexuality is not actually about sex.

Most people who support homosexuality are not themselves homosexuals, nor care to become so. What two people do in bed is not a part of the debate. In fact, the issue isn't even open to debate. It is a battle of wills, with those on one side shouting "Nay!" and the others "Yay!"

We have a culture infatuated with equality and liberty. And for good reason: these were championed by our founders, and have proliferated human happiness and prosperity. They glue our democracy and ensure our rights. They are our rights. The very word "freedom" puts a warm-fuzzy in our bellies and fireworks in the sky. At the cry of "equality," our society redirects its course, without the term being questioned or defined. As would happen to anyone who worships the virtue, but loses its God, a nation will pursue "equality" to its fatal extremes. The church is placed as a restraint. And that is why the church is now the enemy.

No wonder the church is a bunch of "haters." Because they've forgone any rational basis, they see the issue as our wills clashing with theirs. To them it has been reduced to a battle of passions. We cannot merely disagree, because the issue is being fought on the emotional front. They cannot understand our position as anything more than emotional, because that is how they understand theirs. It makes perfect sense we would be "haters" and they "lovers" – theirs is the romanticized side of "freedom" and "progress." Ours is the ugly, scared one of "restraint" and "bigotry."

Homosexuality does not need a reason for existing. It does not even have to contribute to society. It merely has to be something people want, and want badly enough, and those who are not homosexuals will want it for them. To step between a person and their desires is to trample their freedom and individuality, after all, which have become their own indisputable ends. One no longer needs a "why" to be free.

The issue of homosexuality has united the American people because it has taken advantage of those values which all Americans share and cherish. As Tocqueville points out, if one American suffers, the others flock to liberate him, because his rights are their rights. Homosexuality today has reached an unprecedented status in the minds of the people: to oppose it is not to oppose any philosophy or legal case, but the very culture democracy has produced.

I am persuaded those in favor of recognizing homosexual marriages have no actual arguments. And they don’t need them. They have megaphoned ideals of "equality" and "progress.”

This is not isolated to the homosexual debate. In fact, a great jumble of issues fall victim to the same thinking. Notably, abortion. What gave it such success legislatively was the rosy language of women’s health and the right to choose, which any lover of liberty would support. The anti-abortion position has grown in popularity of late because through horrific photographs and teary testimonials people are being confronted with its ugliness. And people do not want to live with ugliness.

The hand of persuasion.
If we made the issue about sex, the homosexual community might lose support.

People support homosexuality because it seems to include those values people find beautiful. Perhaps someone ought to repulse the heterosexual majority with graphic photographs and nauseating anecdotes of what really transpires under the sheets. Though I have witnessed passive supporters of sodomy gag at its descriptions, I doubt this method (for its obscene nature and inflammatory focus on nastiness) would benefit most people. The homosexuals themselves, least of all.

If we made the issue about sex, the issue could reenter the debate forum.

Sex would be given back it's "why" - and a "why" can be questioned. But again, the issue is not about sex. It’s not even about marriage. It is about the right of a person to live as he chooses. It is about the right of a person to shape himself and his own identity, to pursue what he thinks is lovely, and what will result in his personal happiness. It is about getting what you want. It is about freedom. Aye, there’s the rub!

The mob has spoken. Whether this nationwide fad will pass or stick remains uncertain. However, in the words of Horace, the Latin poet, “You may drive out Nature with a pitchfork, yet she still will hurry back.”

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Who is a Gentleman?

This is a point of confusion. Most people are not certain who a Gentleman truly is. Many, when asked, reply that a gentleman is a male-someone who is generally "nice" or "polite." He opens doors for ladies, recycles, brushes his teeth, keeps his pants up, drinks with moderation, and never curses. He might even say "thank you" or "please" now and then - "sir" or "ma'am" if he's really heroic. While even these basic civilities are rare to come across in the modern male, most Gentlemen sigh at these standards, not because they are wimpish, but because they overlook who a true Gentleman is.

If asked, most males would reply that opening doors for ladies is a Gentlemanly thing to do. They are correct. However, when asked why it is a Gentlemanly thing, there are usually two responses. The first comes from those who were taught to open doors for ladies, were taught it was good, but were never taught its significance. It is to them a matter of habit. In their minds, the reason is irrelevant. Society has agreed it is a nice thing to do, so they do it to be nice and only nice. Their depthless response is, "I don't know. It's how I was raised."

To this the true Gentlemen brings together two patient hands and says, kindly, "You're education in door-opening is incomplete. It's only half done. You know the wherefore, but not the why." He may email you the link to this blog afterward. Perhaps he has.

The second response is from those who genuinely want to be Gentlemen and make a noble effort to become so. They tire of crass and selfish living. So to form civil habits, they force themselves to open doors. Because they act by themselves, they don't go far before trying to sort it out. "Why is this considered Gentlemanly?" he asks himself. "What makes it so?" His is the same problem as the first's: an incomplete education. Only, his response is different, because he's hypothesized his own why to the wherefore, though it is usually wrong: "Men open doors to keep ladies from straining themselves."

A true Gentleman knows a woman is a strong creature, and fully capable of opening her own doors. Many women, even, resent the second response and would rather let themselves into houses before being derogated by well-meaning males. Bravo to them. Meanwhile, the Gentleman applauds the aspirator's efforts, but comments, "You've got the motions down, but that's all you've got."

"Pardon me, madam - you entered with such ease I mistook you for a man."
Were we to trace the custom of door-opening to its beginning, we would discover that, originally, a Gentleman would open a door for a lady because he valued her comfort above his own. He was seeing to it that she was safe, warm, and away from the hostile elements of the outdoors before he dared lavish such securities on himself. It was a petty thing: it took a mere moment to do, and was soon forgotten. Nevertheless, it was a philosophical expression of honor toward the woman, because it elevated her needs above the male's.

This is who a Gentleman is: a male-someone who is willing to dispose himself to others.

This goes beyond making sure people's fundamental needs are met. A Gentleman will not stop at giving a hungry guest a bowl of soup. He will go further, and make sure the guest is comfortable and has a pleasant time eating. If the guest spills his soup, the Gentleman will do all he can to spare him embarrassment. If the guest is allergic to soup, the Gentleman would have found out before it was served. If he did not, an apology will be in order, as well as ready suggestions for an alternative dinner. Though a Gentleman does not belch or slurp, he will follow suit if his guest does.

A Gentleman is a male-someone who makes those around him comfortable. Gentleness is critical here [hence the word, Gentle-man], because gentleness is always pleasant. Nothing puts people at ease so much. Nothing is lovelier than a person who puts others before himself. "What is desired in a man is kindness..." the Psalmist says.

Friday, April 12, 2013

A Call and a Reciever

When I put the homosexual pastor down on the receiver, my textbooks consoled me. They said I didn't have to care. They said I could be detached.

They lied.

I don't squirm. It's why I was hired to edit the memoir of a Hollywood actress last summer. It's why in the few months of my craft, I've read explicit accounts of rape, torture, and other depravities, and returned unscathed. Unfeeling would be an understatement. I was, however, unattached.

It was the image of the receiver, in the aftermath of a civil interview that didn't even take an hour, that broke me to pieces.

Let me tell you about my Jesus.

There is something in this world that is very precious to me. The most precious. It's a bit silly, considering it is the largest and most fantastic Thing ever or that could ever be. But I have clothed it within my little heart. For my sake, It appears small. It has spoken of Itself softly, so that I could understand It, and cherish It.

In my days as an atheist, I never argued from the problem of pain because I did not believe I had ever truly suffered. Not really. There was nothing wrong with me bodily or mentally, save a petty intolerance of sweet-gum trees and an unsevere asthma condition. I was not impoverished. My family was orderly and happy. I hated God, but I wasn't a cry-baby about it.

If someone pointed and said, "But look! That one is impoverished! That one is suffering! Argue on his account!" I would say, "Let him argue for himself. How can I give a case for the anguish of the martyrs, when they themselves would not?" If I was to argue from pain, it had to be my own.

Let me tell you about my Jesus.

I would not know anguish until it came with the cross. That was, and still is, the first real suffering I've ever experienced. For it was experienced. Christ did not suffer and die so we would not have to; no, He rather bids us come and die with Him. Christ calls us to suffer for mankind, because He suffered for mankind.

The interview had been one of my worst yet. Not because it went badly. It went very well. I had friendly questions and received excellent responses. It was my worst because it made me question whether I could be a journalist at all.

How luxuriously I have fought the evils of mankind from my books and brains! Indeed, I've defeated the whole world from my office. The philosophers, theorists, and intellectuals fight humanity by detaching themselves from it. Not the journalist. He must engage with it. The thinker makes a clean dissection of human depravity. The journalist drags the stinking carcass into the room and puts it on display.

I see now what that means, to be a journalist. It is not to be a stupid sponger and squeezer of facts. It is far worse. A journalist descends into the streets where the people are. A journalist plunges into the filth. And he'll get filthy with it. And he'll come limping from the black, and must somehow arrange a twisted Imago Dei on a page. Don't bother. He's attached alright.

My God, a journalist is called to suffer with mankind!

I was heartbroken by the receiver. The digital noises had taken something precious and left it somewhere to shiver and die - like an abandoned child - and said it was best for God's people. I listened as my Savior was dismissed, yet pastoral hands were still extended with the promise of hope. I was heartbroken for those who believed in those hands.

Let me tell you about my Jesus.

I broke. I wept. I was so tortured bodily I threw up. And I prayed, hard as I've ever prayed, that God would write me this story, so that I could bring it into people's homes and hearts and bid them suffer with Him!

The Spirit is the Comforter. Pain is the invitation.

And yet, despite the evils I had observed, all of them reflected back on me. For I am the receiver of Christ who breaks His heart.