How Christians Got a Bad Rap

abbey-939529_1920So…, when you’re lost how do you find your way again?  Ask directions. You don’t want to get THAT lost again! But it also helps to look back, to see where we went wrong.

            It is harder to find your way when new roads overrun the old ones. Simply put, you need a new map, or today a GPS. Your cultural map is out of date; you think the old route, but find new signs that make you go “HUH?” You’re on the wrong road, even though you want it to be the right one. What happened, you think?  You’ve been buffaloed (sorry, old Wyoming joke).

            Let’s start by twisting our necks around to look back. Where did Christians become culturally lost? Where did the road take new turns?  What happens when we insist on following old maps?

The Bad News: how Christianity marginalized itselfSo much changed in the 20th century it was virtually impossible to keep up. An acceleration in population expansion and mass migration (and immigration) had a tremendous impact on all areas of life. Technology and communication grew to the point of vertical take-off.  For some people, namely North American Christian conservatives, the rate of change was simply too much. So many of us isolate ourselves, and our families, into protective cocoons from a culture that we perceived as increasingly complex, a bad influence, and even an evil influence.  As unbelievable as it may sound, Christians in North America started the 20th century skeptical of such things as electricity, artificial light, mechanized forms of transportation, and, later, radio and TV. We ALL finished the 20th century with reservations about the Internet, and skeptical view of e-lationships  “Come on, how can you feel close to someone you’ve only met on a computer!?”  (Ever hear that one?)

The conservative withdrawal was driven by the need to feel safe again, secure within our church walls, our small groups, and our Bible studies. Though it appeared that the conservative Christian community was assimilating into society in reality it was merely running parallel with society, along its own track. Not surprisingly, the result of these actions, was that the rest of the world simply moved on. We were set aside by the western world; but in a real sense we sidelined ourselves. We positioned ourselves in opposition to the rest of society and developed our own Christian kingdom, safely confined within church walls. Secular society took the upper cultural hand, but not without criticism or commentary from the religious right.  In the end, the conservative tongue was clipped, her voice was stifled, and her philosophical position silenced.

A Whiplash Effect

A number of cultural factors contributed to the marginalizing (setting aside) of conservative Christians. It is not so much that Western society turned its back on the veracity of the Christian faith. It was society’s response to Christianity’s ill-mannered activities around the world. To list a few of the earlier historical events that even now drive people from the church—

  • The Crusades (1095-1291). Though these wars date back a thousand years, they nevertheless laid the groundwork for an attitude of us vs. them that has continued in the collective consciousness to this day. The search for the Holy Grail, the liberation of the Promised Land, and the annihilation of the heathen Muslims in Jerusalem all seemed to our Christian forebears to be of honorable intent. This was perceived by the unbelieving world as something quite different, something aggressive and egregiously evil.
  • The Inquisition (1291-1522)   (primarily Spanish, but throughout Europe) An example of Christianity at its worst. In the name of theological purity the Holy Roman Catholic Church tortured, maimed, and executed many who did not tow the party line. Branded heretic, many genuine Christians were burned at the stake in the name of Christ. The effects of The Inquisition rippled throughout all Europe and the East. The Christian Faith was perceived to be an unforgiving violent faith, and often a treacherous religion.
  • The Protestant Reformation (1564+). In the beginning the Reformation appeared hopeful to the populations of Europe, offering a richer, deeper faith. Those within the Roman Catholic Church protested the sale of salvation (a.k.a. Indulgences) via monetary dues paid to the Church. They protested the abuses of the clergy, the secularizing of the church and its acquisition of wealth and political power. One protesting priest, Martin Luther, was held in contempt, put on trial, and defrocked.

Jumping ahead to the 20th century we find more recent, memorable events that the world interpreted as Christian stupidity. The highlights are:

  • The rejection of technological innovation in the early 1900s: the automobile, the electric light, flight, and radio were all seen as instruments of the Devil, presaging the End Times.
  • The First World War fought between “Christian nations” did little for our spiritual persona worldwide.
  • The abuses and extremes of the early Pentecostal movement. (Personality cults, snakes, anti-intellectualism.)
  • The Scopes Trials (1923), with its confrontation between Darwinism and the Bible. [We lost.]
  • The Second World War; the remnants of Christendom at war with each other again. And yet a new manifestation of the centuries old war between East and West (Japan).
  • The Holocaust and the public Christian silence concerning its atrocities. Some, even denying it ever happened.
  • Equating the American dream and a conservative life-style with evangelical Christian theology.
  • Jonestown Massacre. Beginning as a social justice movement in the San Francisco Bay Area, and claiming to be Christian in nature, the People’s Temple soon declined to the demigod worship of one man—the Rev. Jim Jones. The November 18, 1978 mass suicide of 913 members of The People’s Temple, embedded itself in the minds of North Americans as a prime example of Christian fundamentalist-right extremism.
  • The Televangelist financial scandals of 1987.
  • The Moral Majority. Founded by Rev Jerry Falwell in 1979 as a movement to return America to its “Christian roots.” Many Americans saw the MM as a ploy to re-Christianize our country, thus eliminating pluralism.
  •  “Sexual misconduct” by numerous evangelical leaders in the early 21st century (Ted Haggard, John Edwards, etc.).
  • Sex scandals of Roman Catholic Priests in Boston. Reaching back 25 years earlier, Investigators uncovered hetero/homosexual misbehavior and assault by Catholic priests on altar boys and school girls. All covered over in secrecy ‘till the early twenty-first century revelations by Cardinal Bernard Law, who tried to set things straight, but was eventually swept up in the scandal as a sympathizer.

The last half of the 20th Century saw the church in the West succumb to real scrutiny and definitive loss of influence due to both its isolationist stance and public blunders; a condition not seen infrequently throughout our history. In short, we really blew it— internally and externally! We ruined so much of our public image and influence.

So now what?!? NEW MAPS…, er, I mean— GPS?!? Read on!

  Gary

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Chapter 1. New Maps-Old Roads

51nopdewa5l-_sx326_bo1204203200_      My last few months as a senior in college I worked as the Athletic Director for the local YMCA. Since it was a somewhat smaller Y, I was responsible for just about everything. But it did have one perk I had not quite counted upon—the summer tour! So, the summer between college days and my first year of grad school found me working as a swimming coach for the YMCA on tour throughout North America. Our team hit national and local parks and swimming clubs across the United States, Canada, and Mexico.  We competed with local outcroppings of the Y and anybody else who wanted to swim against us. One of the places we toured was Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Now, growing up as an inner-city kid in Baltimore, MD, I could never have imagined a place so majestic, so alive, so grand. Jackson Hole got to me. I fell in love with the town, the people, and, of course, Grand Teton National Park. I vowed that I would return yearly!

      For the most part I was able to do so, until the onslaught of kids eight years into our marriage. But in our early marriage Starr (my dangerous wife) and I made the 2,400 mile trek from the East Coast to the Tetons an annual pilgrimage. For a couple of years we tried to see if we could find our way to Wyoming without ever opening a road map. I was guided by my heart, by my passion for the West, by my memory, and by a small piece of paper with route numbers. Yup, you got it, never missed a turn; well, okay, maybe a few where we had to back track.

      Until, one day, the Wyoming Department of Roads put in a NEW road, then redirected and renamed the old ones. I was forced into unfamiliar territory. You guessed it; we got totally lost. Old roads now had new route numbers; and there were now new roads where before there had been only buffalo and antelope. Now I‘m not one of these guys who is afraid to ask directions. By humorist Dave Barry‘s standards I may not be a real guy, but at least I don‘t stay lost long, either. I ask for help.  Saves time and frustration.

     You need to do the same.  When you‘re lost…, ask directions.

     The point of this chapter is this— unless you are consciously living your life continually immersed within contemporary culture, you need help finding your way. It is harder to find your way when new roads overrun the old ones. Simply put, you need a new map. Your cultural map is out of date; you think the old route, but find new signs that make you go ―HUH? You‘re on the wrong road, even though you want it to be the right one. What happened, you think?  You’ve been buffaloed (sorry, old Wyoming joke).

      Let‘s start by twisting our necks around to look back. Where did Christians get culturally lost? Where did the road take new turns?  What happens when we insist on following old maps?

Getting lost to find our way again,

  Gary

Pondering Magic and Mystery

Dr, Gary, Davis, Needinc, Clueless, Christianity, Christian, universe, magic, mystery, deep magic, LewisWhen I was quite young, 12-13, I dabbled in magic. Nothing serious at first, but then it started to draw me in. there are, of course, simple tricks that can be done with slight-of-hand or through hidden mechanical devices. These were simple and fun presentations that astonished my fellow 13 year olds. But the more I got into the sport of magic the deeper I wanted to go.

Toying with the deeper aspects of magic was exciting. Then it grew subtly darker, alluring me and luring me in, to a point where it became increasingly uncomfortable. There came over me a sense of exhilaration at the prospect of manipulating this darker power; until one performance where things got terribly out of control. I had gone too far; I was in too deep and I knew it.

That was probably the first time I had ever prayed in my life. Not one of those Now I lay me down to sleep…, prayers: more like— O my God! What am I doing? Help me! The next day I burned all my tricks equipment and books on magic in our backyard.

Thanks to C.S. Lewis I have later learned of the deep magic, the cosmic dance of the wonder of this Universe and how it holds together. This truly deep magicis the underlying force that draws all matter, energy, and beings under the constant sustaining care of a God-Creator.

            We ignore these mysteries in this present age to our peril. We disregard them as fancy, fables, myths, or archaic religious fairy-tales. But the question remains— Why have they persisted from antiquity into this supposedly postChristian, empirical, “scientific” age? Could it be that there are different kinds of Truths that persist even though they are undiscoverable through our scientific method? Maybe the mystery and magic of old persist because they are real, yet exist in a realm that does not fit our investigations.

            Yet today we insist that science and religion are enemies. Science is about discovering truth: religion is about myth, fanciful postulations for the yet undiscovered. Really!?!

            Do we actually believe that ALL that can be known will be discovered by scientific methodology? Is human ingenuity that stunted? Is human arrogance that portentous? Then we must determine that either our minds are too feeble to make room for the grandeur that is our realm; or, that the wonder of our universe is not that spectacular at all.

            With the myriad of discoveries unveiled seemingly every day I dare say we are in over our heads on either account. Our universe is still full of magic, and certainly full of mystery.

            So help us God!

A fellow journeyman,

Gary

Of Passion & Propositions

Clueless, Christianity, Christian, Book, Dr, Gary, DavisGrowing a non-balanced faith.

When I was in the final stages of producing my doctoral dissertation I ate out a lot. Escapism, most likely. During one such luncheon at Panda East, a fine Chinese restaurant in Amherst, MA, I opened a fortune cookie which read— Nothing worthwhile is ever accomplished without passion. I thought of some of the great names throughout history for whom this proverb has proven true— Hammurabi, Moses, Alexander the Great, Jesus, Christopher Columbus, John Harrison, Albert Einstein, Orville and Wilbur Wright, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, Thomas Edison, Mother Teresa, Ronald Reagan, Osama bin Ladin, even Barrack Obama— all were driven by passion and tenacity to accomplish something beyond themselves. Yet, the church in North America seems driven by balance— balance in life, in our families, in faith, in our behavior— moderation in all things, no rocking the boat, no swimming against the current. Straight-forward, rational explanations of life should suffice to renew the mind and focus our resolve. It is almost as if being out of balance, off-center, or slightly extreme in any way is viewed as the real threat to the church and to the stability of our individual faith.

But if Truth is primarily personal (though certainly not exclusively), found in the Person of Jesus Christ, there are some very critical implications. It impacts our Christian lives, balanced or otherwise, and how we demonstrate our faith to others. If point and counter-point propositional arguments no longer dominate the apologetic of our faith, or even sustain the curiosity of the normal Western cultural person, then maybe it’s time to express our faith in ways not so idealistic or rational…, or not even so balanced.

As you continue reading you will detect a couple shifts. The first shift is one of approach.  We move from the historical analysis of the previous chapters to a thoughtful consideration of our present day dilemmas; from the BIG strokes throughout history, to a specific manifestation of one era, one geographic location, one time, one individual—Jesus Christ.  For in His life we can find the bridge between the preModern, Modern, and postModern perspectives on what it means to live in context within a specific culture. What I hope to do is to convince you of the importance of living your Christian life as Jesus lived His— in the context of whatever world you find yourself in. Right up front I want to admit that this chapter (okay, the whole book) is a polemic (that’s argument) for us to grow a non-balanced faith, a passionate faith, an exuberant faith that is in love with Jesus Christ and with the people around us. The personality of our faith must outshine itspropositions to give its Truth a proper context.

The second shift you will experience is simply one of writing style. The first chapters were data-weighted, historical, linear/sequential, and logical (A=B, B=C, therefore A=C, remember?). They were analytical; they stated a problem, built a case, substantiated an argument. We feel safest in the world of rational thought and logical argument. Most Christians feel safer in a world where rational argument, logic and words prevail. Why? Because the Western articulation of our faith was formulated not in the preModern Era that had an understanding of the spirit, of mystery and the heart, but in the Modern era, where logical consistency, scientific verification, and systematic cohesiveness prevailed. But modernism’s presuppositional perceptions do not ring as true within this postmodern era; nor do modernism’s assumed stances of the Bible as primarily a systematic presentation of Truth (excluding, of course, the incredible logic/debate style of the Apostle Paul).  The language of the Bible is, predominantly, one of story, of history, of pictures and images; and they each tell a story, they bespeak of a passion for God and of a passion for life. They lay down laws for the functioning of a society. They raise real-life problems that required real-life solutions. They burst forth in song in praise of God Almighty. They give us a glimpse of the struggles of the early Christian movement through the Gospels, through circulated correspondence, and individual epistles. Far too long have we limited the expression of our faith to the logical/sequential analysis of the Euro-western hemisphere of theological constructs. We have raised the Truth of the Bible above its context-in-life.  A saying I come across constantly is— “right beliefs produce right actions.” Have you heard it, read it? Sounds right on, doesn’t it? But in real-life it doesn’t quite work out that way. You and I know many individuals who claim the name of Christ, who believe the right stuff (or at least say they do), and whose lives reflect little of Christian character, compassion, or concern for the Truth.

Contrarily, there is the opposite, popular belief— you can’t trust your emotions. As if emotions are less reliable than logical/sequential thinking. The assumption is that emotions are fickle, not as locked down as logical, rational thought process. The logical thought process can be locked down more than emotion. Emotions, by definition, shift more readily than belief systems. But what good is one without the other!? It would be comparable to releasing a chemical analysis of kissing. So now you understand the complexity of kissing better; and this is helpful…, why!?! Where do we come up with this stuff—for a need for cohesiveness, control over minutia, consistency, for a need to believe that people always act on their convictions? [Sociologists have tested it – they don’t.  Even in church attendance.] I don’t…, always, do you? Remember, we all sin; we are all, at best, consistently inconsistent. Did this idea come from some male-ego approach that emotions are exclusively feminine and can’t be trusted? Men supposedly are the “logical thinkers.” Somehow this makes us more stable, more consistent. O please, spare me the stereotypes. Let’s face it, men are afraid to be out of control; and it is easier to be in control of thought than it is our emotions.

Read on Here

Speak your mind

Dr, Gary, Davis, Gandhi, speak up, truth, brave, courage, opinion, Clueless, Christianity, NEEDinc, Quasi anima tua?  Speak your mind! So few of us do. Those who know who they are do— cautiously, graciously. Those who are ignorant and uncouth do; usually with little thought to the effect their candor might have on others. Those who parade their arrogance about also speak their mind— what there is of it. Some, to be sure, have something to say and should speak their mind. I believe you are such a person.

But Truth, though difficult to hear or comprehend at times, especially in regard to science or religion, is oft composed of the most blatant, kindest words. To package it any other way would be to dilute it, to treat it as of little significance, or simply to dismiss it as inconsequential.

We at www.needinc.org and www.workingoutyourcrap.com, are purveyors of truth…, and Truth. We want to face the difficult issues of our time with bravery and humility, wisdom and wit, steadfastness and skepticism, openness and curiosity. WE are not afraid of what we might find: we look forward to the challenges to our beliefs and opinions. We hope you hold a few solid opinions and well thought-through beliefs as well. Listening to learn, to understand is always preferable to aiming nukes at each other, starting religious wars, or stereotypically scorning one another.

So please, PLEASE, post some comments on our WEBsites so more people can disagree with us. We don’t want to merely write BLOGS and Posts just to add to the verbosity of the WEB. Rather, we want to engage different minds, divergent opinions, and find people who are willing to make the effort to tell us how much they disagree with us. OR, it would be nice if some of you even liked us, actually agreed with us— and then commented on our sites. PLEASE!

I’m not usually a groveler; and I never suck-up to anyone to get recognition. NEVER! But I would kill to get your feedback! Not you, of course; because then how would you ever write any feedback for us. Oh, never mind! This is getting confusing.

Just SPEAK YOUR MIND! ON OUR WEBSITE! Or I’m coming to get you!

There now, don’t you feel better?  I do. J

With humility,

  Gary

Transparent Truth

  In our present era there seem to be all kinds of truths; convenient truth, relative truth, truth, Truth, your truth, my truth…, & the list goes on. What’s true for you may not be true for me. In the realms of personal preference, in fashion, and politics, this is all well and good.  But…

What about the issue of Ultimate Truth? The conclusion of many people is that there is no such thing. Truth is determined between the interplay of truth, the experience of the moment, and the individual; thus, relegating Truth, true-Truth, any truth, to the realm of relativity.

This leaves us on quite unstable ground; for there is no common understanding about what we are talking about, no shared definition of what we mean by what is trueSo, what is true? Who’s to say? Truth becomes whatever is convenient for us at the moment. Liberators or invading forces? Comforter or manipulator? Scientific breakthrough or stating the obvious? A matter of perspective.

Truth, for the most part, should be obvious— staring us in the face. Maybe not so much at a cellular or galactic level; we might need some help delving into those mysteries. But TRUTH should be part of the basic human condition, existing within us, observable around us.

Truth should be, and is, transparent to the keen eye.

            So how/when did we start redefining truth in our own terms? Why did we feel the need to do so? Is it simply a matter of divergent philosophies, divergent religions? Or merely personal preferences; Truth that suits my agenda, my priorities. Then is it Truth at all? Truth, just for you?

            I would challenge you to examine the way you determine what is true. What is true scientifically? What is true about the origin of the universe? [The newest theory is that the universe “created” itself.] What is true about yourself? What describes you to others? What is true about God? Is there one? Can we adequately describe everything without him? Hummm.

            Oddly, some of these questions will take in depth study and personal reflection; a few deep conversations over a dram of Single Malt might also help elucidate things.

            Truth can arise to become more and more transparent as we seek it. It is not as clear-cut anymore to simply grasp it where it is. Over time, Truth’s transparency will become more obvious.

            What do you think?

For what it’s worth,

  Gary

LiarLiar

Although Jim Carey may have visualized the oft repeated children’s jibe—

Liar, liar

Pants on fire;

Hangin’ on a telephone wire!

the origin of the taunt come from a paraphrased version of William Blake’s 1810 poem “The Liar.” The last stanza reads—

Deceiver, dissembler
Your trousers are alight
From what pole or gallows
Do they dangle in the night?

Nothing new under the sun? Humm.

It is both the plot of Carey’s film and Blake’s poem that are our focus today. The story line of LIARLIAR focuses on Fletcher Reede, (Carey), a defense attorney, whose son wishes on his birthday that his father can’t lie for a full day, 24 hours. Then his wish comes true. Now what problems might that create?  The focus of Blake’s poem surrounds the seriousness of lying and its consequences. The penalty being, hanging on a gallows above a bonfire…, roasting. Pleasant thought.

Both poem and play describe the difficulties created when a person lies profusely. In Blake’s six stanzas lying’s source (“…red devil of mendacity) is exposed as well as lying’s consequences (the pants on fire metaphor). Lying is, to be sure, hard to keep track of on a personal level. In the public eye, even though all of us lie on an individual basis, lying is forbidden. If disclosed, it can be a career destroyer, result in legal action, imprisonment, and, in some cases, execution.

But it is the movie LIARLIAR that poses an equally perplexing dilemma— not lying at all, even for a meager 24 hours. It confounds the mind to imagine living a life devoid of lies. Little white lies, tiny fibs, half-truths, diversions, redirecting from an uncomfortable question, distortions of truth, revealing things that enhance your position over another; variations on a theme. The odd thing is that most of us believe that our lies will never be exposed. On the simplest of levels this is both naïve and foolish.

The Lord Christ made a statement recorded in the Christian Scriptures that reads, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” (John 8:32). In one sense that “truth” refers to Jesus himself. He is Truth. But in another sense it refers to freedom from trying to remember all the lies we have told. I realize that this may seem simplistic. Yet, forgiving unusual circumstances (hiding the innocent), might it actually make your life a tad less complicated? Isn’t it just simpler to tell the truth?

Have a nice week,

Gary