Hearts of Darkness

At night, when all the world’s asleep,
the questions run so deep
for such a simple man.
Won’t you please, please
tell me what we’ve learned
I know it sounds absurd
but please tell me who I am.

 

The Logical Song by Supertramp

 

 the evil one at computer

This post hopes to give insight into another malignant outgrowth of evil ~ a sub-culture collective of hive minded individuals wreaking havoc today, even now as you read your computer screen.

 The collective connects daily, almost constantly. When doing so each member hides behind a pseudonym ‘mask.’ And, from their text exchanges it appears that the collective meets to recharge each their own narcissistic-self-image and sense of power. Beyond this the colony gathers in groupthink to plot attacks on unsuspecting victims and for the “lulz.”

 VPNs or Virtual Private Networks hide an IP address. The VPN provides a false internet identity and a remote physical location. This ‘obscuring’ allows “tunneling” to another computer secretly. VPNs are used by “black hat” hackers and “white hat” hackers (good guys who root out the “black hat” hackers). Businesses will also use VPNs for employees to use their work computers at home.

It is within the ‘protection’ of purposely opaque cyber secrecy that each member of the collective learns from each other as to how to deceive, how to DDoS (.a Distributed Denial of Service website attack), how to “social engineer” their way into people’s privacy and other online vigilantism.

 The members will go on to use their ‘hands-on’ knowledge to infiltrate private property and to disperse it under a pretense of a self-satisfactory justice. Reputations of their victims are destroyed (called “life ruins”) along the way.

 This collective doesn’t gather in a material space. Instead each cyber participant from their usually darkened domicile meets in the backwaters of chat rooms, bulletin boards and cyber channels, otherwise known as the noosphere. The collective can be called several names, depending on who is writing about the group: “hacktivists”, the “Antisec movement”, “AnonOps”, “LulzSec”, “Anonymous”.

 The background for this post comes primarily from a recently published book. I have quoted extensive passages so as to provide a third party description of this malignancy.

 We Are Anonymous: Inside the World of LulzSec, Anonymous, and the Global Cyber Insurgency authored by Parmy Olson, a Forbes magazine writer, reveals the dark side of the cyber world of pranksters, identity thieves and the mostly 15-30 year-old guys who do nothing but spend their days and nights in front of an computer screen causing others harm. They will act individually or as a quickly assembled hive of hacktivists.

 One individual prankster named in the book is a guy named William.

 As related, William would hack into a person’s Facebook account after ‘socially manipulating’ his victim to handover passwords. He would then go on to embarrass, terrorize and deface his victim with the information found on the victim’s social media site. And, if William didn’t find enough of what he needed to terrorize his victim he would then “social engineer” (manipulate them using lies and flattery) the person and use their personal info found on the Facebook page. William spoke to Parmy about the process:

From page 377:

William: “We split up boyfriends and girlfriends and appalled many people’s mothers,“ (my note: After having gained his victim’s confidence William would extort pornographic photos from his victim. He would then show them to the victim’s parents) William remembered. “That’s one of the bits I enjoy more. Sending a picture of someone’s c__k to their mum. The idea of it happening to me is so unimaginably embarrassing it makes me laugh.”

Parmy talking about William, pages 377, 378: What he loved doing even more, from the time he’d begun pedo-baiting, at fifteen, was getting another man online highly aroused and then suddenly dousing the moment with the threat of exposure to family and friends or police… Hacking into people’s Facebook accounts wasn’t exactly life-altering, but he got a buzz from knowing that at least for a moment, his victims felt the lives crumbling around them.

William: “…That’s all I want from 4chan. I want something that’s going to leave me not depressed and give me something to focus on. And it’s fun to make someone feel that awful from a distance. I could never do that face to face.”

 William spent the next few nights keeping hold of Selena’s credential’s, meeting his new Facebook group of /b/ pranksters, and terrorizing people on Serena’s social network, including posting comments on the photos of her female friends and calling them fat…

 This was how William liked to cause a stir. Not by entertaining an audience of thousands on Twitter, like Topiary did, but by embarrassing others to entertain himself. Still, there were things that William and Topiary had in common, not least that both had found Anonymous through 4chan. (my note: Topiary is the online name for Jake Davis).

~~~~

 One day William and Jake meet for lunch. Parmy records their conversation.  Jake is wearing an ankle bracelet. He had been arrested and brought to London for his hacking crimes. He is out on bail.

 The telling conversation of the two previously Anonymous hackers now meeting face to face began slowly, but eventually “the two started talking about Anonymous and how it had changed them.”

~~~

From the book (page 381):

“It’s made me a more extreme version of myself,” William said. “I used to sleep badly. Now I sleep terribly. I used to be sarcastic; now I can be an a__hole.” He didn’t just “like “tormenting people; he loved it. He didn’t just “like” porn; he looked at it every day. “None of this bothers me, he added. “I don’t care about anything.” William had said in the past that he had no moral code; everything was case by case, his decisions based on gut reaction. Earnest Hemingway had said it best: “What is moral is what you feel good after, and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.”

 Jake was nodding. “I have to agree with all of that, “he said. It desensitized me.”Acting out with crowds of people on the Internet had created a detachment from reality and a sense of obliviousness to certain consequences. Anonymous did bad things, but its members were not bad people, per se.” (emphasis mine)

~~~

 Parmy records the conversation of the two amoral hacktivists, from pages 381, 382:

There was a common misconception about the lack of morals on /b/ and in Anonymous. “It doesn’t mean you do bad things,” said William. “It just means there’s no rules. We don’t revert to being bastards at every opportunity.”

“It’s also nice to just be nice,” Jake added.

Many of the /b/’s most hard core users, like William, didn’t care about jobs, family, or life’s typical milestone events. Both Jake and William relished the idea of living a life that had no impact on real people.”…

“To have as little impact on anywhere as possible is a really appealing thought, which is like never being born, “said Jake. No legitimate home, no name on a piece of government paper, no fingerprints. To be nameless, with no identity, not bogged down by any system but to “lightly live everywhere” was something they both craved in life.”

Did that craving come from what they’d experienced with Anonymous: vandalizing things often with little consequence?”…

(page 384) Did either of them ever feel like he had been manipulated by Anonymous?

“Not at all,” said William.

 Jake looked down for a moment, then answered. “Not manipulated, but influenced, he said. “When you’re in a mob mentality with lots of others. You have a ‘mob extreme’ version of yourself too, this one, unified mind-set where you don’t care that anything exists and you want to wreck something.” William was nodding now.”

 “I’ve said no but the mob things rings true, “he said. The issue of mental health meant a lot to him personally, but sometimes he’d see a thread on /b/ where the original poster has said, “I’m really depressed and want to kill myself.” If the thread’s participants leaned toward telling him to commit suicide, William would join in, posting a picture of a can of cyanide and reminding the OP to do it properly. “Which is something I don’t even believe. I don’t want people to die, but”~ he shrugged ~ “it’s something to write and something to do.” (Emphasis mine)

 Of course, both William and Jake had done their fair share of (social) manipulating too….”

~~~

 Talking about the younger “goombie” users and newfags on 4chan, William goes on to tell Jake his thoughts (page 384):

 “They want to think the world is against them so there’s something to justify their angst,” he said That’s why it was almost easy to get people to join the revolution I Anonymous. “you can just make stuff up [about government or corporate corruption] and they buy it.” To write a rousing post on /b/, for instance, you just needed to write in a way that appeal to the Anon crowd, using linguistic devices like alliteration, repetition, sound bytes, and dramatic words like injustice, oppression, and downtrodden to describe corporations and governments, and justice, freedom and uprising when referring to Anonymous.”… (emphasis mine)

~~~

From page 385:  …Jake was nodding again. If you knew how to communicate with the Anons, sometimes you could direct them. “It’s just so easy, “he said.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I purposefully quoted whole passages so that you could get insight into the depths of the nihilism, decadence, despair and boredom of this horrific self-destructive-neighbor-destructive behavior. You should read the book to get the full effect. The book has a useful Glossary of terms coined by the collective.

 For me the book was a difficult read because I know how good and wholesome life can be outside of yourself, outside of groupthink.

 This type of collective evil has gripped so many young lives. And, suicide is one of the Evil One’s ‘escapes.’ from the dreariness of life in the dark. 

If your son (let’s talk specifics) spends all his time in his room with the curtains shut, door locked and his computer on then it is time for an intervention. Moral relativism from the “noosphere” is what is feeding his soul. The Evil One or one of his emissaries is close at hand, looking over his shoulder, suggesting things that are inordinate, evil.

 Regarding “social justice” as just cause to take the law into your own hands…

 Anthony Daniels an English writer and retired prison doctor and psychiatrist once said:  “Moral relativism can easily be a trick of an egotistical mind to silence the voice of conscience.”

 ~~~~~~ 

The Age of Enlightenment pushed reason onto the scene. But reason and its subset, – controlled data from human sensory experience – without revelation – an outside source of Enlightenment with its subset of moral absolutes – turns life in on itself where it finds the deep dark well of nihilism. When that occurs one finds that there is no rational meaning to life beyond one’s fleeting existential thoughts and feelings or the “lulz,” we give it. And, in a way, “lulz” is a variant of Münchausen syndrome: Anons develop grandiose facetious exploits for the sake of a vast amounts of immediate attention satisfaction, an emo-sensory spike.

 “Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

The Gospel according to John: 8:12

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Note: I did not write about the Anons use of DDOS (Distributed Denial of Service~basically, slamming a website with spam so that it cannot be accessed) and LOIC (low orbit ion cannon~basically, another DDOS ‘weapon’). These exploits, corporate and government hacking and their destruction of public safety and personal privacy are not something I would ever promote. These and other nefarious cyber attacks are documented in Parmy’s enlightening book.

 As mentioned in the book, this collective of people did these things mostly for the Lulz for ‘kicks’. Here’s Parmy’s definition: “An alteration of LOL (laugh out loud), this term is thought to have first appeared on an Internet Relay Chat network in 2003 in reaction to something funny. It now refers to the enjoyment felt after pursuing a prank or online disruption that leads to someone else’s embarrassment.”

 I hope to keep you informed and updated about hacking activity, ‘safe’ computing.  Keep checking this post for updates as I become aware of them.

8/6/2014:  Russian hackers: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/06/technology/russian-gang-said-to-amass-more-than-a-billion-stolen-internet-credentials.html?_r=1

8/9/2014:  I’ll offer.  You read and decide.  I have used TrendMicro’s web security free scanning download – this scan has be used by many>> Cryptolocker GOZeuS

 8/9/2014: Danger, Will Robinson and the rest of you earthlings!! Be vary, vary wary of anyone who comments on your Facebook page and/or blog and is flattering. They may appear as someone you know. If so, verify the comment in a separate email to the  person that you do know. (Blame me if the person gets upset.)  Danger, too, when someone comments on things that do no relate at all to what is on your Facebook page or to what’s on your blog. These ‘guys’ want to connect with you in order to download malware “bots” onto your computer and worse….Hit “DELETE” immediately!!!

8/9/2014: I recently received an email from ~ Subject: “Attorney “so & so” has a legal matter to discuss with you. Respond Immediately or the judge may issue a default judgment in our favor.” Don’t buy it!! A real attorney will send you a certified letter notifying you of any legal matter concerning you. Do not open the email!!!  Hit “DELETE” immediately!!!

8/11/2014 : Social Networking Safely Awareness Newsletter:

Groans are Many, Hearts are Faint

 

The recent tragic events in Florida have elicited cries for action to be taken by those in government. But is government involvement the answer? And who is to blame for what happened? Are we corporately responsible for what an individual does?

Let’s start with my estimation of what our U.S. government’s interface with us should entail before immediate demands are made on it. The secular state, otherwise known as government, should be limited in size and scope of power. It should provide order, transportation infrastructure, protection from foreign enemies, border protection, and enforce contracts. Beyond that a secular state should not have duties including any onus to hand out subjective rights that benefit only certain groups and health care. The secular state, by its very impersonal nature, is not to decide who is more equal than others nor to be given charge of care for others or to become a brother’s keeper.

The people of a secular state should look to government as the enforcer of order. Yet, its powers are limited and rightfully so in our free society. In the matter before us, the FBI, a law enforcement agency, knew about Nick Cruz’s online behavior. But what could the FBI do about such knowledge except to keep an eye on Nick from a distance? Free speech allowed Nick to post what he wanted on YouTube. In fact, Nick’s freedom, our freedom, was what allowed him to do evil.

There are earnest protestors demanding more gun control laws from the government. They are sincere in their demands for a response. Some protestors, though and as we have witnessed before, are likely paid-for protestors from out of town. There are those with money (e.g., Bloomberg and Soros) who want to rile up protestors to get their way inculcated into our laws. Their way involves restricting even more freedoms but does not address the underlying problem. The real problem is evil.

Many today focus their laser sights on government since government and politics have dominated our national focus from the very start of our nation. They want government to shepherd us and use its ‘rod and staff’ to comfort us and to bonk any discomfort away. They want government to lead us beside still waters and into green pastures. But government is not a shepherd unless you are a sheep.

At the beginning of our nation it was understood by those involved that “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.” (Alexis de Tocqueville) But today, we as a nation have since walked away from morality and a faith in God’s sovereignty. We have instead put our trust and faith in collective sovereignty – “We the people” government. In this milieu we expect government to be omniscient and omnipotent and controlling with respect to others but not with respect to ourselves.

Where should our focus be? Should we focus on increasing the size of government until all freedoms once taken from your neighbor are repurposed and are now taken from you? How do we address things beyond our control and outside a limited control of government?

Now, I am not suggesting that a secular government should not mandate Christianity. The state, rather, should coexist with Christianity and seek Christianity’s guidance and blessing. But the two should not become one. I am suggesting that we realign our focus off of government and onto the One who is good. I am suggesting that the answer to what is beyond our control is not to increase government control. Rather, the answer is to increase the good we have control of.

If evil in society is the absence of good in society, then good must return in full force. Christians are exhorted in Scripture (Romans 12: 21) “Don’t let evil conquer you. Rather conquer evil with good.”

Now, who is to blame for what happened? Are we corporately responsible for what an individual does? I certainly do not agree with Hillary Clinton that “It takes a village to raise a child”. We are not corporately responsible for what happened in Florida. As a gun owner I am not individually responsible for what happened in Florida. Just the other day, as I was discussing these matters on Twitter, a woman replied that I was “owned by the NRA”. She didn’t like my questioning the narrative she was positing. The NRA is not responsible for what happened.

Only Nick Cruz is responsible for what he did. And, he admitted to the guilt of his crime in court. Only Nick Cruz is responsible. Though personal rights are en vogue, personal responsibility is not. The collective thinking says society caused the problem and now government must fix my problem – “I am not the problem”.

Is what I am positing above a simplistic and pedantic answer? No, I don’t think so. Actually, throwing more gun control laws on the books is as simplistic as it gets. It is using “the rod and staff” of ‘good shepherd’ government to bash other sheep into submission. But the problem of evil lurks in the bushes ready to leap. So, how do we address evil in our land?

Prayer. Yes, prayer. I know, there are some who think prayer is not taking action. I have debated those people on Twitter, as well. There are Progressive Catholics who see social justice action as the epitome of Catholicism (along with bits of Contemplation). Prayer is not weakness, or inaction. Prayer taps into the resurrection power of God, the power that destroyed evil’s power over us forever. 

Do you want to restrain evil in this world? If so, then pray. When we pray we invoke our faith and trust in God’s sovereignty. In fact, the only way to deal with the horror and confusion of evil is to turn to God. The only way. And when we pray as Followers of the Way in the Kingdom of God on earth we stand between heaven and earth pleading and groaning with all creation. We bring to God the pain, the hurt, the sorrow, and the deepest longings of the world. The Searcher of Hearts knows the mind of God and knows our hearts. The Searcher lifts our prayers to the Father who then acts in accordance with His goodness.

 

On a related matter, I will say more in a future post about how we should love and care for our physical neighbors and not do so vicariously through government programs. It takes you to be a neighbor. Neighbors understand brokenness more so than evil. Nikolas Cruz was, by several accounts, a troubled and depressed young man before he acted. The mother who adopted Nikolas died of pneumonia Nov. 1, leaving him without parents. He stayed briefly with a family friend but wanted to move on. For now, though, I will share with you how I am praying against evil and for the good of my neighbors.

Not long ago I found out that down the street from where I live a man was robbed of his wallet at gunpoint. This occurred in the parking lot of a Section 8 apartment housing complex. I also learned that heroin deals we going down in that same government housing project. Drug use might explain the recent armed robberies of banks also down the street from me. I am praying that God would restrain the evil from taking hold in my community. I am praying that no one will be robbed or accosted by druggies. I am praying that law enforcement will be able to monitor the situation and catch evil in the act. I am praying for LE’s safety. I am praying that those involved in crime and those around crime will, by the Holy Spirit, be convicted of sin, of righteousness and judgment. The ruler of this world is judged already and I am enforcing that verdict. (see John 16: 8-11)

 

There is too much to say in this one post. There are too many threads I could pull on. But I hope I asked questions to spur your thinking as to how to relate to the problem of evil. Evil is all around us, even on days where there are no monstrous crimes committed. As Followers of Jesus we must appropriate God’s good through prayer and conquer evil as it lurks waiting to pounce. The world will turn to more and more government to please itself and to protect itself. But, regarding evil and all else, the Church must turn to God in prayer. God’s vantage point is needed, along with full body armor.

“What else is there to say? Just this: be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his power. Put on God’s complete armor. Then you’ll be able to stand firm against the devil’s trickery. The warfare we are engaged in, you see, isn’t against flesh and blood. It’s against the leaders, against the authorities, against the powers that rule the world in this dark age, against the wicked spiritual elements in the heavenly places.” The Apostle Paul writing to the churches in Ephesus, 6: 10-12

~~~~

Added 2/19/2018. Here‘s a partial solution – Gun-violence restraining orders (GVROs) – to guns used for violent means. The solution supports what I said about “neighbor” involvement above and due process:

A Gun-Control Measure Conservatives Should Consider

When those put in positions of authority do nothing, added 2/23/2018:

3 Broward County Police Officers Made No Attempt to Enter the School and Stop Nikolas Cruz

Added 2/24/2018:

Caller told FBI Florida shooting suspect ‘going to explode’

The Associated Press on Friday obtained a transcript of the Jan. 5 tip to the FBI’s call center. The FBI acknowledged it failed to investigate the tip about 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, but the transcript provides the fullest glimpse yet into the seriousness of the woman’s concerns.
“I know he’s going to explode,” she told the call-taker.
The FBI briefed congressional staff Friday about its failure to act on the alarming tip, as well as why it did not delve into a September 2017 YouTube comment posted by a “Nikolas Cruz” that said, “Im going to be a professional school shooter.”

The Serpent’s Apprentice(s)

The Fall of the Damned, Peter Paul Rubens

Spiritual reality surrounds us. This fact is attested to at the very least by the numerous TV programs about the paranormal. Shown are ‘investigations’ of the dead, and of ghosts and of supposed haunting spirits. But what are those fascinated and even obsessed about the spirit world connecting with? What do we know about the unclean spirits, the ones Jesus cast out of humans (See my previous post Deliver Us from Evil)?

Genesis opens with God and His temple building creation of earth. We learn of light and darkness. And we soon learn of the spiritual forces of darkness that want control of the temple where God is to dwell with man.

Right from the start of man’s existence another voice interprets God’s word for its own purposes: “Did God really say you couldn’t?”; “You will not certainly die if you do eat the fruit.”; “God has held back nothing from you but the fruit of this tree. Eat it and know what He knows.” Humans fall into sin by willfully accepting the Serpent’s interpretation of becoming like God. Adam and Eve took the bait (an apple leading to God-like knowledge) into their hands. The enmity between humans and the serpent begins.

Prior to the fall of man, the Satan had a falling out with God. What happened is explained in detail in Ezekiel 28. A description of ascendant pride, whether of the Satan or of man’s, is recorded in Isaiah 14. The fallout of enmity between God and the red dragon, an emblem of the Satan, is described in Daniel 8 and here, in Revelation 12: 3-4:

Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads.  Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth.

Proverbs 16:18 sums the result of pride and opposition to God: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall”.

The fallen angels were booted from Heaven and were no longer able to return. Where did the fallen angels go after being kicked out of heaven? Genesis 6: 1-7 tells us indirectly.

When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.

Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.

The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.

So the LORD said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.”

 

In Scripture the “sons of God” typically refer to angels. Above are fallen angels. This passage infers that the first incarnation and sacrilege took place – fallen angels impregnated humans.  They had illicit intercourse with women thereby creating a super race of warriors. Then, as now, the fallen angels mean to deface the image of God in humans. They seek to undo what God has created and to ‘create’ a race of Un-men*.

The cast-out angels did what they apprenticed to do by their father, the serpent or the “Bent One” as so described in C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy. They came to down earth to create chaos and to gain the power and favor they lost. As agents of evil they come under the description of evil as provided in N.T. Wright’s book Evil and the Justice of God:

Evil is the force of anti-creation, anti-life, the force which opposes and seeks to deface and destroy God’s good world of space, time and matter, and above all God’s image-bearing human creatures.

As we read above, the fallen angels deface Gods’ image bearing humans in the temple of their bodies. Using human sexuality and man’s willful acceptance they debase that image. Does any of this collusion with evil leading to self-imposed temple defilement look familiar today?

Fallen angels multiplied what happened in the garden of Eden. Mankind’s wickedness grew with the earth’s population. Until the flood. Then, except for Noah and his family and selected animals, the human race was wiped from the face of the earth along with the Nephilim (“giants” in the Septuagint), the offspring of the intercourse of fallen angels with women. It may be assumed that with the decimating flood the hosts of the unclean spirits died and the unclean spirits were released into, for a lack of a better word, the ether.

Intertestamental Jewish writings provide the context of Jesus’ ministry including the existence of unclean spirits. These writing fill in roughly four-hundred years of information about Jewish thought and theology between the Old and New Testament. Topics include angels, demons, the messiah, the resurrection and the law of Moses. Each of these topics, which were on the minds of the Jews, is addressed in the gospels. Jesus responds to each topic, each question, and each confrontation with authority.

Adding to the context of Jesus’ day, synagogues, mentioned in the gospels but not mentioned in the Pentateuch, likely originated in exile and in Babylonia. The opening chapter of Mark’s gospel finds Jesus in a synagogue casting out an unclean spirit.

What about written context beyond Genesis chapter 6? Other than the reference in Genesis, there is nothing written about fallen angels/unclean spirits until the intertestamental books. The topic of demons in these books may have been due to Babylonian interest in lesser gods and demons and their writing about them. Here is a passage from the Book of the Watchers (15: 6-12), written around 300 BCE:

And though ye were holy, spiritual, living the eternal life, you have defiled yourselves with the blood of women, and have begotten (children) with the blood of flesh, and, as the children of men, have lusted after flesh and blood as those also do who die and perish. Therefore have I given them wives also that they might impregnate them, and beget children by them, that thus nothing might be wanting to them on earth. But you were formerly spiritual, living the eternal life, and immortal for all generations of the world. And therefore I have not appointed wives for you; for as for the spiritual ones of the heaven, in heaven is their dwelling.
And now, the giants, who are produced from the spirits and flesh, shall be called evil spirits upon
the earth, and on the earth shall be their dwelling. Evil spirits have proceeded from their bodies; because they are born from men and from the holy Watchers is their beginning and primal origin; they shall be evil spirits on earth, and evil spirits shall they be called. [As for the spirits of heaven, in heaven shall be their dwelling, but as for the spirits of the earth which were born upon the earth, on the earth shall be their dwelling.]
And the spirits of the giants afflict, oppress, destroy, attack, do battle, and work destruction on the earth, and cause trouble: they take no food, but nevertheless hunger and thirst, and cause offences. And these spirits shall rise up against the children of men and against the women, because they have proceeded from them.

The “Watchers” designation tells us that these spirits are restless and never sleep. These disembodied spirits are able to dwell in humans and animals. We learn that they cause havoc: “the spirits of the giants afflict, oppress, destroy, attack, do battle, and work destruction on the earth, and cause trouble”. They are the ones Jesus casts out (again and again) as he begins His kingdom on earth.

 

In a previous post, See Him as He Is, I posited that followers of Jesus must see Jesus as He is as recorded in all of Scripture’s narrative and as revealed to them by the Holy Spirit. They are not to view him through a tainted by evil rose-colored glass worldview. Absolute clarity requires the Lord’s followers to remove their hands from their eyes and their fingers from their ears and to take in the reality of Jesus and the world around us. In my last post I noted that the unclean spirit in Mark chapter one knew exactly who Jesus is. The unclean spirit saw with absolute clarity. And, like Jesus, we are to see enemy as he is and then cast him out.

Now, the Evil One and his apprentices don’t care about your politics. They don’t care if you are Republican or Democrat. They don’t care about the color of your skin or about the colors of your flag. They don’t care if you are rich or poor or male or female. Here is what they care about: to “afflict, oppress, destroy, attack, do battle, and work destruction on the earth, and cause trouble”. The Evil One’s apprentices seek to deface creation and the image of God in each human. Throughout cultures and nations and throughout time, the apprentices entice, lie and pervert humans, turning them into beasts which live to satisfy animal urges.

In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape (the Evil One), apprentices Wormwood. In the quote below note Screwtape’s frustration with how things were created by God and how that which has been created must be perverted:

”He [God] has a bourgeois mind. He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least – sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us. We fight under cruel disadvantages. Nothing is naturally on our side.”

 

Don’t let twisted pleasure and appetites define you. Abhor evil. Cling to good. Don’t become an apprentice of the Evil One. Don’t give the enemy advantage. Don’t toy with evil. Stay away from mediums, Tarot cards, Ouija Boards, astrology, séances, pornography, drugs and …entertainment, the devil’s playground.

Disney’s Fantasia is one example of how entertainment downplays the forces of darkness. Consider the animated short wherein Mickey Mouse portrays a sorcerer’s apprentice. The popular cartoon character plays with magic and conjures up all kinds of out-of-control havoc. The ‘approving’ adult background music is Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Watching this, a child is lured into relating to and empathizing with evil’s apprentice, an endearing cutesy child-like character in a wizard hat who experiments with magic and gets into ‘innocent’ trouble. On the surface, the animated short comes across as cautionary tale against disobeying the rules. But it actually encourages a child to try again and to avoid the consequences next time.

The twaddle of Harry Potter books and movies is meant to entertain and to make a huge profit for its creator and producers. Yet, the fantasy series has nothing good to offer the partaker. The series is just diversion, a distraction from reality. And worse. Like Disney’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice, its main characters engage with magic arts. Entertainment, like all temptations including the ones posed to the Lord, are, in essence, about denying reality and obtaining power to control reality. Once your child partakes of this ‘amusement’, he or she is hooked. See your enemy as he is. He wants your child to experiment with evil to obtain power. If you think I am kidding, look around at the pagan invasion of children’s culture. (A book I highly recommend: A Landscape with Dragons: The Battle for Your Child’s Mind by Michael O’Brien)

Unclean spirits promote fantasy. Their temptations come in the form of fantasy. Just as in the Garden they want you to entertain notions of unrestricted freedom and narcissistic god-like power (e.g., R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly”). The temptation to convert fantasy into reality – more money and notoriety – is behind the Jussie Smollett hoax. There is a vast difference between a healthy imagination in which good and evil and outcomes are considered and fantasy which projects into reality.

“… we need to make a distinction between fantasy and imagination. Both fantasy and imagination concern unrealities; but while the unrealities of fantasy penetrate and pollute the world, those of the imagination exist in a world of their own, in which we wander freely and in full knowledge of the really real…Fantasy covets the gross, the explicit, the no-holds-barred display of the unobtainable; and in the crisis of display the unobtainable is vicariously obtained.”

-Roger Scruton, Chapter 6, Fantasy, Imagination and the Salesman, An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture

Spiritual reality surrounds us. This fact is substantially attested to by the influences of the perverse paranormal on humans. Look around at the effects of unclean spirits on humans. You find cynicism and sentimentality promoted. You find projection and scapegoating. You find a culture embracing victimhood instead of personal responsibility. You find unexplained mental illness and depression. You read reports of suicide. Evil, promoted day and night, afflicts, oppresses, and destroys the good.

Turn on the radio and you will hear music from the bowels of hell. Art and architecture are increasingly de-humanized. As you sit in front of any media outlet you come across daily headlines and a continuous stream of entertainment filled with accounts of murder, violence, sex abuse, revenge, racism, and all manner of evil. The dark web is a “malignant outgrowth of evil – a sub-culture collective of hive-minded individuals wreaking havoc today, even now as you read your computer screen”. The spirit of lawlessness surrounds us and encounters us everywhere we are, even in our beds.

This world, until Jesus returns to reign on earth, is under attack by the agents, apprentices, and accusers of the Evil One. These spiritual entities will do all they can with your permission to diminish the glory of God in the temples where the image of God dwells. And, just as unclean spirits impregnated women, these same unclean spirits want to impregnate and defile your temple – your body, mind and spirit – with inordinate desires with and for the proliferation of pornography obsession, homosexuality, promiscuity, pedophilia and all manner of sexual perversion.

We are told in Scripture to test the spirits. Test the spirits in your church. If you are hearing spiritual platitudes or prosperity gospel or that “God made you that way” or social justice and rights and political power promotions but you are not hearing evil being addressed and cast out and “Jesus is Lord” every Sunday then there is something very, very wrong. The apprentices have done their work by creating the “Holy Church of Christ Without Christ” (Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor) with the blessing of those in the pews.

Just as in the coliseum of Rome, Christians today are surrounded by roaring lions that seek to devour us. Some of us will be martyred. Others will deny or ignore or even try to placate the lions with compromise and then be consumed by them when a comprise is reached. Some will deny the Lord. Others of us will stand our ground and use the word of God to fell them.

Stay in control of yourselves; stay awake. Your enemy, the devil, is stalking around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, staying resolute in your faith, and knowing that other family members in the rest of the world are facing identical sufferings. Then, after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who called you in the Messiah Jesus to the glory of his new age, will himself put you in good order, and will establish and strengthen you and set you on firm foundations. To him be the power forever. Amen. 1 Peter 5: 8-11

What are those fascinated with and even obsessed about the spirt world connecting with? They are connecting with the unclean spirits that left the bodies of giants during the Flood and the spirits that left the bodies of pigs when they rushed into the water and all of the unclean demonic host cast out of heaven and unable to return. We must heed the Apostle Paul. Paul saw the enemy as he is. So, he warned the church at Ephesus, a church surrounded by sex cults and idolatry and inundated with unclean spirits, (Eph. 6:12):

The warfare we’re engaged in, you see, isn’t against flesh and blood. It’s against the leaders, against the authorities, against the powers that rule the world in this dark age, against the wicked spiritual elements in the heavenly places.

See your enemy as he is. Your enemy sees you as you are – the image-bearing creation of the One who cast them out of His Presence.

 

And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

–        “A Mighty Fortress is our God” by Martin Luther

 

 

Lord, the whole of your creation, including me, groans waiting for your return to put things right, to finally cast out the red dragon and his apprentices, the unclean spirits. Help me as I wait to see the enemy as It is and to cast It out. Give me discernment from your Holy Spirit to be able to test the spirits in your church. If You are not declared Lord in the church we attend then help us, by your Spirit, to test the spirits of that church and to put things right.

Help me to overcome my resistance to being different than the Dark World. I am born of you, the Light of the world. That is why I find no pleasure in the media or the politics of power. I want to dwell in your Light all of my days and in the age to come.

Father, your beloved and begotten son Jesus is Lord of the Universe. Amen.

 

~~~

Lord willing, I’ll have a future post about dealing with evil.

(*) In C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy novel Perelandra, Ransom the protagonist names Weston, the evil antagonist, the Un-man. Weston becomes less human and eviler as the story progresses.

Dead to Rights

 

Close to 800 000 people die due to suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds. Many more attempt suicide. Suicide occurs throughout the lifespan and is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds globally… There are indications that for each adult who died of suicide there may have been more than 20 others attempting suicide. –Mental Health, Suicide Data, World Health Organization

 

Overdoses killed young and middle-aged Americans at a breakneck pace as the country battles a crippling opioid crisis, adding to the first two-year drop in life expectancy since JFK was President.

More than 63,600 people died of a drug overdose in 2016, the National Center for Health Statistics found. The startling rate was 21% higher than the number of fatalities a year earlier. – Opioid overdoses kill more people in U.S. than guns or breast cancer

 

The numbers quoted above are not insignificant. These instances of mental illness are not insignificant. And, these statistics represent only a small fraction of the de-humanizing effects of mental illness. Most of the effects of mental illness are hidden from the public eye until a person’s mental illness reaches a peak. The media then reports the violence done to others or done to one’s self in the form of suicide. Mentioned briefly by the newscaster: mental illness and the need to find a way to deal with it.

Again, the numbers quoted above are not insignificant. The quotes tell us in effect that mental illness influenced a person’s choice to self-harm. The quotes (and newscasts) do not tell us the choices that led to a mental illness that in time led to an act of violence. A post about mental illness could go in many directions. Here, I will take the path less traveled. I want to talk about what I see as the genesis of most mental illness – people’s choices.

 

Certainly, there are forms of mental illness which are not based on a person’s choices. Some prominent forms of mental disorder such as Bi-Polar Disorder have been ascribed primarily to a person’s genetic make-up. Some mental disorders are related to a chemical imbalance. Either abnormality can result in abnormal brain structure and function. Much progress has been made to mitigate the effects of these disorders. Some mental disorders may have come about through a child’s early environment. Talking in therapy and building good trust relationships can bring about healing.

Beyond physiological and early childhood causes, there is a spectrum of mental illnesses due to a person’s choices, choices that have been assessed and weighed based on one’s belief system and emotions. Each of us make deliberated decisions using our free will.  We may choose to act in a mentally healthy way or in a mentally harmful way. We may choose to turn the other cheek or we may choose to imitate revenge (Copy-Cat Revenge). We may choose to endure pain or we may choose to commit copy-cat suicide (the Werther Effect). Choosing to choose to act against God, oneself and others is evil-based mental illness. Evil-based mental illness involves a person’s choices.

Adam and Eve made a choice and learned of evil through their disobedience. Their son Cain made a choice when he murdered his brother Abel. God, acknowledging Cain’s mental distress, let him know that his choice figured in his distress:

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”-Genesis 4:6-

One’s choice makes all the difference for one’s mental state. And, when a person makes the wrong choice, there are public and private consequences. There are mental health consequences. A descent into madness is one of the consequences.

“This is the interpretation, Your Majesty, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes. The command to leave the stump of the tree with its roots means that your kingdom will be restored to you when you acknowledge that Heaven rules. Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: Renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue….

Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.

At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. – Daniel 4:24-27, 33-34 (emphasis mine)

We live in a world where choice is king. And, people want to reign as king or queen of their choice. What you won’t hear these choice-driven folks say is that they are responsible for the choices they make. If their choice doesn’t work out the way they planned they blame others, including the government. Scapegoating is a characteristic of evil-based mental illness. For example, I was once accused by LGBT advocates on Twitter of likely going on to cause the depression and suicidal death of gay community members because I spoke out against homosexuality. The advocates of the LGBT will tell you that any resistance to the homosexual lifestyle equates to depression and death for the LGBT. People want choices and want to rule in them but it their choices which cause the mental breakdowns, depression and worse. Resistance to accountability is another characteristic of evil-based mental illness. The Apostle Paul insists on accountability to the Lord as he reminds the Ephesian church that there are those who by their choices have darkened their minds:

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. -Ephesians 4:17-20

A darkened mind, evil-based Mental illness, starts with small concessions to evil. One acknowledges and then accepts these concessions and compartmentalizes them in part of the psyche. They are filed away from the conscious and away from public view. One goes on to absolve and protect oneself from outside reference with a half-truth: “It’s a hard life and I must do what I have to do to make it”.

One goes on to concede more ground to evil because the appetite for defiant free will choice has been whetted and there have not been any immediate consequences. The addiction to compromise has begun. The conscious is silenced. One’s mental health begins to deteriorate because thoughts are confused and growing darker; the light has been switched off. One becomes duplicitous. A public face is put on because one’s sanity is on shaky ground but others must see you as proudly self-assured and in control. And what better place to hide your self-deceit and look respectable:

Since the primary motive of the evil is disguise, one of the places evil people are most likely to be found is within the church. What better way to conceal one’s evil from oneself, as well as from others, than to be a deacon or some other highly visible form of Christian within our culture? … I do not mean to imply that the evil are anything other than a small minority among the religious or that the religious motives of most people are in any way spurious. I mean only that evil people tend to gravitate toward piety for the disguise and concealment it can offer them. – Martin Buber 

When mental illness is discussed, evil-based mental illness should also be discussed. But I believe the reason evil-based mental illness isn’t discussed is because it involves putting people’s choices under scrutiny. Twitter users become afire when I speak against homosexuality as a lifestyle acceptable for the church. They have told me that I am not like Jesus; I am judgmental. In truth, as a Follower of Jesus, I am trying to help the world around me become fully human. In the process, I’ve come to learn that Evil is defensive of its territory – humans.

Because Evil is nothing and has no substance, it must have access to human choice to act. Evil can, by human will, pervert what God created and called good. A glaring example of this hideous conversion from the good and absolute to sliding scale values and Epicureanism is the growing Christian acceptance of homosexuality as an acceptable good. In truth, it is a queering, a perversion, of the good.

It is a curious state of affairs today and a clear indication of evil’s degenerative effect: there are those today who demand rights for this and that while at the same time say they have no control of themselves or they can’t help themselves in their behavior. They want special human rights and the right to live as animals at the same time. They take Pride (Month) in this. De-humanization (e.g., giving over your free will and conscious to animal impulse) is a guaranteed effect of the choice to dwell in mental illness. Renouncing sin and turning back to the One true God will begin restoring your humanity and sanity. Just ask King Nebuchadnezzar.

 

The church should be the place for evil-based mental illness to be addressed. Sadly, many mainline churches have been comprised and now affirm evil as good, thereby increasing evil-based mental illness among its members. Read the Word and receive the Eucharist. The Word and prayer can help put you back in your right mind.

I am laid low in the dust;
preserve my life according to your word.
I gave an account of my ways and you answered me;
teach me your decrees.
Cause me to understand the way of your precepts,
that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds.
My soul is weary with sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word.
Keep me from deceitful ways;
be gracious to me and teach me your law.
I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I have set my heart on your laws.
I hold fast to your statutes, Lord;
do not let me be put to shame.
I run in the path of your commands,
for you have broadened my understanding. -Psalm 119: 25-32

 

 

Are You a danger to yourself or to others? If so, what choices have you made to bring you to this place? You are dead to rights accountable for the wrong choices. But your life doesn’t end there. Have more fear of what you may end up doing than talking to someone. Seek out a Christian and begin talking. Ask God for wisdom and do so with no doubt of receiving it, as a matter of mental health. For, “A person who doubts is like a wave of the sea which the wind blows and tosses about. Someone like that should not suppose they will receive anything from the Lord, since they are double minded and unstable in everything they do.”

 

Interactive media has influence on your mental health, if you let it. Added 6/19/2018:

What is gaming disorder?

Gaming disorder is defined in the draft 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.

For gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.

 

Reflections on Separate and Not Equal

 

 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools  and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Romans 1: 21-23

 

How do you view God? One’s view of God is critical to one’s image-bearing reflection of God. Holding and acting on a proper pan-Scriptural view of God one can reflect the nature and glory of God in one’s humanity. Holding and acting on a low or inadequate view of God will result in a reflection of a baser, beastly, and barbarous nature. There are plenty of examples of the latter.

If a person says there is no god, then that downward blank stare is reflected back as a life devoid of the transcendent. This person’s life lacks meaning and purpose that God has provided (Col. 1:16). This person’s life is full of questions and no answers. This person’s life demands control of outcomes. This person may become suicidal.

If a person says God is a female, then what is reflected back is a person’s belief that God’s self-revelation to us as Father, Son and Spirit is male privileged and not ‘inclusive’. Therefore, God must be ‘repackaged’ as humanized, feminized, and popularized for the masses. Those with this view of God have determined that God must not be separate and must be on par with us. These Gnostics ‘know’ what’s best.

If a person says God is many, then that person reflects back a dilution of truth in the form of pluralism. Such a person is open to all kinds of error and deception to maintain their ‘inclusive’ view.

If a person says God is distant and not available for comment, then that person reflects back an ‘On the Road’ life: avoiding pain, seeking pleasure, and surrounding themselves with like-minded friends.

These few examples, of course, represent only a sample of the effects of a false image of God. A false, replaced or non-existent image of God will always result in a false, replaced and non-existent humanity. As a comprehensive study of history reveals, a people with dysfunctional views of God can result in barbaric societies. Focusing on these corrupt images means that one cannot reflect back the image of God. And, a false, replaced or non-existent image of God will always result in an egregious beastly rule over oneself and creation. Time will reveal the same truth.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. Genesis 1:26

God let it be known from the start that Idolatry and its images, whether material or projected, is perilous to one’s image bearing reflection of God. The reason: we become like that we worship. Idolatry is worship of a lie. Living out worship of a lie results in a life that is a lie. Idolatry also dehumanizes, since it is a reflection of less than God likeness. Much less. Again, there are myriad examples of this in history and surrounding us today.

Idolatry reduces God to His creation, either as a creature or to an element such as gold. For the idolater, reducing God to a creature or to an element means that God can now be controlled and molded into the image that works for him or her. But it is God who is the Image Grantor and Generator. To make an indelible impression on us, God took created elements – tables of stone – and wrote out, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image“.

Over and over again in Scripture we read that God made it very clear that all focus was to be on Him the Creator. To remove that focus was to bring down His wrath. God is a jealous God.

for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land. Deuteronomy 6:15

Exodus tells the story of Israel’s God removing His people from the false Egyptian gods. And in the desert God lays down the law to tell His people how to be image bearers. As noted above, the Lord God is to be their focus and not idols. And throughout the history of Israel, the Lord reminds His people of the consequences when they change their focus. Later, Israel asked God for a king because their focus was set on other nations. Their first king, Saul, was an ego-centric control freak who turned mad.

Much later, the prophet Isaiah spoke the rebuking words of the Lord to those who took the focus off of Him and focused on themselves:

Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘The potter has no hands’? Isaiah 45:9

We become what we worship. I see examples of it every day at the fitness club. Often at the club, two Kim clones work their bodies to create a Kim-sized booty. To paraphrase a bumper sticker, “You can’t take your booty with you”.

Since we are created in God’s image and likeness to have dominion over creation, it is easy for us to assume a self-important stance before God. We are prone to see ourselves as the center of life itself and the Son revolving around us. And, as shown over and over again in the history of mankind, some men and women will convert their ego-centrism into a form of self-divination. These will expect and perhaps demand that others recognize them and even worship them as transcendent or divine. I am talking about those who see themselves as exalted based on power or status or one’s physical appearance. Examples would include Pharaohs, Assyrian Kings, Roman emperors, rulers of nations, heads of state, celebrities, politicians, and superheroes (you worship them with your time and dollars).

What image of God did three exiles have to be able to say “No” to a powerful King? (And, who taught them about a sovereign unseen God who is able to deliver? Who taught them that no other God shall be worshipped?)

King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. …the herald loudly proclaimed, “Nations and peoples of every language, this is what you are commanded to do:  As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.  Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.” …you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up.

But…there are some Jews whom you have set over the affairs of the province of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—who pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They neither serve your gods nor worship the image of gold you have set up. Daniel 3

By their continued resistance (The exiles had already made their stance known to the king and to his men), the three exiles made it very clear to king Nebuchadnezzar that their focus was always going to be on the one true God and not on their fate tied to idol worship. What the three exiles said next would have made the King very hot under the collar. The NIV does not translate their words in the Daniel 3:17 text well, especially as it pertains to the King’s earlier glowing acceptance of Daniel’s god after Daniel interpreted the king’s dream (Daniel 2:24). The revised text is in italics:

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If our God whom we serve exists he is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace and from your hand he will but if not then be it known to you we will not serve your gods anyway. Daniel 3:16-18

The three exiles were not doubting God’s existence. Just the opposite. They were adding fuel to the fire. They made sure that there would be no shadow of doubt in their reflection of the existence of the One True God. Their words turned up the heat. And once their God-reflecting humanity was miraculously delivered unsinged from the beastly hot furnace, the King was left without excuse and with plenty to think about. He could easily imagine his giant golden image melting like wax before the separate and not equal God.

 

 

And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: “Lord, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.

“It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands.  They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone, Lord, are God.” 2 Kings 19 (emphasis mine)

The Search ‘Engine’ Above the Cloud

 

“So if you were raised to life with the king, search for the things that are above, where the king is seated at God’s right hand.” The Apostle Paul, Colossians 3: 1-2 

 

 

Studying Paul’s letter to the Colossian church this past week, I came across the above verse. It is one which is well-known to me. I’ve read it many times. Looking at it very casually over the years, the verse seemed to hold a nice greeting card thought, one that seemed more sentiment than prescription. But this time, words stood out. First, I wondered: what does Paul mean by “search for things above”?

Paul wrote this letter in prison. His limbs were likely aching from the dampness. His eyes, possible bleary with cataracts, saw dark figures of vermin looking for morsels of bread he may have dropped. The torch in the cavern flickered dark images onto the wall in front of his cell. Looking above his circumstances, Paul warns the Colossian church, with words preceding the above instruction, of placing faith in the temporal:

“If you died with the king, coming out from the rule of the “worldly elements,” what’s the point of laying down laws as though your life was still merely worldly? “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!” Rules like that all have to do with things that disappear as you use them.”

Paul goes on to point out the pretense of these man-made rules: “They may give the appearance of wisdom since they promote a do-it-yourself religion.” Instead of a religion of here-today-gone-tomorrow works, Paul was pushing these Christians to live in the resurrection life they had received. Good works would flow out from them. And he knew that no DIY secular religion would honor King Jesus. So, in order to help them come out from “the rule of ‘worldly elements’”, Paul placed them under the rule of King Jesus.  Paul wrote, “So if you were raised to life with the king, search for the things that are above…”

Two things popped out at me reading the above verse. I mentioned the first. The second:  Paul writing “…where the king is seated at God’s right hand.” Immediately I remembered where I had heard something similar before.

“Look!” Stephen said. “I can see heaven opened, and the son of man standing at God’s right hand!”

These words are found in Acts chapter 7. There we find Stephen forced to address the Assembly of religious leaders. He provides the audience with a marvelous summary of Israel’s history. Stephen ends his discourse with some piercing words and the words above. The crowd would never forget those words, even though they covered their ears and yelled at him at the tops of the voices. So unsettled and angry was the crowd that they took Stephen out and stoned him to death. This was all done before a witness, a young man named Saul.

Who do you think Saul/Paul had in mind when he wrote, “…where the king is seated at God’s right hand.”? We don’t know for sure if Paul was in the Assembly that day Stephen spoke. Even if he wasn’t he would have been very aware of what was said. Paul was the Assembly’s appointed Inquisitor. He was ordered to stop the insurgents called “Followers of the Way”.

Paul, the witness and persecutor, was now Paul the prisoner and fellow sufferer in Christ with martyred Stephen. His relationship with King Jesus had taken him to new personal lows. But, Paul searched for things above and found them. They sufficed. Paul saw King Jesus sitting at God’s right hand.

 

What about our search?

Have you watched the TV series The Curse of Oak Island? Over the many episodes I’ve watched, the Lagina brothers search for buried treasure. In their search they have looked at maps. They have been to the library and to France. They have sifted dirt and information. They found both material fragments related to the historical period of the treasure and fragments of information also related. They have talked to many people who have knowledge of the island and the treasure. And, they dug and dug and dug. They are relentless in their pursuit of the treasure. They have a hope in what they do not yet see but visualize. What they do see are milestones that point in the direction of the fulfillment of their hope.

Have we stopped searching “for things above”? Have we stopped digging deep into the Word? Have we thrown away fragments of our character that would have pointed us to hope realized?

Does our search involve Scripture reading, studying Greek and Hebrew and history, praying and visualizing? Does our search involve hours and days and months and years looking for the pearl of great price? If you are looking at yourself and people’s reactions to you online then you will not find the treasure. Looking at the “worldly elements” won’t reveal it. Searching is lifetime, long-haul hard work. That is the Indian Jones adventure and romance of life. Except, we chose fantasy and the illusory.

In TV commercials one can see someone talking into an impersonal box. The ‘intelligent personal assistant’ box is connected to a search engine which is tied into a data cloud which is linked into a data storage island somewhere. But “the box” does not have the answer to life’s most pressing questions. As an engineer, I hold no grudge against technology. I just know that technology will not “search for things above.” You are responsible for that.

Many will use a search engine like Google to find information related to a certain topic. Now, consider searching “for things above” for answers to all of life’s “topics”. These ‘topics’ would include “Why is there pain and suffering?”; “How do I go on?”; “Who should I marry?”; “What about my wayward son? “How will I afford this surgery?”; What hope do I have when I can’t see things getting better?”; “What is my raison d’être?”; “What is God’s will and how will it be done on earth as in heaven?” Back to Paul and his words to the Roman churches about searching questions and seeing results.

“We were saved, you see, in hope. But hope isn’t hope if you can see it! Who hopes for what they can see? But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait eagerly — but also patiently.” Romans 8:24-25

So, hope means waiting for what we do not yet see. But, are you uneasy when you can’t visualize the person you are talking to? Then learn to see Jesus sitting at the right hand of the father, with all authority in heaven and earth. Still struggling with searching “for things above”?

“In the same way, too, the spirit comes alongside and helps us in our weakness. We don’t know what to pray for as we ought to, but that same spirit pleads on our behalf, with groanings too deep for words. And the Searcher of Hearts knows what the spirit is thinking, because the spirt pleads for God’s people according to God’s will.” Romans 8:26-27

In prison and on the road, Paul tapped into resurrection life – into “the things that are above, where the king is seated at God’s right hand.” Paul was well aware that earthly and evil forces would love for us to remain in our petty, self-serving and secularly pious ways, embracing “worldly elements.” The Evil One wants us to focus only on ourselves and our material concerns. The Evil One does not want us to look above. Remember Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the desert. The Evil One wanted Jesus to acknowledge him, in effect, as the top Search Engine of the World. A ‘search engine’ that offered the world to his web-surfing devotees.

“Then the devil took him off again, this time to a very high mountain. There he showed Jesus all the magnificent kingdoms of the world.

“I’ll give the whole lot to you” he said, “If you will fall down and worship me.”

“Get out of here, you satan!” replied Jesus. “The Bible says, ‘Worship the Lord your God and, serve him alone!”

The Searcher of Hearts – the only Authoritative ‘search engine’-sits at God’s right hand. We are told to “search for the things that are above”, where our king “is seated at God’s right hand”. What are you waiting for? There’s a seat waiting for you.

 “This will be my gift to the one who conquers: I will sit them beside me on my throne, just as I conquered and sat with my father on his throne.” Revelation 3:21

Pray it Forward

 

“I, Paul, am in prison because I am a missionary for Jesus Christ to you who are not Jews.” Ephesian 3:1 

 

 

1st Century AD. You are in a prison in Ephesus. You long to know how your young children are doing, your young children in the faith. You have been called to preach the Good News and announce the Kingdom of God to the Gentiles. Seeds have been planted but they must be watered and fed and cared for in order for there to be fruit. But, here you are locked up. So, you write letters and pray and pray and pray.

 

“For this reason, from the day we heard it, we haven’t stopped praying for you. We are asking God to fill you with the knowledge of what he wants in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. This means that you’ll be able to conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Lord, and so give him real delight, as you bear fruit in every good word and grow in the knowledge of God. I pray that you’ll be given all possible strength, according to the power of his glory, so that you’ll have complete patience and become truly steadfast and joyful.

And I pray that you will learn to give thanks to the father, who has made you fit to share the inheritance of God’s holy ones in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness, and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved son. He is the one in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Colossians 9-14

 

As I read these verses I envisioned Paul sitting in a dimly lit and damp prison cell. He is agitated and fretting. He is deeply concerned for those outside the cell, those surrounded by the power of darkness. Paul is not whining. He is not demanding. He is not writing his bio.

Paul is praying and hasn’t stopped praying for those beyond his cell. Paul is praying that they may be filled with knowledge and that they may be given all strength to use that knowledge to bear fruit. He prays that they will learn to give thanks for the One who transferred them into his Kingdom out of the darkness. The irony that Paul has been transferred to a dank dark prison cell because of the Kingdom does not affect his vision of the Kingdom or his prayer life.

This is Kingdom prayer. The prayer is for others. The prayer lifts others up and reinforces others. The prayer points away from self and toward the One who is able to do more than we ask or think on behalf of others. This is dark night of the cell prayer, where one is alone with God and unable to move but a few feet. Paul’s actions are distilled down to praying verbs: “fill”, “bear”, “grow”, “learn”.

 

 

There are many who are unable to move but a few feet. The elderly, who have been active most of their lives, now sit. Some may even think of their bodies as a prison cell. But, in that “cell” the “wisdom and spiritual understanding” that was prayer directed at them some two millennia before can be applied to their Kingdom prayer now. They can pray for their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren just a Paul prayed for his children in the faith. The fact that they, two millennia later, have faith means that Paul’s prayer was effective. Some were “filled” with knowledge. Some were “filled” with knowledge and “bore” fruit. Some were “filled” with knowledge and “bore” fruit and “gained” strength. Some were “filled” with knowledge and “bore” fruit and “gained” strength and “learned” to give thanks.

There will always be situations beyond our control. I was reminded this past two weeks of how uncontrollable are the forces that surround me. The weather in the Chicago area has been frigid. I do not remember such cold temps and I have lived in the area for over 65 years.

At 65 years you begin to think about mobility later in life. You wonder, at least I do, about how long your legs will cooperate. So, I see it is time for me to exercise Kingdom prayer with action verbs. It is long past time for me to pray it forward.

 

More Kingdom prayer from prison:

“For this reason, I bow my knees and pray to the Father. It is from Him that every family in heaven and on earth has its name. I pray that because of the riches of His shining-greatness, He will make you strong with power in your hearts through the Holy Spirit. I pray that Christ may live in your hearts by faith. I pray that you will be filled with love. I pray that you will be able to understand how wide and how long and how high and how deep His love is. I pray that you will know the love of Christ. His love goes beyond anything we can understand. I pray that you will be filled with God Himself.

God is able to do much more than we ask or think through His power working in us. May we see His shining-greatness in the church. May all people in all time honor Christ Jesus. Let it be so.”  Ephesians 3: 14-21

And Nothing but the Whole Elephant

 

Jesus said to them, “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before you. If you were from this world, the world would be fond of its own. But the world hates you for this reason: that you’re not from the world. No: I chose you out of the world.” John’s gospel account 15: 18-19

~~~

From the many conversations I have had on Twitter, the word on the street is that “God is love and is all about love. We love, so we are doing what God accepts.” So, where does the world’s hate come in?

The hate spoken of in John’s gospel is generated by a protection of one’s place in the world against “outsiders”. Over and over again I have had that hatred and vitriol directed at me on Twitter. I cannot show you the Tweet replies. They are vulgar and pernicious. The replies come from a place beneath this world.

The hate-filled replies occur when I say something other than what is considered loving by those protecting their place in the world. Replies are derived from a worldview. And, one’s worldview depends on whether you accept being called out of this world knowing that that those in the world will hate you or if you are in this world for its approbation:

Called-Out Ones worldview: “For God so loved the world, that He gave…”

Social Justice Warrior (SJW) worldview: “For the world so loved me, when I…”

In order to make the world-accepted SJW worldview sustainable, mainstream churches create a Jesus who is palatable, marketable, consumable and renewable. The ministers do this by parsing Scripture into love notes. Their resultant Scripture messages, whether in a sermon or in a blog or on Twitter, remind me of a bag Valentine Sweethearts – candy hearts.

These churches promote “inclusion” because in a consumer-driven society, choice of how you live, choice of what you accept and who you accept, choice of right and wrong-choice becomes the ultimate approbation in this world.

~~~

Coming to a church near you: a populist theology which promotes the acceptance of the gay lifestyle, universal health care and illegal immigration all as works of Christian charity from the pulpits of body-of-Christ-divisive politics (race, gender, class, sexuality, etc.). This populist theology uses the high-sounding term “social justice” so as to neutralize detractor’s objections and to force a consensus, a groupthink around the premise of political correctness redefined as God’s love.

I encounter this populist theology every day now. If you are on Twitter “fighting the good fight”, you may receive the same replies from Catholics that I did. They go something like this:

1.       “God is love. I know many committed gay couples who love each other.”

2.      “Jesus never talked about sexuality or homosexuality, therefore it is a non-issue. If Jesus was concerned about homosexuality he would have said something.”

3.      “Jesus is about loving your neighbor. Jesus is not judgmental. Jesus is fully accepting, inclusive. He’s about loving the homosexual. Who are we to judge?” (from Pope Francis’, “Who am I to judge?”).

4.      “Loving your neighbor means universal healthcare. You are not charitable if you are against universal healthcare. You must be a Conservative who hates people.”

5.      “Jesus and Paul are not the same. Jesus is love and Paul is rules. Jesus is universal love. Paul, on the other hand, is a picayune fundamentalist and fundamentalists are authoritarians. Jesus would say “Live, love, eat, pray and let live.”

6.      “Jesus is social justice. He talked about helping the poor. Dorothy Day is a hero. Many of our heroes are beatified saints, saints who did good deeds while alive. Jesus demands good works from us. “Faith without works is dead”.”

7.      “Women are talking in church. Women are being ordained. Scripture is being updated and should be inclusive of homosexuality, as well.”

 

My first thought when I encountered these replies: “The Catholic church has done great harm to its charges by not teaching the whole of Scripture, the whole council of God.” Scripture has been defined down to a constructed abstraction of Jesus’ words.

One of the main reasons the populist theology has taken root in the Catholic and all (yes, all) of the mainline churches, I believe, is the lack of Scripture knowledge coupled with a deficit of personal faith-history. Deism is pervasive in the church: “God and His Word are far away from reality and not relevant to what I am experiencing”; “You don’t understand same-sex attraction. You can’t change me so, accept me for what I am.”

Post-modernist pop-theologians rightly question history and what has been passed down through millennia but without a sufficient regard for and knowledge of the discipline of the study of history – factual non-repeatable events. Their pick-and-choose history approach leads to utter confusion about who Jesus is, what happened the first century and to whether or not Jesus even existed. I have witnessed such dissociative history making on Twitter. Such groping at history and at Scripture reminds me of the Indian parable of the blind men and the elephant: each of the blind men encounter a different part of the elephant (trunk, tail, etc.) and then return home and proceed to project their ‘understanding’ of the elephant as the elephant while claiming the other five blind men must be mistaken. Blind_men_and_elephant2

Populist theology also has historical Leftist ties (“Unconstrained vision” is the term used by Economist Thomas Sowell to define the philosophy of the Left). Political philosopher Jean-Jacque Rousseau wrote, “man is born free, but is everywhere in chains.” Another philosopher, Marquis de Condorcet, believed that men in their natural state with a “natural inclination” would seek out the social good. For them, man’s nature was not the problem. Rather, institutions needed to be reformed so that man’s better nature would come out. Hence, pop-theology presses for reforms: the church must be reformed to help men to realize their better nature. “We are so much smarter now,” is the inference.

Enter the church’s “social justice” moment. And the “social justice” proffered is done under the guise of the common good but it is in reality a narrowing of focus down to subjective individual rights and individual happiness, in parallel with what is happening politically in Europe and the U.S. currently. The “common” part of their “common good” are those who share the same self-directed interests. Others must conform to their self-interests for the common good.

My second thought after reading the above replies: “It is time for another reformation – putting the Bible (again) into people’s hands and teaching them how to read it for themselves.”

It would seem that many of the above respondents view Scripture through the lens of a post-modern Epicurean Catholic world view, a worldview which replaces historical narrative (in this case, derived from the “faith once delivered”) with a relevant “social gospel” or populist theology promulgated as authentic Christianity. And with little knowledge of Scripture many Catholics are ‘falling’ for what they have been taught by the top-down government and media of the Catholic church and its social justice-primed priesthood.

When they do (see replies above) they end up with a Jesus who is fantasy blend of Dorothy Day, Ghandi, Mr. Rogers and a Democrat with a Jesus bleeding heart – an ends-justifies-the-means person. In other words, they end up not with a literal historical Jesus, but rather a figurative Jesus and one disposed to making you and your world feel good about doting on yourself. And, if you can get other people to dish out love and charity and “understanding” and, most importantly, cash, then you have done right by pseudo-Jesus.

Every self-designated Catholic I have encountered on Twitter appears to know little or nothing of Scripture. For them, it seems, raw Scripture, ‘unrefined’ by the Catholic priesthood, seems to be tied to evangelicals who are considered fundamentalists and therefore, presumptively, not connected with their Jesus’ all-assuming love. What they know and repeat is what a priest or Jesuit tells them, and their reply is usually about social justice, a catch-all for not being judged but for being loved.

Without making this post too long, here are some of my quick replies to the above points. Feel welcome to add yours in the comment section below.

1.      The plea bargaining “God is Love” defense is foiled when you define love, not in terms of codependence and sexuality, but as desiring the ultimate good for another. This of course leads to a definition of what is good. I reply with Jesus’s request of the Father, “Set them apart for yourself in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17)

2.   When someone says that Jesus never talked about homosexuality I remind them that Jesus’s mission was to the lost sheep of Israel, the ones who were supposed to be “a light to the Gentiles”. The Israelites knew the law, the Torah. The law forbids homosexuality. This was common knowledge in the first century. Jesus did not need to repeat it. Paul, on the other hand, an apostle to the Gentiles did need to speak about the matter (e.g., Rome, Ephesus, etc. had temples to pagan gods which involved all manner of sexual immorality.)

3.   Here we have justification by plea bargain. Jesus prays for his own that they will be sanctified, separate – taken “out of the world” worldview.

4.      If you know Scripture then you know that Jesus did not heal everyone in the world during his earthly time. He told us that we can do the same and greater things than he has done when filled with the spirit. Beyond the fact of outright healing, there is the matter of personal healthcare. Universal healthcare replaces a person’s personal responsibility for their health with a non-caring impersonal government bureaucracy. This costly tax-payer bureaucracy will need to control your behavior, your paycheck and the doctor’s practice to control costs. As such, it is loving to not desire socialized coverage.

5.      When I hear someone say that Jesus is Gospel and Paul is not relevant I remind them that Jesus met Paul on the road to Damascus. In the fullness of time Jesus encountered Paul. I remind them that Paul right then and there became an eyewitness of Jesus and therefore an apostle. I remind them that Jesus sent Paul to be Jesus to the Gentiles – the heathen, the pagans, the unclean. I tell them that Paul wrote the theology of the newly established Kingdom of God on earth in his letters to the infant churches.

6.      I remind them that the gospel is “Jesus is Lord”. All else falls in line and in order under this proviso:  salvation, sanctification (called out of the world) and then social gospel (to affect the world under the direction of the Kingdom’s Lord.)

When Jesus tells the rich man “Sell all you have and give it to the poor” we understand the means to the rich man’s salvation: renunciation of his coveting relationship of wealth- a relationship which came between Jesus and the rich man, sanctification (separation from the love of his money and the hold it had on him) and then faith with works – a complete detachment from self-preservation- giving his wealth to the poor, a product of the new Kingdom focus.

7. Women vs. gay acceptance and Scripture: I remind them that there is a difference between culturally defined and morally defined. There is a difference between cultural practice and culturally-imposed taboos and doctrinal principles and God-directed temperantia-God’s ordered structure for the being of man. Paul wrote about the former in his letters to the church at Corinth. Anything perceived as ambiguous was directed back to a person’s Holy-Spirit directed conscious.

 

It is no secret that the Evil One’s mission from the very beginning is to ask, “Did God really say you couldn’t…?”

Pop-theology proposes to modernize and conform the church to be a welcoming inclusive place for whatever the prevailing winds of PC doctrine bring to the church’s door step. Be it known:  the called-out ones – the ecclesia – will remain faithful under the Lordship of Jesus.  The churches that wallow in the world will have their candlestick taken away. In the dark their mutual admiration society will be left grappling with elephant parts.

 

 

Added 10-4-17:

A Foot in the Door

A Foot in the Door

A Monologue in One Act

 

Setting:  A small and very old chapel. A crucifix shrouded in black gauze is on the wall. There are three candles. Front and center is the Host and a candle. Midway up the aisle is another candle. At the door is the third candle. The light of the candles is the only light. Good Friday Vigil watch, 3 AM. The chapel is empty except for one parishioner.

Characters:

Bill Penny

Parishioner 1

Parishioner 2

 

Penny: (enters chapel from rear door, hobbling) Ouch, this hurts like a son-of-a… (Parishioner 1 turns around and glares at Penny, Penny puts finger to his lips, mumbles) Sorry. Sorry. (Penny hobbles to a front pew favoring his right foot; sits down; carefully takes off right shoe) Owww, ow, ow, ow.

(After a minute, Parishioner 1 leaves the chapel; Penny is alone)

(Grimacing in pain Penny slowly kneels down onto the pray bench. He makes the sign of the cross) Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner. (Beat) Lord, like the dumb sinner that I am, last night I ate Delores’s corned beef and I woke up with this gout. Every time I eat corned beef I get this blasted gout. And it hurts like…like…like you know what! But I am here like I promised You, like I promised her. (Looks at the shrouded crucifix on the wall for a time)  “Go or else!” she said to me. “You have issues,” she said to me. But, who doesn’t have issues? She has me going to marriage therapy to get “fixed”. I am not a dog who needs to get fixed! But, what’s to be done? I am married to her… or else! (Beat) You remember the time, Lord, when I was lonely and Delores made those cow eyes at me.  Now, I all get is bee bee eyes! (Beat) Well, I’m lonely again. What’s to be done? We both know that Delores liked to sit in front of the TV with her glass of wine and watch movies after the kids were in bed. I would have liked to go out to the garage and putz around and fix whatever is broken and listen to baseball. You know I can’t sit still not even with this awful gout. The universe isn’t static. Space-time isn’t static. I read somewhere that the galaxies are separating at the proportion of their distance from each other. That reminds me of my father. He never sat still. Even when he was sitting his knee would bounce up and down like he was pumping a manual sewing machine.  You know me. I have to be a part of something moving and not watching it move in some little box. I’d rather play baseball than watch it but ever since I pulled my groin muscle running to second base, I benched myself. Talk about pain.  Oh, that was miserable. (Beat) You know what else I read? That my body’s cells are replaced every ten years. That’s good. I am in need of new toe cells! (Penny lifts his foot to rub the area around this big toe) In the same article I read that after fifty half of my heart’s cells have been replaced!  Maybe that explains why I don’t feel the same way I did thirty years ago. Maybe that explains why I am so lonely – I miss those old cells. (Beat) When I sit with Delores she thinks my knee is bouncing because of too much coffee. We better keep that to ourselves. (Beat) If I don’t sit with her she says she doesn’t feel loved. So I do. But then, after two glasses of wine, she says to me “Bill, you have issues”. Between You and me, I think her mood bounces because of the wine. (Beat) “Well, Yes”, I want to say.  “Give me time. My cells are going to be replaced,” I want to say.  “I am not the same person I was or will be,” I want to say. But, you know I can’t go there with her. The wine doesn’t make her laugh and I can’t make her laugh anymore. Too bad the cell replacement thing doesn’t work on dispositions. (Beat) (Penny sings) When you’re smilin’, when you’re smilin’, The whole world smiles with you. Hah. We both know who else doesn’t smile: my sister the tattooed Atheist. According to her, we are evolving organic life that happened to develop on the edge of a minor planet in a universe that emerged from preexisting quantum foam derived from out of nothing. It amazes me how people create something out of nothingness. Then she tells me, “any narrative or language explaining origins came down to us from power hungry men who only wanted to oppress”. Besides, she says, “Christians think the world is six thousand years old, because some man in a pulpit told them it must be so.” So, I say to her, “Look, the earth is only 14.54 billion years old. Give them time.” And, when I mention You, she waves her hand in my face and says “let’s not talk about God. Let’s focus on the manageable world in the moment and not think about what we can’t manage”. “Live in the moment” she says to me, “in the unbearable lightness of being”, she says to me. It’s no wonder the whole world is not smiling with us. It’s been turned on its head. (Beat) (Penny sings) When you’re smilin’, when you’re smilin’, (The wind blows the door open, slams it shut. Penny turns to see. The candle by the door goes out.) …the whole world blows your candle out.

(Pause.)

(A passing car’s headlights shine though a stained-glass window; Penny looks up at the stained-glass window) Ah, there’s St. Mark at the window!  And the lion! Please pray for my big toe. It hurts like a… like…like I said. (Beat) As you know, St. Mark, Delores, she never forgets. I said something years ago. I don’t know what I said and it’s still echoing back as, how shall I say it in church?… You know, she keeps her distance ‘as far as the east is from the west.” St. Mark, she told me to come here tonight and confess my issues. So…. yes, I curse…I’ll admit that. Yes, I eat corned beef pretending it doesn’t give me gout.  But, I can’t admit to what someone holds against me if I don’t know what it is I did twenty years ago. St. Mark, Delores wants the marriage therapist to find an issue with me that fits her unhappiness!  (Beat) And, now, can you believe it!? Delores won’t forgive my brother, either. You know what happened. Sam turned fifty and turned into a woman. I knew that my hearts cells were replaced after fifty but I didn’t know that brother cells would be replaced with sister cells after fifty! (Beat) Well, my brother did try. He was married three times. Marriage does have a way of bringing someone to their knees. I get Sam. Life is hard. I get that he saw his change as a means to create, of giving birth to the art he wanted to create. But, I don’t get Delores after 35 years. She says that what my brother has done is absurd. “Compared to what”, I say. I pulled out my copper ore and showed her. “Now look at this copper ore which came from an exploding star that is hundreds of light-years away”, I tell her, “The universe of things does not happen in a box with a screen.”  Well, You saw the look on her face. You saw Delores roll those bee bee eyes and grit her teeth. And, You heard Delores’ mother tell me that You do not have a sense of humor! Well, she doesn’t think I am funny either! I told her the goldfish joke. You know the one. One goldfish says to another, “If there is no God, who keeps changing the water?” She just stared at me. Now, that does make me wonder. If You don’t have a sense of humor where did the goldfish get their sense of humor? (Makes the sign of the cross) Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner. (Stops kneeling and sits back in the pew, puts right leg carefully out straight, fishes in his pocket, pulls out a rock- copper ore – and looks at it) That reminds me. I read somewhere that a star’s intense heat and pressure fuses together new elements. There’s a shoving match between gravity and the energy released (Laughs) Maybe a star fused a new sister element. Maybe there was some inner gravity drawing Sam to be a woman and some enormous release of energy in trying to appear normal. “Wonders never cease”, my father would say to Sam. (Holds up the rock) Dad gave me this chunk of copper ore and said to me, “Bill, you are made from stardust from an exploded star. And to stardust you shall return.”  (Penny drags his finger along the top of the pew, looks at it) See. This stuff is everywhere. This dust probably came from an exploded star 100 light-years away and here it is on this pew waiting to be touched! My sister should get a bang out of this! I’ll write a technical paper:  The Physical Properties of Dust and Its Unearthly Edge of the Universe Origin. I’ll give it to my sister and include You as the main source in the footnotes. She’ll freak out. (Beat) Well, it’s no wonder that I sneeze all the time when I sleep on the couch. (Sits back in the pew and grimaces) And my back, Lord. You know that Delores has me sleeping on the couch. She says I snore. So, you see why I am in the doghouse? I snore. I bounce my knee. I have (drags out the word) Is…sues! (The wind blows the door open, slams it shut. Penny turns to see. The aisle candle goes out.) Whew, I thought Delores heard me… but it is the Winds of Change! (Beat) You know what I wanted to be when I was a boy. I wanted to be a conductor. I stood in front of my parent’s stereo and conducted all of the classical LPs my grandfather passed on to me. Now, I am an engineer and I conduct current flow. Hah! Wonders never cease. Speaking of wonders. The dream I had last night was a doozy. You probably saw it. I am conducting Dvorak’s New World Symphony and Delores is sitting in the percussion section holding a timpani mallet in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. She is watching TV and yelling at it so she misses my tympani cue. Then I see my sister off stage and she’s at a grocery checkout buying Oreos with a coupon. After each purchase, she gets another coupon for more Oreos. She eats the Oreos she just bought and then she goes and buys another bag of Oreos and gets another coupon. I watch her going back and forth and eating and then all of a sudden Delores stabs my right foot with her drumstick and says, “Who’s watching the kids?’  I wake up and… You know the rest. Must have been the corned beef. (Beat) (Penny looks around) The people who built this place 175 years ago, they knew that heaven and earth belonged together.  Priests of creation, that’s what I’d call them. They put a garden around this chapel, not a parking lot. When the windows are open, you can smell the lilacs and the hyacinths, the actual earth. (Takes a deep breath) Ah, nature, the fresh scent of rain, creation! (Beat) You and I agree. The best architects and artists and engineers and scientists in the world draw out all kinds of glory from creation. (Beat) Which now makes me wonderchurches today…many look like drab government buildings. It is as if those churches had to box up their faith and keep it earth bound so that people wouldn’t get carried away… at least not until they were “Raptured” away, as they call it in their fantasy books, to some nebulous cloud in the sky. To that my father would say, “everything done decently and in order.” Then he’d wink and say, “just like the big bang”. (Wind opens the chapel door and slams it closed. The candle on the altar is blown out. The light from a street lamp projected through a stained glass window is the only light. Penny pulls on his chin.) Damn, it’s getting dark in here. Oh! Yeah! You know me. I get frustrated with things. You know when I first started cursing? About a month after I turned sixty-five. Joints I didn’t know I had started aching. My knees retired. Little things started becoming big things, like trying to say a word I just had thought. And when I do curse Delores yells “Stop that! Little ears!” I don’t know what’s gotten into me. (Beat) I know. I know. What comes out of a man corrupts a man. But, Lord, the corned beef that my wife Delores gave me, I ate it and it went into me and corrupted me with this gout. How can anyone keep from cursing this awful gout! You know what else I read? Cursing helps to ease pain, but if you curse all day long, then it doesn’t help. (Beat) I’ll tell You one thing. I don’t want my whole life reduced down to shopping for cookie coupons. …And, I am not afraid of dying. I am afraid of cursing my life.

(Pause.)

(Parishioner 2 opens the door and stands there backlit; Penny holds his watch up to the dim entrance light) It looks like my time is up. (Makes the sign of the cross) Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner. St. Mark, a small request before I go. The next time Delores offers corned beef for dinner, could you have a word with my wife? And, maybe you know the answer to this? Did the apostle Paul have gout? You know. Was that his “thorn in the flesh”? And, the disciples? It would have been hard to be your follower, Lord, having gout: all that walking around and not being able to curse. (Carefully puts his right shoe back on) Ow…ow….ow…da…ang! (Gets up from the pew, turns to leave, sees Parishioner 2 in the light of the door, puts finger to his mouth, mumbles) Sorry, sorry. (Hobbles toward rear door; points to foot) Big toe… Wife’s corned beef… What’s that? …Why is it so dark in here? (Stops for a moment to rest) The wind came three times and blew out the three candles. Wonders never cease. (Begins hobbling again and then stops to listen) What? Where’s the light switch?… Did you hear the one about the two goldfish?

(Parishioner 2 opens door wider for Penny.)

(Penny exits)

 

Curtain comes down.

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved

 

(Beat) =  beat – a break or space of air in between lines or words

 

Star Course: The King Awakens

“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” [The magi]

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.”

“After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.” The Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 2

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Star course:  A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…Bright-animated-star-shining-at-night-gif

“Our starting point has to be ‘what is a star?’  The visible Universe is, to a very good approximation, made up of hydrogen and helium, the two simplest elements formed in the first few minutes after the Big Bang. After around a billion years of expansion, the Universe was cool enough for slightly denser regions in the gas clouds to start clumping together under their own gravity.  These were the seeds of the galaxies, and within them, around smaller clumps, the first stars began to form.” Brian Cox & Jeff Forshaw, The Quantum Universe

Bright-animated-star-shining-at-night-gifLife Star or stellar nucleogenesis:

“Every atom of carbon in every living being was once inside a star, since the interior nuclear furnaces of the stars are the only places in the universe where this element can be made.” John Polkinghorne, Science and Religion in Quest of Truth (emphasis added)

~~~

stars

The stars in the bright sky looked down where He lay

The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay…

The cattle are lowing, the poor baby wakes

But little Lord Jesus no crying he makes (Well, after all, this little baby spoke the Big Bang! What could scare Him?!)

The Stars AlignBright-animated-star-shining-at-night-gif

The Star of Bethlehem or perhaps Venus or a confluence of the star Regulus with Jupiter and Venus was creations’ royal birth notice.  Astrologers of the East took notice of the star’s position.  They left on their long journey tracking the star’s brilliance to the very space and time of the king’s invasion – Mary and Bethlehem and the Roman empire (and w/o NORAD, too!)

“We, with our modern democratic and arithmetical presuppositions would so have liked and expected all men to start equal in their search for God. One has the picture of a great centripetal roads coming from all directions with well-disposed people, all meaning the same thing, and getting closer and closer together. How shockingly opposite to that is the Christian story!

 One people picked out of the whole earth; that people purged and proved again and again. Some are lost in the desert before they reach Palestine; some stay in Babylon; some becoming indifferent. The whole thing narrows and narrows, until at last it comes down to a little point, small as the point of a spear – a Jewish girl at her prayers.

 That is what the whole of human nature has harrowed down to before the Incarnation takes place. Very unlike what we expected, but, of course, not in the least unlike what seems, in general, as shown by nature, to be God’s way of working.” C.S. Lewis,” The Grand Miracle”, God in the Dock

Bright-animated-star-shining-at-night-gifStar of David nucleogenesis

“The poor baby wakes” …in a star-based body.  God had laid down his garment of resplendent shekinah glory and put on oxygen and carbon and…a baby’s swaddling clothes and…the sin of the whole world.  He did this out of love.  This king would redeem the world He loved.

Earth’s most common element, iron, created by extremely large stars with extremely hot cores would be formed by Romans into nails.    These nails would be used to crucify the invading King.

Elements_of_the_Human_Body-01

“The idea of a divine sharing in human life and triumph over death is certainly a powerful myth.  However, as a Christian I believe it is more than that, for it is enacted myth.” John Polkinghorne, Science and Religion in Quest of Truth (emphasis added)

Death star or dust to dust, carbon to carbon:

“The doctrine of the Incarnation offers theology a profound insight as it wrestles with the problem of evil and suffering.  The Christian God does not just look down with compassion on the travail of creation, viewed from the invulnerability of heaven, but in the cross of Christ we see that God is truly ‘a fellow sufferer who understands’ (in [A.N.] Whitehead’s phrase), knowing that suffering from the inside, so to speak.  This moving insight seems to me to meet the problem of suffering at the deepest level of diving response and theological insight.”… John Polkinghorne, Science and Religion in Quest of Truth

Incarnation miracle – It was in the starsBright-animated-star-shining-at-night-gif

“The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say that God became Man. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this. Just as every natural event is the manifestation at a particular place and moment of Nature’s total character, so every particular Christian miracle manifests at a particular place and moment the character and significance of the Incarnation.

 There is no question in Christianity of arbitrary interferences just scattered about. It relates not a series of disconnected raids on Nature but the various steps of a strategically coherent invasion—an invasion which intends complete conquest and “occupation.” C.S. Lewis, Miracles

Bright-animated-star-shining-at-night-gif“Pilgrim, we’re home.”

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” The apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians 4: 4-7

The Dark Side

“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”  The Gospel according to John 3:19