Tuesday, December 26, 2006

If prayer doesn't work get the modern weaponry

Here is a partial list of features for a newly released game based on the Left Behind series of books by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.

· Lead the Tribulation Force from the book series , including Rayford, Chloe, Buck and Bruce against Nicolae Carpathia – the AntiChrist.

· Conduct physical & spiritual warfare : using the power of prayer to strengthen your troops in combat and wield modern military weaponry throughout the game world.

· Play multiplayer games as Tribulation Force or the AntiChrist's Global Community Peacekeepers with up to eight players via LAN or over the internet!

I guess there is a small controversy regarding the game from articles pointing out that if one doesn't conquer the foe with prayer then you have a whole selection of modern military weaponry at your disposal. You can read their response in which they state that the purpose of the game is to "encourage gamers to think about matters of eternal significance, a topic largely ignored by modern games."

The company vision is noted as follows:

"Our Mission

The mission of Left Behind Games is to become the world’s leading independent developer and publisher of quality interactive entertainment products that perpetuate positive values and appeal to mainstream and faith-based audiences, while remaining committed to increasing shareholder value and pursuing the highest standards of integrity and professionalism in all business affairs.

New Genre

For the Year of 2003, the Gospel Music Association (GMA) reported sales of more than 47.1 million CDs.

Controversial as it has been, The Passion of the Christ has generated more than $500 million since it's release. Experts are expecting it to become one of the top ten financially successful movies of all-time.

To date, not one high-quality video game has been marketed to this same audience. It is management’s belief that LEFT BEHIND will be a catalyst for a new genre of video game entertainment; known, as stated by the Wall Street Journal, as 'God Games'."

When you look at the advisory board you have a who's who of the video game industry including top people from Activision, Microsoft, Warner and Fox television. When you read their market statistics it becomes obvious that there is a whole market for "Faith Based" products and there seems to be a large group of people who are willing to pay for products that have been "sanitized for their protection."

If someone wants to purchase these products they are certainly free to do so, but I would hope that the "faith based" community might not want their faith hi-jacked by something that has little to do with faith and more to do with the market.

I'm still having a little difficulty connecting how the use of modern weapons of war will increase my faith.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Christmas Pageant for us all

I thought I would share a little about what we have done as a family to find meaning this holiday season. This has come from a short dialog I had with good friends on an email list I enjoy. I have blended some of Garth Whitcombe's comments from our conversation. You can check out his music at therapymuse.com

Karey (my wife) and I have done work on the Christmas pageant for our local community for the last 12 years. (We like any story that supports the idea of peace on earth and good will to all mankind.) We have children and young people through high school age to do all the performing and much of the technical work. Karey writes and directs and I prepare the audio portion as well as play live transitional music to keep everything flowing emotionally. There's music for everything from mystical stars, exotic Wisemen, and scary King Herod.

We are very particular about the sound and the visuals because it takes everything to the next level. Not everyone is a Josh Groban or Beyonce, but with the right sound and visuals we have been able to produce something, using amateurs, that is very moving. We have been rewarded with seeing great transformations in the young performers as they have faced their fears and learned how to communicate with confidence and skill. Over 1500 people come to see the pageant to laugh, cry, and celebrate. It is a powerful feeling when we are in the back booth and we feel the audience begin to flow with us and join us on the journey we are taking them.

Dress rehearsal is pretty much a mess and yet when the actual time comes the performers rise to the occasion. They become transformed from goofing around teenagers and tired elementary students to Joseph, Mary, Wisemen, Herod, Shepherds, and Israelites for about an hour and a half. There is a magnitude to the story. Such is the power of myth.

This particular story involves risk, music, light, movement, and lots of emotion. The story involves ordinary people like Joseph and Mary in a grand mythical moment in time; a child that holds the promise of peace and healing; a great angry and jealous king; three curious seekers from the east. All great representations of deeply held desires, dreams, and fears.

"Each of us was born in a manger with no room in the inn and yet each of us was born under a bright star." Each of us has faced a King Herod, and yet been visited by Wisemen with gifts. "Part of the mythic journey is to retrace our stories to that moment of innocent promise and reclaim the gifts of peace, joy and love that we came to share." And that is what we wish to share with you with this brief narration of this particular Christmas Pageant.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Did I past the test? Because I want my spiritual certificate.

I had this dream about taking a spiritual test. I was sitting in a row of desks waiting for someone to set the test booklet down so I could start filling in the little circles with my number 2 pencil on the answer sheet before the time was up. There was person sitting behind me whispering, "I have all the answers, just mark down what it says in this book." He then slips me a copy of the Bible Red letter edition. Sure enough, everything I need is in the book and I whip right through the test booklet.

This worked great until I came to the practical exam. There was this complicated machine before me that I was supposed to fix before it stopped working. There were all kinds of valves, pressure indicators, and pipes going all over the place. I realized that I had no idea what I was supposed to do and the machine sounded like it was going faster and vibrating all over the place. I had no idea what that meant since I didn't even know what the function of the machine was. It didn't know if it was going to blow up or what, but whatever was going on the machine was getting louder and vibrating more violently.

By that point I wasn't all that concerned about getting it to run properly. Shutting it off was more of a priority. And no one giving the test seemed all that concerned about what was happening. Tweaking a few valves didn't seem to have any effect at all. Predictably I wake up before machine blows up or shuts itself down.

This got me thinking about school and testing and what tests really mean. I knew a number of students who did great in the test taking phase of their training. They spent hours memorizing every possible fact from the text book and got straight A's. But, when they got to the real world and there was something that wasn't in the book or couldn't be solved by an answer, they had no tools to deal with that. In fact, there was hardly anything in the practical training phase that was directly in the book.

I went to school to learn how to solve problems in the real world, not to pass tests. But, when I was in school the focus was on passing the tests. I was fortunate that I was able to actually work at my profession while I was in school. This allowed me to have both perspectives, so that by the time I had to do the practical internships, I had already been working for quite a long time. I learned what was a good test and what were poor tests that often questioned things that had no practical application in the real world of my profession. In fact, some questions implied information that was flat wrong and in reality there was no way to answer them.

I'm not implying that life is a test or that testing isn't useful. What I have observed is that solutions often present themselves within the experience of life and not before. So the requirements for my "spiritual certificate" may not come from passing a test, but by simply engaging in life. Learning from other peoples journeys, trying out different experiences, and taking risks are all ways that I engage in life.

Now, where am I going to hang my new certificate?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Is spirituality found in responsibility?

Garrison Keillor's reference to Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility in Lake Wobegon captures the feeling I had growing up. There was a Lady of Perpetual Responsibility that held great influence over what we should and shouldn't be doing. In her view life was a constant struggle against the evils of the world and we were responsible in every and act and word for the salvation of those we came in contact with. Even one careless word or deed could have terrible eternal consequences.

Since I didn't want to be held responsible for terrible eternal consequences I either didn't do anything at all or I denied the careless word or deed. And when the word or deed didn't fall in the careless category, but the premeditated one, there was no way out.

This type of responsibility was seen as the good fight of faith. I think, in my practice of it, it was the flight from shame. Ironically enough the thing that gave me relief was taking responsibility. When I said, "You know what, I did that." there was a great sense of relief. No more secrets, no more hiding. In the words of Popeye, "I am what I am."

So maybe there is a spiritual experience in taking responsibility and giving myself permission to join the human race.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The Aesetic life: One definition of spiritual?

aesetic - an attempt to extricate oneself from any worldly ties

Does spirituality dwell in some other realm or is it tied to everyday life. Does one have to go to the mountain top to find out about spirituality or does one go within or does one have to go anywhere?

Bhudda, after being born into a royal family, decided to live the life of the aesetic for a number of years. You can see representations of Bhudda, during this period, as a thin and gaunt. Bhudda then came up with the middle way as described in this quote...

"One should not pursue sensual pleasure, which is low, vulgar, coarse, ignoble, and unbeneficial; and one should not pursue self-mortification, which is painful, ignoble, and unbeneficial. The Middle Way...avoids both extremes; giving vision, giving knowledge, it leads to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nibbana."
Gautama Buddha from the Aranavibhanga Sutta

In early Christianity (370 AD) Saint Jerome began to endorse the aesetic life with an emphasis on female virginity. Jerome was educated in Rome and participated, as a young man, in a Roman hedonistic life style before becoming a monk. He is most known for his translation of the Old Testament into Latin from the Hebrew rather than from the Greek as was common at the time. He became the main contributor to what was called the Vulgate.

His letters reveal his ideas of what the aesetic life meant. Here is one example of his views when he wrote, years afterwards, to his friend Eustochium about his struggle to maintain his purity...

"In the remotest part of a wild and stony desert, burnt up with the heat of the sun, so scorching that it frightens even the monks who live there, I seemed to myself to be in the midst of the delights and crowds of Rome.... In this exile and prison to which through fear of Hell I had voluntarily condemned myself, with no other company but scorpions and wild beasts, I many times imagined myself watching the dancing of Roman maidens as if I had been in the midst of them. My face was pallid with fasting, yet my will felt the assaults of desire. In my cold body and my parched flesh, which seemed dead before its death, passion was still able to live. Alone with the enemy, I threw myself in spirit at the feet of Jesus, watering them with my tears, and tamed my flesh by fasting whole weeks. I am not ashamed to disclose my temptations, though I grieve that I am not now what I then was."

He appears to be obsessed with female virgins when he writes rather erotic explanations of what it means to be with God by quoting from the erotic poetry of the Song of Songs contained in the Old Testament.

“But do you, having once for all cast away the burden of the world, sit at the Lord’s feet and say: “I have found him whom my soul loves; I will hold him, I will not let him go.” Song of Songs 3:4 And He will answer: “My dove, my undefiled is but one; she is the only one of her mother, she is the choice one of her that bare her.” Song of Songs 6:9 Now the mother of whom this is said is the heavenly Jerusalem. Galatians 4:26

Ever let the privacy of your chamber guard you; ever let the Bridegroom sport with you within. Genesis 26:8 Do you pray? You speak to the Bridegroom. Do you read? He speaks to you. When sleep overtakes you He will come behind and put His hand through the hole of the door, and your heart shall be moved for Him; and you will awake and rise up and say: “I am sick of love.” Then He will reply: “A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.” Song of Songs 4:12”

He complains in this letter to the Virgins of Æmona that they are not returning his letters...

"Pardon, I beseech you, an aggrieved man: if I speak in tears and in anger it is because I have been injured. For in return for my regular letters you have not sent me a single syllable. Light, I know, has no communion with darkness, 2 Corinthians 6:14 and God's handmaidens no fellowship with a sinner, yet a harlot was allowed to wash the Lord's feet with her tears, and dogs are permitted to eat of their masters' crumbs. Matthew 15:27"

This aesetic teaching of Jerome led to a young girl dying from anorexia and Jerome taking her mother and her sister off to live a life of resisting sexual pleasures and denying anything that may suggest they have any pleasure or self beautification.

So the aesetic life didn't work for Bhudda and it appears to have created quite the opposite of the intended effect in Jerome. The aesetic life doesn't appear to bring one closer to the spiritual life and may, at times, bring about death and obsession.

Sexuality has been part of the practice of spirituality in the form of the sacred union in many cultural and religious practices and in the case of Jerome, avoiding sexuality, food, or any other sensation based life experience was thought to be the highest form of spirituality.

All of this teaching seems a little too self conscious for me. I don't know if spirituality is a primary practice. Maybe its a byproduct of something else?

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

What is Christian spirituality?

Being in a post Christian world doesn't mean that the influence of Christian thought has gone away. In some ways Christianity has become viewed as a religion presenting the two main messages of anti-abortion and anti-homosexuality. I have gotten letters in the mail asking for money to stop the evil liberal agenda from degrading the morals of our young people with quotes from various educators, lawmakers, politicians, and women's rights advocates placed out of context followed by exaggerated commentary. It has all the earmarks of a scam. I have long suspected that as long as these various organizations keep inflaming polarizing issues, they will continue to have the means to raise a lot of money.

I have observed rallies to save the unborn by groups of Christian youth standing sheepishly at a major intersection weakly waving signs that seem rather more vitriolic than their posture. It reminds me of when I was "encouraged" to go door to door handing out tracks warning that Jesus was coming soon, come to these meetings, and you will avoid God's wrath in the form of the Mark of the Beast. It was not uncommon to get angry stares from people while walking through the neighborhood. We were informed that this was persecution and God was well pleased with our dedication to his cause. We would sing songs like, "Onward Christian Soldiers," or "Bringing in the Sheaves." It was very hard to feel spiritual. I felt more embarrassed and afraid. And yet we were told that this was the highest form of spirituality and a true Christian would not be afraid.

There was something painful about watching these Christian youth hanging out there. Even though I didn't really agree with the method, I could empathize with their predicament. Every once in a while someone would yell out something after which the adult member of the group would yell back some catch phrase. When a car had to stop and wait for a right turn, right in front of them, there was this awkward moment where the group sensed that big sign waving was a little too theatrical for someone 2 feet away.

I wondered if they felt more spiritual or more connected to God after waving angry signs.

Monday, December 4, 2006

What is Spiritual?

In my own exploration of what it means to be here on this planet I came through life with Christian absolutes. Most of these were based on the assumption that the Bible was the inerrant word of God. This has many meanings to different people. For me it basically meant that if something in the Bible didn't make sense then I needed to have faith that it made sense to God and was above my understanding. As I have read about how the Bible was put together, the history of the Christian church, and explored other belief systems, there was been a growing sense of a great unknown. At least unknown in an intellectual thinking realm versus an emotional intuitive sense.

I have gone through great disappointments as my old beliefs became uncertain and that which I thought was unmovable proved to be less than absolute truth. I responded to this with anger at times, sadness at others, and even apathy. Along with these 'negative" emotions there have been moments of profound wonder, freedom, and joy.

Some have termed the current age as the post Christian age. I'm not sure what this means exactly, but it means to me that the assumptions that orthodox Christianity brought to the world don't hold the same authority that they used to. Some say that these assumptions are still there but they have been radically redefined by liberal theologians to the point where they have lost their meaning.

So, in this backdrop, I would like to explore with humor, insight, and curiosity what is considered to be spiritual today.