Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Send In The Clowns

Frankly, God has been so impressed with the theme of raising up the lowly, that he has never stopped using it.  God has always taken the ones in the position of powerlessness, and placed them in the position of strength.  In that, he displayed his strength all the greater. We could come up with our own “hall of faith” and discover that salvation history is just filled with losers.

Her mistress told her to have sex with her master—so she did.  So why did her mistress beat her when she got pregnant?  When she ran away, an angel (first person spoken to by an angel in the Bible!) told her to return and live under her mistress’ abuse—so she did.  When her mistress had a son of her own, years later, she was told to pack up and leave—so she did.  Because of her stubborn obedience, God made her descendants into a populous desert nation.3

Of course he took the best land when it was offered—who wouldn’t?  How was he to know that Sodom was slated for destruction by God’s immorality wrecking crew?  Now here he is in the middle of the desert, destruction all around him, his wife fit only for a saltshaker, his daughters thinking incest is the best thing since sliced bread….  Well, God made it up to him by allowing him to be the father of two great nations.4

So he boasted a little bit and humiliated his brothers.  Is that any reason for him to be thrown, starving, into a pit, sold into slavery, falsely accused of sexual misconduct, and cast into jail?  For years? Apparently God thought he’d been through enough, so he made Joseph Prime Minister of the most powerful country in the world.5

She married one brother.  He died.  He left her no kid.  She was given to the second brother.  He died.  No kid.  Although law says she should be married to the youngest son, daddy wasn’t taking chances. What’s a woman to do?  So she put a veil on, loosened the top buttons on her blouse, donned a garter, and targeted daddy, and he didn’t know who she was.  Daddy was pretty fertile for an old guy. After her pregnancy was obvious, daddy was ready to kill her.  Until she proved to him that daddy was the daddy.  God makes her the matriarch of the kings of Jerusalem.6

The Children of Israel
They were enslaved in Egypt for generations.  All of a sudden, they remember God and cry out to him.  Ten plagues.  Dead men everywhere.  Crossing the Red Sea without needing to change into bathing suits.  Voila!  Instant deliverance.  Then he makes them his select nation for all time.7

Jericho sex-worker, destined for destruction with the rest of her city, who was more scared of Israel’s God than her own.  Backed the right horse, and was given asylum.  Oh, yeah, and God made her an ancestor of the Messiah.8

A coward hiding in a hole until an angel proclaims him “mighty warrior!”  Three hundred men against thousands, a few lanterns against swords and chariots— God would only pull him out if he faced overwhelming odds against him.9

Important father, but his mother was a prostitute.  Dang, bad luck—he was kicked out of the family.  He became leader of a band of outlaws.  But when an army attacked his community, he was the only one who could save them.  He would do so only if he gained the respect of the community.10

Devoted to God before he was born, he was made strong by God’s power (no steroids necessary), as long as he didn’t touch wine or cut his hair.  Unfortunately, there was no requirement to keep his zipper shut.  After playing with the wrong woman once too often, he was weakened, enslaved and tortured.  Finally, God allowed him one last shot to destroy his enemies—so long as he died in the process.11

A family from Israel goes to Moab and the sons marry the wrong wives—Moabites (Terrorists to the early Israelis).  When father and sons die, the mother goes back home, and her one ex-daughter-in-law (dirty terrorist, trying to make right with God) insists on coming with. She adapts to the new culture and the new God like a fish to water.  Her new husband is rich, and they become the ancestors of the kings of Judea.12

Her co-wife thinks she is just soooo important, just because she’s got lots of kids and Hannah doesn’t.  Hannah is so forsaken, she goes to the temple to pray and is rebuked for being drunk.  But God hears her prayer anyway, and her son becomes ruler and priest of all Israel.13

The important priest names little David king, but no one knows it (frankly, no one would believe it).  Yeah, he kills a giant, and slays some thousands of enemies, but the king still isn’t impressed.  He tries to kill David and David runs away for a few years.  In nowhereland, David leads a rag-tag band of nowheremen, making nowhere plans (except to keep running from the king).  Finally, the king dies and David is made king.14

Who are these people?  Why does the Bible tell story after story about these nobodies, these ne’er do wells?  What makes them so significant? Of themselves, nothing.  These are the insignificant, the ones who would never amount to anything, the ones whose only luck was bad.  But they are significant because God chose them.  God’s eyes search throughout the world, looking for the lowlifes, the outcasts, the ones who story ended before it began.  He looks for those who have no hope in this world.  No chance for success, no opportunity to make the grade, no one to give them a hand out, let alone a hand up.  And then God allows them to draw on his strength.

  1. Hagar’s story is found in Genesis 16:1-16; 21:9-21.
  2. Lot also suffered when Sodom and other nations were captured by a group of “kings”.  Abram saved his butt that time, too.  Read about Lot in Genesis 13:1-13 and Genesis 18:20-19:38.
  3. Joseph’s story is one of the best written epics in the Bible.  Genesis 37:1-36; 39:1-48:20.
  4. Tamar’s story is the hidden gems of Genesis.  Genesis 38.  One of the sexually adventurous women in the ancestry of the Messiah, Matthew 1:3.  Whoo—moral sex for God!
  5. The full story is found in Exodus 1-20.  It’s pretty familiar, but if the only way you know this story is by one of the versions of The Ten Commandments, please read it for yourself.  You can also find a summary of this story in Psalm 78.
  6. Rahab is another one of the sexually adventurous women in the line of the Messiah. Joshua 2; 6:22-23. She’s mentioned as an example of Christian virtue in Matthew 1:5, Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25.  Talk about a popular prostitute!
  7. Gideon is found in Judges 6-8.
  8. Jephthah’s story is pretty much told in Judges 11.  It also includes his stupid vow and the results on his daughter.
  9. If I were writing the Bible, Samson wouldn’t appear.  What an awful saint!  However, the writer of Hebrews disagrees with me—Judges 13-16 and Hebrews 11:32.
  10.  Ruth… Ruth?  Where is her story found?  Somewhere after Judges—heck, you can find it.
  11. Hannah’s story is found in I Samuel 1-2.  I like her so much, you get another taste of her ideals in a section in this chapter.  Look, if the Bible gives you the name of some woman, you should really get to know her.  The women in the Bible just crush the men in their faith.
  12. David’s got a really long story, so it’d be quite a read.  But Robert Altar rightly says that David is the first psychologically full character in the Bible.  Just read his story for the joy of it—I Samuel 16-30 is the part of his life I’m emphasizing here.  But keep reading through all of II Samuel to I Kings 2 to get to the proper conclusion of David’s life.  Amazing!  Full of surprises!  

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The First Creation Festival, Part 2

            When we read Genesis 1, we are not just reading the words.  Let’s look at the familiar words again.  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was formless and void, and the Spirit hovered over the darkness of the deep.  Then God said, “Let there be light” and there was light.”  And we know the rest.  God made land, and animals and birds and... you know.    But when we look at these words, we see “created” as meaning, “There was nothing and God created something.”  But that’s not what it says.  It says God created the heavens and the earth, and then it immediately talks about the earth as already existing.  And other stuff, too—water, darkness and the Spirit.  Before the creation of Genesis 1 even begins, there’s already something there.1

Sure, it’s a mess—a terrible mess called “void” or “chaos.”  But how did that mess get there?  Did God make it?  “Dang, I forgot to clean up the universe this week.  Well, I’d better get to it…?”  Actually, we have a clue in Psalm 74: 12-17.  There, the old poet Asaph mentions an ancient battle, and then discusses creation in Genesis 1 as God’s cleanup.  In this battle, happening before Genesis 1, the good guy is God—of course.  The bad guy is this guy named Leviathan with his friend the Waters, AKA Yom, the Sea.  Who are these guys?  They are powerful spiritual beings, often described as dragons, and they messed up the world.2   So what’s going on in Genesis 1?  The beginning of the Bible is an amazing aftermath of a terrible battle between powerful spiritual creatures which devastated the earth.  All that is left is chaos.  But God could command order out of this chaos with just a word.  And who is God impressing?  The other powerful spiritual beings who may not be on God’s level, but they are enough of peers that God wants to impress them.

And impress them he does.  He separates the powerful enemy, water, and puts it totally under His command.  He limits the powerful enemy, darkness, so that it’s opposite, light, has authority.  Then he places both the light and the darkness under the authority of other powerful spiritual beings called the Sun and the Moon.  God’s enemies are subdued.  The angels swoon.  Wow.  This guy is amazing.  Is there anything he can’t do?

He flexes his muscle of creativity and makes birds and plants and sea creatures and animals to an almost infinite variety.  This is also quite impressive.  The spiritual beings ooh and aah.  They clap their hands.  What a performer! 

Now it comes to the climax. God had taken this messy battlefield and created out of it a paradise of color and variety.  Disney couldn’t have done better.  So now we reach the ultimate: Who’s going to be in charge of all this?  Everything God had made up to this point, he placed in charge of someone else.  What about the creatures of the earth?  It must be someone powerful.  Someone famous.  Someone almost the equal of God himself.

And God made humanity—male and female.  And he told them that they were in charge.  The audience is stunned.  This isn’t what they expected.  What about power?  What about fame?  These humans were wimps, and completely insignificant!  They don’t live for long, and can get killed if you look at them funny.  They are completely dependent on each other, and have to have children to perpetuate their power after they die.  How could God even make such weak creatures, let alone place them in charge of the earth?  The angels were looking for Captain Marvel, and they got Billy Batson—or better, Curious George!

This isn’t a climax, it’s an anticlimax.  The movers and shakers of the universe are disappointed.  But, strangely, there is clapping in the background.  Someone is impressed.  Who is it?  My goodness, it is God himself.  He looked at everything he made and thought he did a marvelous job!  He just loves it.  And humanity at the top of it, he tells everyone, what a stroke of genius!

The court looks at each other.  They may find little to be impressed with, but they clap along. 

After a bit, though, they realize God’s insight.  They were thinking that a powerful, significant universe-player would have to rule such a magnificent world.  But they finally realized God’s masterpiece.  Humanity, in all its frailty, in all of its weakness, in all of its insignificance—to make them rulers of a world of marvels is stunning. 



To take the weakest, and make them the strongest.  To take dirt from the earth and make it a great power to be reckoned with.  This was not the Milli Vanilli act the angels all thought it was—it was Dave Gilmour, BB King and Jimmy Page all rolled into one! 

Art at its finest.  Sublime, yet evocative.

  1. There is no evidence in the Bible for a young earth.  In Genesis 1, the creation of humanity—the beginning point of the young earth countdown—happens at some long, but unknown time after the six day creation of Genesis 1. 
  2. The Dragon Yom comes from a Canaanite myth where Baal destroys the chaos-dragon Yom.  The center verse of Psalm 74 takes the same story, but places Yahweh in Baal’s place.  So does this mean that the Bible teaches that the pagan myths are real?  Probably not, but the ideas of many of them are.  This is the lesson of the reality of the Iliad.

The First Creation Festival, Part 1

O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth!
Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!
From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength
Because of Your adversaries,
To make the enemy and the revengeful cease.
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
Yet You have made him a little lower than the gods,
And You crown him with glory and majesty!
You make him to rule over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen, And also the beasts of the field,
The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea,
Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.
O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth!
-Ancient Hebrew Poetry (otherwise known as Psalm 8)

I’m a pastor and a Bible student (which are just euphemisms for “It’s my job to help people get closer to Jesus” and “I read the Bible so much it comes out of my toes”) and I need to let you in on a trade secret about God: He likes good press.  Some might say that He’s got a problem with pride or that He just does it for the fame—whatever you like to think.  But all these words like “glory” and “majesty” and “holy name”—they all have to do with God’s reputation, or how the media represent him.  And words like “praise” “splendor” and “honor” mean that He’s getting what he feels he deserves.  If He had his way, the international press would constantly be referring to him in positive terms: “God does it again!”  “Amazing feat by God!”  Kinda like the Daily Planet headlines on Superman. 

            Although it’s hard to imagine, that’s the main reason God created the earth.  For the good press.  The most natural question is: But who was there to be impressed?  Us folks who wouldn’t exist for a really long time? In the next century are we going to dig up an old reel: “God makes a big bang—film at eleven”?  Nope, wasn’t us.  Frankly, God already had an audience that he was concerned about much more than us insignificant folk.  In Genesis 1, they are mentioned in the passages in which God calls himself “we.”  In Psalm 8, the passage above, this audience is called “gods” and also “adversaries.”  Who are these “gods”?  Is the Bible secretly promoting polytheism?

            Not exactly.  These are powerful beings that have done great work in our universe, although they are rarely understood except as spectators and messengers.  In fact, “angel” a Greek term for these beings literally means “messenger”, although the Hebrew phrase “son of God” is probably more well-rounded.   They helped create the world, they counsel with God as to the destiny of the universe, they rule over nations and they dictate the present and future of humanity.  They truly are “gods” in the ancient polytheistic sense.

            And yet the Bible isn’t polytheistic.  It demands belief in one God. How, then, does it hypocritically speak of many gods?  Which is it?  As often happens when we find a seeming contradiction in the Bible, the answer isn’t either/or, but both.  Yes, there is but one God, with no one his equal.  And there are powerful beings, called angels or demons or “gods” who are real, and very powerful and under the One God’s orders.   If you want to see how it works, then look at Job 1. 

            This is the audience that God was trying to impress by creation.  There is still a problem—weren’t angels created after the universe?  If the universe was created after angels, then where did they live?  Was there a spiritual temporary shelter until God was ready with the ultimate development project?  The problem is in the way we see the creation of the universe.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Lame Odyssey, Part 5

I have never turned back.

            The ways of God were truly revealed to me.  Sure, I could pray a prayer and do the religious deed, but God wasn’t in it.  Why?  Because I didn’t really need Him.  God, I have found, is immensely practical.  For a God of infinite grace, He is almost Amish in his reserve of resources.  He only provides grace to those who need it, and ask for it in desperation.  

God reserves his salvation for those who actually need salvation. Others need not apply.  When I got on my knees and prayed the “sinner’s prayer” at twelve, I didn’t need God.  Jesus was great, but he was just going to be a portion of my life, an unsought section of a shelf in the library of my life.  I could have been a Christian at that point, but it would have meant nothing.  And so I gained nothing.

            But at thirteen, after a year of misery, shame, and struggling (and failing) with sin, I knew what I was missing.  And I was ready to receive it.  I did not become a Jesus Freak because it “fit” in my life or society.  I became a Jesus Freak because if I didn’t have Jesus, I would continue in my misery, shame and sin.  And that second option wasn’t acceptable.  Which is exactly where God wanted me.

God isn’t tugging at the heart of every single one of the billions of the world, pleading, desperately hoping that we will take his salvation.  Yes, God wants every person to be delivered from their suffering.  But if people look at their suffering and call it joy, then he's willing to let them live with that delusion.  He can let them experience that “joy” for years, deceiving themselves that they are living life at its fullest, when actually they are slowly but surely destroying themselves.  And when they realize the destruction and suffering they are really experiencing, they might, at that point, turn to God. 

And that’s where God wants us. 


Crying out to him for help. 

God wants us, not because we have our lives together.  Just the opposite.  He wants us because we’re helpless.

A Lame Odyssey, Part 4

            Eventually Chronos blessed me with having that miserable school year end.  (Chronos is the Greek word for time.  Sometimes used in fantasy as an almost divine power.  However, the Greeks themselves had enough sense not to worship such a willy-nilly, arbitrary god.  Unlike us.) Summer was upon us, and a swimming pool was being dug in our backyard.  The excitement of my brothers and I was unbounded.  I have two younger brothers, and when I was thirteen, I would be running around with them and with other friends, wrestling and joking and playing.  Of course they would get hurt. Sometimes.  By me.  What could be done about that?  We were playing.

            A neighbor lady came by early that summer and asked our mom if we—my brothers and I— would be interested in going to something called “Vacation Bible School.”  Ha, I almost exclaimed.  Who would want to go to “school” in the summer?  There were too many things to do—tadpoles to find and to store in the bathtub, football to play, my brothers to abuse, bulldozers to get in front of.…   I was shocked when I found that my mother had volunteered us to go, on bended knee, tears in her eyes.  How could she?  This was our time, our freedom.  She had no right.

            By the next morning I found that she did have the right to be rid of us and could enforce that right, if necessary.  And, well, it was cool.  Hard to admit, but I learned something there.  Sure, it was fun, we played games, we ran around like wild banshees.  But more than this, I discovered that there was more to this Jesus thing than a half-baked prayer.  There was knowledge and lifestyle and commitment that I had never dreamed of!  There was grace and power through the Spirit!  I could pray and be heard!  I could read the Bible and have it be a part of my life!  I could enjoy church just because of learning about Jesus!  I fully committed myself to the Lord that week. 

At one point that week, I prayed to God and Jesus (I wasn’t sure which one I should pray to at that time).  I asked for His control over my life because I had certainly messed things up.  I asked for him to help me.  Then I waited for the Great Revelation.  Some Voice to speak.  Or lightning perhaps.  Something Impressive.  Nothing like that happened.  But one thing did change.  I was able to release myself to God.  Boredom, distraction or my own moral weaknesses were no issue.  For God had made me His, and it was His power that allowed me to focus on Him.  Until that time, I had no idea what God in my life could be like.  I had no idea.

            Evidently, neither did my mother.  We came back home daily during that week and a half, talking about everything we learned.  Her response?  Great, I’m glad you’re excited, now leave me to my oven-fried chicken.  After more than a week of this, though, some of our enthusiasm rubbed off.  And, strangely, there were changes she noticed.  My youngest brother was oddly happy, singing “Jesus loves me” of all things.  The middle brother, the pyro, was no longer lighting fires.  And I?  Well, she says that I spent my time evangelizing her.  I want you to know that I have no memory of this.  But it could be true.  I do clearly remember telling my parents that I was going to church every Sunday now and that they were driving me.  I also remember giving my mother a commentary on the book of Revelation (which caused me nightmares, but I never told her that). 

            Next thing you know, she also received the Lord, and we’re going to church together, along with my father and two brothers.  Years later, we all ended up doing ministry in the church one way or the other.  Jesus changes lives.  Whoda thunk?

            So I return to school the next year and I’m completely transformed.  I am not the nerdy Steve, now I am the religious fanatic Steve.  They called me “Jesus Freak” and I laughed.  I argued against evolution with my biology teacher in school. 

And, eventually, I saw Joe again. 

I ran up to him, saying, “Hey, I need to say something.” 

“Yeah?” he replied. “What are you going to do?  Pull a knife on me again?” 

“No, I just want to let you know that this last year I committed myself to Jesus.  I really apologize for that knife incident.  Also I wanted to know if you want to hear about Jesus.” 

There was silence for a moment. He looked at me with wide eyes, whispering “Whatever” as he backed away. 

He never spoke to me again.  The fear of a weapon is as nothing compared to fear of a religious fanatic.  

A Lame Odyssey, Part 3

Thus began the most miserable year of my life.  In my ignorance, I was fine.  I would insult my comrades, get into fights, avoid shame, have trouble with grades sometimes, but all was well.  No guilt, no remorse, and, frankly, little memory of what did happen.  After I entered eighth grade, all that changed.

            One thing that changed is a foreign student from Iran that moved into our house.  While the drama of our house probably should have revolved around the fact that it was 1978-9, revolution was in full force in Iran and the student was a relative (albeit distant) of the Shah, that didn’t matter to a twelve or thirteen year old.  That’s the kind of stuff you’d see on TV news, which was one of the few programs I wouldn’t watch.  Bijan’s importance to me rested more in his stack of pornography and disco albums.  Visual and audio sex filled my life, suddenly, and it was a force that flooded my mind like a tsunami over a small island.  Not that Bijan’s influence began my thinking about sex—hormones took care of that, like it or not.  But the fleeting thoughts were chiseled into my brain as if it were granite.  (For those deeply concerned, I repented of disco music by the time I was out of high school. Oh, yeah, pornography too.)

            At the same time, in school, I was having my first real taste of oppression.  Joe at school was in my English class and he seemed to take no end of pleasure and have unfathomable creativity in tormenting me.  It wasn’t anything serious—hitting me behind a wall, mocking when the teacher wasn’t looking.  But it was physical and shaming and persistent.  When I wasn’t thinking about sex, I spent time thinking about how I could finally get even with Joe.  But I didn’t see any real results without a direct confrontation.  I did, at one point, ask him why he was tormenting me, and he gave me some nonsensical mocking answer.  Looking back, I guess he considered me nerdish.  Typical eighth grader stuff.  But he wouldn’t stop, although I asked.  And I hated him.  I didn’t want to kill him, mind you.  But if I could ship him to Siberia in the nude, that would be great.

            On my thirteenth birthday, Bijan thought it right and proper to give me a gift.  There was no ceremony behind it, he just called me into his room and handed it to me.  It was a pocketknife.  The outside was brown and plastic, but discolored and shaped so it might resemble some kind of alien wood.  It had two blades, both somewhat worn, but one was perhaps three inches.  To my thinking at the time, that was huge.  It could barely fit it into my pocket.  And it was sharp.  I discovered this by closing the blade on my thumb and it bled so much it was difficult to hide it from my mom. 

The thought of this larger blade grew in my mind.  This gift could be Useful.  Over time, I realized that this was the solution to my problem with Joe.  Once he realized that I was a Threat, he’d back off, and I’d never be bothered again.  Then there would be peace, and I could actually be Important.  The King of the class. 

            As soon as my nerve was built up, I took the knife to school, and I constantly fingered it in my pocket anytime I stood.  It was there, it was sharp and hidden, I was a danger to others, I was safe, no one would bother me again.  As English came near, I became more nervous, as the reality of actually using the blade came nigh.  How would I show it to him?  What if Joe attacked me?  Would I actually have to use it?  What if I stabbed him?  What if an ambulance came to the school and everyone would know that I had attacked him?  Well, I figured, then people would know how serious I was.  I didn’t want to be bullied anymore.  

            I shivered a bit entering the English room.  Maybe he just wouldn’t bug me today.  That would be best.  He didn’t actually torment me every day.  Perhaps he’d take a day off.  This would be a good day.  No such luck, of course.  He met me in the back of the room and whispered the tortures he had imagined against me that day, that he intended to subject me to after school.  Anger flushed my face.  This was it.  No more.  I thrust my hand in my pocket and took out the knife.  I slowly unsheathed it (attempting to be threatening, like in the movies, but I suspect it just highlighted my inexperience with knives) and pointed it at him.  “I… I don’t want you to talk to me again.  Just don’t bother me.” 

Joe really was intelligent.  Yes, I had him in a corner, nowhere to go, with a knife pointed at him and a frightened, desperate enemy holding to it with dear life.  His solution to the danger to his life and limb was simple, but brilliant.  At least I hadn’t thought of it, in all the planning I had made of this moment.  “Mrs. Holly!” he cried.  “Mrs. Holly!  Steve’s pulled a knife on me!”  Yes, there are drawbacks to making seriously threatening actions in a supervised classroom.  Not exactly a school shooting.

            I broke down and cried.  What I thought would be the solution to my shame, only poured greater shame on me than I had experienced before.  Now I was “Steve—knife-puller and cry-baby”, and so I would be known for the rest of my life.  If I could face the world without a paper bag, I would be lucky.    Of course, my parents were called.  Of course, I was given a “serious talking to”.  But my direct remorse and the story I poured out afterwards garnered me a bit of sympathy.  School shootings were not yet common, so I was not suspended.  Joe and I were kept from each other in the classroom, and we avoided each other out of the classroom. 

A Lame Odyssey, Part 2

In my earliest life, I had no idea I was “lost”. 

I didn’t really have anything to be lost from.  Frankly, I was pretty ignorant about anything that resembled spirituality until I was twelve.  I remember two of my ten year old friends—Mark and Danny—were walking home from the store with me when the subject turned to deep theological matters.  Mark was a part of a strong Catholic family who held a weekly Bible study in their house.  Danny often joined them.  As we were walking, they were discussing the differences between Catholics and Protestants.  Then they turned to me and asked, “Are you Catholic or Protestant?”  I didn’t have a clue what those terms even meant, and I certainly didn’t know why I should care.  I responded honestly, “I don’t know.”  “Oh,” said Danny, the Arbiter of Ultimate Judgment, “then you must be a Protestant.  If you were a Catholic, you’d know.”

            As ignorant as they were about comparative religions, I was obviously even more ignorant.  As far back as I could remember, my Sunday morning worship consisted of watching cartoons on television, especially Popeye, the best moral teaching of which consisted of a warning: “Don’t try this at home, kids.”  I do remember vaguely going to a Methodist church once, being forced to wear uncomfortable clothing and sitting so close to my grandmother that I couldn’t escape that almost musty smell, covered with perfume, grandmothers used to have.   I remember the stained glass windows and someone just droning on and on about something I didn’t really get.

            I was pretty familiar with the words “Jesus” and “God”.  Grown men were often chanting their names every time they were the slightest bit irritated.   Of course they were some kind of spiritual beings.  But they didn’t have anything to do with real life.  They didn’t have anything to do with the school, or my siblings, or convincing my parents that I needed a copy of Destroyer by Kiss.  

            My earliest hearing of the gospel (that I understood) was the recording of the rock opera, “Jesus Christ Superstar.”  My mother took me to a neighbor’s house and had me listen to it.  This was long before Tim Rice was bought out by Disney and Andrew Lloyd Webber was permanently scarred by Phantom of the Opera.  It was haunting, direct and, in parts, frightening. The crucifixion scene sounded like birds and spaceships in a symphony of blood and murder.  It had Judas as a twentieth century doubter and Annas and Caiaphas as murderous schemers, but much of the rest of the gospel story they had right.  The cluelessness of the disciples, the almost suicidal Jesus, and God as the ever-present background figure, moving all the pawns to establish Christianity.  And Jesus’ death was the climax of it all—the end of Jesus as human, and the beginning of Jesus as exalted superhuman—it was both sad and exhilarating at the same time.  As soon as I received my own record player on my birthday, it was the first album I stole from my parents and I played it so often as to deepen the grooves of the record and I could soon sing the falsetto with Ian Gillian of Deep Purple, who played Jesus.

            So I guess I was a little prepared when I discovered the Jack Chick tract in the doctor’s office.  Does anybody here remember Jack Chick?  He wrote comic-book style conservative Protestant diatribes in a 2” x 3” book format.  Some of his titles are, “Somebody Loves Me”, “This is Your Life” and “How to Placate God by Supporting Zionism and Hating Catholics” (not a real title, but it could be).  His popularity, especially on the West Coast, led many to directly attack his conservative evangelical, stance.   The tract I came across was one of his pro-Israel ones, offering his argument that the United States had better be nice to Israel, or God would zap them.  Fascinating reading for a twelve year old, actually.  And the comic-style illustrations made the text all that more interesting (maybe I should have some for this book?).  Although the argument wasn’t all that clear to me, it did impress me with two things—the Bible is important as a source of Truth and Jesus will Save us.  So, in accordance with the booklet, I prayed the short prayer to receive Jesus, and then I was convinced I was Saved.  At least that’s what the book said the Bible said.

            I tried to read the Bible, made it through Genesis and part of Exodus and gave up—one book out of sixty-six ain’t bad.  What a tough book!  Why couldn’t those guys write in a way people could understand?  You know, like Dr. Seuss or J.K. Rowlings?  Well, they lived two to four thousand years ago, so I guess they have an excuse, but it seems to me that with all the versions out there, someone could really update this book, give it more characterizations, more psychology, highlight the drama.  It sure doesn’t need any more sex or violence, except perhaps the New Testament.  Sure, you’ve got a crucifixion and some stonings, but it’s just not packed with over-the-top melodrama like the Old Testament.  Anyway, I gave it up after a couple months of trying.  And prayer?  I just didn’t get it.  Besides, it’s boring.  Who wants to talk to someone who never talks back?  I couldn’t even tell if he was listening.

A Lame Odyssey, Part 1

My mother said we were going to Huntington Library.  That was cool, I love libraries.  Then she told my brothers and I that it would take an hour to get there.  Wow, that’s a long ways to check out a book or two.  When we got there, I understood much better.  Huntington isn’t a library, it’s a Library.  It’s not a large assortment of Harry Potter and Dune, but a museum of books.  It has original manuscripts of Jefferson, Emerson, Blake and, the greatest of all, one of the few original copies of a Gutenberg Bible.  I was in awe.  Then, afterwards, we travelled another ten minutes to Northwoods.  That was less awe-inspiring but just fun.  Peanut shells all over the floor, Nineteenth-century woodsmen’s porn on the walls, and a salad and cheese bread drenched in salt and fat.  A teen nerd’s paradise.

            Such a marvelous experience must be repeated, so I got a couple of my friends—Diane and Trish—and told them about Huntington Library, and we decided to go there together.  It was marvelous: we explored the exotic gardens, pointed at the books and wondered at just how large The Blue Boy was in real life.  Then, I told them, to finish the experience we would go to Northwoods.  It’s just a few minutes away, I said.

            Well, it’s a few minutes away for someone who knows where they are going.  And I didn’t.  We wandered the streets of San Marino and Pasadena for the better part of an hour before I finally found it.  We were hungry enough by then to be eating the dashboard.  But, we found it, and all was good.

            The next summer we decided on a repeat experience of this trip, and we got it.  Including getting lost for an hour before finding Northwoods. 

            After the third time of spending long amounts of time looking for this restaurant, this trip was becoming legendary.  Looking in phone books, arguing about asking for directions, wandering through busy streets—it was all part of the experience. 

            But what would have happened if we never knew we were lost?  Perhaps we didn’t know we had a destination.  Perhaps we just enjoyed the journey.  Sure, it would have been a lot less stressful, but it would have ended with us starving, exhausted, and out of gas.

Being lost is part of the joy of getting there.

Chapter 1 Title

God of the Anawim 
or, How God Gets Good Press