Monday, March 24, 2014

Cultural Expression of Gratitude

I will be the first to admit that I have my own cultural context.  What I want to do here is not say that my cultural context is right and yours is wrong.  While that is the case, I don't want to say it.  But I want you to look at your cultural context and realize what it is and that others are different.  Don't make the mistake of not realizing that your thoughts and deeds are already contextualized.  You are already presenting your culture to the world.  If you want to change how that is presented, you must work at it.

So over the past few days, I have been in Denver Colorado.  I am staying with church friends here.  I find that the southerners I am acquinted with spend far more time being self effacing or trying to convince our hosts that they don't need to do things for us than they do simply saying "thank you."

Here's my cultural context:  I grew up poor.  I got all sorts of handouts and helps.  While this causes many in my situation to grow to be self sufficient and cynical, I had a different reaction.  I don't know if it is because I am a follower of Jesus or just something about me.  But it goes like
this:  If someone gives me something, I say "thank you."

If you are doing something for me, or giving me something, I am intelligent enough to know when you are doing it because you are expected to or if you are doing it because you want to.  I know when you want to serve me.  As followers of Jesus, we serve and submit to each other.  There are times when I want to serve you and there is no need to say "you don't need to do that."  I know I don't need to do that.  And truth be told, if I didn't want to, I wouldn't.  But I am doing that.  I don't need a response from you at all, but if you want to give me one, just do one simple thing.  Just say thank you.  In truth, my reward isn't coming from you, so by limiting my service, you are limiting my reward.

I am grateful for what everyone does for me.  And I don't need to be self effacing or try to be humble by informing you that you don't need to do that or you don't need to bother.  I know you don't, and you know it too.  But you're doing it.  I cannot truly know your motivations, so I'm just going to say "thank you."  And if I am really thankful, I will say thanks multiple times and in several ways.  Because I am thankful.  I am grateful for the blessing you are providing me, of your time, your efforts, your money, the fruit of the sweat of your brow, I am thankful.

So have a look at your cultural context and see what effects your words have.  What do you say when someone serves you?  Do you act like the Roman soldier who must stop the lowly Christ follower when he continues carrying his gear for the second mile?  "You don't need to do that!"  Or can you be grateful for the service your brother or sister in Christ is doing for you?  Their reward is in Heaven and they should be encouraged to continue doing good works.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Women in the Congregation: Part 2, A Knockdown Verse, 1 Timothy 2:12



In my continuing series discussing the role of women in church, I want to tackle this verse:

8 "Therefore, I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument. 9 Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense, not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, 10 but with good works, as is proper for women who affirm that they worship God. 11 A woman should learn in silence with full submission. 12 I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent. 13 For Adam was created first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and transgressed. 15 But she will be saved through childbearing, if she continues in faith, love, and holiness, with good judgment."


 Before I dig in deep to understand this passage, I want to explore how and why we develop doctrines.  There are certain doctrines which Christians affirm which are seen as foundational.  These are drawn from the multiplicity of sources attesting them, from the historical attestation to their importance, and from their vital need in the understanding of the nature of God and the gospel.

For example, one of these very important doctrines is that of Jesus crucifixion and resurrection.  The crucifixion is attested by all four gospels as well as Paul and others and the empty tomb is by all of the same.  Not only is this the most important event in Christianity throughout history, it is the vital aspect of the gospel and in fact IS the gospel according to Paul.

Where am I going with this?

The word translated "authority" in the above passage is the word authenteis.  Guess how many times it appears in the New Testament? 

One.

Yep, that's it, the only time.  Curious, the nature and use of authority is a continuing thread throughout the text, yet this word is never mentioned.  Why is that?  Maybe (and I'm only saying maybe, I'm not making the case that this is absolutely true) because authority is not how these people understood understood this word.

But what else could it have been?

To understand this, we delve as always into the context.  Starting at verse 8, we have men praying, good, we have women dressing modestly (this is Ephesus, home of Artemis after all), that's good, we have women worshipping in silence, (again, this is home of Artemis, ritualized prostitution, raucous women and whatnot, easily a cultural issue) that's good.  Then we have this verse that seems to agree with that, but then totally goes off the rails.  Adam was created first?  What does that have to do with anything?  More about Adam and Eve, we're lost, and then saved through childbearing?  What?

I'm going to need some outside sources.

It turns out that one of the several possible definitions of the word authenteo (the root of authentein) is author or originator.  In fact, there is support in antiquity for the definition "to proclaim oneself the author or originator of something.”

How does this fit into our verse?

Apparently, one Gnostic philosophy taught that women were originators of mankind, that women came first, Eve was the originator of Adam and not Adam the source of the material that became Eve.  Some Gnostics taught that Eve was actually the liberator of Adam, being the more enlightened of the two, having the gnosis (knowledge) that gives Gnostics their name.

If this is true, then the verse should read something more like:  “I do not allow a woman to teach nor to represent herself as the originator or source of man.”  It seems to me that this fits far better with the following verses about Adam being created first.  It seems to me that this fits far better with what Paul is saying about how Eve was deceived and not Adam.  It seems to me that the childbirth thing he is talking about is a continuation of the idea that though Adam was first, humankind springs forth now from woman which is not a foreign idea in Paul's writings.  This interpretation allows the entire paragraph to flow from beginning to end.  It seems to me that this is a better reading and more consistent with the text.

That would mean that what Paul is talking about here is really applicable to the people Timothy is actually dealing with, the Ephesians.  The Ephesians claim the temple of the god Artemis, and thus the women should take care to differentiate themselves from prostitutes who frequented the temple.  And he is giving a specific prohibition against the Gnostic teaching that Eve came before Adam and prohibiting women adhering to this philosophy from teaching it.

I want to say this is a really reasonable option.

But more than that, I want to say that we do not make doctrines out of words that appear only once in the entire text of the New Testament.  We do not make doctrines out of words whose meaning is not totally clear.  We should not use this verse to say that women cannot teach in the congregation.  Because though that is one interpretation, it is not the only interpretation and probably not the best interpretation.

What is that Thing we do on Sunday Morning

Where do you go Sunday morning?  What is the building called?  Of what are you a member?

The word often rendered "church" in English is the Greek word ekklesia.  It can mean a gathering, a group of believers, or even the sum collective of all Christian believers in the world.

What it does not refer to is a building.

So you can go to church, and you can go to the church, the church can come to you, but you cannot meet in a church, you cannot hold an event at the church, and a church can't burn down.

The church is people.

When a speaker says "good morning church," he's talking to you, not the building.

How does that change your outlook on "the church?"


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Women in the Congregation, Part 1: "Brothers"



Something bugs me.  I have lived in the Bible Belt for the past nine years.  I realized this has colored my perception of the church, but the Bible Belt is a really big place and it has a lot of people and it has a huge influence on the American church.  Of all the things that bug me, one thing has come to the fore lately.  Women in the church.

For a while, I have wanted to start writing about women in the church.  But this is such a huge and encompassing issue, that I have decided to take it piece by piece, in no particular order, and so this post is entitled "Part 1."  There are going to be a bunch of parts.  I know not yet how many.  But in each one, I want to address at least one issue that contributes to the over arching narrative present in the American church today regarding women.

In this first one, I want to address a simple translation inaccuracy.

In Koine Greek, the language of the New Testament, like many languages, and unlike English, there are words with gender.  The word translated in English as "brothers" or "brethren" does not in Greek mean simply "brothers" as in male siblings.  If you have a Bible with good foot notes, all instances of "brothers" will be cited as referring to the word "adelphoi" or "brothers and sisters."  But there is no equivalent word in English for "sibling" in the same spiritual sense as "brethren."

 If you are a student in language, you will notice a few things.  Similarly in Spanish, hermano means brother, and hermana is sister, but what is a group of brothers and sisters?  Again we are left with one word which does not translate into English directly, hermanos.  And it's the same word as brothers plural.

So there is a bias introduced into the text simply by translating it into English.

Many "conservative" scholars have decried adjustments in certain translations to try to account for this oversight.  If you try to make up the difference by using other words, you will be labelled "liberal" and "trying to be politically correct."  But the inherent bias is there and it should be corrected so that the original understanding of the terms and messages can be communicated.  A better word than brothers would be brethren, but what is the definition of brethren but "brothers and sisters."

When you remove the bias, you have women who are apostles, deacons, prophets, and who use their homes as meeting places.  Women are the first witnesses of the resurrection, and women deliver and probably exegete at least one of Paul's letters to the congregations.  It is far from the idea presented in modern American churches that women are to be subordinate to men in the congregation and that women cannot teach men.

But this is only one single facet of the issue and this post isn't going to change your view on women in the church.  So I shall move to facet number two.  Suggestions are appreciated.


Here are the finished parts:
Part 2: A Knockdown Verse

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Just a Minute, There's Someone Wrong on the Internet.

I have a confession to make, I get in arguments on the internet.

I used to do it for fun.  Sometimes I'd argue with people just to be annoying, sometimes I'd do what's called "trolling" which is basically just dragging people into arguments by saying something inflammatory.  It's real real easy when you're of a progressive mindset and you live in the south and attend a Bible Belt church.  What you say doesn't even have to be inflammatory or even false, I've found southerners are very easy to bait, just by saying something they disagree with.

I've also had a long standing on-and-off argument going with my Jehovah's Witness cousin Bill (name changed).  And in fact, it is that which is precipitating this post.

I am tired of arguing with people online.

It starts innocently enough, often you leave a comment about something you're interested in on some blog, but soon somebody says something that you not only disagree with but that is simply wrong.  Well, you don't want to let that go unchallenged, so you correct it.  Then the person replies with something that sounds kinda like a veiled insult, pointing out that you are just uneducated on the subject.  Then you come back with a more thinly veiled insult.  And it gets personal and blows up and before you're thinking, "this is not looking good on me, but I can't stop because this other idiot will win."

With cousin Bill, he always contacts me first, weasel's his way in with some pretense about wanting to discuss religion or beliefs, and more often than not, I have taken the bait.

But in the same way that cousin Bill isn't really interested in discussing religion, (his is right and yours is wrong and he's going to prove it) that internet troll isn't there to talk about these things on any sort of level playing field.

I've taken to examining my motives recently.  Why am I in this conversation?  Is it civil?  Is this person on the same level as me as far as where it is going?  Am I representing Christ?  Is this what Jesus would do?  Is this what Jesus did do?

Before you answer that, let's explore this a little more.

What is being right worth?  Is it worth maintaining an reputation?  What is a reputation worth?  What is a reputation?  What does it say about a person who can't let something go in the pursuit of being right and may or may not simply not have the ability to quit?

I wish I knew.

I have been accused many times of things like "you always have to be right."   This has confused me.  Is there some point at which I have to be wrong?  Is pursuing rightness a bad idea?  Is it really the case that I "always have to be right."  By saying that are you saying "you always have to win the argument?"  I do always want to win the argument.  After all, if I'm arguing, there's a pretty good chance I think I'm right.  If I didn't think I was right, I wouldn't argue.  In fact, if you find me not arguing about something you say, chances are I either agree with it or don't feel I have an effective argument against it.

And here I think comes the problem.  If I use this reasoning, that by not disagreeing, I am actually tacitly agreeing, then that pushes me to disagree vehemently if I do in fact disagree.  So by not disagreeing, I am actually agreeing. 

We see this in so many places in public life.  We hear figures claim solidarity with "the silent majority."  They're silent, so they must agree with me, yes?  I recently read a family of stories which were complaining because some big famous church refused to comment on some social issue that was in the news at the time.  A bunch of bloggers and commenters lamented the fact that this church didn't advocate in agreement with their position and it was "not taking a stand" or "the same as agreeing with the other side."

But it's not agreeing with the other side is it?  That kind of argument is specious.  That's the rhetoric of division.  If someone doesn't say something, that by saying something, they're not saying something, they're really truly not saying anything.  That has got to be okay.

When it boils down to it, arguing with people online takes up mental space that could better be used doing something useful.  Real change of heart comes person to person.  We agree with people we respect.  We adopt the beliefs of the groups we fit into generally speaking.  I'm not going to be able to change your mind about something unless we have a closer relationship, and you won't change mine for the same reason.

So I implore you, not because I'm making an argument here and that you should believe me.  If you know in your heart that arguing online is a bad idea, then follow your own impetus and stop.  If you don't, then by all means, do what ever feels right to you.

If you're a Christian, please consider this with deep introspection.  There are a number of Christian apologists I just don't want to listen to anymore.  They have great arguments, great points, and I agree with the logic they use.  But they come off with such an overbearing rightness of attitude that it really turns me off.  One is James White who on his YouTube channel tears somebody up in almost every video.  And the makes videos to tear them up after debates.  With such condescension I hear terms like "once again."  If you have to explain it again, just explain it again.  Do you have to let us all know that you're annoyed to have to do it?  David Robertson was recently on "Unbelievable?" in a debate with Matt Dillahunty and there were many complaints about his demeanor.  He posted a lengthy post that said essentially "I have reviewed all the evidence and decided that I will not be apologizing for anything." 

I can't abide this attitude.  I do not see Jesus unleash such disdain for anyone but religious leaders, not sinners and non-believers.

Stop arguing online and use the emotional energy that burns your mind while you lay awake at night to solve real problems.  And really, with the number of people who read this blog, I'm honestly only talking to myself.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sol Visits a Kingdom Hall, and Finds the Door Locked

It's a lovely warm evening this evening.  A gentle breeze from the south wafts into my car window.  I sit here with it about an inch and a half down as I wait quietly for some sign of life from the windowless brick building.

With square footage a little larger than my house, the building has real stone under brick arches in the shape of windows.  But like I said, there are no windows, an eccentricity brought about by who knows what, I've heard reasons like vandalism, cost, construction time, and that natural light during spiritual focus encourages lewd behavior.  I'm suspicious of that last one.  Looking in the door, it appears to have perhaps 50 chairs.  There are no truly large Kingdom Halls, no mega-churches in the Jehovah's Witness world.  This one would fit within half of the gymnasium my ecclesia (church) meets in.  But we have 2000 members or so.  In this Kingdom Hall, two congregations meet.

I have already checked the door a couple times.  I know two congregations meet here because their meeting times are posted on the wall next to the door.  But nothing posted about why nobody is here now.  Usually when one passes out flyers advertising a location and a time for an event, one shows up to the event, however, if despite the profuse and wasteful use of such methods, one never seems to expect anyone to show up for one's events, one may neglect to be vigilant if one's plans change.

I have heard of congregation consolidation previously, loss of members and reduction of costs leading to two and even three congregations meeting in the same Hall.  I had not seen it however, so I was excited to have something confirmed.  I am expecting to have quite a few things confirmed this evening, because if we go through the study I have been given in preparation for this evening's meeting (which I have already dutifully browsed) I already have material with which to work.

You see, Jehovah's Witnesses are constantly fed both the questions and the answers to anything they could possibly be inquisitive about and an infinite number of subjects they will never need to be inquisitive about because all the answers are provided.  But it's strange because these are questions I'd expect to see in Sunday School, asked of children who would then dutifully answer from the material already given.  But these people have studied "the Bible" (actually the Watchtower with the Bible as a reference) for years!  Why such simple closed ended questions?

The answer lies in the mind control.  Keep the mind from delving deeper.  Hide the extraneous information.  Instill an automatic program in the congregant's mind which says "here are all the answers, I don't need to go anywhere else."  Pretty quickly one trusts automatically and implicitly.  Any divergent material is automatically screened because the brain becomes unaccustomed to searching for answers and thinking up new questions.  Every question has an answer, and it must be in this material somewhere.  jw.org makes this even easier because you can search and you get the pre-approved answer.  No need to think on your own.  Not only are you expected to have read all the materials and answered all the elementary school level questions before you show up, but you're going to do it again once you get here, out loud and in the group.  Group dynamics are very important.  The simple presence of another person automatically quiets dissent in a controlled environment.

It's about 7:25 now.  I was told to be here at 7:15.  I was excited to come, to experience this new thing, but it has worn off.  A couple cars have driven into the parking lot and out the other side.  They both saw I was here, and they seem to know why no one else is.  They're not telling me though, and in this easily recognizable car that they'd know wasn't one normally seen in the parking lot.

An older Chevy pickup pulls in the parking lot and parks next to one of the two empty cars in the lot.  They're both Honda sedans.  What's that?  That guy's smoking a cigarette.  Either he's not a Witness or he's hiding it.  Nope, he's not dressed like a witness either.  No self-respecting undercover smoker would risk getting caught at the Kingdom Hall.  Smoking, oddly enough, is a disfellowshippable offense.  There's a whole bunch of stuff for which you'll "strong counsel" from an elder, but if you refuse to quit smoking, you're out.  He just threw the butt on the ground in front of the building.  There's no way he's a JW.

I get out and go ask him if the door is still locked.  On the way I offer up a prayer that whatever this man's need is, for God to provide it.  It is still locked.  He's got a hell of a cough.  I've heard worse, but in the morning.  This guy's coughing pretty regularly.  Lung cancer?  Is he here because he doesn't have long and he's looking for something?

His name is Fred.  He lives in South Fayetteville.  He seems nice enough, says he was impressed by the guys who visited him a couple times.  He keeps calling them "services" and this building a "church" though I've already explained to him that they call them "meetings" and "Kingdom Halls" respectively.  He says he's looking for a small church, and hasn't been in years.  He wanted to come on a Tuesday night because he wanted there to be less of a crowd.  I didn't have the heart to tell him that there's probably just as many people to the evening meeting as there is to the Sunday morning meeting.  And I've never heard of a "crowd" at a Kingdom Hall.

I offer to talk with him about God, but he's not interested in talking, he just wants to listen.  He says if they ask him to get up and talk, he won't do it.  He obviously has no idea what JWs are about.  He thinks they are just another church, and the culture says he needs to go to church, and he wants a small one, so this is his church.  It's more like a 7-11 than where he worships.

Before long, I have figured out that there is no meeting tonight because there is an Assembly on Saturday.  How that makes sense, I'll never know, but my ex-JayDub friend says if I was IN I would.  I guess if meeting attendance is required to be in good standing with God, you're happy to get a day off occasionally.  But they are required, at least to have a good standing in the congregation and by extension, with Jehovah.  It's another little mind control trick, using rewards and punishments for expected behavior.  You only get promoted if you put in the time.  If you don't put in the time, you get a talking to by a higher-up.

Well, I told him why I'm here, but curiously he doesn't ask why I might be learning about them if I don't intend to be one.  He really knows nothing about them.  I don't want to use the C word, that would be indelicate.  But he's not curious at all, not even when I say that I have been debating with my cousin for eight years or so.

We talk a while longer as he lights up another cigarette, he tells me he is on disability now but used to be in construction.  He's 67, but looks a bit more weathered than that.  His cough is disconcerting.  That's a nasty cough.  His kids are 10-15 years my senior.  He started younger than my dad did obviously.  No mention of a wife.  Just dogs.  This guy is lonely but doesn't seem much into talking.  He really only wants to listen.  If I had to venture a guess, I'd say TV takes up a lot of his time.  Just wants to listen to something interesting, no engagement, loneliness lulled to sleep by the constant hum of the tube.

The Holy Spirit prompts me to ask to pray for him, but I don't.  I'm wicked and I know it.  I have no redeeming qualities.  I know Jesus is going to be the only way I am Justified.  My feeble works are worthless, and I get plenty of opportunities to remind myself of it.  But I don't feel condemned.  God loves me and for some reason, this divine appointment happened.  This guy showed up to see Jehovah's Witnesses and somehow ended up with me.  However, this man has no interest in knowing pros and cons of the Watchtower Organization.  He's not inquisitive at all.  I find that disappointing.  If I'm investigating something new, I want the upsides AND the downsides.  But I'm a thinking person, an intellectual, educated and learn more every day.

He's getting ready to go, I've told him that no one is here after confirming it with the guy on the phone.  We shake hands, twice and he walks to his truck.

Oh well, I'm not mad.  Cousin Bill has been giving me the runaround for years.  It's frustrating, but I have come to believe he's a true believer.  He has made peace with it.  He's doing enough in his mind and he's justified himself before God.  His mind is not open to new information.  He's well and truly programmed.

Where do I go from here?  Home.  I could have been at home with my family.  My days are numbered on this earth and I have spent far too many of them trying to talk to this Bill and getting little real engagement.  There's no relationship here.  He just wants me to hear what he has to say.  But he won't listen to what I say.  I am not saved by intake of knowledge.  I am not saved by belonging to an organization.  I am not saved works or preaching.  I am saved by Jesus.  As much of a jackass as I am, only Jesus saves.  But Jehovah's Witnesses treat Jesus like Jehovah's red-headed step-son.

Have a good evening.  I wish this evening would have been more fruitful, but all I have gotten are confirmations.  If I decide to go to a Kingdom Hall again, it won't be for Cousin Bill.  It will be for Fred.  Someone needs to warn him about what he's getting into.  And he wasn't getting my hints tonight.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sol Visits a Kingdom Hall

I have been having a long time on-and-off email discussion with my cousin from California.  He was raised a Jehovah's Witness.

During my "dark night of the soul" last April, Cousin Bill (name changed) showed up again, interestingly enough.  It reminded me of how missionaries talk about how they are out in the jungles of Papua New Guinea (or wherever) and after months or years of work with the natives, the Witnesses show up and start muddying the waters with the new believers.  Think about the similarities between "did God really say you would die if you ate the fruit?" and "does the Bible really teach Jesus is God?"

So there I was, going through a heavy spiritual attack, going through counseling, deliverance ministry, and healing prayer (some of the most spiritually amazing things I have personally witnessed) and here shows up Cousin Bill again.

So I began to engage with him as I was also reaffirming my own faith.  I'll admit, I had become a bit passive in my faith practice.  I had gotten too interested in politics, work, and life and when a spiritual attack revealed itself, I had my guard down.  But this attack, with the help of friends both near and far, sharpened my faith, challenged me to reinvestigate the evidence, and discover God anew.  This then led to my acceptance of a mission to move almost a thousand miles and join a new church plant project and that is what I have been working toward and preparing for for the last seven months.

But through all of it, Bill was still there.  Pretty quickly, I got the feeling (we'll call it the Holy Spirit) that nothing I was saying was having any impact and that I shouldn't be doing it.  Sure enough, the longer it went, the more testy it got.  I tried to have an open mind, tried to approach the material with fresh eyes as I had not seen it in a few years.  But the same tired misinterpretations and mind control techniques pop up over and over again.

So as a last ditch effort, I tried something new.  Rather than focusing on the theology, I focused on experience and the 'mind control cult' angle.  What was revealed to me at this point was just how deep the rabbit hole goes.  I was positively amazed when after he listened to a sermon I sent him, it was as if he didn't even hear half of it, the half which recounted a couple miraculous events that happened at my church.  Just so you understand the context, JWs don't believe miracles happen today, they're cessationists in that regard.  So when I report miracles, either that have happened to me or people I know (I personally know all the pastors at my current church) it just doesn't compute.  Either I'm wrong and deluded or the thought is stopped altogether.  This revealed to me just how deep the mind control goes.

Now I can only explain how it works in my head but I assume it works similarly in most people's without this subconscious thought control training.  When I come across a divergent piece of information, I can reject it outright as not comporting with my mental framework, but that doesn't mean it doesn't stick.  I might think to myself "how can I address this objection to such and such a framework that I hold?"  Or actually more often than you might think, I think "you know, that's a really good point, I wonder if it holds up to scrutiny" and so I will spend some time looking up the topic and/or thinking about it to see if it changes my life or if I end up rejecting it.  These are the traits of a critical mind.

With Bill however, (the odd Witness who considers himself a student of everything and flirts with the rules about what information he can investigate) when he encountered things like miracles, it was like instant amnesia.  I could ask point blank about what he would skip and it's like it never happened.  It just didn't register.

One of these traits is tied to a well known logical fallacy.  The ad hominem fallacy is one in which one may direct an attack at a person rather than the argument, but I think a more apt description here is sort of a reverse argument from authority.  In an argument from authority, the source is considered true just because of who the source is.  Here I say the source is considered always to be false, just because of what the source used to be.  As part of the Milieu Control aspect of mind control, a subject is directed to ignore anything that comes from an ex-member of the group.  With JWs, this bears out in the term "apostate."  JWs will not read anything they know to be apostate material, written by an apostate, a former JW.  They will not listen to them speak.  Apostates are to be shunned.  Ex-members are to be shunned even if they are your own family member.

So when I talk to Bill and I know about all the workings of the organization, everything I say is automatically a lie or a deception by those wicked apostates who are only out there to make Jehovah's Organization look bad.  Bill quite literally cannot address a single one of the arguments because they come from apostates.  He won't (can't) look at a website written by an apostate.  He refuses to admit any information I got from apostates is true, no matter the obviousness of it.  It's from apostates, therefore it is not worth addressing.  It's like a phobia.  In fact, it's very much like a phobia.

As the owner of a critical mind on the other hand, I can tell you it works quite differently.  If anything, I consider material from apostates far more important than stuff from your garden variety atheist.  The atheist doesn't have much experience in what he's talking about.  The apostate has been on the inside, they know how it works, and they probably know how to hit harder because they know the soft spots.  These people must be taken seriously because they can do the most damage.  If it weren't for the mind control, JWs would address these like I do because they really are doing the most damage to their organization and it is precisely because they are being ignored that this damage is happening.  Rather than engage and oppose the opponent, they ignore, which as anybody knows, most often results in defeat.  These days, the numbers show that JWs are having their butts handed to them and I'd say it's mostly because the apostates have been recruited by God to do the job.  The sea change in the culture is helping too.

So if I've learned one thing throughout this experience, it's that it's not about doctrine.  It's not about theology.  It's not about beliefs.  It's not even about the Bible.  It's about mind control.  Every other thing is built around a system of control.  Naturally, to Bill, this is a totally bogus assertion.  Of course there is no mind control.  We have no person we're following.  There's no fear or oppression at our meetings.  Do you really think if it were that easy to spot it would still be working after all these years?  Do you think they're going to tell you what they're doing?  Do you think they're going to teach you to spot similar things in other organizations?  Of course not.  They're going to give you a bogus description of what a cult is and refute it.  That's called a Strawman Fallacy.

So rather than engage with Bill on theological issues, I decided I'd engage on only one, the one he's totally unprepared for.  Now you might ask "why would he go for that?"  Good point.  And if he were a garden variety Witness, you'd be right.  But he's not.  Remember, he's one of those intellectual types and he has an urgent burning need for me to hear his point of view.  I mean it's amazing the drive of this need.  After I broke off our continuing conversations, he started pestering me on Facebook, sniping any post or status he could worm around to addressing one of his doctrines.  So after doing my best to quash it and failing, I finally said that what I'd really like to talk about is how the Watchtower is (or isn't) a mind control cult.

Now here's where the great thing happened, he made me a deal.  He claims he'll talk about it if I go to a meeting so I can see that all this mind control stuff isn't actually going on.  The thing is, I've already seen videos of meetings.  I know what goes on there.  But in a sense, he has a point.  I haven't been to a JW meeting (though I've been to a Mormon church service, a hyper charismatic church service, and thousands of Seventh-Day Adventist church services).  And if you follow me on Twitter (@wiredforstereo) you know I like #newthings.  So I really couldn't turn it down, even if a deal wasn't involved.  I can't say the timing is good, but I think it's important to do this because then I can address the real issue, the mind control.

So what I'm asking here is for suggestions, possible questions to ask, things to look for, thoughts or insights.  I'd like to live blog it like I could at my church but I get the feeling that tapping away on a laptop during the meeting would be fiercely looked down upon so I don't want to do that. It's much easier to get away with that sort of thing when there's a thousand people in the room with you and there's a couple other people in the room taking notes on a computer too, but a Kingdom Hall is not like that at all.  First there are a lot fewer people and they're paying close attention to what's going on.  They've got third grade level pre-set questions to answer.  And any of you who have gone through third grade and also looked at the Watchtower materials know what I'm talking about.  Now why is a group of adults paying such close attention and answering such obvious closed-ended questions?  Need I say it, mind control.

I hope to be able to bring you some more information on this here in the future.  As I've mentioned to Bill, there are so many of these that the material has been well developed and it isn't even from apostates.  Many of them aren't even religious, there are business cults too.  But they all have the same family of controls and methods.

Pray for me if that's the sort of thing you're called to.  I want to do all this with gentleness and respect and I'm not always the best at it.  And finally I think I may have found the chink in the armor.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

If Jesus had a Church in your Town, It Would be Smaller than Your Church

I just watched this excellent video from Francis Chan.


Remembering how I reviewed his book "Crazy Love" back in '09, I went back and reread that review.  It's here in case you were wondering.  I would consider it one of my more open and honest posts, not that any of them aren't honest, but we all guard ourselves a little.  In fact consider this a sequel.

Looking back at that post, wow, I have all those same questions now.  All of them.  I do feel that I've gotten an answer on one of them.  I am moving to Boulder Colorado to help start a new church.  Like Francis mentions in this video a few times, Bible Belt Christianity is sick and I am incredibly uncomfortable being here.  I know God loves these people too and I know there are strong believers here too, but I cannot handle it.  I've realized that worse than having to give up all my worldly possessions, I'd consider it the greater chore to have to live here for the rest of my life.  God could tell me in an audible voice "I am going to have you win the lottery and you will live in opulence and comfort for the rest of your life, but you have to do it in the Bible Belt," and I'd be like "I don't ... really want to do that."  I mean, I would, if God wanted me to do that, but I don't want to.  This is not my homeland.

If I had to compare it to something, I guess I would compare it to Laodicea in the book of Revelation.  There's a whole lot of "I believe in Jesus and vote Republican (or Democrat as the case may be)" but there doesn't seem to be much beyond that.  I see people whose life purpose has little to do with the work of the Kingdom.  The only difference between them and any normal person on the street is that they go to church on Sunday and I can't really see much difference otherwise.  They drive the same cars, live in the same houses, watch the same shows and movies, eat the same food, take the same vacations, and do the same thing everybody else does.  And there's so many people going to church that really, the members of the church actually is everybody else.

I come from a different environment.  I grew up in Oregon, polled at one point as the least churched state in the nation.  In high school, I was one of just a few in my circle of acquaintances who went to church and the only one of my group of friends for some time.  I describe it like this.  In Oregon, if you don't want to go to church, you just don't go, and Mr. Chan mentions that attitudes are similar in California.  It's not like that here in the South.  Church is much more of a cultural thing, but it's such a consumeristic thing.  There is such church hopping you wouldn't believe.  Our church staff was talking the other day, that you have to bring in hundreds of new people every year just to maintain a steady population.  They were talking about how Discovery Classes (new membership thing) are massively full and yet the church's population is not growing rapidly like you'd expect.

I remember one small church I went to for a couple years back in Oregon before I moved here.  It was quite a diverse church, and I don't just mean racially.  There were a whole lot of significant sinners, addicts, alcoholics, people who'd done prison time.  I feel like that's Jesus' sort of church.  It's a place where people know they are wretched, blind, poor, and naked.  (Revelation 3:17)  That looks to me like the sort of place where Jesus would hang out.  Most churches I've seen appear to be nursing homes for Christians stuck in that awkward and embarrassing parenthesis between baptism and death.

That's not where I want to be.  So I prayed "come get me."  And as far as I can tell, He has.  And I am very excited about moving, even though it will take a hit in our finances, it's a colder place, and I will leave some good friends.

Jesus said:  "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters-yes, and even his own life-he cannot be My disciple.  Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.  "For which of you, wanting to build a tower, doesn't first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?  Otherwise, after he has laid the foundation and cannot finish it, all the onlookers will begin to make fun of him,   saying, 'This man started to build and wasn't able to finish.'  "Or what king, going to war against another king, will not first sit down and decide if he is able with 10,000 to oppose the one who comes against him with 20,000?  If not, while the other is still far off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.  In the same way, therefore, every one of you who does not say good-bye to all his possessions cannot be My disciple.  "Now, salt is good, but if salt should lose its taste, how will it be made salty?  It isn't fit for the soil or for the manure pile; they throw it out. Anyone who has ears to hear should listen!" 

I don't necessarily think that everyone will need to be martyred, or that everyone will have their families abandon them or that they must live in their car or any other specific thing.  But some will.  Some will be asked to die.  Some will be asked to give everything.  Some will lose their home.  Some will lose their family.  It may not be you.  It may be.  But what you are asked to do, you better do it.  And if you're not living in the tension, then I don't think you're in tune with the Holy Spirit.  I wish Mr. Chan would have mentioned one of the most important things Jesus said when he was busy running people off.  

"How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!  For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God."  Those who heard this asked, "Then who can be saved?"  He replied, "What is impossible with men is possible with God."  Then Peter said, "Look, we have left what we had and followed You."  So He said to them, "I assure you: There is no one who has left a house, wife or brothers, parents or children because of the kingdom of God,  who will not receive many times more at this time, and eternal life in the age to come." There is a Midrash on the Song of Songs that uses the phrase to speak of God's willingness and ability beyond comparison, to accomplish the salvation of a sinner:  "The Holy One said, open for me a door as big as a needle's eye and I will open for you a door through which may enter tents and [camels?]."  God wants you.  Camel through a needle, God can do that, and he wants to.  And he wants some effort on your end.


P.S.
I get harangued when I say things like this, but if you're the sort of person who gets mad at the church parking attendant when you're trying to leave early after pulling your kids out of Sunday school early so you can leave early and avoid traffic, I'd appreciate it if you would just not come back.  If you don't want to attend a church because service times changed, by all means, don't.  If you want to find another church because you don't like the music, please do.  If you don't feel like coming to church this morning, don't, and don't worry about it next week either.

Obligatory Phil Robertson and Duck Dynasty Post

Note the disdain in the title.  I'm not sure I want to do this.

It's really not out of the ordinary that something like what Phil Robertson said would be said.  I'm not surprised at all, it gets said all the time.  In fact, I don't even need to quote it here, you've heard it before.

Homosexuality is a sin, what's next, beastiality, plural marriage, etc.?

First of all, I'd like to point out that pissing someone off with a bad argument is a really bad way to start.

"Hey, what you're doing, that's just like copulating with a dog."

That's just rude.  It should never happen unless the person is actually copulating with a dog or other non-human creature.  What are your motivations here?  Are you trying to be friends with this person?  Failing.  Are you trying to convince them of the error of their ways?  Failing.  Trying to demonstrate what Jesus would do?  Epic failing.

Homosexuality is a sin according to the most direct reading of the Bible, but what's the point in pointing it out?  Are you gay?  Chances are pretty good you're not.  I'm not.  None of my close friends are.  What's the point of shouting it from the rooftops then?

A major purpose in my life, if not what should be the major purpose is to advance the Kingdom of God.  This blog is entitled "The Transition Government."  That's one thing it means.  But God's government doesn't work the same way human governments work.  His battles don't work the way human battles work.  He works from the inside.  In human fights, you want to have more and stronger and better equipped warriors on your side, be they politicians, voters, or actual warriors.  But God doesn't even need warriors.  There have been many people who have come to faith in Jesus without even needing another human being to convince them.  Our fight is not with flesh and blood.  Our purpose is not winning elections and changing laws.  Man looks upon the outward appearance, but God looks upon the heart and the heart is where he works.

The real sadness for me in all of this is the fact that the culture sees Christians as "hung up on sex."  Similarly, the rest of the world sees American Christians as "hung up on Hell."  The continued harping on homosexuality (applies to a tiny percentage of the population) serves only to drive the culture further away.  At the same time, we are not publicly living up to what the culture rightly expects of us in loving our neighbors, praying for our enemies, and serving the poor.  The 'rightness' of our position and the 'wrongness' of others' is a barrier to evangelism.  I read the New Testament and I see that virtually everyone was missing the mark sexually, it was expected.  It should be expected even today rather than excuse to point out someone else's sin while ignoring our own.  I have not conquered homosexuality (in that I have never struggled with it), who am I to point out the same sin in someone else?

Furthermore, it is not my job as a follower of Jesus to point out anyone's sin but my own.  You meet Jesus first.  One does not get told off into the Kingdom.  That's the equivalent of what is happening when someone goes out in public and harps on sin.  You're telling someone off and expecting it to ultimately be a positive experience for them.  How small minded and short sighted!

I want to introduce people to Jesus first.  It's his job to work on their sin, it's his job to show them where they're missing the mark.  Because homosexuality is a sin, but so is lust, and gluttony, and ignoring the plight of the poor, and greed, and ignoring your family, and not doing what the Holy Spirit tells you, and these are all sins that I have committed but no one is pointing them out.  Pointing out homosexuality publicly is akin to picking on a minority, picking on the small kid in class.  And I know what that's like.  It's not something Jesus would do.  In public, Jesus picked on religious people.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

First Runs of my GEK Gasifier



I have been pursuing renewable energy for the last few years.  I'd like to go off grid one day.  I figured the best way to start down that road was to develop the backup generator, what I use for power when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing.  Naturally, I cannot make gasoline or diesel or propane, but I can generally find wood.  So drawing on almost a hundred years of gasification history, I decided to start by building a gasifier.  All Power Labs (gekgasifier.com) offers designs and kits for their GEK, Gasifier Experimenter's Kit.  I opted to go with the weld-it-yourself kit.

A gasifier in short is a device which burns wood to produce a flammable gas composed most importantly of carbon monoxide and hydrogen.  It does this by oxidizing the wood into carbon dioxide and water and then through a hot bed of charcoal, reducing them into carbon monoxide and hydrogen.  These can be burned to produce heat or in a combustion engine to produce power.  The gas cannot be stored for any length of time.

My plan is to use this gasifier to power a generator, probably something like a Kubota DG972 attached to an alternator or DC motor in generator mode to charge a battery during times when extra generation is needed.  In this way, I can produce electricity with no input of fossil fuels outside the engine lubricants (I use synthetic oils anyway).

I made a video of the first run.


Here is a picture of the flare red hot after dark.


This is about the highest recorded temperature I saw:


A gasifier needs to run well above 800C to keep from producing tarry smoke.  There is also a high temperature to be avoided as well because the ash will solidify and clog up the works.

Normally, the cyclone empties in to a Mason jar, but I just put a cap on the bottom since I wasn't going to run it for long.  Here was the result:

The next job to do is figure out the engine, then a control system.  The APL people have figured out how to do all this and now produce 10, 20, and 100 kW machines ready to run.  I plan on doing it a bit cheaper though.  After that, batteries, inverters, solar panels, wind turbines and the list goes on.

One other thing, I'd love to do co-generation for this project.  What I'd do is capture the waste heat from the engine exhaust and coolant and use it to heat water to provide domestic hot water and heat for my house.  It will be a pretty complex system, but in some places, heat and power are expensive and/or time consuming.  As I've mentioned before, loving your neighbor involves avoiding the production of noxious chemicals they have to breathe.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Isn't God no Better than the Flying Spaghetti Monster? or a 'Special Com...



I had to get a little chuckle out of this.



The Clay Gets a Say

Here's a nifty little passage I read the other day:

12 You will eat it as [you would] a barley cake and bake it over dried human excrement in their sight." 13 The Lord said, "This is how the Israelites will eat their bread-ceremonially unclean-among the nations where I will banish them." 14 But I said, "Ah, Lord God , I have never been defiled. From my youth until now I have not eaten anything that died naturally or was mauled by wild beasts. And impure meat has never entered my mouth." 15 He replied to me, "Look, I will let you [use] cow dung instead of human excrement, and you can make your bread over that."

Ezekiel is in a real rough patch here.  God is having him do a very elaborate dramatization of the destruction of Jerusalem.  And it's rough, read it, Ezekiel 4.

There has been this idea for a while now, well a dozen centuries or something, among a faction of theology which says everything goes on for a reason and God is in control of everything.  

Romans 9:21 says "Or has the potter no right over His clay, to make from the same lump one piece of pottery for honor and another for dishonor?"  What is Paul saying here?  Is he saying God makes some people to be saved and the rest to be damned?  And then his anger burns against the damned people for being damned even though that's how he made them?

You might think so if you didn't do some deeper research.  Let's do some deeper research.

Paul was well versed in the Old Testament.  As a Pharisee, he probably had the entire Torah memorized and knew major portions of the prophets and Psalms as well.  He would have known what we now call the Old Testament deeply.

So when he brings up a potter and clay analogy, we have to ask, where might he have gotten that?

If we're reading our Bibles once a year (a very good practice) we probably came across that just recently.

1 [This is] the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 "Go down at once to the potter's house; there I will reveal My words to you." 3 So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was, working away at the wheel. 4 But the jar that he was making from the clay became flawed in the potter's hand, so he made it into another jar, as it seemed right for him to do. 5 The word of the Lord came to me: 6 "House of Israel, can I not treat you as this potter [treats his clay]?"-[this is] the Lord's declaration. "Just like clay in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, house of Israel. 7 At one moment I might announce concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will uproot, tear down, and destroy [it]. 8 However, if that nation I have made an announcement about, turns from its evil, I will not bring the disaster on it I had planned. 9 At [another] time I announce that I will build and plant a nation or a kingdom. 10 However, if it does what is evil in My sight by not listening to My voice, I will not bring the good I had said I would do to it. 11 So now, say to the men of Judah and to the residents of Jerusalem: This is what the Lord says: I am about to bring harm to you and make plans against you. Turn now, each from your evil way, and correct your ways and your deeds. 12 But they will say: It's hopeless. We will continue to follow our plans, and each of us will continue to act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart." 

There you have it.  It's a different sort of a picture isn't it?  It's not God making some people to be saved and some to be damned, the damned ones are that way because they choose to be.  God even warns Israel to pay attention because he might preach damnation against some nation but then the nation decides to repent and God will repent of his pronouncements as well.  A prime example of this was the city of Nineveh in the book of Jonah.  Jonah was sent to preach the destruction of Nineveh and Jonah was truly a prophet of God, and yet his pronouncement did not come to pass because the people repented

Back to the clay.  We can see here that the clay has a say in how it's made, and we can see it with Ezekiel as well.  The clay didn't want to be a jar so the potter made something else with it.  God gave Ezekiel a command, something to do that was very nasty, would make him unclean, and may have even been sinful and he didn't want to do it.  So God relents of his pronouncement and let's him do something a little less nasty.  Did it make as big a point as it could have?  Probably not.  But so it seems, the clay gets a say.  

Trying Out the Holman Christian Standard Bible





When I first began reading the Bible in earnest, I used the NIV (New International Version).  The NIV is a very good translation.  It took a lot of criticism in the beginning, largely I believe, because it was such a break from the then tradition of biblical translation.  However, it’s been a number of decades and a lot of the KJV (King James Version) Only crowd have died off.  Many many more translations have been produced and the NIV has more or less fallen out of the popular spotlight though it is still quite popular.  Anyway, that’s the one I read at the time.  Using that Bible, I read through the New Testament a handful of times and the minor prophets and a few other Old Testament books here and there.

Then I heard about the ESV (English Standard Version).  It gained some sexiness in the mid 20-oughts.  Add to that, the Crossway covers (very sexy) and that was the first Bible I bought.  They had a free Kindle version too, which was nice.  Mark Driscoll also endorsed it along with a number of the Calvinist crowd.  But reading through the Bible, I started noticing some liberties being taken, especially in numerology.  People do complain about versions and the conversion of the word “man” to “people” but that’s not really what I’m after.  What I started noticing was that certain phrases or words were translated in ways other than the original text warranted.  It was things like in Exodus 20:6 where it says “showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me.”  In the foot notes it says “or to the thousandth generation.”  A simple interpretation of a thought, yes, but when you mess with numbers in the Bible, you are missing with contextual meanings.  Can’t do that.  “Thousand” is used a number of times in the

Bible and specific meaning can be drawn from its usage. 

Compare the NIV:  but showing love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me.”

Compare the HCSB:  “but showing faithful love to a thousand [generations] of those who love Me.”

These make interpretations too, but they keep the terminology and they demonstrate what they’re doing while they’re doing it.  No footnotes.  Well, the NIV left out steadfast/faithful.
Another problem I have with many modern translations of the Bible is the traditional lack of translation of God’s personal name in the text.  Of course anybody reading the text knows that LORD means YHVH, the Hebrew transliteration of God’s name, so God’s name has not been “left out,” just left untranslated for tradition sake.  Virtually all scholars agree that the correct pronunciation of the tetragrammaton (four letter name) of God is Yahweh or Yah’weh.  But few translations of the Bible do.

So I started reading LORD as Yahweh in my own personal reading.  The thing is, the name is used A LOT, over 6000 times in the Old Testament.  But I was still reading the ESV, a version I knew had problems I didn’t like.

I had been told about the Holman Christian Standard Bible a while back by a Jehovah’s Witness or two.  They use the name Jehovah (a bastardized and Anglicized version of God’s name) profusely and stick it in everywhere in the OT and everywhere they feel it necessary to excise Jesus’ divinity in the New Testament.  Naturally, I distrusted anything coming from a JW.  They are after all perhaps the most well-known dangerous mind control cult.  But I came upon the HCSB on my own one day when researching the name Yahweh. 

The HCSB uses Yahweh when the name of God is stated in the Hebrew.  For instance, if the author says something like “our God, whose name is the LORD” it doesn’t really make much sense in English.  It’s like “they call me the Doctor!”  “Doctor who?”  “Exactly.”  Well, fun, but not useful.  It would seem to me a better translation would be “our God, whose name is Yahweh.”  Now you know what we’re talking about.

The HCSB still uses LORD pretty regularly.  They only use Yahweh a few more than one in ten times.  But remember, the name is in there over 6000 times.  That’s like eight times per page.
So after reading virtually all the Bible in NIV, and again in ESV, now I’m reading the HCSB.  Of course I still have access to every version available on various Bible apps, and my personal copies of the ESB, NIV, NASB, and even the Greek NT.  I can’t wait to get back to the New Testament to see how the HCSB translates those.