Sunday, March 10, 2013

Freeing Ourselves From Our Educational Captivity

It was good just now to chat with my close brother from Myanmar/Burma about education in general and Christian education in particular and how we need to move forward towards a more sustainable way of educating our future daughters and sons. The current system of education is well suited for a post WWII period but completely inadequate and even positively harmful for this generation and the generations to come.

We MUST find a new educational paradigm for our youth and adults in the church or else we're consigning ourselves to the dustbin of history. Telling our youth that they must be educated (a good thing), but then forcing them to become enslaved by debt for the rest of their working lives, in order to get that education, so that they can never truly serve their calling, isn't just nonsensical, it's unjust and wicked. And besides, it ends up perpetuating a system of injustice instead of confronting it at its source.

The Western church has become captive to a paradigm of education which is hyper hierarchical, completely pragmatic, consumeristic beyond belief, and totally dependent upon an economic model which is unsustainable and ultimately enslaving, not just financially, but also intellectually, and spiritually.

Think outside the industrial schoolroom box with its ringing bells telling you when to think and when to eat and when to get back to the factory. We've allowed ourselves to be imprisoned by the culture which surrounds us. But remember friends, we are culture too, and we can think and do differently if only we dare.

Let the kingdom of God liberate us from our Egyptian bondage.

Monday, March 4, 2013





The parishioners filed into the church, slowly, with only a few showing up at first. Some walked up front to be near the altar. One of them was motivated by a desire to get a good seat to be able to hear the sermon clearly. A few others thought that being closer to the altar would bestow upon them some greater holiness than those further away. And finally, there are those who sit up front for recognition and adulation because of their place. Some who wandered in would divert either to the left or the right and sit far in the back corners. Usually they were the ones you saw with their heads bent down in fervent prayer.
The rest of the congregants would direct themselves to their favorite seats so as to be able to sit near friends or relatives. Comfort and familiar surroundings were of paramount importance to these “believers.”
The church slowly filled to about two thirds capacity, maybe a little more. Most of the parishioners sat towards the middle of the church pews, filling their usual spots. As the clock approached ten in the morning the sun was already bright and hot. The openings at the bottom of the stained glass windows, which reached up to the roof, were opened to let in as much air as possible. Air conditioning was a luxury the church couldn’t afford.
Filters of light beamed through the front door shining directly on the pulpit, leading to the odd juxtaposition of shadowy figures pacing back and forth, whispering mouths talking into straining ears. Monstrous differences in size were noticeable in the figures parading around in the doorway of the church. Shadows of some loomed huge as though the church were being invaded by some spectral figure breaking into God’s own domain. It was only a few members of the church huddled together in deep conversation. The air that morning was cool upon waking, but had grown stagnant by mid morning, the heat already bearing down with temperatures hovering at or above eighty.
The sky was clear but minds were clouded by buzzing thoughts occupying empty heads. How to budget this week’s paycheck, making sure of course that the tithe doesn’t cut too much into any favorite activity. “How come I keep getting these damn hangnails, I’ve got to find the clipper when I get home or I’ll end up getting another bloody finger because I’ll get frustrated and pull it out with my fingernails.” “Why is she sitting all the way over there? If she got to know me, she’d like me, I know it.”
Occasionally, the air would move a little, prompted by the two fans on opposing sides of the two rows of pews. The timeless, placeless daydreaming would be broken by the light breeze tapping you on the face, bringing you back to reality for a moment. Most of the congregants were having difficulty in keeping their attention on holy thoughts. During the week at work, or even at home, it’s not that difficult to focus on a task being done. Even activities being enjoyed can be engaged in with blissful single-mindedness. That new Steven King, I remember not being able to put it down until I was finished. The project at work was near deadline and I knew that if I could get it done early my chances for promotion would improve. No problem. Easy to explain why my mind was so set. Everybody needs to escape once in a while.
While the church was quiet, with little whispers of conversation or shifting bottoms breaking the silence, the church building itself seemed quiet. But the occasional creak would give away the weight being withstood by the church; the groaning planks bearing down under the weight of ten thousand souls treading them under foot.
As the sun slowly rose in the morning sky, the people (the body of Christ?) sat motionless, but impatiently waiting for the sermon to begin. Somewhere in the back there was a noise. It seemed to come from where the pews began or where the doorways leading into the church ended. It wasn’t a loud noise at first, it was hardly distinguishable from the creaks and groans heard any other time emanating from within the church walls. A few heads turned out of curiosity, half expecting a late parishioner tip toeing in, hoping not to be noticed. But no one was there. A few planks of wood from the floorboards had peeled back from being nailed down and were bent slightly upward.
The first few thoughts were that the humidity had been high lately and maybe the wood hadn’t been treated correctly. The financial officer’s first thought was how this was going to be a whole new expense for him to worry about. Fixing this would probably cost a bundle. The next sounds came from adjoining planks peeling back from the floor and curling upwards so that they were practically standing upright.
At this point the congregation was, as a whole, spellbound. What happened next was anything except what they could ever expect would be possible. The planks of wood bent across each other and twisted and turned until they formed the figure of a wooden man standing upright.
The impatience was gone, it was now replaced by fear.
The voices mumbling earlier had stopped, no voice daring to speak in the face of such supernatural force. Finally the wooden planks, having fashioned themselves into one unified figure, disgorged itself from the floor completely. The figure proceeded to walk up the center aisle towards the altar, people on either side scurrying backwards in their seats, reacting in terror. After a few seconds of clumsily, then steadily walking towards the altar, it climbed the steps to behind the lectern. The congregants couldn’t help but sit with their mouths gaping open at this wonder.
Here before them was an assemblage of inanimate splinters, staring at them all from behind the altar. Animated though is what this wood now was, and with perdition breathing down the necks of these people, they were in no position to ignore the forthcoming sermon.



On a random day in heaven a motley crew of famous and infamous personages has gathered for a few favorite drinks and friendly fellowship. The direction of the conversation has, as the various characters have loosened up with a few refills of their favorite beverages, turned to the relationship of the individual to authority and vice versa.
The cast of characters includes Martin Luther, Maximilien Robespierre, Jonathan Swift, Mary Shelley and Friedrich Nietzsche.

The first to speak was the venerable Frenchman Robespierre. "My dear friends, as you all are perfectly aware, I, as the most principled of those in my fair land so long ago, would feel it only right to begin these informal deliberations with my own wise counsel."

While the others around the table were a little put off by his arrogance, they nonetheless allowed him, out of grace, to begin the conversation. Robespierre asked for a refill of some fine French (of course!) red (it reminded him of blood) wine before he began. At first he was extolling the virtues of French wine over any other beverages when Martin Luther told him to either shut up, let someone else talk or get to the point. As there was hearty applause to his words and general laughter at the insult, Robespierre, offended, but not to the extent of giving up his time to talk, took a gulp of his wine and proceeded to say what he thought the proper state of human affairs should be.

"If it were my say on how things ought to be run in daily human affairs, then I would of course have the public involved in the process of governance. I am, after all, a firm believer in democracy." At this point, Mary Shelley piped in with a comment on how he must have been enamored by the bloody red color of his wine, since he is able to speak in such civil, genteel terms about things that are so barbaric. She said, "Monsieur, I certainly respect your public administrative experience, yet your results were far from effective to your end of having a peacable and orderly public state." "Au contraire, my dear sweet child, I did bring about the greatest of public goods by my administration of France. After all, if I had not done so, I would have left the country in the bungling hands of a corrupt regent, and foul priesthood, and a mutinous assembly. My only regret was having allowed that short little man to attain to the rank of general at such an early age. But I digress. My ideal for the public good is that old hierarchies must be completely eliminated by any means necessary. In other words, I believe in, libertaire, egalitaire, fraternitaire. There you have it in a nutshell. What do you all think? Refute me if you dare!

At this, Shelley retorted, "I look to my own life; a life of loss, of despair, of looking deeply to the depths that exist within our own hearts and I cannot help but be plunged like a raft over a violent rock infested river that plunges headlong to the abyss. My dear sir, that is all I see when I contemplate your world of "democracy". If that is what your political system decrees, then I would say that anarchy or monarchy is more tenable than that."

At this, Nietzsche came into the conversation. "You foolish woman! Your stupid romanticism has blinded you to the reality of the world. My friend Robespierre is quite right. The only way to effectively rule is to rule with an iron fist. Any appeal to the base instincts of "love" or "tenderness" is to be already defeated by your enemies before you have even begun the fight. And do not get me wrong, it is always a fight. Either you are a slave or you are a master. There is no other way around it. Robespierre's only weakness was that he still tentatively held to the old morality by holding to such stupid claims as liberty, equality, and fraternity. There is no such thing. They are the inventions of those who have hoodwinked us into becoming slaves of their morality. If it weren't for the Jews and then the Christians after them, this world would have run just the way it should; as a well-oiled machine, serving to produce the most efficient, lean, and finely honed ubermenschen that could possibly be brought to bear. Now get me another schnapps!"
With Nietzsche's diatribe over, Martin Luther could keep silent no longer. He bellowed, "I have never heard such bullshit since I had to deal with the Diet of Worms! None of you so far have any idea of what you are talking about. Considering Messieur Robespierre's rationalizing of his bloody rampage, or Herr Nietzsche's atheistic animalism, or Miss Shelley's naivete and morose despondency, I would have thought that I had mistakenly slipped in the back door of hell's deepest dungeon. But thankfully I can look around me and see that we are filled with light and fine beverages. Speaking of which, I would very much like another dark lager. Does anyone else feel up to another refill?" At this, they all nodded their heads in agreement, except for Mary Shelley, who soberly drank only water flavored by a lemon slice. Luther chimed back in, "You know, the only real drink is a good German beer! It helps keep a man in touch with the people."

At this, several of his cafe mates asked Luther what his thoughts were concerning the role of a person to authority. He took a long sip of his beer, settled back into his chair and proceeded to say, "I have seen the abuses that can come from secular princes. I have also seen that this evil is present in every human heart. So with this in mind, I hold that the best form of relationship between an individual and his sovereign is for both to be ruled by the law of God. Both should be ruled this way in their personal lives, so that they become convicted of their sin unto salvation, and in the political arena, so that evil conduct is restrained by a common code of unchanging morality. We are corrupt, and we must be constrained by the law to bring us to our knees. But this applies to every man and woman, no matter what their station in life. There is no prince or pauper that is exempt from this incontrovertible law of God. We have all fallen from His perfect standard."

At this, several of the patrons started to squirm in their seats from the discomfiting words emanating from Luther's mouth. Nietzsche said that he wasn't a sinner, since it was a concept that was abhorrent to him in the first place, since it was just a tactic of fear invented by an ancient priestly caste to control and enslave weak-minded people. Shelley said that she didn't like the idea that she wasn't in control, after all, she wanted to highlight the issue of personal responsibility in her novel "Frankenstein", and Luther's ideas seem to negate that idea. Luther responded that the fact that people are sinners in no way absolves them of responsibility, it just means that they cannot effect their own salvation. Shelley allowed for that nuance of meaning, but Nietzsche and Robespierre continued to show contempt to the idea of religion, and of Christianity in particular.

Lastly, Jonathan Swift jumped into the fray. He had been sitting back, just listening to the various viewpoints and finally waited until everyone had spoken their peace. He started, "My friends, I could do this forever. O wait, we are doing this forever! My mistake. As I was saying, this is such good fun. I have been made privy to the deep considerations of some of history's great minds with regards to politics in Messieur Robespierre, to literature in Madame Shelly, to philosophy in Herr Nietzsche. And yet in all of this, I have yet to hear any of your thoughts of what to do for the benefit of those who are in dire straits in a corrupt system of governance, such as those poor souls of whom I wrote about in my "Modest Proposal". What of them? We can talk all day about the ideal system, but if it doesn't take into account the cost in individual human terms, it doesn't mean anything except that you've all gotten to hear yourselves pontificate. Yes, even you Luther! And I know you don't want to be accused of that!" At this, Luther just smirked at Swift and said, "Touche". To be perfectly honest, I don't pretend to know the answer of how we should bring about a proper balance to the governed and those doing the governing. All I knonw is that the poorest tend to get left out, and I would rather see a poorer country that enriches the folks at the bottom then a rich country that impoverishes those same people. But if nothing else, at least I've been given a lot of new material for my next satire. And for that I'm eternally (irony intended) grateful."

At this, Luther and Shelley nodded their heads in approval, but Nietzsche and Robespierre just huffed and took their drinks and decided heaven was too irritable for them and they returned to hell, feeling more at home in the lively discussions that were held there each second Tuesday at three. There they could always offer their final solutions to all of life's problems. Besides, they served better drinks there. The flaming drinks were really hot.

An Old Post of Mine Called Prison


Sitting in a room, there's no window. Which would be better, to have the comforts of home, a chair, a bed, a sink to wash up, a bookshelf with the greats, or a stone cold floor, damp and moldy? I don't know. It's probably better to know the prison you're in. To see it, to know that's what it is. The other is insidious. It makes for illusions. It makes you think that, well, maybe you can get by, you can...survive. Or at least you'll be able to occupy your mind, relax in a confortable chair, get lazy if you want. It wouldn't be so hard.

It would be a hell of a lot worse though.

I'd rather be in a stone cold cell. Then because of the very bareness of the surroundings, it would fortify me. It would give me the anger that I would need to hold up against it. To be able to say no. To be able to clearly identify that which I was in. Can you open the door, and leave that room? Can someone else lock you in? Or are you...are you the guard outside the door, making sure you can't leave? But who knows what's out there? It could be worse. It could be dangerous. It's uncertain.
I mean, there's a way of looking at it that says that you're better off with the hell you know than with the hell you don't know. But if you do that then you've already guaranteed your fate. You've already written your fate. You've already written "the end" without the story ever having begun. And that's not a very nice story. It's not gonna make the charts, not in heaven or hell.
It's a scary thing to make a break, to break out, to go out there and to see what's on the other side of that door. Not knowing, but hoping that maybe it won't overwhelm you; that you'll somehow rise to the occasion. Alway, always the invisible fear... of failure, ridicule? And then that little, bad voice inside you saying, "Ha, see, never should have. I told you. I knew you'd make a fool of yourself."
Yeah, that...that's where the comfortable chair is. That's where he lives. All those great books of great intellectual expression.'s not an easy choice to make. The risks are great either way. The risk of staying in is the very fact that you know you've resigned, given up. Uh...that's...that's's like a dull thud. You see him lying there, then there's no hope. So that in itself is a risk.
The other risk is that you'll fail; that you'll be beaten; that you won't succeed in your aspirations and the goals that you've set for yourself. Whatever kind they are, they could be anything.
Walking out the door. Taking that step. Opening the door...even thinking about opening that door can be a goal. To have that thought; the idea of it. There's something there that you haven't seen, haven't heard, haven't smelled, tasted, touched, or... and yet, and yet you know it's there. Well, we've got to take that risk to make that goal come true. I...I have to take that risk. I have to open that door, not knowing what's on the other side. Hoping... This hope then giving me the strength to do, to at least try. The effort alone is worth the risk because of that, regardless of the outcome, you've already succeeded, already proven your... worth.
You're reconciled. Reconciled with what tough? The conflict? The dichotomy that exists within you? There's definitely two sides of people. There's always that fight; that battle. And there's a side of us that... that is the side of us that is the uncontrollable urge. That side will never give up. It's not gonna lie down and say, "Uh, OK, you won, I've been defeated and I'll crawl away now and never raise my head again." And you're safe. No, no, that's not likely. I mean at least I've never seen that happen yet.
The other side is what? Our self, our higher conscience, our desire to be more. To do right, to be consistent in our actions and thoughts. You know, I don't think this is just an attempt to conform to the social norms, because this motivation exists for people in all worlds, in all frames of reference. No matter what the social norm is, that impulse is there. I don't think it's just cultural pressure on us to try to be consistent; to be more than what we are, which in my view, accurate or not, is base. We're rather slimy creatures at heart. But I'd rather recognize the prison walls as being prison walls than to be lulled into a comfortable coma. That's really what can kill ya, can murder you, and still leave you breathing. That possibility tightens my gut. It twists my insides just enough to give me the impetus to try to do otherwise.
So for me, I sit on the floor. I open the door. I walk to the store. I work. I learn to be responsible. I learn diversity. I learn those all important social skills of interaction. I learn pain. And it's a better pain than the one inside of me. It's a pain that comes from experience which teaches you a lot better than those deep, personal pains; that when focused on exclusively, can only cause more pain instead of healing. Those pains of experience, from diverstiy, from interaction, from those all important social skills, and the haphazard way we tend to learn them give us the opportunity to try again and maybe this time it'll come out a little better. And in comparison to that void; that empty space that is inside of that room... that experience, that diverstiy is already infinitely better and can give you the freedom that your soul cries for.
I wrote this many years ago. Originally it was a recording that I transcribed from a tape recording I made. I wrote it out as I heard it. That's why it has that stream of consciousness feel to it. While it definitely reflected my place in my thinking at that time, I still believe it reflects where I'm at in my view of the human condition. Let me know what y'all think.

Irenicum (introspective me that I am)