Wednesday, October 26, 2005

2,000 Dead U.S. Servicemen Mock Bush's Pro-Life Stance

Yesterday, the Defense Department announced the death of Army Staff Sgt. George T. Alexander, Jr., age 34, who died of wounds suffered from an attack when a bomb exploded near his vehicle in the central Iraqi city of Samara.

Sgt. Alexander has the dubious honor of being the 2,000th U.S. serviceman killed in Iraq.

Sgt. Alexander was no more or no less dear than any of the other 1,999 military personnel killed since the Iraq war began in 2003. But we human beings love to chart the progression of a thing by nice, whole, tidy, even, artificial numbers. And so Sgt. Alexander becomes what one politician described as a “tragic milestone.”

And so he is.

But what about the young 7-year-old boy whose small body was torn to shreds yesterday by a roadside bomb meant for a passing U.S. military convoy? Nearly a dozen others were severely wounded, including a 10-year-old girl.

What about the other 26 Iraqi policemen and woman who were also gunned down or bombed by insurgents yesterday?

While we rightly mourn the lost 2,000, it is an amount absolutely dwarfed by the number of Iraqi civilians killed either in the initial American attacks, during subsequent insurgent activity, or caught in the crossfire. Estimates place Iraqi non-combatants deaths anywhere between 30,051 to 100,000.

Meanwhile, President Bush, his White House and party in shambles and his approval rating the lowest it has ever been and continuing to fall, prattles on about staying the course, despite the fact the vast majority of those he purports to lead now feel that going into Iraq was a phenomenal and mislead mistake.

Does the wonder and majesty of life begin at conception? Yes. And it does not end until death. An obvious statement? Perhaps. But why then, does this President seem to ignore such common moral sense in his so-called Pro-Life stance? Being Pro-Life means more than being anti-abortion. Being Pro-Life means having a consistent ethic of life, something this President fails at woefully.

All life is sacred. The Bible stands against any policy or course of action that diminishes life, dignity or the rights of the human person, such as abortion, capital punishment, war, outrageous poverty, rejection of healthcare, mistreatment of immigrants and racism, to name a few. A consistent ethic of life applies to all of life and strives to advance the common good by protecting the life, dignity, and rights of all human beings, whether or not they are Americans.

To believe in the sanctity of life, one must believe that it is God alone Who takes life away, except in the lawful defense of another’s life. Bush's “creative” attempts to redefine that defense in order to alter the true insidious nature of his actions in Iraq are abominable. In such a war, the dead are not casualties, they are murder victims. Bush, who purports to love life, has proven time and time again that he believes it’s good to kill “bad people,” or send our kids to their deaths in a war with little or no connection to our national security, or accept the deaths and mistreatment of Iraqi non-combatants as necessary collateral damage.

These dead are not numbers. They are precious souls. And there will be a reckoning.

Is Bush really pro-life? Not if you're an American soldier or Iraqi civilian.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Further DVDFanatic reviews...

Titanic, Kingdom of Heaven, Lifeboat, and an interview with Charles de Lauzirika, the DVD director for such films as Gladiator and Spiderman 2.

The Chronicles of Narnia

The official, full trailer for the dazzling upcoming film, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is online here. I must have watched it a dozen times this morning through eyes blurred with tears.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Thoughts on Miers...Without Saying a Word

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Putting the Con Back in Conservative

As I write this, a warrant has been issued for the voluntary summons/arrest of Representative Tom DeLay, the former Republican House Leader who was forced to step down after he was indicted for illegally funneling corporate campaign contributions. Now he faces charges of state conspiracy and money laundering.

Where is the Christian outcry? Where is James Dobson's wrath? Where is the Religious Right's indignation? Where is Pat Robertson's call for an assasination?

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is currently under investigation by federal prosecutors and the Securities and Exchange Commission, probing for possible insider trading in his suspicious sale of stock in a large health care company before that stock suddenly plummeted.

Where is the Christian outcry? Where is James Dobson's wrath? Where is the Religious Right's indignation? Where is Pat Robertson's call for an assasination?

Bush's right-hand man, Karl Rove, is under subpoena for the fourth time, adding his testimony to a grand jury interested in whether or not he and Vice Presidential Chief of Staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, dangerously outed a CIA agent in the hopes of punishing her diplomat husband, an outspoken dissenter of the Iraq war. The heat is said to be so fierce, that unsubstantiated but weighty rumors have flown within Washington this week, citing the possibility of Dick Cheney’s resignation.

Where is the Christian outcry? Where is James Dobson's wrath? Where is the Religious Right's indignation? Where is Pat Robertson's call for an assasination?

This is to say nothing of President George Bush, who continues to press ahead with his plans in Iraq, despite illegitimate and bogus rationale for a war that is staggeringly opposed by the majority of Americans.

Where is the Christian outcry? Where is James Dobson's wrath? Where is the Religious Right's indignation? Where is Pat Robertson's call for an assasination?

Bush is practically seen as a messiah figure for many in the Religious Right; Frist and DeLay have massive support among Christian churches; and Rove is daily in touch with the Christian power brokers.

Am I alone in finding it more than a bit troubling that Christians who so adamantly support Bush, Rove, DeLay, and Frist in their political battles express little to no concern about the possibility of cancerous corruption at the highest levels of government? What's worse, perhaps, is that Christians are nearly silent on these issues, preferring blind and unwavering allegiance to moral strength.

While it is true that the aforementioned misdeeds are only allegations, I seem to recall that many Christian leaders and their supporters showed little restraint in eviscerating Clinton and his cronies for their moral ineptitude.

Why do so many Christians seem to remove their brains when it comes to politics? Why do they so imprudently support leaders who say they are Christians but whose actions prove they are not? Is the specter of political power too enticing? Is the imaginary perfect Christian nation so within reach that we are willing to allow a few wrongs in order to have a hypothetical overwhelming right? Or are traditional values such as honesty and integrity used only as weapons against our enemies but ignored for the tiny indiscretions among friends?

Is it too much to ask for a little moral consistency?

Lantern...Jack O'Lantern

In the spirit of the recent announcement that the world has a new James Bond, may I present this year's pumpkin carving effort...

Friday, October 14, 2005

Craig, Daniel Craig

I can't say I'm at all satisfied with today's announcement that Daniel Craig is set to become the sixth James Bond, though I thought it inevitable. Very disappointed actually. It's not that Craig is a bad actor. Far from it. We can forgive Tomb Raider because of the phenomenal Road to Perdition. Still, he does not strike me in the least as Bond material. It's something about the face, I think. It lacks grace. It lacks charm. Maybe I'm just sour that Pierce Brosnan is gone. If there is one actor alive who exudes more immaculate grace, charm, wit, finesse, panache and the suave debonair more than he, I don't know him. I hope you prove me wrong, Mr. Craig. We'll soon see.

Monday, October 03, 2005


This all probably sounds as if I despised my time at CFNI, which is actually far from the truth. I firmly believe that one can find God in any type of service or environment and I certainly had, what I considered to be, encounters with God—times during which I sensed His presence, leading, and still, small voice. Some of these times were when my life required scouring and cleaning. Other times it was a balm of peace and encouragement. But these times were far and away the exceptions. Still, I echo Dodd's sympathetic and kind tone. Like ORU, CFNI “is not a place of insincere devotion; it is a place of extreme devotion sincerely and frequently expressed.”

I had some phenomenal professors and mentors, especially Mark Marfisi and Richard Hanner, who showed me that passion does not exclude intelligence, research and plain old common sense. Their classes and most of all, their examples, inspire me still.

I met some fantastic friends, the majority of whom I am still very close to. My roommate, Eric Desormeaux, Chris Janda, and the Zint family stand out in my mind. Eric and I used to lie in bed till all hours of the night and early morning, giving voice to the haunting questions, nagging doubts and angry impressions of those days. These churning, frothing discussions, I now know, kept me grounded and vented, able to see a balance and a realistic equilibrium to everything going on around me.

The majority of my friends rebelled after CFNI. Some left Pentecostalism. Others left the Church all together. Still others, disillusioned and despondent, either questioned or forsook God’s call on their lives to be ministers. For me, it led to lethargy and a dull disinterest in the things of God. The questioning and even a hostility to my faith would come just a few years later while I was in the Navy. The road back would be a difficult and prickly one. Sometimes, it still is.

If I had it to do all over again, I really don’t think I would attend CFNI. I certainly wouldn’t at this point in my life. I’m not sure if attending Bible college did anything other than show me what I didn’t want, who I didn't want to become.

Growing up, I felt comfortable as a Charismatic simply because it was all I knew. It was how I was raised. But I was always uncomfortable engaging in its forms of worship. Prophetic utterances always made me uncomfortable. Gave me the heebie-jeebies, really. It was always the same lady in our church. Always the same message: God is doing a new thing or whatever. I spoke in tongues a few times or at least imitated what everyone else sounded like so I looked as if I knew what I was doing. Truth is, I hadn’t a clue. Still don’t. It was gibberish then and it’s gibberish now. How one gift of the Holy Spirit—a minor one at that—became the talisman and even the spiritual litmus test of an entire movement is beyond me.

Christianity--I have been raised in this. I have inherited this. And I do believe it. But I look around me sometimes and I think, “If this is what Christianity is all about; if this is all there is; if this is what a true Christian looks like—then I want nothing to do with it.”

I didn’t leave the Charismatic church right away. It took another decade after CFNI to begin to peel away from my birthright. My grandfather was a Pentecostal missionary and minister. So was my father. It wasn’t an easy transition. There have been many bumps and questions and confusion along the way.

I was raised as a Protestant (Protest-ent) which is to say I was raised to believe that Catholicism is not true Christianity and that anything even remotely smacking of popery is not to be given a second glance. Liturgical churches were declared lifeless, whitewashed tombs holding the dead carcasses of liberals masquerading as Christians.

And now, I’m one of them.

I began attending Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church a little over a year ago. I’d been feeling a deep yearning for a more structured, traditional, historical and dare-I-say-it, liturgical form of worship for some time. Stephanie and I were married in her father’s Lutheran church in a richly liturgical ceremony that we both adored. While she had grown up attending her father’s church a few times a month, I had never before encountered anything remotely liturgical.

The first Sunday I was overwhelmed. I also knew I was home.

One Sunday this past winter, we awoke to a massive snowstorm that shut down the city and made traveling impossible. Luckily Grace & St. Stephens is just across the street and Stephanie and I trudged through the snow to join a dozen or so other brave souls in the morning liturgy. Afterwards, as the congregation emptied out into the freezing mush, my wife and I stayed behind in conversation with Father Theron Walker, St. Stephen’s Vicar. He and I had spent some time together (remember that great U2 concert!?) and I was truly enjoying his insights into the Anglican faith and the way that faith is shaped and shared withh others. But I was not prepared to find that, while they were separated by many years, Father Walker and Patton Dodd were both alumnus’ of Oral Roberts University! I’m sure I sputtered something along the lines of, “You attended where?” as I stared at the priest in front of me, decked out in long, ornamental robes.

“Yeah, I was raised in the Assemblies of God. I discovered the Episcopal Church in my junior year at ORU and went to Episcopal seminary not long after graduating. You two are not unusual here,” he went on, saying, “You might be surprised to learn how many people attend here who came out of the Pentecostal and Charismatic traditions…or, who still consider themselves Charismatic, but who practice it liturgically.”

I’ve never felt comfortable in my own spiritual skin–until now.

The new face of my faith is humble. It freely admits it doesn’t have all the answers and doesn’t try to pretend that it does when cornered with questions or tragedies beyond its scope. It doesn’t deny that the answers exist, or Who has them, but simply that, as finite human beings, we cannot possibly understand the full mind of God. This is a church that takes religion seriously and itself lightly.

The new face of my faith is historical, building its strength on thousands of years of established and proven history instead of the whims and currents of fads. I can go to any another parish on any another Sunday and hear exactly the same chants and scriptural recitations. The liturgical calendar is one of the glories of the Church.

The new face of my faith is intellectual, realizing that God told us to love Him with all our hearts, souls and minds. Faith without reason is little better than divining God from a caldron full of bat wings and toad legs.

The new face of my faith is contemplative. It seeks after God not in the proverbial fire and wind but in the chattering brook and the breeze created by butterfly wings. God speaks, more often than not, in whispers, not in signs and miracles.

The new face of my faith is social as well as spiritual. God told us that we would be known as his disciples, not by the rules we kept, the politics we changed, or the prosperity we gained, but by our love. And that love is shown in how one cares for one’s less fortunate neighbor. I love this church’s emphasis on justice. I love its emphasis on peace. It’s a religion more interested in action than in mere professions of faith.

The new face of my faith is fluid and dynamic, allowing for a myriad of opposites—even political and, occasionally, theological opposites—in order to remain vital. It realizes that a system without opposition stagnates.

The new face of my faith is ornate. I find myself marveling at how easy it is to worship God and enter into His presence when the very ornamentation has been crafted as an anthem of praise and reverence. There is something about worshiping in a grand building that focuses your attention heavenward, that galvanizes your mind and wayward thoughts and compresses them toward into a single objective, a single entity. In such a setting, things begin to be striped away, namely the grime, the accumulated grit, the repulsive layers of self that act like heavy webs to stifle our reverie and suffocate our veneration.

I love the Eucharistic ritual, the colors and the banners and the music and the processions, communing with Christ in the company of others and uttering prayers that have been said millions of times spanning thousands of years. I love reading the words aloud together, integrating their message into all my senses. I love the bread and the cup, the linens and the vestments—their colors, materials, patterns, the care and honor that is taken with them.

I haven’t totally left my heritage behind. I still divide my time between the old Pentecostal church in which I was raised and St. Stevens. The A of G church is too authentic, too loving, and frankly, too un-Pentecostal, for me to abandon it altogether. If it wasn’t, I would have made a clean break ages ago. The rudder of this church, Pastor Rob Cowles just announced last week that he will be leaving the church to undertake a new vision elseware. It was a tremendous blow, like an atomic bomb had gone off in my face. I am not one for hero worship—I despise it actually—especially when it comes to those in ministerial positions, but Rob’s lucid teaching and gushing heart have done more to keep me from completely leaving my spiritual roots than anything else. His gentleness and wisdom, grounding and perspective, not to mention Charismatic doctrinal insubordination shows me that perhaps the chasm between these two worlds I straddle can someday be bridged.

In the end of his book, but still at the beginning of his spiritual formation, Patton Dodd, like myself, decides to break new ground within his own faith tradition. His faith transforms into something more liturgical. He paints a nuanced and multifaceted picture of an earnest quest for God: the appetite for genuine faith, the dark encounters with doubt, the consuming quandaries that defy the intellect and soul and the profound realization that questioning the Christian message is not the same thing as questioning Christ.

Frank, funny, and often challenging, Dodd’s irreverent and occasionally cheeky commentary offers a tremendously compelling argument for how spiritual and cultural formation actually takes place. He captures the often vulgar messiness of faith and the faithful without implicating the one in whom the faith is placed. “My Faith So Far” is much more than a spiritual biography or memoir, mapping the internal life of a single pilgrim. It is also a cultural commentary, deftly unpeeling the seemingly unending layers of this particular branch of evangelical subculture.

Rich Mullins once said, “You know, a lot of people think that the idea that there’s so many denominations is disillusioning. And I just kind of go, I’m glad the Baptists can go to their own place to worship, because I’m not sure I want to do it the way they do.” I say the same thing about Charismatics (and Baptists!), even while wrestling with a massive distaste and concern for their theology. I am glad that there is the sort of diversity of churches that fits the diversity of its congregants. No doubt, somewhere out there is a man who, suffocated and emaciated by years in a by-the-numbers liturgical congregation is getting his first taste of the freedom and expansiveness of a Pentecostal service. And he loves it. And he's finally found God.

Several years ago, I could never have dreamed of where I am now. And who can say that years from now I won’t be making the same comment. It’s sort of like those time-lapse pictures I was taking of the space telescope’s construction. Once the crew had finished, I packed up the camera and computer and ran back to the lab where the data was downloaded into an editing suite and played back. There, before my eyes, in stuttering steps, a pile of disorganized and untidy flotsam blossomed into a mechanism of beautiful form and symmetry. If, as I am dying, I am able to look upon the construction of my life much as I had the construction of that telescope, I am sure I would be equally bewildered and amazed by its unpredictable and seemingly erratic compositions. And yet, every piece fits perfectly. Without one particular armature, another could not be added, expanded or even built upon. What looks like a muddle of parts to the untrained eye makes perfect sense to the designer. And in the end, there rests an object of both beauty and utilitarianism, form and function—the product of the mind, creativity and love of a creator that ultimately smiles over his creation and says, “You’re perfect. Now go see what’s out there.”


I use the words Pentecostal and Charismatic interchangeably in this blog. I fully realize there are certain qualities that distinguish them from one another, but to the outside world and to most adherents, no one is able to tell the difference. So why should I…

Dodd’s story is my story.

“My Faith So Far” might as well been my memoir. My struggles. My defeats. My victories. Oh sure, some things would change–primarily my Christian secondary education, my lack of drug use, sexual promiscuity and rebellion in high school, etc, but for the most part–from the church, to the college, to the disillusionment, anger and redemption transformed into something far different–that is me.

My family founded Christ for the Nations Institute, one of the country’s largest Charismatic Bible colleges, in 1970. It was the last thing my Great Uncle Gordon did before passing away the year I was born. I once saw a picture of him that encapsulates who he was to me. The photographer is on stage with him, directly to his right. Gordon is leaning forward, casting a wide shadow over the congregation seated below him, enraptured. In his hands he’s holding an old fashioned microphone on a stand—the big, square, clunky, retro kind—and, for a second, he looks like Elvis or some other rock-and-roller. His face is the picture of intensity, his mouth open in mid-sentence. I’ve always loved that picture. After he died, his wife, my Great Aunt Freda took over. The ministry flourished and over 30,000 students have passed through the school’s halls and are now positioned around the world as pastors, teachers, missionaries, and lay leaders.

Sometime in high school, it somehow became the natural assumption in my family that I’d attend CFNI. I’m not quite sure how this occurred. I remember Aunt Freda asking,

“You’re coming to CFNI after you graduate, right?”

“Maybe,” I answered, while on the inside I was muttering, “Not a chance. I’m not going to a Bible college.”

Somewhere along the line, though, I changed my mind. The school’s associate program was two and a half years in length and partly because I thought it would placate my family and partly because I was curious, I decided to do the half portion—a summer session—between my junior and senior years of high school. To my surprise, it was a very moving, enjoyable and, of course, liberating summer. I decided that I would indeed attend the school. After all, it was only two years. And a good spiritual foundation before heading off to get my degree would be a smart move, I felt.

It wasn’t easy being the Great Nephew of the school’s founder. People are in wonder and awe. They imagined my life in the shadow of a great saint. Truth is, of course, I’d never even met him. Try as I might to keep it quiet, people still found out. Some thought I must be closer to God. Others didn’t care. Still others assumed I’d naturally be an ass and decided right then and there to dislike me. (It’s an odd experience to have someone ask your forgiveness for disliking you when you’ve never even met them.)

Additionally, it’s very hard to get away with things when everyone has their eye on you. How’s a guy supposed to be able to break the rules when everyone is watching him? Though they claim we have a new liberty in Christ, Charismatics have about as many rules as the orthodox Jews. And CFNI, it seemed, loved to adopt them all: no R-rated movies, no drinking, no dancing, no smoking, no guys in girl’s rooms and no girls in guy’s rooms, no romantic touching between sexes, no walking on the grass, no TVs, no non-Christian music, no staying out after 11pm (curfew strictly enforced), no provocative clothing (men must wear dress slacks and collared shirts and women must wear dresses), no faddish haircuts (one student, now a well-known Christian musician, was kicked out because he was unwilling to cut his hair), no skipping class... You get the idea.

It was as if the quality of your spiritual life was measured by your ability to keep the law. This wasn’t their intention of course, when they were written. With such a disparate group of students, some sort of standard was needed by which to keep the school above repute. But rules, especially when you have a lot of them, tend to take on lives of their own. And pretty soon, it was not the unfathomable and unplumbable depth of your heart that was used to judge your walk with God (as if such a thing were necessary and appropriate in the first place), but the very observable and verifiable adherence to school rules.

Funny then, that I think I broke nearly every one. I was too much of a movie buff to ignore two year’s worth of great films, my drawers were filled with all kinds of secular music, I walked on the grass just for spite, and my roommates and I had a TV hidden inside a set of drawers with false backs. That is until one of my roomates got convicted and turned us in.

The classes were like those at any college. Some you cannot wait to get to, some you cannot wait to get out of. The Bible was taught with a decidedly Charismatic perspective. Every subject was first filtered through the prism of Pentecostal tradition, oftentimes brushing past or completely ignoring traditional orthodoxy for the “enlightened” perspective of a movement barely a hundred years old. Never intending to go into the ministry (a fact which made me an odd duck on campus), I ignored hermeneutics and stuck to such classes as Biblical history, Christian ethics and in-depth examination of assorted books of the Bible. I avoided such classes as Healing, Deliverance, and Creation Science like the plague.

In addition to the classes, we had weekly speakers. Some were dreadfully dull while others were extraordinarily first-rate. Some brought messages that kindled holy fire in our hearts, while others—too many others—spent each session talking about how we can have whatever we set our faith on—money, houses, cars, you name it. They spoke at the Sunday service (conducted in the afternoon so that it wouldn’t interfere with church, also mandatory), the weekday 11 o’clock session, and a Wednesday evening session.

I remember one particular preacher who came one week, ripe for mockery. My friends and I wasted no time. He would strut about the stage, screaming and yelling and if we didn’t respond to him with enough “amens” or whatevers, he’d stop and look at us and say in his distinctive Southern drawl, “Now, I know what you’re all thinking. You’re thinking, ‘That’s good preachin’ brother Terry.’ I know it! I KNOW IT!” He would do this all week long. For months afterwards, anytime my friends and I wanted to get a particular point across to one another, this became our mantra. “Now I know what you’re thinking Chris. You’re thinking ‘that’s good drivin’ brother Brandon! I know it. I KNOW IT!” We also remembered this particular speaker—though I do not remember his name—because of his daughter who sat with him on stage during one of the chapel sessions. She was an incredibly beautiful woman. She was also one of the most unhappy-looking human beings we’d ever laid eyes on. “What has life with this man been like for you,” I’d wonder and imagine what it would be like to valiantly rescue her from her life with her pompous, overbearing, egotistical father.

It wasn’t long before I begin to see some cracks with my chosen place of education and enlightenment. They were the sort of cracks you try to ignore at first, preferring to chalk up any sort of imperfection as a lack of understanding on your own part. But the more it happened, the harder it was to ignore, the harder it was to make excuses for. The problems started small at first, or at least the aperture of my perspective began small. Soon, the problems were all I could see and they were preventing me from receiving some very real ministry.

I would rarely enter in like so many of my fellow students, wondering what I was doing wrong, why God was ignoring me, why they didn’t see the red flags I saw or, if they did, why it didn’t bother them.

One staff member commented during a service that being at CFNI was like being under a Holy Spirit spicket and how he wished it were possible to stay there forever under that blessed downpour. I remember thinking that such a desire was absurd. What good did that do the world? To live in a bubble of spiritual bliss day in and day out may make you feel good but it hardly improves the world in which you live or the lives of the hurting people around you.

CFNI was a monolithic bubble, within which a very different world existed. Shut off and isolated from society, existence there became a place where basking in the glow of God was the number one pursuit. Sometimes I thought my fellow classmates were like zombies and soon I’d need to run down the aisles, forcefully slapping them across the face, shouting, “Wake up!” and they’d shake their heads and the glaze would disappear from their eyes and they’d say, “Thanks, I needed that. Now then, let’s get the hell outta here!”

One evening some friends had me and others from the yearbook staff where I worked as the Assistant Editor over for dinner and a movie. After a fantastic meal of I-don’t-remember-what (but Becki cooked it so it must have been fantastic) we all situated ourselves around the living room and began to watch Dances with Wolves. (TVs were allowed in family housing, just not in the single’s dorms). Midway though the film, at a particularly dramatic scene, one of my fellow students blurted out, “How cool would it be if Capt. John Dunbar was a Christian and he was bringing the wonderful news of the Gospel to the Indians?!”

I remember my response. It wasn’t very spiritual. I told him to shut up.

Most students preferred to skip breakfast and get as much sleep as they could. Those who did eat usually hobbled into the cafeteria just as they were about to shut the doors, hair askew, bleary-eyed and catatonic. One particular morning a guy sat down next to me in the nearly empty cafeteria and we struck up a polite but limited conversation. I can’t remember how the conversation started, but somehow it turned to one of my favorite subjects—Star Trek. I recall saying something about the TV show—probably something as innocuous as the fact that it happened to be on that particular evening and I was looking forward to going over to Becki’s to catch it—when my table-mate paused, his fork hovering in midair, a speared sausage caught in limbo. He seemed to stare off into the distance and with a glazed look in his eyes, turned to me and in all seriousness, said, “Wouldn’t it be fantastic…” (at this point the sausage was making wide arcs in the air) “…if the Starship Enterprise was a missionary vessel, bringing God’s love to the farthest, most remote corners of the Galaxy!”

I remember my response. It wasn’t very spiritual. I told him to shut up.

One day I got a call from my great Aunt. She asked me if I’d like to join her at a Benny Hinn crusade that evening. I had no idea who Benny Hinn was, so I agreed. (How I had grown up Pentecostal and even been at that school for as long as I had without knowing his name, I’ll never know). She picked me up shortly after dinner and we drove through downtown Dallas to the enormous convention center. Once parked, we made our way through the backstage entrance, since she was going to be speaking for a few minutes at the opening of the service. I mingled around backstage, watching the sort of action no one else ever sees. At one point a man sporting a spectacularly odd suit and haircut came up to me and struck up a conversation. His accent was hard to place. Middle-eastern perhaps, with something else thrown in. We chatted for a few moments, but soon he had to excuse himself and I exited the backstage to find my seat.

The auditorium was colossal and there were more people packed into it than I thought physically possible. I settled into my assigned seat and it wasn’t long before the lights died down and spotlights began whipping across the crowd. In the center of the stage, a thick fog rolled in, made thicker by the luminous beams. What the…? Suddenly, a man emerged from the haze and began singing “How Great Thou Art.” Oh, I knew this man. He was the one I had spoken to back stage. So he must have been the worship leader. However, as the service went on and the music ended and this man was still on stage, speaking, it hit me–that man wasn’t the worship leader, it was Hinn himself.

It wasn’t long before he began calling people up to the stage for healing. Some would come up in wheelchairs and bound off the stage like acrobats. Others he’d declare healed and they’d limp back the same way they came. When he was through making a mockery of one of Christ’s most beautiful miracles, he turned to the rest of us and declared that the Holy Ghost was with him and he was about to shower us all.

“Yes,” he said, we were “all going to fall under the power of my anointing and be slain in the spirit. Link arms,” he commanded, “and watch what God can do.”

Link arms! Could this guy be any more obvious? Was this a dress rehearsal for Leap of Faith, Part II!? Where was Steve Martin hiding? As my neighbors linked their arms with mine, I decided then and there that I was not going down. I looked to my left. I looked to my right. You guys aren’t going down either, I told my neighbors with my mind. We are not doing the whims of this charlatan.

“NOW!,” Hinn screamed and looked as it he was trying to throw fireballs from his hands into the crowd. For some reason, as I remember it, the domino effect began from the edges of the auditorium and worked its way inward. Everywhere people began falling, dragging their neighbors down with them. As the human tidal wave rippled towards me, I planted my feet and locked my arms. I never did go down. Neither did the guys to my right or left.

I can’t remember what I told my Aunt later that evening as we drove home. I’m sure I lied. I probably told her something nice and innocuous. I shudder to think what I would have said had such an incident occured today. All I know is, if I’d come in my own car that evening, I would have walked out of that circus tent in the first few minutes. (Not everyone bought into the televangelist thing. A few doors down from mine, a Canadian friend had a dart board on his wall—televangelist Robert Tilton with the eyes repeatedly gouged out.)

I once made a comment to a friend as we came out of the film, Shadowlands (not rated R!), that, “there is more to life than God.” I said it then because it was the sort of film that our fellow students would have left analyzing in the face of a half-dozen Bible verses on death and dying and providence instead of simply feeling and wrestling with the pain. I didn’t mean by it that God was not present in everything in our lives, but that, in an odd sort of logic, we keep him so small in the face of our largest challenges. Standing before things which overwhelm our emotions (like the death of a wife and mother as depicted in the movie) we resort to trite cliché’s about God’s control and all things working out for good and infinite purposes we cannot see. And these things are all true. But when we reduce our reactions to things we cannot comprehend to the theological equivalent of pithy bumper stickers, then we are propping ourselves up, not with God, but with our own limited, myopic and extremely one-sided views of Him.

I wonder why I didn’t leave. Did I stay just so I could say I wasn’t a quitter? Did I stay because I was too afraid to rock the boat? Did I stay because, deep down, I hoped I was wrong? Probably a bit of all three.

If it seems that I’m attacking the extremists among my fellow students and faculty and making a disproportionate case, then, to some degree, there is probably some truth to that. The person who yells the loudest and stands up the tallest is usually the one that gets shot at first. And yet, while there are certainly more grounded, stable, and reserved Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians (I know and adore many), they, more often than not, are just as guilty as the extremists in many areas. At best, they are guilty for letting the extremism continue. By not confronting the Benny Hinns of the movement, Charismatics either show that they approve of his and others’ actions, or, they are impotent to stop them. Either way, non-believers and believers alike look at them and see only ridiculous circus clowns.

I could no longer get behind the spiritual family in which I had been weaned and nurtured. The issues I had with Charismaticisim in general were magnified ten-fold at the school.

I could no longer endorse a theology that looked to experience as its source for truth instead of the Bible. I could no longer abide a Christianity that mistrusted intellect and elevated emotion to the ultimate standard bearer of pragmatism. I could no longer support a system that looked at incontrovertible prophecy as divine revelation equal to Scripture. Does Scripture contain all the revelation that you and I need? Is Scripture alone sufficient? Put another way, is the Bible the complete Word of God? If God is still giving revelation, such as in, “God told me...” then the Bible is, in fact, not complete.

I could no longer sanction a belief system so narcissistic and introverted as to, at best, allow and at worst, condone a “name it and claim it” gospel that cared more for the size of church coffers than caring for the spiritual and physical needy among us. I could no longer approve of a high-jacked version of my faith that saw speaking in tongues—a topic already wildly taken out of context—as a means of hyper-salvation. And I could not back a spiritual philosophy that ignored historical precedent for end-times myopia, preferred sensationalism to authenticity and saw spiritual warfare as a board game of Risk.

It was time to begin looking elseware for spiritual nourishment.

Recently, CFNI contacted me to ask if I’d be willing to write an occasional column for the Alumni publication, focusing on how the college changed my life. I told the alumni coordinator who called that I would be happy to, though she would probably first want to hear about some of the changes in my life recently. She insisted it wouldn’t be a problem and she looked forward to whatever I wrote. I sent her an article, which, among other things, questioned a certain number of the school’s sacred cows. I never heard from her again.

to be continued...



I’m not quite sure why I am writing this other than a need from someplace deep within me to do so. To explain myself. Sort of. Not because I need to justify my actions, but because sometimes you have to get something that’s been gnawing at you off your chest before it bores a hole all the way through you. I am worried that it might come across angry and bitter when most of those emotions long ago gave way to indifference or even amusement. I am worried that some people might be offended when, in fact, it is really a culture I am addressing and not any specific people or institutions. Some may find my musings and impressions scurrilous while many others, I know (from having spoken with you), will find them eerily on target. I guess if this blog is a sort of story of progression, the story has to have a beginning, has to have a reason for the protagonist to take the fork in the road rather than continue on straight ahead. This is the beginning of that story. Sort of.

I had lots of time on my hands over the chilly, April weekend. The video production company for which I work was charged with recording the construction of a life-sized replica of a satellite telescope in the middle of a posh hotel parking lot for a big space symposium that happens here every year. My job—baby-sit a digital time-lapse camera snapping away every few seconds for well over 10 hours on a nearby rooftop.

It wasn't a hard job. Mind-numbingly boring actually. But spend a full day on a roof, exposed to bitter winds, your pea-coat collar wrapped tightly around your neck and a wool cap pulled snuggly down around your ears, your only intellectual exercise glancing occasionally at a computer screen and your mind begins taking you on some odd tangents. I found myself comparing my life to the metallic behemoth being assembled ever-so-precisely (and ever-so-slowly) beneath me.

Envisioned to peer into the heavens at greater distances than humankind has ever looked before, the James Webb Space Telescope is designed to observe the formation of the first stars and the evolution of galaxies in the universe billions of years ago. To do this, the JWST will employ a 6.5-meter aperture primary mirror, comprised of 18 hexagonal-shaped segments. The massive mirror, seven times that of Hubble’s, gives it the light-collecting sensitivity to see objects 400 times fainter than those currently observed by ground- and space-based telescopes. At the heart of all of its circuitry, cables and computer chips is a very human question: Where did we come from and by extension, where are we going?

I’m like that too. The JWST is being sent into deep space to try to discover what’s out there. I too am constantly sending out spiritual feelers, my own religious mirrors set in an attempt to glean whatever distant and ancient mysteries I can about the origins of life and human purpose. Sometimes staggering discoveries are made. Telescopes capture luminescent images of starry nebula or spiral galaxies. Or my soul captures the pulse of God, and for a moment, I glimpse what and who is truly important. Often times, however, it is only a cold, dark, listless search bolstered by the faith in the evidence (or the God) that led to the search in the first place.

When I wasn’t personifying myself in hunks of metal, I found I had plenty of time to read. My book of choice was Patton Dodd’s, “My Faith So Far.” My wife read it first and found it fascinating. She grew up with Patton, knew him from the megachurch he so voluptuously describes and cringes at the things that made him put pen to paper in the first place. Still, she suggested, this might be more a personal memoir than something with more widespread appeal.

Patton Dodd grew up in a good Christian home with good Christian parents. And like so many kids in his position, he rebelled, fell away from the faith, and indulged in sex, drugs, and rock & roll. The cliché.

But during his senior year of high school, he found himself accompanying his sister to a charismatic megachurch here in Colorado Springs ("The exterior of the church looks like a Wal-Mart with half a paint job: a blue-and-light-blue concrete box surrounded by acres of parking"), and there, to the surprise of everyone, himself included, he responded to the altar call. Evoking the evangelical liturgy, he confessed his sins and prayed for repentance, signed a card where he indicated he wanted to "accept salvation" and "renew my commitment to Jesus Christ" and walked out of the church, ready "to begin my life anew. Voila."

Dodd does his best to become a fanatically "evangelical, Bible-believing, chest-pounding Christian" grounding his new identity in the sort of fervent absolutes and unquestioning faith that characterize a new believer’s faith. It doesn’t help matters that he still wants to drink, do drugs, screw and go around with girls that do. And he often does.

Realizing he can no longer live life like he used to, Dodd ratchets his resolve, exchanging pot smoking for worship dancing, gives up MTV for banal Christian pop, and enrolls at Oral Roberts University, a Christian college that he sees as the ultimate way of ridding himself of the snares of the world and submerging himself in a culture that will have all the answers.

However, he soon finds himself ill at ease with the Christians around him as well as with the cloying superficiality of the Christian subculture. He is bewildered when a friend suggests that God-fearing Christians shouldn't study literature. He is bamboozled when his Journalism professor doesn’t mention a word about his subject for weeks and chooses instead to muse on prayer. He is flummoxed by his university's founder’s claim that unless he is given millions of dollars soon, God will kill him. He is troubled by the name-it-and-claim-it school of prayer his school embraces. (One young prayer warrior entreats, "Father, you know I need a new truck, so right now I just claim a Toyota 4X4, 3.4 liter, six-cylinder, extended cab — red with white trim. I need low payments and affordable insurance. I just claim these things in Jesus' name").

It’s a wonder he didn’t chuck the whole Christian thing right there.

But this isn’t a story of conversion. It is a story of what comes after. The dateable, spiritual birthday if you will, isn’t the most important thing in Dodd’s life or the narrative, but the turning point at which he begins to truly realize what his new faith requires of him and how he will deal with it. This period of faithful doubt and doubt-filled faith marks the crux of the book as Dodd struggles to reconcile the Sunday school version of Christianity--the sort spoon fed to new believers--with the more adult, controversial and even paradoxical truth of a more mature journey. It is a time of deep questions and even deeper doubts, told in dynamic contradiction: conversion and confusion, acceptance and rejection, spiritual highs and psychological lows. With painstaking transparency, Dodd tries to parley a relationship with his faith at odds with the cultural trappings that so gaudily and tawdrily clothe it.

But here’s the thing. Whether it has mainstream appeal is certainly arguable. I think it does. Either way, it doesn’t really matter to me because it certainly has personal appeal.

You see, Dodd’s story is my story.

to be continued...
Ut In Omnibus Glorificetur Deus