With Just a Little Thought

‘”I was on my way to Dictionopolis when I got stuck here,” explained Milo.  “Can you help me?”

“Help you! You must help yourself,” the dog replied, carefully winding himself with his left hind leg. “I suppose you know why you got stuck.”

“I guess I just wasn’t thinking,” said Milo.

“PRECISELY,” shouted the dog as his alarm went off again.  “Now you know what you must do.”

“I’m afraid I don’t,” admitted Milo, feeling quite stupid.

“Well,” continued the watchdog impatiently,”since you got here by not thinking, it seems reasonable to expect that, in order to get out, you must start thinking.”  And with that, he hopped into the car.

“Do you mind if I get in?  I love automobile rides.”

Milo began to think as hard as he could (which was very difficult, since he wasn’t used to it).  He thought of birds that swim and fish that fly.  He thought of yesterday’s lunch and tomorrow’s dinner.  He thought of words that began with J and numbers that end in 3.  And, as he thought, the wheels began to turn.

“We’re moving, we’re moving,” he shouted happily.

“Keep thinking,” scolded the watchdog.

The little car started to go faster and faster as Milo’s brain whirled with activity, and down the road they went.  In a few moments they were out of the Doldrums and back on the main highway.  All the colors had returned to their original brightness, and as they raced along the road Milo continued to think of all sorts of things; of the many detours and wrong turns that were so easy to take, of how fine it was to be moving along, and, most of all, of how much could be accomplished with just a little thought.’

–from Norman Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth


Miscellany, followed by Christian Misbehavers Catalogue

I can’t believe it’s been more than 2 months since I last posted anything.  I’ve drafted several posts, but never got around to finishing them (polishing them?).  They ranged from a programme review, to the media treatment of the Gaza situation (yesterday’s very stale news, now, given ISIL/ISIS, Syria & people’s short attention spans), to cooking, to…I forget.  Bits of today’s post may be equally hodge-podge.

First, it astounds me how students can stand (and afford!) to have a drinking party at 11am on a Saturday morning.  Cheap beer, cheap vodka, the works–and they likely had been up late the night before (and the night before that, and the night before that, etc.).  Hey, at least the girls next door (one of whom has a laugh that sounds like a zebra) did stop by and apologize; apparently a group of neighbors along the road wrote a community letter to several of the student houses.  We were not involved, but so thankful someone did something about the noise!

Second, I wonder how to broach the subject of much-needed better ventilation in the sanctuary of our budget-strapped church.  It gets so hot and stuffy in there, and our 90+ year old veteran complains as much as I do (though not to the elders).

Third, I wonder if spiritual upheaval has an effect on physical well-being.  This most recent flare-up of my IBS has been especially bad over the past few days (I’m on about week 5).  When I googled ‘spiritual warfare and nausea’, I didn’t come up with anything definitive–just results where folks had described their own experiences in particular situations.  Also, for my own records, I can say that I have now been taking Bimuno for a week, which is the described minimum for improvement for IBS sufferers who reviewed the product.  We’ll see.  I’ve at least been keeping up ‘religiously’ with my IBS journal.  It’s a bit gross if I think about it too much…

Finally, it has occurred to me that I should do a catalogue of ‘Christians behaving badly’, or ‘Christian Misbehavers’, all ‘from my own experience’!  I would find Bozeman’s 1987 booklet on church ‘bird-watching’ helpful, but it unfortunately seems to be no longer in print.  I shall have to do my own.

I shall begin with the context: small church in a tight-knit, relatively homogeneous community (ethnically, economically, etc.), with all the pros & cons that come with such territory.  The background: the church has had very few long-lasting pastors (this seems to be a feature of the community generally).  And then there’s the congregation.  Many of them are ‘normal’ (in the social/relationship sense), even good, Christians, behaviorally and in attitude, and many are serious about their faith and about the Bible, including learning more, and loving more.

And then there’s the odd ducks.  Every church has them–but in small churches, undesirable character traits, behavior, attitudes, proclivities–they show.  In theory, one would think that the fact that these little problems can’t be hidden would force a solution, would ‘rub the corners off people’s personalities’, as the man is wont to say.  But in a church like this, where everyone’s related, people have been ‘friends’ or neighbors since birth, and the church (and the people in it, even their regeneration) just ‘is’, like the farms just ‘are’, you don’t rock the boat, ask questions, acknowledge incongruities, allow for doubt, or try to make people change.  It’s taken for granted that the way they act is ‘who they are’, and you don’t want to upset the apple-cart by telling one of the horses that she’s knocked her own shoe loose.   It’s a philosophical and existential blind spot.

So, who are these characters?

1. The Impatient Zealot: someone on fire for the Lord, at least at some level; however, believes that zeal excuses mistakes, or justifies wanting control over certain aspects of church life because she’s confident she herself can ensure church growth.  When things don’t go to plan, others don’t agree, or want the zealot to slow down, zealot can become jaded, discouraged, or angry with those now seeming to be ‘in opposition’.  If situation is exacerbated, church doesn’t grow or change as hope for or expected, or zealot takes disagreement too personally, she may make a dramatic exit.

2. The Presumed Innocent-and-Sanctified Raisin: One who suffers and causes others to suffer because of an inability of the Christian community to lay down the law because of the presuppositional fallacy that is ‘presumptive regeneration’.  A person who was baptized and grew up in the church is therefore assumed to be Christian, and whose flaws are therefore considered a matter of personality rather than one of sin; one who, at a more mixed or cosmopolitan church, would not be allowed to continue in the questionable behavior, which can include out-an-out rudeness to the pastor or other parishioners, bad attitude towards worship, sulky demeanor, general discontent with church life, lack of love for the Word, strange fascination with making others look foolish or absurd in front of others, general self-centredness and an almost compulsive defensiveness which is then quickly turned into assault when questioned.  Would be enough, under other church circumstances, to cause concern for the soul, and also evoke disciplinary measures.

3. The Swaggering iam: one who thinks he’s already arrived, either in terms of holiness or depth & breadth of Christian knowledge.  Leads to not only an unteachable spirit, but even an arrogance which justifies the placing of oneself in a position of challenging, questioning, insulting and undermining the leadership.  If unchecked may even segue into delusional thinking, exemplified by the person thinking that not only is he capable of judging the pastor, but even all the other parishioners in his home church, and the denominational leadership as well.  This person may descend into insisting on putting others, including leadership, ‘in their place’ publicly, thinking of himself as a hero or martyr for his pet causes on which he believes he knows better than literally everyone else.  Is not above, however, claiming allies to bolster his claims, while his ‘opponent’s’ allies may be disregarded without a hearing.  Can be easily offended if questioned, yet totally blind to the offense potentially caused by own questioning and approach to others; all this is justified because he knows he’s right, and is so right that he doesn’t even need to know what the other side knows or believes to know that it’s wrong.

4. The Grumbler: simple malcontent, whose prototype may be found in the Old Testament Israelites under the leadership of Moses.  This type does not need an excuse to grumble; will be a malcontent no matter what.  If upset enough to leave, will try to hammer home all the reasons why, but once the dust has settled and the hot air has dissipated, the epiphanesque causes for the departure of a ‘much-needed sheep’ turn out to be mere cardboard cut-outs, with no substance once there is no snarling complainer to loudly assert them.  Often type and persistence of criticism betrays lack of grace and spiritual perceptiveness, as well as a misalignment of priorities and desire for worldly types of satisfaction.

5. The Excuse Maker (can have a lot of overlap with other categories, in this case, with the examples from 1 & 4): what it sounds like.  Most relevant when the problem-people refuse to acknowledge what they bring to the table that affects their own church experience.  Everything they don’t like is due to what’s outside of them, either in the church’s way of doing things, or in the fellow-parishioners.  What’s surprising about excuse makers is that, to everyone who doesn’t share in the trait, their excuses appear lame and even disturbingly self-serving on the one hand, or self-incriminating on the other.

6. The Wrongfully Content (may also be called the Unaware Uninformed): dangerous, because sometimes a characteristic of otherwise ‘strong’ Christians.  This person may have a good sense of what’s important in the Christian life and teaching, but like the Swaggering iam, can be tempted into complacency on subjects on which he’s not familiar, or of whose importance he hasn’t been convinced.  Often means stuntedness in certain areas of the Christian life & knowledge, while in other areas growth is evident or even robust.  Can often indicate limited exposure to other local bodies and wider church traditions, as in #7.  Most important is a myopic, insular view of his own spirituality and potential, and lack of awareness of the limits of his knowledge and training; difficult to make such a person see his shortcomings, because he’s been half-taught to see it in others, but not to reflect on his own experience and attitudes.  For example, the person may discern an attack on the authority of scripture and oppose it, but not realize when he himself is effectively disregarding or discounting a passage of scripture.

7.  The Traditional Bigot: one who reacts with an ‘Ew!’ or ‘Weird!’ whenever exposed to something ‘new’.  May even resist introduction of previously unconsidered material because he has forgotten how to process something unfamiliar and doesn’t want to have to think.  Also possibly what the name implies at a very basic level: fears or opposes what he ‘doesn’t understand’ and what stands outside of his own (limited & homogeneous) experience.  Also may assume, because he’s happy with his own experience and growth, that his experience and training has been thorough and complete, and anything he doesn’t know or do therefore isn’t ‘necessary’, and can therefore be waved off as insignificant.

8. The Active Aged Maroon: someone who has all the answers, but not because of self-proclaimed learning; it is due to a sanctimonious approach to other, particularly younger, Christians, which also permits the Maroon to speak or take action on issues or problems which he may not understand.  Can often cause great harm and offense when inserting himself, because he tends to flail around ignorantly, but as if with authority, influencing others to their detriment.  Because of his age and a general impression he gives of common sense and spirituality, may be repeatedly put in positions of leadership for which he does not truly qualify, and respect which he has not earned.  May be due to mix of strange attitude or unfounded confidence, and lack of education, experience, perceptiveness, etc.

9.  The Softie: one who wishes everyone in the church would just get along.  Values the ‘love’ and ‘unity’ passages in the Bible more than the ones on church discipline, repentance and restoration.  Often thinks and acts for the immediate, rather than the long-term; only sees disagreements or controversies on the surface, and lacks awareness of deep-rooted spiritual issues, spiritual warfare, and even of Christians’ capacity for repeated and unrepentant sinfulness which must be addressed directly by the church.  Loves the church and the people in it, but often doesn’t have the knowledge and discernment necessary to make the right decisions when it counts.

That’s all for now!