Deconstructing Pt. 1

A week or so ago I wrote about some of the influences on my spiritual journey. It was a brief intro into authors who influenced my thinking. Francis Schaeffer, John Ortberg, Rob Bell are the three I mentioned. We’ll dig in a little here and begin tracing my journey out of american christianity.

A funny thing happened as I grew into my late 40’s. I began to question. As a Baptist, questioning was kinda frowned on. I was big into Apologetics from my mid 30’s into my 40’s, but this was something different. The apologetics and authors I read and listened to had justified why I was right to believe what I believed. I thought I was getting a balanced view, but actually I wasn’t. Lee Strobel’s Case For Faith and the following Case for… books were telling me that I was right to think and believe as I did as an evangelical christian. At first this was very comforting to me. Sure in the Old Testament God ordered the slaughter of entire groups of people, but apologist Norman Giesler convinced me that it was “humane” for God to order the killing of the children, because they would go to heaven as they were too young to understand they were sinners. But in the back of my mind, the nagging thought that something was wrong with this kind of thinking was still there.

And then something big happened. I was already starting to battle with the thought that all who didn’t specifically ask Jesus into their hearts would burn for eternity in hell. And my religious world view was starting to be rocked by Rob Bell’s book Velvet Elvis. But then Bell wrote a book about questioning the concept of hell, called Love Wins. He didn’t come out and say there was no hell, just asked a lot of very good questions, gave a lot of very good information about Jewish beliefs around the time of Christ. Suddenly I was free to question and think and study. Bell’s book blew my mind because I was raised to believe unconditionally that hell was a real place. I began to read and study, and more importantly to tell my wife what I was doing.

Funny thing, my wife had grown up in fundamentalism and she was not happy with what I was telling her. She was worried I was losing my salvation and going to hell. So she did what she is great at, she dug in and began to study, with the intention of showing me how wrong I was. The interesting thing was, I would bring home something I had read and she would research it and find that what we had believed wasn’t so black and white after all. This caused her to dig in even farther. We began to study Universalism. Now when I was growing up, and into my adult years, I always thought that universalism was a mixed bag of all roads lead to god kind of thing. New age or some mumbo jumbo. But our studies led us to the finding that in the early church universalism was a popular teaching. Now, there are several schools of thought about what happens when we die in universalism, and I won’t get into that here. But the main idea is that God doesn’t burn anyone for eternity in hell.

I was shocked at what we were finding and shocked that I had never been told about this line of thinking in the early NT church. I went to bible school, I grew up in the church, I served as a deacon and small group leader. You would have thought it would have come up somewhere, besides being mentioned as “all roads lead to” heresy. During this time, my wife and I watched a documentary called “Hellbound?” that dived into the thinking and controversy around universalism. Not intended to be overly in-depth, but instead to present an overview of the three main thoughts (universalism, Annihilationism, eternal conscious torment) about hell that the church has had over the last 2,000 years, we found it fascinating. Faced with what we had learned over the period of a couple of years, we planted our faith flag in Universalism and thought we had arrived. We were wrong, our journey wasn’t over. We’ll pickup the trail in the next post Deconstructing Pt. 2.

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Baby Violet

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A pretty special event happened over the weekend for my family. My first grand child was born. Baby Violet, mother Eve and father Tyler, my son, are all doing very well. My wife and I are thrilled and Violet’s Aunt Alicia and Uncle Kyle are excited about her arrival. She’s beautiful and tiny and perfect.

I wish my parents had been here to see her. My dad died when I was 25. He died of cancer, and we were all shocked because we believed he would beat death, because he had beaten it twice before. When we heard he had cancer he told me he would beat it because he wanted to be there to see who I married and to see my kids. We were all wrong, the cancer was too far into his body, and he died two months later. My mother on the other hand lived to 94, and saw and lived with and loved my kids. She would have been giddy over little Violet, I can almost hear her excited squeal, the one she would make when she was really excited about something. Like a great meal or family visiting, the things she lived for.

I don’t know about the hereafter. I used to believe I did. But I like the thought that Mom and Dad are aware of little Violet, that they can somehow share in the joy. So even though I don’t know if they can or not, I’m going to go with the hopeful idea that they can, especially dad, who missed so much because his body let him down.

So we’ll go forward, as a family, and do our best to shower Violet with the love and care that my parents would have. I’ll tell her someday about her great grandparents, and the extraordinary lives they lived, simple people who were filled with love. Welcome to the world little Violet!

Are you gonna keep your word?

My wife’s iPhone went off this morning around 5:30 am playing this song by the christian band Guardian called Are You Gonna Keep Your Word. It’s a beautiful song of truth in love and marriage and/or relationships. We must strive to keep our word, fail as we might at times.

“Sometimes it gets so thick in here,” she said
Clearing the plates from another power lunch
Then she laughed at herself and told me what was good
No ring, no coy disguise, but world-weary innocence in her eyes
Said, “Every false move you make will be withstood”

“Lies, like rust, decay
Is your heart that way?
Vows, like prayers, are heard
Are you gonna keep your word?

And when in time I pledged heart and soul
She said, “Love is patient
But you must know that feelings come and go Like these sainted patrons”

Lies, like rust, decay
Is your heart that way?
And good intentions are no guarantee, just look at me
Are you gonna keep your word?”

When the seige begins
When the thieves break in
Will you stand your ground?
And when you fight the wars on foreign soil
Will I rest assured?
Are you gonna keep your word?

And as we watch our children sleep
I take her hand, I feel her ring
I have been faithful, but I know my heart is not above deceit

Lies, like rust, decay
Is your heart that way?
Vows, like prayers, are heard

Will I keep my word?
Lies, little lies come back to haunt you like petty fraud
Vows are made forever before God

And I will always keep my word to you

Vega memories

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“Chevette”
Twenty years ago I watched in awe
as my dad drove up the driveway.
More than proud to have a brand
new family car.
Thirty miles to the gallon, 0 to 60,
sometimes.
I remember putting down the back
seat and lying in the hatchback.
Looking at the sky watching
trees go by.
I was the son of a preacher, and
he was a rich poor man.

No A.C.
No FM,
And no regrets,
in my Chevette.

The winter cracked the highway and
we tried to dodge the potholes.
He never promised us it would be a
gentle ride.
He never had a problem though,
keeping it on the narrow road.

The christian band Audio Adrenaline recorded this song probably 20 years ago now. It always reminded me of my dad, and the Chevy Vega he bought new while we lived in Kentucky. The experiences match my memories of the early days of that car and my dad. If you change Chevette to Vega, it’s a match. My dad was indeed a rich poor man. We’ll talk about him in depth in another post. We went to Lexington to buy the car. How dad was able to I don’t know, he wasn’t being paid by the college. But he decided we needed a newer car, so we went to a dealership, traded in our red Taurino, and drove away with a new 1975 Chevy Vega.

That would have been fine, but dad had agreed to pick up some visitors to the college and bring them back to the campus. So instead of Dad, mom and me riding home, we added another five people. If you’ve ever ridden in a Vega, you know it’s small, and there’s not a ton of room. Plus these people had luggage! All I remember is I was stuck on the backseat floor, under somebody’s legs for the whole trip back home. Longest couple of hours of my short life!

I eventually had the car pasted to me, after my first semester in college. Seems my parents were worried about my transportation after I told them about a date I had where the car I borrowed (my roommate’s car) broke down somewhere in the Miami area. I can’t remember all the details but my date decided that was probably enough and we didn’t go out again. (You know who you are!)

The vega became something of a legend at college. I was always hauling people around in it and it always had a ton of soda cans in the back seat. Occasionally a few random cockroaches would show up. Went to a lot of concerts and got lost a lot. I painted my name on the side door above the handle to personalize it which was kinda corny. It saw me through my three years at Miami Christian and a lot of good times.

My first year at The Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale I was working as a cashier at Cumberland Farms in Ft. Lauderdale. My vega was parked in front of the store and a customer backed into it, driving it into a barrier and crunching the car a few inches. I drove it like that for a few months, a very hard ride! One sunday night I was taking my buddy Tim and his girlfriend to church. Although Tim was 6’7″ and 270 lbs, and his girlfriend was a tiny girl, Tim sat in the back seat. We didn’t get too far before there was a loud bang and the back end of the car dropped on the rear tires. I turned the car around and we drove back to our home with smoke streaming out from the body rubbing on the tires. Great smell! And so the Vega came to a glorious end, crushed into a cube at a local junkyard. But it had served me well and I still miss it.

Life on the move

I’ve been corresponding a lot on FB with friends from different stages of my life. It seems many have no idea of the crazy twists and turns my life took during my school years. From birth through my senior year of high school I moved ten times and attended 9 different schools, in three different states. How did that happen? My dad, as I’ve mentioned before, was a Baptist preacher and a teacher. Staying still just didn’t seem to be in his DNA. It started when we left tiny Throop, NY where I was born, and moved to Mt. Morris, NY where dad took the position as pastor at a Baptist church. While we were there I started kindergarten. My dad’s health began to decline and after a couple of years at Mt. Morris he took a teaching job down the road at a christian college located in Castile, NY. And so I spent first and second grade at the elementary school there. Dad then took the pastorship at a small church in Springfield Center, NY, just up the road from Cooperstown. We were there from third grade to part of sixth grade. Dad then moved us to Letcher, Kentucky to be a greek and hebrew teacher at a very small christian college. This lasted 3 years, I finished sixth grade there and we moved again halfway through my freshman year. This is where it gets a little crazy and I even have trouble remembering it all.

 

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Calvary College, and my mini bike, 1975.
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Mt. Morris, NY with dad.

 

When Dad resigned from the college, he didn’t have a job to go to. Why would he do that? Well, the college hadn’t paid him in two years, providing an apartment to live in was the compensation, and Dad was forced to look for support from people, much like a missionary does. The college was literally down to one student, I’m not kidding, and the end was in sight. (The college campus is still active, now known as Calvary Campus https://www.facebook.com/calvarycampusletcherky/). So we packed up our stuff and headed to Seffner, Florida, where friends had a place for us to live during the rest of the school year. I attended the Jr. High school the rest of that year. For those keeping score, thats two high schools my freshman year.

At the end of the school year dad had not been able to find a job teaching, so we headed north, back to Throop to live that summer with my Aunt in the house that would one day be the home for my own family. I started my sophomore year at a christian school in Auburn, NY. We stayed through the first two weeks of school in the fall. Unable to find that elusive teaching job, and with another home of a friend in Seffner opening up for the fall/winter, we headed south again. I then attended a large high school in Brandon, Florida. Between the semesters, dad was hired to teach High School in Miami. So off we went to a decent sized christian high school for my second semester of my sophomore year. That’s three schools in one year and five over two years for those keeping score at home.

The difference in the three schools I attended my sophomore year is pretty comical really. Emmanuel Christian probably had 100 students from K to 12th. Brandon High had over 4,000 students 9th to 12th. And Mueller Christian Academy I’m guessing had a few hundred students. In two and a half years I had lived in the coal country of Kentucky, the heat of Florida, and the small town farm area of CNY. I felt like a pinball, bopping from place to place. I made a handful of friends along the way, and had my first real girlfriend in Miami, but it was crazy. Miami was a crazy place to live in the mid 70’s and my dad didn’t like it. He was also unhappy with the fundamentalist bent of the principal at Mueller and the day after school ended we were packing our stuff and heading back to Throop. I wasn’t happy, leaving my first girlfriend was a bummer. After living that summer at my uncle’s home, dad was determined to stay put and not have me go to another five high schools, so he took the only available job he could find at the local high school, Port Byron, as a janitor. He had graduated from PB 38 years before. PB was my sixth and final high school, I spent my junior and senior years there. Interestingly enough, after I graduated, 40 years after he did, dad was asked to be the pastor at a small church in Oatka, NY. I headed back to Miami to go to college and he headed back to pastoring. It had been a wild four years.

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Port Byron Basketball, 1978-79

Music for the soul

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Stevie Wonder
“Sir Duke”

Music is a world within itself
With a language we all understand
With an equal opportunity
For all to sing, dance and clap their hands
But just because a record has a groove
Don’t make it in the groove
But you can tell right away at letter A
When the people start to move

They can feel it all over
They can feel it all over people
They can feel it all over
They can feel it all over people

Music knows it is and always will
Be one of the things that life just won’t quit
But here are some of music’s pioneers
That time will not allow us to forget
For there’s Basie, Miller, Sachimo
And the king of all Sir Duke
And with a voice like Ella’s ringing out
There’s no way the band can lose

You can feel it all over
You can feel it all over people
You can feel it all over
You can feel it all over people

A couple of years ago I started walking on my lunch breaks with my ear buds firmly planted in my ears, listening to music while I walked. I’ve always loved music. My dad was a very good vocalist, he sang in a quartet in college. My mother was a self taught pianist and accordian player. She could really sing as well. And me? I couldn’t carry a tune if my life depended on it. I stink. As a musician I am not very good. I love the guitar and goof around with it all the time, but I haven’t taken the time to learn how to play properly. But I love the music! I’ve noticed that as I walk and soak in the various styles and groups and solo artists I like, its almost a spiritual experience. Something about being locked into the sounds just takes me higher, lifts my soul you might say. Now I’m not talking about religious music, just music in general. I come back from those walks refreshed, feeling good. You could say I can feel it all over. I feel connected to nature, connected to my surroundings, peaceful. I’m sure there’s a scientific reason for this. Music is, after all, just vibrations that our ear drums convert into sound. Or something like that. I don’t have a deep message here. Just musings. Perhaps it’s because the weather still stinks here in central New York, and I’m not walking at lunch yet! But I think I’ll put together a quick mix for my first lunchtime walk of the season. Let’s go 10 songs, songs that are currently on my mental radar. This will be heavy on the classic rock side, I’m old! Take a look at my list, then post your list in the comments, if your so inclined! So as soon as possible, get your ear buds in and go for a walk. It’ll be good for your soul!

1. Sir Duke – Stevie Wonder
2. Stand or Fall – The Fixx
3. Love Song – Elton John
4. I Love You But I’m Lost – Tears for Fears
5. Mission (A World Record) – ELO
6. Lights of Home – U2
7. The Hunger and the Thirst – Vector
8. Little Wing – Sting
9. Opus Insert – Kansas
10. Feeling That Way/Anytime – Journey
Bonus: All Mixed Up – The Cars