Tuesday, March 23, 2010
The Brothers Karamazowsky: The Eldest Brother
"Taking a new step, uttering a new word is what people fear most."
Hi, I'm Erik Clesia...and I'm a modeler.
(Now is the time when you would reply "Hi Erik" so as to affirm me...that is, if you were also at the point of accepting the fact you are a modeler...you literally and physiologically don't have the power within you not to be a modeler.)
(I realize you haven't gone through the five stages of grief and are currently in denial, so I'm going to continue as if you have achieved acceptance...)
I've been aware I am a modeler for four years now. The circumstances that led to this realization began with me packing up the house following my divorce.
It was a hot and humid Sunday morning, typical for Texas that time of year. The kids were with my ex, April. She works at the church, so she had to be there whether she's a believer or not. The kids? They went mostly because of the air conditioning. I didn't have any. Actually, I didn't have much of anything and that point was becoming more and more obvious as I packed up the house.
The revelations and subsequent divorce took quite a toll on me. I lost my job. I spent all my money fighting to keep the rights to see my kids and continue to live in the house. However, by the time the divorce was finalized, the house went into foreclosure and I was essentially "unemployable" in this small Bible-belt community. I'm still not sure how or why it all happened. I just know it did and the results ended up being the opposite of what I expected...to the point I'm not sure you would even believe me.
See for yourself...
After years of successfully spending more than I made, April had an affair with an employee at the church. I did everything the church told me to do. I forgave her. I forgave him. I even hugged him! I took the blame for the affair (because I am "in charge of the marriage"). Eventually, I spent more time cooking, cleaning, making meals, etc. in order to lighten her load. The result? She went into depression...and then filed for divorce.
She immediately moved out of the house. The rumors began. People were convinced I had had an affair. I beat her. I was a homosexual. I was a devil worshipper. It turns out when it wasn't her that started the rumor, she was substantiating the gossip of others. None of the gossip was said in my presence. Yet...
I didn't gossip about her.
I didn't look to share the real story with people.
I just did what Jesus said in Matthew 5. I took the abuse without defending myself. That just convinced these church goers I must be wrong. So they encouraged each other to spend more time spreading the gossip.
For awhile after the divorce, I had the kids every other week, but they ended up living with her full time. So, she took the furniture and just about everything else. Normally, they would visit on Sunday, but summer vacation was fast approaching and there was the air conditioning (or lack thereof).
For someone who used to make $200,000 a year, you think I would have more stuff. It turns out most of what l had was memorabilia, clothes, a computer, and books. Lots and lots of books.
I decided I would make four piles for my books. The first pile was for books I knew I would never read. This pile...actually it looked like a mound. Like something you see at a landfill. This mound was made up of books I had read and disliked as well as books given to me I had no interest in reading. The second stack was for books I hadn't read, but thought I may want to read one day. This stack was a lot smaller than I thought it would be. The third stack was for books I had read and found useful. I wanted to keep them around as reference material. This stack was the largest by far. It looked like a miniature library. The final group was the smallest and most precious.
It consisted of books I had repeatedly read and knew I would repeatedly read in the future. This exclusive group consisted of just three books and a DVD.
First, there was my Bible. I have read this book from cover-to-cover ten times. In fact, the originally black genuine leather cover was spotted and speckled with brown patches. What looked like book markers were actually several loose pages marking their own spot. I plan on reading it speckled cover-to-spotted cover every year.
Next, was "Mere Christianity" by CS Lewis. I have read this book over fifty times. The light blue cover is now mostly white like it had been bleached or left out in the sun too long. I essentially used this book as a monthly devotional and, for great stretches, I will read one chapter each morning. Usually while I am on the toilet.
Next, was "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand. The 1991 Library of Congress voted it the second most influential book ever written. The first? The Bible. "Atlas Shrugged" is an 1100 page book consisting of thirty chapters. My copy does not have a front cover. It's bulk has been increased due to the number of pages that have been "dog earred". I tended to read this book once a year for thirty consecutive weeks.
Finally, the DVD was "The Matrix". I used to watch this movie on VHS until I wore it out. My kids got me the DVD one year for Christmas. There were times that I felt as if "The Matrix" was the movie version of "Mere Christianity". Actually, there were times I found overlap in all four works.
I tended to quote all four works, especially when times got tough. I used to say everything you would need to know in life was covered by all four works. A friend of mine called it my "worldview". My system of belief. April would say it was just more proof I had Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I tend to listen to the same music, eat the same food and read the same books repeatedly. I don't know if I'm OCD or not. I just think, "Why change if you find something you are comfortable with?"
On this day, I was already anything but comfortable when it happened. As I was sorting, I found a book lent to me years before by Pastor Karamazowsky. The memories came rushing back...
When April and I thought we had put the affair behind us, she believed it would be best if I found another church for a few months. She never sat in service with me because she was working. Her bosses didn't trust me unattended, what with the person she had the affair with still working at the church. However, the pastors thought I should continue to send my tithe.
At first, I refused to go to another church because I didn't want to lead on some unsuspecting pastor and congregation. However, a friend told me about a church that met in a bar. I thought it would be an entertaining experience. Kind of like going on safari. I wasn't far off.
The service was different from anything I had ever experienced. The pastor was young and charismatic and passionate. It was like looking at a mythical creature...like a dragon or a unicorn. I was afraid to take my eyes off of him for fear he would vanish. There weren't more than fifty people in attendance and they were very warm and welcoming, so I didn't stand a chance of remaining unnoticed.
"What did you think of our service?", asked the pastor.
"Well, Pastor Karamazowsky..." I began to reply.
"Call me Adam", he said. He smiled, all of him smiled. The tattoo on his neck even moved, which I hadn't noticed until now.
"Well,..uh...Adam, I have never seen anything like it. How did you come up with it?", I asked.
"It's a new kind of service...", and he couldn't finish because he began laughing. It was infectious and I found myself laughing even though I was beginning to get worried.
He ended up taking me to lunch. I shared my background. He shared his background. I assured him I would return next week.
I ended up attending their church every week for the rest of my exile. During that time, Pastor Adam introduced me to everyone and even loaned me a book. When it was time for me to return to my wife's church, I never attended Adam's church again. By the time April sank into depression, Adam's church had ceased to be and I had never read the book which was now in my hands taunting me to sort it into one of four fates.
I spent the next few days reading "A New Kind of Christian: A Tale of Two Friends on a Spiritual Journey" by Brian McLaren. It won Christianity Today's "Award of Merit" in 2002. Clearly this was a message not as extreme as what I had thought.
In case you haven't read the book, here are a few key passages that will give you the general perspective.
During the Introduction, Brian McLaren plainly stated this book is about a fictional spiritual journey:
"First, as you'll see, I'm going to blur the line between fiction and nonfiction in the pages that follow." (p. xvii)
"Second, you will soon meet Neil Edward Oliver, Dan and Carol Poole and Casey B. Curtis. Please don't assume that any of these characters can be fully identified with the "I" who wrote this Introduction." (p. xviii)
I didn't know how I felt about an author faking a spiritual journey and intentionally blurring the line between fact and fiction, but he appeared to be sincere...or maybe it was just the narrator (Dan) speaking:
"I went to seminary right out of college, and it was great, and I thought I was getting the truth, you know, the whole truth and nothing but the truth." (p. 12)
"And I'm supposed to be preaching the truth, but I'm not even sure what the truth is anymore, and - that's it, really - I just feel dishonest whenever I try to preach." (p. 12)
"God, do you see how much he loves you? If he didn't love you, if he didn't love the truth so much, he would just play the game, just fulfill the role. But God, he is suffering because he really wants the truth. He really cares." (p. 69)
I also want the truth...as much as I can get. Dan learns the truth is: church today is not doing what church ought to do according to the Bible.
Specifically, Brian McLaren stated church ought to:
-be about conversation vs. conversion (He says we ought to measure the number of conversations we have, instead of the number of conversions)
-value experience (Your story is very important)
-be Bible based
-encourage connection vs. isolation
That made me realize what was missing from April's church. I did think Pastor Adam did a great job of having his church follow this book. However, McLaren went even further explaining his problem with the current church...
"I realize, as I read and reread the Bible, that many passages don't fit any of the theological systems I have inherited or adapted. Sure, they can be squeezed in, but after awhile my theology looks like a high school class trip's luggage - shoestrings hanging out here, zippers splitting apart there, latches snapping, clothes pouring out on the floor like a thrift store horn of plenty. My old systems - whether the Dispensationalism of my childhood, the Calvinism of my adolescence, the "charamaticism" of my early adulthood, or even my more mature, moderated, mainstream "evangelicalism" - can't seem to hold all the data in the Bible, not to mention the data of my own experience, at least not gracefully." (p. xiv)
That sounded like my "three book and one DVD" worldview!
McLaren stated the way church is done is broken and unbiblical. (Even pastors in traditional churches are stating this today.)
McLaren's conclusions about the causes of church being broken could be summarized as follows:
1. Churches today participate in "short-term thinking".
2. Churches today are focused on effects, comfort, living with contradictions, and feeling right/justified because the other churches operate in the same way.
3. The typical sermon is a list of effects having little to no basis in the Bible.
However, the majority of the book was focused on how to transition from the current way church is done to a "new" approach.
"Even harder to accept might be the idea that while the modern version was right (by "right", of course, I mean appropriate, not perfect) for five hundred years (just as the medieval version might not be right for the next leg of the journey)." (p. 27)
The main character called the current version of church the "modern version" and contrasted it with the previous version which he called the "medieval version". Then, the main character read four excerpts from CS Lewis! However, I had never heard of the source. The title of the book was "The Discarded Image". McLaren also stated in the book there was a CS Lewis Institute at Baylor University. This turned out to be fiction. So, I didn't know if the author made up the CS Lewis book as well.
Here is an excerpt from McLaren's book that is supposed to be an excerpt from CS Lewis' "The Discarded Image":
"The old scheme...had been tinkered a good deal to keep up with observations. How far, by endless tinkerings, it could have kept up with them till even now, I do not know. But the human mind will not long endure such ever-increasing complications if once it has seen that some simple conception can "save the appearances" [account for the data]. Neither theological prejudice nor vested interests can permanently keep in favor a Model which is seen to be grossly uneconomical." (p. 32)
The character referenced this passage from CS Lewis to say just like the medieval version gave way to the modern version, likewise it was time for the modern version to give way to a new kind of version.
McLaren wrote the fictional spiritual journey from the point of view of a pastor (Dan) who was burnt out on being a pastor. The character who had all the answers was referred to as "Neo". Neo was a Jamaican science teacher who used to be a pastor. Neo presented everything from a scientific point of view.
"As we'd say in science, he wants to be true to the data." (p. 155)
"In some ways, theology is about generating models of the universe that flow from our understanding of God and the story we find ourselves in." (p. 161)
However, Neo's reason he believed the current church was in trouble was due to the church being logical. Neo believed the church shouldn't think. I thought, "Encouraging people not to think?" That made me wary. Furthermore, here was the part that gave me a funny feeling...
Every time Neo gave a specific explanation of the new version and how we ought to convert to the new version, something prevented the narrator from hearing it or documenting it! I KID YOU NOT! One time the fan in the room was too loud. Another time, the narrator was thinking about something else and didn't hear the explanation. Another time, he didn't understand the explanation and didn't want to ask any questions because he was wanting to hear about something else at the time. When he taped Neo's lecture, parts of the presentation were missing.
Everything I wanted to know was left in limbo.
The narrator asked, "How would you tell the difference between authentic religion and misguided religion?"
"He said, "I don't think you can. It's not that simple. Remember what Jesus said? The wheat and the tares are always mixed together. There are good Catholics, good Greek Orthodox, good Pentecostals, and good Episcopalians, believe it or not. And there are plenty of bad ones too." (p. 73)
Or, take a look at this passage...
Neo: "OK, you asked for it. Dan, I don't think that most Christians have any idea what the gospel really is." He paused, and I saw it coming: "For example, how would you define the gospel?"
Dan: "OK, then, how would you define the gospel?"
"Neo said that it couldn't be reduced to a little formula, other than the one Jesus used, which was, "The Kingdom of God is at hand," and he didn't recommend using that exact language today." (p. 105)
Huh? Something didn't feel right and I wanted answers.
At the end of McLaren's book, Neo disappeared and was never heard from again.
I wanted to find Pastor Adam. I wanted to return his book and get an explanation for how he thought church should be changed. However, one thing did begin to make sense. I knew why Pastor Karamazowsky and his church were so willing to embrace me as they got to know me. I was a lot like Neo!
I constantly used examples from "The Matrix" in my explanations, especially comments from the hero whose name was "Neo". I was a scientist and loved to teach. I knew my Bible and I had a laundry list of reasons why the traditional church was wrong. Unfortunately, like Neo, I also didn't have any explanations for what to do. And I disappeared. Yet, it wasn't just me...
Pastor Adam Karamazowsky had disappeared and no one seemed to know where he went. The closest I could get was reconnecting with his youngest brother. One time, he came to lunch with Adam and me. During the lunch, he asked me some business questions once he found out I had been a successful executive. I don't remember him saying much else.
Not only was he happy to hear from me. Apparently, he had taken my business advice and wanted to show his appreciation. He sent plane tickets.
He also said he would answer all my questions about Adam when I went to visit...
(This is ONLY section one of the novella. Click the end of the previous sentence to continue to section two...)