Saturday, January 31, 2009

"NERVOUS Complementarianism"

I am glad that Austin is so happy about our new topic of conversation. If someone knocks me off, I expect that he'll pay for the funeral, because I am going into this kicking and screaming. I can't possibly win with this debate. If I go one way I am a compromiser, a Judas in the eyes of fundamentalist conservative Christians. If the other, however, I have committed the worst possible crime in 21st century American culture: discrimination (buh buh bummmm...). Even in my initial post, in which I tried to be as noncontroversial as possible, I probably offended somebody. Contrary to common (?- I hope not) belief, I am not looking for controversy, only dialogue. Unfortunately, both sides tend to be polemic and antagonistic to any view contrary to their own. Also unfortunate is the fact that I think my side is losing, and is losing for the wrong reasons. But more on that later.

I don't want this blog to be old hat. Many of my readers are NBS students and this conversation is getting rather tiresome, and one-sided. The classes which address the issue seem to only attack one side of the debate. The students from only one side of the issue actually speak up, the rest of us are afraid to. Austin says he feels like a repressed minority. There are good reasons to feel that way, I certainly do at times. But even if repressed, we are still alive, though some of us may be a little nervous. So let me tell you why I am nervous, why I am a complementarian, and then proceed to address this topic from some rather neglected angles. I don't want to just repeat what everyone else says, many of them say it better than I would. Today the first: why I am a nervous comeplementarian.

Why I am a Nervous Complementarian

To begin, let me say that, without any hesitation, I strongly prefer egalitarianism. I really really want to be one. First, it would be so much easier apologetically. I dread the prospect of girls in my youth group asking me about the subject. If confronted by it when sharing my faith, I would likely hem and haw and try and change the subject. It is counter to the way our culture thinks and believes and offensive to the vast majority of the populace. Secondly, egalitarianism is winning. It's time to wake up and smell the Zeitgeist! The numbers of women pastors, elders, and deacons are on the rise and the male population in churches are dropping. This trend is in no way about to reverse itself. It will likely continue to gain momentum. In liberal seminaries, women strongly outnumber men. I would not be surprised at all if this is true of conservative seminaries in my lifetime. As men are becoming less and less important in society, so they are in churches as well. There is a strong temptation to jump into the bandwagon lest I be hewn down later for my opposition. Lastly, and most significantly, I don't think of women as inferior to men at all. In looking for a wife, I am NOT looking for a pretty wallflower to keep house, have babies, and sit before me wide eyed for instructions and instruction. I want someone who will challenge me, make me think, force me to be better, someone who I can help grow, but who will also help me. I want an equal, not a servant-housewife. But unfortunately, what I prefer to be, has no relevance with what is. But again, more on that later.

The second reason I am nervous (the first being my preference for egalitarianism), is the uncertainty I feel towards the interpretation of many of the 'complementarian proof texts'. Austin's first post argued for complementarianism from Genesis. I'm uncomfortable doing so. If I read it as the original audience would have, I'm not sure I would get complementarianism from it. Maybe I would, I've never been a Jew and I've never lived in ancient Israel or wandered in the wilderness with Moses, but I'm not very optimistic that I would see "male leadership" leap up at me from the scroll and slap me in the face. The most famous proof text (I Timothy 2), is a very difficult and complex passage and does not warrant hasty or overconfident interpretation. The "wives submit to your husbands" passages are accompanied by "slaves obey your masters" passages. Most of us would quickly and without hesitation condemn slavery. But what about... hmmm.... well....

The third reason I am nervous is the ambiguity surrounding my own understanding of what role culture had in the original composition of Scripture and has today in the application of Scripture. The absence of any real condemnation upon Slavery? The role of Women in society? Head coverings? The role of fornication in idolatry? What about Homosexuality? How do we apply teachings to issues that are radically changed since the composition of the Old and New Testament autographs? It's not very easy.

The final reason I am nervous is that I am often embarrassed at the arguments of other complementarians. Many use bad argumentation, especially ad hominem and slippery slope arguments. Some refuse to dialogue. Some refuse to acknowledge the validity of others' arguments and the insufficiency of their own. Some refuse to acknowledge the complexities of the issues. Some are pugnacious and rude. I don't want to be associated with many of my position.

It would be very easy for me to switch over. I would like that very much. Unfortunately for what I would like to do, there are other issues to deal with. Next time, Why I am a Nervous Complementarian.

As something of a postscript...

Jim, thanks for your comment. If you're still reading, I plan on responding to you in my next blog post. Long time no see by the way.

nervous man image

Monday, January 26, 2009

And now for something controversial...

Nate, Austin, and I discussed our next topic of conversation and we have made a decision to discuss Gender Roles. For Austin's sake, I hope this stirs up some controversy, but I'm not so sure, we'll see. Austin describes himself as a "robust complentarian", I would describe myself as a "nervous complentarian" and Nate doesn't know what he is. This doesn't place any of us on the opposite side of the issue but hopefully our nuances and levels of certainty will be good enough for the pugnacious spirit of Austin Surls. They gave me the assignment of introducing the topic. For that I will be eternally bitter.

I am acutely aware of the emotions behind this issue and this probably contributes to my nervousness. Complementarians often accuse egalitarians of compromise and accommodation to the pressures of a very egalitarian culture. Egalitarians often respond by accusing their 'opponents' of sexism, discrimination, and even the oppression of women. Harsh rhetoric.

In some ways, when we consider the wide spectrum of theological opinions and potential disagreements, this is really a very minor issue. The gospel is not compromised, the basic tenets of orthodoxy are not at stake, and no one is about to lose their salvation. But when we consider that over half of most of our congregations are women and the immediate effect this debate has on our everyday praxis, this issue is extremely important and cannot be ignored. On many of these "peripheral issues", I prefer to "agree to disagree" and, without abandoning the dialogue, learn to live and work with those of differing opinions. But it's not so easy with this issue! If I believe it's wrong for a "woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man" and my sister in Christ believes that God is calling her to preach, we cannot easily coexist within the same "church setting." Outside of the "church" (in the sense of the popular misuse of the word) we can fellowship get along well enough, but it is near impossible to live out both of our convictions.

So to begin this dialogue let me make some suggestions about how we ought to approach this touchy and oft explosive issue.

1) For complementarians: let's make an attempt to really hear and understand what the other side is saying before we dismiss them as compromisers. This issue is really about hermeneutics not Bibliology. There are many godly egalitarians who are committed to the Scriptures as the reliable and authoritative word of God. To quote Gordon Fee (thanks Nate), "You don't have the right to disagree until you've understood." I don't think we have to be ashamed of our side of the debate, but let's not cover our ears and scream "heretic" until we really understand the issues.

2) For egalitarians: please do not condemn complementarians as sexists or closeminded ignoramuses. Many, probably most, of us hold to our position because of our interpretation of the Bible and would gladly switch sides if we were convinced we were wrong. I actually don't want to be a complementarian, it makes me uncomrtable. I'm there because of my understanding of Scripture. And if you are a woman on this side of the fence, do not make or take the debate as a personal attack or defense of yourself and your ministry. Many men, myself included, feel nervous enough already discussing this issue because we are afraid of the sexist label. If your goal is honest and constructive dialogue, then distance yourself from the debate. Keep to the Scripture and hermeneutics. This is where the "battle" must be "fought", not with personal attacks or examples.

3) For both sides: this issue should be considered separately from issues of subordination or lack thereof within the Trinity. Egalitarianism and complentarianism do not necessitate a certain view of the trinity and the although some correspondence between these issues should not be ruled out, neither side should argue from any perceived correspondence. We should be careful with too much conjecture.

4) Even if we cannot "do church" together as we would like, Christians who disagree in this issue should be able to dialogue with civility and brotherly (and sisterly) love. Do not make this a test of fellowship.

5) Let's not neglect or ignore the correspondence of other practical issues. If you are an egalitarian pastor in a congregation of complementarians, does it violate Romans 14 to ask a woman to preach? If you are a complementarian, what about women deacons? I think that I Timothy clearly allows for women deacons, and many other softer complentarians agree with me. But where are the women deacons in our churches?! I don't see any! Let's not get too involved and invested in our side of the debate to "right the ship" where and when we need to.

6) Finally, let's be careful not to focus too much upon women and their issues and neglect men in the process. Men are in church less and less. Why? A friend of mine once told me that he feels like single young men are the least important and most neglected people in the church. He's not alone in feeling that way. With all of the attention focused upon the role of women in the church, its easy to not define the role of men. If we are stressing the importance of women and their contributions, let's not stop working on getting men more involved in the church and making it a place that meets their needs as well.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Further and Future Dialogue

This post has two primary purposes and both are reflected in the title, though neither can probably be discovered therein. The first is to further our dialogue on The Shack. If nothing else, this book has encouraged a great deal of dialogue and for that I am very grateful. I am going to respond to my good friend Austin and his thoughts on the Shack, as well as my sister's thoughts and reflections. Both make good contributions to the conversation. This dialogue would be worthless if it did not help us better shape and nuance our views and I hope this post will indicate some movement in my own thoughts and evaluations about this now almost notorious work of fiction. We'll see how long this is a big deal though. Sometimes these fads fade so quickly that you look back three months later embarrassed at how big a deal you thought some temporary fad was going to become. But dialogue, especially theologically focused dialogue, is never a waste of time so I will not fear that we are wasting out time.

The second part of this post will concern the future topics of conversation for trinity of bloggers. Obviously there are others who read and interact with out blogs, and for all of you we are very grateful, and we read and interact with other blogs, but Austin, Nate, and I have formed a little trinity in which we read and interact with each others thoughts and questions. I have some proposals for where to go from here. More on that later.

Talking about The Shack... part two

Responding to Crista,

First of all let me just say how much I love and appreciate my little sister. It may, and probably does, seem like this is said out of obligation but it most emphatically is not. My sister has grown and blossomed into not only a great writer, but a very good thinker. I appreciate her thoughts on the Shack and her obvious commitment to staying true to the truth of God's word. If you wish to read her thoughts they are found here. Do not fear, she is nowhere near as longwinded as I am.

I think one of our major disagreements, as we look at the book, will stem from the way we see words. Remember that it is the gospel that is the stumbling block, not an outdated vocabulary. Trying to witness to someone in greek or latin or hebrew will certainly be a stumbling block but there is absolutely nothing wrong with removing that stumbling block! So it is with many words that we, as Christians use. The word Christian is loaded with connotations that are offensive, many of which have nothing to do with Christianity. Our decision to use or not use the word should take into account the response and perceived meaning of our listeners or readers. Same with Institution, Church, religion etc.... Unfortunately we often replace these words with words that imply other unintended meanings (relationship, follower of Jesus, etc...), or are different but don't really help solve the problem. Nate, Austin, and I have talked a lot about the religion/relationship question and I think we have come to a consensus that neither term is sufficient by itself. Another kind of example is the church that I go to. Our name is "Prairie Baptist Fellowship", substituting fellowship for church. This is good because fellowship does a better job communicating what a church should be. This is very insufficient however, because, outside of our Christian bubble I do not think we use that word anymore. It doesn't actually communicate what we want it to communicate with the audience with which we want to communicate. It might do better than 'church', but it doesn't quite do it. If nothing else, I just want to indicate how very hard, difficult, and complicated all of this is. Don't take this wrongly, but I'm not sure you've had enough interaction with people outside of the Christian community to understand how much we live in a postchristian society. We must reevaluate our language and means through which we communicate if we are ever going to be able to reach people. I want ot make sure you understand that I am not advocating changing the message- we ought to remain committed to the gospel- but changing the language and means through which we communicate that same message. I think that Young's intended audience is not average Christians who go to church every Sunday, but disillusioned people who have either been "hurt" by the church or suspicious towards organized religion. I think he understands these people well and is able to speak their language. But will his book be read by these people? I have no idea.

I primarily agree with what you say about the tameness of God. I think the main problem is his view of submission and authority. He is overtly egalitarian, in every single relationship.

I think the biggest problem with my review, as long as it was, was that I did not interact with Young on the church. He was far too harsh on the church and did not properly focus upon the need we, as human beings, have for the church body, or the obligation we should have to it. Thanks for pointing that out.

As far as the whole thing about the Bible, I understand what you are saying, I think, but I don't have as big a problem with it as you do. You have to understand that one of his purposes was to correct the 'putting of God into a Bible-sized box'. This is very offensive to those of us who place so much importance on the Bible, and rightly so, but it is a fair critique in many ways. Often we think of our own personal Bible reading as the only way we can know and grow in our relationship with God. He wants to remind us of the importance knowing God in other ways, especially prayer. Unfortunately, and this goes back to my previous point, he misses one of the most important sources, the church family. This is unfortunate.

I don't intend this to be a last word between us about the topic. I would appreciate your further thoughts if you have the time and inclination.

Responding to Austin Surls

Secondly, I would like to interact with Austin's thoughts (though not really a review of) on The Shack. I so wholeheartedly sympathize with Austin's lament about Systematic Theologies and Commentaries, but I am short on solutions to the problem. I also want to express my appreciation for Austin's background research on the author and the provision of various links to his blog, defenses of the book, and explanations of some of the controversial aspects of the book. Unfortunately for Austin's newly discovered love of controversy, I have no beefs with his thoughts and have almost nothing else to say.

I will give short responses to his four questions however. I sincerely hope this will make him happy.

Is it okay if people are being deeply affected positively by a book other than the Bible? If that is okay, why is it okay?

Of course! For books written by Christians, is this not a role of the body of Christ? To encourage and help each other? If this comes in book form, so what? If from a nonChristian source, discretion should be used (although this is also true of Christian sources) but I do not believe that they are devoid of any benefit for a believer. In some sense, all truth is God's truth. Human beings, lost or redeemed, still bear God's image and are capable of reflecting that image through their writings, paintings, and poetry. We need to be careful, but with wisdom, we can derive benefit from a great breadth of sources.

Is the Church as bad as Young makes it out to be?

No. The church is not perfect, but it is not as bad as either Young or most of our generation makes it out to be. The church, for all of its faults, is beautiful and we ought ot be extremely grateful for it.

Is it possible to over-emphasize the relational aspect of Christian faith?

Yes, but with so many words spilled about this topic on our blogs already I'm not going to add to them here and now.

What do we do with the Old Testament descriptions of judgment? Does that square with God as presented in the New Testament?

Good question. I think it does square with the God of the New Testament. Remember two things: the wrath of God and Jesus on the Cross, and the book of Revelation. God's wrath does not go away in the NT and His love and mercy are not absent in the OT. This question may warrant further conversation.

Future Dialogue Proposals

Austin Surls wants controversy. Unfortunately we have had a difficult time finding areas with which we all disagree. This is frustrating the poor boy. I may have a solution. Dr. Willsey handed out a list of current controversial trends in theology. It is full of good ideas for future blogging conversations. Austin has the handout, Nate has seen the handout, but here are a few of them that interest me. Let me know (the rest of you too) which interest/excite you the most.

Openness Theology
Emergent Church Movement
Evangelicals and Catholics Together
Divine Immutability
New Perspective on Paul
Gender Roles
Personal and Ecclesiastical Separation
Theology of Worship and Music

I would be willing to go into any of these, and I imagine that there will be good chance for some benefit and controversy along the way. Let me know what yall think.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thomas a Kempis on Theological Speculation

In my reading for History of Christian Doctrine, I ran across this blurb by Thomas a Kempis which I thought contained a good reminder for all of us, especially, though certainly not only, us seminarians.

On the Limits of Trinitarian Speculation
What good does it do you if you dispute loftily about the Trinity, but lack humility and therefore displease the Trinity? It is not lofty words that make you righteous or holy or dear to God, but a virtuous life. I would much rather experience contrition than be able to give a definition of it. If you knew the whole of the Bible by heart, along with all the definitions of the philosophers, what good would this be without grace and love? Vanities of vanities, and all is vanity - expect, that is, loving God and serving God alone. For this is supreme wisdom: to draw nearer to the heavenly kingdom through contempt for the world [...]

Naturally everyone wants knowledge. But what use is that knowledge without the fear of God? A humble peasant who serves God is much more pleasing to him than an arrogant academic who neglects his own soul to consider the course of the stars [...] If I were to possess all the knowledge in the world, and yet lacked love, what good would this be in the sight of God, who will judge me by what I have done? So restrain an extravagant longing for knowledge, which leads to considerable anxiety and deception. Learned people always want their wisdom to be noticed and recognized. But there are many things, knowledge of which leads to little or no benefit to the soul. In fact people are foolish if they concern themselves with anything other than those things which lead to their salvation.

(Source: The Christian Theology Reader edited by Alister McGrath, pgs 219-220)

Brief Reflection

Now of course we shouldn't disparage the importance of knowledge and learning. Learning about and knowing God is a holy and virtuous pursuit. But Thomas a Kempis gives a good reminder to not sin against God in learning about him! If our knowledge about God brings on arrogance, we have missed the significance of what we have learned. Learning about God, who He is, what He is like, what He demands, and who we are in comparison ought always to bring us to greater humility and obedience. May this be true in all of our lives.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Continuing the Conversation: Response Blog

Art: Eduardo Bertone y Martin Boccicchio

As you know if you follow this blog, I occasionally dedicate a blog post to respond to Austin Surls and Nate Duriga and their respective blogs, and they do so for me and each other as well. Due to Christmas break, there was a general slowdown in the "blogging production" but it would appear that things have begun to pick back up and so here we go again. Apologies to my readers for the two monstrously long posts consecutively. I hope I didn't lose anybody because of it.

Responding to Nate Duriga

Nate has several posts to which I have yet to respond, but I will try to say something about all of them. Some responses will be more full than others however.

In a response of sorts to Austin's impertinent questions about the word 'spiritual', Nate quotes Johnathon Edwards concerning the relationship between our spirituality and the Holy Spirit. Being spiritual is related to the Holy Spirit and His works. He rightly warns us to be sure that this is clearly defined when we use the term, as others may easily misunderstand us as their definition may be very different than ours. As I reminded a guy in my youth group today, communication goes two ways: intended meaning and received meaning (I'm sure there are technical terms but...). If we are to be teachers and/or preachers, communication will be very central to our profession and we must take responsibility to communicate in such a way that the intended meaning is conveyed successfully. So my question is, should we use words like spiritual, which are so easily misunderstood, from the pulpit or in the classroom? Or should we begin to use "substitution words/phrases" that people will more readily understand?

To make Austin happy if for no other reason I'm going to disagree with Nate a little bit on his evaluation of postmodernism. I don't there is so much in conflict between postmodern thinking and everyday life. I think that the difference is between science and postmodernism. Postmodernism has drenched philosophy, the humanities, ethics, and theology, but it has not had much, if any, effect upon science. Science and the scientific establishment is still not much doubted. I'm curious to see if this changes. Where the uncertainty lies is not in the findings and declarations of science or the scientific community but what they mean. Similarly I don't think that the findings and 'hard facts' of history are wholly doubted, just the significance of these findings. Global Warming, or Climate Change as they now call it, has been presented as a scientific fact. We haven't gotten to the place where people doubt science... yet.

I liked Nate's Christmas post and I share his frustrations concerning the 'Christmas Spirit' and whatever that means. As I said in the comment section, I think when the world at large speaks of the 'holiday spirit' it generally means feeling good about oneself through the celebration of whatever tradition or belief system you prefer. As for what the Christian Christmas Spirit should be I agree with Nate. Philippians 2 baby!

I don't really have much to say about Nate's latest two posts. I liked the poem he posted and I liked the book he reviewed. In our culture of tolerance, it has become way too easy to wink at sin. It is hard to take sin seriously. Our society has the attitude of "everybody messes up - its no big deal- just deal with it man... don't have a cow... chill out... don't feel guilty or bad about yourself... you have to feel good about yourself." As Christians we ought to reflect God's attitude towards sin. We should hate sin but be merciful, graceful, and forgiving towards sinners. We ought also to be humble because we are ourselves very far from perfect. Loving the sinner and hating the sin are not opposite ideas that are held in tension. We should hate sin because we love the sinner. Sin not only is offensive to and rebellion against God. It is not only harmful and destructive towards other humans. It destroys the sinner. It pushes them further from God, further from what God created them to be. Even those who sin in their own 'self interest' are deceived. In the end sin destroys. My sin is a cause of pain, struggle, and sorrow in my life. I don't think I can think of any sin in my past that I now rejoice in. Loving people should and must include hating sin. Sorry for the rant.

Responding to Austin Surls

I won't respond to Austin's Shack stuff yet. I'll wait for his promised thoughts that are yet coming.

That leaves me to respond to his three posts on postmodernism. I'm beginning to tire of the word. Maybe I'll become a postpostmodernist so we can debate that instead... if I'm ever able to understand it that is. Anyway...

I appreciated Austin's survey of postmodernism. It was helpful and fun to read. I also liked his 'positives about postmodernism' and fairly well agreed wholeheartedly with what he said. I said some things in the comments but otherwise I'll leave that as that.

That leaves his 'postmodernism is dangerous' post. I agree that postmodernism is both good and bad, depending upon which aspects of the system we are discussing. I'm not sure I appreciate Johnny Mac's pugnaciousness at all. I grew up in a pastor's home and I still very much appreciate and love my father, his life, and his ministry. Unfortunately as much as I like Dr. Macarthur and love my dad, they both, as is characteristic of many of their generation, have a propensity towards pugnaciousness and a closeminded 'I've already made up my mind' theology. I respect my father. I respect Dr. MacArthur. But their approach to theological dialogue is unhelpful (notice I did not say their approach to theology... but their approach to theological dialogue). Their approach is either ignorant of church history or arrogant in regard to their own ability to 'figure everything out'. Hard foundationalism ignores the fact that the theological system one holds to did not exist (completely) five hundred, two hundred, even one hundred years ago. Theological dialogue is essential to doing and understanding theology. Too often conservative theologians are too defensive of their own theological system to dialogue with those with whom they disagree. They do not read others to understand or learn from them but to debate and defend themselves. When you refuse to learn from certain sectors of the theological spectrum, you tragically limit challenges to your thinking, which, consequently, limits your ability to actually think about what you believe, Defensive theology allows no room for correction and does not lend itself to real dialogue. Let's always defend the truth of the gospel, but be open to the possibility that we have made mistakes along the way. As our own theology would remind us, we are fallible sinful beings and do make mistakes... a lot of mistakes! That being said, I do want to emphasize that I appreciate many things about Dr. Macarthur. I will echo his confidence in the core of the gospel. But let's be gracious and humble while we dialogue with and learn from each other, even those with whom we strongly disagree, and refrain from judging the genuineness of their faith. That's God's job and He does it better than we do.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Apology of Hell Chapter 2

Introductory Comments:

For some reason I always have to make some introductory comments. Don't ask me why, I can't seem to help it!

A while ago, I posted a chapter of a sort of novel I am trying to write as something of an apology of hell. If you haven't read the first chapter or you don't remember it, you can read it here. You could probably follow the second chapter without reading it but it'll probably help somewhat.

As before, I am eager for your comments, especially those of you who have some writing experience or expertise (Crista... Heather if you read this - I know you have a couple times at least, Sabrina... I know you try your hand at creative writing from time to time). As with any fiction, the story and pictures should not be taken for a one for one representation of how I think Hell will be like. But I am trying to not only picture something of what hell might include, but help to show why hell, the punishment of the unsaved, is just. I recognize that this question is bigger than this writing attempt, but maybe I can help people realize why 'good people' could go to hell.

The writing still needs editing and improving, especially the beginning paragraphs which seem horrid to me. Again, I welcome your criticisms and/or helpful comments. Feel free to leave them as comments, or if you'd rather email them to me that's fine too:

Chapter 2

Despite my relief, done with the first day, any feelings of relief I had were overwhelmed by my fear and apprehension for what was still to come. I remembered that my guide had accused me of murder. If the punishment for adultery had been this horrible… I didn’t want to think about it, but couldn’t help being overcome with terror. My whole body shook and trembled so violently that despite my attempts to stand up, or even sit up, were useless. All I could do was lay helpless on the floor, shivering and weeping.

“You will now face your second charge.” The creature’s eyes caught mine as he entered or appeared into the room. His gaze was magnetic and powerful. It seemed that either he or some unknown power had control over my eyes and would not let them rest upon the floor as I sought to avert them in vain.

“Gluttony. Oh how much your countrymen will suffer for this crime! How peaceful you were in your greed! You pretended to be good; you thought you were beautiful; but you did not know that you were hideously ugly in your appearance, bloated and disgusting! Your brothers and sisters had nothing and you had so much! Yet you fed your dogs better! But it will be better for the starving brother in the end!”

His words, as they so often did, terrified me into silence. I continued in my struggle to avert my eyes. His eyes did more than frighten me. They condemned me. They told me that not only did I deserve my punishment, but that I really had no right to exist. I had felt guilt in my previous life but I could always choose to ignore it, to hide it from my immediate consciousness. When he looked at me, my consciousness was flooded with guilt impossible to suppress. I had thought I could defend myself, but I was beginning to realize that I was indefensible.

“Your punishment then, glutton.”

As before, the small room disappeared and I found myself in a rapid succession of scenes from my life. They seemed rather inconsequential and they passed by swiftly. The first scene was from my childhood. I was in a department store with my mother demanding that she buy me something, what it was I cannot remember, that I wanted. I refused to accept her negative answer, but threatened and began to make a scene. To avoid embarrassing herself in front of the general public, she caved in and I became the proud owner of whatever it was, which I somehow knew would almost never be used. In the next scene I was with my college buddies at a restaurant. I merely ordered an expensive steak and the scene quickly faded. Other scenes found me buying a new car, putting a down payment on a house, buying a new television, or on the phone with the cable company. Other scenes were quick glimpses of board meetings at work and even one at church. Yet another strange scene found me buying my son a new game system for Christmas. There was a brief moment from the Hawaiian vacation my wife and I took for our fiftieth wedding anniversary. These scenes closed with me as an old man pulling into the driveway of my comfortable condo in my newly purchased Jaguar, a mere six months before my death.

During these scenes, I had seen everything in first person, from my own eyes as I had seen them when they had actually occurred. But after the final scene, I (or my view) was slowly lifted out of my beloved Jaguar. I ascended rapidly into and then above the clouds until I could see the earth’s continents. The earth rotated until I was no longer the North American continent, in which I had lived all of my life, and I began to descend again at an ever-increasing rate towards a continent that had been of little concern to me in my lifetime, Africa.

The scenes that began to flash before my eyes were horrifying. I saw images of starving children that I had seen on television, but this time I could not change the channel and I could not look away. I watched in horror as they withered away, bloated, died, and were consumed by vultures and maggots. I saw people from my country who were doing what they could to help, but were so short on food that they could not feed them all. I visited the homes of women and children dying of Aids. I watched children watch their parents die, and I saw mothers and fathers forced to bury their children. I saw even more horrifying images of men slaughtering women and children with machetes. I saw very young boys forced to don military gear and very young girls raped and discarded as garbage. In the background of each image, I could see people in my country who were doing all that they could to help. Some gave money to charity; some gave money to their churches that sent missionaries and aid in the form of medicine, food, and education. A few even dedicated their lives to ending the suffering, disease, and violence, leaving their countries of origin and the comforts therein to do what they could to help. I did not look for myself in these pictures. I had no doubts concerning my absent.

After these images cycled through once, they repeated themselves but with one change. I saw myself in every scene. In each image, I sat at a table eating a great feast. As the scenes progressed, I grew larger and larger until I was quite obese. But I never once paid any attention to anything going on around me. There was so much more food there than I ever could have eaten but I never shared any of it. Oblivious to the starvation around me, I continued to gorge myself on my feast. When the cycle finished a second time, I saw myself sitting at my table surrounded by a great crowd of starving people begging me for a scrap of food. I ignored their pleas and continued to shovel more and more food into my mouth. As I ate, I not only became more obese but I grew tremendously. Soon I became a massive giant, thirty feet high. When I had finished growing, I lifted my table in both hands and dumped the remainder of the feast down my throat and set the table back down, empty, and walked away having never looked at the starving rabble that lay dying at my feet.

The grotesque became the pathetic. I found myself in the room once again. In the middle of my room there was a great table full of every food imaginable. Around the table were seated all the people I had seen starving in the earlier scenes. I’m not sure how I knew who they were because their appearance had been radically transformed. They were of a healthy weight and were dressed magnificently. Two were obese, one woman whom I had seen starve to death was excessively so, the rest were of varying sizes and shapes but all looked healthy and comfortable. The children were children and misbehaved like any western child does as the table to the consternation of their scolding mothers. The men I had seen butchering innocent people in earlier scenes laughed and spoke comfortably with their former victims, who, unafraid in their company, laughed, conversed and sometimes even flirted with them like they were the best of friends. Sometimes there would be minor arguments, sometimes there would be gossip about a person or persons not present, sometimes there were snide and rude comments, but on the whole it was a quite civil and enjoyable banquet.

But as for me, I was no longer the grotesque gargantuan giant who devoured everything in sight, but starving, skinny, and shabbily dressed in rags. I was unable to stand up, my legs were worthless – too scrawny to support my weight – and I could think only of finding something, anything, to eat. My body was ripe with sores and wounds of every kind and infested with insects and infections. I was able to catch and eat a few insects and once found a rather large grub, but the only real source of food I could see was the table but, try as I might, I was powerless to reach it.

But those at the table ignored me. They ate and laughed but they didn’t look my way and they didn’t throw any food my direction. Midway through the meal, a television, which I had not noticed until now, was turned on and a newscast came on discussing the horrendous conditions in the United States, mass disease and starvation, civil wars, and natural disasters. One of the women at the table, who I had seen stave to death earlier, appeared disgusted and scolded the man who had apparently turned it on,

“Turn that off, can’t you see I'm trying to eat?”

“Sorry. I feel sorry for those people though. The famine has been pretty bad recently, even worse than usual.”

“They have no one to blame but themselves. If their governments weren’t so corrupt and if they would actually listen to people who want to help them they wouldn’t be in such a mess. They are killing themselves. We’re not to blame.”

“I know. Still I feel bad for them.”

“So do I. But what can you do? Their governments are so corrupt that you can’t send them any food or money. Until you replace their governments they’ll always be that way.”

“Yeah, I know. And we all remember what happened when we tried to help them in New York. They killed our troops who were trying to help them. Still, I wish we could do something. Oh well.” After a short pause, he turned towards one of the other men, “Did you see the game last night? What an amazing comeback!”

And the conversation went back to more comfortable subjects. There was one small exception to the apathy. A small boy got up and threw me a dinner roll, towards the end of the meal. As I devoured it greedily, I was made to remember a time when I was a young boy myself and had given five dollars to help a missionary minister to people. I had felt sorry for them and gave some of the money I had received for my birthday. The roll was not much, but it relieved my hunger slightly for a few short minutes. I received nothing else from the party for the remainder of the meal.

Towards the end their supper, some of the children attempted asked for their dessert before they finished their meals. Their mothers scolded them,

“Don’t you know that there are starving children in Europe who would give everything they had for your carrots? Clean your plate or you’ll go to bed without your dessert.”

They reluctantly ate their carrots as their mother told them to. There was still a good deal of food left over and I hoped that, perhaps, some of it would be thrown my way. But instead, their plates were placed upon the ground and their dogs came in and licked the plates clean. I was ignored. I began yelling and screaming, trying to get their attention, but no one even looked at me. They arose from the table and they and the table slowly faded from view. As for me, the process of starvation continued. I continued to wither rapidly. My throat was beyond parched, my lips began to crack and bleed, and I was no longer to sit up by the support of my pencil thin arms, as I had throughout the scene. Now helpless, I could do nothing as vultures and rats began to gather around me. As a large vulture swooped down to pick at what remained of my pathetic carcass, I tried to fend it off but my arms were quite useless. As he began to tear at me, the scene slowly faded and I found myself back in the empty room with Immer-Messe.

About Me

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Tacoma, Washington, United States
"It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt." Fyodor Dostoevsky. I'm a Northwest Baptist Seminary graduate (MDiv) and current student (ThM). I plan on someday going to Africa and teach Bible and Theology at a Bible College or Seminary level. I hope to continue my studies and earn a PhD, either after I go to overseas for a few years or before. I'm a theological conservative, but I like to think outside of the box and challenge conventional thinking and consider myself a free thinker. I am currently serving in my fourth year as a Youth Pastor at Prairie Baptist Fellowship in Yelm Washington. My blogs will reflect my thoughts on both seminary and ministry life, though not (of course) exclusively. I enjoy literature and occasionally try my hand at writing stories and poems. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes..." Paul