This is a stop-and-start letter, written over the past month or so…I have been so drained that I couldn’t get anything personal down (and ‘yes’, I HAVE been avoiding all of you…smile)
Here is the first entry from early/mid May:
“As I write this, I am sitting in The Secret Garden, a private room at a beautiful bed and breakfast in Soquel, California. Last year, after Britt died, some thoughtful friends gave me a gift certificate for a night here, in hopes that I would ‘get away’ to a quiet place for grieving and reflecting on that event.
“It’s been a year and tonight is the first night I have truly had to face this…
“The year since that fateful Easter has been filled with deep, dark, and crushing challenges—all the more so since they were ALL family-confidential and things I could share with virtually no one…a burden unshared is twice as heavy, I have discovered…Crisis A [severity level: 8.5 out of 10] hit 75 days after Easter and only began being resolved in December (but is effectively over, this month); Crisis B [severity/shredding level: 8.5 out of 10] hit in December and is almost over; Crisis C [severity/shredding level: 5.5 out of 10] hit in March and may last until June or July; and Crisis D [severity/shredding level: 8 out of 10] hit last week and may last for a couple of months…I also had two very intense travel-trips that I have not psychologically ‘recovered from’ yet—things have just been so furiously consumptive for so long for me…
“The crises have drained me, and stifled most attempts to face my loss squarely and single-mindedly. Grief has simply overpowered me—like a thief in the night—for a year, and although my weekly visits to the grave have surfaced much agony of the deep-heart, I have not been able to reflect deeply nor ‘compare notes’ with others on the mourning bench.
“So, I have come here for one night—to scream, and groan, and sob through Lewis’ A Grief Observed and Wolterstorff’s Lament for a Son…and the experience was as expected…it's 9.30 pm and I am spent/exhausted from anguish and pain...I have learned much from these men, and seen the commonality of the pain, but also seen the uniqueness of each of our experiences…
It’s now early June, one hurricane has passed, and my emotional state is an order of magnitude better…I have been able to pound out a bunch of Tankwerke, since I am currently “unemployed”, but that will have to end soon, I know…(by looking at the bank account—sheepish grin)…
As always, this letter will have to be a ‘loose association’ of stream-of-consciousness items…
One of the main things on my mind (what little is left after the copycat update) is how I think I have “slandered” the early church accidentally…
Over the years, I have often ‘complained’ and in some cases tried to ‘distance myself’ from the behavior of the Constantine-period church. Many modern Christians, of course, take exception with some of the theology and argumentation of the Fathers—as I do—but I gained a new respect for the difficulty of their situation this past week or two. As I probed into the issues of compromise, syncretism, and some of the allegations of less-than-Christian praxis, I began to appreciate, for the first time, the difficult decisions the Constantine church had to make. I read portions of the sermons by the leadership of the day—deploring the actions seemingly forced on them by the massive influx of ‘suddenly-Christian’ people. I saw that the battle against persecution was simply exchanged for a battle against dilution, and where the bishops before had complained about heresy, they now had to deal instead with hypocrisy. The enthusiasm of the young church—evidenced in its martyrs and selfless acts of large-scale compassion and social relief work—was now mixed in with ‘concerns with career mobility’—those who noted the Emperor’s conversion…
For the first time, I think, I saw more of the heart of those believers, and I actually apologized to our Lord for how I had perhaps slandered or denigrated or ‘dismissed’ them so easily in the past. I grew instead to love them—for I shall yet see them—and see them as trophies of grace and marvels of beauty, in such times as those. I still see various theological points of theirs as ‘retrograde’ (relative to the New Testament—as I understand it, of course…smile), but I doubt that I could have done any better or even as good as they—given the times, education, and circumstances of the day.
The miracle of their consistently non-syncretistic life and efforts blows me away today. The forces on them to compromise, to syncretize, to ‘assimilate’ to the pagan theological/worldview ‘Borg’ were staggering. And yet—the historians of the period tell us—they stayed ‘different’. They maintained the exclusivist stance—without being an introverted group. They reached out to help others—enemies even, based on the teachings of their Lord—but did so without compromising on the powerful, liberating truth that prompted them toward “love and good works.” Everything was against them—the money, the government, the elite, the intellectuals, their Jewish root-stock, and even the common-folk often gave so little ‘passion’ and ‘examination’ to the matters of worldview and religion. The gods were often things to avoid, unless ‘something came up’, and even the religious rituals by the masses were more social than spiritual, like it is sometimes today in the Western (non-persecuted) church.
Persecution seems to have kept the faith pure in the early days, and in modern times, in non-Western areas. When there is nothing material or ‘cultural’ to be gained by becoming a follower of Jesus—except perhaps a bullet or a bombing or a rite of excision or social ostracizing—then only those who know Him, and have ‘tasted’ of His love, acceptance, forgiveness, presence, and comfort in their life ‘sign up’ and proclaim themselves to be His before a watching world (often watching through the sights of guns…).
The historians of thought may remember these early Christian writers as clumsy or crude or even reactionary, but the historians of Roman culture remember them as a force for social good, a surprising source of meeting deep personal and social needs, and as the victors in a battle of impossible odds—against the culture of the Roman empire…
Would that history might remember my puny efforts as beautifully as that…that in two thousand years some historian of ‘Ancient Christian Apologetics, in the Early Web years’ would have a footnote on the Tank, saying something like “One of the earlier and most primitive websites in this area, appearing in 1994, was also one of the most confused and poorly organized web sites of the day. It’s arguments were torturously verbose and often amazingly convoluted, and it seemed to manifest an obsession with detail and ancient documentation—perhaps symptomatic of an OCD of its author. However, the fact that it took people’s questions seriously, and manifested a tone of love, warmth, gentleness, and acceptance to even the most inflammatory questions from visitors, generated a constant stream of questions and even some compliments, and with this tone and effort (the author was apparently always complaining about having to do this in his ‘spare time’ [an ancient concept poorly understood today by scholars], demonstrated some degree of conformity to the central message of Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself” and Paul’s injunction to ‘do good to all men’.”
So now I won't complain about them (as much…smile), and will instead
thank God for the groundwork of love they laid for us, and the example
of faithful compassion they manifested to those who ‘pursed them to death’…and
I will read them a little more humbly—especially the stories of their lives…and
I will aspire to a love that changes MY world too…
Secondly, speaking of good ‘tone’---“Fat
chance of that!”…I was shocked and embarrassed at the tone in my original
CopyCat article! When I started the update a few weeks back, and began
reading my own writings, I was shocked at how almost ‘harsh’ and in some
cases ‘yelling’ (?) I seemed…too many ALL CAPS, too many exclamation point
in sequence !!!!!!, and too many uses of ‘ridiculous’ , ‘ludicrous’, etc…
There were several content issues and problems in the piece, which I addressed
in the recent update, but the tone issue was really discouraging to me…I
had written the piece in 1997, and have apparently changed a good bit in
the intervening 3-4 years (thankfully)…And now this makes me want to stop
generating NEW content, and start going back through all the OLD stuff,
to check for problems in tone…It really was disturbing, but at the same
time, it obviously made me aware of change-for-the-better in the last few
years…There are already plenty of Christian sites with “bad tone problems”—I
don’t need to be another one…
Thirdly, I closed my videotape ‘business’ down last week…hadn’t sold any tapes in a year…I have NO idea why not, given the reviews, the price cuts, the good press…whatever…so, I canceled the website, distribution company contract, phone number, domain names, etc…strange end, to a strange deal…I have a couple of ideas of “what was THAT all about, Lord?!”, but it was still so hard ‘giving up’ on the idea of being able to support myself/Tankwerke that way…Maybe He simply doesn’t want me to do it ‘full time’…I have no practical indications that He actually wants me to…It was very difficult for me to ‘open up to’ allowing people to support the Tank work, and over the past year “only” $450 has come in that way (although I must say that these precious from-the-heart gifts, however large or small, blow me away with their tenderness, their sacrificial nature, their concrete expression of comradeship…I have wept often and deeply before Him over these, and pray specifically for these loves…and I believe he stretches these gifts much further than my own money)…the Amazon click-through only generates between $30 and $60 per month…the result is the need for a job (smile)…
Now, at a practical level, there really isn’t a problem with this. And perhaps it’s more a bit of selfishness than of calling. I would rather think/write tankstuff than breathe or sleep, but maybe it's not good for me to do it 7x24 like I am currently deliriously doing (intoxicated smile). But I have used this argument as a heart-protecting ‘rationalization’ over the past two years—to avoid the more obvious ‘not ready for primetime’ explanation—and it’s beginning to wear thin. But the tank so far has all been done in this part-time mode (and actually I have had more free time for it in the last year than ever before), and God has blessed the results in both my life and in the lives of others, so why am I complaining? So, I hope to stop “complaining” any day now…carpe man(y)ana…
So, I’ll go back to work (I presume) in a couple of weeks or so, and
since an old friend of twenty years has graced me with a gift of an entire
month’s expenses today(!), I will try to pound out as much tankstuff as
I can over these last 2-3 weeks of freedom and focus.
Fourthly, I got to add a major improvement
to the tank this week(end), something that I have wanted to add forever—I
got to make most/many of the documentation references into hotlinks into
the Book Abbreviations files! I am SO HAPPY
to have figured out how to do this, believe me. Late last year, I started
generating my bookabs.html file in Excel, creating Name Refs for each book.
I was looking forward to finding a way to create the links, but the work
required to go through every single tank file(!) and add links was too
great. But…I had some time this weekend, so I got a shell account and learned
enough PERL to build some really kewl substitution scripts (as well as
changing all the filenames to lowercase—for the TankCD) to do this…the
result is that probably 75% of the refs (more in the more recent pieces)
now link directly to the Abbreviations list. This should be of value to
many of us (including me)…
Fifth, I am beginning study for the next Fall series at the church I go to, on the Work of Christ on the Cross. We have studied the concepts of sacrifice, redemption, and reconciliation and next up is the ‘triumph over the powers and principalities’…the realm of the spirits…So far the study is really broadening my perspective on the universe, since as a Westerner, I have a very ‘grayscale’ view of reality. This is a new area for me to think through, although some of the issues are related to the problem of mind/consciousness. But the classic problem is that of interface—how do the various supra-human intelligences ‘influence’ us. And the second major problem is: “how does the defeat of the powers at the Cross ‘implement itself’ in the lives of the believers and of history?”. Fascinating stuff—a definite challenge for me to try and understand—but something of relatively high emphasis in the life and work of Jesus. Stay tuned.
Sixth, I have two upcoming pieces for the tank that will be quite consumptive: the finish to the Seeker piece, and a really big one on ‘did the NT authors make up the miracle stories about their hero, like everyone else did in the 1st century?!’…I have been gathering materials, reading, and thinking about that for almost 2 years now and am just about ready to get into it…I feel tired already (smile)
I think that’s about all for now…my health is ‘no change’, my kids are doing well, my heart is calmer than it's been in a year (but what a year it was…)…I’ll update my prayer requests soon, too…
Held together by His power; held upright by His grace,