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Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Dogged Pursuit

I've been sleeping pretty well lately, but I am aware when I wake up to roll over that I've had lots of goofy dreams. In one, I was with some people, don't know who, and we got on our stomachs and crept over a grassy hill in some kind of flat vehicle to see what was over the rise. I saw 4 dogs. One was old and really looking bad. Couldn't run anymore. Another was separate, but not far away. Two others were just beyond that. Suddenly two deer appeared. When they saw the dogs they took off running. The two dogs that were together took off after them. It was one of those doggie chases that they all love. The third dog jumped up. The chase didn't mean quite so much to this dog, but it was still a dog and was about to run after the other dogs. Then it saw the old dog. The old dog got up, having heard the commotion, and wanted to chase, but just couldn't. I was quite surprised to see the healthy dog forget the chase to come over and sniff the old dog. The healthy one couldn't do much for the old one other than show concern and care. That's where the dream ended.

It stuck with me throughout the day, so maybe God is saying something here. As compassionate as we want to think we are, sometimes we fret against having to be there for people with chronic, ongoing debilitation. Anxiety, depression, OCD, addiction, etc. are difficult to deal with if it's not a formal ministry or career. But reaching into our available time for that patience and caring may be what God wants to a certain degree of all of us.

Friday, February 26, 2010

George Ritchie, Part 2

In my last blog, I shared how Army Private George Ritchie died of double-lobe pneumonia in 1943. In his NDE, he met the Son of God who took him on an amazing, and probably controversial tour of some U.S. cities. After the life review, in which he saw a side of himself that he never understood, Jesus took him to a coastal city. There he saw an office building with a man working on a budget. Hanging over the man's shoulder was a disembodied spirit, yelling instructions and advice to the oblivious employee. Then Ritchie was taken to a bar on a Naval base. He was stunned to see more disembodied souls lined up with the military men. The disincarnates were trying to grab at the drinks and cigarettes that were everywhere in the room. Spirits would fight over glasses that they actually couldn't touch. Ritchie saw a glow around all of the living people, but around the spirits, including himself, there was no outline of light. The glow was the life force still active in the living. It provided a kind of shield that kept them from being impacted by the spirit world. Then Ritchie saw something absolutely stunning. A young Navy man staggered away from the bar and collapsed to the floor. The aura around him opened up for just a moment. At that time one of the disincarnates jumped on top of him and disappeared. That same scenario was repeated when the man got up and fell again.

Ritchie was shown desolate suicides apologizing to their loved ones, controlling mothers harping at grown children. One son was as old as the mother. How long, thought Ritchie, has she been nagging at him? He saw a plain of people full of hate and rage tearing at each other in an endless venting. Then just before returning to his body, he saw a glimpse of a heavenly city.

Michael Newton, in Journey of Souls, paints a very different picture of the afterlife. There are no angels, no welcoming relatives, no Jesus, Buddha, or Mohammad. Each soul has a spirit guide which stays with that soul through eons of reincarnations. Between each new life in an earthly body, the souls are conducted to a location of sorts, attached to a small group of like-minded companions who recognize each other in spite of a lack of human identifying characteristics. The groups are like little eddies in a vast river floating somewhere in the ether. To the hypnotically regressed client, the souls look like pinpoints of light, like hovering fireflies.

The clients do not clarify what it's like to have 500 to a thousand years of therapy and life examination. When the time comes, the soul is offered a limited number of options from which to choose. Who directs the options? The clients are vague here. Directors. The soul seems programmed to understand that their movements and options are limited, but they then state that they are not limited, they just don't want to do what they are not allowed to do. There is no reason to want to.

The claims from there get very strange. One soul can service two bodies at the same time; when a soul enters a fetus it gets bored, so it leaves the fetus and goes off to 'fool around' for a bit with other souls. Even up to the age of 5 or 6 the soul may periodically abandon the child; when disincarnate souls manifest as people, the eye spaces are black and spooky-looking because it takes too much energy to fill them in; spirits in the Bardo practice using directed mental energy to make small prototype solar systems; each newly conceived body needs a soul to be inserted into it, so souls hatch like eggs in nurseries. There is also the occasional suspicion of the author that a soul being interviewed sounds like a stranger inhabiting another's body. The soul denies this, of course.

I have to wonder if Newton isn't being played with by bored spirits. How far will his credulity stretch? Apparently there is no limit. I have to conclude that he is talking to possessing spirits who have found an unprotected body to inhabit. It is also clear that if Jesus is the Son of God, the reincarnating souls may never see Him or His city.

Friday, February 19, 2010

G. Ritchie in the Presence of the Son of God

Several new Christian books on the afterlife have been published in recent years. A topic that was taboo in the 60's is now almost a fad. Reincarnationist authors have been discussing the afterlife for years, of course. One Christian story has been around since it was published as a book in 1978. It is cited in today's afterlife books, but not extensively. Thus, inspite of ready availability, it isn't well-known.

The story took place in 1943 when 20-year-old George Ritchie of Richmond, Virginia arrived at Camp Barkeley in Texas. He gave up attendance at the Medical College of Virginia in his home town to join the Army during WWII. He was ecstatic when the Army offered to send him to that same college, and they would pay for it. He was determined to be there when classes began on Dec. 22. On Dec. 10th, he contracted a fever which turned to influenza, requiring long days of recuperation, during which he lost a lot of weight. The Army arranged a jeep to transport him to Richmond, but first he needed to gain back 15 pounds and have a normal temperature. Ritchie feared that if he didn't show up on the 22nd, his place would be given to another, so he fought hard to recover. He also looked forward to Christmas with his family and girlfriend. He gained the required 15 pounds, but as the day drew near, his fever was still spiking and dropping. The day he was to leave, it spiked to 106. During an x-ray he passed out. The next day on Dec. 21, he died.

In the first minutes after death, the now non-physical George could only think of getting to Richmond. His soul went flying out of the hospital, across the desert, past farms and towns. He stopped at one town to ask directions, receiving the usual clues that no one could see him. Finally he got it. He was immaterial. He had to get back to the camp and find his body. After a long, crazy, lonely search throughout the hospital, he recognized his sheet-covered corpse. Dejected and confused, he 'sat down' on his body. Suddenly the room got lighter and lighter until it was so bright that he felt it would have scorched living eyes. He saw a being walk into the room. He heard a commanding voice say, "Stand up! You are in the presence of the Son of God." Ritchie was amazed at the wonderful, virile, appealing, and caring Presence, whom he instantly began to love.

Jesus took George on a long tour, but first there was a detailed life review in moving pictures. He even saw his birth. At the end of it, he understood that, although he had accepted Christ when he was 11 years old and had attended church all those years, his life was "only an endless, shortsighted, clamourous concern" for himself (Return from Tomorrow, Chosen Press, 2007, p. 59). He saw cities where disincarnate people hovered around the living. He saw regret, addiction, rage, and perversion. He also saw a hint of our technological future, growth in the arts, and finally a glimpse of a vast, bright heavenly city. Suddenly he was back in his body. The ward boy had alerted the doctor on duty that George was unresponsive. That doctor declared him dead and ordered that he be remanded to the morgue. The ward boy suggested maybe trying a shot of adrenalin straight to the heart. Surprisingly, the doctor agreed to try it and it worked (remember, this is '43). Weeks later, George was recovering and was on his way to med school. He became both a medical doctor and later a psychiatrist. His experience utterly changed his life. He spent the rest of it serving others and sharing his testimony.

In contrast to Dr. Ritchie's experience, I am reading a book about reincarntion called Journey of Souls, by Michael Newton, Ph.D., a counselor and hypnotherapist. His specialty, besides regressing his patients to discover their past lives, is to have them linger in the Bardo, the time between lives. Jesus, God, Mary, saints, theologians, Buddha, Mohammed, Krishna, heaven, hell, city of God, demons, aliens, etc. are never seen there. Souls are diverted by some unseen directors to clusters, where they hover like 'fireflies' until their next incarnation. They cannot cross over into other clusters, even if recognizable family members are there. There is LOTS of review and therapy in their afterlife. The idea is to return to earth so that one can improve, so discussions about improvement never seem to end there. Classes on behavior take place in schools that are screened to appear as temples or modern classroms. There are no evil entities, just souls functioning at low, intermediate, or high levels. Some may be so damaged that they need restructuring (like a spiritual frontal lobotomy, writes Newton), to which they are all happy to submit because everyone wants to do better in their next life. Misery is fleeting in this view of afterlife.

All that therapy is not very effective. Newton states that, "I have had many cases where a client has been incarnating for up to 30,000 (yes, count the zeros) on Earth and is still on the lower levels of I and II...One of my clients has not been able to conquer envy for 850 years in numerous lives, but she did not have too much trouble overcoming bigotry by the end of this same period. Another has spent nearly 1700 years off-and-on seeking some sort of authoritative power over others" (p. 124). Elsewhere he praised a client for entering an intermediate state after only 4,000 years (p. 147). Reincarnation is a lot of work.

In the next blog, I want to delve further into the contrast between Dr. Ritchie's experience and that of Dr. Newton. These souls never wonder why they see no angels or religious figures. Nor is there any hunger for such things, so the assumption is that these things don't exist and only the naieve look for them. It's all about us.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Of Pianos and Female Bishops

One of my favorite characters in Church History is St. Jerome. He was born in the mid-fourth century (300's AD), wrote in the latter quarter of that century and the early part of the 400's. He died around 420, having produced a vast body of literature, including letters, biblical translations, biblical commentaries, and essays refuting heresies. No one had higher praise or love for the intelligent, ascetic virgins of his day. They were his dear friends. He sobbed unabashedly when they died. These women were admired when they didn't bathe or fix their hair. Some fasted frequently and wore hair shirts. They also were adept at Latin, Greek, and (with Jerome's help) Hebrew. He lived in the early era of papism. Presbyter and bishop were basically the same office, the difference being a reference to age. These offices had at that time full ecclesiastical status; marriage was not yet forbidden to the clergy. The church made a difference between a catechumin and someone who had been baptized. A convert was regenerated and admitted to the ranks of the faithful as they rose out of the cleansing waters. One was then a wholly new person with sins forgiven and washed away.

Paul's ordinances about marriage and virgins engendered some confusion and disputation in the churches. His statement in I Tim. 3:2 and Titus 1:6 that an elder should be the husband of one wife caused a churchman to approach Jerome and challenge the ordination of a Spanish bishop whose first wife had died before he was baptized. He now had another wife, thus he has had two wives. Jerome demolished the man. He argued that the first wife was before baptism, thus the wholly new man in Christ has only had one wife. He detested the over-religious tendency to strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. Jerome may have objected to a man being ordained whose first wife had died after baptism. He certainly would have encouraged any unmarried bishop to remain that way. However, he pointed out that when a lascivious rogue or murderer who accepts Christ is baptized, former sin is forgiven and should not disqualify him from ordination. Therefore, should the poor deceased wife of a clergyman or bishop be drug from her grave to the confusion of the hapless cleric when a parade of harlots in that sinful stage of life might be passed over (The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 6, Letter LXIX.3)? Paul's admonition, writes Jerome, was against the polygamists of his day that had more than one wife at a time, especially after baptism.

Although Jerome openly admired many women of his day, he never would have approved of them having authority in the church. He agreed with the worldview of the day that the holy Apostles had forbidden formal office such as pastor or teacher to the ladies, and he would not challenge that scriptural authority. It was even considered immodest for a woman to be heard singing hymns in public. He taught them to sing the Psalms in Hebrew, but within the confines of their own quarters.

We have overcome much in our day about the status of women. It took two thousand years of church history, but we can now vote, be educated, evangelize, be politicians, and even teach in seminaries, Bible Colleges, and universities. However, many denominations still withhold the office of pastor or bishop to women. One of the passages brought forth to justify this restraint is that a bishop must be the husband of one wife. A woman cannot have a wife. Paul intended bishops to be men. Such reasoning is on a par with the literalist who said that the first deceased wife disqualifies the cleric from ordination as a bishop. Today we have the ultraliteral Church of God claiming that because the New Testament does not enjoin the use of musical instruments, we do not have the authority to introduce them into our church services. All of their hymns are acapella. For us to say that a woman can teach in a seminary but cannot be a pastor or bishop is even more inconsistent. Should we say that because there are no pianos in the Bible that we can have harps and trumpets but not pianos in our churches? Paul himself wrote of the need to be competent ministers of a new covenant where the spirit of the law trumps the letter (2 Cor. 3:6). Can a woman be considered a "wholly new man (person)" or must we always be poor fallen Eve? If we can have pianos, can we have female pastors and bishops?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Baby Steps in the Wilderness

When we modern day Christians read about the rebellion and lack of faith of the Hebrews in the Wilderness of Sinai, we often shake our heads in judgment. Yahweh changed Jacob's name to Israel, meaning "Prince of God." He made promises of inheritance to their forefathers. He sent Moses who turned his own staff into a serpent and who opened the waters of the sea as a way of escape. Pharaoh's horses and chariots drowned before their eyes. At their complaint, water came gushing from a rock, and pigeons flew in by the millions and landed in the desert, too exhausted to escape the hungry mob. How then could they be so adversarial with the deity? There are several reasons that we could call forth to explain their ingratitude and unbelief. One: they are making a huge paradigmatic leap from polytheism to monotheism, a stretch so challenging that they struggled for hundreds of years with the concept. Two: day by day the whole community stood at risk of dying from hunger or thirst, being bitten by adders, being attacked by bandits, or dying of some dread plague. The constant strain of dread and need put the leaders at risk and required an abundance of divine intervention to keep them all safe. Three: I'll call the third reason the 'grasshopper complex.' When the spies went into the land they saw how impossible the task was. The city walls were high and strong. The militias were fierce, armed and supported by Egypt. The land 'devours its inhabitants.' It was beyond scary; it was terrifying. Trying to wrest space in Canaan from such entrenched ethnic groups was in fact...impossible. The realists were right about that.

Add divine intervention to the mix and the impossible became possible. But Israel's worst enemy was their lack of understanding as to who they were becoming. They had to undo a years of seeing themselves as just another group of exploited, polytheistic Asiatics who were enslaved by the Theban Egyptian pharaohs. "They are giants," they whined to Moses. "We are but grasshoppers in their sight." "No," rejoined Caleb, "We can do this. This is a good land and with God's help we can take it." But the people couldn't believe it, in spite of all the promises of God.

I have often wondered why, with all the promises that I had from God in my youth that I should seek a scholastic career, I didn't just get the government loan and get into any graduate school that would take me. I was married and had two young children before I started my scholastic endeavors from scratch. The answer is that I saw myself as just another grasshopper, trying to survive in a world of giants. I was sure that life would chew me up and spit me out. I had to experience, step by step, that I could navigate life and survive, that I could get a job and hold it, that I could pay back the school loan. I had to quit thinking that I was a loser and that no good thing would ever happen to me in real life. All that negative thinking was in spite of wonderful promises that I was sure were from the Lord.

Israel had only about 40 years to figure out experientially, step by step, challenge by challenge, that they, too, could be formidable. Rahab the innkeeper of Jericho told the second set of spies, "Our guys are peeing their pants over you people. We've heard what God did for you with the Egyptians. We know you have survived all these years in the wilderness. We've seen what happens when your God is angry. We're all fainting from fear. I want to join with you because you're going to win and we're going to lose. Your God is the real deal. I'll help you, but save me and my family."

Learning to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and not faint at the challenges of life often takes years. It is sometimes frightening to be 18, facing the Big Wide Wolfine World all by ourselves when we don't have a career plan or a sense of what we want to do in life. One of the things that we know in our head, but not experientially, is that God has a plan for our life. Our pastor, our parent, our Sunday School teacher tells us that, but until we get those first few jobs and see, step by step, who we are and what we are good at, it's hard to believe. It took the Hebrews a generation to morph from frightened, whining grasshoppers to a formidable lions of God. Sometimes it takes us ordinary people a few decades to fully realize who we are and to settle comfortably into God's call for our lives. But it will happen. It doesn't happen all at once. I took a little longer than the average person to implement the training I need for God's call in my life, but we can rest assured that God is with us and that the pastor was right. God does have a plan for our lives and we will find the right path in time. No failure is a waste. Each attempt is a lesson learned, no matter what the outcome. It will all come together in God's time.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

I Cor. 11:2-16: In the Culture or in the Lord?

According to the dictionary, a sophistry is a kind of reasoning that is misleading or unsound, but it sounds clever and plausible. Paul talks about such reasoning in Colossians 2:23, "Such regulations (Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!) indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility, and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence." Note, 'appearance of wisdom' and 'false humility' do not a perfect Christian make.

In 1 Cor. 11 we have two ways of looking at the woman question. One is born of the Spirit and the other is a sophistry. Verses 2-10 present the picture of the first century attitude toward women:

a. It is positively disgraceful if she does not cover her head. As a Catholic in my youth we wore hats, scarves, or doilies to Mass on Sunday. It was sinful if you didn't do so. But that is NOT what Paul is requiring. Tertullian gives us the real ancient viewpoint on this matter. Women are the "gateway of the devil" so virgins must be covered up. He informs us that in his third century era the Corinthian churches were still covering the heads of their virgins, not just to protect the devout men of the church, many who had vowed not to marry, but to protect the angels, who, according to the holy record of Enoch (an ante-deluvian prophet), found the women of ancient times an irresistable temptation.

b. Women must pray and prophesy with their head covered. She must also have long hair because that is God's natural covering for her, and she must submit to her husband and Christ submitted to the Father.

So a woman who is godly has a trinity of coverings to keep the devil at bay: her hair, her veil, and her man. Apparently, for women, the Holy Trinity of divinity does not suffice when it comes to lusty men and angels.

Here is the reason given-- 1. Man is the image of God. Woman is merely the image of Man. 2. Man was not created for the woman. The woman was created for the man as what we evangelicals used to call a 'help meet.' Elsewhere it is written that women were created second, but the issue here is 'source.' Woman came from man, placing her in a subservient and inferior position. Her inferiority is endemic. She was created that way.

This was great preaching in the first century AD. Paul didn't make it be that way. It was already like that in all societies everywhere, and everyone 'knew' that it had been that way from the beginning of time. Paul just summed up the biblical justification about why such subservience is fair and proper and must endure.

Before you lob cabbages at me, my righteous brethren, let me say that I am not mocking the Word of God. I am mocking the commandments of men. For example, how many pastors' wives have long hair? How many of them wear a scarf like Muslim women that really covers their head? How many obey their husbands in ALL things with total subservience? How many Christian women address their husbands as "My Lord" or "Sir?" How many fathers remind their little daughters, especially the ones with really high I.Q.'s, that they are not quite the image of God that men are, that they were created to support some man, that their gifts and talents exist to delight and benefit their husband? Furthermore, many evangelicals forbid anyone today to prophesy. They say that was for the past, not the present. So most of the ordinances of verses 2-10 have already fallen by the wayside.

The word of God in this passage begins with BUT. In the NIV it is introduced with "however." The key words are "in the Lord." Isn't that after all the real goal of being a Christian? Don't we always plead with God to help us to be "in the Lord" and not in the world? In the Lord, there is no source but God. It matters not who was first or who came from who because "Everything comes from God." After this flash of brilliance, Paul lapses back into the culture. He actually equates a man's glory (which is the eternal, uncorruptible image of God) with a woman's glory (her hair!). The image of God is spiritual. Hair can be dirty and flea-ridden. It can be cut, it turns gray, and it rots in the grave! She also reflects the glory of man from whom she came.

We deal with this passage today in several ways. We say Paul didn't write it. We say that he is quoting someone else in order to refute the statements. We say that we don't really understand the Greek. Or, we tell women that that is how it is, so be obedient and suck it up. Tertullian assured us that what I have laid out here is the way the early church read the passage. It fit right in with their culture as it had always been.

2 Cor. 3:17,18 talks about the real glory that counts. The Lord is the Spirit and the Spirit is the Source of both freedom and glory. Here is the Word of God on the matter: "And we, who with UNVEILED faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being TRANSFORMED into his likeness with EVER-INCREASING glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." All means all, and unveiled means unveiled. So I ask the evangelical denominations, are you in the culture, or are you in the Lord?