This blog has been in operation since 2003. That’s a long time. And in that time, much has been weathered.
A select few readers know my wife has battled mental illness for going on nearly a decade now. I haven’t talked about it much here, since talking about mental illness in a public space can be something of a death sentence. People don’t understand mental illness, nor do they know what to do when someone is mentally ill, so talking about it brings raised eyebrows and that slow drift away. Stigma—it’s still out there. As is a feeling of helplessness. If it were cancer, people would know what to say and do, but with mental illness, no one shows up at the door with a casserole. The person with the illness may seem fine, but when the visitors go away or the event ends, there it is. The spouse and family see it and live with it, but few others must.
Traumatic events can destabilize someone with a mental illness. We had a series of such in late 2016, which led to much heartache and grief, and my wife’s illness flared up. We’ve been battling back ever since. Doctor changes, medicine changes, and on and on. When your spouse suffers, you suffer. This has meant scant time for side projects and pursuits. And between a son trying to get his driver’s license and thinking about college, my work, household needs, helping my wife battle back, and all the various vicissitudes of life, blogging had to take a back seat. Fact is, almost everything that was not core to daily existence had to.
It’s not that I don’t have pressing thoughts to share. It’s that sometimes, you have to choose your priorities.
Winter and spring were rough, but I hold out hope that summer will be better. Maybe that will free up time for Cerulean Sanctum. God knows I want to write, but God also knows that family matters.
In November 2004, I sat in a movie theater and witnessed one of the most chilling, frightening films I had ever seen: The Incredibles.
“Aw, c’mon, Dan,” you might protest. “That was an animated film for kids. Pixar. Now Disney. How can that possibly be anything but rainbows and unicorns?”
The film’s writer and director Brad Bird nailed it:
“And when everyone’s super, no one will be.”
For a while, that narrative played in real life. It was a story the forces that hate God and hate His Church attempted to promote. “If everyone is a good person, and we construct a story we tell that makes everyone good, then no one will be morally or ideologically superior to anyone else. And then we can do whatever we want because we will have killed off religion, especially those that draw distinctions between good and evil.”
It’s an insidious ploy. Problem is, it didn’t work. The reason? Human sin.
You can’t claim that everyone is good if people keep doing heinous things. This especially doesn’t work when certain groups of highly visible people repeatedly are behind those atrocities. The goodness lie can’t stand in a world of fallen people.
Here’s where the flip-side is beginning to creep in…
I’ve noticed a new narrative lately coming from those who are desperate to draw moral and ideological equivalencies so as to excuse themselves, while also taking down any exceptionalism claims by any belief system. It’s a concession that the “everyone is super” narrative failed. What we are now being propagandized with is its opposite.
When Alexander Bissonnette walked into a Quebec mosque and unloaded his weapons into the bodies of the men present, the headline the next day described him with a phrase I’d not seen before in the press: Christian terrorist.
This past week, when Cedric Anderson walked into a California school and started shooting, the press wanted to know why Christians were not denouncing this terror perpetrated by a Christian pastor that left people, including a mentally-challanged child, dead.
Anyone else see what is happening here?
There’s a lie building. And from the perspective of those who tried with the goodness message and failed, it’s a more effective foundation supporting this revised agenda, because fallen people tend not to act good. Therefore, instead of finding cases of wholesale good in any group, find instances of the opposite.
“If we want to establish moral and ideological equivalency, we must show that no one is exceptional. Because if no one is exceptional, then there is nothing exceptional about what anyone believes.”
The implementation as an attack on Christian faith is to find deranged, unstable, violent people who have some slim connection to something someone thinks is Christianity, and paint them as brightly as possible as stellar, A-#1 examples of Christian faith. Then say, “Look at this mass murderer Christian! Christians are just as bad as everyone else. In fact, they may be the real monsters we never realized lived among us.”
You see, Alexandre Bissonnette liked Pope John Paul II on his Facebook page and used an image of a crusader to announce his savage plan to murder.
You see, Cedric Anderson called himself a pastor in public and quoted biblical-sounding things on his Facebook page.
So, of course, these murderers and terrorists are shining examples of orthodox Christians. Orthodox Christians are terrorists too. Look! Look!
Except it’s a desperate lie.
Any 15-minute investigation into Bissonnette showed, if anything, that he is beholden more to an atheistic humanism with roots in rationalist philosophy than to anything Christian. The label doesn’t stick. At all.
Same for Anderson. A con man with a history of weapons and violence charges, who appears to have lied about his military service, had no church behind his “pastorate,” and who espouses some mangling of the Old Testament in a series of Facebook posts—he’s no more an orthodox Christian than Jim Jones.
Thing is, no one tried to draw an equivalency with Jim Jones back in the ’70s. No one looked at the People’s Temple and said, “I can’t see any difference between them and your typical Methodist or Presbyterian church.” Any reporter who tried would have been run out of town on a rail for being so blind and willfully ignorant.
But today? Well, that willful ignorance falls into the rotten “gift” the Web and social media have given us: That if someone says something loudly and often enough on the Internet, that person can find an audience and replace ultimate truth with alternate facts.
Fake news indeed.
This is a real problem for Christian believers.
For us, I don’t see any recourse but to engage this agenda of delegitimizing the Gospel and Christian theology through wide-brushing Christians as morally and ideologically equivalent to those groups that are committing atrocities around the globe. We must confront this forced equivalency and reveal it as the lie that it is. We must draw distinctions between genuine Christian faith and all the perverted forms that people desperate to undermine Christianity are trying to foist on the ignorant as the norm.
Here is one reality we must keep reinforcing. Unlike some other groups out there, terrorists and ideological deviants do not come out of orthodox (small-“o”) Christian churches. Those radicals that may identify (and be identified by outsiders) as “Christian” almost always come out of “churches” with deviant theology that in no way resembles orthodox Christian theology and practice. The distinctions are clear, and anyone should be able to see them if they spend even a little bit of effort to note the difference.
Except those with the equivalency agenda do not want people to do the checking. They figure if they “equivalent-ize” loudly and long enough, people will believe them. Sadly, that seems to work when left uncountered.
All I can say to fellow believers is that we cannot rest and ignore this. If we see someone on the Internet trying to force a moral and ideological equivalency between faiths or belief groups by appealing to examples of “Christians” who commit atrocities, we must speak truth to it.
Again, the most egregious lie is to look for “radicals” and to place them as coming from orthodox church congregations. However, “Radicalized Christians” always come from a “church” with deviant, unorthodox theology, belief, and practice, and almost always glaringly so.
Remember, that to work, this lie must force equivalencies, so it must also operate in the other direction, by excusing non-Christian groups that produce radicals. Fact is, these radicals ARE coming from orthodox versions of that non-Christian group. This is used against Christians by forcing the equivalency that if orthodox examples of these non-Christian groups are producing radicals and terrorists, then orthodox churches are too.
Except this simply is not the case. Radicals do not radicalize in Christian churches that are not preaching radically deviant beliefs.
We orthodox Christians must speak and stop letting outsiders who claim they understand us propagandize lies about us.
In Christian circles, many have been talking about Rod Dreher’s book The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation. Fact is, people have been talking about it for about three years now, because that’s how long Dreher has been doling out bits of his major thesis about why Christians need to form their own remote, intentional communities. Given how much I’ve read of what Dreher has already written online, I will probably never read the book.
Nonetheless, here is my review of The Benedict Option. It’s one word:
Oddly enough, that’s my review of most Christian books advocating for widespread change or action from all Christians. At one point, I used to be keen to grasp and understand this idea of preserving Christian faith from the ravages of rapidly degrading culture. Like many Christians, I had concerns about this thing or that. I had worries. I’m sure you have or have had worries too.
But what I have come to realize in the last few years is that the reasons the Church in America is worried, or needs to worry, or doesn’t need to worry, are not really about what is happening outside the Church, but inside. You can say that’s always been the focus of Cerulean Sanctum: Church Heal Thyself.
But you read all these dystopian nonfiction books about the bad stuff arriving soon to hurt the Church, and what you finally realize is that all these books and warnings, and cautions, and handwringings are all brilliantly reasoned answers to the wrong questions.
We have this strange, self-absorbed idea in contemporary Western Christianity that the most pressing issue for the entirety of the world is that one thing that is most pressing to me. And we wonder how it is that people can be so blind so as not to see X bearing down on us like a runaway train. Why is it that you aren’t taking X seriously? Why aren’t you doing something about X? You must be in sin because X doesn’t matter to you as much as it does to me.
And after a while, it all gets silly, this one-size-fits-all approach to discipleship and God’s working in the lives of His people.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
Draw near to God.
Hear what God asks of me for my situation alone.
In response to that hearing, do what I can to achieve it with the unique resources God has provided to me.
Be at peace.
It sounds to me that God may be asking Rod Dreher to write a book about intentional communities that create a place of retreat. Maybe God is asking Rod Dreher to even start one.
That’s great for Rod Dreher.
And while it’s great for Rod Dreher, what it does not mean is that I must necessarily heed Rod Dreher’s call and follow the Benedict Option.
What is God asking of me in the situation in which He has placed me? What is God asking of you?
It seems to me that where we have gone astray in the modern church isn’t so much that we lost the culture wars and now must retreat to intentional communities but that we have made it mandatory to follow what some Christian leader, prognosticator, or pundit says. Sure we can listen, but we can also reject if that person’s message conflicts with what we know God is asking of you or of me in the situation you or I find before us.
Possessing no one-size-fits-all approach to life can be frightening. It means there isn’t a uniform plan. I think this scares us because listening to God to find our next steps can be hard. You can’t listen if you don’t draw near, and drawing near takes time and quiet. And we run the risk of getting the listening wrong.
This causes anxiety. Here is where we make our second mistake.
The Bible says this:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. —Hebrews 12:1-2
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. —Ephesians 2:8-10
“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’? Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’ or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’” —Isaiah 45:9-10
Who founded the faith you have? God alone.
Who is perfecting the faith you have? God alone.
Who can force God’s hand on any of this? Not you. Not me. No one.
You and I are not in control. You and I did not start this, and we will not finish it. All that is on God.
In fact, all God really asks of us is to show up. That’s it. And some days, we may not even do that. I think He understands that happens sometimes. What God really wants from us more than anything else is to draw near to Him and to talk with Him and listen.
It may be that in any given day, all I can do is go to the grocery store, buy some Pepto, and help a sick family member get over an upset stomach. Is that what God is asking of me? Perhaps it is. Perhaps that is the extent of today’s focus.
Perhaps that is what I am hearing from God when I draw near to Him today. And if that’s all there is, that’s OK. My eternal security does not rest on what I get done today but in whom I rest, the Lord.
It may be that God is calling some Christians to live radical lives on the fringes of civilization.
Or He may be calling some to care for the sick in hospitals or to build airplanes.
Or He may be saying to some to cease from their labors for the moment and just rest in Him.
Or He may be asking some to write a poem or a letter of encouragement to someone else.
Most likely, whatever it it is He may be asking of you or me, it may be something small, something for this moment.
Our mistake is to criticize another Christian for what he or she may or may not be doing based upon what we think we should or should not be doing. Yes, the Bible does lay out a few clear boundaries, but within those boundaries reside entire worlds of conversation and opportunity. And the conversation you had with God and the opportunity it created is unique. I won’t criticize you about mine. Don’t criticize me about yours. When and if possible, let’s do what we can to help each other make each other’s possible.
So as a review of The Benedict Option, I say, whatever. Maybe it is God’s word to you about your next step. Or maybe it’s not. Whichever answer it becomes to you as you draw near to God and listen, God is thankfully in control.