My Island, No Trespassing


I like to watch people. The backstage of an event is often more interesting to me than the event itself. What happens when no one is looking (except for me) I find fascinating.

Recently, I’ve been watching what may be an interesting cultural trend.

My son is part of a weekend program that offers many challenging classes for gifted students. We love it. The two classes he takes have about 30 kids in one class and 15 in the other. Because some families have more than one kids in a class at a time, parents are not always fully represented, so some kids are in class by themselves, while others are there with one or both parents.

Both classes involve a lot of construction. The kids may build complex items, such as a soldered circuit board. Pretty ambitious stuff. Again, challenging for the kids.

I’ve been there for both classes. What has struck me is the dynamic of helping others.

When presented with a task, the majority of parents focus solely on helping their own child, despite the fact that other children have no parent present to help. Also, while plenty of opportunities to assist the teacher of class exist, not many people jump at the chance.

A few parents assist those children who have no parents present. A few generally help the teacher with whatever needs to be done to make the class work. A few. But most parents turn all their attention to their own child.

I’ve written many times about the island mentality in America 2010. I  see a country where people increasingly focus on their own family unit to the exclusion of others. Some believe this is the aftermath of cocooning wrought by 9/11. PangeaI contend that cocooning has transformed into islanding.

Some scientists say that the continents began as one land mass called Pangaea. Time and tectonics eventually tore Pangaea into smaller chunks that became the recognizable individual continents and islands.

In many ways, our communities and sense of common national identity are being torn asunder by the tectonic shifts of societal change. The entire idea of  community increasingly suffers when people turn their community into a sea filled with tiny islands with a common sea between them, but no real contact between the islands. The sea, rather than being a means of travel and connection, becomes a moat that keeps others out.

What is particularly sad is that these human islands “evolve” their own ecoculture that, in time, cannot abide the ecocultures of the other islands. Anyone who follows the travails of Australia in that country/island’s fight against cane toads and rabbits knows that being too different in one’s ecoculture wreaks havoc when an outsider comes in.

So, some islands work very hard to keep the outsiders out. And the fracture lines keep widening.

This should not surprise us, though. Darwinism, one of the core philosophies of contemporary society, wormed its way into the minds of too many people. We made peace with the “selfish gene” and incorporated “survival of the fittest” into our worldview. We see others as competition. “Only the strong survive.” We must protect our own, even if it comes at the expense of others individually and our communities as a whole. Or so it is said.

A couple months ago, I mentioned that the youth pastor at my church lamented his inability to get youth groups from other churches together to do combined community projects. Too many other churches feared their youth would be poached by a “competing” church. Island thinking exist in Christianity, too.

God didn’t make us to live as islands, though. Our families are not intended to be so sacrosanct that no one else is allowed in,  or that others exist only to get in the family’s way.

This is especially true of the Church. Jesus repeatedly said that the family of God is not an island, that ANY who do the will of God are invited in. There are no strangers, only those who have not yet come into the fold. And on the cross, Jesus shattered the idea of boundaries of biological family by entrusting His mother to the care of His youngest follower, and vice versa.

If we are to be a true reflection of the Church that God intends, we have to get rid of the moat. We can’t be an island, other than to be a place of refuge amongst cultural and societal insanity. Because the model we have from the Bible is not an island. Nor does the Bible preach the nuclear family to the detriment of those whose biological family does not look like our own.  The Church should NEVER be afraid of the outsider, because such was each one of us before Christ restored us.

Is it that hard to put down “our thing”—whatever it may be—to help another?

Do we not have some sense that we are diminished ourselves when others go wanting?

Why must we work so hard to protect our own that we have nothing else left over to give to those not our own?

Must we live by the survival of the fittest?

And lastly, why are we so proud of our personal island when God has no place for islands in His Kingdom?

Modern Evangelicalism: An MAO Inhibitor?


A pharmacological cornucopia!I rarely watch more than two hours of TV a month, so I’m no expert on ads or what’s happening in the TV scene. No matter how little TV you may consume, it’s darned near impossible not to encounter a plethora of Big Pharma ads hawking this prescription drug or that. See enough of those ads and its clear that every single drug on the market comes contraindicated whenever the prospective user’s downing MAO inhibitors, a type of antidepressant that comes with some serious side effects and warnings.

MAO is monoamine oxidase, an enzyme in the body critical for proper neurological functioning, hence the use of MAO inhibiting drugs for treating nervous system diseases. Are you yawning yet? Ready for the tangential slide?

Okay, here it comes…

The Godblogosphere’s been bloated with enough posts on “returning to Rome” to gag the Pope and all his Cardinals. A few noted Evangelical leaders jumped the Reformation Ship and the handwringing, fingerpointing, and accusations flew. In other words, typical Evangelical Sturm und Drang.

Amid the voluminous posting on this leap from Evangelicalism into the Roman Catholic Church (heck, one post I read even had Elisabeth Elliot pining for the papacy), plenty of volcanic theological discourse erupted, but I heard very little about MAO—the other MAO, that is.

The MAO I speak of is Mystery, Awe, and Otherness. You know, the stuff modern Evangelicals jettisoned on their way to a bookshelf full of systematic theologies, dusty pages of do’s and dont’s, and three-points-and-a-conclusion sermons. In their rush to be real and down to earth, Evangelicals found a way to make God dull. In short, modern Evangelicalism has become a theological MAO inhibitor.

I can’t help but think that most of these “un-converts” who fled to Rome did so in part because of the radical vivisection Evangelicalism got away with concerning the Body of Christ. I happen to believe that God placed in each one of us a yearning for mystery, awe, and otherness. That desire drives us to God as the source for all meaning, even if that meaning can never be fully grasped. This isn’t postmodernism’s vacuous “There can be no absolute truth” stupidity, but a genuine recognition that God is wholly other and therefore contains an element of mystery that generates awe in those who encounter Him.

How so? Remember when you basked in the throes of the first ache of passionate love? The object of your affection seemed like some strange creature from another planet that you’d walk across burning coals to know, even if that knowledge was little more than a favorite book he or she loved. Remember that first kiss? The electricity! That mystery, awe, and otherness found in the kiss of your beloved! (Song of Solomon explodes with mystery, awe, and otherness, doesn’t it?)

Now imagine kissing your sister. (Or your brother, as the case may be.) Where’d all that passion go? Now imagine Evangelicalism turning every day supposedly devoted to passion into just another day of kissing your sister. Now who can blame anyone for bolting that dry familiarity for a place that still kindles mystery, awe, and otherness?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m solidly in the Reformation camp. I see the RCC as a dead-end and always have. I feel sorry for anyone so seduced by a need for mystery, awe, and otherness that they’ll abandon truth for it.

Yet I still understand why they do it.

So plenty of Evangelicals go slack-jawed at these bolters who make for the Seven Hills. They’ll go on and on with analyses—psychological, theological, and otherwise—in their attempts to understand why they couldn’t keep ’em down on the Reformation farm. But sadly, they’ll never ask “What did we do wrong?” See, that question begs an answer and the answer gets a bit too close to the heart of the problem. Evangelicals today are loathe to put the words we and wrong in the same sentence, so they affix blame anywhere they can so long as that anywhere doesn’t involve looking in a mirror.

In the end, it does little more than make me tired. The false either/or propositions about what we should do and believe. The tired arguments against emotion. The constant sniping about mystery. If Evangelicals want to drive it all out, then they shouldn’t be surprised that people go elsewhere looking to fill that God-given need for mystery, awe, and otherness. Folks will go to the RCC, to the Orthodox, to whatever source fills that vital need. They’ll look for a way to stop taking the MAO inhibitors the self-appointed “doctors” of the Evangelical Church prescribed.

And someday Evangelicals will scratch their heads and wonder where all their adherents went.