Thursday, June 16, 2016

What Did the Disciples Really Think?



I've been reading Luke 8 this week, the story about the demon-possessed man who lived in the tombs.  The one Jesus healed, and sent all his demons into a herd of pigs.  Remember?

As I've been reading it, I've been putting myself into the shoes of the disciples.

After having a near-death experience while crossing the lake in a boat, they finally get to dry land.  No sooner have they managed to drag their still-shaking limbs out of the boat, than they are accosted by the local madman, shouting at Jesus to go away.  They've heard about this man - he's a Gentile for starters, which means he's unclean and they need to keep away from him.  He's possessed by demons and is violent and unpredictable, which means they'd like to keep quite a long way away from him, and he lives in the tombs, which makes him even more unclean.  At this point, they are in agreement with the crazy man - they think the best thing to do is to get back in the boat, sail away to a nice quiet little bay, gather their wits about them and ask Jesus what, exactly, just happened out there on the lake.  Where did that storm come from, why didn't He do anything to help them sail the boat out of danger, if He can make storms stop, why didn't He make it stop sooner, and why on earth was His only concern their lack of faith, instead of their iminent, watery death?

Jesus, however, doesn't think this is a good idea.  He talks to the demons in the man, telling them to come out, and then has a discussion with the demons (what on earth?!) as to where they are going to go when they leave the man.  Finally, the demons leave the man only to attack a large herd of pigs, and the disciples watch in shocked awe as the maddened pigs run frantically round in circles, before hurling themselves into the sea where they drown.  Considering the risk of spiritual contamination from the pigs is now nil, the disciples are feeling slightly relieved... only to discover they are being watched by people from the nearby village, who are - or were - the owners of the pigs.  These people are Not Happy.  Their pigs are drowned, and somehow the local madman is involved, along with a group of those crazy Jews from over the lake.  The townspeople are now telling Jesus they don't know what He's just done, but they don't want Him to do any more, thank you, and can He go away, now.  They have large rocks, sticks, and some hungry looking dogs to back their arguments up.

The disciples think going away is a very good idea!  They are now terrified, again, in risk of serious physical harm, again, and Jesus is not doing anything about it, again.  One of the disciples (possibly Thomas) has noticed that the madman has calmed down and is shivering.  He finds a spare cloak that is mostly dry in the bottom of the boat, and throws it over the man, who wraps it round himself.  At this point, the townspeople's attention is drawn from their floating pigs to the man.  This is the one who has terrorised their community - raging, screaming in the streets and outside their houses, terrifying their children and servants, shredding clothes, chains, dignity and peace, along with his family's standing in the community.  This man, who has been mad, possessed, existing alongside the dead when the living threw him out from their midst; this man is now sitting at the feet of the man Jesus who has somehow been involved in their pigs' deaths.  He doesn't seem mad anymore - the manic glare has left his eyes, he has a cloak wrapped around himself, and a look of peace on his face.  Even his matted hair seems a little less wild than it used to.

... to be continued

Monday, June 6, 2016

FUNDAMENTALISM AND NOAH

 Or: How Russell Crowe reminded me of Argentina.
 
Spoiler alert: If you haven't seen Noah, and don't want to know the plot-line, stop reading now!

I watched the movie 'Noah' last week, with Russell Crowe playing the main man.

I didn't intend to - my husband had asked me if I wanted to watch it, I declined, and went out to bible study.  When I got home, he was partway through the movie, and despite myself, I watched most of it.

Let's get this out of the way for starters: I didn't like it.

For me, it was an insight into an unchecked fundamentalist mindset.  One where only men count, only men make decisions, and only men get to hear from God.  Actually, in this case (as in many others in real life), only ONE man.  Because Noah's sons certainly weren't given any say in the decisions affecting their lives.

Watching the way Noah steeled himself against the rest of humanity outside his boat, making huge life decisions about his boys' lives because of what HE had decided God meant, made me feel both angry and sick.   Because life in fundy-world is just like that.  Someone in charge decides that God has told them something, and hundreds or thousands of people have their lives turned upside down, and aren't allowed to question it.

Here's one example from my life.  When I was in my mid-teens, the leader of my cult announced that God had told him that the people in the cult should be more evenly distributed around the world.  Places where there were big gatherings should think hard about whether any of them felt 'called' to move to a smaller location.  When nobody seemed particularly inclined to move away from their families, the leader started telling people where God had told him they were to move to.  One of my relatives lived just round the corner from his elderly parents and disabled sister.  Neither of his parents were in good health, and they needed a lot of help with his sister, which he and his family very willingly gave.  The leader told my cousin that it was God's will that he should move to Buenos Aires, Argentina.  My cousin had never been there, couldn't speak Spanish, didn't want to leave his parents and sister who needed his help, nor his eldest daughter who had just gotten married and moved to Auckland.  However, God had spoken, and who was he to argue with God?  So... he and his wife and their two young daughters sold the business they had spent years growing, sold their house, packed all their belongings, said goodbye to everyone they knew, and moved to Argentina.  All the rest of us looked at each other, wondering who was going to be called on to 'make a sacrifice for the sake of the testimony' (cult-speak) next.

The thing is, when you know God only speaks to 'that' person, you're not listening for God to speak to you.  And even when He does speak, you measure what you hear by what 'that person' says God is saying - and if it doesn't line up, you assume you must be wrong.  Or that it's actually the devil talking to you.  You know it can't be God, because you know what God sounds like: the person who tells you what God says.  This is how 'God' can say increasingly more bizarre things, which nobody questions, because who are they to argue with God?

Back to the movie.  By the time we got to Noah announcing that if his unborn grandchild was a girl he would kill her, I was having trouble staying seated on the sofa.  I kept making my husband pause the movie so I could share my thoughts... which he patiently listened to.  What can I say, the man is probably a saint. ;)

This is such a good illustration of how people force themselves to do things that their mind says are right, despite their hearts shouting that they are wrong.  'BECAUSE THIS IS WHAT GOD WANTS!', they shout back at their breaking, traitorous hearts, and become angry, defensive, and more convinced that what they are doing is The Right Thing.  Because who can stand making huge decisions that tear your heart apart, only to realise that the decision you made was not only unnecessary, but the wrong one?

Once you've paid a huge emotional cost to make a stand, you become very attached to that stand.  It is incredibly difficult to rethink or change your decision.  This is how people like my parents could watch me walk out their front door, and break off all contact with me.  Because they are convinced that it is what God wants.  And nothing or nobody (including God Himself) has been able to tell them otherwise.

I then watched Noah's heart win over his head - and thought to myself, he will be tormented with guilt for the rest of his life, over letting God down.  He will be telling himself how weak he was, and how shameful what he did was, because he was so convinced that God wanted him to stop the human race continuing... and he couldn't do it.

Fundamentalism - the game where everyone loses.

I don't have any nice, tidy bow to wrap all this up with.  I don't really know how to finish this post.  I don't have any bible verses or quotations.  I just know that it's better out here, where I have so many questions and an ever-decreasing stock of answers, than in the cult, where all I had were answers to defend myself against questions I wasn't supposed to ask.