"The greatest truths are revealed, in the silence of the mind." - Me

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Buddhists, The New Testament, and The Beatles - My final response to Dick Van Dyke's Memior

I've made no secret that Dick Van Dyke's Memior My Lucky Life in and Out of Show Business has impacted me. It has caused me to struggle through mostly existential thoughts brought on by the fact that I relate to Van Dyke (and have since childhood) in a very deep way. In many ways, I feel we are cut from the same cloth.

A couple days ago I recounted how I was struck by Van Dyke's dismissal of Christ while holding to a "good morality." In the pages that represent the rest of his work, I am still left with the same problem/question... how can a man who was an elder in at least two churches, who wrote a book on the humor he found in being a Sunday School teacher for many years, and who has admitted to reading the Bible at least once through, dismiss Christ?

The answer, though, is found later in his memoir, near the end of the book. Entrenched near his closing remarks about never leaving showbiz (which is exciting for a long time fan like me), Van Dyke comes back to a theme that he both subtly and directly weaves throughout the tapestry of the book: That it really is all about love. It is in this place where he states that he feels the Buddhists get it right, when broken down to their "big 3 things, as well as Carl Reiner, The New Testament, and the Beatles.

Van Dyke displays a classical case of syncretism, the religion of the modern world. If "traditional" religion were to be compared to ordering one specific dish off of a restaurant menu (I'll take Christianity with a small side of Judiasm, hold the hypocrisy, please), then syncretism would be more like eating at a buffet. The syncretist is not necessarily one who calls himself a "religious man." He may more likely call himself "spiritual" to some degree or another. But, in the end, what this philosophical/theological term describes is akin to someone who peruses through a buffet of choices and selects from them only the pieces he believes fit on his plate.

In so many ways, syncretism is the rule, not the exception in modern day society. This is the reason why a man who has been an elder and Sunday School teacher for so many years can, without quibble, find "what he feels is right" in such diametrically opposed sources as the New Testament (notice he did not say "The Bible," which, if intentional speaks volumes in his omission of the Old Testament) and the Beatles. The Beatles, though this is a discussion for another day, were ardent followers of Alestor Crowley, the "father of modern satanism," and hardly fit in the same category as the New Testament.

Which all boils down to the real question that Mr. Van Dyke has brought up in his book (though as a subtext); Is there really only one way? This question, as I noted on days ago, is one that he answers in his work, asking that very question and then answering with, "No. Not as far as I could tell..."

This is perhaps why he refers often to God and never to Christ (whom he was fond of calling "Our Lord" in his Faith, Hope, and Hilarity, and not at all afraid in that work to mention by Name). You cannot deny that there is only one way and also refer back to Christ. Jesus, as it were, took Himself off the buffet when He pointedly stated that there was only ONE way to the Father, and it is through Him (John 14:6).

And, truly, this is the part of Jesus' message and person that so many are prone to reject today. Like Thomas Jefferson who famously (and quite literally) tore out sections of the Bible that he did not agree with (leaving mostly the history, and parts of the Letters of Paul), post-modern man accepts Jesus as a good moral teacher, a true embodiment of love, a radical feminist (before it was popular to be one), and so many other things, but they do not accept the polarizing statements that Christ made about being the ONLY way by which man can be saved.

Really, this is nothing new. The world has been hammering away at that nail since the day Christ ascended. This is why C. S. Lewis made famous the statement that Christ was either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. In all true and proper understandings of the words, life, and teachings of Jesus Christ Himself, the Lord did NOT leave his inclusion on the buffet menu an option. His claim to be the only unique (Homoousios) Son of God, the way, truth, and life, and the ONLY name under heaven by which man can be saved eliminated that option.

That is why C. S. Lewis famously said that He is either liar, lunatic, or exactly who He said He was. Jesus Christ cannot ever be considered to be "just a good teacher," or even "the perfect prophet" (as Islam is apt to call Him) and make the claims that He did. If he claimed to be God in the flesh (a more shocking claim than we allow for in our own pondering) and He was wrong... he cannot be a good teacher, for He would have to be a liar (eliminating anything "good" from Him), a lunatic, on par with the man who thinks that he is a glass of orange juice (which, also, eliminates Him from being a very good buffet item, despite the tasty sound the OJ reference has to it), or He was exactly who He said He was.

And don't misunderstand, no matter how many times Christ implored people not to tell others about Him, He did not shy away from blocking off ALL other options. He did not shy away from stepping on toes and letting people know that there is, was, and can only be ONE way to heaven... and it is not through good works, or even plain and simple love.

But here we come to the final point. The thing that Dick Van Dyke claims that the Buddhists, The New Testament, and the Beatles got right was "Love." He goes on, apparently through Buddhist vernacular, to describe that as, in essence, a feeling. Love boils down to feeling love from others, and making them feel loved. This reminds me very much of Rob Bell's extremely heretical Love Wins arguments in which he paints a picture of Jesus as only love and little else, thereby creating a new form of Jesus that has little to do with the Biblical revelation, despite focusing on one of its/His key elements.

Of course... Jesus is Love. And all real and true love is borrowed by humans from Him. The Bible says that "God is Love" (1 John 4:8). It does not say that He has love... it says that He is love, which may imply that ALL things that are really love are, in reality, Him. But God is not a feeling. And neither is love. You see, just like poor heretical Rob, it seems that Dick Van Dyke misses the rest of the equation.

God is not silent to man about what His character is. He is love, in its true embodiment... but He is also truth, Light, and Holy. In fact, the only time the Bible uses the Hebrew emphatic form of perfection when it is ascribing something to God is when it is said that "God is holy, holy, holy..." (Rev. 4:8). To say that God is love is absolute truth, but you have to be careful to define what love really is.

Van Dyke is also quick to side with justice and hate injustice, which is another aspect of God's heart. In fact, I think that Dick was more correct in leaving his home church all those years ago over them being a bunch of racists than he was wrong... I just wish he would have sought out a group of believers that had a better handle on things, rather than leaving "organized religion" altogether. However he does not stop to ponder (at least in this work) why justice is important or what kind of God calls us to fight against injustice.

In the end, Dick Van Dyke, one of my heroes from childhood to today, falls into the trap of following (and teaching subtly) syncretism through his memoir. And, like Rob Bell, only seems to glimpse a small part of God's true nature, misinterpreting the part that he does get right as something having more to do with feelings than the God Who Is.

My prayer, now, is that Mr. Van Dyke, who admits himself that he is not long for this world, does what he claims to love to do most, and ponders over the true nature of Christ, and His bold claims to exclusivity (which are inclusively offered to all). Of course, it is one thing to read a book, even one so touching and well written as Mr. Van Dyke's and truly get a sense for who that person really is, and where they truly stand before a Holy God of Love.

As Mr. Van Dyke's most famous character, Rob Petrie, once said, "You can draw a heart on a piece of paper, but you can't measure one."

And my heart sends out a prayer for one of my great heroes, that the light of Christ would challenge him to think, before he goes into the everlasting, what it means for Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life... where no man comes to the Father except through Him.

Thoughts on the Music Industry

Music. Ah how it soothes the savage beast. I have once heard it described as the only gift from heaven that we share here on earth and, at once, the only treasure of earth that we get to take to heaven. It is a passion for many. Interlinc estimates that the current generation consumes 7.5 hours of it every single day.

Now, while I'm tempted to go into my usual rant about how we must be careful about what we're letting into our minds... and how music has a way to bypass even the most morally sound person's defenses, that is not what this thought trail of Silence is about...

No, specifically, this is about something that is recent and unprecedented. This is about a phenomenon that has changed the way we consume music forever... The Mp3. I don't know that I'll ever forget a time, long ago but not TOO long ago, before Mp3s. I remember my friend David and I's reaction to the first CD burner we saw. "We could put any music we want on the same CD!" We exclaimed with joy. I'll also never forget when Napster (the nefarious version) first came to prominence and how my fellow Sears Electronics Dept workers and I would spend much of our days flooding that one computer that was online to get whatever music we could think of... you know, before we "knew" it was "really" wrong.

And yet, here we are, a decade and a half later, and the question  for today's generation seems to be more geared towards thoughts like "Who needs a record label?" It's no secret that record labels across the board are struggling in many ways. And yet, iTunes and Amazon Mp3, thrive. It is, in fact, iTunes and the modus operandi that it created in society that has left "labels" in the dust. Aside from better advertisement and touring bonuses, anyone can now record and sell their musical talent to the world.

Which brings me to the extraordinary question of the moment. First, let me state that I am NOT talking about piracy or the "new" Napsters out there. With that in mind, however, the question is, "Do we even need to pay for music anymore?" Just this week I found and downloaded around 600-700 free and legal (and Godly) songs. I didn't even have to look hard to find them. I simply went to tvulive.com, which linked me through an article to indievisionmusic.com, humblebeast.com, comeandlive.com, freetoothandnail.com, and other such sites where I was bombarded by everything from samplers to complete artist collections for... FREE. On top of that, a friend linked me to a promotion Amazon Mp3 was running for the new "Weird Al" album for only $4.

And then, one of the two new albums I actually did buy at full price (Tedashii's Blacklight and Owl City's All Things Bright and Beautiful) was apparently listed as a price error on iTunes and they sent me an apology letter that alerted me to my account being credited with "2 Free Songs" . ---- Acutally, Apple accidentally sent that same letter 12-13 times and now my account magically has 26 free songs... not a bad dividend for buying one CD. Though, morally, I am not spending them to allow Apple to seamlessly adjust their error ---

Even if I did consume the "new average" of 7.5 hours of music a day (which I don't even come close), it would take me a week just to listen once to all the free music I acquired. So, back to the question, in the world we now live in, does one even need to ever really "purchase" music? And when you do, don't you almost feel like you're being ripped off if you do pay more than $6.00 for an album?

This is, to say the least, unprecedented in history. Imagine going to a record store in the 70's and expecting them to give you 700 songs for free, and all other albums to be dirt cheap! It's no wonder music labels are failing. And yet, as the consumer, I'm excited about it.

Perhaps later I'll discuss my issues with the CONTENT in music, but for now, I have WAAAAAAYYYYY too much free music to sort through... after all, Noisetrade.com just alerted me to a new album I "need" to pick up.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

If Only They Lived it

As with my ruminations last night, which spilled out of me this morning, a further chapter in Dick Van Dyke's book/memoir My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business illuminated for me the reasons behind Dick's seeming mention of both a church life and a lack of Christ in his focus.

In his chapter entitled Some Kind of Nut, Dick lays out the tale of a board of elders meeting in which the church was dealing with the hot-bed racial issue. As was with the times of the late 60's, those who truly followed after Christ's heart thought that they should join together with a "black" church. Dick goes on to say that the youth minister there, Charlie Brown, who had recently left for a position in another city, would have been for it, and that he had always lived out the love of Christ (though Dick regrettably shies away from His Name). But, with his inspirational youth minister gone and a board meeting at hand (which can often drive even the best of us to atheism, lol) the worst happened. An old man from the board of elders declared that he would never allow "them" to come together with "us."

Dick recounts that he left church that moment and never stepped back in a church again. He makes the immediate claim that He and God were good, but organized religion and him were through. It makes me think of a quote I once heard attested to Gandhi. Gandhi did in fact say (of Christians), "You Christians sit on a book with enough power in it to blow the whole world up and then put it back together again, and yet you treat it as if it were nothing but a piece of good literature." Gandhi is also said to have made a statement that went something to the point that he would become a Christian instantly if only he saw one living as Christians are supposed to.

This brings me to the thought that Mr. Van Dyke inspired to me on this night: We have to live it. Luckily, this theme has been coursing through the Christian world as almost a buzz-word for the last few years. Unfortunately, that's often all it seems to be. No wonder books like They Love Jesus, but Don't Like the Church exist.

It seems to me for all our big words about being a people who are defined by LOVE, that we lack this vital characteristic when push comes to shove... or when push comes to shove BACK. I am reminded tonight that the only Bible some people will ever read is the life of a "Christian" they see displayed. No wonder people are often confused about what "Christianity" really is.

I lament stories like this tale from Dick Van Dyke's past, and I regret in instance in my own weakness where I have added to someone else's own tale of why they walked away. In the end, however, it will take a community of people who REALLY live out what they're supposed to before the world can really be changed for Christ.

File this under simple ruminations. Nothing expert about it. This is just what's on my mind.

An Open Letter to Mr. Dick Van Dyke

First of all, let me just say that few people have impacted my life as you have. When I was a child, I had three heroes; Superman, Hulk Hogan, and yourself. However, you were unique in your position. Whereas Superman simply inspired me to be what I believed I could be... and Hulk Hogan simply gave me dreams of being a WWF star, it was you who had a hand in raising me.

As with way too many in life, I was raised without a father. As such, my mother worked upwards of 4-5 jobs at a time to get us by. The direct result of this was that, in many ways, I was raised by what I chose to watch on TV. And, as it happened, your show was the primary one I watched and learned from. In many ways, Rob Petrie was a father figure to me in my early childhood and the effects of the show, and my love for it, only grew as I matured into manhood.

In fact, as I have ruminated over the quirks of life, you have shared two other highlights in my life. First of all, we share the same birthday. At least, according to IMDb we do. Secondly, as you've aged into your twilight years, you've come to remind me more and more of my own grandfather. Both in look and humor, you and he are very much alike. That, as can be expected, endears me to you even more.

However, this brings me to my reason for writing you. As I sat reading your autobiography last night (My Lucky Life in and out of Show Business) I was struck down by a certain theme that seemed to course through it. Before I reveal what I am talking about, allow me a brief aside. This is the second book I have started reading of yours. The first being Faith, Hope, and Hilarity, which seems to be your own comedic rumblings as a Sunday School teacher. Now back to the point: In your chapter entitled Family Values (Chapter 14), you go to great lengths to talk about the way in which you made sure that your movies and portrayals would be something that you could take your kids to. I applaud this aspect of your career. I have always admired you for this and for your seemingly unstoppable positive attitude (did I mention I have your CD with the Vantastix and that it is a great record to put on when I'm feeling down).

However, one short discussion in the chapter sunk my heart. I have no qualms with telling you that it put me in a sort of a sad funk for most of last night and much of this morning. What I am referring to, of course, is your commentary on "religion." Specifically, if I am honest, the line where you say, "Was there one way? No, not as far as I could tell - other than to feel loved, to love back, and to do the things that make you feel as if your life has meaning and value, which can be as simple as making sure you spend time helping make life a little better for other people. I decided if I could manage that I wouldn't have any serious problems were there to actually be a Judgment Day" (p125).

Let me step back for a moment, as I began to read the work, I seemed to notice a subtle dismissal of "religion" early on. However, remembering portions of Faith, Hope, and Hilarity, I quickly figured that you would come back with an affirmation that this was just what you felt at the time and that you later, as an ELDER in your church, found true faith in Christ, not simply "religion." So, to find this line and short discussion in your book put me in a quandry.

First of all, I recounted the stories you've told in your books (both of them mentioned) that you and your wife were Sunday School teachers for some number of years. Then I recalled your recounting of being an elder in your church and even addressing the congregation now and then... and as I sat and thought about this, I could not help but be saddened that a man whom I have looked up to for many years of my youth and adult life could be missing the whole point so drastically.

I know from your discussions in Faith, Hope, and Hilarity that you have studied the words of Christ. As a Sunday School teacher, and one who self-professedly has read the Bible cover to cover, you must have come across the words of Paul in Romans, as well as the words of Christ... Yet you seem to dismiss them. You seem not to have Christ at all, but only a fondness for what "religion" may have done for you to make you a better person.

What disturbs me the most is that your dismissal, in your own words above, are so much so based on feelings. You use the word several times. However, you must know if you have studied the teachings of Christ that our feelings LIE to us. They can very often mislead us. If we were to only appease our feelings, we would not become good nor sane men, but anything from tyrants to hedonists. Faith and feelings often have nothing to do with one another. A man who says he "felt" God, but then leaves Him behind because he could no longer "feel" His presence is not a man who has encountered the living Christ. Faith, at least in the Biblical sense, is based on truth and facts, not on feelings.

However, the more grave error comes from your idea that "if there is a Judgment Day" you will be fine because you have been a good person. Any man who has been in church for as long as you have, and especially been an elder in the church, ought to know that a relationship with Christ (as opposed to a religion) has nothing to do with how much you have done right. In Paul's letter to the Romans, he attests that ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Regardless of the good we've sought to do in life, we stand guilty before a holy God of Love. Good works cannot bridge that gap. That is the heart and soul of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have been made blameless before a holy God, not by our own good works (lest anyone should boast), but by the free gift of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God.

So I conclude. I write this (knowing you will likely not ever come across it to read it, and may possibly be offended if you do) simply because you are on my heart. As someone I see like I see my own grandfather, and as someone who admits himself that he is "circling the drain," I cannot bear to think that you would miss the most important relationship in life. And on the Judgment Day that will come to pass for all of us, I fear that you will stand before God and try to tell him that you've been a good person. That's not the answer to the test, if you'll indulge that simple imagery.

And perhaps, most hopefully, I have assessed your words wrongly, or you amend them in a later chapter (as I am still reading). Perhaps in your self-proclaimed study of Bonhoeffer, and your reading of the Bible, you have come across the truth of what the Gospel REALLY is. Not that it is a key to being able to live a good life (though that is, as it were, often a "fruit" of it), but that we are sunk without a relationship (not a religion) with Jesus Christ.

I write to you, Mr. Van Dyke, because I admire you, and it breaks my heart that a man such as yourself, with all of your intelligence, wit, charm, and positive smile that has warmed millions of hearts (including my own), could miss the point so entirely. If you are truly "circling the drain," I can think of no quest nobler or more pressing than to get to know the God who Is for Who He REALLY is. Because, if you're wrong and your good works do nothing for you before God, then your life, for all its merits, has been in vain. And if I (along with thousands of years of others who have called on the name of Jesus Christ) am wrong and your good works are truly enough, then you have not wasted your twilight years circling the drain in getting to know the Creator of the Universe better.

As you may be prone to say, it is a positive win-win.

So, to a man who has impacted my life since childhood. I leave you with this last statement. It is the gift of God through His Son Jesus Christ that we are made blameless before God. If He is truly Holy, He cannot accept even our good works as payment for our sins. Yet, if He is truly Love, then only He can/could provide a payment sufficient for the debt of those same sins. And that is the Gospel, that Jesus Christ alone provides this payment. And that salvation is not found in the hallowed halls of "religion" but in the God made flesh that offers us a personal relationship.

With Love,

Lee Whosoever Brown