Friday, April 29, 2005

Adoption progress update

The translator will be giving our dossier to the Kazakh notary on Tuesday. We're about three months from travel. That puts us traveling in early August, and with a set-in-stone court deadline of 7 September, we now have officially no margin of error. (For those of you not up to date on what we're doing: we're attempting to adopt two sisters, one 13, and one 17, and if the decree is not finalized before Anya's birthday of 8 September, Anya turns 18 and becomes permanently unadoptable.) You can keep right on praying.

The house should go on the market next week. The insurance company will pay not one thin dime for the water damage; this means that the $50,000 to $80,000 hit we just took on our net worth, is pretty much permanent, and we therefore cannot sell the house and use the equity to pay for this adoption. (If you don't know the story: big water leak; foundation undermined; house determined to be "in imminent danger of catastrophic failure," meaning it was about to slide off the side of the canyon; AllState informed us we weren't covered even though we had gotten exactly the coverage the agent told us we needed when we bought the house...an ugly story you don't want to hear in detail.) But, in dramatic contrast to the attitude of AllState, the engineering firm (whose owner turns out to be a big supporter of foreign adoptions) is doing all the repairs and not making us pay anything before the house sells. Also I think they're sneaking in quite a bit of cosmetic stuff and not charging us for it.

The CCCP website has not been updated for a long time; that's because we have been consumed with the work necessary to get our own adoptions completed and to deal with the house disaster, and the volunteer who took over website maintenance for us is about to go to Kazakhstan on his adoption and has been sort of busy his own self. Also, with all of our volunteers in the middle of adopting last summer's kids, we don't have anybody to run a summer program while we're gone; so it doesn't look like we'll have another summer program until 2006. We have lots of great kids we could bring over but nobody to manage them while they're here. (Last summer I was working full time without pay on the foundation; this summer I'll either be in Kazakhstan adopting Anya and Kristina or else working more than full time at my consulting to try to pay for the adoption, now that that house disaster has clobbered my net worth.)

Good news, though: our very remarkable young friend Shirlen has stepped up to take over the legal paperwork and accounting duties for CCCP, which meets the single biggest need we had identified for the foundation at this point.

Finally, tomorrow I'll be in Ashland, Mississippi (near Memphis), for Dessie's and my first meeting as members of the Board of Directors of Williams International Adoption, Inc. This is an honor and a privilege, of course, but is also going to be fun because the Williams folks are just a blast. Christine Williams and I are both members of one particular adoption list, for example, and I got into trouble on that very list recently for referring to our President as "Dubya," which some on the list found disrespectful. Then in defending myself I flippantly said something like, "Oh, I go by a diminutive form of my own middle name; so I don't tend to think of that as disrespectful...in fact I frequently address Jesus as 'H.'" This did not exactly soothe the feathers ruffled. So when Dessie and I got the paperwork we had to sign to be on the WIAI board, there were two copies of everything, one for each of us...except that on one document with several places to sign, Christine had handwritten in, "For Kenny only: I do hereby solemnly vow never again to refer to the President as 'Dubya.'" So I know this is a lady I'm gonna enjoy working with.

Will keep you updated with any further progress.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

"Developmental Linguistics" Dept

I was having lunch yesterday with two friends whom I had just introduced to each other. Veronika and Viktor are both Russians who have been living in the U.S. now for many years, and each has a child who was born and has been raised in America. We wandered onto the subject of how little success we had all had at getting our children to be bilingual, and how little Russian my Russian friends' kids can speak, and eventually Veronika asked me, "So, Kenny, the kids you adopted from Kazakhstan -- can they still speak any Russian?"

"They understand only the Russian that they have to understand to keep me from punishing them," I answered. "If I say, 'Eto ni igrushka [That's not a toy]!," and they answer, "Ya ni ponyimayu [I don't understand]," they get in trouble; so they still know what that means." Viktor and Veronika both started grinning.

I continue, "So, you know, they still know, 'Speshi [Hurry up]!'" My friends' grins get wider. "And, 'Tikho [Shh]!'"

Viktor and Veronika both start laughing, and Veronika says, "What a coincidence -- those are the same Russian words that our kids know!"

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Now Why Can't I Put Things This Well?

Progressive American Catholics have always seemed to me to be surprisingly ignorant of how little Catholicism in the rest of the world resembles the American Catholic Church. All the disappointment pouring out of the American left over the conservatism of Benedict XVI...it's not like there was any chance you'd get a Pope that would genuinely make them happy, because the Catholic Church is not politically correct and isn't ever going to be. Jonah Goldberg nails it: "If a committee made up of Andrew Sullivan, Gary Wills, Andrew Greeley, Paul Begala and Nancy Pelosi were given the power to select a pope from the current College of Cardinals, we would still have a pope opposed to abortion and gay marriage."

It is only fair to link also to Andrew Sullivan's post that anticipates this particular non-Catholic's reaction to the Silly Left's reaction to Benedict's elevation. (Andrew and I have our disagreements but he is not a Silly Leftist.) I haven't figured out yet how to link to Andrew's individual posts, but if you go to his main page and scroll down to his posts from April 20, 2005, the two posts "The Church Never Changes?" and "The Issue Is Oxygen" both serve as refutations, more or less, of my own position.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Bishop Smith gets some good advice

In an earlier post, I expressed wonderment that the Presiding Bishop and his fellow progressives were not begging Bishop Smith of Connecticut to abandon his apparently senseless determination to defrock six priests who had committed the grave sin (in his eyes) of preferring to be obedient to the Anglican Communion rather than to join their bishop in what the Anglican Communion considers his rebellion. Well, it seems that the progressive rank-and-file clergy of Bishop Smith's own diocese have a rather sounder grasp on reality than does their bishop. The New York Times is now reporting that Bishop Smith invited the clergy of the Diocese to gather and encourage him to proceed with his campaign against the Connecticut Six. But things didn't go as the good Bishop intended -- the largely progressive clergy, while certainly not supporting the Connecticut Six's position on homosexuality, nevertheless fervently urged their Bishop to moderation. It seems to me that the progressive clergy of Connecticut deserve a less foolish bishop; they may be as progressive as their bishop, but I don't think anybody can reasonably accuse them of being vindictive.

The key quote, from one of two progressive priests who spoke to the Times: "The overwhelming sentiment was that the hard line was the wrong line to take...It's true you do have the rule book on your side, but what you're not acknowledging is that everyone is talking about how the rule book doesn't work anymore." Exactly, and kudos to the progressive Connecticut clergy for recognizing this fact and for living up to the progressive creed of toleration for differences of opinion.

Well said, Mr. President (Adams)

"We can’t guarantee success in this war [the American Revolution], but we can do something better. We can deserve it."

-- John Adams, via David McCullough, via an excellent piece on being a conservative American Anglican by Sarah Hey, with a final hat tip to my friend Michael Murley...and thus doth the blogosphere work its magic.

Well said, Mr. President (Clinton)

Bill Clinton, speaking at the site of the OKC bombings:

"Yet, by the grace of God, time takes its toll not only on youth and beauty, but also on tragedy."

Hat tip: Jeff Jarvis

Thursday, April 21, 2005

"Breaking Papal News" Dept.

And here's you a bonus.

Hat tip: the guys over at Opinion Journal's Best of the Web (for telling me about Scrappleface, not for these two items in particular)

Begging the question

A quick note on logic: "begging the question" does not mean "making somebody want to ask this question really badly." It's a technical logical term for a particular dirty trick. You pretend to be proving something, but you sneak the thing you're trying to prove into the "facts" you try to get the naive listener to accept up front. Then from those facts you "prove" your conclusion. (The traditional names for this fallacy are petitio principii and petitio elenchi.)

Example: The Catholic Church is infallible, and we know she is, because if you look back throughout the Church's history, every time people have disagreed with the Catholic Church, they've turned out to be heretics.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

What is Bishop Smith thinking?

That's a serious question, not a sarcastically rehetorical one. Odd as it may seem, I genuinely think progressives should be considerably more upset with Connecticut's Bishop Andrew Smith over this whole thing than should be conservatives.

I would think that, no matter whether you were progressive or conservative, you would find something inappropriate in the sentence, "...the priests have demanded that the historic traditions we live by as a Church be changed for them and the congregations they serve." It's hard to see how a bishop who voted to confirm Robinson's elevation to the Society of Pointy Hats has left himself any space to insist that other people follow "tradition" rather than what their own consciences dictate. Following tradition would seem to be exactly what these priests and congregations are attempting to do, and the tradition they are seeking to follow goes back (in their own minds) quite a bit further than merely to the Ecumenical Councils -- and they are backed up in that judgment by the Anglican Communion as a whole. Tradition is very much on the side of the conservatives rather than ECUSA; I would think progressives would be of the mind that the less said about tradition, the better.

Also problematic, though less obviously so, is the statement, "[I hoped that] we could go forward in the unity and Christian love that Jesus prayed for, for the sake of the Church and our work for God in the world." This begs the question of whether unity between progressives and conservatives is the unity that Jesus prayed for. (Of course it also begs the question of the nature of Christian love when that love's object is a purveyor of false teaching, as the priests in question consider this bishop to be; and it begs the question of whether the purposes toward which ECUSA has directed itself are indeed the work of God or of, well, somebody else. But these are not really on the table for discussion, for either the bishop or the priests -- which is why the real question is whether there can be meaningful unity between the two. Therefore the begging of that question is the critical petitio principii here.)

Finally one is struck by the difference between the attitude the bishop seems to expect from his priests, and the attitude that the bishop and his allies have evinced toward the Anglican Communion as a whole. A bishop who has defied 2,000 years of tradition, threatens to punish priests for their lack of respect for tradition; a bishop who has been part of a decision that has done unprecedented damage to the unity of the Anglican Communion, complains that these priests are harming the unity Christ prayed for; a bishop whom the Anglican Communion has found to be in violation of his vows faithfully to pass on the teachings of the Apostles, moves to crush priests because they have not kept their vows.

It is not impressive. To appeal to standards by which you clearly are more at fault than your opponents, in order to establish their guilt, is at the very least an unskillful tactic of debate.

But more than that, it is impolitic in the highest degree, and this is why the Presiding Bishop ought to be on the phone with Bishop Smith begging him to cease and desist. ECUSA is desperately trying to keep orthodox Anglican bishops from simply walking in and ignoring the diocesan lines, and the most influential such Anglican bishop has said quite plainly[1] that Africa will respect ECUSAn jurisdictions only so long as conservatives within those jurisdictions are not persecuted. There is no question that conservatives throughout the Anglican Communion will interpret Bishop Smith's behavior as persecution of those under his authority who have chosen communion with the Anglican Communion worldwide over communion with Bishop Smith (and it is Bishop Smith himself, and his own decisions, that have forced that choice upon these priests). Every charge that Bishop Smith directs toward these priests, reinforces the worldwide Anglican Communion's belief that the discipline Smith wishes to impose is pretty much the discipline that ought to be imposed upon him and his ECUSAn compatriots. Unless Bishop Smith's ultimate goal is to hasten the irrevocable and (barring a miracle of mass repentance) inevitable divorce between ECUSA and the Anglican Communion, his behavior is impolitic and unwise in the extreme.

And what, in heaven's name, does he expect to accomplish by it? As far as I can tell it's all downside and no upside. I don't wish to accuse any person of sheer vindictiveness -- "how dare those !@#$!@ fundamentalist SOB's defy my authority??", that sort of thing -- but I'm having trouble coming up with a rational motive. Anybody want to help me out here? What does Bishop Smith intend to gain here; what is he trying to accomplish, and how can he possibly expect his current approach to be successful? This is a genuine question to which I genuinely would like to find an answer, but, being largely unfamiliar with the dynamics of the diocese in question, I'm not informed enough to do so. Thanks in advance to anybody who can explain it to me.

The Peril

UPDATE: The progressive clergy of Connecticut have just turned in an impressive display of good sense.

[1] The relevant paragraph from Bishop Akinola's letter (emphasis the Peril's, not the Bishop's):

Finally, I need to address the important matter of provincial and diocesan boundaries. As I have repeatedly reaffirmed maintaining good order is important for the work of the Gospel but it can never be used to silence those who are standing for the Faith and resisting doctrinal error. It was our common understanding in Newry that the extraordinary pastoral relationships and initiatives now underway would be maintained until this crisis is resolved. If, however, the measures proposed in our Communique to protect the legitimate needs of groups in serious theological disputes prove to be ineffectual, and if acts of oppression persist, then we will have no choice but to offer safe harbour for those in distress.

Monday, April 18, 2005

"Thank God Garrison Ain't Angry" Dept

In a very interesting little piece about how the Republican Party is dragging the entire world into the Pit of Eternal Perdition, Garrison Keillor diagnoses a problem and...well, surely he would be careful to follow his own advice, right?

---
The party of Lincoln and Liberty was transmogrified into the party of hairy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists, fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, Christians of convenience, freelance racists, misanthropic frat boys, shrieking midgets of AM radio, tax cheats, nihilists in golf pants, brownshirts in pinstripes, sweatshop tycoons, hacks, fakirs, aggressive dorks, Lamborghini libertarians, people who believe Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk was filmed in Roswell, New Mexico, little honkers out to diminish the rest of us, Newt’s evil spawn and their Etch-A-Sketch president, a dull and rigid man suspicious of the free flow of information and of secular institutions, whose philosophy is a jumble of badly sutured body parts trying to walk. Republicans: The No.1 reason the rest of the world thinks we’re deaf, dumb and dangerous...Hypocrisies shine like cat turds in the moonlight!...And in a time of vague fear, you can appoint bullet-brained judges, strip the bark off the Constitution, eviscerate federal regulatory agencies, bring public education to a standstill, stupefy the press, lavish gorgeous tax breaks on the rich...This gang of Pithecanthropus Republicanii has humbugged us to death on terrorism and tax cuts for the comfy and school prayer and flag burning and claimed the right to know what books we read and to dump their sewage upstream from the town and clear-cut the forests and gut the IRS and mark up the constitution on behalf of intolerance and promote the corporate takeover of the public airwaves and to hell with anybody who opposes them.
--

After which, Keillor observes that this is a great country, "and it wasn't made so by angry people" [emphasis the Peril's]. Well, GK, it's reassuring to know that if we handed the country over to you it would be in good hands, eh? "Hypocrisies shine like..." oh, rats, the rest of the quote seems to have slipped my mind...

The Peril

P.S. Gutting the IRS -- that's a bad thing?

Note: I'm making fun of Keillor's genuinely self-oblivious self-condemnation, not his liberalism.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Defusing religious conflict

So I have these six kids, and I want them to be able to understand and respect other people, and I have to figure out how to help them do that even in a world where people habitually get mad at each other over subjects they feel strongly about...especially religion. That means I have to help them understand the underlying metaphors of religion, which I introduced in this post. (If you haven't read that post then you won't understand this one.)

Let me just say before I start that I'm using gross oversimplifications here, and that I'm using extreme cases to illustrate my distinctions, not because I really think everybody's that extreme. It's exactly the same as with something like the Meyers-Briggs test: there's a spectrum, and some people are obviously out on one end or the other while other people are kind of in the middle and hard to place, but the guys explaining how J and P are different (or whatever) use extreme examples just to make sure you understand what they're talking about.

Also, I can speak from within the Fact perspective naturally, but when it comes to the Family and Therapy perspectives it's like I'm talking a foreign language that I've tried very hard to learn but in which I'm still not really fluent. And I don't try to address the Superstition perspective at all because I have had no luck at all in figuring out where you guys are coming from...I don't even begin to understand you and I am certainly not going to try to explain you because my explanation would be downright slanderous. If you guys who are native speakers of the Family and Therapy metaphors can provide better illustrations than mine, that would be very helpful to me when I'm trying to help my kids understand you guys better than I presently do myself. Just remember that they need to be relatively extreme illustrations in order to make the distinctions clear, even though most of you probably aren't on the extreme edges of any of the positions.

Another important caveat: Most of us actually have a dominant metaphor and a secondary metaphor, for example; few of us work entirely from a single, monochrome perspective. I can try to separate out the metaphors so that you can see how they work, but in real life, you'll find that they exist in individuals mostly in combination. That's part of what makes each person so gloriously unique. Most Kazakhs are going to have a Family orientation, but you may find that some Kazakhs have a relatively strong undercurrent of Therapy subordinated to the Family theme, while others have a relatively strong undercurrent of Fact; and the result is two different flavors of Family orientation. My Kazakh friend Gauhar was entirely justified to complain that her experience is more "multilayered" than I made it sound once when trying to explain Kazakh attitudes toward religion to a group of prospective adoptive parents. If you want to understand any particular individual, you almost always will have to mix at least two of these metaphors together, though in my experience there's always one that dominates the other. To assume that, because a person's primary metaphor is Family, he therefore places no value on Fact, is a bad idea. I'm presenting "pure" orientations because I'm trying to illustrate the metaphors themselves. Please don't think there are very many people in the world who work utterly from within one of these metaphors without any influence from the others.

Finally, what I'm wrestling with in this series of posts is religious conflict -- how do I keep my kids out of unnecessary conflict situations involving religious misunderstanding? It's sort of a common assumption in Therapy-dominated America that you get conflicts when you have Fact people who disagree with each other, but I have become convinced that that's a misread of the situation. For example, I maintained a close and highly valued friendship for years with a Tunisian Muslim who also came from a strongly Fact-oriented perspective, though his was Muslim. I even sent my wife to Tunisia to attend his wedding (I tried desperately to make arrangements to go and couldn't; so my wife went instead). Najmeddine and I disagreed about a lot of religious perspectives; we talked long into the night; each of us cheerfully tried to convert the other and prayed for the other. And hey, I'd've been insulted if he hadn't -- he was pretty sure I was going to hell, so what kind of friend would he have been if he hadn't tried to keep that from happening? I was honored and grateful that he was willing to spend effort praying and working for my conversion. This is not the reaction a Family- or Therapy-oriented person is likely to have when they find themselves "in the crosshairs of a soul-hunter looking to get another notch on his Bible," to use a vivid image from my college days.

My Kazakhstani friends Marina and Gauhar would get along great, despite being Orthodox and Muslim respectively, because they're both Family-oriented. But Najmeddine and I also got along great, and we are Fact-oriented Muslim and Anglican respectively. And I get along so well with my very Fact-oriented Roman Catholic friends that I just finished helping them put on a retreat at St. John Neumann's in Austin, despite not being Roman Catholic; and most of my kids' godparents are Southern Baptist who insisted on long discussions about the validity of infant baptism before agreeing to serve in that capacity, because they also care very much about Fact; and yet despite our disagreements we are devoted to each other. Religious disagreement -- even if you are someone that the average American would label a "fundamentalist" based on your beliefs -- doesn't need to involve disrespect or preclude affection.

And yet the conservative and liberal branches of the Episcopalian church can hardly speak to each other, and the majority of people I know who say that religious tolerance is important to them can hardly manage to speak the word "fundamentalist" without a sneer, and that's not even mentioning the Catholics and Protestants in Belfast...so how do I help my children defuse conflict like that instead of inflame it?

I've thought about this for years, and I've come to think that religious conflict and bitterness and hatred isn't particularly associated with any set of beliefs. It seems to me that when I see people getting angry about religion, almost always one of four things is happening:

1. Frequently, I'm talking to someone who has been badly hurt in a way that they associate with religion. If, for example, I grew up with viciously hateful parents who also happened to be thoroughgoing religious hypocrites, then my reaction against my parents is also going to be all tied up with my reaction to religion in general and my parents' religion in particular.

2. You have somebody who has taken up religion as a tool they can use to pursue selfish, self-aggrandizing goals. The traditional English hatred of Roman Catholicism arose originally out of the English conviction that the Pope was a tool of the French and Spanish kings and was delivering his "religious" verdicts (such as which royal marriages could be annulled and which couldn't) purely with an eye to helping the French achieve domination of England. The English only came to love Protestantism because they first loved freedom, and came to see the Pope as the enemy of English freedom. And most of us who grew up in congregationalist churches have seen our share of nasty internecine fights...I remember one lady in my childhood church years ago. Whenever this lady said, "Now I say this in a spirit of love..." everybody ran for cover 'cause she was about to launch a mercilessly savage attack against some person whom she thought was gettin' uppity and interfering with her ability to make sure the church followed her own personal rules (e.g., "We don't invite colored teenagers to our church 'cause they should stay in their own churches where they belong").

3. In many cases religion has come to be associated with some other, essentially non-religious, source of conflict. For example, the past fifty years of Polish history have pitted an atheistic regime imposed by foreigners, against the will of the Polish people led by the Church, and any Pole will tell you that Communism really ended in Poland when the Pope came home in '79. So it would now be a daunting task indeed to try to get an ordinary Polish dockworker to be able to separate in his mind Poland, Solidarnosc, and the Catholic Church. (If you aren't familiar with the history-changing events of 1979 then you simply must read Peggy Noonan's "We Want God," the best short explanation I've seen of what happened in those astonishing two weeks.) Or, to return to a previous example, the mutual hatred of Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland has very little to do with Catholicism and Protestantism per se, except insofar as they are historically associated with English occupation and Irish subjugation.

4. And when we get past all of these yet still have anger and bitterness associated with religion, what I have realized I almost always find, is a clash of metaphor. It's not that people with different dominant metaphors have to clash; obviously CCCP's local coordinator Marina and I work together and love each other and admire each other even though she's Family and I'm Fact. I really want to emphasize this, because for the rest of the post I'm going to be talking about religious conflict, which is an unpleasant topic, and I don't want it to sound like I think religious conflict is everywhere you look. I'm just saying that when you do find two people hating each other over religion, and the problem is really religion (not personal trauma or conflicts of ego or some non-religious issue wearing a religious mask), you always seem to find a clash of metaphor.

And that's why I'm struggling so hard to find ways to teach my children how to get outside their own metaphor at least long enough to understand their friends and neighbors rather than knee-jerk clashing with them. I don't want them to miss out on friends like Marina or Aigul or Aliya or Gail over nothing more than misunderstandings arising from clashing metaphors.

Okay, just a few weeks ago I was talking to my Sunday School class of junior-high girls, who come from a religious tradition with the Fact metaphor but who attend public schools dominated by the Therapy metaphor, and this whole subject came up because they were concerned about taking flak if they were to express their religious opinions publicly. And I'm sitting there trying to figure out how to explain this whole concept of underlying metaphor to these kids.

What I wound up doing is this: I assigned two of the girls to do an impromptu skit, where I gave them the roles and the situation but left them responsible for the dialogue and emotions. The situation was that a mother was trying to convince her daughter to attend their son's/brother's wedding. But the daughter was refusing to go, because she believed it was absolutely true that her brother was making a bad mistake.

They did a very good job with the skit, I thought. They were both very convincing...the daughter saying, "I don't want to be there and watch him ruin his life and pretend like I think it's a good idea," and the mom saying, "It doesn't matter whether you think it's a good idea or not -- he's your brother, and you should be there."

Then I told them to do the skit again, only this time the mother was trying to convince the daughter that she should support her brother's decision to maintain his heroin habit, because whether she thought he was making a mistake or not, he was her brother, and she should loyally support him. And they absolutely couldn't do it -- the whole room dissolved in giggles. They literally couldn't even try to act out what seemed to them to be such a ridiculous situation.

Then I tried to explain to them that, if you come from a background where Family is the dominant metaphor, then deciding to convert out of your family's religion merely because you think it's true that your family's religion has its facts wrong, seems to your family like refusing to go to your brother's wedding merely because you think it's true that your brother is making a big mistake. What does it matter? Maybe he's making a mistake, maybe he isn't, but he's still your family and by God you go to the wedding. But if you come from a background where Fact is the dominant metaphor, then deciding to stick with the family religion even after you've decided it isn't true, is at best like continuing to believe in a flat earth because that's your family tradition. Is cocaine good for you or not? That is a question to be settled without reference to whatever your family may traditionally have believed about the benefits of cocaine. Do you go to your brother's wedding or not? That is a question to be settled without reference to your opinion about whether your brother is making a mistake or not. But which kind of question is the question of what religion you should follow?

To put it another way, the Family perspective fosters a strong sense of the moral obligation to be loyal -- as my friend Gauhar put it, "I don't see how doing what your parents want is just a family loyalty. It is a girl's religious and moral duty to follow her mother." Do you see that "family loyalty" is, for Gauhar, something that ought not be downplayed by calling it "just a family loyalty" or "mere family loyalty" as if other things were more important?

By contrast, from the pure Therapy perspective, there is no particular religious or moral duty to follow your parents' religion unless it works for you personally. And from the Fact perspective, the primary moral obligation is honesty, not loyalty, and while you do have a duty to obey and respect your parents as long as they are not ordering you to do something immoral, following a religion that is false is immoral and is one of the things you can't do even if your parents command you to. "Anyone who does not hate his father or mother is not worthy of me," said the paradigmatically Fact-oriented Jesus, and while he was using rhetorical hyperbole to make a point, there's no doubt that his point was that the truth is so more important than family loyalty that in any conflict between the two family loyalty ought to be completely irrelevant -- if it takes you longer to snap your fingers than it does to set aside the family loyalty that's standing in the way of living the truth, then you are not yet where you ought to be. And that's a collision of fundamental metaphor, made deliberately violent by Jesus' deliberately shocking phrasing. If you're a pure Fact-oriented person trying to understand a pure Family-oriented person, you have to understand that they feel as strongly about the non-negotiability of family loyalty as you feel about the non-negotiability of speaking and living the truth...and if you're a pure Family-oriented person trying to understand a pure Fact-oriented person, you have to go the other direction.

So I know a lady my age whose mother, long before my friend was born, converted to Christianity from Judaism, on the grounds that Christianity was true (having clearly, at some point, moved from her inherited Family orientation into a Fact orientation, acquired I don't know whence). As a result, naturally my friend grew up with her mom's adopted Fact orientation. But her Jewish grandparents and aunts and uncles were still firmly in the Family orientation. And my friend thought it was just so incredibly bizarre that her grandmother would tell her, "You know, if your mother had converted because she was marrying a Christian boy, that would have been okay; but to convert just because she thought Christianity was better, that was just such an insult." She thought her grandmother was a very nice and sweet lady, but sort of crazy, because why in the world would you be fine with it if your daughter underwent a "hypocritical" conversion to a religion she didn't believe, but would be infuriated by a conversion that came out of "honest conviction"? But of course to convert to someone's religion because you're joining their family, makes obvious sense if religion is about Family...a conversion like the fiance's conversion to Greek Orthodoxy in My Big Fat Greek Wedding would make perfect sense to my friend's grandmother but seems somehow awry from the Fact perspective. So all those years my friend thought her grandmother just had something in her head that apparently didn't work right; but in reality her grandmother's reaction makes perfect sense, given her grandmother's way of perceiving and experiencing religion.

So that's an example of a person from a Fact perspective not being able to understand somebody from a Family perspective, even though they knew them well and loved them a lot.

Now here's a similar but opposite situation, again having to do with a Jewish conversion to Christianity. In this case, I knew a girl in college who converted to Christianity from Judaism, purely because she decided that the evidence was that Jesus had, in historical fact, risen from the dead and was actually the Messiah. I am NOT taking a position on whether this is a good reason to convert; I'm just saying that's why she made that decision. I knew her well, and I can tell you that she was very proud of being Jewish (this probably is making little sense to some of Jewish readers, but just trust me on this), and she continued to think of herself as Jewish even after her conversion, and almost two decades later she still thinks of herself as Jewish by culture and Christian by religion. She can think of herself this way, because she thinks of religion as primarily an issue of historical factuality quite distinct from family heritage and culture; but her grandparents (who are Holocaust survivors) think the very notion of being a Jewish Christian is self-contradictory and even repulsive.

So the Daily Princetonian ran an article on religious conversion on campus...I don't remember the exact details, but say that they chose a person who had converted to Islam from being Southern Baptist, and somebody who had converted to Buddhism from Catholicism, and Amy. (Something like that, anyway.) It was their feature story, and they included a lot of quotes from Amy in which she very explicitly said that she was proud of being Jewish and had converted purely out of factual conviction, not out of any distate for Jewish culture or her family, both of which she admired and loved and valued highly. The very next issue included a full page from the president of B'nai B'rith bitterly attacking Amy for spitting in her family's face, and saying that she was wrong to despise Jewish culture because it was actually a tremendously rich and valuable heritage...and not a word had a thing to do with any question of historical fact about Jesus. This guy was so utterly locked into the Family metaphor that it was inconceivable to him that any Jewish person could possibly convert to Christianity for any reason other than hatred of their Jewish brothers and sisters, and he complained bitterly and at great length that Jewish people didn't deserve to be hated and that Amy was a jerk for hating them -- despite her explicit assertions to the contrary. I had never seen anything like it and (at the time) couldn't understand it. So naturally I decided the guy was a moron and a fool -- which just basically means I was doing the exact same thing to him that he was doing to Amy! Not that I had the sense to realize this at the time, because, as I say, I was even more of an arrogant jerk then than I am now, which is saying something.

So that's an example of a person from a Family perspective finding a person from a Fact perspective completely inexplicable and therefore going off on her with rage and venom (it was a really nasty article) because he completely misread her motivations and emotions.

When we bring Therapy people into the mix...okay, now I have to try to express the Therapy perspective in terms Fact and Family people will understand and sympathize with, and that's somewhat tricky because I don't buy the Therapy perspective myself and never have. I have much more natural sympathy with the Family view than with the Therapy view. So I may not get this right. Only, do please make allowances for the fact that I have to oversimplify and that I'm using extreme examples because extreme examples make the differences clearer.

If I had to try to capture the Therapy perspective in a single sentence, it would be this: from within the Therapy metaphor, what matters about religion is whether it yields the desired results. The results may be sociological; they may be personal; whatever. The question is -- does it work? And, since Americans are a very pragmatic people, this metaphor resonates better with most Americans that does any other metaphor.

Of course you have to ask what the goal is that religion is supposed to accomplish. Here I can only speak to the Therapy people of my experience, which is predominantly (a) progressive Episcopalians, recently, and (b) Princeton undergraduates, rather longer ago. So I can only describe an American variation on the Therapy perspective, and I don't know to what extent this holds true outside of America.

America is an extremely individualistic country, and it is, generally speaking, a relatively hedonistic country. More often than not, the Therapy viewpoint sees religion as a way to make yourself feel better, or to make yourself be a nicer person, or to derive more personal satisfaction out of your life, or to be better adjusted to your surroundings -- the point being that many Americans turn to religion for precisely the same reasons they would turn to a therapist. This doesn't apply to all Therapy folks, I should say. My friend Laura once tried to describe to me a Unitarian perspective that would, I think, be a variation in which religion was viewed more as a way to make society a better society than as a way to make one's own life more enjoyable, if I understand her correctly. (I have never myself gotten to know any Unitarians well and so don't know from personal experience.) But the majority of American Therapy folks I know, think of religion from the perspective of what works for each individual separately.

Where the Therapy viewpoint is aimed at making the culture better or the family happier, then it can coexist pretty well with the Family viewpoint. If, however, you're talking about a more individualistic, 'Sixties type of Therapy angle -- "I gotta be me," so to speak -- then the Therapy and Family viewpoints can come into conflict, in which case the Family side tends to see the Therapy side as selfish and disloyal, while the Therapy side tends to see the Family side as restrictive and controlling.

You've seen Fiddler on the Roof, right? And you know what a terrible time Tevya has with Havilah's decision to marry a goy. Even though she's in love and there's a strong Family motive to her conversion, it's not enough to overcome Tevya's sense of her betrayal.

Now imagine how much worse it could get, if she not only abandoned her own family, but abandoned the entire Family metaphor as well, switching over to the Therapy perspective. Imagine this: instead of Havilah's meeting her father on the road to tell her she's married a Russian, she comes up to him and says, "Look, Papa, this whole Jewish deal just really isn't working out for me. I mean, I know it works great for you and Mama, and I think that's wonderful. But it's not for me. So I've decided I'm going to try the shiksha thing out for a while and see how that goes. And I just hope you love me enough to support me in that decision."

Can you even imagine Tevya's fury? -- which would be a function of the enormous pain he would feel, since for him the Family orientation is dominant to a very, very high degree.

I think when we Therapy/Fact Americans hear about somebody converting to a different religion and then being legally disowned by their parents (I know people who have had this experience, and whose parents consider them to be dead), we naturally feel outraged. But you have to understand that, from the family's perspective, it was the child who disowned the family, not the other way around. Do you see? It's not that the child disagrees with the family; it's that the child has disowned the family. The outrage we naturally feel toward the parents for disowning the child, is very much the same outrage that the parents feel toward the child -- for disowning them. I know that this is an extreme case and that (certainly in America and I think in Kazakhstan as well) not many people are going to disown their children on grounds of religious conversion. But I do think that the pain that Family-oriented parents feel when a child converts away from the family religion, is the pain of personal rejection and disownment, not the pain of disagreement. Again, imagine how Tulia's father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding would feel if Tulia were to walk in and say, "Papa, I've decided I'm going to become a Roman Catholic." That pain would have nothing to do with doctrinal disagreements -- it would be exactly the same pain as if she were to walk in and say, "Papa, I've decided I'm going to consider myself Turkish from now on."

If I were trying to help a very strongly Family-oriented person understand a Therapy-oriented person who seemed to be behaving in a selfish and hurtful manner, I think I would probably go back to the Fiddler on the Roof story and ask them to imagine how horrible it must have been to be Havilah, feeling that all her happiness depended on this man that her family tradition was telling her she couldn't have. Or try this: Imagine that all your life you've been subject to more or less constant nausea and vomiting, and now you have suddenly discovered that it's because (a) having been born into a Cajun family, you eat red beans and rice every other day, and (b) you happen to be allergic to red beans and rice. How would you feel if your family insisted that you had to just keep on eating red beans and rice for the rest of your life because "that's what a Boudreaux is supposed to eat"?

Such a comparison must strike many strongly Family-oriented people as offensive in the highest degree. But from within a Therapy experience, there's nothing bizarre about comparing a bad reaction to a particular religion to a food allergy, because the Therapy mindset finds it quite natural to assume that different people can have different reactions to the same religion and that in fact what "works" for one person won't necessarily "work" for another. If you come from a strong Family orientation and find it highly offensive to have your tradition compared to a food allergy...listen, I'm not saying that the comparison's valid. I'm just telling you, if your children have picked up the Therapy metaphor from popular American culture (in which it is thoroughly pervasive), and you want to understand your children's motivations and feelings, you need to understand that they probably feel much more like Havilah than like Tevya, and that religion may seem much more like a subject for personal variation to them than it does to you.

I really don't know how strong the Family loyalty pressure is in Kazakhstan. I did have an interesting conversation with my young Kazakh Muslim friend Aigul, whom I love like a daughter and who likes me very much, and who also loves two young Kazakh children I tried for two years to adopt (only, ultimately, to fail, and don't ask me to talk about it because it hurts too much). Aigul very delicately tried to warn me that Nurgul and Ramazan probably consider themselves Muslim, and wanted to know whether I would try to insist upon their converting to Christianity if I were to adopt them. It was very difficult to explain to her that, since our family tradition is a Fact tradition, we wouldn't be able to "make" them convert in any meaningful sense. We could hope that they would convert, since we believe that, at the points where Christianity and Islam disagree, Christianity is correct, and that you're better off having correct opinions than incorrect ones. But within our traditional family way of thinking, this is a decision that Nurgul and Ramazan would have to come to on their own, and becoming Christian just because they're joining a Christian family would be a poor reason to become a Christian. In short, our family tradition doesn't encourage people to become Christian for the sake of family tradition. It's a sort of Catch-22, almost like, if you're Catholic and the Pope says, "Hey, guys, I'm not infallible," then what are you supposed to believe?

This whole way of thinking was so alien to Aigul that it was very hard to get her to see that (a) Christianity was literally the most important thing in the world to our family and yet (b) we would never require Nurgul and Ramazan to convert to Christianity in order to be part of our family. To Aigul, coming from a Family orientation, that combination made no sense at all together.

Okay, this leaves Therapy and Fact.

[sigh] This is very hard work, and I don't think I'm doing it at all well. And I was just going to say, "Okay, I give up..." when suddenly an argument, just moments ago, broke out in this coffee shop where I'm typing, in which one person just informed the other emphatically, "Well, not all of us were raised in a family of Bible-thumpers." So I guess I'll take that as a sign to try to keep muddling on.

Here are a couple of stories I might use to try to get Fact people to start working toward understanding Therapy people. You Therapy guys may not like them, but do remember that I'm trying to tell your story in Fact terms, which are probably not the terms in which you would tell your story...if you told your story your way, then the Fact people probably would misunderstand it.

Adults -- the lucky ones, that is -- have often found their "calling." You find work that just calls to you and you love the work and it's what you were born to do. For some people it's raising a family; for some people it's art; for some people it's athletics; for some people it's business...whatever. Now, imagine that you're a woman who has discovered that you have a passion for astronomy; it's what you were born to do, so to speak. But the people who control the observatories have decided, from sheer prejudice, that astronomy is Not For Women, and they tell you that you are not allowed to do astronomy yourself; you're only allowed to take notes for the Real Astronomers (i.e., the men). So you wait until you're alone and you secretly do as much astronomy as you can do while taking pains not to be found out, and you hide the notes so that nobody sees them, and you limp along with this unsatisfying half-life which is all the powers that be will allow you, until you die. And only after you're dead and people are going through your notes, do they realize how much you accomplished and how passionately you loved it and how bloody good you were at it and how much needless frustration you endured purely because of other people's insistence that you live by their groundless prejudices.

That, by the way, is a true story of one the last century's most talented astronomers, whose name escapes me (she held a menial job at the Harvard observatory in order to have a way to stay in the vestibule of the astronomical temple, so to speak). It also is, I think, a story that at least starts to capture how a Therapy-oriented person tends to see the insistence of a Fact-oriented person that everybody has to do it one particular way. If some, or even most, women like raising children and running a household better than doing astronomy, more power to them; but why should the women who find that astronomy works for them, if I may put it that way, be denied that satisfaction and sentenced to frustration? Now when a Therapy person finds a religion that just really grabs them and works for them, and then you come along and tell them that that religion is a bad thing and they aren't allowed to follow it, can you see how they might feel the way this particular lady did?

Or try this: as it happens, I (despite being myself blond to a degree that Anna Nicole Smith's hair maintenance engineer would despair of imparting) do not find blonde women romantically attractive; if you ain't brunette, it ain't happenin' for me. Just a personal quirk, which, since I found a delightful brunette who had the poor taste to be willing to marry me, does nobody in the world any harm. Well, no problem there. But what if I were now to run around trying to pass a law that said that nobody was allowed to marry a blonde woman because they aren't pretty, or that all blonde women had to dye their hair brunette? To a Therapy person, trying to run around telling everybody they have to follow your religion is more or less analogous to telling everybody they have to agree with you on which women have It. How would you feel if I told you you had to dye your hair because Dubya doesn't find women with your hair color to be attractive?

If I wanted to try to get Therapy people to start understanding Fact people, I would tell stories like this:

What if I told you that I believed that the sun goes around the earth? -- or, better, what if I told you that I intended to teach my children that the sun goes around the earth? Would you be comfortable saying, "Hey, if that's what works for you, that's great"? In fact you may have heard a news story of some "religious fanatic" whose children have cancer, but who refuse to allow the child to receive medical treatment because they believe God will heal the child miraculously. How did you respond when you heard that story?

What if I were to tell you that I intended to teach my children that the earth was created in six twenty-four-hour days a few thousand years ago, and that I did not want them ever to hear the theory of evolution? Would you think that was wonderful, and would you feel called upon to support me in my scientific choice?

What if I were to decide that slavery is a painful subject, and therefore I intended to make sure that when I taught my children United States history, I intended to pretend that slavery had never existed in the U.S.? What if I were to decide that I'm happier believing that the Holocaust never happened, and that my children would also be happier believing that the Holocaust never happened, and therefore I decide that I'm going to proceed as though it never happened and teach my children that as well? And what if, when you object that the Holocaust really did happen, I calmly inform you, "Well, I'm sure that's true for you, but it isn't true for me"?

What if, when you started talking about leukemia, I were to say, "Well, I don't believe in cancer"? And you say, "But cancer really exists," and I respond, "How can you believe that? What kind of sadistic person wants children to die in agony before they have the chance to grow up? What makes you think you're so much better than those children that you think that they deserve to die and you don't?" What would you say to me?

Now to a Fact person, the question of whether, say, hell exists, is a question on the same order as the question of whether leukemia exists. They aren't believing in hell because that belief "works for them," in the sense that it makes them happier or well-adjusted. I don't know any rational person who believes in hell who doesn't hate the doctrine, exactly the way those of us who believe in leukemia (which killed my late business partner) hate the disease. Question: Why would you distress a teenager by telling her that her parents went to hell for believing the wrong religion, and that if she doesn't choose her religion wisely, the same thing could happen to her? Like any good Irishman, I'll answer with another question: why would you distress a teenager by telling her (truthfully) that her parents died of AIDS, and that if she doesn't make sure to practice safe sex, the same thing could happen to her? In both cases the answer is simply: because you think it's true, and you don't want bad things to happen to the kid, and while significant emotional distress isn't any fun now, it's better than AIDS -- or hell -- later.

One of my Kazakh friends mentioned in conversation that the Christian missionaries she knows seem too agressive, and I'm sure that's exactly how they come off...and I certainly would remind missionaries from any religion of Owen Wister's observation that, "But I knew he was a good man, and I knew that if a missionary is to be tactless, he might as well be a bad man." But those of you from the Family or Therapy perspectives must remember that one of the most common stories Fact-oriented missionaries tell to explain why they spend their lives doing what they do, is this: if my neighbor's house is on fire, and I know he's peacefully asleep in the bedroom enjoying pleasant dreams, and I don't rush in and do whatever I can to wake him up and get him out of the house before it collapses on him, then what kind of neighbor am I? Maybe the missionaries are wrong to think that's how religion works -- I'm perfectly willing to admit that possibility. But we're not talking about whether the missionaries are right or not. We're talking about understanding them and seeing their actions from within their story rather than ours. And whether religion really works that way or not, that's how they think it works, and that's why they act they way they do. To ask them to "be tolerant" is to ask them to pretend the house isn't burning and nobody's gonna die.

You see, one of the problems with communication between Therapy and Fact people is simply that the same words mean such different things. There are a number of such double-meaning terms (including the term "tolerance"), but the most deadly is, I think, "truth" itself.

To a Therapy person (at least in my experience) "true" means -- if we're talking about religion, as opposed to something like the Holocaust or the theory of relativity -- "useful, producing satisfactory results." To a Fact person, it means "objectively factual, independently of whether any particular person chooses to believe it or not." Thus it is perfectly sensible, from the Therapy perspective, to say, "I'm sure that's true for you, but it doesn't work for me," which statement tremendously confuses and frustrates a Fact person, since in their view if something is true about God then it's true about God, period, no matter what you or I might think about it. It would be like saying, "Well, the Copernican model of the universe may be true for you, but the Ptolemaic one is true for me," and actually expecting that we could both get into our spaceships and successfully fly to Mars. The Fact person naturally thinks, "That's so stupid; what a moron." But all the Therapy person is really saying is, "I'm sure that helps you feel better about religion, but it doesn't get me where I want to be." And there's nothing at all inherently stupid about that. The Fact person's judgment is inaccurate and unfair.

The doctrine of hell is a very good example of how the two different perspectives clash. If a Princeton undergraduate is so deeply embedded in the Therapy perspective that he's never realized that someone might choose a religious belief for any reason other than that it "works for them" or "does something for them," then when he runs up against a "fundamentalist" who believes in hell, he assumes, quite unconsciously, that it does something for the fundamentalist to believe in hell -- that is, that the fundamentalist finds the belief satisfying or reassuring or pleasurable or something. And if that's what you think, then it's very hard for that undergrad to keep from thinking that the fundamentalist is some sort of sadist. You have no idea how many times I've listened to a discussion between a Therapy person who didn't believe in hell and a Fact person who did, and have heard dialogue like this:

Fact: But if you don't believe in Jesus, you'll go to hell.
Therapy: How can you beLIEVE in a place like hell? Why would you want to send everybody who disagrees with you to hell?
[The Fact person, being as clueless about the Therapy person as the Therapy person is about the Fact person, now proceeds to start laying out evidence that he thinks proves the existence of hell, thus confirming the Therapy person's belief that the Fact person is a shameless and enthusiastic sadist.]

There is of course no logical way to leap from "I believe in hell" to "I'm glad hell exists" or "I want lots of people to go there," any more than there is any logical way to leap from "I believe in leukemia" to "I'm glad leukemia exists" or "I want lots of people to die of leukemia." But the whole point is that to the Therapy person, hell and leukemia are in completely different categories -- as are, for that matter, hell and logic. Leukemia is the province of truth as in scientific truth. Hell is the province of religious truth as in emotionally satisfying belief constructs. Why would anybody believe in hell if they didn't find that belief emotionally satisfying?

But I'm going on too long about how Therapy people misunderstand Fact people, when in fact it's just as absurd for the Fact person in this dialogue, having been given this flashing-neon-sign clue that the Therapy person thinks he likes the idea of hell, to respond to, "How can you beLIEVE in a place like hell?" with whatever evidence for hell's factual existence he thinks he can muster. Just the intonation ought to be clue enough that the real question is, "How can you possibly like the idea of hell?" (If the other person were requesting evidence, the intonation would be quite different: "How can you believe in a place like hell?" rather than, "How can you beLIEVE that?") If you answer with evidence, then that's a clear sign that you weren't listening carefully enough to hear the real question.

Fact-vs.-Therapy is not necessarily, by the way, a matter of theological belief. One major point I have to make when talking to Americans about Kazakhstan is that Family-oriented Kazakh Muslims are much more like Family-oriented Kazakh Orthodox than they are like Fact-oriented Tunisian Muslims, despite the American habit of lumping them all together as "Muslims." I have a friend who maintains that Muslims emphasize right actions rather than right beliefs, and she's probably right. But while Saudi Arabian or Tunisian Muslims like my friend Najmeddine may emphasize right actions rather than right beliefs, they still (unlike the Kazakh Muslims I know) work from a Fact orientation, simply because they believe the same moral rules apply to everybody, whether everybody accepts them or not. In their eyes, if you don't see anything wrong with certain sexual practices, for example, then you just don't understand what God's moral rules are. Whether you dance before the wedding or after it, or whether your wedding lasts two hours (like a big American wedding) or two weeks (like Najmeddine's wedding in Tunisia to which I sent Dessie) or even two minutes (like my...oh, no, sorry, that wasn't my wedding...) Ahem. At any rate, how long your wedding lasts is a cultural thing, and it didn't bother Najmeddine or his friends that my wedding hadn't looked like his, and Dessie absolutely loved her whole Tunisian-wedding experience.

But Samiha's brother at one point carefully asked Dessie, "Now, you and your husband -- are you really married, or are you just pretending [i.e., living together]?" To Najmeddine and his family, whether you slept with people without bothering with a wedding or not was a matter of fundamental morality, and if our culture didn't do it that way, then that just meant our culture was screwed up. Weddings two weeks long, weddings two hours long -- interesting cultural variation. No wedding at all -- depraved American culture. With the Muslims of my close acquaintance, I think my friend Suzanne may be right to say that the focus is more on behavior than on belief; but there's still the underlying idea that there is a right behavior, and if you don't recognize that morality, then you are mistaken and potentially in trouble. In Najmeddine's Fact-oriented eyes, sex without marriage is wrong, and anyone who does it is wrong. But the Therapy viewpoint has perhaps rarely been expressed with more passion and heartfelt sincerity than by my gay Jewish friend Gary, from Princeton, who once cried out from the bottom of his soul, "Christians think they're right, and that anyone who disagrees with them is wrong -- and that's just wrong!"

I thought about going on to distinguish between open-minded and narrow-minded Fact people (which is an emotional difference rather than a philosophical one), and on how "open-minded" and "tolerant" mean one thing to Therapy people and something entirely different to Fact people...but I think I should quit here. It's too long a post as it is, and you have no idea how exhausting it is to try to illustrate these points without accidentally starting to either defend or attack specific beliefs and without being utterly unfair to half the people on the list and utterly offensive to the other half. Look, if I can just convince the Therapy people that we Fact people are often constrained by the evidence (as best we can evaluate it) to accept beliefs that we intensely dislike (such as the existence of hell), so that you don't assume that because we have all these horrible beliefs that we are such horrible people that we actually take pleasure in them, that would be great.

It would be a complete bonus if I could get you to see that just because we sometimes think you're wrong, that doesn't mean that we think you're stupider than we are or that you're morally inferior to us. (Of course there are people who are really that arrogant and self-righteous, but almost all Fact people tend to come off that way to Therapy people whether they're really arrogant and self-righteous or not. There are also Therapy folks who are simultaneously intellectually self-impressed and intellectually lazy, but almost all Therapy people tend to come off to Fact people as intellectually lazy whether they really are or not.) My wife, bless her blinded-by-infatuation heart, thinks I'm a genius and loves me; but that certainly doesn't keep her from, frequently, pointing out that I am temporarily making a fool of myself 'cause I'm saying something that isn't true (usually when I'm telling a story and getting all the details wrong). Disagreement, even on matters religious, does not necessarily imply disrespect, and certainly not dislike, when the person doing the disagreeing is a Fact person.

Again, the fundamental attitude I'm trying to create in my kids is that if you tell me what you believe, that will determine whether I agree with you or disagree with you, but it won't have any particular impact on whether I admire you or love you. I find that a whole lot of Therapy people simply can't imagine that you could think they were mistaken about religion but still think they're awesome and admirable and delightful people. But a Fact person sees no incongruity in that at all, and many of us see no value judgment in it, either. (Of course there are Fact people who look down on those who disagree with them, but that's a function of self-righteousness, not of the Fact perspective. I know plenty of Therapy people who hold "fundamentalists" in just as much contempt as the contempt in which the "fundamentalist" holds the "sinners." Self-righteousness is a pleasure in which all perspectives can indulge themselves equally. The Fact perspective does not per se entail contempt of those from other perspectives. Though it does entail disagreement with them.)...

...And I just keep babbling on and I will just have to make myself stop right there: if my Therapy friends haven't yet gotten an idea of what I'm trying to express then another ten thousand words won't help.

And if I can just get through to my fellow Fact people...

Look, I've used examples of how other people have misjudged people by assuming the other people worked from the same metaphor; it's only fair for me to close with an example of how I misjudged a Therapy person and for years held that person in utter contempt, without adequate justification.

I was a classics major at Princeton, and naturally we were held to very high standards. If you were going to write a thesis on, say, the Eleusinian mysteries in the time of Socrates, then you had better never put forward a hypothesis without considering the evidence both for it and against it; you had better consider the reliability of your sources (applying standard, well-known criteria for source reliability); you had better know which conclusions were well established and which were questionable because of lack of evidence and you had better make it clear to your reader which conclusions fell in which category; etc. In short, the task of the scholar was to determine, as much as possible, what could be known to be true, to fill in the gaps where possible with reasonable speculation, and to always, always be clear on what was knowledge and what was speculation and just what degree of speculation was involved. For it was assumed that something actually, in objective fact, happened in those mysteries (or whatever your topic was), and all of the resources at your disposal were to be brought to bear in order to determine, as far as the evidence allowed, what that something really was.

In short, the discipline of history was seen to be a discipline interested in historical truth, to the degree to which it could be obtained, and persons who carefully followed the methodologies that experience had taught were reliable were considered good scholars, and persons who took any half-cocked guess and tossed it out there as "scholarship" were held in contempt.

At the same time, I was trying to establish what was true and what was false about the things I had been taught as a child in the Baptist church and the things other religions taught. I had read the Bible cover-to-cover before I was seven years old; now I started reading the Talmud (though certainly not cover-to-cover) and the Quran (which I have read all the way through, though only in translation, which several of my Muslim friends tell me doesn't count). I took courses in Buddhism and in the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas; I spent long hours discussing Hinduism with a close Sri Lankan friend; I read C. S. Lewis but also Aldous Huxley, Josh McDowell but also Elaine Pagels, Dante but also Kant...I wanted to know what was true and what wasn't. You see, I came from a Fact background, and I assumed that obviously what was important about a religion was the truth of its teaching, and being a genuinely open-minded person (in the Fact sense, though not the Therapy sense -- this is one of those two-meaning terms) I was willing to go to whatever work was necessary and give everybody the chance to make their case.

There was one book in particular that everybody from one particular variant of the Therapy perspective kept telling me was a wonderful book, and how well it proved what it was that Jesus "really" taught. Back then I didn't know that "really" didn't mean to Therapy people what it meant to me, and so I was very excited to read this book. I got it, and I read it...and it was awful. That is to say, everything I'd learned about how to tell pseudo-historical bogus scholarship from solid professional work was just screaming, "B.S. Alert! B.S. Alert!" It was just...I don't know...it was just so sloppy. It was like she hadn't even tried to do her homework. I just don't know how exactly to put it...if I had written that book instead of her writing it, and I had turned it in as my undergraduate senior thesis, the classics department professors would have crucified me.

I can't tell you how much contempt I felt for that woman for years, and, for that matter, for Departments of Religion in general (because the more widely I read the religious "scholarship" the more obvious it became that this kind of "sloppy, not remotely professional pseudo-scholarship" was pouring out of departments of religion and seminaries everywhere you turned). Only much, much later did it occur to me that what I was assuming was the whole point of "scholarship" wasn't even a matter of relevance from the Therapy perspective. This book was inspiring; it was thought-provoking; it provided a whole new way to look at Jesus that works much better for many modern Americans who simply can't be bring themselves to accept the traditional views; it gives an interpretation that hangs together very nicely and cohesively if you don't yank on the curtains too hard. Now, it's true that it happens that if you apply evidential tests to her hypotheses to see where on the classicists' scale of probability they fall, the best you could get for her would be "purely speculative and in conflict with the heavy preponderance of the available evidence." But you would only go to the trouble to apply those evidential tests (which are a lot of trouble and require a lot of work) if you thought it mattered whether Jesus really acted that way or not -- that is, if you came from a Fact background. To a Therapy person, it doesn't matter so much what Jesus' life really was; what matters is what his life Means For Us Today...and that's something that, in the end, is up to us to decide. What do you WANT it to mean? What meaning will "work" in your life? If you find a way to think about Jesus that works for you, what does it matter whether the real Jesus was actually like that or not? And if it doesn't matter, then why would you bother to go to all the trouble to apply all those boring and onerous and completely unnecessary tests?

Well, I wrote her off as a moron and a fool and an academic fraud, and I can tell you I didn't hold much respect for the university that (as I thought) "couldn't see through such a transparent b-s'er." And it still is hard for me to respect, say, the Harvard University department of religion, which has a professor who once confidently delivered himself of a carefully footnoted statement about Neanderthal religious beliefs that seemed to me wildly speculative, and when I checked the footnote, it turned out that his "scholarly" anthropological source was The Clan of the Cave Bear (I kid you not). But I'm slowly getting there, as I just keep reminding myself that the more or less complete absence of anything I would recognize as scholarly method (that is to say, safeguards to keep you from coming up with whatever wild speculation you found attractive and presenting it as the results of your "scholarly research") is not due to stupidity, nor to willful dishonesty, nor even to laziness. When a scholar from the Therapy perspective does religious scholarship, he just has a completely different set of priorities than I have, that's all, and the only thing that to me makes it worth the trouble to read scholarly works at all, is something that he finds of no value whatsoever and hardly even pretends to pursue.

One last thing: I know that many of you Fact people are out there saying, "Well, yes, I understand that they have a different way of looking at it, but their way of looking at it is wrong; and it's gonna cause a lot of 'em to wind up in hell." And there are some Therapy people who are saying, "Okay, this helps me understand why the fundamentalists act the way they do -- they think there's absolute truth in religion. But they're wrong, and it makes them intolerant, and religious intolerance has killed hundreds of thousands of people and ruined countless more lives than that." And there may be a Superstition person saying, "!#@$#@!, the sooner we get rid of this religion virus entirely the better off we'll be." And you know what? Any of us could be right -- but that's for another day.

I'm sorry I couldn't do better, and I'm sincerely sorry for anybody whose views I misrepresented (which views are probably all the views I tried to present except my own), and if anybody from the Family or Therapy perspective can help me do a better job of explaining this to my kids when the time comes, I'll be very sincerely grateful.

Kenny

Coming in later posts, I hope:
Difficulties of Fact-to-Therapy evangelism
Difficulties of Therapy-to-Fact, um, evangelism, for lack of a better word
Open-minded Factists vs. narrow-minded Factists (
i.e., Fact orientation does not preclude a high degree of doubt and uncertainty)
Do the different orientations correspond to different human needs fulfilled by religion?
Tolerance vs.
agape, including ruminations on why the people who talk about "tolerance" the most seem to display it the least
How the Episcopal schism between Factists and Therapists generates misleading "presenting issues" (homosexuality, ordination of women, authority of Scripture,
etc.)

UPDATE (27 September 2005): When I first wrote this out, I used the term "Truth orientation" rather than "Fact orientation." I have been uncomfortable for a long time with my original term "Truth orientation," because the word truth, as I mentioned above, is one of the words that means either of two radically different things, depending upon whether the person using it comes from a Therapy perspective or a Fact perspective. Driving to the coffee shop this morning it suddenly occurred to me that "Fact" would be a more accurate, and much less ambiguous, designation than is "Truth." Mr. Data, make it so! (That's not a Star Trek reference; it's a TMQ reference.)

The metaphor wars

If you want to understand why apparently nice people can be so intolerant over religion -- including people who seem constantly to be talking about the importance of tolerance (but who can't say the word "fundamentalist" without sneering) -- then you have to understand the role dominant metaphors play in religion. There are seven critical points you must grasp.

(1) Whenever someone thinks about religion, he thinks of religion in terms drawn from a particular dominant metaphor. That metaphor makes it possible for him to think about religion meaningfully, but it also puts limits on his religious thought. It is also from that metaphor that he draws -- without even thinking about it -- his assumptions about what a person ought to feel about various situations in which religion is involved; when it comes to religion, all his motivations and emotions are drawn from the metaphor, not from religious beliefs standing on their own.

(2) Very, very few people have consciously chosen which metaphor they are going to use -- in fact, very few people are aware that they are using any metaphor at all. It's rarely the case that people have looked at the different metaphors available, weighed the choices, and chosen the one they think is most appropriate. The vast majority of the time people are conditioned by their upbringing (by all the complex human relationships and formative experiences that we subsume under the word "culture") to use a particular dominant metaphor to make sense of religion. Furthermore, when they do become aware that there is a difference, somewhat more often than not they automatically assume that their own culture's metaphor is the "right" one.

(3) Therefore most people assume, without thinking about it, that everybody else who talks about religion is working from the same metaphor they are, and they draw conclusions about other people's motivations and emotions by trying to figure out what motivations or emotions would cause those actions or opinions to be generated from their own metaphorical framework.

(4) Two people who are using exactly the same words, but working from different fundamental metaphors, can mean radically different things -- but if they don't realize they are working from different metaphors, they usually think they understand what the other person is saying, and pass judgment accordingly on the other person's opinions and/or character.

(5) Historically there seem to be four dominant metaphor-families that people have used to think about religion:

(a) Religion as superstition/opiate/poison.

(b) Religion as family/culture/clan membership/sense of belonging.

(c) Religion as therapy/tool/hobby/emotional pragmatism.

(d) Religion as fact/truth/science/medicine.

I need names for these other than just the letters; so purely for the sake of having names I'll refer to them as "Superstition," "Family," "Therapy," and "Fact."

(6) The predominant metaphor in modern Kazakh society (a particular interest of mine) is what I'm calling "Family." The predominant metaphor in modern American society is "Therapy." However, there is a very significant subculture of American society (which used to be the dominant culture and is extremely displeased at having now been relegated to minority status) for which the dominant metaphor of religion is "Fact." And then much of the American Jewish subculture, and especially the more Orthodox variants of Judaism, come from a passionate attachment to metaphor "Family." Finally, there is a small but vocal element that sees religion as "Superstition."

(7) Most of the bitterness, hatred and intolerance in American society comes not from a disagreement on specific religious doctrines such as whether or not there is a hell that all infidels (from whichever perspective) will wind up in, but from a fundamental disagreement on whether religion ought to be thought of in terms of "Therapy" or in terms of "Fact." And since this is not recognized as the fundamental issue -- in fact it's hardly recognized as an issue at all -- all of the talking and arguing and mutual recrimination do absolutely nothing to move us toward any sort of reconciliation, since practically all of the sound and fury manages to miss the point entirely.

I'll talk more about this topic in future posts, starting with this one.

UPDATE (27 September 2005): When I first wrote this out, I used the term "Truth orientation" rather than "Fact orientation." I have been uncomfortable for a long time with the term "Truth orientation," because the word truth is one of the words that means either of two radically different things, depending upon whether the person using it comes from a Therapy perspective or a Fact perspective. Driving to the coffee shop this morning it suddenly occurred to me that "Fact" would be a more accurate, and much less ambiguous, designation than is "Truth." Mr. Data, make it so! (That's not a Star Trek reference; it's a TMQ reference.)

Four rules of praise

This post is on how understanding the skill of praise helps me, and hopefully my kids, learn how to like people who are jerks.

I don't know that many people who are good at praise in America -- we don't exactly encourage our kids to read lyric poetry these days, and the best praise has always been lyric poetry. I've had to work hard to try to learn how to do it, because I'm married to a girl whose primary love language is words of praise, and it doesn't come naturally to me at all. I'm still not very good at it, though I'm getting better.

So, four rules for good praise:

1. Good praise is about the person you're praising, not about yourself.

2. The more specific and detailed, the better the praise is.

3. The more personal the praise is, the better, generally speaking. (Meaning, the more it has to do with your relationship with them. This does not conflict with Rule #1, though at first glance it may seem to.)

4. Good praise is sincere. (If you ever praise somebody insincerely and get caught, it will destroy the effectiveness of any further praise for a significant part of the future.)

And three further general principles of benefit:

What good praise does for the person praised, is generally to them feel better about themselves and more likely to make sure they deserve more of the same in the future.

What good praise does for the person doing the praising, is it reminds them of the good things about the praisee, and helps take their mind off the bad things about the praisee, and thus helps them like the praisee more.

What good praise does for the people hearing the praising is twofold: (1) if they already knew it, it has the same effect on them as on the praiser; and (2) if they didn't already know it, then they get to know the praisee better and have more reasons to like 'em. Either way it makes it easier for the audience to like and appreciate the praisee.

If you replace "good praise" with "deadly criticism," all these principles hold equally well as negatives. The more specific, detailed, personal and sincere deadly criticism is, the more devastating it is; etc.

To illustrate these principles:

Say I want to praise my daughter. First try:

"Kasia, I just want to praise you. I really want to praise you. You're my daughter and I plan to praise you a lot. I'm just going to stand here and praise you for hours."

Obviously that isn't really praise at all -- I didn't say a thing in the world about her other than "you're my daughter" which is no thanks to her. Let's try again.

"Kasia, I think you're a really cool kid and I'm glad you're my daughter."

Now that's better. But what if I say this instead?

"Kasia, I get just the hugest kick out of your sense of humor. You're so bloody intelligent that I can tell really subtle jokes in front of other kids, and I know that you'll catch the joke, and the other kids generally won't. So I can stand there and I can carry on a conversation with you and know that it means one thing to everybody except you and me, and something different to us, and I can tell from the way you throw the same sorts of double meanings back at me that you're laughing inside but keeping a straight face so as not to ruin it...you just have no idea how much fun that is for me, and how bloody brilliant a girl has to be in order to play that kind of game with a grownup when she'll still only 14. You know perfectly well that Elizabeth Bennett is my favorite character in all of literature -- well, I've never met a girl more like Lizzie Bennett than you are, and that makes me hands-down the luckiest dad I know."

Or:

"Kasia, do you have any idea how proud I am of the way you can make yourself good at anything you want, just by deciding to? I've never seen anybody improve so fast at basketball as you did when you just decided one day, 'I want to be good at this,' even though you'd never played before. And now you're doing the same thing with drama and music. Good Lord, I don't know what you're going to decide you want to devote your life to, but I'd say whatever you decide it's going to be, there aren't going to be many people better at it than you are by the time you're done."

Not only is Kasia going to get a way bigger kick out of these last two conversations than she would out of the generic one, but -- what is more to the point of this post -- the effort I have to go to in order to come up with praise that specific really makes me focus incredibly carefully on Kasia. Anybody can say, "You're a great kid and I'm glad you're my daughter" without actually knowing their kid well at all. I could say that to Kasia if I had divorced her mom when she was six months old and hadn't come back around for the next fourteen years and had only just half an hour ago met back up with the kid. But to get specific, you have to have been paying careful attention to a person's specific good qualities, and that's exactly what you have to spend time doing in order to find ways to like somebody.

So what I'm trying to teach my kids about liking jerks is simply this: if there's somebody you don't like, then set out to praise them. And do a really good job of it. That means praise that's sincere and specific and detailed. You just cannot do that without focusing in on their good points. You don't like somebody? Fine. Then I want to know exactly what it is about them that's good and praiseworthy, and I want you to be the one who explains it to me.

That's why I love the advice somebody on an adoption list once gave about making her kids say three nice things about each other every time she heard them say one mean thing. To me, that's just exactly what's called for. Just absolutely perfect advice. And I've found it applies remarkably well to me, too, when we get around to the subject of politicians whom I find easy to hold in contempt. I have two rules: if I'm going to talk about a public figure, then I need to spend at least as much time praying for him as I do criticizing him, and I need to spend at least as much time praising him as I do criticizing him. Ideally, this would make me praise politicians and pray for them. In real life, all it does is make me sulkily shut up and stop whinin' about 'em. But that's better than nuthin'.

Just one more thing: it seems to me that, at least in junior high school, girls have way more problem with this than guys do. I was talking to some teenagers a couple of weeks ago at a church function; they had read something about "being pure" and thought that was a pretty vague piece of advice, and could I elaborate? Well, ordinarily when a Christian moralist talks about "being pure" he's talking about sexuality, and I think most of us would agree that if a teenaged boy were to go through an entire week without engaging in at least some form of mental "impurity," that would qualify him for more or less instant sainthood. (I think it was SNL's Fr. Guido Sarducci who put forth a theory of morality by which you got a daily monetary allowance, and then you charged varying amounts for different sins depending on how serious they were, and if at the end of your life you had any money left over you got into heaven. Talking back to your parents, $1.00; lying, $10.00; murder was the big one...$10,000 or something. And then there was "self-abuse -- only 25 cents...but it adds up.")

But for girls -- I mean, I'm not saying girls don't have plenty of sexuality, by any means. But I think if you want to hand a teenaged girl a standard of purity that's as hard for her to live up to as conservative Christianity's sexual ethic is for a teenaged boy, then you tell her to try to go for an entire week without once saying anything bad to her best girlfriend about any other girl. You should have seen the look on those girls' faces when I suggested that they imagine trying to do that for a week. Yet it's hard to think of better advice to give junior high girls, considering that almost certainly there will come a point in the next couple of years where their current best friend turns into their ex-best-friend, and the day that happens is the day everybody they ever "burned" hears all about what they said about them, with entertaining embellishments.

Female readers can jump all over my sexist self in outrage if you want, but it certainly seems to me that life as a junior high girl is dramatically different from life as a junior high boy, and this is one of the ways in which it differs.

Anyway, that's my way-more-than-two-cents on praise.

Kenny

P.S. I didn't really illustrate Rule #1 ("Good praise is about the person you're praising, not about yourself"); so I'll toss this in.

My wife is (as those of you who've read her book can attest) a talented and enthusiastic writer, and she has down through the years written her share of poetry. Now, I love good poetry, and I know that what I write does NOT qualify; and so I don't write it. But for our first anniversary, I decided to write her a poem, because I was trying to be Mister Romance and that seemed like a romantic thing to do. It was a big success, because it was the last thing she expected me to do and so I got so many points just for trying that it didn't matter whether it was really any good. I didn't think much of it as poetry then (and still don't -- in the little I remember of it, there are lines that make me physically wince); and I've never written another one. But what strikes me now, looking back, is how bad it was as praise.

Here, I'll explain. I won't inflict the poem itself on you. But it had six stanzas, thirty-seven lines -- and I think probably only about five of those lines were about her, while the rest nattered on and on about me in various ways. When it's all said and done, in thirty-seven lines all I really managed to say about her was that she had sparkling eyes and a devastating smile, and that I really liked being with her. This, for a woman who by any standards should be very easy to praise. And that was when I was trying to be romantic. Thank God she gave me points for effort.

Anyway, that's what I mean about how real praise is about the other person, not about yourself.

"Onward, Unitarian Soldiers!" Dept

I don't really know enough about Unitarians to know whether this is a good parody or not; but it seems pretty intrinsically funny to me. Maybe my friend Laura (who has spent time in Unitarian churches) can tell me whether it's a funny parody. (Maybe it's even offensive, I suppose...I wouldn't be offended but then I'm not Unitarian.)

Greetings to the Imprisoned Citizens of the United States. We are Unitarian Jihad. There is only God, unless there is more than one God. The vote of our God subcommittee is 10-8 in favor of one God, with two abstentions. Brother Flaming Sword of Moderation noted the possibility of there being no God at all, and his objection was noted with love by the secretary...

Read the rest of the Jihad communique here.

My Unitarian Jihad Name is Brother Hand Grenade of Desirable Mindfulness. Get yours!

I owe another blog a hat tip but I can't remember which one [blushing]...

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Look out, Mr. Bish!

From Mark Steyn:

"The CIA, as I wrote a couple of years back, now functions in the same relation to President Bush as Pakistan's ISI does to General Musharraf. In both cases, before the chief executive makes a routine request of his intelligence agency, he has to figure out whether they're going to use it as an opportunity to set him up, and if so how. For Musharraf, the problem is the significant faction in the ISI that would like to kill him. Fortunately for Bush, if anyone at the CIA launched a plot to kill him, they'd probably take out G. W. Bish, who runs a feed store in Idaho."

The whole article is devastating both in its argument and its humor, rather like P. J. O'Rourke when he's on a roll (though Steyn's mix is weighted a bit more to analysis). "Even before the latest budget-bloating ''reforms,'' the U.S. government was spending $30 billion annually on intelligence, and in return its intelligence agencies got everything wrong. British and French intelligence also get a lot of things wrong, but they get them wrong on far smaller budgets… U.S. intelligence needs a fresh start, and short of buying ol' Sandypants [Sandy Berger] a larger pair of trousers and getting him to smuggle out every single classified document, it's not clear how it's ever going to get it." Good stuff for amateur policy-wonk spectators like me.

The Peril

Hat tip to Instapundit

Monday, April 11, 2005

Why Christians get passionate about Scripture

I gave the following address recently at a men’s religious retreat at St. John Neumann’s parish, a large and quite indescribably wonderful Catholic church in Austin, Texas. The SJN folks kindly allowed me to talk about Scripture even though I’m not Catholic myself (I tease them that they had to get a Protestant to talk about Scripture because after all you do want somebody who knows at least a little bit about the topic).

This was a speech meant for sharing in person – with guys all sworn to utter confidentiality, I might add – not for publication. I thought about recasting it into an essay, since I can’t really incorporate the sight gags, or the tones of voice, or the places where I dragged some of the guys into the talk as impromptu props without warning them in advance. (The guy who found himself suddenly in the role of Blind Dude Who Jesus Spits On His Eyes didn’t seem very happy about it...) And I thought about making certain parts of the language a little...well, shall we say rather less Catholic and rather more Baptist? But in the end I decided that whatever power the talk might have had when I gave it, came from its raw honesty and directness. I talked about my life as I have actually lived it, which has not been very saintly; and I felt like I ought to give you guys the talk as I actually gave it, which was not very urbanely and not very Princeton-ly and not at all Baptist-ly. (Apparently one of the guys said after the talk to several of those around him, “Well, THAT wasn’t what I expected...I thought he was going to be like a Baptist preacher.” Which makes me very curious as to what a cradle Catholic thinks a Baptist preacher would sound like at a Catholic lay retreat...)

At any rate, I’m pretty much giving it here as I meant to give it there – I was looking more at the guys than at the script, and I lost my place a couple of times, and now and then, having wandered away from the podium, I wandered rather far from the script as well...but all I have is the script I meant to read so that’s what you get. I’ve added the occasional stage direction in brackets where needed for clarification, and also tossed in the Scripture chapters-’n’-verses as well, in case you want to look ’em up.

There is one section excised because even though my wife graciously allowed me to share some very intimate and painful details of our marital history to a roomful of sixty men she didn’t know, I felt like I had to draw the line about publishing those details more or less to the world. (Just to prove that I am indeed a member of the club of Men Who Married Better Than Their Wives Did, I am very much ashamed to say that my wife’s permission was given retroactively, as I forgot to ask for it in advance and had to tell her after the weekend, “Um, honey, I, well, I sort of shared ___ and ___ and even _____ with about, oh, maybe sixty guys you haven’t ever met...I hope that was okay.” And she didn’t smite me down with a blunt instrument or anything. Did I mention that I married a saint...and that my wife didn’t?)

Despite the fact that all my references to rednecks and the churches of my youth seem to have been intended for comic effect, I’m very proud of, and grateful for, the place and manner of my raisin’. Neither the term “fundamentalist” nor the term “redneck” is an insult when coming out of this good ol’ Okie boy’s mouth.

I should add a special note to Protestant readers: there is a point at which I criticize the teaching of early Church authorities. I am not at all criticizing the Catholic Church at that point (the point in fact is my own fallibility more than anybody else's). You must always remember that there is a significant difference between what some Catholic guy says, or even what most Catholic guys at a given time and place are saying, and what the Catholic Church's official teaching is...even things the Pope himself says are only considered infallible under very special circumstances. If you want to know what the Catholic Church says about human sexuality, don't go to Clement of Alexandria or even St. Augustine -- go read the Catechism. I was criticising the exegesis of many of the early Fathers and of the typical medieval Catholic theologian; I wasn't saying a thing about the teaching of today's Catholic Church.

Finally, I can never sufficiently thank the community of St. John Neumann’s for taking this particular eccentric, sarcastic, scruffily dressed Princeton-redneck-Anglican into their hearts. In thirty-seven years I have never known a community to more deeply and truly embody the love of Christ and to more faithfully and generously pour it out to all comers.

------------

My name’s Kenny.

I grew up in southeastern Oklahoma, and we used to tell about this redneck...and you’ll have to excuse the accent, but I can’t tell this story without slipping back into the natural accent that God gave me...at any rate, [proceeding in an outrageous hillbilly drawl] one of these sixty-year-old honky-tonkin’, good-timin’ rednecks had decided it was about time to be takin’ thought for his immortal soul, and he decided to go see what the Bible would tell him to do. Didn’t know much about it but figgered God would show him what to do if he just got his Bible and read it. [picking up my Bible and acting the story out as I tell it] So he opened the thing at random and looked down at the page, and read the first words that he saw:

“Judas went out and hanged himself.”

Now this didn’t seem relevant at all; so he figgered he’d try it again. He flipped a few pages and looked down at the text again:

“Go thou and do likewise.”

He slammed that Bible shut and stared at it for sixty seconds or so. Then...very carefully...with the tips of his fingers...he cracked it open, and peered in at it sideways. And there he read:

“What thou doest...do quickly.”

Now what you guys don’t realize is that I’m required to include a minimum of ten Scriptural references in this thing, and I just got three of ’em out of the way.

The Bible is not confusing. But we are confused. And God intends to spend the rest of our lives working on straightening out the confusion.

It’s absolutely critical for any Christian to understand at the very beginning of his walk with God, that the Bible is central to our experience. I grew up in fundamentalist Protestant churches that looked down on Catholics for many reasons, not the least of which was that Catholics “believed the Church instead of the Bible.” This old beat-up red Bible I’m holding is the old King James Bible I had when I was a young boy, and if you open to the page that immediately follows Revelation, you’ll see a table that shows you exactly which chapters you have to read each day in the year if you want to read the whole thing in one year – which we were all encouraged to do, and which many of us did. The year I turned seven I read the King James Version of the Bible from cover to cover...twice. I can’t remember not being able to recite the books of the Bible ([teasingly] well, the real Bible, without all the extra books Catholics put in there) in order and at speed, like this: [blistering through all sixty-six of them as one word and in one breath] Genesis­Exodus-Leviticus-Numbers­Deuteronomy­Joshua­Judges­Ruth­First-’n’-Second-Samuel­First-’n’-Second-Kings­Ezra-Nehemiah­Esther-Job-Psalms-Proverbs-Ecclesiastes-Song-Of-Solomon-Isaiah-Jeremiah-Lamentations-Ezekiel-Daniel-Hosea-Joel-Amos-Obadiah-Jonah-Micah-Nahum-Habakkuk-Zephaniah-Haggai-Zachariah-Malachi-Matthew-Mark-Luke-John­Acts­Romans-First-’n’-Second-Corinthians-Galatians-Ephesians-Philippians-Colossians-First-’n’-Second-Thessalonians­First-’n’-Second-Timothy-Titus-Philemon-Hebrews­James­First-’n’-Second-Peter-First-Second-’n’-Third-John-Jude-’n’-Revelation.

And yet [in tones of deeply facetious incredulity] I wound up an agnostic.

When I was argued back into the Faith, it was mostly by Anglicans and Catholics; and perhaps the one thing that most astonished me was the discovery that St. Thomas is as passionate about Scripture as Martin Luther or John Calvin or Billy Graham ever was. Even those Bible-hatin’ Catholics turned out to be saying that without the Bible, you can certainly have religion, but you can’t have Christianity.

But why is this? What is it about this book that makes it the very heart and core of our faith?

I was born in 1966 in Tyler, Texas, to a devout Southern Baptist father and a devout Disciples of Christ mother, and you can tell which one eventually won by the fact that my father is today an ordained minister in the Disciples of Christ. I spent time as an agnostic, then got argued back into Christianity by Anglicans and Roman Catholics. I got married in 1989 to a good Baptist girl and we were promptly confirmed as Episcopalians...though most of our kids’ godparents are Baptists. Through it all, the Bible has been one of the central common threads in my religious life. And I can tell you in a few words why the Church places – why all true Christian churches place – the Bible at the center of the Christian faith, both from the reading I’ve done down through the years and through my own experience.

Scripture is where you find the heart of God.

Everything important about our relationship with God is already in Scripture. Everything God wants to teach you about Himself and about the relationship He wants to build with you, is in Scripture. Theology can shed light on Scripture; science can supplement it; our experience personalizes it. But Scripture is, as St. Thomas has it, the deposit of our faith, the raw material from which all our genuine knowledge of God is shaped.

God has poured out His heart into His Word so that we could come to know him and fall in love with Him. It is His love letter, his marriage proposal; for 1500 pages He woos us and pleads with us to feel His love and respond to it.

But – and this is the kicker – even though everything God wants to show us about Himself is in Scripture, most of it is stuff that we can’t see even when we’re looking directly at the page. And God spends our entire life slowly and gently working us to the point where our eyes are opened and we can see. Our whole Christian life is a process in which God uses the truths of Scripture that we understand, to draw us into the experience of our relationship with Him, and then uses that experience to open our eyes to newer and richer truth. The Bible is not changing, and God is not changing...but God is changing us. We are like the blind man who asked Jesus to heal him [Mark 8:22-26]. So Jesus spat on the man’s eyes and touched them, and then asked him, “Do you see anything?”

He answered, “[with tremendous excitement] I see people!...[squinting thoughtfully] They look like...[squinting even harder]...um, trees...[with a slight air of disappointment] walking around.”

So Jesus worked on him some more, and then said, “Now what do you see?”

And the man’s sight was fully restored.

Personally, I prefer the instantaneous miracles; but that’s not usually how God works. Most of us get the long-term, little-bit-at-a-time treatment. After all, time is one thing God’s got plenty of.

I can’t explain the Bible to you today; it’s going to take God the rest of your life just to get started doing that, and He’s a way better teacher than I am. I just want to see you start to fall in love with the Scriptures. You can think of me as a friend trying to talk you into going on a blind date with the Bible.

“Go and tell this people,” God once told the prophet Isaiah, “ ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving’” [Isaiah 6:9]. In my experience, there are five things that blind us to what God is trying to tell us in Scripture, and God has to work through the circumstances of our life to open our eyes and get us past these barriers. They are, if I may put it this way, the five species of spiritual cataracts.

1. There are things we don’t understand because it’s like trying to explain a rainbow to a blind man: without at least a little bit of the experience the Bible is trying to describe, we literally don’t know what the words mean.

Jesus promised His disciples – who had spent three years listening to Him and understood practically nothing the whole time – “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” [John 14:26].

We read, and we don’t understand...maybe we think we do, but we don’t, or at least not fully. But then we get to a certain experience in our lives, and suddenly the penny drops: so that’s what He meant! And because we’ve read the Scriptures already, and now we know what it means...well, now we know what to do. Until we have the experience, we don’t understand the Scripture. But if we haven’t already read the Scripture when we get to the experience, so that the Spirit can call that Scripture to mind, then we don’t understand either the experience or the Scripture, and we generally wind up doing the wrong thing.

Jesus spent three years telling one parable after another to the disciples, and they never had a clue, not even when He tried to tell them in so many words [looking at a guy at the front table and speaking slowly and carefully and loudly like an Anglo speaking English to a Mexican waitress who only knows Spanish], “I have to go to Jerusalem, and be killed, and rise again.” And they’re looking at each other and going [wandering over to a different guy in the front row, looking at him in confusion, and cocking my head with furrowed brow], “What do you think he means by that?” But after the Passion and the Resurrection and the Ascension and the baptism of the Holy Spirit, then it all started making sense.

So you can’t get discouraged when you start reading the Bible and there are passages that just leave you scratching your head and saying, “What the heck is that supposed to mean?” When the time comes that you need to understand it, the light will shine. This is not to say that you don’t do your homework and study hard – just that, if you have done your homework and your study but you still don’t understand, just cheerfully leave it up to God to make it clear in His own good time. His Word will not return to Him empty, but will accomplish its purpose [Isaiah 55:11], when the time comes.

2. There are things we don’t want to believe because it would mean we would have to give up sins we love, and most of all because we want God to have to live up to our standards rather than our having to live up to His.

Of course I don’t need to give you examples of this – this is just standard old human stubbornness that you see all the time. Is it there? Sure. How do you cure it? God has to break down the barriers with His grace. But I don’t want to spend more time on this because you already know exactly how this works.

3. There are things we can’t believe the Bible would really say because it flies in the face of our fundamental cultural assumptions.

I told you that I grew up in redneck Southern Baptist churches, and that I read this here Bible cover-to-cover when I was seven. The year that I was eight, I began to lose my faith. And it happened this way.

Adamson Baptist Church had two more or less official positions. The first was that, not only was the Bible dictated word-for-word by God, but it was dictated in the King James Version. As to why St. Paul then felt it necessary to translate it into Greek...well, mysterious were the ways of the Apostles. The second was the idea that if you ever partook of the Nectar of Satan – which is to say, if you ever drank a beer or had a glass of wine – you might still get into heaven, but [dropping back into that deep Okie drawl] that was only because God was infinitely merciful.

And this posed a pretty significant problem, because in the King James Version there was wine all over the place, and people drank it a lot.

So I’m eight, and Brother [name omitted since he isn’t here to defend himself] is taking our second-grade boys’ class through the Gospel of John, and we get to the part where Jesus is at a wedding party and they run out of wine and he instantaneously changes seventy gallons of water into first-rate red wine so that the dudes can party on. Brother Mickey reads us that story, and he closes the Bible, and he looks at us just as serious. And he says, “Now, boys, there’s somethin’ you need to understand about this here story. When Jesus changed that water into wine, it didn’t have no alcohol in it. We know it didn’t have no alcohol in it – it couldn’t POSSIBLY ’ve had alcohol in it...’cause it didn’t have no TIME to ferment.”

I tell this story...well, first of all, I tell it ’cause I think it’s high-larious. But my excuse for telling it is that you’ll never get a better example of person who’s been so brainwashed to believe something by his raisin’, that he just can’t imagine that the Bible, and therefore God, could actually disagree with him. There are examples from every school of theological thought, I personally think just as frequently in liberalism as in fundamentalism (for example, every word poor ol’ well-meaning, feeble-minded Jack Spong has ever written can be summed up in the single sentence, “God is politically correct”).

But I’m sure you see the point already. And I’m not spending more time on these, because these are not the cataracts that I personally have had more trouble with. Sure, I struggle with them occasionally; but the next one’s the one that really gets me.

4. There are things we don’t even notice because our subconscious filters them out as unimportant. It’s not that we don’t believe them; it’s not that we disagree with them; we never notice them in the first place.

I’ve known Malachi 3:10 all my life, ’cause I’ve heard countless sermons on it: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” And I’ve tithed all my life, 10% of my income plus some more on top of that, and I very strongly recommend the practice to you – it’s been a great blessing to me.

But a couple of years ago God went to a tremendous amount of trouble to arrange for my wife and I to fall in love with two orphans visiting from Kazakhstan, and eventually much to our surprise there we are in Kazakhstan thinking that perhaps we’re being led by God to do a lot of work with the unadoptable orphans. Now, when your heart says, “I think God’s saying thus-and-such,” one of the things you always do is you go check it against God’s heart, i.e., the Bible, just to make sure it fits. So I went to the Bible – and what did I discover?

There was a time when I had the first chapter of James memorized in the original Greek – and yet it was as if I had never read James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” I had memorized it – but I seem never to have actually read it.

And then there were Jesus’ words to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:14, 23: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers...You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”

And most of all, I discovered why I had heard so many sermons on Malachi 3:10. Preachers like to preach about making sure people put plenty in the offering plate, and unfortunately for all such preachers who wish to avoid monotony, if you’re gonna preach about how important tithing is, you have to use that passage over and over – ’cause that’s about the only one you’ve got.

But widows and orphans and aliens and just the generally poor and powerless are all over the place, from one end of the Bible to another. In fact in a very short amount of time it became obvious that the preachers’ hearts might be with the tithe – but God’s heart is with the widows and the orphans and the strangers and the homeless: “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling” [Psalm 68:5]. And I had very carefully paid my tithes, while never paying the slightest attention to the people who really have God’s heart. I had always taken it for granted that the tithe was critical – because it was talked about so much. I had always ignored, never even noticed, everything God had to say about widows and orphans, ’cause the preachers never talked about ’em so they must not be important. And God had to drag my silly ass all the way to frickin’ KAZAKHSTAN in order to open my eyes to what the Bible itself makes blindingly clear are God’s real priorities.

Another example: Before my marriage, my wife and I decided we’d better figure out whether birth control was really a bad idea or not, and I spent several months reading the Bible and lots of different theologians, including a lot of the medieval theologians. Among other things I discovered that the celibate theologians who had a monopoly on published Church teaching for a millenium or so starting in the late second century, pretty much agreed that the Song of Songs could not be read literally. If you go and read the Song of Songs literally, you see, it’s just shameless revelling in “concupiscence” – this man and his new bride are just swimming in passionate desire for each other and they dwell quite disgustingly on all the erotic pleasure they’re taking in each other’s bodies (“Your breasts are like clusters of fruit...I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of the fruit...” [Song of Songs 7:7-8]). And – Dominus meus! [crossing myself as if face-to-face with a vampire] – the man and woman in that book never give the slightest sign of having any interest in starting a baby at all. So the old converted-from-Stoicism Fathers like Clement just knew that if you read the Song of Songs literally, you were reading it wrong: it was really an allegory of God’s love for us.

Now I took that view seriously and carefully considered whether there was any reason to think the Fathers were right on this one, and in the end I decided that they were just plain wrong. And I still continue to believe that. The Song of Songs is primarily an erotic poem, and it was absolutely meant to be taken literally, by God no less than by Solomon.

But that’s just the beginning of the story.

I got married, and the first several months were a disaster...[details removed for this public version where I obviously don’t have the confidentiality agreement that was in force at the retreat, but let’s just say the bedroom was a disaster and leave it at that]. She was seeing a psychotherapist to try to figure out what was wrong with her; and, well, you can imagine that our marriage was NOT doing at all well.

But at the same time I knew there was a lot more wrong than my marriage. I knew that there was a lot wrong between me and God, and I didn’t want to face it. The conviction grew and grew that I needed to go off for a weekend and suck it up and hear what God had to say to me, even though I knew I wouldn’t like it. And finally, with pretty much my whole life a shambles, I gave up and told Dessie, “I have to go away for the weekend to talk to God because there’s a lot wrong.” She was, of course, like [sarcastically jerking my thumb in a hit-the-road-Jack gesture], “Oh, feel FREE.”

I went down around Panna Maria and Little Poland, and I found one of those glorious old churches built by the immigrants. Unlocked, nobody there. I went in and knelt down, and the moment my knees hit the kneeler God said perfectly clearly and with very great emphasis, “Now you just shut up and sit there and be quiet ’cause I’ve got some things to tell you about yourself.” And for the next fifteen minutes He let me have it. He had a lot to say, none of it at all pleasant to hear; and one of those unpleasant things was this:

“Boy, you have never in your life had a romantic relationship that wasn’t about one thing and one thing only: proving to yourself that you’re a Man. It’s all about you and your ego. Sure, when you’re in bed with Dessie you want it to be fabulous for her, but that’s not because you care about her – it’s because you want to be a God In Bed. It’s pure manipulation: even if she’s not in the mood you want to make her feel good because you want to be irresistible and The Big Stud. And that’s the way you’ve treated every woman or girl you’ve ever gone out with since your very first date at that church Valentine’s Day dinner.”

I went back home, and I told Dessie I had to talk to her, and I started telling her this. It took a while because I broke down; it was, as you can imagine, a heckuva hard thing to make myself say. I got through and she looked at me and said, “I didn’t know what was wrong; I just knew something was terribly wrong. But now that I hear you say that, you’re EXACTLY right. That’s EXACTLY what you do.” And then she started crying.

That night, the problem was 100% gone, and the bedroom has done nothing but get better and better for the past fifteen years.

Now I realize this is supposed to be a talk about the Bible and it’s been a while since the Bible came up. This is not simply because I’m trying to hold my audience’s attention... “Hmm, I can talk to a bunch of guys about the Bible, or I can talk about sex. [holding out my right hand thoughtfully] Bible...[the left hand] sex...Bible...sex...hmmmm...” I do actually have a point here.

Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find” [Matthew 7:7]. What He doesn’t add is that you generally find only what you’re really looking for. When before my wedding I went through the Bible studying what it had to say about sex, I was trying to find out what the rules were – so, like, would using a condom get me in trouble, or could I get away with that one? And I pretty well figured out the rules: I sought, and I found, and I still think I got ’em pretty much right. But now I had been stunned to discover that even though I was carefully following the rules, I had managed to get everything that was really important about sex, totally wrong. And as my kids started getting older and I started to think about what I would tell them, I found myself returning to Scripture to wrestle with sexuality...but this time I wasn’t asking, “What are the rules?” This time I was asking, “Why did God do it this way in the first place? What’s this all about? What is He trying to do?”

And as I pondered that, suddenly I remembered something I’d read back when I was an agnostic teenager making my first acquaintance with St. Thomas Aquinas, but to which I had paid no attention because [in tones of deep irony] it wasn’t important. When that saint lay on his deathbed, he asked for a particular passage of Scripture to be read to him. Does anybody know what that was? [None of the guys did.]

It was the Song of Songs. That saint, as chastely celibate a man as ever lived, could find no passage in all the 1500 pages of the Bible that better expressed how he felt about God, than the greatest erotic poem in all Hebrew literature.

You see, the medievals had been wrong to say that the literal interpretation of the Song of Songs was “the wrong interpretation.” But with a shock I realized that I had been wrong to think the allegorical interpretation was a wrong interpretation – there was a whole level of Christian experience that I had never realized existed. That is, I was right that the Song of Songs was not intended as an allegory itself; it was intended to be about sex. But sex itself was designed by God as an allegory, so that we could have some way of groping toward comprehension of just how God feels about us and what sort of intimacy He wants to have with us.

And now as I turned to Scripture, I discovered, to my even greater astonishment, that as much as the Bible talks about God as our Father, it talks at least that much about God as our husband and bridegroom and lover. The story of the Prodigal Son [Luke 15:11-22] is one of the Bible’s two greatest expressions of the infinite forgiveness of God; but the other is the story of Hosea and his whore of a wife [Hosea 1-3]. I won’t go further into detail about what God began to open up to me as I read deeper and deeper, except to say that I am convinced that worship is, essentially, making love to God – worship plays the role in our relationship to God that lovemaking plays in marriage, and the more I learn about how other aspects of my relationship with Dessie affect our sexual relationship, the more I come to understand of how various aspects of my relationship with God affect my experience on Sunday morning...and vice versa.

Now all of that was there all along. But I didn’t see it before my marriage, despite all my careful study, because I was just looking for the rules, nothing more. Only by using my marital crisis to drive me back again to look deeper, was God able to begin to show me what He really had in mind for me to see in His Word all long. I had to stop looking for the rules and start hungering for His heart.

And when His heart was what I began to seek, it was there waiting patiently for me. It had been all along.

One final episode. Ten months ago I was once again in a place spiritually where I knew something was wrong. The joy was gone from my spirit. I was tremendously admired by everyone at my church as a godly and wise man of great faith, but [grimly] I knew what they didn’t know. I knew that in half a dozen areas of my life I had been so completely defeated by sin that I didn’t even have the heart to fight anymore; when temptation would rise up I would just say, “Oh, hell, let’s just go ahead and get this over with.” I knew that God was doing some very cool things through me, but I knew it was in spite of me, not because of me. And I knew something else. I knew there was something He wanted to tell me, but that, whatever it was, it was something I couldn’t let myself face. Brian invited me to this retreat and God said immediately to my heart, “Yes, you have to go; that’s where I can get you to where you can hear Me.”

So I came, all grimly determined to take my lickin’, about whatever sin it was that I was clinging to so desperately that I couldn’t even let myself admit it was there. And there came a point in the weekend when I sat off by myself in those woods and hunkered down and took a deep breath and said, “Okay, let me have it.”

And God said, “Okay, Kenny, here it is....I’m proud of you.

And I simply fell apart.

You see, the fifth type of spiritual cataract comes in because there are things we can’t dare to let ourselves believe because they’re too good to be true.

“You can’t put new wine in old wineskins,” Jesus once said, “because they can’t take it and they’ll explode” [Matthew 9:17]. Do you know that new wine is a good thing? But I will tell you right now that there are things in Scripture that God cannot show you yet because your heart would burst from the sheer joy of it, and those are the things He is most longing to bring you to see. He spends all your life getting you to that point. We are old wineskins and the glory is too much, at least until God can make us new, can turn us into new wineskins that can take the new wine. And it’s our glory that we’re talking about. “I consider that our present sufferings,” said Paul, “are not worth even comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us” [Romans 8:18]. Do you hear that? He’s not saying our present sufferings aren’t terrible. He’s saying that what God is going to make us is so unimaginably glorious that by comparison the worst suffering we bear here – losing our infant child in a car wreck, losing our father bit by bit to Lou Gehrig’s disease, even suffering unspeakable sexual abuse as a child – will seem utterly insignificant. That’s not because that suffering isn’t as bad as we think; it’s every bit as bad as it seems. But the glory is really that much greater. Believe me, I know – we all know – that there are people in this room who have gone through suffering that is all but unbearable. Now if God were to just unload upon you, without warning, glory so great that your genuinely unbearable suffering would seem trivial by comparison, do you really think you could bear that glory? But He’s going to get you there eventually because your whole life is designed to get you there.

In my case, God simply said, “Have you never read what I’m going to say to you when you stand before Me? You know perfectly well I’m going to say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’ [Matthew 25:21]. Did you think I was going to be lying?” And I had to admit, I’ve always thought God would really be saying, “Look, we all know you were really a useless sinful bastard, but My Son died for you, so we’ll pretend you did a good job.” I sat there understanding for the first time that by the time God’s through with me, I’ll actually be a good and faithful servant. In fact right now He’s already pleased with me and proud of how far He’s already gotten. Despite all that’s still wrong with me, I’m a good piece of work and going to get better.

In the Psalmist’s love poem to the Bible, Psalm 119, he begs God, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in Your law” [Psalm 119:18]. Those wonderful things are there all the time, but He has to open our eyes. Paul tells the Ephesians, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe” [Ephesians 1:18-19]. It took God thirty-seven years to get my eyes and ears open enough to hear Him say His words of praise to me, not because I didn’t want to hear it, but just because I couldn’t believe something that good could actually be true. All that time those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” sat there waiting for me. I read them hundreds of times. Now, after almost four decades, He’s finally begun to convince me that He actually means them.

And that changes everything.

I don’t know what specifically you can’t bring yourself to submit to, to understand, to pay attention to, or most of all to hope for. But I know that God’s heart blazes with a love for you that is beyond all comprehension, beyond all hoping, even (if He weren’t too gentle to pour it out on us before we are ready) beyond all bearing. And I know that that heart, and all that love, is waiting for you in these pages, waiting for God’s hands to touch your eyes and give you your sight. I hope I’m there to see it when it happens for at least some of you.

[Ephesians 3:17-21] “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or all we imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus, throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

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When You Say You Love Me (as recorded by Josh Groban, read in the spirit of St. Thomas)

Like the sound of silence calling
I hear Your voice and suddenly
I'm falling
Lost in a dream
Like the echoes of our souls are meeting
You say those words, my heart stops beating
I wonder what it means
What could it be
That comes over me
At times I can't move
At times I can hardly breathe

When You say You love me
The world goes still, so still inside and
When You say You love me
For a moment there's no one else alive

You're the one I've always thought of
I don't know how, but I feel sheltered in
Your love
You're where I belong
And when You're with me if I close my eyes
There are times I swear I feel like I can fly
For a moment in time
Somewhere between
The heavens and earth
And frozen in time
Oh, when You say those words

When You say You love me
The world goes still, so still inside and
When You say You love me
For a moment there's no one else alive

And this journey that we're on
How far we've come and I
Celebrate every moment
And when You say You love me
That's all You have to say
I'll always feel
This way

When You say You love me
The world goes still, so still inside and
When You say You love me
In that moment I know why I'm alive

When You say You love me

When You say You love me
Do You know how I love You?