Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sin And The Art Of Telecaster Maintenance

[I thought I'd take a breather this week from anything deeply spiritual or theological and allow you the great pleasure of just hearing me gripe about our sinful world. But beware that next week we'll be getting into some pretty heady stuff.]

Sin And The Art Of Telecaster Maintenance
(Apologies to Robert Pirsig)

I haven't played the electric guitar very much the past few years, opting to fingerpick an acoustic most days instead, at least on the rare days that I play at all. My favorite electric guitar is the Fender Telecaster--the first commercially available solid body guitar ever made. People snickered at their arrival in the world. A "plank" with strings they thought it was. And for Pete's sake...a bolt-on neck! Whoever heard of such a thing or saw such a sight? But Leo Fender apparently either had no fear or no shame. While developing the prototype around 1949 or so, he and partner George Fullerton drove out to a little dive called the Riverside Rancho one night where Jimmy Bryant, a brilliant country-swing guitarist, was playing. They got Jimmy to come over to the table while Leo unveiled his new invention. Rather than snicker, Bryant was curious. He plugged it in and began to wail. For the next two hours, you could hear a pin drop (if it was a really big'un) as the folks in this joint forgot about their drinking and came up around the stage, clearly amazed at what they were hearing.

Millions of divers kinds of solid body guitars have been sold since then, but this is still the one that does it for me. Not because it was the first, but because it has the most human-like quality in tone. It almost literally can laugh, scream, and moan the blues or twang away in a country pickers hands. When you find a good one, they just sing.

I haven't owned a tele since the early 90s. While I love the guitars, they're kind of smallish, and I'm kind of biggish. I always felt a little strange strapping one across my chest. They can look darn near like a mandolin on a 6'5" man. But as fate would have it, I came across an old, beat up tele in a music store a couple of months ago. I seldom pick one up I like anymore because they just don't seem to build them like they used to, but this old junker sounded and felt almost too good to be true. The price was right, and I simply couldn't resist.

My first thought was to restore my new acquisition to its former glory. A tele is probably the easiest guitar to work on that was ever made. Swapping pickups, necks, pots and so forth couldn't be easier. As a result, guys like to soup them up, and you'll see all kinds of them out there. You can't hardly hurt them either. I don't want to say they're indestructible, but you could probably toss one down a flight of stairs, and not only wouldn't it break, it would likely still be in tune when you picked it up. The design is a real testament to simplicity, durability, and functionality--three of the best things in life when found together.

The Fender Telecaster reminds me very much of the Ford Model T. The Model T has the same elegant simplicity and easy to maintain functionality, yet it's also easy to hot-rod and do all kinds of customizing with. Over 15-million were made between 1908 and 1927, and there are still tons of them on the road. You can pick up a phone and have any part delivered for them in a single day.

It is almost without a doubt the best automobile ever made when it comes to simplicity, durability, and functionality. I once actually saw three guys put one together from parts in about 30-minutes! Literally, the chassis, body, tires, motor, all the interior parts, windows, everything in 30-minutes. The Model T was capable of running on gasoline, kerosene or ethanol and got better than 20 mpg. Sure its little 4-cylinder motor only produced a top speed of 45 mph, but it was a remarkable achievement in many ways. It had no oil pump, no fuel pump, no water pump, no distributor cap--almost nothing to go wrong. And nearly every metal part on the vehicle was made of vanadium steel, so it was extremely resistant to rust (which is part of the reason there are still so many of them around). It would also go over nearly any kind of terrain and had a reputation for starting right up in all kinds of weather. If I had to drive across the continent tomorrow and wanted to buy the most reliable vehicle for the job, after a century of automobiles to choose from, I would still pick Ford's old Tin Lizzie for dependability.

After bringing home my new tele, I began to search the internet for parts to see what was available, the wait time, prices and so on. There are a lot of aftermarket parts made for teles, and sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish the ones worth having from the ones you wouldn't wish on your enemies or even your girlfriend's cat. The only way to determine the quality of workmanship is to handle everything yourself or to rely on a reviewer to do that for you. Many of these parts aren't available in stores and come from distant states, so I have no choice but to rely on the latter.

One thing you quickly learn about the internet, and I learned it long ago, is that the vast majority of what you read on it comes under the heading of misinformation (to put it kindly) or disinformation (to put it more accurately). It's hard to trust anything you read online. First there are these things in cyberland called user reviews. They're as useless as...what's that old line?...a screen door on a submarine. Half of them are written by kids, generally trying to pass as adults, and to them everything is either great or terrible. Most kids, devils that they are, are infatuated with their possessions. They own it, so it must be fantastic. Any similar product is inferior whether they've actually laid eyes on it or not. Or they find some little thing wrong and decide the company that makes the product produces nothing but trash. I think a lot of this has to do with a new American ethos. A couple of decades ago we saw some strange trends beginning with the children in this country. They started insisting on the best of everything. A pair of tennis shoes had to cost a hundred dollars or they weren't good enough. Kids suddenly had to wear a different pair of pants to school every day rather than make the same pair of blue jeans last out the week the way we did when I was growing up. Where do they come up with these notions? Who is it that wants them (or their parents) to spend money so frivolously?

Unfortunately, the adults here at the weird wide web are nearly as bad. I laugh every time I read that somebody has made some very slight modification to a guitar or amplifier, and the difference is now "night and day". Maybe all they did was change the tuning pegs. A night and day difference in the way a guitar sounds after just swapping out the tuners? I don't think so.... In fact, it probably had no effect on the tone of the instrument at all, and I could prove it to them in a blindfold test most of the time, but they probably wouldn't stand for it. Common sense is the evil enemy in cyberland. Here are four cases to make my point. There's really no need to read all four unless you just want to:

1) In the old days we used to record sound to big reel to reel magnetic tape machines. They were insanely expensive and cumbersome. Then someone came up with the idea of recording digitally, first to magnetic tape, but about ten years ago software came in vogue for multitrack recording digitally to a computer. Several software engineers came up with their own apps for this, so you had several to choose from. They all recorded what are called "wave" (or .wav) audio files. You used to see hundreds of messages at user reviews or music forums claiming that this editor recorded better sounding wave files than that one. It seemed that almost everyone had an opinion about it. But truth be known, all wave apps record wave files exactly the same. There is absolutely no difference in the recording process. A wave is a wave is a wave. Either there are a lot of people in the world who can't hear what they think they can, or a lot of people are liars.

2) There are these things called amplifier simulators that guitarists often use to record with called amp sims for short. They're small desktop boxes that you plug your axe into that sound remarkably like a regular cranked up guitar amp but without the volume problems that make your neighbors call the police. Normally you run a line out of them into your mixing board and then on into the computer soundcard etc. You can monitor through a set of headphones without disturbing anybody. There were two main amp sims for a few years: the Line 6 POD and the Behringer V-Amp. And again you could find user reviews and message boards awash with opinions as to which was the best. Most people said the POD sounded"night and day" better. Why? Probably because it cost twice as much. Fact is, both use the exact same IC architecture, and get identical amp/speaker sounds. There was one guy who eventually realized this and came up with a program that could take user presets from one amp sim and transfer them to the other.

3) A microphone in general is just a speaker in reverse. Condenser mics are the most popular for recording. They're simple to make (for the most part), and most are extremely similar in design given the same capsule size, polar pattern, etc. Actually, there are many little things that go into the way sound is captured in them such as the thickness of the diaphragm, the material it's made from, and the tension on it; the distance between the diaphragm and the back plate and so on. The electronics are generally very similar with only small differences mostly having to do with capacitance.

The Chinese have gotten very good at reverse engineering expensive microphones from the West and then building inexpensive knockoffs. They may use cheaper electrical components, but this generally effects the noise specs more than the tonal aspects. The diaphragm material may also be slightly different. I don't know of a microphone made that has more than twenty or thirty dollars worth of electronics in it. As to the other materials, again there isn't much there by way of cost. Nearly all condenser mics have around fifty or sixty dollars worth of parts in total. Yet some of the more expensive mics retail for over $2,000. Can labor alone justify that price? The Chinese knockoffs run anywhere between $100 and $300, and they can, and usually do, sound a whole lot like the more expensive originals. The differences in sound are pretty subtle. The biggest difference is the price. But again, if you go by what people are saying at user reviews and message boards, you'd think the Chinese mics weren't worth a plug nickel. Here's a link to a website that gives sound samples of a couple dozen different mics, all recording the same voices in the same context. Some of the mics are very expensive, and some are very cheap. It's a blindfold test, but there's a key at the bottom of the page that pops up to tell you which mic is which and what they typically cost. I think it's painfully obvious that some of the cheap mics here actually sound better than others costing 2 to 3 times as much.

4) I'm also a bit of a video buff. Film has been the touchstone medium for capturing moving images since the 1800s. But good 35mm film cameras, the film to go in them, and especially the cost to develop that film is incredibly expensive. When videotape was introduced a few decades ago, it wasn't taken seriously as a tool for features. It had a hard look that was too much like real life. It managed to find a home for Network News as an ENG (electronic news gathering) device though, and soaps adopted it for their poor quality daytime dramas where cost was an issue. In recent years, however, manufacturers of miniDV camcorders found ways to record in progressive frames as apposed to the hard look of interlacing and also developed camcorders that could record at 24 frames per second just like film cameras instead of the 30 fps they had been using over the years. These two developments went a long way toward making videotape take on a film look. Really the only thing missing was a 35mm lens for getting the same depth of field. But traditional manufacturers of 35mm lenses sold them for around $10,000 to fit expensive film cameras. Why are the lenses so expensive? Because the traditional film market would pay it. A set of glass lenses is nothing but a nickel's worth of sand. Making it into glass, grinding it, and polishing it are hardly rocket science. But who would pay $5,000 for a top flight miniDV camcorder only to shell out another ten grand for a 35mm lens for the front end? Well, sure enough, some enterprising young guys started making their own 35mm lenses about a year ago and selling them as aftermarket add-ons to fit various camcorder filter threads for not much more less than $200. They're also selling them to fit the newer HDV units as well. Now you can buy something like a Canon XH-A1 and fit it with a 35mm lens for a total cost of around $3500 and shoot video that looks remarkably like film even when spread out on a 30' screen. How did the internet audience react? Do I even have to tell you? They started a typical smear campaign. "Film will never die!", "Videotape will never look like film!", "These cheap lenses are blurry!". In protest of this I put together a presentation of stills taken from movies that had been shot on both film and videotape and put it on the internet challenging people to guess which stills came from which recording medium. No one as yet has ever come close to being able to tell one from the other. Apparently people's eyes are as bad as their ears, or...they're lying.

We can, and should, assume that your average Joe on the internet has no earthly idea what he or she is talking about. Thus the misinformation aspect of things. But, now for the main course in this essay, and that has to do with the disinformation facet.

It's not just consumers that have access to the internet, to user reviews, or message boards. The manufacturers, company employees, salespeople, even folks at home who have stock in companies all have equal playing time, and there are almost no rules to play by. You can see where I'm going with this. Many of the message boards and user review sites that are out there, probably most if truth be told, have been set up by these same people. One of the more popular musical instrument store outlets is G...C... I once overheard two sales employees from there talking about downplaying certain products because they made very little money on them. The commission on a $1000 microphone is much greater than that on a $100 one. Obviously they want you to spend as much as you can afford even if the more expensive item isn't worth the extra money. People like this will purposely leave user reviews saying that inexpensive products are pure junk and that you're wasting your money on them. They'll routinely get together and set up their own message boards and then go on to create several usernames each. Of course the talk of the day will always focus on how only more expensive items are good for anything. If you take the names of these various dotcoms and search them at sites like the Whois database you'll quickly find that many of them are privately registered and give absolutely no contact information. A veil of secrecy is crucial to them doing what they do.

Could it be possible that most people are like this in the real world too, and you just never saw it before? I pity the question. No, I pity the questioner! Fact is that this is the type of dirty pool that has been going on since the beginning of civilization and the trading of goods and services. Before there was an internet people still did the same kinds of things with newspapers, magazines--even word of mouth rumors. There are precious few people in the business world that follow the golden rule.

This is a true story. My paternal grandfather for many years worked in a small shop that made batteries in East St. Louis back in the 30s/40s. After the shop closed, he went to work for a brake shop in the same area. While he was there, he and a friend at the shop got together and invented a car battery that they thought would last a lifetime. Grandpa died before I was born, and he never left any papers about his idea that I'm aware of, so I don't know what the details were. At any rate, they knew they couldn't afford to have the design patented, so they decided to pay a visit to the largest manufacturer of batteries in those days (probably Willard or Delco) to see if they could sell them on the idea. When they got there, the man they talked to actually laughed at them. Turns out his company already had the same idea and had a patent on it. They had no intension of ever making the battery though. The last thing they wanted was a battery that people only had to buy once.

My dad was a great baseball player. He dropped out of school to go to work when he was fifteen, so he never played on the school team. He didn't want to anyway because he had already been playing on a men's team since the age of twelve. The Jaycees baseball league was actually started in East St. Louis by Ray Rice back in the 40s. Dad started playing on one of the teams in the 50s', and in 1952 they won the state championship and then went on to defeat the Missouri champs at an exhibition game at Sportsman's Park where the St. Louis Cardinals then played. Dad's batting average that year was 667. (Yes, he was really that good). Actually, the whole team was great. They won every game on the way to state by no less than seven runs and won the state final by ten runs. A lot of the Cardinal players used to come out to watch these kids play--that's how much they were respected. They're still the only Jaycees team I ever heard of that actually had players drafted by major league teams. The Dodgers came after dad. He promptly turned them down saying, "I play for fun, not for money." Other guys on the team turned down offers too. If you ask around, you'll find that it was probably more common for players to turn down major league contracts than to accept them in those days. They turned them down because major league teams had a reputation for snapping up good young players they didn't really need and then sticking them in the minors at low pay forever just so nobody else could get them.

Lies and deception are the tools of trade around the world when it comes to big business. Politics is even worse. I'm a registered republican. I have to tell you though, that I'm ashamed of our leaders and this idiotic nonsense propagated about universal health care being a product of socialism. It's complete and utter horse hockey from A to Z. Under this new, absurd definition of socialism even the military is a form of socialism. Police departments, fire departments, Medicare, public water systems, social security--all ingredients of a socialist government. Either the leaders of the Tea Party Movement are so stupid they don't even know the difference between civilization and socialism or they're simply a lying propaganda machine for the health and drug industry. I'm all for a reasonable debate about universal health care, but lying is not an attribute of reason.

I've decided to keep my beat up old Telecaster pretty much the same after swapping out the font pickup. There's just something special about this old tele just the way it is, warts and all. It reminds me that you can't hardly buy quality goods anymore. Even guitar amplifiers are increasingly going digital and this spells disposable technology. There aren't many parts inside most kinds of electronic gear you can fix anymore. The prices are getting so cheap that the manufacturers figure you can afford to just buy a new one when something breaks. I'm glad for the cheap prices, but I'm also saddened that even expensive things aren't usually made of truly great quality anymore.

Buying this old guitar, and working on her, gave me a lot to think about. They were mostly unpleasant thoughts as you've just witnessed. I understand all to well how the seedy side of business works. And I understand how it is that so many people in the world are immersed in conspiracy theories. Lord knows they see enough real life examples of it in business and politics every day. My only question is the same one that's been asked for thousands of years. It's commonly called Jeremiah's Complaint:

Jeremiah 12:1 You are always righteous, O LORD,
when I bring a case before you.
Yet I would speak with you about your justice:
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
Why do all the faithless live at ease?

Of course we know it won't always be that way for them. But still the question remains, why does God let them go on so long? The only answer I can come up with is this: that they will only prosper as long as I need them to. Maybe when I can learn to love the wicked, to stop saying nasty things about them, to stop envying their prosperity, maybe then God won't need them around. Just a thought.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Study in the Changing Face of Evil Part 3

[If you'll go back and refresh your memory as to where Part 2 of this series ended, I said, "And this leads us back to the subject of astral projection which we'll pick up on next week."]

A Study in the Changing Face of Evil Part 3

Edgar Allen Poe ~ "The boundaries between life and death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where one ends and where the other begins?"

What happened to me would, in my opinion, best be described as an OBE (out of body experience), and this was something that only happened very rarely. I think of an astral projection as an OBE also, but something a person causes to happen through meditation etc., and it's not the type of thing I normally approve of. The only reason I even brought the OBE subject up was because of that feeling I had of an evil presence near me during some of those times. When I entered a couple of sleep studies, I found that, while it's not common, there are certainly many other people who have these spontaneous OBEs, and many of them also mention the feeling of something evil in the room with them. I've felt that same evil presence during vivid dreams now and then also. I would like very much to know what that presence is. Science has not been able to account for it. Sure you can cause the brain to bring on states of fear, even panic, by electrically stimulating certain sections of it, but this feeling of an evil being was very different. If you see a lion coming at you, you may be quite afraid, but the lion feels scary--not evil. The difference is obvious to anyone who has felt that presence. And for some strange reason, the only people I've ever personally met who've had that same overwhelming feeling were others who had an OBE or who had become self-aware during a deep sleep state that brought about night terrors. It may only happen to 5% of the world's population, but this is something that happens to people from every part of the world and apparently always has if we can trust history at all.

There's another class of people who have seen these evil beings though, and that would be those who have what are generally called hallucinations. These aren't necessarily people with bent brains either. Sometimes they're just regular folks who see something they can't account for. It may only happen once in their life. Is it fair to call it a hallucination in this case? That's another word I don't like because it always denotes something that is unreal, and I don't know that what they've seen is imagined or not. And who's to say that this place our minds go to called imagination isn't a real place in some way we can't yet know?

There is still one more particularly disturbing faction of people who see evil beings during wakefulness, and that would be young children. I heard a woman sobbing a couple of weeks ago because her daughter had been seeing what she at first thought was an imaginary black goat in her bedroom. Even when the girl reported that the goat had begun speaking to her, the mother thought it was normal pretending. But when the goat started telling the child to kill her parents…alarm set in.

Every language throughout history has a word for demonic-like inhuman entities just as every language has a word for spirit. The Sumerians had the earliest known form of writing, and their stories are rife with tales of demonic forces as far back as nearly 5,000 years ago:

"In the hands of the fate demon my appearance has been altered, my breath of life carried away. The asag demon, the evil one, bathes in my body."

"The demons go hither and thither searching for Dumuzid. The small demons say to the big demons: 'Demons have no mother; they have no father or mother, sister or brother, wife or children. When ... [unintelligible] were established on heaven and earth, you demons were there, at a man's side like a reed enclosure. Demons are never kind, they do not know good from evil.'"

"Jectin-ana had barely finished that lament when the demons arrived at her dwelling. "Show us where your brother is," they said to her. But she spoke not a word to them. They afflicted her loins with a skin disease, but she spoke not a word to them."

"A small demon opened his mouth and said to the big demon, 'Come on, let's go to the lap of holy Inana.' The demons entered Unug and seized holy Inana. "Come on, Inana, go on that journey which is yours alone -- descend to the underworld."

Absolutely every race of people on the Earth have reported encountering demonic-like beings. Whether those stories come from people who saw them while in the body or out is difficult to say since the ancients weren't always clear. I find it disturbing that almost no one acknowledges their presence today. Christian songwriter, Keith Green, had a song called "No One Believes in Me Anymore" which was sung from Satan's point of view:

Oh, my job keeps getting easier
As time keeps slipping away
I can imitate your brightest light
And make your night look just like day
I put some truth in every lie
To tickle itching ears
You know I'm drawing people just like flies
'Cause they like what they hear
I'm gaining power by the hour
they're falling by the score
You know, it's getting very simple now
'Cause no one believe in me anymore
Oh, heaven's just a state of mind
My books read on your shelf
And have you heard that God is dead
I made that one up myself
They dabble in magic spells
They get their fortunes read
You know they heard the truth
But turned away and followed me instead
I used to have to sneak around
But now they just open their doors
You know, no ones watching for my tricks
Because no one believes in me anymore
Everyone likes a winner
With my help, you're guaranteed to win
And hey man, you're ain't no sinner
You've got the truth within
And as your life slips by
You believe the lie that you did it on your own
But don't worry
I'll be there to help you share our dark eternal home
Oh, my job keeps getting easier
As day slips into day
The magazines, the newspapers
Print every word I say
This world is just my spinning top
It's all like childs-play
You know, I dream that it will never stop
But I know it's not that way
Still my work goes on and on
Always stronger than before
I'm gonna make it dark before the dawn
Since no one believes in me anymore
Well now I used to have to sneak around
But now they just open their doors
You know, no one watches for my tricks
Since no one believes in me anymore
Well I'm gaining power by the hour
They're falling by the score
You know, it's getting very easy now
Since no one believes in me anymore

The song's title couldn't be more apt even where the church is concerned. The Catholic Church in particular has made an admitted attempt to downplay the role of demonic forces. Actually, this is probably true of most churches today. Isn't it strange that the OBE and astral projection crowd has much more to say on the subject of demonic entities than the church? Even projectors that have little or no interest in religion tell tales of evil beings they've encountered seemingly out of nowhere and for no reason. Robert Monroe, the guy who coined the term "out-of-body-experience", mentions several encounters with them coming in many forms. Monroe was a businessman who started having OBEs out of the blue in middle-age. Today he's often mentioned in connection with the new age crowd, and judging by his last book, I'd have to say that he certainly seemed to join their ranks at the end. But if we can look past that for a moment, I believe there are some important things we can learn from his story. He's one of the few that have had these experiences that has also had the wherewithal to perform hundreds, if not thousands, of experiments, many of them assisted by medical personal with EEG machines etc. He had no interest in religion whatsoever in the beginning, yet he routinely encountered both evil beings and sometimes benevolent ones (he referred to the latter as "helpers") during OBEs. He also described seeing them trying to influence the behavior of humans.

There are two things about Robert Monroe's out-of-body journeys that should be of great interest to anyone. One is that he sometimes was able to locate people he knew around the earth no matter where they were and tell them later what he had seen them doing, so his OBEs were sometimes more like remote viewing. (I'm reminded of the time Christ demonstrated this ability, telling Nathaniel that he saw him standing under a fig tree before he met him--it caused Nathaniel to become a believer). There was one incident I thought was quite striking. Monroe had an unnamed female acquaintance who had left for vacation. All he knew was that she was somewhere on the east coast. During a self induced OBE (which I would call an astral projection) he purposely tried to locate her and found her in a New Jersey hotel. With her were two young women. All three had drinks in their hands and were just sitting and chatting. Monroe made a deliberate attempt to make the lady feel his presence. Anytime he had tried to touch anyone in the physical plane previously he found that his hand always went right through them. This time he concentrated all his will though and managed to pinch the woman very hard in the ribs. When she returned from her trip the following week she confirmed everything he saw. She mentioned nothing of the pinch however. Finally he asked her if she had felt him pinch her, and she exclaimed, "That was you!" She then lifted her blouse slightly to display the bruise marks he had left on her.

I think the evidence that OBEs are a real state of a spirit leaving the body to travel either in this world or another world is remarkable and plentiful for those who bother to look into it. I've made several videos about evidence for other worlds and otherworldly activity. Truly, the evidence is there. Whether they're worlds or dimensions is anyone's guess, but there is more to this life than what the material senses can alone gather.

If mankind has always known about evil, nonhuman beings whether they were called devils or something else, it seems curious to me that we're trying so hard to forget about them today and act as though the spirit world(s) itself no longer exists. In the Keith Green song mentioned above, Satan literally basks in the darkness of man's forgetfulness. In his novel, Till We Have Faces, C. S. Lewis says the following:

Of the things that I followed I cannot at all say whether they were what men call real or what men call dream. And for all I can tell, the only difference is that what many see we call a real thing, and what only one sees we call a dream. But things that many see may have no taste or moment in them at all, and things that are shown only to one may be spears and water-spouts of truth from the very depth of truth.

And later in the same book: "One thread ran through all my delusions. Now mark yet again the cruelty of the gods. There is no escape from them into sleep or madness, for they can pursue you into them with dreams. Indeed you are then most at their mercy."

In C. S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, we find a chief demon instructing his young apprentice to make sure to keep the attention of humans on, "the stream of immediate sense experiences. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream. Teach him to call it 'real life' and don't let him ask what he means by 'real'."

Lewis mentions something else of great value in this book. He gives us a rationale for demonic beings doing what they do. He says:

They're second motive is a kind of hunger. I feign that devils can, in a spiritual sense, eat one another, and us. Even in human life we have seen the passion to dominate, almost to digest, one's fellow; to make his whole intellectual and emotional life merely an extension of one's own....

... There [in Hell], I suggest, the strongest spirit--there are perhaps no bodies to impede the operation--can really and irrevocably suck the weaker into itself and permanently gorge its own being on the weaker's outraged individuality. It is (I feign) for this that devils desire human souls and the souls of one another, It is for this that Satan desires all his own followers and all the sons of Eve and all the host of Heaven. His dream is of the day when all shall be inside him....

Interestingly, although I believe Monroe misinterpreted many things he witnessed during his astral journeys, I find it disturbing that when he once consulted one of these helpers (angels?) he encountered, asking why humans were at the top of the food chain more or less and why there shouldn't be anyone to eat us, the helper retorted that some of the evil beings Monroe encountered actually fed on certain human emotions, and fear in particular. Perhaps Lewis was on to something.

What does the bible say about this OBE phenomenon? Monroe referred to his astral body simply as a second body. The Egyptians called it Ka. Even Plato and Aristotle believed in a second sort of nonphysical body that resided in juxtaposition with the physical. Certainly the earliest Christians and Jews knew about the second body. I believe the Jews simply termed the second body as spirit. In the bible, only Paul directly refers to someone possibly moving "out" of the physical body before death though:

2 Corinthians 12:1 I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows—4 was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.

You may recall that my own first experience as a teenager was accompanied by a pressure that felt like an immense hand pushing me down into the bed. Many who go through an OBE incident mention that same feeling of something like a hand--a heaviness on the chest area. Many times I've wondered whether the bible, at least in a few instances, may have been referring to the same feeling taking place when it says the "hand of the Lord" was on someone during a vision such as Elisha's in 2 Kings 3:15-16 "'But now bring me a harpist.' While the harpist was playing, the hand of the LORD came upon Elisha and he said, 'This is what the LORD says....'"

And here are three more interesting instances mentioned by Ezekiel.

Ezekiel 3:14 The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the LORD upon me.

Ezekiel 37:1 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.

Ezekiel 40:1 In the twenty-fifth year of our exile, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth of the month, in the fourteenth year after the fall of the city—on that very day the hand of the LORD was upon me and he took me there. 2 In visions of God he took me to the land of Israel and set me on a very high mountain, on whose south side were some buildings that looked like a city. 3 He took me there, and I saw a man whose appearance was like bronze; he was standing in the gateway with a linen cord and a measuring rod in his hand.

These all sound like OBEs to me, and all are accompanied by the "hand of God" being upon someone.

Many people who have had an OBE talk about being able to see a cord at times that is attached between the back of the head/neck area on their physical body and to that of their second state body which is very thin and generally white or silver in color. This cord stretches to go wherever they go and never breaks. It's generally thought that at the time of physical death the cord does in fact break though and a person lives in the spiritual plane forever onward. Ezekiel mentions a similar cord:

Ecclesiastes 12:6-7
Remember him--before the silver cord is severed,
or the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
or the wheel broken at the well,
and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

There is much more we could discuss on this topic of the out of body experience, but primary I just wanted to point out that it's something that man has always known about and that even some biblical figures may have been engaged in. And many biblical prophets (while quite possibly in an OBE state) also mention evil entities around the world. The story of Job goes into detail about Satan himself trying to influence the behavior of Job. And this is the core of what I meant to lecture on all along in this series. I first wanted to get the point across to you that many, many people from every corner of the globe, from every race and religion, and from every point in history, have had firsthand encounters with that dark spiritual agency. Lewis and Monroe each gave us a reason for them doing what they do--that they somehow feed off us or at least our emotions in some way that's unclear at present. If Monroe's "helper" (angel?) was correct, and it's the negative emotions they feed upon, this might explain why they should try so desperately to induce bad behavior in humans. Yes, I'm aware that it sounds like a bad episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and perhaps Lewis' argument may sound more rational to you (it does to me). But, whatever their reasons, let's consider for a moment that demonic forces do indeed try to induce bad behavior, at least in humans (and possibly other creatures as well).

Of the many unexplainable oddities in nature none is more irregular than unnatural behavior in both humans and other animals. We often find ourselves tempted to do, not only evil things, but things that simply make no sense, even behavior we normally wouldn't think of doing, and then afterwards we say to ourselves, "Why on earth did I do that?", or "I don't know what came over me!"

Now I'm not talking about character traits because those are things habitual in nature. What I'm talking about are behaviors that are decidedly uncharacteristic. What I'm trying to convey here are those behaviors that appear out of nowhere and for no reason. Children are especially bad at this. Your son is twenty feet up in a tree and for some ungodly (literally) reason decides to jump down. My father's older brother did this when they were young, except it was more like thirty feet. Not only did he miraculously walk away unscathed, but dad jumped right behind him and also was uninjured. Dad tells me he still doesn't know why either of them did it. This unnatural desire to jump just came over them all the sudden. I heard a story from a woman the other day who mentioned going to summer camp one year as a young teen, and for some reason that she still can't comprehend, pulled the zipper down the front of her friend's top (who was braless) exposing her to the other kids. After all these years she's still stymied as to why she did this. It was almost like an instinct, some inner drive seemed to command it of her. I know of a man who, while he was in college, was walking down the street one day, and decided on the spur of the moment to walk out into oncoming traffic and kneel down in front of a car. He got lucky, and the car was able to avoid him. Nothing was troubling this young man; he was relatively carefree and happy, yet something drove him without hesitation to do this foolish thing, and he couldn't begin to tell you why.

If it's the prodding of devils acting on our psyches, it would seem to have little in common with Lewis' notion about the way demons feed upon us. If Monroe was right, however, this behavior would make sense since they would all bring about extreme emotions in all the people involved. You may feel no emotion at all in climbing a tree and jumping, but a few feet before you hit the ground, great anxiety and fear are bound to set in. And even if you felt no anxiety or fear when walking out in front of traffic, it could still be that the driver you step in front of may feel a great deal of it.

One of the strangest things in all of the animal world has got to be the way parasites act on their hosts causing them to act out all kinds of seemingly irrational behavior. There is a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii which is thought to produce low intelligence and hyperactivity in human children. It's also been linked to Schizophrenia. One particularly interesting parasite to me is the gordian worm. As a juvenile it enters into various kinds of insects and then grows into adulthood feeding on the insides of the insect. After it reaches adulthood, the parasite can only breed in water, so it appears to somehow act on the brain of the host causing it to go into a pond, lake, or other body of water, and quite often this host cannot swim, and so it basically commits suicide at the prodding of the parasite. Afterwards the parasite emerges from the corpse. Here is a thirty second video (without sound) showing an infected cricket jumping into a swimming pool and drowning, and the parasite subsequently emerging from the body. What's even odder with this host is that crickets can normally navigate around on water pretty well. It seems as though this cricket purposely drowns itself.

I'm reminded of the man at the tombs whom Jesus healed who was demon possessed. The strangest thing about that healing was that the demons, through the man, asked to be sent into a herd of pigs. The pigs subsequently ran off a cliff and drowned in the water below. Coincidence? I'm not necessarily saying demons and parasites are one and the same. But isn't it odd the way God so very often uses real life examples that are symbols of the spiritual world from which ours takes its existence. Demons in this case represent the macrocosm while parasites are the earthly symbolic microcosm.

On the other hand, who's to say that devils don't work through creatures like parasites or bacteria? If they would live in a pig, why not a parasite? Charles Williams once said that demons "pine for matter". They can never have an existence outside of the spirit world. The closest they can come is to live through us, or through other of God's creatures. Perhaps when we figuratively refer to a man with cancer as "fighting his demons" we aren't speaking as figuratively as we think. We might rather be unconsciously tapping into yet another example of the macrocosm/microcosm of devils at work in some way. Satan set the ultimate example of effecting human behavior in the Garden of Eden while in a spiritual paradise. Parasites, bacteria, and other fungi have been copying the behavior on the microcosmic material world of human flesh ever since. Parasites are essentially agents of evil.

Of all his accomplishments, I think Satan must take greatest pride in changing the human view of morality. Remember the incident with Michael Jackson and child molestation we talked about? While things like parasites mostly try to affect the way we treat ourselves, Satan is more concerned with how we treat others. He's made great use of language toward this end. If you call a thing by another name long enough, people will begin to believe it. All the devils in hell would like to see each and every child molester left free to roam the world so they can keep on doing what they do. But of course if anyone were to stand up and say exactly that, he would be scorned by the masses. So instead Satan takes the more subtle route of changing our perception of evil itself while taking the focus off the child and putting it on society as a whole. The child molester is misunderstood. He was mistreated growing up because he was different, maybe a little effeminate and weak. And who was he mistreated by? Us of course. It's our fault he's the way he is. We didn't show him enough love and respect before he started molesting, and that's what set him off. We should have been more tolerant. We should always be tolerant of others no matter how different they are. And when they finally do go wrong and molest, we should be both tolerant and lenient of their wrongdoings because there before the grace of God go you and I. Thus today we have school teachers talking a great deal about tolerance. But where's the faintest bit of talk about permissiveness in all this? We're ready to tolerate any and all sin today because we're taking the high road in doing so. It proves we're better people for doing it. But you can no more make the world a better place by being tolerant of criminals than you can make your house fly by drawing wings on it.

If the prophets of old were alive today they would in all likelihood be run out of any Christian Church they entered. King David surrounded himself with prophets and seers. And it sure looks to me like they were often in trance states. Today it's somehow all come to be viewed as the work of the devil and occult practices. Even meditation has come under ridicule although one has to wonder exactly what the Sabbath's "rest" was for if not meditative purposes? Transcendence used to mean focusing one's attention on the world of spirit. Now it too has come under that all inclusive cloak of occultism. Christians today don't have enough on the ball to even realize that all spiritual power comes through transcending the material world whether they be powers used for good or for evil. Mysticism has become the evil deed of a witch when it used to be the opening of the heavens to the spiritual eyes of the faithful Christian. And yet Christians today complain that we don't see miracles like those in the bible anymore. Is it any wonder? We've closed off every avenue to the world of spirit, that land where angels tread, and actually did it in the name of God. This is what the devil focuses on doing. He wants us to call good evil and evil good. And he's succeeded. He has changed the face of evil.

I'm going to close this series out on evil with a prayer written by Bob Russell while he was the pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. (He may still be for all I know). He read it at the Kentucky Governor's Prayer Breakfast in 1995. It later caused quite a stir among democrats when Pastor Joe Wright read the prayer at the Kansas House floor a year later. One democrat walked out during the prayer. Three others got up and protested Wright's prayer as a message of--you guessed it--intolerance.

Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and seek your direction and guidance.

We know your Word says, "Woe to those who call evil good," but that's exactly what we've done.

We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and inverted our values.

We confess that we have ridiculed the absolute truth of your Word and called it moral pluralism.

We have worshipped other gods and called it multiculturalism.

We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.

We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.

We have neglected the needy and called it self-preservation.

We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.

We have killed our unborn and called it choice.

We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable.

We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building esteem.

We have abused power and called it political savvy.

We have coveted our neighbors' possessions and called it ambition.

We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.

We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.

Search us O God and know our hearts today; try us and see if there be some wicked way in us; cleanse us from every sin and set us free.

Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent here by the people of Kansas, and who have been ordained by you, to govern this great state.

Grant them your wisdom to rule and may their decisions direct us to the center of your will. I ask it in the name of your son, the living savior, Jesus Christ.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Documentary Hypothesis

[I'm not at all happy with what I wrote this week for the Changing Face of Evil series, so I'm going to redo it and post it next week. In the meantime, I know several people have asked me about the documentary hypothesis I did a video for, so today I'm posting the script for that particular movie. This will make it much easier for those wishing to share it with their friends without having to show them a movie.]

The Documentary Hypothesis

When I was in Jr. High School during the early 70's, I used to always read one chapter in my bible every night before bed. One night I noticed something very odd. I was reading Genesis 20, and it told about how Abraham and his wife, Sarah, were traveling through a land called Gerar, and Abraham instructed Sarah to tell the people in this place that she was his sister. He did this because she was a beautiful woman, and he feared that some man might murder him in order to take his wife. The strange thing was, that I had just read something very similar a few nights earlier in Genesis 12, only that time they had been traveling through Egypt, but once again Sarah had said she was the sister of Abraham, and for the same reason. However, in Genesis 20 Abraham explains that when they had first left his father's house way back when and begun to wander, that he had already asked Sarah then to say everywhere they went that they were brother and sister. So apparently this was to be a regular motif during their wanderings. However, a few chapters later in Genesis 26 we find Abraham's son, Isaac, traveling with his wife through the exact same land of Gerar, and it is still ruled by the same king, Abimelech, or a son of the king who took on his father's name, and Isaac pulls the exact same stunt asking his beautiful wife to tell the people that she is his sister.

One might conclude that Isaac had simply learned from his father's ways. However, it seemed very strange indeed to read what seemed like the same story, only slightly changed, three times in the span of 16 chapters in the same book. I was too young to know it at the time, but I later learned that this repetition of the same story in the bible is known as a triplet, or a doublet if told twice, and that doublets and triplets appear quite often in the bible. Now this triplet seems harmless enough, and fairly explainable, but others can often be very contradictory. We have two creation stories in different chapters that are a little off, two flood stories intertwined that are very much at odds, two stories of the ten commandments (actually more like three) that are again, similar, but different in small details. The famous 19th century bible scholar, Julius Wellhausen, noticed something very surprising when he began to study the doublets and triplets in detail. The separate stories more often than not, referred to God by a different name and had a slightly differently writing style. This led him to conclude that the stories, though very similar, came from different sources, and were later woven together by a skillful editor which he referred to as a redactor.

In Genesis 1 we find a story of the creation of the world. Genesis 2 and 3 retell it, only slightly different. In Genesis 1 God created all the vegetation on the 3rd day, and then he created both men and women on the 6th day after everything else. In Genesis 2:4 it starts out recounting everything saying:

4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created. When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens-- 5 and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground, 6 but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground--7 the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

So man is created before the vegetation and even before the animals. Woman, however, is not created until much later in verse 21.

Further, and perhaps more importantly, the story in Genesis 1 always refers to the creator as Elohim or the shortened version--El, 35 times in fact. In the Genesis 2 creation story, all eleven times the creator is mentioned, he is named as Yahweh. So right away we have this bit of mystery. We for some strange reason have an account of the creation of the world, and immediately thereafter have another account of the creation of the world which is slightly different and which calls God by a different name. What could the purpose of this be?

In Genesis 6 we find a very odd account of the story of Noah and the flood. It starts out in verse 5 with God lamenting over all the evil that humans had done the Earth over.

5 The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. 6 The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. 7 So the LORD said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals....

Then starting in verse 11 God repeats himself in slightly different terms:

11 Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, "I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.

It's very redundant, but the redundancy hardly ends there. Between verses 9 and 22 we get what seems a complete account of God grieving over creation, him telling Noah to build an ark and what creatures to take into it, and how he will destroy the whole Earth in a flood. Verse 22 sounds like the end of the story saying:

22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him.

However, Genesis 7 seems to begin the story all over, once again telling Noah what kind of animals to take into the ark. Then in verse 6 it says:

6 Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth. 7 And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. 8 Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, 9 male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah. 10 And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth.

But, beginning in verse 11 it restates everything it just said, again slightly different:

11 In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. 12 And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights. 13 On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark. 14 They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds....

If you read through the entire flood account, you will quickly see how redundant the entire flood story is, constantly saying everything twice, but each time a little differently. In fact, it is very easy to separate the verses in such a way as to have two entire accounts of the flood. They would be as follows:

Account One: Genesis chapter 6 verses 5-7; chapter 7 verses 1-5, verse 7, verse 10, verse 12, the last sentence from verse 16 through verse 20, verses 22-23; chapter 8 verse 6, verses 8-12, the last sentence of verse 13, and verses 20-22.

Account two: Genesis chapter 6 verses 9-22; chapter 7 verse 6, verses 8-9, verse 11, verse 13-16 (except the last sentence of verse 16), verse 21, verse 24; chapter 8 verses 1-2 (except the last sentence of verse 2), the last half of verse 3 through verse 5, verse 7, the first sentence of verse 13, and verses 14-19.

Here is how the two passages read after separating them:

First Account:

Genesis 6
5 The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. 6 The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. 7 So the LORD said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them." 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.

Genesis 7
1 The LORD then said to Noah, "Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. 2 Take with you seven [a] of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and two of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, 3 and also seven of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth. 4 Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made."

5 And Noah did all that the LORD commanded him.

7 And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood.

10 And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth.

12 And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.

16... Then the LORD shut him in. 17 For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. 18 The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. 19 They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. 20 The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than twenty feet.

22 Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. 23 Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; men and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds of the air were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.

Genesis 8
2... and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. 3 The water receded steadily from the earth....

6 After forty days Noah opened the window he had made in the ark...

8 Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. 9 But the dove could find no place to set its feet because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. 10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. 12 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

13... Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry.

20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

22 "As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease."

Second Account:

Genesis 6
9 This is the account of Noah: Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God. 10 Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. 11 Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, "I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress [c] wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. 15 This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. [d] 16 Make a roof for it and finish [e] the ark to within 18 inches [f] of the top. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. 17 I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons' wives with you. 19 You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. 20 Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. 21 You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them." 22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him.

Genesis 7
6 Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters came on the earth.

8 Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, 9 male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah.

11 In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened.

13 On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark. 14 They had with them every wild animal according to its kind, all livestock according to their kinds, every creature that moves along the ground according to its kind and every bird according to its kind, everything with wings. 15 Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark. 16 The animals going in were male and female of every living thing, as God had commanded Noah....

21 Every living thing that moved on the earth perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind.

24 The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.

Genesis 8
1 But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. 2 Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed....

3... At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, 4 and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. 5 The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.

7 And he sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth.

13 By the first day of the first month of Noah's six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth....

14 By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.

15 Then God said to Noah, 16 "Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 17 Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number upon it."

18 So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons' wives. 19 All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on the earth—came out of the ark, one kind after another.

As you can see, you get two narratives that are fairly complete. You'd be very hard pressed to do that with any book outside of the bible. And again, we have two stories that are each written in very different styles and each using their own name for God. The first narrative uses the name Yahweh while the second uses Elohim. The first has seven pairs of clean animals and one pair of unclean. The second has simply one of each kind. The first story has a 40 day flood--the second a 370 flood. In the first Noah sends out a dove--in the second a raven. The second writer is very concerned about ages, dates, and measurements in cubits while the first writer shows no such concern for details like that.

Most scholars think there are at least four writers of the Torah whose works were later combined and interwoven. These are commonly known as the J, E, P, and D authors. The J stands for Yahweh (originally discovered by the German scholar, Julius Wellhausen, who wrote in German where the Yahweh is written as a Jahweh). E is for Elohim. P stands for Priestly. And D is for Deuteronomist. The J writer used the term Yahweh for God almost exclusively. The E writer nearly always referred to God as Elohim. The P writer was likely a priest who was very concerned with rules and regulations, and this was the writer of the second flood story. And the Deuteronomist wrote just about all of Deuteronomy only.

If we ask ourselves why anyone would bother to merge together separate stories about the same events to make one compilation story, there is one quick answer which will become apparent. The Jewish nation had a civil war which lasted about 200 years shortly after the death of Solomon. During this time you had a divided nation with Judah in the south and Israel in the north. Most scholars believe they each had their own versions of the Torah, and quite possibly these were simply oral versions. These versions differed slightly because of the attitudes and dislike the two kingdoms had for one another. We can plainly see that the J writer came from Judah and the E writer from Israel because the J stories are nearly always concerned with Israel and the E stories are concerned with Judah. When we untangle the various stories we can see that the two writers are often trying to place one another in a bad light. For instance, both the J and E writers each tell a story of how the Israelites acquired the city of Shechem. Jeroboam would then make Shechem the capital of Israel. Remember now that the J writer is from Judah. In his version of the story, it says that the prince of the city fell in love with Jacob's daughter--Dinah and sleeps with her. He then asks for her hand in marriage. Jacob's sons, however, reply that they could not approve of such a thing because the prince and the other men of the city are not circumcised. The prince then has himself and all the men of the city circumcised. While they were still sore and recuperating from this surgery, two of Jacob's sons charge into the city and kill them all. So the Israelites acquired the city by way of flat-out treachery.

Keeping in mind that the E writer is from Israel in the north where this city is the capital, his version of the story is that Jacob simply buys the land.

So, when we separate the various E and J stories we find this type of sniping at one another's nation more often than not. This is usually done by taking pot shots at various leaders.

We also find certain discrepancies within the separate J, E, P, and D stories. These are sometimes as simple as differences in numbers and years. But this sometimes can be important. For instance, according to Genesis 11:26, Abraham was born when his father, Terah, was 70 years old. Genesis 12:1 says that Abraham is told to leave by God after the death of his father. Now according to Genesis 11:32 Terah died at the age of 205. This would have made Abraham 135 years old when he left. However, it says in Genesis 12:4 that Abraham was 75 when he left. Obviously there is a discrepancy here. When we realize, however, that there are two or more points of view being expressed and merged together, we begin to realize just why the text is so convoluted in places like this.

Imagine if someone had taken the four gospels and tried to merge them together into one version. If that editor was trying to show respect for all of the versions, then he might well try to keep all their points of view. This would make for discrepancies. And of course there are several disagreements within the gospels. One of the more obvious ones is the account of the men appearing at the tomb of the risen savior. When the women arrive there, Mark says they saw one man, Luke says they saw two, Mathew says they saw a single angel. John says nothing of them seeing anyone initially, but after the women leave to tell the disciples what they had seen (an empty tomb), and then after Peter and John went to look for themselves and also leave, then it says Mary went back to the tomb alone and saw two angels. Obviously we would have a very convoluted account of the empty tomb episode if we tried to combine them, and this is exactly the kind of thing we see in the old testament, particularly the first five books, over and over, but the difference is that the old testament writers are so often taking pot shots at each other's version of the stories. Both the P and E writers are mostly associated with the southern kingdom of Judah. Jeremiah, who is from the northern kingdom of Israel during the civil war, sometimes can be seen lashing out against the P writer. The P writer said in Leviticus: "This is the Torah of offering, grain offering, sin offering, trespass offering, installation offerings, sacrifice, and peace offerings which Yahweh commanded Moses in Mount Sinai in the day that he commanded the Israelites to offer their sacrifices to Yahweh in the wilderness of Sinai." Then during the Jewish civil war Jeremiah wrote: "For I did not speak with your fathers and I did not command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt about matters of offering and sacrifice." He disparages the P writer often enough that it shows that he knew exactly what parts of the Torah were written by the P writer, and this is very significant to the documentary hypothesis.

After the two kingdoms were eventually merged back together, one might ask what the actual impetus was that would make anyone bother to take the various religious writings from both kingdoms and try to merge them? Theologian Joseph Blenkinsopp came up with an interesting idea pertaining to this. The Jews during the Babylonian diaspora suddenly found themselves under Iranian rule when the Persians defeated the Babylonians. One aspect of the imperial policy was the insistence on local self-definition inscribed primarily in a codified and standardized corpus of traditional law backed by the central government and its regional representatives. Blenkinsopp suggests that redaction may have served a political purpose for the Persians, to provide for the regional law that Judah would have been required to have. Having two or more versions of their history and laws is not very standardized.

This has been only a brief glimpse at the documentary hypothesis. If we were to take the very old and outdated notion of Moses having written the entire Torah, then the idea of different writers with different points of view concerning old testament events having their writings later interwoven by a redactor would be without merit. However, we know that Moses didn't write all of the Torah, if much at all. I gave several reasons for this in my 2-part video on fundamentalism. One of the reasons I gave was that there were several kings and kingdoms mentioned throughout the Torah that didn't exist until well after Moses was dead. Someone recently asked me for details on that. Genesis 11:31 describes Abraham as living in Ur of the Chaldeans, but the Chaldeans did not exist at the time of Abraham. There are eight Edomite Kings listed in Genesis 36, all of which lived between 1152-995 B.C. hundreds of years after Moses was dead. Some of them are actually mentioned again later in the bible during the reigns of David and Solomon. They are also referenced by peoples groups outside of Israel, so it is well corroborated.

The documentary hypothesis makes sense of things like the doublets and triplets along with many of the discrepancies within the old testament that never made sense before. Almost every major theologian in the world today excepts some form of the hypothesis. The Vatican itself estimates that probably 90% of them do. The hypothesis is as well accepted among theologians as the theory of relativity is among cosmologists.

If we try to make out the bible to be the very words of God, we're always going to be disappointed at its clumsiness and inherent contradictions. When we come to realize that it's a collection of books that simply gets the gist of things, we actually come closer to whatever truths are to be found in it.

From George MacDonald~~~

“Human science is but the backward undoing of the tapestry-web of God’s science, works with its back to Him, and is always leaving Him.”

“The truth of the flower is, not the facts about it, the idea of God is the flower. Its botany is but a thing of ways and means—of canvas and color and brush in relation to the picture in the Painter’s brain.”

“We must not wonder things away into nonentity.”

“The appearances of nature are the truths of nature, far deeper than any scientific discoveries in and concerning them. For their show is the face of far deeper things. It is through their show, not through their analysis, that we enter into their deepest truths. To know a primrose is a higher thing than to know all the botany of it—just as to know Christ is an infinitely higher thing than to know all theology, all that is said about His person, or babbled about His work. The body of man does not exist for the sake of its hidden secrets; its hidden secrets exist for the sake of its outside—for the face and the form in which dwells revelation: its outside is the deepest of it.”

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Study in the Changing Face of Evil Part 2

[I'm a little worn out from shoveling 7-tons of 3/4" gravel every night after work during the past week to fill the hole left by the septic tank I mentioned last Sunday and to spread on two driveways. Hopefully this message will still be coherent.]

From Perelandra by CS Lewis: "To think that the spectre you see is an illusion does not rob him of his terrors: it simply adds the further terror of madness itself--and then on top of that the horrible surmise that those whom the rest call mad have, all along, been the only people who see the world as it really is."

I'm as curious about the world as the next person, but at the same time, I don't get easily excited about much of anything. I'm actually very pragmatic about spirituality. Things have to make sense to me and be of practical use. When you start looking into all the alternate belief systems out there you will quickly find that 90% of it is pure nonsense if your BS detector is working at all. The problem is that the vast majority of people in this world have zero discernment skills. Discernment in human behavior is something you can learn. Discernment in spiritual matters, however, is a gift. It's something everyone should pray for daily. I have since I was a little boy, and it's just about the only spiritual gift I can truly say that I have. I've always been very good at separating the wheat from the chaff. We talked about integrity in the last lecture, and it comes into play here just as it does in nearly everything you do and every thought you will ever have. Even discernment in human behavior is going to be wide of the mark without it. Witness the sensationalism focused on Michael Jackson the past few months. Is it not astonishing the way his fans somehow manage to either look past, or rationalize away, his obvious sexual attraction toward children? Mention it to them, and they'll say he was never convicted, that those who brought charges against him were lying and only after his money, and they will in all likelihood accuse you of being racist just for saying it if you're white. It pays to be suspicious however. The prosecution in Jackson's last court case introduced a nine page document the police compiled from a raid at his house stating all the pornography they found in his master bedroom--the same bedroom children stayed in with him. I don't know everything that was in it, but I do know that there were some magazines and videos (perhaps the majority of it) by a company called Barely Legal that specializes in publishing pornographic material spotlighting teenagers who are just barely of legal age, but who look like much, much younger adolescents. He also had enough booze in both his bedroom and master bath to start a liquor store. (Remember the Jesus juice)? If this guy was not a child molester, I think it's very obvious that he desperately wanted to be one. And there's the rub in all this--the fact that something can be so very plain, so incredibly apparent, and yet be rationalized away by so many. It's enough to give any rational person grounds for believing something very evil is afoot--some unseen force. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Surely you must have noticed by now the way a writer can make any spiritual topic credible by simply piling on the psychobabble and pure gibberish. It's not acceptable to say that your mad uncle Henry is out wandering through the desert waiting for the mother ship to come swooping out of the skies and send out a traveler from a distant galaxy to show him the future of mankind. No, he's out on a hermitage taking consolation from a clandestine vaticinator. Likewise no one talks about trance states anymore. It's all an exploration of the super conscious now. Writers who still use terms like parapsychology are destined to publish on the internet. But if you can talk about changing your reality by "inner transformations" and focusing on the "divine source that flows through all", then you can walk around barefoot with a shaved head on a PBS stage making millions from people who have no idea what you just said, which is okay with our bald headed guru because he probably has no idea what he just said either.

At the heart of most modern spiritual mumbo jumbo is the notion that all things are connected. I like the way Chesterton said it in his first Father Brown detective series: "There is in the world a very aged rioter and demagogue who breaks into the most refined retreats with the dreadful information that all men are brothers." You'll find this to some degree in the ancient traditions as well, particularly in many sects of Hinduism. But while some ancient religions may teach an interconnectedness of creation, most will leave room for a kind of inexplicable separateness too. Even Paul taught the Greek maxim that in God we live and move and have our being. Yet Paul, Jesus, and several other biblical figures also taught about a separation between the articles of creation. Even the earliest portion of Genesis speaks of the Creator separating his creation by parting waters. I believe this is the inspiration for John of the Cross' idea of a "great sea that is God". I think he saw the waters as a metaphor of the mind of God and the separation of them as the mind of God at work imagining the world into being. And the Spirit of God resting on those waters was the primordial élan vital, the only true force there is, the force behind every other force. Some Christians see everything as existing within the mind of God. This I think of as the mystical interpretation of the world because so many Christians, such as John of the Cross, who have claimed to have a mystical life believed this. Others tend to think of creation as being separate from God and a thing he stands outside of. If creation is God's imagination at work, then he is constantly at work sustaining it, thus the tarot card of the magician is also often called the juggler for we see vegetation all around him representing creation, and the sign of infinity is above his head denoting sustaining abilities such as those of a juggler who keeps balls moving in constant motion. (I only mention the tarot card as an interesting aside because many people think the images on tarot cards have a Christian origin even though they're often used for very un-Christian reasons today. I have no opinion on the topic).

I would say that the majority of Christians are afraid of the very mention of the word mystical because they've never really been taught what it means, and because they have a very distorted view of spirituality both in and out of the bible. Today it's more confusing than ever. The invention of the printing press mixed with the freedom of the press in so many countries brought about an enormous slush pile of poorly written and feebly conceived books on how the spirit world works. In modern times we also have the internet to deal with, and it is a virtual madhouse of spiritual nonsense. Regardless of its merits, I believe the world would be better off by far without it.

Divination is one term that seems a bit confusing when found in the bible. Here is how Word Web defines divination:

1. Successful conjecture by unusual insight or good luck
2. A prediction uttered under divine inspiration
3. The art or gift of prophecy (or the pretense of prophecy) by supernatural means

The first may also be speaking of omens. Often the word divination in the bible can be interpreted as "omen". (Omens are something else the bible speaks of in both favorable and unfavorable terms). But are not the second and third definitions harmless enough on the surface? Do not all God's prophets offer predictions "uttered under divine inspiration"? Isn't prophecy listed by Paul as a supernatural "gift" of the Spirit? We find certain biblical writers condemning divination in some instances, yet far from it in others. Joseph boasts to his brothers when they come to Egypt saying, "Don't you know that a man like me can find things out by divination?" Ezekiel 13 talks of divination quite a bit. It mostly discourages the use of a false kind of divination brought about by using charms.

Ezekiel 13:9 My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. ... 17 "Now, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people who prophesy out of their own imagination. Prophesy against them 18 and say, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the women who sew magic charms on all their wrists and make veils of various lengths for their heads in order to ensnare people. ... I am against your magic charms with which you ensnare people.... Because you disheartened the righteous with your lies, when I had brought them no grief, and because you encouraged the wicked not to turn from their evil ways and so save their lives, 23 therefore you will no longer see false visions or practice divination.

It says in the previous chapter:

12:21 The word of the LORD came to me: 22 "Son of man, what is this proverb you have in the land of Israel: 'The days go by and every vision comes to nothing'? 23 Say to them, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am going to put an end to this proverb, and they will no longer quote it in Israel.' Say to them, 'The days are near when every vision will be fulfilled. 24 For there will be no more false visions or flattering divinations among the people of Israel. 25 But I the LORD will speak what I will, and it shall be fulfilled without delay.

When we go through the bible looking at the word divination, we find that when it's used derogatively that it generally is a sort of divination using magical means such as looking through an animals entrails or using charms to call on the favor of a false god which generally ends with a false vision that is not from the creator-God. We also find divination used with other nations in conjunction with detestable acts such as sacrificing children by burning them along with casting spells. In such cases people are looking for some kind of personal gain out of the practice. This, however, is a far cry from praying for guidance into the future by seeking the face of God which is generally what prophets did. Even prophets from outside Jerusalem were not condemned when they earnestly sought guidance from the "Creator". There are two good examples.

The first would be the "wise men" who traveled from distant lands following a star and a prophecy that led them to the baby Jesus. By all accounts they appear to have been people gifted in interpreting omens among the stars. Not only are they not condemned for doing this, they were actually fulfilling an Israelite prophecy in doing so. Also, the bible, including the New Testament, is loaded with references to stars and constellations during various stages that would be historic. (I strongly recommend a recent film called "The Star of Bethlehem" by Rick Larson for further information).

The second example is the account of a man from Moab called Balaam. His story is a brief one that covers all of Numbers 22 through Numbers 24. It unfortunately appears to be one of the half dozen or so places in biblical texts where some of the manuscript is missing. Balaam is a prophet/seer, but while not a Jew, he appears to have a relationship with God that is much like that of Israel's prophets although he has been known to resort to sorcery at times (probably never having been taught not to). When the Moabite king comes to him asking for a curse to be put on Israel, Balaam seeks out God for guidance and will only say the words God gives him to say. Further, his method of divination is exactly the same as that used by the Israelite prophets of preparing a sacrifice and laying prostrate in stillness, or getting away from the crowd, often to a hilltop, to be alone to talk with God like Moses or Elijah.

Numbers 21:3 Then Balaam said to Balak [the Moabite king], "Stay here beside your offering while I go aside. Perhaps the LORD will come to meet with me. Whatever he reveals to me I will tell you." Then he went off to a barren height. 4 God met with him, and Balaam said, "I have prepared seven altars, and on each altar I have offered a bull and a ram." 5 The LORD put a message in Balaam's mouth and said...

And a little later:

Numbers 24:1 Now when Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he did not resort to sorcery as at other times, but turned his face toward the desert. 2 When Balaam looked out and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the Spirit of God came upon him 3 and he uttered his oracle:

"The oracle of Balaam son of Beor,
the oracle of one whose eye sees clearly,

4 the oracle of one who hears the words of God,
who sees a vision from the Almighty,
who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened:

5 "How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob,
your dwelling places, O Israel!

His story rivals that of Moses in another way. There is a passage in Exodus 4 where Moses is talking with God while beginning a journey back to Egypt with his wife and sons. God tells him what to say to Pharaoh when he gets there in verses 21-23. Then in verse 24 seemingly out of the blue it says: "At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him."

It seems evident that there is a piece of missing text there. Obviously Moses must have done something wrong. People have tried to resolve the story a number of different ways, but it always rings hollow.

We see the same sort of thing in the story of Balaam. It says in Numbers:

22:20 That night God came to Balaam and said, "Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you."

The very next two verses say: 21 Balaam got up in the morning, saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab. 22 But God was very angry when he went, and the angel of the LORD stood in the road to oppose him.

God actually sends an angel to kill Balaam if he travels the path with these people, telling him that he is on a reckless path. But later once again he says to Balaam that he should continue on with the men from Moab. It makes no sense whatsoever. Obviously we have a piece of missing text. Something happened sometime between the time during the night when God told Balaam to go with the men originally and the time in the morning when he began the journey (or perhaps during the journey itself). As near as we can tell from the text, Balaam does nothing else wrong and only speaks the words God gives him to say to his king, basically telling him to leave Israel alone. Chapter 24 ends saying, "Then Balaam got up and returned home and Balak went his own way."

This is all we have of Balaam's story. Yet for some inexplicable reason we're told in Numbers 31 that the Israelites killed Balaam along with several other Moabites. It says in 31:16 "They were the ones who followed Balaam's advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the Lord's people."

But when did he ever give such advice?

2 Peter 2:15 says, "They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness."

And Jude says, "They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam's error...."

Again, it's rather obvious we're missing something from the story. Apparently Balaam at some point must have given in to the king's bribes and tried to put a curse on Israel. We simply don't know what happened. But we do know that his approach to prophecy was very much like the prophets of Israel, and this consisted largely of laying down and being still while listening for the voice of God. And this leads us back to the subject of astral projection which we'll pick up on next week.

[Be patient; I know the first two parts in this lecture seem discordant, but we will pull everything together eventually.]

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A Study in the Changing Face of Evil

I'm writing this article from my desk on Halloween night. It strikes me from the outset that evil is not only a touchy subject, but one that may be approached from myriad angles. Unfortunately, I won't be able to touch upon them all in one article. Time is even less of a luxury tonight than it normally is for me, having just returned from my father's house, where he discovered earlier this afternoon, a gaping hole in his backyard that is at least five feet deep and four feet in diameter. There's a metallic structure around it near the bottom that's mostly disintegrated to the point of being unrecognizable. As near as we can tell it's probably a very old septic tank that was used many decades ago before mom and dad came there to live. At any rate, I had to find something strong to cover it with to keep any trick-or-treaters from discovering it the hard way until I can haul some gravel in on Monday. It's been a record month for rain here, so things like this are bound to come up along with the inevitable sweeping water out of the basement of such an old house. (He still has spool wiring and a coal chute). But the truth is, it's a great joy for me to be able to take care of my father's needs in his old age. My dad and his dad will in fact both play a small part in my next topic once we've covered this one. But for now, let's get to this most misunderstood subject of evil in the world. And unfortunately, a good deal of it will be autobiographical in nature.

The first thing I must tell you is that I have as hard a time with this matter as anyone. I do, however, have some experience with it that has probably allowed me to perceive evil in a way that I never would have considered beforehand. When I was just seventeen, I had something along the lines of what some may consider a mystical experience. Actually I don't call it that. A mystical experience is an otherworldly encounter with the divine. I'm not sure the almighty had any part in this. I really couldn't say for sure. At any rate, it was an otherworldly experience, but not necessarily a mystical one. As I lay across my bed one afternoon, I felt what I can only describe as a great pressure, not unlike a giant hand, pushing me down into the bed. I was completely frozen and not able to move or cry out whatsoever. It was a frightful event (though without a hint of evil) that seemed to last several hours, yet when I looked at the clock afterwards, only a few minutes had passed. I went searching through the house for other clocks. That time just could not be right! But they all read the same. Did I simply fall asleep during this event? Did I enter a dream world of sorts? Or did something else happen?, something important perhaps that I could no longer remember and possibly was not meant to remember? As strange as that terrifying pressure felt, it was the lost time that continued to plague me for many days thereafter. Where did the hours go? I really connected years later with an episode on TV of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The episode written by Morgan Gendel was called The Inner Light, and in the story, Captain Picard was knocked unconscious by a beam of light from an alien probe. During this state he awoke in another world on a planet called Kataan. A woman named Kamin is at his bedside who says she is his wife. As the days go by he eventually realizes that the people in his village think he has been there all his life. The days turn into years. He grows to love his wife and friends on this planet and it becomes a real home, and he grows old there and learns to play the flute. Then one day in his old age he suddenly finds himself waking up in the sickbay of the starship Enterprise. He has only been unconscious for twenty five minutes. Oddly, the episode ends with him in his room onboard the ship playing the flute quite well as though he has truly done it for many years.

I knew nothing of mystics or the mystical experience at that age. Maybe Catholic kids learn of these things in church, but we protestants certainly didn't. I went to church and was very involved with the youth group and had gotten involved with the last stage of the Jesus Movement (something which lingered on into the mid 70s here in the Midwest long after it had already died out on the West Coast). It's true that evangelicals during this period considered themselves to be more spiritual than other Christian sects, and frequently you could find people prophesying, speaking in tongues, and literally rolling on the floor in what was supposed to be a spiritual ecstasy of some kind. So, in full disclosure I must admit that this was the environment I grew-up in, having been raised in an Assembly of God Church. My getting involved with The Jesus Movement at sixteen or so seemed the most natural thing in the world.

You might be thinking that my religious surroundings prompted the strange encounter I had in my room and that it was nothing but a trick of the mind. I disagree. While I believed in God and wanted to know him, I never engaged in any of the wilder side of spirituality I saw at church and various group meetings. I also thought most of those people prophesying were quite full of themselves rather than the Spirit. While I still contend that the Jesus Movement was the height of my spiritual adventure in the flesh, and some of the friends I had then were the best people I ever knew, I also must interject that I saw a great hypocrisy going on as well, especially by those involved in leadership behind the scenes.

I don't believe my religious atmosphere had any effect on me that strange day in 1976. In fact, I was already becoming very disenchanted with my church and felt I was ready for something else. At that point I was about to get out of high school, join the army, and move to Alaska. I was working after school in produce at the grocery store and mostly playing basketball in my free time with my non-Christian friends and my old Catholic pal, Joe, who was a good boy but had little interest in his church. I would soon be going on a brief 10-day mission trip to help rebuild a church in Guatemala that had fallen during the great earthquake of 1976, but truth be known, this was just something to pass the time for me until my Army enlistment got underway. I never thought of the mission trip as a particularly spiritual event. No, this thing in my bedroom hit me out of the blue, and it would be something I would never forget. I also would never tell another living soul about it for many years aside from my mom and dad.

When I was in my early 20s I had a similar experience, but this time much worse. I was home from the Army and living in my parent's attic room at the time. The same paralyzing force hit me, this time accompanied by a full blown out of body experience where I found myself in a place of great darkness--that darker than dark blackness like you find in a cave--with some kind of creepy-crawly phosphorescent creatures around me kind of like spiders but different from anything I had ever seen. Worse yet was this intense feeling I had never had before that a being of pure evil was near me. I thought, this is it--I've died and gone to Hell. I couldn't talk, but in my mind I pleaded with God to let me go back to my body and give me another chance. You don't know what frantic is until you're literally in a place you think is Hell surrounded by a feeling of pure evil. I don't know how long it lasted, but it seemed as though only a minute later I was back in my bed.

Funny, but I hated the Army, and the day I was discharged I got on a jet headed to Seattle, and once there, I recall diving onto the bed in my hotel room with this terrific feeling of relief as though I had just been freed from Devil's Island like Ronald Coleman in one of those old movies. But that couldn't begin to compare with what I felt like after being freed from what seemed like Hell (minus the fire). You may say it was a trick of the mind, a hallucination or what have you. All I know is that I was back home, safe, and grateful. Again, I told no one what had happened to me.

Probably fifteen years went by without another episode. I was now in my late 30s, and mystic was still just a word other people used at this point. I really didn't even know what it meant. The Jesus Movement had long before already turned into the Evangelical Movement, and the Jesus freaks had cut there hair, gotten real jobs, raised families, and started attending regular church services instead of home get-togethers. Many of them in fact attended the same mega-church I went to in St. Louis that had a typical Sunday morning attendance somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000. Gone were the wild, nonsensical prophecies and other fake outward manifestations of a nonexistent spiritual experience. No more seaside/lakeshore baptisms. No more piling into the back of a pickup and driving down to Bald Knob to sit and pray and sing songs beneath the giant hillside cross. No more street witnessing. No, things were much tamer now, much saner even some would say. But things still weren't right. Sunday sermons were typically about psychological hang-ups, how to get along with people you didn't like, removing stress from your life, yada, yada, yada. I simply hated church. There's no other way to put it. Not only had those nice Jesus freaks turned into a bunch of brain-dead yuppies, but as is typical with these independent, interdenominational churches, there were no business meetings, the pastor set his own salary and wouldn't tell anybody what it was, and the whole thing was run like a private business enterprise. It was all feel good therapy with only the faintest hint of religion and spirituality. About this time I had my third experience with those other worlds of spirit. It may have dawned on you by now that these otherworldly occurrences happened whenever big changes were about to come in my life.

Actually, I had several over the course of three to four years. What happened isn't important to you. They were between myself and God. I will only tell you that the fear went out of them for the most part, and they became learning experiences. Sometimes they seemed quite mundane and, like dreams, would only acquire meaning after much time went by. There were times, however, when, just before these things happened, that I would feel that presence of evil around me. This really confused me. Was there some kind of evil spirit trying to scare me out of having an experience from God? Or was the experience itself evil with only a pretense of Godliness in it? Was it possible that this was something having to do with that occult stuff people talked about even though I hadn't been seeking it out? The last thing I was looking for was some kind of secret message from beyond. I needed help and didn't know where to turn. All I knew was, I wanted out of my church and a deeper understanding of what life was about, but I had no interest in devilish things or occult secrets. Around this time I began attending meetings of what might be called a new age group called The Gathering that had several people in it who seemed to be having similar experiences and were also trying to understand what it was about. Many of them also claimed to be Christians. And I met Annie.

Annie told me that what I had been experiencing was called astral projection, that it was nothing to fear, and that she did it all the time. She insisted that God was trying to connect with me, to teach me deeper things about the cosmos, and that this was a good thing. Hmm...I didn't know if she was right or not. One thing I can tell you for sure though is that my spiritual motives were proper ones. I just wanted to be a good person, to know who God really was, and what life was really about.

About this time, actually a few years earlier around 1990, I started to read a lot for the first time in my life, and I do mean a lot! And the very first book I read having to do with God (outside of the bible) also had to do with C. S. Lewis. It wasn't a book by him, but a fictional book involving a conversation between him, John F. Kennedy, and Aldous Huxley written by Peter Kreeft that was called Between Heaven and Hell. I honestly think I bought it because the title seemed to describe my real life experience. To this day I think God led me to it...and to every book that came after to this very moment. Until then I had only experienced spirituality in a sensory way. I hadn't yet put my brain behind it. I was all feeling with no understanding. Now the real learning was about to begin. So on one side I had Annie, and on the other Mr. Lewis was beginning to emerge. But one thing that stood between them both was that crushing feeling of evil I so often had in the room with me during those things Annie referred to as astral projections. Sometimes what came after them was wonderful, but why the overwhelming feeling of something not unlike the Devil himself so nearby? I'll tell you what God had already begun to teach me once I started using my head: that evil was no longer just a notion--a bad behavior that people executed. It had a presence. It was also a living thing.

To be continued...