The Death of Hell

On a recent post about grace and Karma, a commenter posed a challenging question:

I \'d like to ask you a question because you strike me as an intelligent man of faith. I was taught that hell is a place of eternal conscious torment, a nice euphemism for a torture chamber. Do you believe that those of us who fail to accept grace will be tortured? If not, why not? Augustine and Calvin seemed to believe it.

Sometimes people ask the damnedest things…

I been sitting on this one for several weeks, because, well, the subject of eternal damnation is not exactly the most delightful topic on which to expound. But, hey, anyone can tackle the easy ones, so what the hell…

The topic of hell has never been a popular subject — for reasons not terribly difficult to discern. Yet belief in hell is both ancient and widespread, comprising an important doctrine in some form or other of most of the world’s great religions, especially Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, each manifested by belief in a personal God. In our secular, postmodern age, however, it has become something of a quaint superstition, widely perceived to be a tool for manipulation of the ignorant and gullible by the religious patriarchy. It has long faded from the lexicon of contemporary culture and conversation, and is rarely even mentioned in religious contexts, much less in secular. The death of hell has been quiet, almost unnoticed, like the slow starvation of some hideous child left in the wilderness to die.

Yet the death of damnation has left a vacuum into which far more diabolical spirits have swarmed. Perhaps the most unsettling of these is our growing sense of helplessness against a pervasiveness of evil which seems ever more prevalent, ever more senseless, ever more violent and hideous. The gunman, some hitherto lonesome loser with a heightened sense of victimization and a laundry list of petty grievances, lays waste to a school in an orgy of carnage — and then, having drunk his fill of slaughtered blood, ends his own life by his own hand, leaving naught but a narcissistic video hungrily devoured by a bloodthirsty media, who wish only to “understand.” Other than his final instant of presumed pain, the killer receives no justice, no retribution for his murderous rage — and more perversely, carves out his place, albeit briefly, in history and notoriety.

While such cases are the extreme, unrequited evils of a lesser sort could be multiplied without end. The child molester, who gets out of jail in 3 years on good behavior; the murderer whose high-priced attorneys sway feeble-minded juries to garner his acquittal; the corporate executive who steals billions from the retirement plan of his underpaid employees, getting off with a wrist slap fingering someone higher in the food chain; the tyrant who tortures and murders millions, escaping to live in opulence, dying in a safe secure asylum provided by others of his ilk. Even at the most personal level, much evil goes unpunished, from the undetected adultery, to the undiscovered lie, to the drunk driver not arrested, to the fraudulent tax return which escapes the scrutiny of the IRS.

There is in human nature something which rebels at such injustice, which cries out for punishment proportionate to the crime. We hunger for some restraint upon such evils unleashed, some effective deterrent, knowing our imperfect legal system often fails to deliver its promised justice. Yet, paradoxically, we justify and rationalize our own evil, not merely hoping for leniency if caught but expecting, even demanding it.

If hell does not exist, men would be wise to invent it. If it does exist, we are fools to deny it.

Yet our technologically advanced, psychologically sophisticated, scientifically saturated society can in all its knowledge find no such restraint upon evil. For we arrogate with confident assurance that there is no God; no transcendent moral absolutes; no spiritual or immaterial reality beyond the tangible and measurable. We hunger for justice but have no standard against by which to calibrate it, save our volatile emotions and ever-changing subjective values. We attempt to constrain evil through law and societal coercion, while having no coherent metaphysics upon which such constraints must be grounded. Our GPS satellites are not fixed, but wander through the sky; our maps are detailed, but bear no relation to the geography through which they purport to guide us.
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Grace 4 U2

This is a re-post from several years ago, to quell the restless masses until time permits me to write something afresh.

 
Bono of U2After seemingly endless weeks recently of watching Tom Cruise air-box, jump on chairs, pontificate on depression, and talk about the idiocy of Scientology, it’s definitely refreshing — yea, one might even say a veritable antidepressant — to have some sanity expressed by another celebrity who appears to have a more rational cerebrum (although, granted, not as much of a pretty boy). Swiftly and with Style (HT: In the Agora) finds an intriguing quote from Bono, of U2 fame, in his book Bono in Conversation:

It \'s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the Universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma. . . .You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics --in physical laws --every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It \'s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the Universe. I \'m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “as you reap, so will you sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I \'ve done a lot of stupid stuff. . . .

I \'d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I \'d be in deep sh-t. It doesn \'t excuse my mistakes, but I \'m holding out for Grace. I \'m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don \'t have to depend on my own religiosity.

I love the idea that God says: Look, you cretins, there are certain results to the way we are, to selfishness, and there \'s mortality as part of your very sinful nature, and let \'s face it, you \'re not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That \'s the point. It should keep us humbled… It \'s not our own good works that get us through the gates of Heaven.

It’s a little scary when Karma and Christ get mentioned in the same breath — from a rock star never seen without his wrap-around shades and so-cool demeanor — in a literary aside laced with the appropriate profanities, moreover — and it’s one of the clearest expressions of how the world works you’ve heard in months. God’s a very funny guy sometimes, and uses rather peculiar mouthpieces — which gives me great hope indeed.
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The Call

Still trying to stay one step ahead of the snapping alligators, so here’s another older post, hopefully worth your time — Dr. Bob

 
cancer

Damn!, I hate these calls…

Lying on my desk, clipped to a yellow manila binder, is a single sheet of paper. Its pleasant color format and sampled photomicrograph belie the gravity of its content:

Adenocarcinoma, Gleason grade 9, involving 60% of the specimen.

How do you deliver a death sentence?

Your first impression of Charlie is his sheer mass: 50 years young, healthy as a horse, built like a tank, a former football player turned popular coach at a local high school. He arrived at my office after seeing his family physician for an acute illness, with fever, chills, and problems urinating. His doctor had diagnosed a urinary tract infection, placed him on an antibiotic, and drew a PSA–a screening test for prostate cancer. It was markedly elevated: over 100, with normal being less than 4. I grumbled to myself as I reviewed his chart: Those damned primary care docs shouldn’t draw PSAs when patients have prostate infections — it just muddies the waters.

PSA (prostate specific antigen) is a test which measures a protein in the blood stream released by prostate tissue. It has greatly improved early detection of prostate cancer in the 20 years it has been in widespread use — but it is not, strictly speaking, a cancer test. It is noisy — often abnormal in other conditions, including benign prostate enlargement (BPH), inflammation, and prostate infection. It is virtually always elevated in the presence of an acute prostate infection — often markedly so — and can take months to return to normal. The high PSA alarms the patient, however, who is told he may have cancer. But most do not — and Charlie looked like a classic case of infection.

His history was typical, and his response to antibiotics appropriate, so this seemed at first glance like so many other similar cases I had seen. His prostate exam was alarming, however: rock-hard and irregular, unlike the typical soft, boggy texture of an infected gland. Experience and training kicked in, and I knew exactly what we were dealing with: a relatively uncommon form of prostate infection called granulomatous prostatitis. I had seen dozens of cases — always alarming on first exam, with very high PSA values — and always responding to long-term antibiotics. Charlie was started on a one-month course of high-powered, high-priced bug exterminator, and came back for follow-up after its completion.

He was feeling better, and his PSA had dropped markedly, to 45. His prostate exam also seemed improved, but still quite abnormal. I remained quite confident in my diagnosis — after all, cancer doesn’t get better on antibiotics — but was unwilling to wait much longer to know for sure. I scheduled a prostate biopsy, reassuring him after its completion of my optimism that the results would show only infection.

The report was a blow to the gut. I sat silently, staring at it, in stunned disbelief.

In the age of PSA screening, most prostate cancers are detected at an early, curable stage — although their slow-growing nature makes treatment less important in very elderly patients. The chances for cure at diagnosis are determined by an estimate of the size and aggressiveness of the tumor. Size is determined by exam, ultrasound findings, and total PSA values; aggressiveness by the Gleason score — a value indicator (between 2 and 10) of the aggressive appearance of the cancer cells under the microscope. Higher is not better: Gleason scores of 9 and 10 indicate rapidly growing cancers which tend to spread early and are difficult — if not impossible — to cure. Charlie had drawn a pair of deuces in a high-stakes poker game: large volume, high-Gleason score cancer. The statistics were dismal: he would likely be dead of cancer in 5 years, regardless of treatment. And as cancer deaths go, this one’s not pretty: pain is a huge management problem in many, as the cancer infests and erodes the spine and long bones, breaking even the strongest of men. One learns to hate this disease before very many such cases have been seen.

And now I had to call him with his biopsy results.

The actual call will be brief: I will inform him that, unfortunately, the biopsy has shown cancer, that additional tests will be needed to determine its extent and the best way to manage it, and arrange for a follow-up visit in the office. The real bad news will be transmitted then, face-to-face, with more than enough information for its gravity to sink in. To do this — without robbing hope — will require more inner strength than is readily at hand.

But for now, I simply need to tell him he has cancer.

The word cancer encapsulates the deepest fears and anxieties of man, embodying in one small word pain, suffering, loss of control, hopelessness, dependency, death, the fragility of our dreams and hopes, and our uncertainty about the hereafter. To inform a patient that he has cancer is to shatter the illusion, the daily denial that death may yet be outmaneuvered, forestalled, kept on hold for some future date of our own determining. It is an illusion which dies hard — surprisingly so, as we alone among all creation are cognizant of its inevitability and certainty.

Perhaps the cruelest wish a man might be granted — were there some bottled genie passing out such favors — is knowledge of his own future. Yet, in some small measure, that power has been granted to me, and others of my profession. Not in any specific manner, of course — not of days or years, details or circumstances — but in knowledge deep enough to see the broad strokes: shadowy figures through rippled glass, of pain, and loss, and shattered dreams, of desperate grasping at the frail straws of fading hope, as the drumbeat of mortality pounds ever louder toward its dark crescendo.

Patients receive the call in different ways. Most accept it with seeming stoicism, and little expressed emotion — yet it is not hard to imagine — and sometimes to sense — the tight grasp of fear that grabs the throat and grips the heart. When wives are listening, the fear is more immediate, more palpable, as voices tremble with panic despite every effort to control it. A million questions will arise — but almost never on the initial call. On rare occasion, there is a casual indifference to the news — prompting reflection on what strength of spirit — or dense denial — such men possess.

I often wonder how I would receive the call. As a Christian, I am confident of a life hereafter, eternal, spent in the presence of Him who loves me. Some call that arrogance, or self-righteous; it is not. God alone knows better than I the darkness of my heart, the depravity that makes me uniquely unsuited to be in the presence of the Holy One but for one moment, much less eternity. But I have been adopted — an unworthy child by an unspeakably loving and merciful Father, who only asks submission to His tender guidance and direction, and transforms a lost fool into something useful, something cherished, someone with purposes aligned — though poorly so — with His own.

But the call of death — so confidently faced from the comfortable vantage of good health and cheap grace — will strike fear into my heart when it arrives, for far smaller challenges have brought dread in larger measure. There will be the fear of the ordeal, the journey of suffering, the loss of things now treasured but instantly made worthless. There will be the pain of watching the loss of those close to me, struggling to make sense of a relationship, undervalued while unthreatened, yet now more precious while counting down inexorably to its end. I know – -by the tutor of past and bitter experience — that faith will sustain me and mine through it all. But one cannot know what that day will be like — nor should we wish to ever know.

But for Charlie, the battle will now be enjoined — the weapons and wherewithal of modern medicine in all-out war against its implacable foe. Perhaps by some miracle or unexpected grace he will be given a reprieve, a window to revalue and reassess life’s course, its priorities, its purpose. For even when we are cured, we are healed to face death again: Lazarus, once risen, will revisit the stony crypt. Yet the Voice which called him forth calls us also, beckoning toward a painful light from the cold terrors of death.

How difficult to be the herald of another’s mortality — it is a burden no man should have to bear. Some will deliver it through the steely detachment hammered hard by years of training; some avoid it altogether where possible, through choice of profession or abdication of responsibility. But for those who must speak this hard truth, may there be grace and wisdom, empathy and compassion.

May it be also for me.

A Life Not Long

Another older post, as my friends at the IRS seem to be demanding an extra dose of torture this year.

 
sunset

A link from Glenn Reynolds hooked into something I’ve been ruminating on in recent days: the endless pursuit of longer life.

Here’s the question I’ve been pondering: is it an absolute good to be continually striving for a longer life span? Such a question may seem a bit odd coming from a physician, whose mission it is to restore and maintain health and prolong life. But the article which Glenn linked to, describing the striking changes in health and longevity of our present age, seemingly presents this achievement as an absolute good, and thereby left me a tad uneasy — perhaps because I find myself increasingly ambivalent about this unceasing pursuit of longer life.

Of course, long life and good health have always been considered blessings, as indeed they are. But long life in particular seems to have become a goal unto itself — and from where I stand is most decidedly a mixed blessing.

Many of the most difficult health problems with which we battle, which drain our resources struggling to overcome, are largely a function of our longer life spans. Pick a problem: cancer, heart disease, dementia, crippling arthritis, stroke — all of these increase significantly with age, and can result in profound physical and mental disability. In many cases, we are living longer, but doing so restricted by physical or mental limitations which make such a longer life burdensome both to ourselves and to others. Is it a positive good to live to age 90, spending the last 10 or more years with dementia, not knowing who you are nor recognizing your own friends or family? Is it a positive good to be kept alive by aggressive medical therapy for heart failure or emphysema, yet barely able to function physically? Is it worthwhile undergoing highly toxic chemotherapy or disfiguring surgery to cure cancer, thereby sparing a life then severely impaired by the treatment which saved that life?

These questions, in some way, cut to the very heart of what it means to be human. Is our humanity enriched simply by living longer? Does longer life automatically imply more happiness–or are we simply adding years of pain, disability, unhappiness, burden? The breathlessness with which authors often speak of greater longevity, or the cure or solution to these intractable health problems, seems to imply a naive optimism, both from the standpoint of likely outcomes, and from the assumption that a vastly longer life will be a vastly better life. Ignored in such rosy projections are key elements of the human condition — those of moral fiber and spiritual health, those of character and spirit. For we who live longer in such an idyllic world may not live better: we may indeed live far worse. Should we somehow master these illnesses which cripple us in our old age, and thereby live beyond our years, will we then encounter new, even more frightening illnesses and disabilities? And what of the spirit? Will a man who lives longer thereby have a longer opportunity to do good, or rather to do evil? Will longevity increase our wisdom, or augment our depravity? Will we, like Dorian Gray, awake to find our ageless beauty but a shell for our monstrous souls?

Such ruminations bring to mind a friend, a good man who died young. Matt was a physician, a tall, lanky lad with sharp bony features and deep, intense eyes. He was possessed of a brilliant mind, a superb physician, but left his mark on life not solely through medicine nor merely by intellect. A convert to Christianity as a young adult, Matt embraced his new faith with a passion and province rarely seen. His medical practice became a mission field. His flame burned so brightly it was uncomfortable to draw near: he was as likely to diagnose your festering spiritual condition as your daunting medical illness — and had no compunction about drilling to the core of what he perceived to be the root of the problem. Such men make you uneasy, for they sweep away the veneer of polite correction and diplomatic encouragement which we physicians are trained to deliver. Like some gifted surgeon of the soul, he cast sharp shadows rather than soft blurs, brandishing his brilliant insight on your now-naked condition. The polished conventions of medicine were never his strength — a characteristic which endeared him not at all to many in his profession. But his patients — those who could endure his honesty and strength of character — were passionate in their devotion to him, personally and professionally. For he was a man of extraordinary compassion and generosity, seeing countless patients at no charge, giving generously of his time and finances far beyond the modest means earned from his always-struggling practice.

The call I received from another friend, a general surgeon, requesting an assist at his surgery, was an unsettling one: Matt had developed a growth in his left adrenal gland. His surgery went deftly, with much confidence that the lesion had been fully excised. The pathology proved otherwise: Matt had an extremely rare, highly aggressive form of adrenal cancer. Fewer than 100 cases had been reported worldwide, and there was no known successful treatment. Nevertheless, as much for his wife and two boys as for himself, he underwent highly toxic chemotherapy, which sapped his strength and left him enfeebled. In spite of this, the tumor grew rapidly, causing extreme pain and rapid deterioration, bulging like some loathsome demon seeking to burst forth from his frail body. I saw him regularly, although in retrospect not nearly often enough, and never heard him complain; his waning energies were spent with his family, and he never lost the intense flame of faith. Indeed, as his weakened body increasingly became no more than life support for his cancer, wasting him physically and leaving him pale and sallow, there grew in him a spirit so remarkable that one was drawn to him despite the natural repulsion of watching death’s demonic march.

Matt died at age 38, alert and joyful to the end. His funeral was a most remarkable event: at an age in life where most would be happy to have sufficient friends to bear one’s casket, his funeral service at a large church was filled to overflowing — thousands of friends, patients, and professional peers paying their respects in a ceremony far more celebration than mourning. There was an open time for testimony — and such a time it was, as one after another took to the lectern to speak through tears of how Matt had touched their lives; of services rendered, small and large, unknown before that day; of funny anecdotes and sad remembrances which left not one soul of that large crowd untouched or unmoved.

A journey such as his casts critical light on our mindless pursuit of life lived only to live long. In Matt’s short life he brought more good into the world, touched more people, changed more lives, than I could ever hope to do were I to live a century more. It boils down to purpose: mere years are no substitute for a life lived with passion, striving for some goal greater than self, with transcendent purpose multiplying and compounding each waking moment. This is a life well-lived, whether long or short, whether weakened or well.

Like all, I trust, I hope to live life long, and seek a journey lived in good health and sound mind. But even more — far more indeed — do I desire that those days yet remaining — be they long or short — be rich in purpose, wise in time spent, and graced by love.

The Prayer of Java

Been quite busy of late, so I’ve resurrected an OBG (Oldie But Goodie) in lieu of actually writing something new and intelligible. Back soon, God bless.

 
Recently, in an e-mail exchange, Gerard Van der Leun brought up the issue of prayer, and how it was a difficult learning experience for him. Like so much in the world of web logs, a seed gets planted which starts you thinking. Well, Gerard’s been thinking — and writing — while I’ve had this post sitting in my drafts box for a month. Seems like one of those pokes in the ribs that awakens you when you’re in the blessed arms of Morpheus — and snoring…

The subject of prayer is a fascinating one for me in many ways, not only because of its effect on my life, but because — as a logical-sequential scientist by profession and disposition, I want to understand how it works — and I don’t, and I can’t. But it does. And that cognitive dissonance drives me a little nuts.

Billions of words have been written on prayer, by foolish and wise, scholarly and simple. For the secular skeptic, baptized into the random meaninglessness of a life accidental, it must seem odd — if they stop to think of it, which I suspect they rarely do — that mankind throughout eons and cultures has devoted so much time and energy to a pointless litany of words directed to the non-existent. Even among we who confess to the existence and significance of a Being higher than ourselves, prayer confounds and frustrates us, as we search for some formula, some talisman to garner the attention and blessing of the invisible, inscrutable deity.

But this does not keep us from trying. The drunk asks God to help him out of this jam, promising not to drink again. The agnostic pleads with God that the biopsy not show cancer. The unhappy spouse prays that her husband change to her liking. We pray for money, for success, for jobs, for relief from emotional agony and physical pain. We pray ritualistically, hoping that by repetition an indifferent or annoyed God will throw some crumb our way to get us off His case.

Prayer, perhaps more than anything else, reveals what we think about God and about ourselves in relationship to such deity. If our God is remote, abstract, indifferent, then our prayers will have the character of whistling through the graveyard — hoping against hope that the very act of addressing this unknown force will ward off fear of some greater evil closer at hand. If we serve an angry, judgmental power — vengeful and quick to accuse — then we will pray from fear, pleading nervously for mercy while recommitting ourselves to the required perfection we have no hope of achieving. If we worship Santa Claus, then endless lists of self-gratifying demands will appear, as we hope we have been less naughty than nice.
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Three Men on a Friday

CalvaryThree men on a Friday, condemned to die. Ensnared by Roman justice, convicted, and sentenced to a lingering death of profound cruelty and excruciating agony.

The Romans knew how to do it right: execution designed to utterly humiliate its victims, and maximize their suffering–a public spectacle and object lesson to others about the foolishness of defying Roman authority. First used by the Persians in the time of Alexander the Great, and adopted by Rome from Carthage, crucifixion was so horrible and debasing a fate that it was not permitted for citizens of Rome. Victims hung for days, their corpses consumed by carrion.

Our knowledge of these three men is incomplete. Two are described in ancient texts as thieves, the other a preacher run afoul of religious leaders, delivered to the Romans under pretense of imperial threat. There should have been nothing unusual about this event: the Romans crucified criminals often, sometimes hundreds at a time. Yet these men, in this spectacle, were different: on these crosses hung all of mankind.

Two thieves and a preacher — an odd picture indeed. And even more peculiar: the most hated was the preacher. Taunted, insulted, ridiculed, reviled. A miracle worker, he, a man who supposedly healed the sick and raised the dead, yet now hung naked in humiliation and agony, unable to extricate himself from his dire circumstance. Even those convicted with him–themselves dying in unbearable pain and mortification — join the fray. Insulting the rabbi, demanding he set himself–and naturally, themselves as well–free. They know his reputation, yet selfish to the end, desire only their own deliverance.

But one thief is slowly transformed, in frailty considering his fate and the foolishness of demanding release when his punishment is just. And he marvels at the man hung nearby — why? Why does this preacher, unjustly executed, not proclaim innocence nor demand justice or vengeance? Why does he–amazingly–ask God to forgive those who have so cruelly and unjustly punished him? Why, in the extraordinary agony only crucifixion can bring, does he seem to have peace, acceptance, perhaps even joy?

His revulsion at the baying crowd, at the arrogance of his fellow convict reviling this man of character and grace, bursts forth in rebuke at him who ridicules: “This man has done no wrong!” Turning to the preacher, he makes a simple, yet humble, request: to be remembered. Only that. No deliverance from agony, no sparing of death, no wealth, prosperity, or glory, no miracles–only to be remembered.

The reply reverberates throughout history: “This day you shall be with me in Paradise.” A promise of hope, a promise of relationship, a promise of forgiveness, a promise of comfort, joy, healing, peace.

Three men on a cross. In these three men are all who have lived: two are guilty, one innocent. Two are justly executed, one unjustly. All three have chosen their fate: one thief to revile, ridicule, hate, blaspheme; one criminal to trust, to seek consideration and mercy from one greater; one man to submit to brutal and humiliating torture and death, willingly, for no crime committed — or for all crimes committed, everywhere and for all time. Yet only one promise given–to the one who, though guilty, trusted and turned.

Who was this man in the middle, this preacher? A charlatan, perhaps – but an impostor abandons his schemes when such consequences appear. Delusional, deceived zealot, or presumptuous fool? Such grace in agonal death is inconceivable were he any such man. What power did he have to make such a promise? What proof that the promise was delivered?

An empty grave. A promise delivered by a cavern abandoned, a stone rolled away. A gruesome death transformed into a life of hope, meaning and purpose for those who also trust.

What’s Wrong is Wright

In light of the snowballing interest in Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s minister and mentor, I am re-posting this essay from May 2007, when Hillary was the presumed nominee, and Obama just a charismatic wannabe.

Many are wondering whether the media is just cherry-picking a few outrageous sermons. My take? Nope, what you see is what you get — and what Obama’s been hearing — and following — for 20 years.

 
Courtesy of the Drudge Report, I was drawn to read a New York Times article (login required) on Barack Obama,, his faith and conversion, and his pastor, Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.

The article presented some interesting background on Mr. Obama and his church — a topic with which I had been previously unfamiliar. But what I found of greater interest was the broader perspective highlighted by the Times article regarding the role of religious beliefs in public figures, particularly politicians, and how secular political movements in the postmodern age use religion.

Not surprisingly, the New York Times — along with virtually all major media outlets — come across as pleasantly confused about the nature of religious conversion, particularly as it applies to Christianity. The focus of this article is on the theology and controversial teachings of his spiritual mentor Reverend Wright, who pastors Trinity United Church of Christ, and addresses its potential impact on Mr. Obama’s presidential candidacy.

My eye was drawn to the description of Reverend Wright, who is identified as:

… a dynamic pastor who preached Afrocentric theology, dabbled the radical politics and delivered music and profanity-spiked sermons.

Antennas pop up when someone alludes to Christian pastors with “Afrocentric” (or any other “-centric”) theology. Additional research quickly disclosed that Reverend Wright is indeed, shall we say, “controversial.” It appears that the good Reverend espouses a form of Christianity, so-called, which depicts America as deeply — and intractably — racist; which believes America to be a far greater threat to the world than murderous tyrants who slaughter millions; who believes there are two types of white Christians — those “who lynch people in the name of Jesus” and those “who ain’t got time to lynch people”; who, rather famously, after a fiery sermon about all the injustices which white America has promulgated on blacks, the poor, third world countries, women and children, and the usual litany of complaints about lack of healthcare, the homeless, etc. is quoted as saying, “God is tired of this shit!”

One wonders if God is also tired of ministers with potty mouths. Or tired of pastors who view their white Christian “brothers” as lynchers-in-waiting.

In short, Reverend Wright and his theology fall squarely on the radical left, racial-hating-and-baiting side of the political and religious spectrum.

As Seinfeld might say, “… not that there’s anything wrong with that!”

Oh, wait — maybe there is something wrong with that.
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“I Totally Despised You”

One of life’s great pleasures for me is discovering new music. Now, mind you, this is rarely new in the sense of being a new group which has just broken onto the scene; in most cases, I’m discovering music, artists, or groups which have been around for some time, unbeknownst to me.

One such artist I have recently run across is Jonny Lang. One of his songs, Lie to Me, caught my ear on XM radio, and I jotted it down and subsequently made a beeline for iTunes. Turns out, this guy is nothing short of extraordinary. He starts playing the guitar at age 12, releases his first album at 13, and his second album — his first solo and signature blues work, Lie to Me — is released at age 15, and goes triple platinum. He blows away critics with a voice which, at age 15, sounds like a hardened blues player three times his age. It’s gutter-grating gritty, his phrasing and expression incredibly innovative, and the guitar playing is evocative of such blues greats as Stevie Ray Vaughn, with exquisitely blended influences of soul, R&B, Motown, and gospel music. Before he turns 20, he’s touring as the warm-up band for Aerosmith, Sting, Jeff Beck, Clapton, the Rolling Stones, and B. B. King.

Not bad for a kid with a guitar.

However, life in the fast lane is rarely kind. Many older and more mature troubadours than he have fallen to its brutal revenge — think Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, Brian Jones, and a host of others — to whom the Roman candle of fame proved both furious and lethal. Drugs, sex, and rock ‘n roll often prove a highway to hell, and Jonny Lang was driving that freeway with pedal to the metal.

Then something changed — drastically, almost cataclysmically. In what can only be termed an extraordinary conversion experience, his entire life is transformed, bringing with it his music, immediately terminating his addiction to alcohol and drugs, and changing his very face and disposition.

I was not thinking about God, not at all. In the middle of our conversation, from that same spot that I felt something had hit me earlier, I just felt something start welling up, just burning in me, and it came up out of my throat. It was like I was throwing up, and the name “Jesus” just came out of my mouth. I just said “Jesus!”

Interviewer: Mid conversation?

Lang: Yeah. And when I said “Jesus,” my whole body started shaking. Haylie was looking right at me (laughing).

This is the part of my story where I’ve just said, “Lord, if I’m ever doing interviews, what should I say?” People are going to think I’m insane, you know? Nevertheless, it’s what happened. I knew it was Jesus immediately from the moment I started shaking. It was like he just came up and introduced himself to me. I remember him saying, “You don’t have to have this if you don’t want it.” And I said, “No, I want it.”

I kept shaking, and I knew when it was done that I had been completely set free of all my addictions, and I knew that I didn’t have to smoke or drink or do drugs anymore. All I could do was fall on the ground, and I gave my life to him right there. I was just in shock. I thought, “I totally despised you, and you just did this to me!”

Check out his music video for “Lie to Me”:
 

 
Now, take a look at his face, and watch him perform after his experience. It is almost like he has been replaced by another human being.
 

 
Which, in a very real sense, he has.
 

 

 
You can read about his rather extraordinary conversion and the changes it made in his life here. Check it out.