Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Be afraid. Be very afraid…

For as long as I can remember, I have been haunted by the following three questions:

1) “Is ‘anal-retentive’ supposed to be hyphenated?”

2) “What if the Hokey-Pokey really is what it’s all about?”


3) “Just who are these culturally imperialistic + insular/evangelical + sectarian/protestant + knee-jerk/conservative + concrete/prosaic + hermeneutically/insensitive + blah/blah/blah + yadda/yadda/yadda + prefabricated CHRISTIANS that Brian McLaren has labored so hard to warn us about?”

Okay, so I haven’t been thinking about the third question for quite as long as the first two, but that doesn’t diminish the threat of imminent catastrophe these people bring to western civilization, which, as we all know, will reduce each and every one of us to Amway distributors. But in the (admittedly small) circles in which I travel, actually encountering one of these people seemed about as likely as an American G.I. triggering a nuclear holocaust by accidentally putting out a cigarette on one of Sadaam Hussein’s hidden A-bombs. They had apparently all masterfully blended in with the legitimate population.

Until now.

Actually, it was several months ago. I had come to the conclusion that I didn’t get out enough, and had fallen completely out-of-touch with what my fellow church goers do when they’re not in church. So when for the first time in my life I was able to attend the annual “Rebuking Your Mind” conference, hosted by D.C. Scrolls, I just had to see what it was like. It wasn’t the same as joining the church bowling league, but it would have to do for the time being.

It wasn’t cheap, and I didn’t get a very good deal on the airfare, but a friend at my church put me in touch with a guy in that area who was also attending the conference and had a spare room, so that made it affordable. His name was Cary, and when I called he agreed to pick me up at the airport.

It was a dark and rainy night. At least when I departed it was. When I arrived at my destination it was just dark. I called Cary on his cell and he met me outside. As soon as we got into his car its speakers started blaring some talk-radio program called “Barbarous Nation,” hosted by a hypertension-inducing ultra-right-winger whose actual name really is Joe Barbarous. Cary appeared to enjoy the program, but he thankfully turned the volume down as Joe launched into a loud, dyspeptic rant about moderate Republicans, “Islamo-Nazis,” and the haircut on his neighbor’s poodle. This allowed us to start making the customary small talk as we headed into the city, which was awkward at best because Cary struck me as a little odd from the get-go.

“I’m really looking forward to this conference,” I told him.

“Well—” his voice lingered a bit, and then: “I wish I could say the same.”

“Why’s that?”

“It’s just the theme they chose this year.”

“Apologetics?” I said, “That’s one of the things that attracted me to it.”

“Yeah, well I think the whole enterprise is entirely wrong-headed,” said Cary.

“Then how do you go about answering non-believers’ questions?” I asked.

“Tell ’em they shouldn’t be asking such questions in the first place!” he retorted, already getting a little heated so soon in our conversation. “The Bible is the ultimate authority! Like it or lump it!”

“Hmm,” I observed, already beginning to experience déjà vu. That seemed to settle that!

After about 20 minutes he suddenly pulled the car over up to the curb in the middle of a block, shifted into park, and turned off the engine. The street was deserted and quiet, and probably for good reason. I personally interpreted the gang graffiti spray-painted on the brick wall near the car as the equivalent of the local surgeon general’s warning to not hang around too long.

“This will take just a second,” he said, opening his car door.

“Can I help you with anything?” I asked.

“I’ll be right back.”

After the door shut behind him I listened to the sound of his shoes hitting the sidewalk and echoing off the buildings. My eyes followed him as he approached a man I just then noticed standing under the corner streetlight, and who occasionally looked over his shoulder during his brief chat with Cary. After exchanging a few words the man handed him something in a brown paper bag. As he opened his car door upon his return he tossed it into my lap with a grin.

“What’s this?” I asked, feeling more than a little leery.

“Take a look,” he said, turning the ignition, shifting into drive and pulling away.

So I turned the bag upside down and out slid a book titled, Yo! JC2!, and subtitled Chillaxin’ wit My Homey Calvin. It seemed to be some sort of on-the-street version of Calvinism. As I paged through its chessboard diagrams showing God arbitrarily knocking some of the pieces off the board into a fiery furnace labeled “Hell” I was tempted to remark on how different this was from the version of Calvinism I’d heard on D.C. Scrolls’ tapes, but a little voice in my head urged caution.

“So, uh—what church do you attend?” I asked while turning the pages.

“Well, for the last few years I’ve been going to the Church of the Absolute Foundation,” he said, “but I’m thinking of switching to Bucketseat Canyon Community Church.”

“Why’s that?”

“Well, I like Absolute Foundation’s emphasis on personal salvation,” he said, “but after a while it didn’t seem centered enough on my needs. So I figure it’s time to trade up.”

“Trade up?” I queried.

“Yeah. Find a church that that provides better goods and services,” he replied. “Besides, I always felt a little duped by all the emphasis at Absolute on evangelism and missions. I mean, like, what’s in that for me?”

I still hadn’t figured out why Cary’s opinions sounded so strangely familiar. I was a little preoccupied over concerns about his possible military assault weapon collection. So I pretended to continue paging through the book, but out of the corner of my eye I was checking to see if Tom Bodett had left the light on for me at the local Motel 6.

It’s not that I hadn’t already come across my share of oddballs in my evangelical wanderings. How can I forget Bill, who felt the constant need to interject his insights from a huge copy of the Septuagint he carried to our Bible studies after taking a semester of Greek? Or Nick and his traveling model Tabernacle show that took up half the church auditorium, and actually looked pretty cool, but unfortunately was accompanied by his nearly-incoherent, meandering, 40-minute messages in which he managed to find profound spiritual insights in virtually every color of thread in the Old Testament Tabernacle’s fabric? Or Angelo, who took a part-time job in a local parking garage while attending Bible school, and when the lines got long and people leaned on their horns because he was explaining the Four Spiritual Laws to the guy parked at the gate, he’d cup his hands and yell, “Hey! Can’t you see I’m trying to witness to this guy?!” (These stories are all true. Hmm. I wonder if I should have changed the names?)

I tried to stay off topics that might set Cary off. I went down a mental checklist that seemed to suggest itself to me: “Roman Catholicism?” I thought, “Scratch that! The writings of Karl Barth? Better not. Hillary Clinton? Uh, I haven’t paid this month’s life insurance premium yet…” So I decided the best course was simply to let him take the initiative in the conversation, which he was more than happy to do.

“And where do people get off with all this sissy hermeneutics baloney?” he demanded as we were pulling up his driveway. “Just pick up the Bible and read it! Take the book of Hosea: boy finds girl / boy loses girl / girl turns up on flea market clearance rack. What more do you need to know?”

He popped the trunk, we got out, and as I wheeled my suitcase into his house and passed his kitchen table I spotted a piece of mail showing his full name, Cary K. Chure, which I knew would come in handy if I needed to call 911. He pointed me upstairs to my room and invited me to come back down to his den for some coffee. When I got up there I checked under the bed to make sure there were no alien pods under it. After a few minutes I came back down and we walked into the den together.

And then I saw it.

It caught me totally by surprise. Of course, I’d read about it in A Generous Orthodoxy, but it didn’t look anything like I thought it would.

But there it was: captured, stuffed, and mounted on the wall. I struggled to find words as I stood transfixed before it in disbelief.

“That’s—! That’s—!” I slowly lifted my arm to point at the nameplate at the bottom of the huge wooden plaque on which it was mounted.

“Yep!” he said proudly, laying a gentle, avuncular hand on my shoulder. “That’s ‘Truth!’”

I turned to him in wide-eyed incredulity.

“So you’re the one McLaren was writing about!”

He just smiled and reached into a drawer to pull something out and thrust into my hands.

“Here ya’ go: one to take home!”

It was a nailed-down, freeze-dried, shrink-wrapped version of what was on the wall.


Mike Clawson said...

Ummm... yeah...

Justin said...

"Cary appeared to enjoy the program, but he thankfully turned the volume down as Joe launched into a loud, dyspeptic rant about moderate Republicans, “Islamo-Nazis,” and the haircut on his neighbor’s poodle."

You're above comment about the talk show host reminded me of something Limbaugh did a few weeks ago. Limbaugh began with some trivial bit about a new TV or something, and then changed the subject and very quickly got his panties in a twist about how no one, including Fox News, was making a big deal about Mrs. Alito coming to tears during the confirmation hearings. He went on and on about how awful and insensitive and superficial people were, even his "good friend Wolf Blitzer" and yada yada for a few minutes. Then, without any hint at a topic change, he just starts talking out of the blue about how he looks good in his pants!

Phil W said...

That's funny, sir. I don't quite understand the conclusion though. Thanks for helping me find your blog.

autodidacticus said...

i . . . uh . . . you . . .(crosses arms, strokes beard)ummm . . . how about . . . errr, hmmmmm. . . . yer welcome?

Seth Huckstead said...

I find your satires very refreshing (well sort of, I have to change too many wet pants after reading them).

Your explainations of Emerging Theology (I mean theology very loosly, for I would not want them to have an objective framework to refer too) have given me more undstanding of the issue than any of the formal critques that I have read.

You my man (if that is what you are) are a theological Swift. Please keep it up and embaress all of us wanna be writers)

Oh, what is JC2?

Seth Huckstead said...

Oh-how embarrassing I spelled embarrass wrong.

Jeff Kursonis said...

I'm not sure, but I think this was a made up story.

Because the one McLaren described wasn't in that guy's den, but was in all his CCM Cd's and gospel videos and left behind and christian self help books, and sermon series on tape and contemp worship Cd's and VeggieTale DVD's. That's where he kept it, and forced his teenaged kids to consume it, so they wouldn't be hungry for the good stuff down at the local record/book/video store & art gallery.

But I'm not sure if that's the one McLaren described or if it's just what my agenda made me think it was.

Call Me Ishmael said...

Seth: "JC2" is John Calvin. Jesus Christ is "JC1." You down wit dat?

SoulPastor said...

You made me laugh this morning!

Keep it up!

theoquest said...

So how was the conference?

JLF said...


You never fail to get a chuckle out of me, but you sure made a couple of my friends mad with your comment on this post. :)

Thanks again.

Call Me Ishmael said...

theoquest: the parts of the conference for which I was awake were great. Something about evidentialist versus classical versus presuppositional something-or-other. They used words with lots of syllables, so I think some of my friends would have liked it. The problem was, I was so nervous at Cary's place that I didn't get much sleep, and so I dozed off every time D.C. Scrolls turned around to write on his dry-erase board.

Phil said...


"Anal Rentitive" is hyphenated if it is acting as an adjective before a noun. Such as

"He is an anal-rentitive blogger."

If it is acting as a stand alone modifier, it is not. Such as

"Some people who consider themselves emergent might seem anal rententive, but still find humor in your blog."

Hope that helps.

étrangère said...

I've been waiting for the next post to your blog - it was worth it - thank you!

The conference sounds interesting! I'd plump for presuppositionalist (not just cos it has the most syllables). I know evidentialist, but what was described as 'classical' - the fideist 'just keep preaching the gospel cos they need faith', or something different?

Deeapaulitan said...

Pithy, very pithy, just what I was waiting for!

Glad you weren't abducted by any aliens, and that you found an authentic McLaren warning beacon.
I was beginning to think McLaren was an alien. whoo! Glad THAT isn't true.

Shrink-wrapped, freeze-dried truth... wow, the gift that keeps on giving. Lucky dog.

DareDevil said...

nice post !!!

art said...

thought you might want to join my emergent basketball league...check my blog

first practice in on wednesday

geoff payne said...

I guess I should finish the book and then I might know what you're talking about, hmm?

Tim said...

I do appreciate you comical take on this. Very entertaining.

I'm also figuring out a little bit of who you are. It appears to me that you do a blogger search for anyone who references McLaren and A Generous Orthodoxy. You then make a gentle comment to get them to check out you blog where you desire to somewhat contradict in an ever-so-unoffensive anything that is mentioned in the book.

For the record, if there even is a record for these things, I enjoyed McLaren's book. Do I agree with everything in there? No. Do I have to? No. Would I consider myself somewhat "emergent"? Yes.

Maybe I'm wrong here. But please do not stereotype people, McLaren or his readers. You have my word that I will not stereotype either one of you. I read for enjoyment. Both your posts and his books.

Again, I really did like the post.

Tim said...

By the way, Ish, please forgive me if I'm totally wrong about you. Just trying to figure where you're coming from.


Darin said...

So what was the shrink-wrapped thing? I am not "emerging" (at least I don't think I am) and I haven't a clue what you are refering to. Can I get a link or a web page or something?

Call Me Ishmael said...

Tim: it breaks my heart when people stereotype each other. Why can't we all just get along?

Call Me Ishmael said...

Darin: Brian McLaren wrote, “In Christian theology, this anti-emergent thinking is expressed in systematic theologies that claim (overtly, covertly, or unconsciously) to have final orthodoxy nailed down, freeze-dried, and shrink-wrapped forever” (Generous Orthodoxy, 286). I’m still trying to figure out how it’s possible to “claim” something “unconsciously,” (is it like when you mistakenly list something on an insurance claim that you didn’t actually lose or break?) but at least we have McLaren to warn us of this unconscious behavior. The quote that’s usually cited as a companion to this one is found on page 293: “To be a Christian in a generously orthodox way is not to claim to have the truth captured, stuffed, and mounted on the wall.” So it would seem that if there’s one thing McLaren states with finality, it’s that no one should state anything with finality.

Tim said...


I appreciate your response. Indeed, Rodney King did say it best, didn't he? Or was it Jesus? "By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another."
I appreciate your enlightening, entertaining, and humorous posts. Have a good day, brother!

bill said...

One of my great concerns is that we may have it all wrong. Imagine that if any one of thousands of ancient scribes had misplaced one jot or tittle, then “anal-retentive” might really have been “banal-retentive” or even “anal-retention.” How are we to know?

bill said...

On second thought, I believe that your your first concern: 1) “Is ‘anal-retentive’ supposed to be hyphenated?”, is needless concern over trivial differences in interpretation.

What difference does it make whether “anal-retention” is hyperflated? It's just a little vague discomfort.

seeward said...

Just stumbled across your blog - This is one of the funniest posts I have ever read.
Does Cary have a cousin such as Darwin Fish. I realeze your post was a parody and the kinds of people who BMclaren is refering to aren't in the mainstream, but they do exist.

Call Me Ishmael said...

seeward: I tend to think of Cary as inhabiting another dimension, a sort of Twilight Zone that Brian McLaren has conjured up for us, and into which I stepped for a brief moment. Darwin Fish, along with his sidekick Al Soto, & Co., on the other hand, are the kinds of sick, sick people you don't even come across in McLaren’s worst nightmares. Unfortunately, I'm quite familiar with them, along with others of their gene pool.

Veritas said...

Sometimes I am reluctantly forced into listening to one of those right-winged people who so deftly appropriate the Biblical injunction to "correct gently." I have really never understood why their opponents don't just listen to them. I mean really, if ingorantly (should I say unconsciously?) saying good things occasionally in an spoplectic tirade is the most effective way to convert someone, then everyone should be a ditto-head. I wonder what implications that has for evangelism? Maybe Pat and Jerry do know how to deal with people after all!

Veritas said...

I guess my revision wasn't very effective...I meant apoplectic.

stew said...

So, how DID you earn the "Wha-choo Talkin' Bout Willis?" Seal of Inredulity? I'm a generous sort of way.

seeward said...

ish- I hear you about the sick sick people. i guess they are the easy one's to spot. it's the imaginary ones that are more willy.
more and more I am begining to think that the hookey pookey IS what it's all about
i will be checking your blog for some more enlightened and humorous posts.

DennisS said...

I wonder if anal-retentive folks have a gluteous maximus which is in better physical condition, or are they simply full of crap.

Glenda, saved by grace said...

I could'nt let you mention "the Hokey Pokey" without informing you of this important event...
Hokey Pokey
With all the sadness and trauma going on in the world at the moment, it is
worth reflecting on the death of a very important person which almost went
unnoticed at the end of May. Larry La Prise, the man who wrote "The Hokey
Pokey", died peacefully at age 93. The most traumatic part for his family
was getting him into the coffin. They put his left leg in. Then the trouble

Call Me Ishmael said...

Actually, Glenda, Larry LaPrise was 83 when he died, and the 10th anniversary of his death is coming up on April 4, 2006. Thanks for the reminder.

Anonymous said...

Wow. That was interesting.

Deeapaulitan said...

In 1924 a student of Freud's named Karl Abraham distinguished A-Rness from anal expulsiveness. The latter is pretty much what it sounds like, the predisposition to make a mess, while A-R is Meticulousness- a reaction against anal expulsiveness.
Freud talked about anality in part because he thought toilet training was a major factor in personality development & is jokingly said to have erected an impressive theoretical edifice on the fact that he couldn't get into the bathroom in the morning.

I had to look up what anal-retentive meant because I always thought it was just a civilized way of calling someone an 'A-Hole'. I was right, and I was toilet-trained at an early age. Must be why I have such a sparkling personality.

Deeapaulitan said...

Did I just say that? Oh well, here's to the need to clean up expulsiveness!

SolaMeanie said...

"Swine apolewgists. Yew only taulk thet way when you have receev-ed a bimp on the head. Yes, bimp. That is what ah have beeen saying, yew fewl."

Jacques Clouseau aside, very entertaining!

geoff payne said...

What is the 'Seal of Incredulity?'

Anonymous said...

I have only read this one blog, and we probably disagree on quite a bit... but, nonetheless, I will try to be generously orthodox: That was freakin' brilliant.

Truly good satire is hard to find. Thank you, my friend.

Anonymous said...

Pardon my uncool denseness for not getting it, but what was on the plaque on the wall?? I have not read McLaren's book and don't plan on it...or is the whole point of this that I'm not "really sure" what was on the wall. It's so hard to understand these emerging people I can't even understand satire about them!!
funny stuff, anywho.

Call Me Ishmael said...

Dear Anonymous,

The nameplate on the plaque simply read, “The Truth.” I can’t recall it now without experiencing the same sense of ominous foreboding that overcame me on that dark night.

Dave said...

Now I'm not going to be able to sleep. Is the Hokey-Pokey what it's all about? I sure hope not.

Shawn said...

dammit man....if you're in mickey-ville again, email me. we'll an organically-grown, fair-trade coffee place, and curse.

or something.

Dr_Dale said...

Yeah, but you still haven't explained what it was you saw on the plaque on the wall. What was it?

Joseph Ravitts said...

Woe to us who don't have time to follow every online thread all the way from beginning to end! We may not understand who is on which side, or what is evaluated how.

I will therefore not remark directly on "Call Me Ishmael," lest I trip myself up with not understanding what he's getting at. I will say that I dislike R.C. Sproul for his gratuitously snide remarks about Christians who are not Calvinists, as when he claimed that non-Calvinists are so stupid as to imagine that it's really possible that ALL souls might be led to salvation. Nonetheless, I make common cause with Calvinists on many points.

Long ago, during the months which led up to my becoming a Christian, I played around with the tiny fragments of Bible knowledge I had so far acquired, and flattered myself that I was already qualified to make profound observations. Later, of course, I learned better. Now I wonder if it might be accurate to say that Emergent Movement leaders are seeking to regress everyone back to the half-axiomed silliness I was fumbling around in back in the spring of 1971.

Joseph "Copperfox" Ravitts
Columbia, Maryland

outsider said...

The answers to #1&2 are yes. The #3 apears to fit me in a couple of spots and others I know in other places. Could you be on the same ego trip that those you speak of are?