Give up everything you have

“In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”


Luke 14:33

How are we to understand this passage? First, note that Jesus is talking about discipleship, not salvation. Salvation is being saved from sin and evil, it is deliverance from destruction. A disciple is a convinced adherent of Jesus Christ, who accepts and assists in spreading his doctrines (the definitions are from the Merriam-Webster dictionary). The difference is that you might be able to enter heaven (salvation) without becoming a disciple of Christ. More on that later.

Our churches today preach a great deal about salvation. How many times have you been asked if you are saved? If you are born again? If you died today, are you 100% sure that you’d go to heaven? We’re told to pray the Sinner’s Prayer:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Savior. In Your Name, Amen.

That’s it?! That’s all we have to do, pray a prayer, and then we’re saved? Let’s see what Jesus said, at the end of Matthew:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Oh, we’re supposed to make disciples, see? Nothing about salvation, per se. And what next? “Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

A lot of churches don’t want to hear this message. They tell us that we’re saved by grace, and anything that smacks of obedience to some set of teachings is dismissed as a gospel of works. We’re told that we can’t work our way into heaven (true), but that runs up against what Jesus taught in Matthew 28. We’re to make disciples, and teach them to obey him. Presumably, that starts with obeying him ourselves!

See, a disciple is someone who has turned his entire life over to Jesus Christ. It isn’t some minimalist conversion done to achieve salvation. It’s about seeking to obey God in every action, every word, every minute of every day, even though we’re sinners and can never perfectly achieve this (that’s where the grace comes in). What does this require?

“In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.”

Notice what he did not say. He didn’t say that those of you who have sex before you are married cannot be my disciples. He didn’t say that those of you who don’t pray every day cannot be my disciples. He didn’t say that those of you who don’t give 10% to the church cannot be my disciple. He did say that you have to give up everything you have.

Now, I’m not saying that those other things aren’t important. I’m just noting that in this passage, Jesus fingers a single important qualification for discipleship, and that’s to give up everything you have.

Can you have sex before you’re married and be a disciple? Maybe, but you might be missing the point. Marriage isn’t about getting permission from God to have sex. If you haven’t given everything to God, and this includes your sex life, then you’ve probably found someone you want to have sex with, decided that you want to marry him or her, and are now seeking sanctification from God in the form of a marriage ceremony. That’s not how a disciple operates. You’re supposed to be asking him who he wants you to be with before you even meet them.

Can you be a disciple without praying every day? Well, maybe at first, but by the time you’ve seen the results of sloppy discipleship, discipleship where we only turn part of our lives over to Christ, discipleship where we only obey some of his teachings, some of the time, after you’ve experienced that kind of “discipleship” for a while, and seen its consequences… you’ll be praying to him, every day, trust me!

Can you be a disciple without giving 10% of your income to the church? Well, let’s see, that might imply that you can keep the other 90% for yourself, right?

Many Christians don’t want to hear about discipleship because they’d rather have what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace”:

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession… Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.


The Cost of Discipleship

For Bonhoeffer, the cost of discipleship was everything he had. He was executed by the Nazis near the end of World War II.

Another unpopular teaching is Luke 12:

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.”

Sell your possessions, and give to the poor! See how we edit the Gospel? We don’t want to hear that! Sounds like a religion of works, right? And we’re told so often that we don’t have to do anything, that we just have to believe, that we can’t earn our way into heaven, that these teachings were just for a rich young man… Let’s read the entire passage in Luke 12:

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

See, no rich young man. Just a radical teaching for his disciples. Remember, we’re to “obey everything I have commanded you”.

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18)

Why is the Gospel foolishness to those who are perishing? Take Luke 6:30: “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” Most people read that, say to themselves, “that’s crazy talk”, and go do something else. We cling to our wordly possessions, give some, but no more, and if somebody steals our car, we call the police. Strict obediance to the gospel is seen as foolishness.

Futhermore, there’s an obvious problem – if we sell our possessions, give the money to the poor, give to anyone who asks, well, we’ll soon have nothing, and then how will we eat? Where will we sleep? We live in a world which will do next to nothing for people with no money, and tells us constantly that we have to work for money, even though Jesus told us that “You can not serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)

In short, we will be persecuted.

Yet this is just what Jesus told us would happen. He told us that most people are going to destruction (Matthew 6:13-14), that disciples are hated (John 15:18-20), and that we will have peace, but in this world we will have trouble (John 16:33).

We’d prefer to hear a Gospel of cheap grace. That we can give some, but no more, take care of ourselves financially, and live comfortable lives free from persecution. The result is sloppy discipleship, partial obedience, indifference to others, fear of losing what we’ve got, and a distorted worldview where we confuse sin with freedom and self-reliance with reliance on God.

Let me close with some of my personal experiences, not to present myself as some kind of “super-disciple”, but to clearly illustrate how discipleship plays out in modern day life.

A few weeks ago I received a $300 gift from the parents of a student whom I was tutoring for free. It was the most significant amount of cash I had seen in about six months. Two of those three hundred dollar bills were gifted within hours to others, $100 to a man at church with a broken pair of eyeglasses, and another $100 to a different student of mine who was broke and wondering how to put gas in his truck. In both cases, I had prayed and felt that gifting the money was the right thing to do. I can also tell you that I’ve given people $5 bills and felt immediately convicted by the Spirit that it wasn’t the right thing to do, though I do believe that if someone actually asks, Luke 6:30 basically obligates me to give (it’s a commandment from God), although I will pray about each individual situation.

Although I accept cash gifts as I just described, I do all of my work for free, and pray constantly for his guidance to know just what work he’d have me do. I won’t stand behind a cash register at a store, because that implies that I won’t feed or serve people who don’t have money, and I won’t accept that kind of moral compromise in my life. On the other hand, I have often helped sweep and mop the floor at the Downtown Soup Kitchen; we should not refuse menial labor just because we’re not “called” to it by God, though in a sense I do feel called to it by God, as I’m supporting a ministry that feeds the poor. I have a college degree in Mathematics and know a dozen computer programming languages, yet all of the software that I write is published for free on the Internet. Likewise, if I hold back an essay or sermon that I’ve written, it’s because I don’t feel it’s ready or appropriate for publication; there’s no part of my writings that are done for profit while some are offered for free.

I usually sleep quite comfortably in a tent, but finding a place to put it is difficult. The “homeless problem” is the product of a society where there is no free, legal camping almost anywhere. If you don’t have the money to pay rent or a mortage, your existance is basically illegal. I’ve asked for permission to camp from property owners who seem to have no current use for their land, and been denied for apparently no other reason than to get rid of the homeless. I’ve finally accepted that almost anywhere I put up a tent to sleep, I live under threat of confiscation and eviction, and I pray to God to guide me to peaceful campsites where I can leave a tent up and sleep at night without being bothered. Theft is also a prayer concern.

I pray almost every day for food, and instead of relying on myself, I try to rely on him who fed five thousand. He’s fed me by doing work for free, he’s fed me at church dinners and rescue missions, he’s fed me out of trash cans, he’s fed me begging from door to door. The key is to pray for his guidance, pray for his work, pray for his provision, and then do exactly what he leads you to do. If he can’t get you to beg door to door (and what wonderful opportunities for ministry this can open up), then he’ll never get you to lay hands on a cripple and heal him. It’s not easy, but it’s straightforward.

People sometimes suggest that I get a job. When I was younger I would react with anger, but now I just remind myself that most of these people are disobedient to God, deceived both by Satan and a church that preaches cheap grace, and that it’s just another opportunity for evangelism. I usually point out that 90% of these jobs are immoral, because you won’t serve people without money, and that I try every day to do the work of God, whether it’s writing a computer program, tutoring a math student, or leading a political demonstration.

This treatment is dished out to break the individual and force him to work for money. Many of us know in our conscience that it’s wrong, that there’s other work we’d rather be doing, but we’re afraid of persecution. We’re afraid of being put homeless on the streets. We’re afraid of being hungry and cold. We’re embarassed at being called lazy. We need some possessions (like a laptop) in order to work. “Do not be afraid, little flock” is an easy verse to read and one of the hardest to live in practice.

So do you need to live like this to get into heaven? Is discipleship a requirement for salvation?

I don’t know, and in a real sense, I don’t care. I’m not doing this to get myself into heaven, though I admit that I certainly don’t want to go to hell! I’ve chosen to be a disciple of Christ because I believe that he’s the Messiah, the Son of God. He taught us to live in a certain way, a way that’s pleasing to God, and that’s enough for me. I’m not interested in watering the Gospel down to find some subset of it that will get me into heaven while avoiding persecution here on Earth. I’m trying to do exactly what Jesus taught, and live just the way God wants, because I believe that he’s pure and holy, and that his way, with no compromises, is always best.

I encourage you to do the same!

Enter through the narrow gate


“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.


Matthew 7:13-14

How are we to understand this passage? It certainly doesn’t read as a ringing endorsement of democracy! Indeed, the Bible warns us to be wary of populist thinking, and indicates that most people in this world are headed for destruction.

Why? Simply put, sin. The majority of people want money and sex, and are defiant of God. Nothing could better illustrate this than the world in which we live. We’ve developed a system of government that puts the majority of people in power, and the result is a society led by people who preach that self-interest drives human progress forward, committed to breaking the individual and forcing him to work for money, persecuting the most devout followers of Christ, and telling us constantly that we have freedom because a man can dress up like a woman and walk into the ladies’ bathroom!

Maybe this sounds unbelievable. After all, don’t we have freedom? In a manner of speaking, we do, but consider what Jesus taught. He told us to sell our worldly possessions and give the money to the poor (Luke 12:33), that anyone who does not give up all his worldly possessions can not be his disciple (Luke 14:33), and that we are to give to anyone who asks (Luke 6:30). If you do this, you’ll end up homeless and destitute, and we can look at the homeless to see what kind of “freedom” we have.

The church is even more of a problem than the government, because it preaches that we simply don’t have to live in the way that Jesus commanded. This theology has been a long time coming. As early as the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, the church was relaxing Jesus’s teachings to make them less burdensome. By medieval times, the church had cleanly segmented itself into those who renounced worldly possessions (the monks) and those who did not (the average churchgoer). The Protestant reformation dealt a further blow to discipleship because the protestants saw little need for monasticism, and the Catholics turned their religious orders into the vanguard of counter-reformation. Today, a protestant monk has only limited support from either protestant or Catholic churches, but there is a silver lining to this cloud. We’re not supposed to be dependant on a religious order. We’re supposed to be dependant on God.

Our churches today are full of people who defy the gospel, and our pulpits are full of ministers who preach that we don’t have to obey Christ. All we have to do is believe in him, and trust in his finished work on the cross. We don’t have to do what he teaches; that would be a religion of works, and we’re saved by grace!

What we need instead is a church that teaches us to be doers of the word and not merely hearers of it, and this includes the hard teachings as well as the easy ones. We’re supposed to be disciples, we’re supposed to sell our worldly possessions and give to the poor, we’re supposed to give to anyone who asks. A disciple has no business standing behind a cash register and refusing to feed people who don’t have money. If you won’t give in to this, you are thrown away homeless in an attempt to break you and force you to work for our immoral capitalist leadership that rejects Christ.

And democracy? It’s based on the premise that a group of people who are defiant of God have the right to rule the world because… there’s more of them. Nobody has this right. There is no group of people, no king, no emperor, no proletariat, no Aryan race, and no majority, who simply has the right to rule over everyone else. Only God has that legitimate authority.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are benefits to living in the United States. The worst persecution I’ve personally experienced is poverty, and while the hardships associated with it are real, I’ll take my tent in a homeless camp over a prison cell any day. My website might not be on the live feed at CNN, but it’s not censured. I’ve been trespassed off property whose owners don’t want to hear me speaking, but I can hold a sign in a public park or on a sidewalk unmolested by the police. The most serious legal trouble I’ve been in was a misdemeanour trespassing charge related to a political demonstration, and the outcome was a six month prison sentence and a $3,000 fine, all suspended. If this had happened in China, I suspect that I would have served years in a prison camp.

Yet while celebrating the freedoms that we enjoy, we must not forget some difficult truths. In order for democracy to be what it claims to be, whole swaths of the New Testament have to be wrong. The verse I started with, “…broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it” has to be wrong. The economic teachings, that you can not serve both God and money, they have to be wrong. The sexual teachings, of course, have to be wrong. All the stuff about disciples being persecuted and hated by the world must be wrong. Nothing in the book of Revelation suggests that mankind will one day develop a system of government that produces peace, freedom, and opportunity. To the contrary, all man-made political systems in Revelation are presented as beasts who deceive and enslave, and only the return of Jesus Christ for a millennial reign will produce a righteous government. This too, must be wrong.

Do we live in these end times? I’m not certain, but if so, Jesus told us in Matthew 24 that it will be characterised by persecution of the faithful, that disciples will be “hated by all nations because of me” (Matthew 24:9), and that the gospel will be preached to the whole world (Matthew 24:11). Pay special attention to that last part. The proper response to wickedness, in any age, is not acquiescence, not violence, not despair, but standing firm and preaching the gospel.

So let’s reject the false choices before us! We’re not to live like the majority, who chase after money and sex, but rather in obedience to God, even though that means persecution. We’re not to blow up airplanes and shoot up movie theaters like the Muslims, but rather pray for our persecutors and respect authority, even if it is wicked. Respecting authority does not mean silence, however, witness how Jesus interacted with the Pharisees. We need to preach the Gospel without watering it down, without getting angry, but with conviction and power.

Where does that power come from? Ideally, from the Holy Spirit. I’ve learned over the years is that if you obey Christ, you’ll be reduced to poverty and that seems, in this world, to be a recipe for total ineffectiveness. The main asset you’ve got is the Holy Spirit, and it’s a powerful, nay overwhelming, force that pervades the life of a disciple. It’s the Spirit that feeds us, that guides us, that makes our witness effective.

Yet “God is not to be mocked” (Galatians 6:4), and the Holy Spirit is not a wimp! Since we’re preaching unpopular truths, obedience to God will often bring us into conflict with people in this world. Remember how Jesus was treated! Remember that Peter and John were flogged for their preaching (Acts 5), yet refused to obey the Sanhedrin’s order to remain silent, telling them that “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29).

One of the pivotal experiences in my life was the political opposition Occupy, and it was the Holy Spirit that led me into it! I didn’t handle the situation very well, because I ignored the Spirit’s guidance and put myself into a situation where I let atheists dominate the movement, but that’s a story for a different essay (How Occupy Lost). The point I’m making now is that God led me into a situation where I was standing in opposition to established authority, and this is by no means unusual!

Moses stood in opposition to Pharaoh. Elijah stood in opposition to Ahab. Jeremiah was nearly starved to death because of his opposition to King Zedekiah. A common pattern here is that the prophets are primarily to speak, while plagues, fire from heaven, and conquering armies are the province of God. In other words, we’re to preach the Gospel, and warn people of their sins, but leave the punishment to God, and remember that our principle reward comes not in this life, but in the next.

Ezekiel, for example, was led by God to protest and prophesy against Jerusalem in a bizarre and specific way (Ezekiel 4 and 5). He drew a map of Jerusalem on a clay tablet, then erected model siege works on the tablet, and placed an iron pan between him and the model city, to symbolise God’s rejection of Israel. He then laid on his left side for 390 days to bear the sin of Israel, and then laid on his right side for 40 days to bear the sin of Judah. He prepared food for himself to eat during this protest and was to bake it over human excrement to symbolise the defilement of Israel, though God relaxed this requirement. At the end of his protest, he cut his hair and burned a third of it inside the city, indicating that a third of the people would die there by famine or disease, struck another third of his hair with a sword, to indicate that another third would die in that manner, and then scattered the remaining third to the wind, pursuing it with a drawn sword, showing that the last third of the people would be scattered among other nations, but preserved a few strands of hair and burnt it in the fire, indicating that a remnant would be saved, and that from them a fire would spread to all of Israel!

What a bizarre sight Ezekiel must have been, carrying on in this manner for over a year! Imagine what kinds of looks he must have received from passers-by, as he lay there on his side, next to the clay tablet! Of course he explained it all to them, probably dozens of times a day. How trying on the prophet, to undertake such a long protest! Yet to be effective, it had to be done, and in exactly the manner directed by God.

So, holding a sign by the side of the road, or staging a sit-in in a public park, is nothing compared to some of the efforts to which God has led his prophets in the past. The big question is whether God is in the lead, or whether our actions stem from our own anger, however well justified, at the wickedness we see all around us.

There’s really no substitute here for discipleship, a life-long commitment to putting God completely in charge of your life. It may take twenty years of near total dependence on him for matters as simple as what to eat, where to live, what work to do, how to travel, who to talk to, what to say, before you reach a point where you can discern the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I can offer some guidelines on prayer, fasting, Bible study, and worship. I can describe guidance I’ve received through dreams and prophetic visions. I can tell you about miraculous provisioning that confirms a course of action. None of these, however, can substitute for a lifetime spent in obedience to God. That’s how you really learn to discern his will.

It’s for this reason, I think, that Jesus told us to “sell your possessions and give to the poor” (Luke 12:33). It’s so easy to become self-reliant, to work for money that lets us feed ourselves, lets us rent a house or apartment, lets us provide for all the necessities of life and so many luxuries. Then we become sloppy disciples where the consequences of disobedience are no more than a few brief pangs of conscience. It’s better to live on the brink of hunger, of cold, of pain, because then the consequences of disobedience become real.

Let me illustrate with an example. Several years ago, I did a long fast in the mountains above Anchorage; I went 47 days without food. On day 48, I walked down (slowly), and took a bus to my regular Saturday Bible study. Our leader helped me break my fast by feeding me yogurt, and later took me to a supermarket for a visit to its salad bar. One of the men in the Bible study invited me over to his house, offering me a shower, a bed, and laundry. I declined, because I wanted to return to my own campsite, even though I hadn’t been there in a month and a half. What I found when I arrived was that the tent had been opened, there were several inches of cold water inside, and all the bedding material was sopping wet. I spent a miserable night in forty degree weather, getting no sleep, and had no money to even consider taking a cab to a motel. How many times had I seen this pattern before? When charity is offered, you should generally accept it, or at least pray about it, because often God provides for us through other people. Hopefully, that cold, miserable night will never pass out of my memory, and I pray to God now to remind of it on any future occasion when I’m about to decline an offer that he’s responsible for extending!

There’s really no other way to become a disciple. You have to live it.

This is precisely the kind of lifestyle that will never be embraced by the majority of people. They won’t obey God, because obeying him means becoming dependant on him. They want to be dependent on themselves, in the mistaken belief that men can manage their lives without him. They’ll go chasing off after some depraved philosophy like Marxism or capitalism, in the deluded belief that it “works” in the “real world” because it’s godless and cynical. Millions of people buy into these deceptions, crowing on about how modern and scientific these ideas are, that self-interest drives human progress forward, that all these people trying to make money, that’s what gives us computers and cell phones, supermarkets and fancy restaurants, air travel and beach resorts. The next great invention is just around the corner, they say, being dreamed up by genius entrepreneurs hoping to take their company public in a few years and become billionaires. Jesus told us two thousand years ago where this kind of “progress” is actually leading.

“If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened.”


(Matthew 24:22)

This is where human progress is leading. Men have convinced themselves that they don’t need God, that he can be relegated to a Sunday morning exercise, that we can pray to him and worship him, but we don’t really need him in charge of our businesses, schools, and governments. Christ’s most devout followers are rejected and persecuted, while the rich are elevated as leaders, and the church preaches part-time Christianity. All this is done in the name of “freedom”, and is justified with elections. It’s what the majority of people want, and there’s only one place that this leads – the d estruction of all human life on this planet.

An Open Letter to Surfing the Nations

My name is Brent Baccala. Some of you know me only as the man in the white robe holding the sign that reads “Surfing the Nations is a Fraud”. I don’t particularly like the sign, but it’s been given to me by God. I’d rather just stand in front of Surfer’s Church with a microphone and preach, but Tom Bower will not allow that to happen. Let me explain, briefly, my history with STN, tell you what has happened over the last month, and summarize the message that I wish you to hear.

A. My History with STN

I first interacted with STN five years ago when I lived in Haleiwa and was writing a book (Icarus’ Wing). After I ran out of money, I approached both the church and the monastery that I supported with my tithe; neither of them would house me. I also approached STN, first asking Richard Moore, and then Tom Bower if I could join the group. The answer was no, and I was left with the distinct impression that STN internships were only open to people with thousands of dollars, not to Christian disciples who had sold their possessions and given the money to the poor (Luke 12:33). I continued interacting with STN until I was categorically banned from the premises, and then left, feeling led by God to Alaska.

I continued praying for STN, praying for Tom Bower and his entire team, the staff, the interns, praying that God give Tom good council and the wisdom to discern it. I even prayed to God to let me forget STN, since it’s been so much on my mind for the last five years! Yet I avoided returning, since we have such deep doctrinal differences, and I’m convinced that Tom holds me in contempt. I finally concluded that STN was constantly on my mind precisely because God was leading me back, so I decided to return, but I knew it wouldn’t be pleasant or easy.

B. The Events of the Last Month

I returned to Oahu on June 4th and took a bus directly to Wahiawa in time for Surfer’s Church that evening. I saw Tom Bower and we exchanged greetings; he bought me a coffee. A few days later I had the chance to sit down and talk with him. I told him bluntly, “Tom, I feel totally convicted by the Holy Spirit to make a sign that reads ‘Surfing the Nations is a Fraud’ and to sit with it outside STN”. I began to explain why. I had spent hours in prayer over this and sensed that God was leading me to this exact course of action.

Tom explained to me that Surfing the Nations is not a Christian organization, it’s a humanitarian organization, gave me some vague talk that there are two kinds of people in the world, those who learn and those who don’t, and then told me that he didn’t have the time to discuss the matter with me. Our conversation lasted no more than ten minutes.

That evening, there was an open mike night at the coffee shop. I asked the barista if I could preach for a few minutes and he told me yes. I signed up at the door with Jeremy and told him that I’d like to preach; he put my name down and suggested five or ten minutes as a guideline, which was fine with me. I bought a drink, sat down, and joined a Bible study group. Then Tom Bower came over, reminded me first to “behave”, and then returned a moment later to tell me, no, I would not be allowed to preach, and I wasn’t. So I behaved, shared with the Bible study group, and then left. Of course, I had anticipated before I walked in the door that this is exactly what would happen.

The next day, I fashioned a sign that said exactly what I had told Tom it would say, exactly what I felt led to by the Spirit, without changing a word: “Surfing the Nations is a Fraud”. I took it to STN around nine o’clock in the morning, and sat down in back on Ohai Street. A few people came by, including Cindy Bower, who gave me some food, and then Tom showed up, pulled out his cell phone, and called the police. I prayed, and felt that I had guidance from God by the time the policeman arrived a few minutes later. We had a cordial exchange and established that although STN’s property in back extended up to the street, there was a public sidewalk in front. So I moved around to the front and sat down, with the sign, by the front door of the coffee shop. Tom now claimed that I was obstructing the sidewalk, but that didn’t fly with the policeman and I was left alone for the rest of the day.

The next day I returned, again, with the sign. A few people talked with me, most notably Carson Gibbs, who probably spent half an hour with me. It was after Carson’s visit that I felt the greatest uncertainty about whether my course of action was right, but Tom Bauer soon removed that doubt when he returned with two police officers to hand me a formal trespass notice and tell me that I could not sit against “his” wall. Again, the Lord showed me the answer. I moved to the fire hydrant, which afforded me a nice seat, away from the wall, where everyone driving down Kamahamaha Highway could see the sign!

The next day was a Saturday, and again I was back with the sign. Late morning two things happened nearly simultaneously. A nice Christian woman stopped to talk with me and invite me to McDonald’s for lunch, and Tom Bauer came by to suggest that I talk to someone he was “accountable to” in an attempt to resolve this. I accepted the lunch invitation, had some good fellowship and prayer, and decided that God would have me accept Tom’s offer, which I did via a text message.

The sign then remained down for a month while I met and exchanged emails with Glen Maiden, the man whom Tom had selected to facilitate this process. I’ve achieved all of those emails in a PDF if anyone wishes to review this process. A key point in Glen’s conclusion was that “[your] references did not affirm [your] teaching or prophecy gift within the church”, along with a claim that the trespass order “is not because of your message, it is because [Tom’s] students are not safe around you and you make them feel fearful”.

Once again, I feel that the Lord has showed me a way forward — this letter.

C. My Message to STN

What is presented at STN is a model of part-time Christianity. Sometimes we give out food for free; sometimes we’re selling coffee as a business. We don’t actually have to “give to anyone who asks” (Luke 6:30); we only need to give some of the time.

Feeding the Hungry is great! However, Jesus taught us to live this way all of the time.

Most people will stand behind a cash register with a huge rack of food behind them and refuse to feed you if you can’t pay. This is immoral. Jesus told us “when I was hungry you fed me” (Matthew 25:35), but if you don’t have money these stores will let you go hungry. What would Jesus do? What is the loving thing to do? What would you do if Jesus Christ himself walked up to you at a cash register and said, “I have no money, but may I have a cup of coffee?”

I’m not willing to refuse to feed people who don’t have money. Period. I will not treat people that way, and neither should you.

Those who sell their worldly possessions and give the money away (Luke 12:33) are not honored for their obedience to God, they are treated like trash. Let them get a job! After all, we’re saved by grace. Nobody else has to obey the commandments, so why should they?

If the owner of a store actually does what Jesus commands — feeds everyone that comes through the door — he will be put out of business, and the store will be taken from him and given to someone else who will not feed people unless they have money. This is our “freedom”.

The majority of people are defiant of God and are going to hell for that reason. (Matthew 7:13-14) It is not God’s will that anyone should perish (2 Peter 3:9), but people choose sin for the pleasures of the flesh and the ease of a comfortable life. They persecute people who obey God because disciples have little or no money and their leaders tell them to work their jobs and refuse service to people without money.

Do not emulate them.

The church is very weak, reduced mainly to Sunday worship and Wednesday Bible study. Most Christians spend the better part of their time working for secular leadership so that they can enjoy prosperity, which is an even greater lore than sex. What we need are Christian schools, Christian restaurants (soup kitchens), Christian supermarkets (food banks), Christian housing, Christian transportation, Christian technology — all free. Managed by prayer; no atheist Marxism; no capitalist quid pro quo.

We need to use our political freedoms to preach genuine Christianity and to organize against this wicked capitalist leadership that has come to dominate our country. Both revival and revolution are in order.

Our mainstream churches are preaching all manner of heresy because it’s popular. The Gospel is watered down so that the commandments become optional, and that’s the kind of religion that the majority of people want. Sometimes we give food to anyone who asks; sometimes we’re selling coffee only to those who have money. We obey God… some of the time.

Tom Bower is preaching that you can run a business, sell coffee, sell internships, sell leadership training, and also run a food bank and offer a free dinner before church. Look at all the people we’re helping! You can be a part-time Christian, and live a nice, comfortable life in Hawaii.

Tom’s behavior is typical of the majority. They use their authority to silence their opposition. He’s not going to talk to me, he’s not going to answer my emails, he’s not going to let me speak at the open mike night, of course he won’t let me preach at Surfer’s Church, but he’s right there with the police to “get tough” when I pull out the sign, and then claims that it’s done because people are “not safe” around me. He wants me to go away, to present an illusion that nobody opposes what he’s preaching, that nobody has a different understanding of Christianity, that everybody has to work for money, that these people are just bums, they won’t work, they’re very angry at the world, and you never hear from us to know our true motives.

The Muslim solution to this is all over the news: kill them all! The Christian solution is discipleship. We turn our lives over to Christ, we seek to obey God to the best of our ability without fudging his commandments, we understand that we will be hated and persecuted by the majority of people who are determined to break us and force us to submit to their wicked authority, and we trust in God, that through his Holy Spirit he will be guide us through this life. One of our most important tasks is to preach, and that’s why I came back to STN.

Preaching the Gospel! That’s the true Christian solution. Not to condemn Tom, rather to pray for him, to remain respectful of his authority, but not to be silent. (Acts 5:29) Tom Bower has built Surfing the Nations up from scratch, and it’s an amazing organization, full of the Holy Spirit and transformational in this community. Yet he is also preaching capitalism and pop religion, he won’t listen to anybody who comes against it, and he silences those who preach the true Gospel.

Surfing the Nations is a fraud, and this is the nature of the fraud:

Tom Bower is not a Christian.

    agape
    brent

The PDF version that I handed out at Surfer’s Church can be found here.

The email correspondence with Glen Maiden can be found here.

My Confession

How Occupy Lost

I’m homeless.

I don’t work.

For everyone who wonders what I “do”, about why I won’t “do” something, I’m now going to tell you what I “do”, and you are not going to like it.

By June 2011, I was homeless in Hawaii, seeking direction in my life, and I prayed to God for guidance about what to do next.

He sent me to Alaska.

How?

Discernment!

Here’s how it works.

I prayed first for guidance, then I prayed for dreams. I prayed with a small group of Christians for dreams, with two of us specifically asking for dreams, and I had dreams about Alaska. In one dream I was in a hilly, wooded town that I was told in the dream was Juneau. In another dream, I was in an airplane taking off. I added it all up and bought a plane ticket to Juneau, Alaska on my credit card with no idea how to pay for it.

I got on the plane with no money, knowing nobody in Alaska, and no idea what I would do when I got there. It was a red-eye, and as I sat in my darkened seat that night, the thought came to me that I would be preaching in Alaska.

Preaching? I don’t preach.

I arrived in Juneau on July 22, 2011 and slept the first week at the Glory Hole, the downtown homeless shelter. They threw me out over some stupid thing, and after a cold night spent out in the Juneau rain I met a retired math teacher at a church breakfast who gave me money for two nights at the local youth hostel. On my last morning there, I met a vacationing psychiatrist who befriended me and gave me a sleeping bag, a bevy, and a tarp. With these I set up a campsite on Mount Roberts, behind the city, a short hike up from the old mining road. Many a night I laid there after my prayers, listening to the creek murmuring below and the rain pattering on the tarp.

By mid-August I understood that yes, I am called to preach. How do I know this?

I do not know. I can only discern.

See, I’ve committed my life to serve God. I pray for guidance, maybe no more than the Lord’s prayer, “thy will be done”, every night. I have an idea – how about preaching some sermons down the way in Juneau? OK, so I’ve got an idea, but it could just be some goofy thing floating around my head. Need to pray about it. I now take that specific idea in repeated prayer requests to God spread over days. I start to really become convinced that I should do this, that it’s OK with God. I start getting equipment together, I talk to people in city hall about electricity and permits. Now I’m really going to do it.

I set a date. I want to avoid September 11. I want to avoid preaching my first sermon on the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

It doesn’t work. I get up one Sunday morning with all of the batteries dead except one little audio recorder that’s still on Hawaiian time, but I don’t know that! I hear Juneau’s bells ringing, but don’t really count them! I’m late for everything! I don’t give the speech on August 29. Nope, looks like 9/11. I was wrong. That’s discernment, too.

A friend sent me some money that I used to buy a small portable sound system. On the evening of September 7th, I spent an hour at the Catholic church, on my knees in prayer, asking to be guided by God on the whole thing, along with one last crucial point – should I point the speaker out over the ocean as the government required?

On September 11th, I went down to Juneau Marine Park at noon, the announced time for my speech. Yet I did not speak. One o’clock came and went. Two o’clock came and went. Three o’clock! Finally, trembling with trepidation, I turned on the speaker and pointed it toward the city. I whined and cried, begging God for the strength to throw the switch, but once I got started, I was fine!

But I tell you who hear me, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you; if someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also; if someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:27-31)

For two thousand years, these words have inspired many Christians. In 1200 A.D, thereabout, a young man, in Italy, kneeling before a crucifix, an icon, in a vision, heard the icon speak to him. It said “Francis, rebuild my church”. He looked around him at this crumbling church that had been built hundreds of years before, went home to his father’s shop, took his father’s best silks and a horse, went to a market town, sold the silks, sold the horse, came back and gave the money to the priest to rebuild the church.

His father was not too happy with that.

In many ways, it was a typical message from God – simple, powerful, and very easy to misunderstand.

Francis started going around Italy and preaching. Ultimately, he founded the Franciscan order and rebuilt a church that had become corrupted with greed, money, the Crusades, power politics. He turned it back to God; he turned it back, told his followers “they shall have no coins or money”; they would give all their possessions to the poor, why?, well, we read it here in this Gospel – “give to everyone who asks you”.

Now, that’s just for saints, right? It’s not for you and me.

No. Saints are not here just to do the heavy lifting while we sit around with the little one pound jogging weights. Saints are here to guide us, and teach us, and show us the way forward – “give to anyone who asks of you”.

In Matthew 25, Christ goes on again with this theme. He tells us that if someone comes to us hungry, and we do not feed him, then we are not feeding Christ, and whenever we fail to do to the least of these, we have failed to do to him.

And this is an amazing concept! Does it mean that if a Christian walks into McDonald’s, or Subway, and doesn’t have any money, and is turned away hungry, that, well, yeah! You’re turning away Christ!

And here we begin to see the wickedness and indifference of capitalism. No, the capitalists teach us, we will not do what we are taught in the book of Luke. We will not give to everyone who asks. We will stand behind a counter and refuse to do anything for anyone unless we’re getting something out of it for ourselves.

It is a rejection of the Christian Gospel, and it is facilitated by an indifferent freedom where people just sit around, pray to their God, go to their church, but the commandments are simply optional. We do them, we don’t do them, but that’s not what we’re taught. We’re taught to give to anyone who asks of us.

The terrorists ten years ago did not choose their targets at random.

The World Trade Center was a symbol of capitalism. It was a symbol of a nation that, blessed with fantastic wealth, will sit behind a counter with a smug look and say, “How about a job?”

…and some people, driven to some kind of rage, decided to hijack these airliners and murder three thousand people.

That certainly doesn’t seem to be a very Christian alternative, again, the Gospel of Luke: “Love your enemies.”

There’s another commandment, thousands of years older, not printed in red but carved in stone, “Thou shall not kill”! So terrorism seems to be out of the question.

What then do we do? Do we just see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil? Remain indifferent when faced with an immoral society that has turned away from the Christian Gospel?

That doesn’t seem like a very good idea.

No, Francis had the right idea. Francis… Ahab, when Elijah was called to preach to Ahab… when Moses was called to preach to Pharaoh… when Jesus told the Pharisees about their wickedness…

Preach! That is the answer! Not terrorism; not indifference; we are called to preach the Gospel! That is the true answer to 9/11! To preach!

No! Capitalism is immoral! We are called upon to give to everyone who begs of us! There is no exception if you’re running a business! There’s no exception if it’s just your job! It is not optional! It is a commandment from God!

I kept preaching. Nobody came to hear me, but I kept preaching every Sunday all through September. I even managed to begin starting my sermons on time, without all of the crying into the microphone with the switch off. I preached, with the volume on full and no questions taken afterward at the Juneau Empire, the local daily. I don’t have a very good relationship with the press. That’s an interesting sermon. I pretty much passed judgment on myself that day:

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, speak to your countrymen and say to them: ‘When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not take warning and the sword comes and takes his life, his blood will be on his own head. Since he heard the sound of the trumpet but did not take warning, his blood will be on his own head. If he had taken warning, he would have saved himself. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes the life of one of them, that man will be taken away because of his sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for his blood.'” (Ezekiel 33:1-6)

I tried! I tried! A huge whirlwind storm formed and blew threw the trumpet and gave it great power! But I held it in my hand too long while gazing around, then the wind came up and roared through it while I tried to pull it back, then it ripped to pieces before my eyes and the Lord held me still while I beheld the enemy taking the keep!

I moved indoors in October, preaching in the local churches, whether they wanted me to or not. By this I mean that I just stood up at the end of the service, during announcements, and preached for five or ten minutes. No, I’m not a very popular guy.

Then I was called to leave Juneau. How, do you ask? The usual. Discernment. I prayed repeatedly for guidance, because my ministry didn’t seem to be going very well. Nobody was listening; I had probably ticked off more people than I’d inspired.

I went to a Wednesday noon mass, as usual, at the local Episcopal Church, Holy Trinity, and left convinced that I was called to travel further into Alaska and keep preaching. But travel where?

I had been living in Juneau for four months, but had never visited either of Alaska’s other major cities: Anchorage and Fairbanks. I bought another credit card plane ticket (my mother ended up paying for all of this) to Fairbanks. It was a two week advance purchase, though, and the flight transferred through Anchorage, so I could still go there.

I had to decide: Anchorage or Fairbanks?

I prayed, of course. Then one evening I met a palm reader.

A palm reader?

Sounds occult. I don’t do palm readers.

She says that she’s Catholic, prays to God, hangs a crucifix on the wall. She holds people’s hands, casually, while standing in front of you, and tells them what God shows her. She reads me and tells me Anchorage.

Anchorage?

From a palm reader?

Here’s what I didn’t do. I didn’t test it. I didn’t take it back to God and ask if it’s from Him. What if she was telling the truth about everything? I never asked. I never asked her about her gifts and vocation, about her prayer life. Somebody else described her as a palm reader, not her, and not God.

I toyed with it… palm reader?… and discarded it. I flew to Anchorage on November 2, and then took the next flight to Fairbanks. I figured that I would check out Fairbanks, then travel down to Anchorage.

I’d just blown a crucial discernment on the biggest religious call of my life. How did this disaster unfold? I’d never before met anyone with a prophetic gift, at least not that I know of! I’ve met plenty of frauds, though! As I’ll explain later, we have a massive sham religion in this country. So although I understood clearly that God was in charge, I’d become very self-reliant in my vocation. I didn’t really trust anyone else to help with my discernment.

I’d also developed a bad spirit of preaching against this country. The watchman in Ezekiel 33 is called to warn the wicked, to save their lives, not to condemn them. This Old Testament prophet, sent to an “obstinate and stubborn” people, foreshadowed the loving spirit of Christ, in a way made even clearer in Ezekiel 3:

Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel, so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from the evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself.

(Ezekiel 3:17-19)

I slept the first week of November at the homeless shelter in Fairbanks, preached a bit at the University of Alaska, and then I joined Occupy.

I’d read about Occupy on the news, but hadn’t paid it much attention until I walked into Veteran’s Memorial Park one afternoon, met some of the occupiers camped out on the gazebo in sub-zero weather, talked with them for a while and joined up.

It was obviously a political opposition forming and it was just the right timing for a political campaign – a little more than a year in advance of the elections.

So we occupied. (I was called to preach) We dug into a camp at -20F, sat around a tent huddled by a fire to drive out the bitter cold and talked about the problems facing the nation. We read about what was happening elsewhere in the country on the Internet, but we didn’t have any television. I couldn’t get the General Assembly to pray at the start of each meeting, and they wouldn’t endorse my Sunday sermons, so I stopped preaching them. (Fatal)

I had a mental disconnect between the newspaper stories of SWAT teams eliminating Occupy camps and the peaceful political demonstration that I was part of. There was no way, after Tienanmen Square, that the government would use the police to break up a political demonstration. The media would never let them get away with it.

Occupy seemed to be going fine. (That was the problem) Plenty of reporters came through the camp, but I rarely talked to them. After all, the election was over a year away, so we had plenty of time to hammer out positions before making speeches. As late as Thanksgiving, I was invited to dinner at the home of a local liberal, was asked to speak, which I did, and was warmly applauded for introducing a spiritual element into Occupy!

Thanksgiving! Remember what was happening to Occupy at Thanksgiving! While I was being cheered for its spiritual side!

There were other indications of trouble, but I was oblivious. On November 6th, a woman had a vision about me after I had finished preaching at a local church. She saw me in an hourglass, trying to pass through the neck. Hmmm. Hourglass. Sand running through it. I’m in it, too. Didn’t know what it meant. (I do now) Again, I didn’t take it seriously enough. I didn’t ask God to explain it.

In early December, I decided that Fairbanks was OK, so I went down to Anchorage, to see how Occupy was fairing there. I arrived just in time to see John Martin thrown out. (disaster) But I had no clue, because I had never met John! He was thrown out of Occupy the very night that I arrived in Anchorage, while I waived vague discontent with my hands instead of John and I throwing the rest of them out together. Later that evening I met John for the first time with a delegation that handed him his walking papers.

I had never met him, but I certainly had heard of him! His affair at age 23 with his then 15-year-old adopted daughter had been plastered all over Alaskan headlines for months. Homeless like me, and for the same basic reasons, he had been camped out for months in front of City Hall on the corner of Sixth and G, six floors straight down from the Mayor’s office. He’s against Dan Sullivan’s government, particularly its homeless policy. The government bans free camping anywhere in the Municipality of Anchorage (a sprawling metropolis), including its many parks. CAP, a special police task force, evicts the homeless during the winter by simply confiscating all of their gear! It’s Anchorage! In the winter! They have no choice, then, but to go to overcrowed shelters like St. Francis.

So John was gone, but continued occupying! He had been called by God to occupy, after all! He had his camp below Dan Sullivan’s office, and Occupy had theirs a block away. He kept occupying, but I didn’t start preaching right away. (sigh)

It became clear that we were in trouble. I joined the Port protest on December 11, but did not speak, willing to obverse and plan. It just didn’t seem like the right time to start speaking. (it wasn’t)

In January, I starting preaching again. I was interviewed at the Occupy site and on KYUR 13’s Alaska Political Insider, but then nothing. No one would show up at my speeches, not the media and certainly not my own movement. I did a radio interview, too.

I soldiered on. I kept preaching, prayed for Occupy, discussed and abandoned several ideas, most notably disrupting Iditarod 40, then finally latched on to one that I liked. It only required a few people, should have been effective in regaining momentum, and seemed acceptable to God. We would occupy a news studio in February or March.

I figured that a dozen people could barricade themselves in the studio and demand to make a nationally televised speech. If we blocked the doors and refused to leave for a few days, I hoped that the media would have caved in and let me make the speech. At that point, a political nuclear strike seemed to be required; in the speech, I would have called for Alaskan secession and independence if America did not abandon her current course of leadership. In retrospect, I didn’t even need it to be nationally televised. An all-Alaska audience was perfectly adequate and quite doable. Even if the premise was extreme, a really good speech might have gotten the whole thing moving again.

That never happened. The Occupy Anchorage direct action committee shot it down. They simply would not do it. After all of their fiery rhetoric justifying violent solutions to our most pressing problems, they would not occupy a news studio. I’m not blaming them; I’m just pointing out what kinds of people had come to dominate Occupy. They want freedom; I understand. They want to do their own thing; I do too. I want to do my own thing; they wouldn’t help. I had become the enemy. They’d heard all of my Chrisitan talk and didn’t want to hear any more. Didn’t want to hear it on TV, either. They had control of our own movement, had run it into the ground, and wouldn’t give it back. I needed their help to ditch them from the leadership, and they wouldn’t let go.

I wouldn’t have worked. It might have worked, sort of. I had checked it out with God. I had discerned it, all by myself, walking around for an hour in the snow in the garden of saints outside the Catholic church and muttering to myself, but I couldn’t do it alone. (Huge) The movement appeared savable as late as March, but it required the remnants of the movement to actually do something, and the remnants of the movement were all Anarchist. Even if the studio occupation had worked, the Anarchists would still be right there at the top, which is totally unacceptable, though it seemed OK at the time.

Are you an athiest? Can you do discernment? Can you figure out which state to fly to? When to start giving speeches? Whether to go to Anchorage or Fairbanks?

I can’t. I try it and screw it up. I know you can’t because you’re atheists. There’s no way that you can be given key leadership positions. You can’t discern. You’re not really poor. You don’t work for God. I needed to throw you out immediately, and instead I showed up late enough and tolerated you long enough that I had to beg admission to get back in.

The campaign plowed on without me. I occupied more with John. I went back up to Fairbanks. I tried to commit suicide. I worked on some computer software. I put on a robe and did some street preaching, paying scant attention to the campaign.

Then Christopher Stevens was assassinated on 9/11, the eleventh anniversary of the terror attacks, the first anniversary of my first sermon!

Christopher Stevens was a super-diplomat who had slyly run Obama’s diplomacy when America conquered Libya. First he was ambassador to Quadaffi’s Libya, then when Obama backed the rebels he switched sides and became ambassador to the rebels, and then smoothly transitioned back into his old job as ambassador to the new Libya. This diplomatic two step allowed Obama to avoid using American ground troops in Libya.

His assassination in Bengazi was then followed by one of the most massive cover-ups ever seen in American history! Nobody could seem to explain what had happened! First some idiotic video tape was flown as a false flag for something like two weeks, then a massive witchhunt ensued to expose some supposed government cover-up. Meanwhile, a massive media cover-up raged on top of the supposed government cover-up.

A coverup of what?

Of admitting the link between “Obama conquered Libya” and “Chris Stevens was assassinated”, because that would confound the sham opposition hypothesis that Obama is soft on the Middle East! This is what Bill O’Reilly preached to millions on Fox News Network! The man conquered another Arab country and he’s soft! Unbelievable!

And if there really was a government coverup, a concerted attempt by the current administration to plant the video tape story, then we now have two massive coverups, both government and media, on the same story!

Finally, the race ran to its predictable outcome. The lame half-opposition limped to the finish line, prepared only a victory speech, then meekly handed the crown to the champion and vanished. Maybe it wasn’t really there at all.

I blamed everyone for Occupy. I blamed the media. I blamed the atheists. I blamed Obama. I blamed the majority. I blamed everyone but myself and then I went on. What else could I do?

God let me wonder and wander for a bit. Should I get a job? Let’s see, don’t know what else to do, let’s apply for a job… (really?)

You’ve got a job. You’re a Disciple of Chirst. God is your boss. Always will be.

I got two job hits. Hmmm… go be a schoolteacher? Checked ’em out with God. Neither one worked out. (surprise)

Defect to China? Seriously! He let me consider that for a while, maybe the Chinese would let me be a propaganda tool at least…

I had tried everything that I could think of to claw back into the election and failed. It’s impossible! It’s truly impossible for one devout man to break into the American political scene! Why? Because we’re poor! The only way politics works for a disciple is through a miracle!

This book’s key inspiration – that the whole fault for this thing is mine and that I know just how it happened – did not come until a week after election day. It required discernment, of course. It required two disciples praying a joint prayer, out loud, together, that I see the state of my ministry with laser-like clarity. A week after the election, I did.

On November 13, 2012, I knelt on the floor and confessed before God, as I now confess before you, my fellow Americans, that I bear sole personal responsibility for the absolute debacle of Occupy. This political movement was also a crucial ministry that was to preach the Christian gospel to this nation. It failed at that completely, and although many people share the responsibility for that failure, the fault is principally mine because the Lord gave me everything that I needed to overcome those obstacles and I bungled it.

Why did He tell me that? Why tell someone that he’s just blown the biggest play of his life? Why aren’t prayers answered? Would it be more merciful not to? And what was I called to preach?

What is the gospel of Occupy?

My Response to Thomas Friedman

In his best seller “The World is Flat”, Thomas Friedman identifies ten “flatteners” that are leveling the global economy; forces such as outsourcing, offshoring, supply chaining, and the collapse of the Soviet empire. His fourth flattener is open source software. None of his issues are particularly new, but it is Friedman’s treatment of them, notably both his and Bill Gates’s shocking misunderstanding of free software, that raises some of the most provocative questions of a provocative book.

Continue reading My Response to Thomas Friedman

The Spirit at Thirty

My earlier spiritual journey I documented in Bicycling across America. At the end of that account, I related how I had experienced a sort of revelation in Arizona, which could basically be summed up “Your problem is that you think you can do everything yourself.” I gave away my bicycle along with my money and almost all my worldly possessions, and started walking along the back roads of Arizona. After three days of this, having driven myself to walk forty miles with almost no sleep, I gave up. I walked back into Wickenburg, Arizona, contacted a good friend of mine, and got $200 wired to me for bus fare to California.

In the eight years since, I have often wondered about that experience. Did I set a pattern for the rest of my life by giving up? Did I commit, then and there, some fatal error from which I can never recover? If I had kept walking, would I have experienced some life-changing revelation like those of the prophets? Did I abandon God?

In my nights of despair, I plead with the Lord to forgive me this and my other sins of omission. I beg him not to give up on me. I implore him to make me an instrument of his will, to grant me the wisdom to know that will, and to bolster me with the courage I so often seem to lack. In depression, I muse that my life is already a failure, that I’ve already missed my fate, that everything for here on out is just a shell of a life, for “the man who liveth not his dream is living death.

Then I pick myself up and carry on. I view my experience in Arizona as just one stumble among many, many that I’ve committed. I reflect on Christ’s promise that “he who believes in me shall not perish, but have eternal life,” and trust that God will find in his heart the mercy to do his will in my life, imperfect as it may be. I haven’t given up. Though the light was dim, and at times appeared to have vanished completely, I’m still moving forward.

Shiloh

Three years after the bicycle trip, in 1996, I returned to one of the places I had passed through on my bike – the Shiloh community in Sulphur Springs, Arkansas. A non-denominational Christian community nestled in the Ozark mountains, Shiloh numbers about a dozen long-time members, and various transients. The community provides the no-stop-light town of Sulphur Springs with it’s only industry – a commercial bakery in the basement of the community’s main building, a one-time military academy on the crest of a grassy knoll. No doubt about it – Shiloh bakes the best bread I’ve ever tasted.

The community’s led by Pastor James, the aging inheritor from Shiloh’s founder. A quiet man, James reads heavily in mystical Christianity, and always conducted a meditation session at the outset of the community’s morning meeting. Prayer, singing, and some kind of spiritual reading (usually of a mystical nature, never the Gospels) were always mainstays of the hour-long meetings. Never, during the two months I was there, did I witness James take or administer communion.

Probably the most dominant personality was the pastor’s wife. In her late fifties and blessed with good health, Anna Lee managed the bakery, often donning a white hair net and helping work the assembly line. She was also one of the chief proponents of the community’s philosophy, which she usually summarized in the “Four Rules”: no smoking, no alcohol, no drugs without a doctor’s prescription, no sex outside a heterosexual marriage.

I made several friends at Shiloh, Paul Clough and John Knoderer, the local computer programmers, and including Anna Lee herself, I think. Most significant were two local teenagers I got to know – Jeremiah, a seventeen-year-old whose family rented a house from the community, and Robert, a thirteen-year-old who was good friends with Paul’s son, Micah.

Jeremiah’s interests included fast driving, loud rock music, and smoking marijuana. We hit it off right away. I tried to be a bit of a calming influence – teaching him how to start a stick-shift on a hill instead of just grinding the gears; driving slowly through town and saving Speed Racer for the highway. I remember him using my computer to research Marylon Manson on the Internet and asking if I thought demonic influences are real. I replied in the affirmative, and Jeremiah later told me that he had destroyed all his Marylon Manson CDs.

Robert, on the other hand, was a quieter boy who played Dungeons and Dragons with his friends and came up to visit me and browse the Internet almost every day, enjoying the interactive role-playing games, the net’s Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs). Robert would also practice on the piano while Jeremiah and I would fool around on the guitar. I adored Robert; found him quite attractive, really. Yet I was afraid of a sexual relationship developing, not because I was worried about the police or what people would think, but because I myself am very reluctant to explore gay sexuality, especially with a thirteen-year-old. The bottom line was that, to my lasting regret, I never told him how I really felt about him. Putting sex aside, the truth is that I loved him. Yet I never put my arm around him, never said the words, “I love you”. Teenagers need to know the difference between love and sex, I think, otherwise it’s easy to get them confused. Coming from a broken home, I think Robert needed love, and I desperately wanted to give it to him, but never could quite manage.

Finally, somebody smelt the marijuana smoke from Jeremiah’s and my near-daily smoke-outs, and all hell broke loose. After being confronted with this charge at the community meeting, a vote was taken that I was to leave in a week and not have any contact with the children in the meantime. I began preparing to leave, but the part about the children I ignored. Jeremiah’s father came to the next community meeting to voice his support for me, but Pastor James refused to let either of us speak and ended the meeting. The next day, one of the older ladies came into my office while Robert was there, told him to leave, and in about the nastiest voice you could imagine, told me “we’re not going to let you hurt these children”. I left, but not before literally wiping the dirt from my shoes, as the disciples were told by Christ:


And if anyone will not welcome you or listen to your message, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or that town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that town.

Matthew 10:14-15

Friends, let me exhort you never to lay down any curse, even if you proclaim the Gospel and be rejected in everything. We are taught to love our enemies, not to curse them. That curse I laid has brought so much grief into my life that at times I can not fathom how I could possibly have cursed the town where two of my best friends lived. It’s most obvious effect was on me! Even though I wanted badly to maintain contact with my friends, I took the curse very seriously and broke off all contact with Sulphur Springs. After two years, my nagging concern for my friends began to win out over the curse. I wrote Robert a letter for his sixteenth birthday; it was returned undelivered, as he had moved. The next year I actually returned to the town, and it took another year to track down my friends. Jeremiah had married, had a kid on the way, but was in most ways the same person; we now stay in touch. On the other had, Robert had changed completely, becoming very materialistic and selfish, and wanting nothing to do with me. Can I blame him? During the years when he needed me most, I was nowhere to be found. He was the closest thing I ever had to a little brother. I fear I’ve lost him forever.

The Drug War

Early in 1997, having returned from Arkansas, I lived with a college friend of mine who was waiting tables at a Glen Burnie restaurant. He was also a small-time drug dealer, keeping marijuana and cocaine in the house in addition to the usual alcohol. At any rate, the police found out and the house was raided. Five days later, we were evicted. What followed was the most profound faith struggle of my life.

In the midst of this crisis, I sought re-baptism. Through my prayers and contemplations, I recognized that Jesus had been baptized, not as an infant, but as a grown man, at the outset of his ministry. I decided to pursue the same course, though not for the redemption of sin (perhaps a serious error), but in search of an answer from God to this political campaign I was complementing. Just as Christ received a sign at his baptism, before pursuing his ministry, so I sought a similar sign at mine. While this may seem incredibly arrogant (it seems so to me, in retrospect), I can honestly tell you that I entered into the venture with the profound conviction that if God wanted me to pursue this campaign, he would give me a sign at my baptism.

I fasted for a week, then traveled to Ohio, where I had met a minister during my bicycle trip who baptized by immersion. After attending his service, I asked him afterward for baptism. Since he was busy that afternoon, he said that unless I could wait a few days, it would have to occur immediately. And that’s exactly what happened. He announced the baptism to those of his congregation still mingling after the service, we drove to a nearby lake, and with perhaps fifty witnesses, he baptized me in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I received no sign.

I drove home to Maryland telling myself that I didn’t have to do it, that I had no calling from God, that there was no obligation for me to pursue this campaign that so deeply troubled me. While I had many more doubts and agonies over it, I believe my baptism in Ohio was probably the turning point in my decision to scrap the campaign. In a moment of paranoia (What if the police busted me again?) I burned the notebook I had prepared in planning the campaign, and mostly got on with my life.

I would return to the drug war again. In early 2000, I had what you might call a relapse. I had rejected civil disobedience, but still considered the possibility of a speaking and protest campaign. I published It’s the Drug War, Stupid. Looking back on that document, I have to tell you that what disturbs me most about it is not the anger it relates, because that was real, but how political it is; how totally coaxed it is in political rights and strategies; how God has been completely edited out.

Some of what I proposed in that essay came about, though I had no part of it. The “shadow conventions” of 2000 highlighted the drug war as one of their issues, and were labeled as “ultra-left” by a society that split its vote between Al Gore and George W. Bush. I’m increasingly coming to a disturbing conclusion – that the majority of the people of this country want a war in their own land, against their own people, and are absolutely committed to a policy of “zero tolerance”.

Monasticism

I’ll probably end up as a monk, if not in name than at least in fact. My earliest direct exposure to monasticism came on the bike trip, when I visited a Benedictine monastery in Oklahoma. St. Benedict, the founder of this order, spent three years living in a cave, his only nourishment being bread lowered to him on a rope by a friend. Later, he founded the monastery at Monte Casino and the Benedictine order. He lived about 1500 years ago.

More recently, I’ve read a biography of St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan order. St. Francis’ response to the Christian gospel was similar to St. Benedict’s, but also much different. Both men took their religion very seriously, and neither were content to just sing about heaven on Sunday mornings. Yet while Benedict cloistered himself in a monastery, Francis took to the road. After giving away all his worldly possessions, he began traveling around Italy by foot, preaching the gospel and begging for his food. Any money he received, he gave away immediately.

I don’t completely subscribe to Francis’ philosophy; you won’t catch me sprinkling ashes on my food because I think it tastes too good! Yet we are in agreement on many and the most significant points. I consider it a religious obligation to give to beggars, and recently have found myself on various occasions without a penny to my name. Yet I have no intention of getting a job just to produce money; I have plenty of important work to do, and frankly, pride. I despise the capitalists and will not support their nightmare system by working for them simply because I’m forced to if I want to eat. Like Francis, if I lack benefactors, I will simply go hungry. Yet God knows what we need, and will provide it – I’m not starving away, thanks to those who give to me and particularly Bruce Caslow, my most significant supporter over the last few years. It’s Bruce that paid for an apartment in Washington when I couldn’t afford the rent; Bruce who was always tossing twenty bucks my way when I didn’t have anything to eat; Bruce who was always there to review an essay or discuss my spiritual trials.

I think we need both the Benedictine and the Franciscan ideals in our lives; we find both motifs in the life of Christ. Jesus spends forty days in the wilderness, withdraws onto a mountaintop to pray, spends all night in prayer. We need to withdraw into seclusion, perhaps best the seclusion of nature, to experience God in solitude. Christ also travels from town to town, stays with friends in Jerusalem, sends forth his disciples and tells them to take no money, or packs, or extra clothing. We also need to come down from the mountaintops and express our love of God through our fellow man. Honestly, the great saints seems to know this. Francis at times withdraws into seclusion, and Benedict finally left his cave. Ultimately, we don’t need a ten-acre monastery or public vows to life as brothers in Christ. The monastery was wherever Jesus went, and the most important vows are the ones we make to God.

New Age Christianity

I’ve been exposed in the last year to New Age Christianity, most particularly through Neale Donald Walsch’s Conversations With God books. For those unfamiliar with this, Walsch claims that his books are essentially channeled from God. He would take a pad of paper, write a question, and wait for an answer to come into his head. Sometimes no answer would come, and he would put the pen down until the next day. When an answer would come, he would write it down and then ask another question. He wrote three books this way.

The basic tenet of these books is that We Are All One. When the Bible states that God made us in his image, it means this spiritually, not physically. We are, each of us, a little piece of God, which God created in order to experience the universe as individuals. Those who become completely self-aware, such as Jesus, realize their own oneness with God and, through faith, find power even over death.

This theology is radically different from traditional Christianity. It claims, among other things, that there is no Devil (we invented him ourselves); that we reincarnate again and again; that Jesus was not the only one to rise from the dead, and that we, like him, can conquer death, through faith; that spiritual masters generally don’t marry, not because they don’t have sex, but because they can’t make an exclusive commitment to one person.

I can’t quite figure what to make of this. If true, it means that we can pass through death, and if our faith is strong enough, be resurrected. If false, then it represents a temptation of the Devil and a path only to our own self-destruction. Russ Wise notes that The New Age offers man the same deal the serpent offered Eve in the garden. If you eat of this fruit, you will become like God. The fundamental question it poses is simple – is Christ a guide and teacher, to be followed and emulated, or is he the unique Son of God, whose miracles can not be duplicated?

Edgar Cayce

At a seminary, it’d be interesting to conduct a class on Modern Prophets. What do we make of people like Nostradamus? Edgar Cayce? Joseph Smith? A Course in Miracles? Conversations with God? We can’t just ignore them – the claims they make are too serious. Yet we’ve been taught there will be false prophets, so we can’t just accept them at face value, either. They require careful consideration.

Cayce lived in the early twentieth century, and would enter a sleeping, hypnotic trance in which he’d respond to questions with answers from a “Source” that appeared to have extra-worldly knowledge. The Source revealed that reincarnation occurs, that among Cayce’s previous lives was that of a priest in ancient Egypt, that the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza was actually a prophecy in stone that records the exact moments of Chirst’s birth and death, as well as the imminent entrance of humanity into a new age symbolized by the King’s Chamber, etc, etc.

In addition to the New Age ideas here, like reincarnation, I find Cayce disturbing because of some of the prophecies he made that I tie into my own life. He prophesied his own return “in the capacity of a LIBERATOR of the world in its relationships with individuals; for he must enter again in the age that is to come, or in 1998”. At the time of my contemplated drug war campaign in 1997 I knew none of this, but in retrospect I ask myself if that wasn’t the “appearance” that was to have occurred a year later, in the election year of 1998. And just when is “the age that is to come”? Is it a subtle shift, like the turn of the millennium, or the change from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius? Or is it a dramatic change, to be characterized by political upheaval, environment disaster, or global unrest?

In retrospect, I wish I’d never read any of this! I’d rather just not know, and stumble along, making the decisions as best I can without have all this extra stuff nagging at me in my head. Others have similar doubts about Cayce; some of his prophecies just flat out never occurred.

Arrogance

Early in 2001, I had a dream in which I saw a newspaper tabloid on a supermarket checkout stand. It’s headline gave three prophesies for the coming year – disaster for the United States, war in the Middle East, and the appearance of a great saint. Of course, my ego thrusts me into the later role. Am I a great saint? If so, how do I “appear”?

New Age Christianity and the Cayce prophecies raise even more disturbing questions. Could I duplicate the feats of Christ? Be the reincarnation of St. Peter? Become a Messiah? This is the fundamental question raised by these teachings – was Jesus the unique Son of God, or all we all sons of God, who can seek to obtain the same level of faith and power?

Is this insanity? Not exactly. I don’t actually believe that I am Jesus, or God, or a Messiah. Yet the reading I’ve done raises these disturbing questions. It’s more an intellectual insanity, generated by competing theologies, than a physiological one with some chemical imbalance at its source.

The Spirit at Thirty One

In another dream, I was running through a cave-like maze of passages, fleeing in terror from some attacker. I soon realized, though, that my attackers weren’t really attacking me at all – they were mocking me and my books. Mocking my attempt to learn Spanish by reading it. I emerged from the cave and decided to return to the place I was fleeing from. Perhaps I thought I had killed someone, in fact, it was only a flesh wound. There was really nothing to run from at all; then I awoke.

So what am I running from? From my failure at Wickenburg? From human society? From the Drug War? From God? And what do I make of all these ideas and theologies I’ve been exposed to? Ultimately, I can’t answer these questions, and I doubt that anyone can. Only God holds the answers. So, through prayer, I’ve asked God to reveal these answers to me, and I trust that this way, I’ll get the answers from the only source that holds them.

As I finish this essay, I’ve just turned thirty-two, so perhaps the title is becoming something of a misnomer! In the last year, I’ve given up on spending all my time in front of a computer screen, thinking I’m going to save the world through a website. I’ve hitchhiked across the United States, down into Mexico, and back. I’ve become a lot more comfortable having no money, am willing to go hungry if need be, and don’t feel tied down to a nice apartment and a pile of possessions, though I regret that I can’t fit my piano into my backpack. I’m on my way now to spend at least a few weeks in the Appalachian Mountains, fasting and praying. Certainly Jesus did this at critical times in his life, and many were the saints and prophets, from Abraham to Francis, who found God in seclusion, in the wilderness. Hopefully, I’ll find these answers, too. In any event, I haven’t given up. The spirit at thirty-two is still searching…

The peace of Christ and the love of God be with you all.

Capitalism and Christianity

Is capitalism an un-Christian philosophy?

The answer to this question depends heavily on how you define your terms. “Capitalism” and “Christianity” are both complex words that mean different things to different people. Debating over the meaning of these words is largely pointless; it’s like arguing over whether a glass is half empty or half full. I’ll present my definitions up front, to make my meaning clear. If these words mean different things to you than they mean to me, then your answers may vary.

By Christianity, I refer to the religious and philosophical system taught by Jesus of Nazareth, and recorded primarily in the Bible’s four Gospels. I do not selectively endorse any one denomination or division of Christianity, nor do I reject any. The Bible is confusing, and there is room for honest disagreement among Christians. In my opinion, the key to Christianity is to believe in one man, Jesus Christ. To believe that he’s the son of God, that he came to this world and gave his life that we might be saved. To believe that one of the greatest gifts he left behind are his teachings, recorded for all time in the Gospels. To believe that his system, his philosophy, and not any other one devised by man, is the way to live your life. The parts we understand, we must strive to live in our daily lives, no matter how difficult or seemingly unreasonable. If any part of Jesus’ teachings were trivial or unimportant, he wouldn’t have bothered with them. If the ways of the world take precedence to you over the Gospel teachings, or if you simply don’t care what the Bible says, then read no further, as this essay will have little to say to you.

Capitalism, likewise, has several different connotations. In the course of writing and discussing this essay, I’ve identified three major interpretations of the term. Let me define them as follows:

  • capitalism¹ – a laissez-faire economic system, characterized by the separation of economy and state, “anti-socialism”, free markets, free trade, relatively light taxation, and a minimum of government interference in commerce

  • capitalism² – an industrial model of production, well illustrated by Henry Ford’s assembly line, characterized by heavy specialization of both capital and labor, economies of scale, with the cost of goods reflecting the distributed costs of production

  • capitalism³ – a pseudo-religion of greed, characterized by pursuit of self-interest, often associated with the claim that each individual, by advancing his own self-interest, ultimately advances the good of society

For the remainder of this essay, I’ll use the superscripts to indicate which meaning of capitalism I’m discussing.

I have no real objection to capitalism¹ or capitalism², and in fact reject socialism completely, but this isn’t the meaning of capitalism I wish to discuss. Likewise, to some people capitalism means a commitment to hard work and self reliance. I don’t really object to this, either, having no problem with either working hard or taking pride in your work, though I do feel that “self reliance” can be easily twisted into an insistence that others rely on themselves.

I take serious exception to capitalism³. One of the most important functions of religion is to provide us with a value structure through which to judge right and wrong. Capitalism³ is a philosophy of life that can only be described as pseudo-religion of greed. It usurps the role of religion to provide a distorted morality. “Give to all who beg from you,” Christianity teaches us. “What’s mine is mine,” the capitalist³ answers. “Love your neighbor as yourself,” is the Bible’s Golden Rule. “Take care of number one,” is the capitalist³ response. “Sell all your worldly possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow me,” Jesus told one of his questioners. The capitalist³ just laughs.

Let’s not be distracted by the capitalist³ talk of “freedom”, either. Someone who takes a gun and robs a convenience store has freedom. He’s just chosen to use it to evil ends. Freedom implies the ability to chose between good and evil, but doesn’t provide us with a value system to judge between them. This is the function of religion.

So often, when a capitalist³ talks about freedom, it’s really a clever attempt to intertwine capitalism¹ and capitalism³. Anyone opposed to capitalism³ is twisted into an opponent of capitalism¹, and the distinction between the two is glossed over or ignored completely. Anyone who opposes “capitalism” is depicted as a monster socialist who opposed to freedom and liberty. In fact, just because we support capitalism¹, a society largely free from government control over the economy, doesn’t imply support of capitalism³, a dog-eat-dog world where men live like wolves and prey on each other as best they can. Freedom does not imply that everyone lives for himself… unless that’s what we choose it to mean.

These are my main objections to capitalism³:

  1. The values we promote.

    Don’t underestimate the impact society’s values have on people, particularly the youth. We need to teach and practice Christian values, to lead others clearly. Making money shouldn’t be our primary goal, and we shouldn’t allow money to interfere with our commitment to Christianity. Christianity’s two greatest commandments are to “love God with all your heart and all your mind” and to “love your neighbor as yourself”. Nothing’s wrong with working hard, as long as we’ve got the right goals. Our first goal in life must be to seek God’s will for us and put it into effect in our lives. Our second goal must be to love and serve others.

    If we have a product or service for which people are willing to pay, we can make money, but be sure not to turn away those who can’t pay. Remember the Christian commandment, “give to those who beg of you”; let’s be sure to honor it! Having money isn’t the problem; the problem is what people will do to get money and then to keep it. The Gospels make it clear that generosity is one of the great virtues of our religion.

    So many times, when someone comes up with some nifty new idea, they immediately start figuring if they can get a patent on it, slap some restrictive license on it, or just keep the details secret. Instead of immediately asking “how can we make money on this?”, we should instead start by asking “how can we best serve God and man with this?” Make the commitment to God and others first; let the money come later.

  2. The kind of society we build.

    Let’s face it – not all the people who try to start a company and make a ton of money actually succeed. Yet enough do succeed to make a difference in our lives – Microsoft, WorldCom, Exxon, GM, RCA. Imagine if as many people who tried to make a fortune instead set out to make the world a better place. Not all would succeed. Yet enough would succeed to make a difference, because it’s the attempt that counts. Little by little, we’d find ourselves living in a world of love and hope. Instead, little by little, we find ourselves living in a world of greed and despair.

  3. The legacy we leave.

    What do we want our children to say about us? Do we want them to answer with pride that their parents sacrificed to make the world a better place? Or are we content to let them shrug and say, “Yeah, they made a lot of money“? How do we want our age remembered by history? Are we willing to risk being judged along with the conquistadors and robber barons? Or will we sacrifice now, so that we may be judged along with the prophets and saints? Let’s decide that the future will look back on us and say, “these people did everything in their power for the good of others”.

  4. The treatment of dissidents.

    By “dissident” I mean anyone who won’t adopt the capitalist³ philosophy. My personal experiences in a capitalist³ society are far from pleasant. In my youth, I began quite adept with computers, and ended up working for some major computer companies in the early 1990s. Yet I couldn’t stomach the secrecy with which the technology was developed, and I decided that any software I wrote was going to freely available to anyone who wanted it. That decision cost me my livelihood and turned me into an outcast on the fringe of society. And for what? Because I wanted to write software and publish it for free on the Internet. We need to build a world were people won’t be ostracized just because they won’t go along with “the system”.

A man cannot serve two masters. If he attempts to do so, the demands of his masters may for a while coincide, but ultimately will diverge. The two masters will demand two different courses of action, and then you have to chose. Christianity and capitalism³ are two different masters promoting two different value structures.

Christianity teaches us to “give to all those who beg from us”. So long as we keep this firmly in mind, fine. Yet the capitalist³ philosophy is often one of selfishness. “I take care of myself; nobody else will take care of me.”

Of course, the capitalist³ would no doubt raise a flurry of objections:

  1. Capitalism³ works…

    …in the real world,” I can almost hear you adding. Well, Christianity never claimed to work in the real world. In fact, Jesus taught that Christianity would be rejected by the world, and that his disciples would be persecuted and killed.

    Consider also that capitalism³ is not the world’s only “success story”. Fascism worked. By the end of 1940, fascism had conquered all of Europe. Germany was fascist; Italy was fascist; Spain was fascist; Poland had fallen in a couple of days; France a matter of weeks. Fascism ruled the entire continent. Fascism was a “success”. Hitler felt so confident he invaded Russia.

    Communism worked. By the middle of the twentieth century, between Russia and China and their various satellites, communism ruled half this planet. Communism turned a backwards, rural nation into an industrial super power, put the first man into space, and cast its intellectual appeal to many of the world’s left-wing thinkers. Cuba looked to communism. Angola looked to communism. Communism was a “success”. Kruschov pounded his shoe on the table and declared, “We will bury you!”

    Other notable “successes” include Negro slavery; the conquest of native Americans by both the Spanish and the Anglo Saxons; the establishment of global empires by Britain, France, and Holland; and the military dominance of the Mediterranean by Rome for nearly a millennium.

    Clearly, judging “success” is a difficult matter, made easier by the passage of time and quite difficult without the hindsight of history. Yet even if communism or fascism had genuinely succeeded over the long term, neither of these societies I’d want to live in! Success shouldn’t be measured just by the expediance of the moment, but by moral and ethical considerations. To blandly declare “Capitalism³ works,” and to use this as a trump card to cancel all other considerations, to also to accept these other societies, because each, at some time and in some way, “worked”.

  2. You have to survive.

    Total relativism. People had to survive in Soviet Russia; the way to do it was to become a communist. People had to survive in Nazi Germany; the way to do it was to become a fascist. This argument can be used to justify anything.

    Jesus’ answer to this question was not to worry about survival; let God take care of your survival. My answer is slightly different. We do have to survive, and the way to survive is to take care of each other and to build a society where people can take care of themselves, and walking into Safeway with a $20 bill doesn’t count. If you’re dependent on another man for your food, freedom quickly becomes an empty euphemism. Government welfare programs simply replace one form of dependence with another.

    The capitalists³ don’t want freedom, except for themselves. You don’t make a lot of money by setting people free. In fact, quite to the contrary, the way to make a big pile of money is to make people dependent. Bernard Ebbers didn’t build WorldCom by making long distance communications free. The way to build a WorldCom is to put a switch on every telephone line in this country, then sending people a bill every month and turning off their service if they don’t pay.

    Under capitalism³, everyone “has to survive” because everyone is dependent on the capitalists³ for food, housing, clothing, transportation, and pretty much everything else in life. The Christian solution is to love our neighbors, and one of the best ways to do this is to make our neighbors self-sufficient.

      “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day;
      Teach him to fish, feed him for life.”

  3. We don’t have raw, naked capitalism³; it’s regulated by the government.

    A good point, but not one want we’d like to carry to its natural conclusion.

    Why do we have an Environmental Protection Agency? Basically, because a bunch of people decided that it was in their business interests to build factories that dumped all their waste into the nearest river. It’d be nice if the people building factories would design them to be clean, but then those factories would be more expensive, they wouldn’t be able to compete, and the clean factories would all go out of business. Eventually, people got sick of not being able to swim in their rivers, clamored to their government for a Clean Air Act and a Clear Water Act, and now every factory in this country is regulated by the federal government.

    Why do we have anti-trust laws? Basically, because people like John D. Rockefeller realized that their oil companies could make a lot more money if they also owned the railroad companies and charged competing oil companies ten times as much to use the same rail lines. All the competing oil companies would have far higher operating costs and eventually go bankrupt. It was a smart business decision. Eventually, people got sick of having their oil prices dictated by a monopoly, the government passed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, and now every major business deal in this country requires government approval.

    Why is Microsoft now embroiled in an anti-trust lawsuit with the U.S. Justice Department? Because Bill Gates is acting in the heritage of Dow Chemical and Standard Oil. He’s putting his own profit interests ahead of the better interests of society. So Microsoft keeps all their source code secret, engages in restrictive licensing practices, violates networking standards, and deliberately breaks the backwards-compatibility of their software. These are good business decisions, and the trend is clear. Eventually, the entire high-tech software industry will be regulated by the federal government.

    The capitalists³ love to gripe about socialism, but capitalism³ itself is one road to socialism. The capitalists³, by a constant pattern of abuse, will create a society in which all aspects of everyone’s lives are eventually regulated by the government.

    We don’t want raw, naked capitalism³, nor do we want massive government regulation of our lives. The only alternative is for people to take responsibility for their own actions and do what is in everyone’s best interest. Otherwise, the only way we’ll have a decent society is for the government to force it on us.

  4. Capitalism³ gave us everything we’ve got today.

    Maybe, but I won’t argue the point. I don’t think we have to give up own modern technology to live as Christians. Even if we did, given the choice between a modern, advanced, rational, scientific world, and living a simple, primitive life according to teachings of Christ, which would you choose?

  5. You can’t run a business like that.

    Then don’t run a business! Run a charity, or a philanthropy, or a non-profit organization. If the word “business” gets in your way, discard it, because almost anything can be done in a Christian way. Jesus doesn’t tell us what kind of house to build; he just gives us a foundation to build upon.

    If you’re running a restaurant, turn it into a soup kitchen. This doesn’t mean you have to run off your regular clientele, move to the inner city, and spray paint grafitti over your logo. Just make sure that when somebody comes it without money and asks for a meal, feed them! It doesn’t have to be the broiled lobster tail. Don’t hide or disguise this policy; make it clear to your workers and customers. If you have trouble paying your bills, let your suppliers know about your Christian practices, and if necessary find new suppliers who will reciprocate in kind. Go directly to the farmers if need be, and move your operation to a friendly church’s banquet hall if you can’t pay your rent. If some people leave and don’t come back, so be it. You can’t please everyone, but make sure one of the people you please is God.

  6. That sounds very noble, but I’m sick of working every day and want to be my own boss.

    This is the great lure of capitalism³. “Sign up for own system,” they say, “then you can work for yourself.” Well, I signed up seven years ago. I ran my own computer consulting practice, then I found two partners and started a regular company that eventually grew to have about a dozen employees. To make a long story short, there’s no better way to uncover the myths of capitalism³ than to run your own business. You don’t work for yourself. You work for the marketplace. You don’t make your own decisions. You do what sells. Unless you’re a sole proprietor, you’ll have salaries to pay, a significant tax burden, probably rent and insurance as well. If you don’t make money, you’ll lose your employees, be evicted from your space, go out of business and still have the government chasing after you for back taxes. If you can manage as a consultant or sole proprietor, you’re a lot better off, but don’t risk asking yourself if this is the best you can do for others. The answer may cost you your livelihood.

    Independence in capitalism³ is largely a myth. If you’re not aggressive and somewhat ruthless, you’ll always be a small player, still largely dependent upon the marketplace. The only way to become a big player is to go along with the program. It’s like going into a restaurant and being told that you can order anything off the menu, so long as it’s fish. If you love fish, that’s great, but what if you wanted chicken? You probably won’t come back to that restaurant, no matter how good the food, but the capitalists³ want every restaurant in town to serve only fish.

  7. This isn’t Christianity.

    One of the great advantages of Christianity is the Bible. We don’t have to take anybody’s word for Christianity; we have Jesus’ teachings, written down and preserved for us over 2000 years. To know Christianity, read the Bible, particularly the four Gospels, praying for wisdom and understanding. Don’t take my word for it, or anyone else’s. Remember that not everyone who claims to be a Christian will be saved. By the same token, don’t let the ways of the world and the opinion of others distort your interpretation.

  8. Christianity is based on faith, not works.

    This isn’t what Jesus said, and it isn’t what James said either. Faith is the basis of Christianity, but we’re clearly charged by the Gospels to put our faith into action.

  9. This just doesn’t make sense.

    Jesus never attempted to justify his philosophy by invoking reason or logic. These are the tools used by human philosophers to justify their systems of thought. Logic worked very well for science; it laid the foundation for all the technology we use daily. Scientists had developed logical systems to explain physics, chemistry and biology, perhaps philosophers could also develop systems to explain and govern human society. Thus, in the last few centuries, we’ve seen fascism, based on the logical, rational, scientific ideas of Charles Darwin; communism, based on the logical, rational, scientific ideas of Karl Marx; and capitalism³, based on the logical, rational, scientific ideas of Adam Smith. On the other hand, Christianity isn’t based on reason or logic, it’s based on faith.

  10. This is what “the people” want.

    A tricky argument that attempts to intertwine democracy and capitalism³. Democracy can not be used as a trump to justify any course of action. Suffice it to say that capitalism³ must be judged on its own merits, not based on how many people support it.

Let’s not put our faith in capitalism’s false, worldly pseudo-religion of greed. Christianity is a real religion, with a real God, a real savior, real prophets, and real salvation. “For God so loved the world that he he gave his only Son” to us. Will we accept him, and live his teachings in our lives, or turn him away?

Christianity and democracy in Les Misérables

Victor Hugo’s epic novel Les Misérables, set in post-Napoleonic France, explores a broad range of political, philosophical and religious issues. Two of the novel’s major philosophical themes are Christianity, personified by Valjean, and democracy, personified by Marius. In my opinion, Les Misérables represents Hugo’s attempt to reconcile the two; he fails.

The entire first volume is devoted to the development of Valjean’s character, and Christianity is the driving theme. First we meet the Bishop of Digne, known to the people of his town as a “just man”, and Hugo reinforces this. The Bishop gives up his episcopal palace because it’s needed by the hospital. The largest item in his budget is “for the poor”. A sudden windfall goes to the soup kitchen and orphans. He spends all day with a condemned murderer before his death.

Yet all this is preparatory to the entrance of Valjean, an unredeemed convict and outcast taken in by the priest after being turned away from every inn. “This is not my house,” he tells the stunned man, “it is the house of Jesus Christ.” Valjean betrays the Bishop’s trust, steals his valuable silverware and sneaks out the back door. Captured by the police, he is returned to the priest, who not only covers up for him by claiming that he gave him the silverware, but insists that he take the silver candlesticks as well, exemplifying Jesus’ commandment that if a man should take your coat, give him your cloak as well. The Bishop then imposes a benediction on Valjean:

“Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.”

The Bishop’s generosity triggers a profound spiritual crisis in Valjean, and he converts to Christianity. His is not an outward conversion of baptism or communion, but an deeper, inward conversion. Though he never sees the priest again, his life changes dramatically. Under an assumed name, he establishes himself in a small town, makes a clever invention which pulls the local industry out of recession, and in a few years is able to erect his own factory. With its proceeds, he improves the local hospital, builds two new schoolhouses, and funds a dispensary for the poor. In time, the King prevails upon him to become mayor. The bishop dies; Valjean wears black to mourn for him, symbolically taking the torch of Christianity, which he is to carry for the rest of the novel.

His willingness to restrain the police earns him the enmity of the town constable, Javert, destined to become his lifelong nemesis. Valjean once declared that there are no bad plants or bad men, only bad cultivators. Javert states that “these men are irremediably lost”. Javert, who knew Valjean in prison, suspects his true identity, and becomes more and more withdrawn from the mayor. The last straw comes when Valjean sides with a prostitute Javert is determined to imprison, invokes his powers as mayor, and frees her. He learns that she turned to prostitution to support her daughter. The woman dies, and Valjean promises on her deathbed to support her daughter, Cosette. Yet Valjean’s cover is soon blown, by his own refusal to let an innocent man, mistaken for him, go to the galleys for life, and he flees with Cosette. As the child grows into a young woman, Valjean lives in Paris, frequently changing identities to avoid the determined Javert.

Enter the last of the novel’s major characters – Marius, destined to fall in love with and marry Cosette. Like Valjean, he inherits a symbolic torch – the torch of revolution. His father was made a Baron by Napoleon on the battlefield of Waterloo, and passed the title to his son on his death. Marius has a hundred cards printed bearing the name “Le Baron Marius Pontmercy”, and fancies the restoration of the Napoleonic empire.

“Le Baron” is soon disowned by his maternal grandfather, and cast off into a life of poverty. He meets the Friends of the ABC, a revolutionary society of students, philosophers and poets led by the fiery Enjolras. While the Bishop of Digne converted Valjean through simple acts of generosity and mercy, Marius’ new friends resort to wit, philosophy, and a barrage of words to convince him to abandon Napoleon’s empire and adopt a new cause – republic and democracy – but the means remain the same: the sword, the cannon, the barricade.

Hugo goes to great length to present us Marius in the most sympathetic light. He gives his poor neighbor twenty-five francs for rent when he himself has only thirty. Yet he also appoints himself judge over his neighbors, declares “these wretches must be stamped upon,” when he realizes that a robbery is about to take place next door, and sends for the police. He regrets this judgment when he realizes that the ruffian about to commit the crime saved his father’s life at Waterloo, and begins fumbling for another way out, but ultimately it is Javert who bursts into the room and disrupts the crime. Hugo conveniently arranges for this act to save Valjean, but did the Bishop of Digne “stamp upon” Valjean after his crime? Wouldn’t it have been a simple rationalization for the Bishop to think he had to stop others from being victimized by Valjean? Let’s not forget Valjean’s original crime of stealing bread to feed his younger brothers, which lead him to the galleys and a life of crime. Marius has good intentions, but never adopts the Bishop’s willingness to turn away from a wrong, determined instead to fight his oppressors.

As revolutionary fervor again sweeps France, Enjolras rallies his secret society. Thirty years had passed since “Library, Fraternity, Equality” became the swish of the guillotine, the roar of cannon, the tramp of legions, and still they want more. The revolution comes, and Enjolras springs his plan into action, turning their favorite wine-shop into a fortress and erecting a barricade across the street. Valjean passes through the army lines wearing his National Guard uniform, enters the barricade, then gives up his uniform so a man with a family to support can slip away and be saved.

The government is determined to crush the uprising, and soldiers surround the barricade and storm it. Marius becomes the hero of the rebellion after winning the battle by threatening to blow up the barricade, himself, the soldiers, and all his friends. Now, if he could have blown up only the soldiers, would he have hesitated for a second? Moments earlier, Valjean was faking the death of his arch-nemesis Javert to free him on a side street. Would Marius fake the death of the soldiers? If the soldiers had not retreated, would Marius have carried out his threat of martyrdom? Probably. “Victory or death!” has been the rallying cry of radical patriots since day one.

Valjean, though present at the barricade, fires not a single shot. After freeing Javert, he turns his attention to Marius, determined to win his revolution or die fighting the soldiers. The government attacks again in force; the barricade falls. Marius, badly wounded with a broken collar bone and multiple head injuries, faints into the arms of Valjean, who lifts a sewer grate and drops in carrying the half-dead revolutionary. As he escapes through the sewer with the unconscious Marius, the wine-shop is taken, Enjolras is executed by firing squad, the ABC Society goes down fighting and Revolution of 1832 falls to pieces.

Marius recovers from his wounds to find much of his world collapsed around him. All his close friends are dead; what is left is his love for Cosette. They marry. Valjean confesses to Marius that he is a fugitive convict. Marius, not yet knowing that it was Valjean who saved him at the barricade, believing that Valjean shot Javert, and wondering if his six hundred thousand franc inheritance was stolen, gives Valjean the cold shoulder and gradually pushes him out of Cosette’s life. Valjean, believing that the girl has a husband and no longer needs a father, acquiesces.

Marius ultimately learns the truth – that the inheritance is legitimate, that it was Valjean who saved him at the barricade, that Javert’s murder was faked – and regrets having estranged Valjean. With Cosette in hand, he rushes to redeem himself with Valjean, only to find him on his deathbed. So Valjean dies, in the presence of his adopted daughter and son-in-law. Perhaps this is meant as another symbolic torch passing, but who will carry it on, and in what form? Will Marius “love his enemies”? Will his wife resist corruption by his hot-headed rebellion? Has the Bishop of Digne’s torch passed or finally died?

The failed 1832 uprising featured in Les Misérables was but one in a series of violent clashes spawned by the French Revolution. After declaring a constitutional monarchy in 1789, the French assembly within five years had executed its constitutional monarch. No provision for trying the king had been provided by the constitution; the national assembly simply tried him anyway. The masses packed into the Place de la Revolution and cheered as Louis XVI’s severed head was hoisted aloft. Of all the Marius’s leading the government, not one Valjean stepped forward to spirit the king away through the sewers under the city. After the king and the aristocrats went to the guillotine, next came the leaders of the revolution themselves. Robespierre, Saint-Just, Coulton – each got the six-inch haircut.

At last came Napoleon, who Marius once exulted as a “sun rising”. After leading the French to devastate Europe, he was finally defeated and exiled. Yet any doubt that his was anything but a popular dictatorship was put to rest following his escape from Elba, during the “100 Days”, after he landed on the French coast with 1200 men. Every town told to oppose him threw open its gates; every army unit sent to reverse him cried “Vive l’Empereur!” After being defeated in Russia, losing their entire army, and seeing their country in ruin, thousands still turned to the conquering general.

To this day, the masses insist on immolating themselves on the barricades in pursuit of truth, justice, and the French legions storming across Europe. How many millions of Germans cheered for Hitler as he proclaimed the Anschluss? How many millions “believed” in communism when Lenin proclaimed a worker’s state in Russia? How many millions today think that greed is the driving force behind all human progress? How many will surrender their prized silverware to a convict and a thief? Yes, Christianity can save democracy, but only by dragging it unconscious through the sewers of Paris.

Democracy is a system of government where the majority of people choose not only their own leaders, but everyone else’s. Democracy has little do to with right; nobody has the right to choose someone else’s leader. Democracy is primarily about responsibility; the majority has the responsibility to choose everyone’s leaders. If they choose wisely, it will succeed; if they choose poorly, it will fail.

Bicycling Across America

The first three nights of the trip I camped out. Once in New Jersey State Park, twice in the Pine Barrens. On the third night I was north of an Air Force base and lay in my tent, listening to the jets roaring into the gathering darkness. I imagined myself as the pilot of each plane, banking over the wilderness away from the city lights. I realized that I wanted to see the country, and that meant seeing the people. That night, I abandoned my original plan of camping in the woods. I’d head into towns and find the people. The next morning I packed up and waded down the river I had camped by. Out west I would start camping again when towns became sparse, but for now I prepared for a new challenge – asking people to camp on their land.

Asking to camp out may seem a trivial challenge, but I wasn’t used to approaching strangers to ask favors. In fact, I wasn’t really good at approaching strangers to ask for anything! The next night I took the path of least resistance and asked at churches. Although I was sometimes turned down, more often a local pastor would put me up.

The day I crossed into Pennsylvania was one of the more stressful on the trip. I had tried to visit Tom Brown, the outdoorsman and survivalist. Although I had called ahead, I was discouraged from visiting his ranch in the New Jersey hills. All his classes were booked into ’94. Nevertheless, I wanted to give it a try. Those other people had paid $600 to be in the course – but I had biked up the mountain.

I was turned away by two of his assistant instructors. Later I realized my error – I had come to see Tom Brown. I should have realized my goal, even if it meant getting brushed off with two words. I had set myself a goal and fallen short by my own fault. That disappointment would soon be compounded. The front rack and tire began to rub each other. I had had problems for several days with it. I pulled into a gas station, having become lost and ending up heading into the city instead of skirting it. I picked up a phone and started to call home, ready to call it quits. Crying, I realized that I’d have to get the bike fixed no matter what, so I might as well do it here. I asked the gas station mechanic – yes, there was a bike shop just down the road. This was the first of three stops I would make at bike shops – everytime I found respect for what I was doing. For the first time in my life, I felt I was respected not for what I knew, but for what I did. It felt good.

The bike shop owner helped me bend and reattach the rack. He asked no money either for his time or the few parts he had donated. I left in much better spirits. By now it was 3 p.m. I was in downtown Easton, PA, and didn’t feel like any more riding that day. I found a Masonic Temple, hoping to find a DeMolay Chapter. No such luck – in fact I never managed to actually find any chapters along the way. Those I saw listed on Temple directories never had contact people listed, and often I couldn’t even find a directory. Kansas City wasn’t much help – all they gave me was the Executive Officer’s name and number. I tried that in two or three states and could not quite find the people to work through state bureaucracies. It’s a sad comment on the state of our fraternity when we don’t even provide contact information at the temples.

The owner of the shop next door came out and introduced himself. We talked for a bit and I told him what I was doing and that I was looking for a place to stay that night. He asked me into the shop and started calling places – a bed and breakfast, a local college. Finally, he found a YMCA that had rooms for $12 a night. It was about 8 miles west in Bethlehem, PA. He gave me directions and I was on my way. Some nice people had helped me through one of my toughest days. I was through the day – and I was through New Jersey.

I stayed at the Y for two nights. Bethlehem is not what you’d expect from Steel Town, USA. It’s a college town with a historic downtown, pizza joints, bagel shops and a refurbished shopping area. When I left, I headed southwest in Lancaster County.

I stopped in a church near Blue Ball. No minister was around, but the people next door let me put a tent in their backyard. George had retired from sales and had gone back to farming, gardening a small plot behind his house. After my college course in crop production, I could at least have a conversation about fertilizers and plowing. Later, his daughter, who lived across the street called to ask why her dad was putting up a tent!

The early highlight of the trip came in Gettysburg, PA. It was getting dark and I wasn’t quite in town yet as I passed a Christian Rescue Mission. I stopped and asked if I could stay overnight. The night manager said I could, and I moved my bags inside. I met Wayne, about 7 years older than I, a college grad who had lost his job and gone hiking up the Appalachian Trail. When his money ran out, he wound up at the Adams Missions.

We talked a while, went into town together, and got along pretty well. There were some junk bikes behind the mission – we decided to use them for spare parts, get one running, and Wayne would travel with me for a while. I stayed an extra day to work on the bike. In the rush to get the bike running, I neglected to lock mine.

The next morning it was gone. At the time, I remember I felt relief, since each day had become a battle to keep going and not dwell on the enormous task ahead. Within a few days, I had gotten a lift home from my parents and realized that I had to finish the bike trip. While waiting for the insurance money, I visited a commune in Virginia that had been on my itinerary and did some work to get extra bucks. A month later, I would make a point to pass through Gettysburg on my new bicycle. Wayne would still be there.

During the month between these two stages in my trip, I visited Springtree Farm Community in the Virginia hills. I stayed a few nights and really enjoyed it. This commune got started in the early 70s and has gone through some ups and downs. They had 6 people there full-time, plus visitors. All the food (well, almost all) came from the garden and orchard. The fruit crop was really kicking during my visit – cherries and strawberries out the wazzo. I helped plant, harvest and cook. I enjoyed a solar shower and a swimming hole. The relaxed pace gave me a chance to reflect and recharge. I left with some new friends and a fresh commitment to my trip.

When I restarted the trip at the beginning of July, I was soon glad I had visited Springtree when I did. I hit the Pennsylvania mountains in the midst of a heat wave. Instead of turning south into West Virginia as planned, I decided to head into Ohio and get through with the hills. This cut out Virginia completely, so I would have missed Springtree.

I did cut off a small corner of West Virginia, hitting Morgantown and spending a few days visiting one of my brothers, a friend of a friend. It was nice to relax in a familiar college atmosphere for a bit. If you ever get to Morgantown, be sure to grab a meal at Maxwell’s, a nice little restaurant in “downtown”.

Next came Ohio. Riding down the highway one evening, I saw a man struggling to put up a sign – “Country Church”. I stopped, gave him a hand and wound up getting food, a place to put the tent for the night, and an enjoyable service the next morning (it was a Sunday).

In Kentucky I spent a day “on the job” helping a stonemason I had met at a church in a small town. Farther south I headed off the main road to visit the next community on my list. The hills got steep and the weather was hot, Hot, HOT! On one hill, I just collapsed and let the bike fall in the middle of the road. I vented my anger and frustration at an imaginary driver who ran over my bike. No drivers came along the remote road and gradually I calmed. I thought about heading back again, but that didn’t feel right. No – I had to finish the trip and that meant I had to finish the hill. I said a prayer for faith and strength, then got back on the bike. I didn’t stop until my destination.

New Age Community Land Trust is currently manned by two women. They practice permaculture, raising garden crops on raised beds (since the soil was so poor). They have no running water (except a gravity-drop cistern), relying on rainwater and a spring, no electricity, using kerosene lamps, and cook with a woodstove. I really enjoyed the “rustic” experience. Something about raising crops, harvesting them and cooking them appealed to me very deeply. Also, Joanie had spent 3 years in seminary. She finally dropped out after concluding that the church was more interested in managers than in spiritual leaders. She mentioned that they never had a discussion about “faith struggles”. This was certainly something I knew little about, but I would remember her words in Arizona.

I stayed two nights, then left in the morning, when it was cool and the hills were manageable. Heading into Tennessee, I turned south to visit The Farm, a famous commune in the 60s/70s. The Farm went through an economic crisis in the early 80s, emerging as a land trust more than a commune. The fields are no longer farmed seriously, camping fees are charged to visitors, and the Store, though maintaining a leftward bent, features your typical junk goods and high prices. Outside the store I met some teenagers who invited me over to their house. That turned out to be a much better call than staying at the Farm.

I have since been told that since these folks threw their beer cans in the back of the truck, instead of out the window, they were “Good Ole Boys” and not “Rednecks”. The first night I was there, we went to pick up some sand at their cousin Steve’s. Steve demonstrated the canon he had built in the back of his pickup truck. It ran off an acetylene torch rig mounted behind the cab. First Steve primed it with a small charge. Then he pumped gas into it for two or three seconds, as black smoke rose from the barrel from the primer. He lit the torch and touched the flame to the cannon. The bang would have made any rock band cringe. I was told he once fired a tennis ball half a mile.

Next, I swung back into northern Tennessee, to a visit a DeMolay friend from several years back. I had a fun weekend with Hart, his girlfriend and her 14-year-old brother, Brad. Both Hart and Brad have an interest in loud car stereo systems. Hart sells them and Brad plots to outdo Hart. “You get a ‘450’, I’ll get a ‘650’,” he says with a flick of the eyebrow. “You get a ‘650’, I’ll get a ‘750’.” Hart has a Bronco and Brad has a pickup truck which, err… sits in the driveway, since he, err… can’t drive yet.

Heading west again, I crossed the Mississippi at Dyersburg, but not before the first and worst crash of the trip. I was riding in the evening and wasn’t paying close attention to my riding. No cars were coming – I simply ran off the road. I ended up with a flat tire, a cut knee and a sprained wrist. The wrist caused enough pain that I stopped to have it X-rayed. Nothing was broken, but it bothered me the rest of the trip. I can still feel it if I bend my hand back.

I crossed into Missouri, the eastern part of which featured some of the worst drivers I encountered. These people just couldn’t slow down, even though I had no shoulder to ride on. I even had people blowing the horn at me when the left lane was completely clear for them to pass! I saw some people sand bagging, and thought to myself: These floods have a benefit. They bring the people down to size. My basic impression of eastern Missouri was that the people forgot how their forefathers struggled to farm the land. Now everything is pesticides, tractors, and futures quotes on the Chicago Board.

After leaving Missouri (and the Ozark Mountains – whew!) behind, I picked off a corner of Arkansas to visit Shiloh, a Christian Commune. It was here I felt most comfortable of all the places I visited. Shiloh is somewhat liberal as communes go – they let you keep private property, though any work you do while there is donated. They support themselves by running a bakery, which turn out the best commercial bread I’ve ever set my teeth into. The people were relaxed, welcoming and generally fun to be around. I hope I took some of Shiloh’s “state of mind” with me and look forward to visiting there again the next time I’m in Arkansas! It was during this time that my parents caught up to me with their motorhome. I traveled with them for a day or two, and was rather glad to part company. Though I miss my family and friends, I found the vehicle and campsite quite stifling after a month on the road. I slept outside at night, and marvelled at the other people packed into sites on the campground. Incidently, they had so much trouble with the motorhome that I made it to California before they were back in Maryland!

In central Missouri I visited East Wind, the largest commune I saw. The community had about 70 members who ran a hammock and sandal business, as well as a nut butter plant. Through these industries the commune funded itself. By commune standards, they were wealthy – a small library, a videotape collection, dozens of buildings, electricity and running water throughout. Most food was purchased from outside, unlike the homesteaders, who tried to grow almost all of their own. I stayed a couple days and decided that East Wind was neat to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. A work quota of 40 hrs/wk was demanded of each member. Of course, this time including cooking, child care, and various clean-up chores, but still I would come to such a place to escape the pressures of a regular work week. Also, I saw some political actions that disturbed me. One of the kids had a squirt gun taken away after the commune passed a bill stating that members of a non-violent community had a right not to see “violent” toys. So is a football a violent toy? This struck too close to freedom of expression for me.

Now I began to ride across Oklahoma, where the land started to open up and I started to see serious head winds for the first time on the trip. In Stillwater, I passed a Catholic Church and stopped in to ask if any Monestaries were in the area. I hadn’t though of this before I began, but I figured since I was visiting communes, I should check out the oldest ones of all!

I was directed to St. Gregory’s, about a day’s ride south. I tried to call ahead but by the time I a got ahold of the Father I was to speak with, I was practically there, so I just rode over. I think my appearance with no advance notice hampered my welcome, but it was still a fascinating visit. St. Gregory’s monks run a small college to support the abbey. Mass is every morning at 6 a.m (I got up once), followed by a silent breakfast. The monk talk during lunch, and dinner is eaten while a selection is read from a book (I got English history while I was there). Two monks stick out in my mind – Br. Dominic, who was always ready to help me out or show me around, and Br. Benedict, who I didn’t talk to for long, but he impressed me with his spiritual commitment.

After Oklahoma, things started to spread out a bit. I slept in unlikely places like an airstrip, since towns spread farther apart. The highlight of Texas was a night spent on a “peace farm” across from Pantex, the U.S. nuclear weapons assembly facility. I learned some neat things about how H-bombs were moved around on tractor trailers, saw some pictures (“H-bombs in Rush Hour” sticks out) and came across a book called Peace Pilgrim. If you get a chance, check it out. It describes the life and teaching of a woman who spent much of her last 25 years walking across the country with God’s message of love. She stopped counting at 25,000 miles on foot!

In New Mexico I climbed to and crossed the continental divide. The mountains were actually easier than the Appalachians, since the younger Rockies don’t have the rolling hills that keep you climbing the same height over and over. But above 7000 feet it can get cold! I remember the last day of August. I rode about 20 miles after sunrise and my breath was freezing in front of me.

Arizona turned out to be the climax of the trip. My second day in the state brought me close to Winslow. It had been a tough and frustrating day, as I had fought a 20mph head wind all the way and didn’t make good time. By this point in the trip, I was looking forward to the end and starting to count miles and days. Also, insects came out at nightfall and I had to put up the tent on a quite interchange off I-40. I didn’t like putting up the tent, preferring to sleep outside. I wasn’t in a very good mood as I put up the tent, inflated the air mattress and lay down to pray. In my mind’s eye, I pictured myself saying to God, “just do whatever you want to me”.

In the next minute, I had what I would describe as a mental lightening bolt. I suddenly saw that my problems were of my own creation – I was relying on myself instead of on faith. I was going to ride the bike; I was going to put up the tent; I had the money to buy food. I saw that what I needed to do was get rid of all that. The next day was Labor Day and everything was closed, so I rode on the Flagstaff. Here my bike trip ended.

I agonized for a day or two, then committed myself. On Wednesday morning, crying, I took the bike for a last ride. Finding a local church, I gave the pastor the bike and most all the gear, telling him to do what he wanted with it. With my last money, I bought a pack to carry, and paid for postage to mail my wallet, contact lenses, and few other things home.

I hitchhiked 60 miles south to the last spot on my itinerary. Arcosanti, in the Arizona desert, is a design city being constructed by Italian architect Pavlo Solari and his colleagues. His basic idea is to abandon auto-centric design in favor of compact, dense structures that put people within walking distance of work and play. It’s on I-17, about halfway between Phoenix and Flagstaff. Stop by if you’re in the area – take the hour tour. It’s worth it.

I got another ride west to Prescott, from where I started walking south. I got into a national forest and lay down under some pines. I slept several hours. I guess I awoke around 3 a.m, judging from the moon. A mosquito was bothering me, so I started walking again. The moon was half full, so I had plenty of light and the road wasn’t heavily traveled. I walked through sunrise, getting out of the hills and the national forest around 9 a.m. I napped a bit, then continued my walk across the mesa. The night had been only slightly cool, but the day was hot. I decided not to hitchhike, but to keep walking for a while, fasting. Foolishly, I had brought no water, so had to wait until I passed through towns.

By late afternoon, I was coming into a small town and stopped at a ranch to ask for water. I was also offered food, and that was the end of my fast. That night, I slept until dawn in an abandoned building that was once a shop or restaurant. Morning saw me facing a long downhill to the desert, so I hitchhiked down it and into the town of Wickenburg. I was depressed and upset. I felt disappointment at having broken my fast. I was afraid to keep walking across the mesa in the heat. More than anything, I was afraid that if I kept walking, I was afraid I would find my calling, and I was afraid of knowing what it might be.

That day, I broke down. I got money wired to me and was on a bus by that evening. I had discovered that a part of me, much stronger that I thought, wanted nothing to do with grand visions of any kind. I wanted my family and friends, didn’t want to be rich, but didn’t want to be poor, wanted to write software, play music, cook nice meals and certainly not wonder all over the country.

By the next day, I had made it to San Clemente, California, where a high school friend was living. Chris was gracious enough to put me up for a week I waited for my wallet to be mailed back to me. I don’t know what it was – the two months on the road, the two days on the Mesa, or just being around someone who loved what he was doing. I realized that the big reason I found computers unfulfilling was that the work didn’t challenge me physically. I saw that I had become much less assertive in groups than I used to be, more content to be with people just because I enjoyed their company. I found a deep respect for a young man I hardly knew, but who was ready to surf for the 20 years even though he could never make a penny doing it.

I left San Clemente after a week I really needed. It let me put my feet back on the ground. Right now, I’m in San Diego, toying with going to Mexico for the two weeks before a friend of mine comes out to visit. Then what? I don’t know. I love the land here, the surf crashing into the rocks, but am already tired of the congestion. I’ll see what happens after a week or two.

I realized something about friendship, too. Some people judge friends by their influence on you – “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk.” “Friends don’t use drugs.” “A friend would never tell you to drop out of school.” But it’s really much more than that. Just because someone may not be a fully wholesome influence, doesn’t mean that they don’t care. We’re all human – we all make mistakes. Friends introduce you to new ideas, new ways of life. It’s the prerogative of a friend.

Love,

Brent