Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Message From An Old "Friend"

A while back, I received the following message in the form of a comment for one of the posts on this blog:
Mark, I'm probably wasting my time here, but what the heck. I knew you long ago and stumbled on to one of your blogs a few years ago and have checked in once in a while ever since. I guess I'm writing to encourage or at least prod you into doing something to get OFF the train wreck that has been your life so far.

The 70s are over and it might be time to grow up a bit. There are a lot of grown ups who minister for a living and I'd like to encourage you to join them before it's too late. You are 50-some years old and what have you accomplished? I'm a business man who can tell you your dream for the Christian Artist thing is not going to happen. There are plenty of ways that Christian Artists can sell their goods in the marketplace and many people have made good businesses of it. I share your conservative politics and they are in direct conflict with the idea of fundraising for starving artists. Sorry. You haven't gotten it off the ground for years because it's a bad idea. It's a business plan that will interest nobody.

Mark, I'm not writing to be cruel or sarcastic (like many I've watched you spar with). I'm just hoping this will be one of those voices from out of the blue that make you think about THINKING in a different direction, a direction that could make you a happier person. It's not like I think you should alter your faith, which is well grounded. Alter your attitude and your approach to life. At least consider it.

Here is what perplexes me. You are most certainly a man with many talents. You have extraordinary musical gifts. You are very articulate, creative, intelligent and a pretty darn good writer. Why in the name of common sense are you not employed in a ministry? Good grief man, go to Carol Stream, or Moody or Colorado or Texas. There are hundreds of ministries who could use your talents, yet I've never heard you mention working for any of them. Get IN the game Mark, instead of just commenting from the sidelines. I've worked for ministries and I can tell you, the people can be miserable (like EVERYWHERE else), but your product is worthy. Imperfect perhaps, but WORTHY.

I don't want to hurt you and what I say, I say because I think it's true. I could be wrong, but take it as an idea or just a whack on the side of the head. I'm not sure why, but you seem to have always been a difficult person to get along with. Your writings are filled with stories of those who have not agreed with you or who offended you. You've got some core beliefs that you hold to, some may be good, but some may not have served you very well. Within the Christian community there is a common practice of passing judgement, and I think it can be very destructive to relationships. We come off looking as "holier than thou," and it ends up repelling people rather than attracting them. The most effective Christians I've known seem to have a remarkable ability to suspend judgement. They don't reward sin, don't approve of sin, they just don't seem to act like they are above it.

Life is passing you by Mark, and I'm sorry to see that. In 20 years (which will pass in a heartbeat), you'll be 72. What then? I know, you are not storing up things for yourself on earth, and your reward will most surely be in heaven. It's true. But for the next 20 years, you can make a better contribution. Not by begging for a dream that is not unique and makes no fiscal or practical sense. You CAN make a difference and enjoy your life a LOT more by getting up every day and asking, "How can I SERVE others today?" Go to a ministry. Ask to serve. Take whatever they pay you. And don't try to impress others with your ideas on doctrine. Refuse to be offended. Apparently God has kept you in a humble social state. Allow your mind and spirit to join you there. You'll be amazed at where genuine humility will take you.

For what it's worth. –Mitch
Initially, I responded to the preceding comment with a comment of my own. I speculated about the identity of this particular commenter, since he refrained from furnishing me with his surname. Later, as I thought about the matter some more, I realized that the guy I initially thought had sent the message wasn't even named Mitch. I then remembered having a roommate named Mitch, back in the 80’s, when I was living at 219 Park Drive in Boston. I could be wrong, but I suspect that that’s the guy who left the aforementioned comment on this blog. It certainly makes sense.

He was a jerk even then, and apparently, nothing much has changed.

After leaving my initial response up for a day or so, I decided to delete Mitch's comment and my response to that comment, and to re-post the original article minus those comments. (Mitch's comment had little or no relation to the contents of the blog post on which it appeared, which I think says something about him.) I’ve waited until now to post a more thoughtful response to his comment, but I’ve wanted to do so for some time.

I find it fascinating that someone who admits that he knew me "long ago," and whose assessment of the current state of my life is based solely on what he's read in this blog, feels entitled to pronounce my life to be a "train wreck" --- and even more fascinating that he then goes on to criticize me for being judgmental, as if telling me that my life is a train wreck isn't at all judgmental.

He writes, "The 70s are over and it might be time to grow up a bit." I'm not quite sure where the comment about the 70's comes from. Maybe he's making assumptions based on the fact that I'm wearing a tie dye shirt in my photo. But I don't wear tie dye shirts all of the time. It's just that I never actually had such a shirt during the 70's, and I always wanted one because I thought they looked cool. The newer tie dye shirts are far better than the old ones, in terms of the intensity of the colors.

Does believing that people should be able to dress the way they want to dress, regardless of whether or not they are following the latest trends, mean that I haven’t grown up? No. In my opinion, having the self-confidence to dress the way one wants to dress, instead of being intimidated by peer pressure, is a sign of intelligence and maturity. I am not an insecure slave to fashion. It isn’t about nostalgia.

But now that I think about it, I am nostalgic about a few things. I miss the days when people couldn't legally kill their unborn children. I miss not knowing what a drive by shooting was. I miss the days when schoolyard slayings of massive numbers of children were virtually unknown in American society. I miss the days when most of the Christians I knew seemed to be more interested in evangelizing the lost than in tearing one another apart with their hateful words. If missing certain desirable aspects of previous periods of history means that I haven’t “grown up,” then I hope that I never “grow up”.

There are aspects of our current era that I think are very cool, such as improvements in technology. But things aren't inherently better just because they're newer. Those who uncritically accept new things, just because they’re new, are unintelligent and lacking in discernment.

Mitch writes, ‘There are a lot of grown ups who minister for a living and I'd like to encourage you to join them before it's too late.’ One would think, from reading that sentence, that he is unaware of my passionate desire to minister for a living, and equally unaware of the severe financial impediments which have prevented me from being able to do so.

Here's a clue for Mitch and other clueless individuals like him: High quality music instruments, recording equipment and the other items which are needed by musicians cost MONEY! (Christian musicians don't get a special discount. They have to pay the same prices charged to everyone else.) It's very difficult to finance the acquisition of such equipment, when most pastors seem to believe that musicians who want to be paid for their contributions are spiritually deficient. (20 years after the incident occurred, I still remember being called the "moral equivalent of a prostitute on the street" from the pulpit because I asked a pastor to take up a love offering for me so that I could purchase music equipment which I could not afford to buy on account of the fact that my minimum wage job barely even paid my living expenses.)

So, yeah, there are a lot of things I'd like to be doing that I'm not doing, in terms of ministry. Thanks for rubbing that fact in my face, Mitch. What a jerk.

One of the reasons for my vision for a Christian arts ministry is because I want very badly to “get in the game,” and I need to find a solution which will enable me to do so. I need the benefits of the Christian Arts Initiative as much as anyone else.

But that isn't my only reason for wanting to start such a ministry. I genuinely believe that it could make a real difference in terms of improving the moral climate in this country, and in terms of helping many other artistically talented Christians. People who are actually paying attention to the way things are going in this country ought to understand that the Church could be doing a much, much better job of reaching our culture, notwithstanding the fact that there are thriving ministries such as the ones Mitch mentioned in his message. Our insular Christian subculture is far less effective than some people like to think that it is. In my opinion, the recent election of Barack Obama is proof that our country has lost its moral bearings. (He will be the first U.S. President to have openly refused to take a stand against infanticide. His stand on issues such as gay marriage is equally appalling from the standpoint of biblical morality.)

Speaking of politics, Mitch writes the following:
I share your conservative politics and they are in direct conflict with the idea of fundraising for starving artists.
It seems clear to me that Mitch’s ideas about conservative politics are in conflict with mine. I was unaware that turning a blind eye to the needs of the poor was one of the prerequisites for people who wanted to call themselves conservatives.

There’s a basic principle of business: You get what you pay for. If you aren’t willing to invest much, then you shouldn’t expect much in the way of returns. One would think that a fiscal conservative would understand that basic principle of business. Apparently not.

Conservative Christians who claim to be appalled by the moral decline evident in popular culture need to put up or shut up. If such people aren’t willing to invest tangibly in the success of artistically talented Christians who have the potential to make a positive difference in the world, then they have no business complaining about the moral decline of our society.

And by the way, one of the reasons conservative politicians are doing so poorly in this country is that the left has successfully persuaded the average American voter that conservatives don’t care much about the poor. So Mitch, if you want to insure that conservative politics will continue to lose popularity in this country, then by all means, continue to reinforce the negative stereotypes. But I don’t think that’s very bright.

Regarding my vision for a Christian arts ministry, Mitch writes, “You haven't gotten it off the ground for years because it's a bad idea. It's a business plan that will interest nobody.”

Nobody, that is, except for bestselling author Anne Rice (who described my vision for a Christian arts ministry as “magnificent” when I described it to her via e-mail in late 2005). Nobody, except for Ken Wales, the Executive Producer for the movie “Amazing Grace,” who told me that he very much liked what he saw when he visited my website, Nobody, except for John Howard Sanden, a Christian who (according to Forbes Magazine) is one of the nation’s most successful professional portrait painters. Personally, I’ll take their opinions over Mitch’s opinion any day of the week. But maybe that’s just me.

Mitch also writes the following:
I'm not sure why, but you seem to have always been a difficult person to get along with. Your writings are filled with stories of those who have not agreed with you or who offended you.
Hey, Mitch, if you think that I’m “judgmental” and hard to get along with, try reading the story of John the Baptist. He called people things like “snakes and vipers” and he later had the audacity to speak the harsh truth to Herod about Herod’s adulterous relationship. John was rewarded for his honesty by having his head lopped off.

Up to this point, no one has lopped my head off, Mitch. By comparison, I’d say that I’m a fairly easygoing guy.

Was John’s life a “train wreck,” Mitch? Maybe. He certainly experienced his share of troubles in this life. But Jesus said that no greater man had ever been born of a woman. That’s unsurprising, considering that Jesus’ own harsh words in the Temple, in response to the presence of the moneychangers, led to his crucifixion a week later. Jesus was not the spineless wimp some folks imagine him to have been.

So here’s another clue, Mitch: Maybe you need to revise your ideas about the role which popular opinion ought to play in terms of guiding folks’ behavior. Maybe you need to revise your ideas about what it means for Christians to be effective.

I’d love to get along with everybody. I do not enjoy conflict for its own sake. But “getting along” isn’t always possible, in a world in which people do evil things which merit harsh criticism.

When a person takes a principled stand for that which is right, it sometimes ticks people off. Friendship with the world is enmity with God, according to the scriptures. A person who never clashes with anyone is a person who is too cowardly to speak the truth when it needs to be spoken.

Are there areas of my life which are dissatisfying to me? You bet. I’ve struggled a great deal in terms of my financial situation. I’ve had to deal with a lot of clueless so-called Christians, such as Mitch, who wouldn’t know the truth if it bit them on the behind, and who prattle on about God’s love while living in a way which is completely devoid of any real love for their fellow Christians or for the lost. I’ve stood and watched helplessly as our nation has continued to slide downhill in terms of an appreciation for basic principles of justice, such as the right to life.

Are there areas of my life, in terms of my own behavior, which could stand improvement? Of course. No one needs to tell me that I have not yet arrived, because I am poignantly aware of that fact.

But humility does not require an abdication of one’s responsibility to speak the truth as one understands the truth. Humility does not mean automatically accepting all criticisms regardless of whether or not they possess any intrinsic merit.

There is much more that I could say here, but my time on this public computer is almost at an end, so I think this will suffice, for the time being, as a comment on the statements which were previously made by my former so-called “friend” Mitch. With friends like that, no one needs enemies.

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