The Muddy Brown Line

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The Muddy Brown Line

#1  Postby pelfdaddy » Jul 16, 2017 11:52 pm

I've been wanting to unload this for some time now, and the lifeboat is the best place I know of to do that. Please forgive the length.

The pastor of a local charismatic Christian assembly wandered up my driveway one day while I was in the garage using a rotary sander to prepare my kitchen cabinets for a coat of glossy butter yellow. He was relaxed and assumed a non-threatening posture, but his face told me of his misgivings. He had no direct reason to fear, but he had come equipped with the knowledge that this could potentially get ugly. Introductions and small talk included his casually pointing down the road with his thumb to indicate the epicenter of his vicarage, and assurances that he had only come to get acquainted, whereupon I led the wary pulpiteer into my domicile for lemonade and air conditioning.

After settling into an aqua-toned IKEA couch with a trim, modern profile, he took in his surroundings rather slowly, commenting on our peaceful living room complete with vinyl record player, vaulted ceiling and skylights, abundant house plants--but sans television. After the usual throat clearing, he got down to the purpose of his visit. I could only smile with recognition as he drew from one pocket a small white leaflet...

I have been pondering an image in my mind. The image is that of a water color painting of a bumble bee that I recently came across. It seems that even an experienced water color artist finds some difficulty in distinguishing the bright gold of the bee's brilliant stripes from the deep black of the alternating background. Where the two meet there exists an almost unavoidable zone of muddy brown. This is not terrible; the painting itself was quite natural and appealing. I was simply unable to keep my eyes off the thin, brownish green border between two tones that differed starkly in value.

Every Christian knows, and cannot deny, that official Christendom in all eras has been girdled by the deep black band of corruption. Every Christian contends, but cannot prove, that individual believers in all eras have been gilt with the pure gold of innocent faith. Every objective observer knows, and cannot un-know, that the border where selfless sincerity meets commercial cynicism is where most believers live, because they have no place else to go. They are trapped in the muddy, algae-slicked bank of pragmatic existence, constantly reconciling the claims of faith with the demands of reality.

I recognized the pamphlet because it was the same one I had found on my door a few weeks prior to our meeting. It was an announcement of upcoming events at the church, specifically a week-long series of revival meetings. It promised, with no blush of embarrassment, that attendees could expect financial wholeness, physical wellness, and marital happiness provided they arrived with an open heart filled with faith and ready to receive these enviable benefits. Bodily healing, miraculous and instantaneous, without medical intervention, was practically guaranteed. The paper had been left in a conspicuous place by some perambulating foot soldier in the preacher's congregation. I had promptly brought the offending literature inside my home, dropped it on my desk, turned it over to the back side, and written a response. This I then placed in an envelope, applied the appropriate postage along with my return address, dropped it in the outgoing mail slot and trusted the mail carrier to see that the pastor received my unfiltered opinions of his ministry. Now he had come to confront me face-to-face.

"I was just trying to make sure that there is no misunderstanding," he began. "I mean, it sorta looks like you are ready to sick the police on us for...you know, for just practicing our faith. Is that how you would describe the words you wrote? I mean...I'm just wondering."

"I cannot imagine how you got that impression from what I said. I would never demand that people be persecuted for what they believe. Have you already told your congregation that your neighbors are out to get you? That is what most preachers would do. A church is highly motivated when they are imbued with the Siege Mentality."

He ignored my comments about the Siege Mentality, which told me that he had indeed slang forth from the pulpit his tale of persecution and hardship. He assured me that my writings sounded more aggressive than I was letting on. I have to admit they were direct and fortified with clarity. But he was somehow missing the main point.

"I think you should be prosecuted for fraud", I said. "No offense."

"Oh, none taken!" he laughed. Irony was everywhere. We were enemies acting like friends over lemonade. Like Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neil over whiskey. "But I don't see where the fraud comes in. We aren't doing anything illegal, we aren't selling a product, and contributions are voluntary."

"You are in fact selling a product. That brochure in your possession tells the bearer to expect supernatural events to take place in their favor. There is no warning included. The reader needs to know that when they bring their burdens to the church expecting relief through faith and the power of prayer, nothing is going to happen; and when they ask questions about why nothing happened, you are going to offer them excuses. You need to include that in the leaflet--you know...like the Surgeon General's warning on a pack of cigarettes. The contributions are voluntary, but are coming from people who are being lied to about the true nature of the spiritual return they are getting on their investment."

"Alright, but...look, you're acting like everyone agrees with you. You don't think there are miracles, so therefore there aren't any miracles. What if you're wrong? In fact, I'll just tell you, I know you ARE wrong."

This was when I told him about the water color painting of the bumble bee. And the muddy, blurred line.

Every day, religious believers who happen to have breasts are discovering the presence of lumps when they perform self-examinations in front of the bathroom mirror. Doctors say that these are commonplace, harmless, and go away by themselves. These women are convinced that they have cancer, and ask their church friends for prayer. Then they see a doctor and find that they are in perfect health. They attribute this fortunate prognosis not to any actual ongoing state of well-being, but to the power of God. They tell everyone at church that they had six months to live but have been cured of cancer. The story is repeated for years, taking on an independent existence and growing with each retelling. The same is true for melanoma, back pain, and eviction notices. Very little is said about amputated limbs or children with severe burns.

Do most believers realize this? Do they know that they are only noticing the confirming information, exaggerating the details, re-aligning the coincidences to seem more elegant, and forgetting all of the disconfirming data? Well, yes and no.

There are snake-oil salesmen that prey on the faithful, and they know exactly what they are doing. But most people are more complicated than this. On a certain level, they truly believe in the miraculous. At times, they have their doubts, but they put these aside because they want to believe; because they hope it's real. They never experience a true, first-hand, unambiguous miracle. But they hear other people telling their amazing personal stories, assume that they themselves would experience such things if only their faith was greater, and continue to hope. The pure gold of their sincerity and innocence is colliding with the deep black of corruption, and they are living in that muddy brown smear.

Their churches are growing because they are evangelizing aggressively. As more people attend, they have to expand their facilities and programs to accommodate greater numbers of people. This means there are more bills to pay. After they pay the preacher's salary and the utility bills, there is usually very little left over for the 'sandwiches and blankets' type of charity that most of us associate with "doing some good". They have essentially ear-marked every dollar for future expansion, because more people means larger facilities, which requires more people to pay the bills, which means larger facilities, etc. They refuse to recognize this upwardly ascending spiral for what it is; a money grab. They think that "success" is marked by growth, and that this is a sign of life. The need for more money, the tendency to apply pressure to the members for more resources, and the pragmatic nitty gritty of treating the church like a business is lost on them. They gloss over the lies they tell themselves.

They are living on the edge of sincerity, in the muddy brown smear that borders corruption.

My guest was amused by my illustration. "So we are all just liars, is that right?"

"It's not that simple. People who believe the gospel also tend to believe that anything that promotes Jesus is OK, so they exaggerate their experiences. After they have told their stories over and over, they forget which parts are exaggerated, so really, they are just telling it as they remember it. There's outright lying, and then there's bullshit. You guys are classic bullshitters."

I figured he would conclude our visit with a reference to Paul's conversion. He did not disappoint. "Well, I also wanted to come by because I believe there is hope for everyone. Even the Apostle Paul, who was the greatest persecutor of the early church, had an encounter with Christ that knocked him off his high horse." He grinned at the cleverly couched reference to my arrogance.

"I think Paul should have been prosecuted for fraud", I responded, spreading my hands with a shrug that signified 'I'm nothing if not consistent."

He demurred to my offer of a refill on his lemonade. We parted ways not in friendship but with friendliness. I had gotten my point across, but there was one thing I had not told him. The church itself is a rather nice modern building situated on five well-manicured and tree-shaded acres within easy walking distance from my house. From the perspective of my one-year-old rat terrier puppy, it is the perfect place for a regular morning 'comfort' stroll. Which means that, as the pastor was walking away, he had no idea that I had been making secret, daily contributions to his church.
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Re: The Muddy Brown Line

#2  Postby Skinny Puppy » Jul 17, 2017 6:11 pm

Incredible writing skills... awesome story! :thumbup: :thumbup:
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Re: The Muddy Brown Line

#3  Postby pelfdaddy » Jul 17, 2017 6:59 pm

Nice of you, Skinny. I just wish I didn't have to leave so much out, but it's already too damn long.
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Re: The Muddy Brown Line

#4  Postby Mike_L » Jul 17, 2017 7:30 pm

Skinny Puppy wrote:Incredible writing skills... awesome story! :thumbup: :thumbup:

I second that! :thumbup:

pelfdaddy wrote:I have been pondering an image in my mind. The image is that of a water color painting of a bumble bee that I recently came across. It seems that even an experienced water color artist finds some difficulty in distinguishing the bright gold of the bee's brilliant stripes from the deep black of the alternating background. Where the two meet there exists an almost unavoidable zone of muddy brown. This is not terrible; the painting itself was quite natural and appealing. I was simply unable to keep my eyes off the thin, brownish green border between two tones that differed starkly in value.

Too many watercolorists believe that everything has to be wet-in-wet... or wet-on-dry with a heavily-loaded brush. The best way to render the bee 'fur' would be to use a dry brush approach, overpainting the yellow with the black.

Sorry, couldn't resist! :grin:
I know it's a metaphor (and a very good one).
Plaudits to you for your direct and unapologetic stance against religious fraud, and for sharing the well-written story with us.
:thumbup:
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Re: The Muddy Brown Line

#5  Postby crank » Jul 17, 2017 8:01 pm

I agree about your writing, are you a writer? You have the skills of a good writer of fiction, great for dealing with the religious!
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Re: The Muddy Brown Line

#6  Postby pelfdaddy » Jul 17, 2017 9:05 pm

The comments are very kind---but no, I do not write professionally. I'm just one of millions who enjoys reading, thinks they probably have a book inside them somewhere, and is too damn busy making a living to find out. Show of hands?
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Re: The Muddy Brown Line

#7  Postby crank » Jul 17, 2017 9:08 pm

I had a book or two inside of me, ended up having to use the pages for toilet paper during an unfortunate period years ago.
“When you're born into this world, you're given a ticket to the freak show. If you're born in America you get a front row seat.”
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Re: The Muddy Brown Line

#8  Postby scott1328 » Jul 17, 2017 9:15 pm

Mike_L wrote:
Skinny Puppy wrote:Incredible writing skills... awesome story! :thumbup: :thumbup:

I second that! :thumbup:

pelfdaddy wrote:I have been pondering an image in my mind. The image is that of a water color painting of a bumble bee that I recently came across. It seems that even an experienced water color artist finds some difficulty in distinguishing the bright gold of the bee's brilliant stripes from the deep black of the alternating background. Where the two meet there exists an almost unavoidable zone of muddy brown. This is not terrible; the painting itself was quite natural and appealing. I was simply unable to keep my eyes off the thin, brownish green border between two tones that differed starkly in value.

Too many watercolorists believe that everything has to be wet-in-wet... or wet-on-dry with a heavily-loaded brush. The best way to render the bee 'fur' would be to use a dry brush approach, overpainting the yellow with the black.

Sorry, couldn't resist! :grin:
I know it's a metaphor (and a very good one).
Plaudits to you for your direct and unapologetic stance against religious fraud, and for sharing the well-written story with us.
:thumbup:

When decorating figurines (ceramic, plaster, etc) it is better to dry brush over the black.
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Re: The Muddy Brown Line

#9  Postby Mike_L » Jul 18, 2017 7:57 am

scott1328 wrote:
Mike_L wrote:Too many watercolorists believe that everything has to be wet-in-wet... or wet-on-dry with a heavily-loaded brush. The best way to render the bee 'fur' would be to use a dry brush approach, overpainting the yellow with the black.

When decorating figurines (ceramic, plaster, etc) it is better to dry brush over the black.

Aye. :nod: Same approach with gouache (opaque watercolor), which I favor above the transparent / translucent sort.


pelfdaddy wrote:The comments are very kind---but no, I do not write professionally. I'm just one of millions who enjoys reading, thinks they probably have a book inside them somewhere, and is too damn busy making a living to find out. Show of hands?

Something to do in your retirement years. In the meantime, you're very welcome to hone your already-superb writing skills on ratskep!
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