Saturday, December 23, 2006

Dave Sim's blogandmail #97 (December 17th, 2006)






January 7 – The Complete JOSHUA

January 21 – The Complete JUDGES

January 28 – The Complete FIRST SAMUEL

February 4 – The Complete SECOND SAMUEL

All 1 pm start times!

Dear Mr. Sim,

When I recently purchased a copy of the mini-comic Cerebus Readers in Crisis, Jeff Seiler accidentally send me a signed and numbered copy instead of a plain ol' regular copy. In the interest of karmic balance, I offered to send him the difference in cost or send you a check for the food bank. He left it up to me, so enclosed please find a donation for the food bank you support, as mentioned in the Blog and Mail (the check's in US dollars; if converting to Canadian is a hardship, please destroy the check and let me know and I'll figure out a way to get Canadian funds to you, though when I was last in Niagara Falls they didn't care if I spent American money, so hopefully it's the same where you are).

Anyway, I'm a fan of your work since around 1979, and bought Cerebus for a few years, but then college came around and I quit reading comics for many years, becoming instead enamoured with that other form of escapism known as alcohol (I've since gotten over that particular crutch). I always thought I'd read Cerebus in full someday, and only recently undertook reading the whole series from start to finish. I just finished Church & State. I understand I have interesting reading ahead.

A few incidents in the last few years have brought me, hopefully, closer to God, and I spend a good deal of time these days thinking about my faith. It's interesting that I decided to return to reading Cerebus at this point in my life, and following your spiritual journey at the same time I'm making mine (well, I guess our whole lives are a spiritual journey in some sense). I'm a Christian and trying to determine the proper path God wants me to take (raised a Polish-Catholic but recently became a Lutheran). I'm reading and trying to learn; it's a very difficult journey at times, especially during these times when everyone seems to be moving away from the church. My wife left her previous husband because he became a Jehovah's Witness, so it's difficult to broach the subject of faith with her, as she still habors resentments. I wanted to let you know that I appreciate you sharing your struggles in the Blog and Mail. It helps me at times with mine.

Anyway, best of luck with your future endeavours. Please keep creating; it keeps you sane.

Actually, I'm hoping to get to an uninterrupted stretch of creativity pretty much as soon as I wrap up the last couple of letters I have to answer here in the Sunday Edition. With any luck at all, pretty close to three weeks. I quite agree with you that sharing the nature of our own struggles can help others with their own—and particularly letting someone know when they've helped you in some way as you did here (and as I now attempt to return the favour). Obviously I have doubts about the religious content of the Sunday Edition and what it might be doing to my career, so it's gratifying to hear from people like yourself (and Steve Peters who called the other day) that this is helpful in some way. And thanks for the financial contribution. Since we're still only getting five or six people out for the Scripture at the Registry readings, the Cerebus readers who are buying the DVDs from Trevor and the occasional cheque like yours are making all the difference—and there's absolutely no problem with US cheques. I just write on the back "For Deposit Only The Food Bank of Waterloo Region" and that's that!

Obviously I can't be of very much help to you with your marriage. From the time that I started praying and fasting and reading scripture (and sleeping—the "day of rest" part I think should be taken literally) all day on Sunday and downscaled my life to one bed, one chair, one bowl, one plate, etc. I pretty much knew that that was it as far as marriage and me were concerned. I think if you have committed to marriage then you need to perform a definite balancing act between your faith and your wife. If God leads you in a different direction, God leads you in a different direction but if your gut instinct tells you your marriage is a core element of His Plan for you, then I think you have to put in the work that that's going to require and, above all, be open with your wife in discussing how the two of you are going to make it work. She has to understand that God comes first but you also have to be open to making sure that she isn't made to feel like a sloppy afterthought in your own life together. One of the big problems you're going to face is finding anyone to talk to about this if your wife isn't a Lutheran, herself. If she is a Lutheran, it will probably be a lot easier. As Christians the important thing is keeping God and Jesus as pre-eminent entities in your life, so she'll be facing the same problem you are.

Good luck and thanks for writing. And thanks again for the donation to the Food Bank of Waterloo Region.

And speaking of Jeff Seiler:

Dear Dave,

Not wanting to inundate you with letters, I'll try to keep this one short(er). I would have waited until you replied to my previous letter that you excerpted in the blogandmail on Sunday last, but I'm a) not sure you'll respond to it beyond the blogandmail excerpts and 2) wanting to get this latest anecdote out while it's still fresh to mind.

I went to church on Sunday. Yeah, the synchronicity of that just hit me. But it was just coincidental. Like you, I'm not much of a churchgoer. First of all, I prefer the one-on-one communion with God over the group religious experience—there's way too much "pray for this, pray for that, pray for the missionaries in Turkey, pray for brother Jim's gout", etc. going on for my tastes. Secondly, like Groucho, "I would never join a club that would have me as a member."

But, I decide to check this church out because, 1) I find myself with the somewhat pressing need to be a regular, for a while at least, because the one college that is willing to accept me for certification training as a full-time teacher is a Christian school and requires church membership or a good recommendation from a church acquaintance as a part of the application process, and b) I have gotten to know several of the guys at the private school affiliated with that particular church through my frequent coverage of their school's football team as part of my work for The Dallas Morning News over the last four years. Since I got to know these very nice guys, I thought I should check out their church, as it is within a short walking distance from my new residence.

So, I went to church. As has been my experience (I really try to think of it as a sort of extended coincidence) the first time I tried a new church, this one, the pastor used his entire sermon to talk about giving. He broadened his purview a bit more than some have, to include generosity (as in the Christian characteristic of a spirit of generosity), but he made a point of mentioning that it takes over a million dollars a month to run the church and its entire ministry (it's one of those mega churches that are so ubiquitous in Texas—everything's bigger in Texas). Later, he pointed out that during the weekend of the Men's Retreat in east Texas that the church paid for, giving to the church went down by 20% and then reminded us that it takes over a million dollars a month to run the church and its ministry—"so you can do the math", he actually said.

I did the math. That means that, out of the 350 men that he said went to the retreat, they alone account regularly for some $200,000 in weekly tithes to the church. That's roughly $600 a week per person/family.

Wow. I felt guilty for not throwing in a fiver, and the guy next to me jokingly rebuked me during the sermon for passing the bucket to him empty (he repeated the pastor's joke, "you can't hitch a U-Haul to your hearse" by saying to me, "that's not your car I saw that U-Haul hitched to out in the parking lot, is it?"---yeah, I was tempted to tell him I didn't drive a car to church, but I let it go).

Now, as you probably know, Christians are exhorted (repeatedly) to give "the first dime of every dollar", not the 2.5% that Muslims are expected to give to the zakat, so that $600 a wekk was just mind-boggling to someone like me who will probably have a gross income of around [amounts deleted] on the books for 2006.

So that was one jarring aspect of Sunday's going-to-church event. The other thing was the sheer mass of humanity (I would estimate about 2500 people for one of three Sunday services). I do get the whole communing-with-others-in-the-presence-of-God and "wherever two or more are gathered, there am I" and the benefits that a church can offer to its members when they are in need. But I just lean to the small church experience, if at all.

And then Sunday's experience included the state-of-the-art digital in-house camera work, including remote controlled crane cameras and what looked to be at least high definition if not plasma televisions for the closed-circuit or same-time-live broadcast of the sermon. There must have been a dozen television monitors sprinkled throughout the church, including the one on which they showed the taped message from the senior pastor and his wife to the first-time guests in the guest room that I was invited to after the service. They did give me a free Bible, though, so that was nice. But (small quibble) it was the New Living Version, a revision of The Living Bible that came out in the 70s that put the Bible in everyday current language, while what I was looking for was the New King James (from which they quoted on the television broadcast), so that I could at least try to follow along when I come up there for a Scripture reading.

Oh, and the icing on the cake was the announcement (several times) that the church choir was featured on a local television news program last Wednesday and that the station is holding a vote for the several choirs they will feature weekly to see, via Internet voting, which choir is the best in the metroplex. That one stirred the bile a little bit. I mean, if your choir is designed for the purpose of uplifting God and augmenting the worship of God, then exhorting your parishioners to vote early and often (my words, not theirs) for your choir as being better than all the rest that are featured on the television news segment seems to be serving man a whole lot more than it is serving God. That's my opinion, anyway, for what it's worth.

Everyone was very polite and nice, though. Overall, it was a pleasant enough experience, but still quite jarring.

I'm afraid it is going to be an uphill battle to meet that application criterion (the potential hypocrisy of my going to church just to meet it notwithstanding). I wonder whether they would accept a nice recommendation from a (somewhat) reclusive Canadian Muslim.

Oh, well, I'll burn that bridge when I come to it.

Hoping that your readings of the 12th and of the 19th

went well, I remain

Yours beyond 300,

Jeff Seiler

Hey, Jeff! Thanks for helping me fill up the Sunday Edition once again. I'm certainly standing by in the event that you want someone to vouch for the fact that you are one of a small handful of believers of God in the context of the discussion group and that you stood your ground against universal opposition in defending the validity of my belief in demonic possession as a genuine present-day threat (which I suspect you don't share) and that you would not give in against pretty relentless pressure to denounce me, with your psychology background, as clinically insane. Personally, I find that a more impressive demonstration of faith in God than regular church attendance. If you need me to put that more coherently in a letter, I'll do my level best.

I used to actively denounce Large Scale Organized Religion (regularly late-night viewing of the PTL Club with Jim and Tammy Faye was a major impetus behind Church & State) but at this point I have to confess that I don't know what to think. Personally, I believe there are a lot better used for a million dollars a month for faith-based purposes, but I also have no idea what's at stake or where we are in God's Plan. It's very possible that the Texas mega-churches are the last and best hope of Fundamentalist Christianity in the war against Terrorist Islam—a matter of Go Large or Go Home?—and that all of the Internet voting, plasma TV stuff is a slightly unsavoury but essential component of making sure there is still a Large Christian Standard around which to rally. As opposed to, say, the Anglican Church which seems to be determined to wish itself into non-existence through the active embracing of ethical relativism and feminist-based social engineering. A lot depends on how much of their livelihood that $600 a week constitutes, I think. For some of those guys it might be half their paycheque and for others just the skimmings from the petty cash box. The Synoptic Jesus praised the widow who contributed a single mite because it was all her substance rather than the Ostentatious Big Spenders in the Temple. I don't think that rule has been made null and void in the interim.

Same thing with the Christian college telling you that they want regular church attendance or someone to vouch for you. You can call that "compulsion in religion"—which is theoretically something we're fighting Terrorist Islam over—but it can also be a necessary rear-guard action against rampant secular humanism and corruption. Unless we, as God-fearing men, start linking ourselves up and getting some semblance of standards back onto the table, we're not far from turning society into the gray interchangeable mass that none of us wants it to be. And with THAT territory, I think, comes the acceptance that different people are going to perceive of different ways to avoid the fate we seem to be on a collision course with. For me, it's scripture and feeding the poor, no church. But I certainly can't fault the reasoning of anyone who sees the situation differently.

Particularly if they can raise a million dollars a month doing it.


If you wish to contact Dave Sim, you can mail a letter (he does NOT receive emails) to:

Aardvark Vanaheim, Inc
P.O. Box 1674
Station C
Kitchener, Ontario, Canada N2G 4R2

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