More Real

The rationally-minded rely upon order and pattern, looking for hints and clues, so as to coherently frame an understanding of existence – ever assuming that such an external context will render them a tenable explanation for what is real. While others choose a more existential approach, counting on their experiential intuition to make sense of what reality means to them. But regardless of the approach, whether guided by an internal instinct or an external calculation, each one depends on its own process of perception to interpret the ubiquitously persistent questions of how and why we exist — each one, to some extent, convinced that their perception of reality . . . is reality.

This is the predictable process of cognition and emotion, where everything is evaluated on the subjective continuum between the extemporaneous and the over intellectualized – a span that exemplifies the ceaseless struggle of our hearts and minds to be at peace with our own existence. But what if the peace we seek is beyond the limited scope of what the heart and mind can apprehend? What if there were a more primal longing within us,  capable of reconciling what is, with what ought to be – something that wasn’t merely real . . . but was actually more real?

C.S. Lewis spoke of a distinction between what was merely real and what was really real — a distinction that regards the metaphysical (spiritual) as an essential dimension to understanding our own existence. But not as a dimension juxtaposed to the material world; instead one that was always meant, by design, to be in harmony with it. It was in our banishment from the Garden, where we first experienced the crisis of the disharmony of our own existence, because our understanding of ourselves and the world we live in had been broken. So we weren’t evicted from the Garden as part of some arbitrary penalty for breaking some arbitrary rule, rather it was about losing our capacity for living in the full dimensional paradise of Eden.

I have officiated a number of weddings, where I’ve usually shared a brief homely, making a distinction between marriage as a legal transaction, with marriage as sacrament. My point isn’t to diminish the legal aspect of marriage, rather it is to point to the far deeper reality of marriage as sacrament. I point out that those attending haven’t come to merely bear witness to some contractual arrangement sanctioned by the state, but instead to bear witness to the miracle of God binding together two people as one, so that they might share in the joy and hope of believing that God’s love has the power to make something new.

I think of the passage of scripture that likens us to jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7-18), that reaches its crescendo in verse 18 – “. . . as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” The deeper truth, the real reality, all the things that out last and out shine the superficial concerns of our day to day – they all abide in God’s presence, entreating us all to come and remember who we really are . . . for this is the place where everything is more real.

. . . and it’s all there — just past sight

Religion Goes Off The Rails

The intellectually honest and the humble will agree – comparatively, very few things can be proven to be true. So invariably, this makes most of what we’ve accepted to be true, a collection of things we’ve chosen to believe to be true. And such a collection of beliefs, no matter how informally held, very often take on the ardent conviction and fervor, of what one might associate with religious belief. But this really isn’t that surprising, given that faith is a choice to believe something is true – even when it can’t be proven. In this way all belief systems are a form of religion, each one embraced as the definitive understanding of reality — each one attempting to live out the implications of its claims.

This is where my non-theist friends tend to object, arguing that what they’ve chosen to believe without actually having indisputable proof, isn’t really a belief system held as if it were religious dogma – because they have chosen to believe in science . . . with every expectation it will be a salvific agent of progress, capable of solving every unforeseen problem humanity may encounter in the future. Needless to say, I’ve long given up trying to break the Gordian Knot that is the conspicuous cognitive dissonance of their argument, as I’ve come to believe that ironically, their faith in what they’ve chosen to believe in is simply impervious to an intellectually self-aware examination.

But I get it – no one wants to associate what they’ve chosen to believe with how religion usually goes off the rails. After all, what kind of society would we be if we still lived during a time when religious mythology allowed mothers to throw their children into volcanos? O sure, an alien from another planet wouldn’t be able to distinguish the barbarism of such practices from our abortion clinics that allow mothers to dispose of their unwanted children – but then again, no one would expect a space alien to appreciate the subtle political nuance of how this modern dogma of choice had become so socially sacrosanct. Clearly, some religious folks believe their body to be a temple, while others choose to believe that having the freedom to practice human sacrifice is what makes their temple sacred.

So yes, the distortions of religious fanaticism are ubiquitous — even in the religious belief systems that pretend to be secularly irreligious. Politics have long been an incubator for the type of emotional tribalism that demands an unquestioned loyalty to partisan ideals – insisting that the very existence of the world hangs in an apocalyptic balance. Demanding lockstep conformity and devotion, politics very often mirrors the presumed religious instinct of marginalizing the unbeliever as the unwashed infidel – a tactic useful for intimidating unwanted dissenting opinions. In this way, each belief system relies on its own religious methodology in making its claim on what is true . . . even when feigning to be non-religious.

In all four Gospels we find Jesus engaging the religiously devout of his day – but he does not take issue with the fact that the Pharisees had religious conviction, but rather, with how their misplaced devotion to the Law had become a distortion, making of God a cruel taskmaster who could never be pleased. Ironically, among many practicing Christians today, this distortion of God’s nature is still prevalent. And unfortunately, because of that, many followers of Christ today reject the idea that they are religious, erroneously assuming that being religiously devout is synonymous with being heartlessly legalistic. So it might surprise you to discover that I consider myself a religiously devout follower of Christ. Which is to say – I don’t pretend that my choice to believe in Christ as my Savior is anything but an act of faith that defines everything else about me.

. . . and so you’ll catch me holding on to the Kingdom come.

What Do We Mean By Rational? (4 of 4)

On many occasions, in the midst of conversation, where the other person felt compelled to announce their rationality, as what I can only assume, was an effort to establish their credibility — I’ve never been sure of how I was supposed to respond to such an assertion. Were they really contemplating being irrational, but then changed their mind? Given the fact that they don’t even attempt to make an actual contextualizing argument for what they might mean by rational, I’m left to wonder if they even know what constitutes rationality – so ironically, such a pronouncement makes me think it might just be a compensation for exactly how irrational they are. But more likely, it’s just a transparent attempt at passive aggressively marginalizing my view as irrational . . . without actually having to do the heavy lifting of making that case.

The most common false assumption about rationality is that it’s somehow self-evident – as if we all share the same cognitive reference point, in regards to how life makes sense. And it’s why under this erroneous assumption, that most of those promoting themselves as rational feel no compunction to demonstrate exactly how their views are rational – which ironically makes a rational exchange of ideas with them nearly impossible. Because truth be told, their claim of rationality is nothing more than a rhetorical device intent on creating the illusion that their opinion is intellectually superior.

This is precisely how civil discourse devolves, as most people are simply unwilling to recognize their own presuppositional bias. For those who view the meaning of life through the prism of pleasure, then the pursuit of pleasure constitutes what they find most rational. For those who believe life is best understood as a matrix of power struggles, then their framework presupposes that all competing ideas must be forced through that lens before they can ever be deemed rational. This is because there is invariably a context and criterion implicit in how each of us defines what it means to be rational. But an intellectually honest discussion about what criterion best applies the logic of rationality is hardly ever engaged.

Disagreements over what is rational are very often predicated on a false dichotomy attempting to pit empiricism against faith, as if they were diametrically opposed – when they are not. An empirical examination of information is inescapably an interpretive process relying upon a presupposed criterion of meaning and significance. It is in this presupposing of unproven beliefs where the empiricist is actually exercising their faith . . . albeit, a faith that goes largely unconfessed. While the person of faith is more than willing to announce their faith beliefs upfront, as they examine all of the available information with logical integrity and intellectual honesty.

The Christian faith presupposes the existence of a God who purposefully creates the universe, imbuing it with meaning and purpose. It is a design that gives transcendent significance to how we comprehend concepts like love and justice as meaningful. It is a redemptive narrative, ever seeking to reconcile us to our own existence. So if you believe that life has meaning, and that love and justice are transcendently sourced, and that you are meant to be in harmony with your own existence (and not just a refugee, surviving an indifferent universe) – Then you are basically embracing the Christian rationale for how reality was designed to work.

. . . a design so wonderful that it inspires us to lift praise as our most natural and reasonable response.

What Do We Mean By Equality? (3 of 4)

There are certain common words, when used by some folks, make me scratch my head, wondering exactly what meaning do they actual intend . . . especially when I’m pretty sure they don’t actually know what they mean. This is because some words, by their very nature, are contextualized by an unnamed authority that, for the most part, goes unreferenced. For instance the word right, as in, having “the” right to . . . do, or have, or be – assumes the existence of an unspoken source of that right. So for many folks, the actual authority of the right they’ve chosen to reference, remains in abstraction — making such a pronouncement of rights nothing more than an emotional outburst.

And the complexity of this issue becomes compounded when an entitled expectation of right is associated with something as ill-defined as equality – which inescapably invites the question: equal in what way? Because when you use a comparative word without specifically defining what’s actually being compared, and then pronounce that some general notion of equality needs to be held sacred, you are merely perpetuating emotionally charged empty rhetoric as if your meaning were somehow self-evident. And given that this is the short–hand we all tend to speak in, is it any wonder why we end up speaking past one another?

Clearly we are all uniquely different, with different gifts and talents, pursuing different dreams and ambitions, overcoming different obstacles and struggles. So even though it’s the default setting of authoritarian regimes to homogenize us into a docile lock-step conformity — it’s important that we recognize that equality isn’t really about having everyone declared the same . . . but rather, whether or not we recognize everyone as having an immutable baseline of dignity and worth. But such a baseline requires an immutable moral understanding of the value of human life, a value held high above the volatility of our self-serving opinions. So yes, equality is decidedly a moral issue, but the question is — what moral premise best defines equality?

But this is a question that goes largely unasked, because an ambiguous moral authority allows equal rights to be defined in whatever way that best suits the social agenda – like in George Orwell’s Animal Farm – “. . . some animals are more equal than others.” Even so, we’re drawn to believe that we’re all in this together, that we share a common bond, and within that commonality we share an innate dignity unique to each one of us — which is likely why the idea of true equality rings so true . . . and also why we’re so susceptible to distortions about what equality might mean.

It is the confession of my Christian faith that we are all made in God’s image, and the most eloquent expression of this gospel truth is found in John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus enters the world because he deems us all valuable, desiring to draw us all into his loving embrace. For it was the love of God that spoke the world into existence and took Jesus to the cross . . . and we are all equally in need of such a life altering love – a love that pulls down every divide (Galatians 3:28).

. . . O Lord, make us an instrument of your peace.

What Do We Mean By Tolerance? (2 of 4)

It is innate to the vernacular of language that the definition of a word has less to do with its specific etymology, and more to do with how a culture’s dominate narrative insinuates meaning. For instance, when the word progress is generically used it is assumed to be a good thing, unless placed in a specifically bad context like a progressing cancer. And that’s the thing – if we haven’t actually defined the destination, how can we tell whether we’re getting closer to it . . . and not farther away from it. In this way, a persuasive narrative can be misleading, insinuating an ambiguously desirable outcome without ever specifying why that outcome should be desired.

This is exactly how our culture’s prevailing narrative uses the word tolerance – it’s treated as if it should be an unquestioned virtue, by those who invariably have a long list of things they absolutely can’t tolerate . . . no doubt, a self-affirming list. So given the conspicuous duplicity and sheer cognitive dissonance with which the word tolerance is commonly used, you have to ask yourself – what standard are we to assume is being used by those who’ve deemed themselves to be in charge of holding the rest of us accountable? Asked another way — how do they know you’re being intolerant?

The word tolerance is best understood as a threshold, a breaking point – like a weight limit on an elevator defines the point of safe occupancy. But as it relates to human interaction, tolerance would be the threshold within our moral judgement, where we decide what is morally intolerable to us. So when our cultural narrative is promoting tolerance, it isn’t actually promoting tolerance, as much as it is an attempt to impose an existential moral perspective . . . without ever defining the underlying premise of their morality.

So instead of an honest conversation about what moral framework should we subscribe to when determining how moral tolerance is to be assessed – the concept of tolerance is purposefully left to be ambiguously applied . . . so as to impugn anyone as intolerant that fails to subscribe to whatever ill-defined morality the prevailing cultural narrative is currently promoting. In this regard, any intellectually honest notion of tolerance has long been abandoned in favor of being able to manipulate public discourse with fear and guilt.

Pluralism is predicated on the concept that we are able to tolerate disagreement with others without diminishing our own views, or having to accept opposing views as being true – because tolerance doesn’t actually require we accept everyone’s idea of truth as true. But again, we find within our current cultural narrative, a desire to define tolerance as unconditional acceptance. This ends up creating not only a moral ambiguity, but also creates an unmoored irrational framing of truth – all of which allows those driving the narrative to change it to best suit their own agenda.

The admonitions of my Christian faith don’t allow me to merely tolerate my neighbor, but neither do they constrain me to co-dependently be held hostage to the foolish self-destructive behavior of them – I am simply to love my neighbor as myself. This does not require me to pass judgement over them, or pretend that I can convict them of sin — for I am to be the hands and feet of the gospel, ever inviting the wayward to return home to the loving arms of their Father. This is a central truth and the moral impetus of what it means to follow Christ — to speak truth in love . . . to a world that may, or may not, tolerate it.

. . . and remember the humble confession of — for the likes of me.

What Do We Mean By Progress? (1 of 4)

Language, by its very nature, is built upon incalculable layers of assumption – because not only is it inescapably mired in the ethos of cultural idiom, it exists in a constant state of revision, driven by the ever-shifting value assessments of our unarticulated philosophical presuppositions. In other words, a simple statement like “I only want to change the world for the better” may seem like an innoxiously vague sentiment, until it occurs to you that every totalitarian regime in history assumed itself to be the arbiter of how better should be defined . . . which invariably determines what changes will need to be made.

This is why the powerful, and those who seek power, place so much value on controlling the narrative – because if they can convince you that they only want what’s best for you . . . then anyone opposed to them will be seen as a threat to you. And if they can keep you from examining too closely what they’re actually changing – then you won’t realize that they’re idea of what’s best isn’t actually the way you would have defined it . . . which is why they need you to assume that they’re good intentions are all that matter.

There’s an innate tension between what is, and what ought to be, and it’s a tension we largely experience intuitively – it’s that nagging feeling we get that things aren’t right the way they are . . . which is why someone advocating change tends to get our attention. We want to believe that things are somehow progressing towards something better, something good – even if we haven’t established a criterion for what better and good should even look like. We just assume that progress is good, whatever shape it takes . . . as if there were no philosophical implications to consider.

Philosophically speaking, any notion that we might be progressing towards something is inescapably entertained as a teleological question – do we exist for a reason, or is our existence meaningless? Because to assume progress, is to assume a preexisting purpose – otherwise, how would progress even be measured? But even the word purpose, much like the words progress and better, will always be susceptible to an ambiguous and malleable definition, if not tethered to a more transcendently sourced ontology. Because an existence that denies a pre-existing telos (purpose) inevitably devolves into the disunity and deconstruction of competing presuppositions.

So either we seek to be in harmony with the very purposes that spoke us into existence, or we imagine existence is nothing more than a meaningless blank slate, where we struggle for significance by constantly reinventing purpose out of thin air – as if reality could simply be pronounced into being. Either we find ourselves in the dim light of Babel pouring over our latest architectural plans for a new tower, we intend to build for our own glory and sovereignty – or we seek first the Kingdom of God, declaring that we serve none but the true king of heaven and earth, Jesus Christ . . . the Word, spoken from the beginning – the only Word that transcends all language.

“. . . unless the Lord builds the house.”

A Political Apocalypse

Having crossed over the tipping point of our post-modern dystopia, where rational thought is currently being held hostage to the existential pronouncements of the culturally enlightened – the reinvention of the world has begun in earnest. Having already expelled every notion of the transcendent, the new religious zealots of the politically motivated, are now regularly found worshipping at the altar of self-existence, where the manipulation of language is the liturgy, and the insinuation of violence is a sacrament.

This is because political dogma has been reimagined as faith confession, where the faithful have been called to denounce everything that fails to measure up to the ever moving target of partisan conformity. This is clearly a political apocalypse, as we watch the mask of pretense fall, revealing the sinister intent of those seeking to control our cultural narrative. And whereas this has always been the ugly truth about politics, our current post-modern malaise has exposed just how dark the vain imaginings of men can be—making these political power struggles even more palpable, until the noxious fumes of unscrupulous fear-mongering has overtaken every public discourse.

The two most conspicuous political philosophies competing for our allegiance are individualism and collectivism – each assuming it should have unquestioned moral authority . . . and each one imagines the image of man to be self-defining. Individualism declares that all that I am, all that I have, and all that I do — belongs to me. Collectivism declares that all that I am, all that I have, and all that I do — belongs to the collective. And while both of these are clearly at odds with each other – they are also in direct opposition to the native ethos of the Christian faith, which declares that all that I am, all that I have, and all that I do — belongs to God.

No doubt this is why I have always felt uneasy with political rhetoric – as such rhetoric invariably assumes an ownership that I simply can’t agree with . . . because ownership is essentially at the very core of every political debate. In this way, ownership and authority go hand in hand – because you don’t actually own what you can’t control. So when we entertain political ideas that obfuscate God’s ownership of us, then we are actually practicing a form of idolatry – worshipping a god of our own making . . . one we have made in our own image.

When Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37) I am struck by four things – (1) My love for God finds its best expression in my love of my neighbor (see also 1 John 4:19-21). (2) He does not use a collectivist’s example for how the needy among us are to be addressed, (3) but neither does he give the Samaritan the individualist’s option of ignoring his obligation to care for (love) his neighbor. And (4) Jesus deliberately uses a Samaritan while speaking to a Jewish audience knowing that the Jews looked down on Samaritans, seeing them as both religious and political rivals. This last point for me illustrates just how easily we can become contentious with one another, keeping us from loving God and each other as we should . . . which, of course, is why Jesus tells this story in the first place.

. . . so let us pray God’s Kingdom come.

The Tale of Two Kingdoms

For the most part, literature has been a faithful curator of the grand themes of life, allowing us to experience the scope, contour, and native tensions of such things as hope and fear, life and death, and good and evil – so that we might vicariously find ourselves in the midst of struggle . . . and yet remain unscathed. In this way we get to rehearse the various scenarios of what it means to be on either side of the equation. But real life experiences don’t actually unfold as predictably as we would imagine, as they tend to take a far more circuitous path.

So invariably the self-narrated role we play in our own story, creates for us the illusion we’ve chosen correctly, leading us to assume we’re on the right side of history, because we imagine we’ve chosen to serve a greater good and a nobler purpose . . . and this, unfortunately, is how most cautionary tales begin. So at this point the storyline may split off in one of two ways – either on to the road to hell marked with good intentions; or it will take a darker path, of the ends, no matter the cost, will justify the means. Which is why it might be best if we defined what constitutes the greater good.

This is where we enter into the tale of two kingdoms, because any defining of the greater good will invariably require a whole-cloth philosophical evaluation – which invariably becomes a collision of two distinctly different ideals. Either it will be an assessment that embraces the manifest destiny of secularly driven imperatives, or one that submits to the beneficent transcendence of divine providence. So not only do these two presuppositions have competing ideas of what the greater good might be, but more importantly, they have competing visions for how their version of the greater good is achieved . . . which is exactly what brings these two kingdoms into direct conflict.

The Kingdom of Man believes that the greater good is a matter of seizing power, so that control and lockstep conformity, to whatever the latest iteration of the greater good the ruling authorities say it is, can be achieved. Therefore it is a kingdom best served by intimidation, coercion, and violence. But for the Kingdom of God, the greater good is best understood relationally – that only the humble servant of all will have prominence in God’s Kingdom (Mark 10:42-45). Therefore it is a kingdom best served by, forgiveness, redemption, and love. In short God doesn’t bully people into conformity – He lovingly entreats them to reconciliation – to be reconciled to God . . . and to one another.

When we read classical literature — in the midst of the story, the struggle seems almost overwhelming, the choices seem complicated and conflicted, but by the end of the story, by the mercy of retrospection, the right thing seems as if it should have been obvious to us all along. Within our fallen frame of reference, under the rubric of expedience, we are often tempted to employ the tactics of Man’s kingdom — but in the end it is the relentless love of the Kingdom of God that wins our hearts. But even still, we should ask ourselves daily – what kingdom am I serving today?

. . . because your gonna have to serve somebody.

The Ultimate Power

If books and movies are any indication, it would seem that we are drawn to stories about the underdog, who against all odds, is able to overcome the impediments placed in their way by the powers that be. No doubt, this is because history has taught us that the powerful are rarely ever beneficent and humble . . . and that the best you can hope for is that they’ll ignore you – history is pretty clear on this point. But the irony is, even though we identify with the powerless long shot underdog – what we really want to be is the powerful . . . so that we get to call the shots and have the final say.

Darwin identifies this instinct as being indicative of survival of the fittest. Nietzsche identifies this instinct as the unavoidable volitional collision of will to power. But neither one, within their non-theist calculations, would extol as virtuous or valuable the unassuming status of the underdog, as underdog. So why is it given the undeniable cultural influence of these two 19th Century thinkers, do we find ourselves drawn to the unassuming reluctant hero who takes on the far more powerful villain? How is it that we always end up believing that the wrong people have the power? Or is it simply as John Acton observed – power corrupts?

Neither Darwin, nor Nietzsche, had any moral expectation of power, both believing that the prevailing cultural morality would inevitable be shaped by whatever the powerful declared it to be. But the modern iteration of the non-theist, tends to see it the other way around – believing they have moral cause to impose their will and seize power . . . even though the morality they subscribe to isn’t really transcendent. You hear this cognitive dissonance in their gotcha challenge of the existence of God – If a good and all powerful God existed, why does suffering of the innocent exist?

This question is intended to appear as if it were concerned with the plight of the suffering, with the assumption that if an ultimate power actually existed it wouldn’t allow this to happen. But in fact, this question serves as an excellent insight into how the non-theist is inclined to expect the powerful to impose its will – because for them the whole point of having power is to impose will . . . even if that imposed will is the cause of much of the suffering in the world . . . which is likely why we think of the powerful as the villains in all of those narratives we’re drawn to.

This is what makes the cross such a scandal – because the idea of the ultimate power in the universe being humbled and vulnerable is contrary to everything we normally associate with power. But the self-emptying love of Christ freely offered as gift and not imposed, does seem to resonate with the narrative we already intuitively know to be true. So that in this way, Christ profoundly demonstrates that suffering isn’t overcome by an overwhelming display of imposed will, but rather is redeemed in the power of love’s willingness to be sacrificed – making the ultimate sacrifice, the penultimate power . . . only to be fully realized by the power of the Resurrection.

Is that you, my Lord?

I Fell Asleep

We are all creatures of habit, so invariably we get locked into patterns and routines that make up the sub-structure of the story we choose to believe about ourselves and the world we live in. A narrative we’ve presupposed to be true, and therefore assume on some fundamentally meaningful level that our existence will find purpose and significance. But every once in a while you will experience an epiphany that so alters your understanding of one thing that it inextricably alters the way you understand everything else.

And within such a paradigm shift you begin to reimagine your own narrative about the world and your place in it – as if awakening from a long slumber, you start to adjust to your new interpretation of reality. But for me, this inescapably leads to an obvious question – How do you know you’ve actually awakened . . . and haven’t merely imagined you’ve awakened from a dream, within a dream? Because without a thoughtful examination of our presuppositions and their philosophical underpinnings, we inevitably end up circling back to the same baseline . . . returning to the same assumptions.

This all occurs to me as I ponder the social phenomenon of “woke culture” – those claiming to have awakened from their complacency with a moral clarity about what the rest of us need to be doing. So their mission, as they see it, is to awaken the rest of us to their moral concerns – whether we like it or not. It isn’t so much an invitation to share their vision, as it is the bullying coercion of imposed will . . . as their rhetoric decidedly carries with it an implied “or else”. Again, this leads me to ask: By whose authority, and by what standard of morality, are they making their case? Because if I’m truly to awaken from my complacent sleep, I’ll want to know that this isn’t merely a different dream (or nightmare) – moving me from the frying pan into the fire.

It’s not that I’m reluctant to confess my propensity for slumber – in fact, it is an essential component of my faith confession that I’m prone to falling into a forgetful complacency in regards to the life God calls me to live . . . a life of self-emptying love and redemptive sacrifice. For this is the moral imperative of the Christian faith – “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35. But from what I can tell, the Woke movement seeks to serve a very different agenda – one with a particular political ambition.

So here I am, making my way through the season of Lent to the Passion of Christ – where I find myself in the Garden of Gethsemane, only to realize that my eyes have grown heavy with sleep . . . again. So I cry out “Awaken me, O Lord, so that I might be with you awhile longer” Yes, I fell asleep at Gethsemane, along with the disciples of Christ – but I have been awakened by the power of the Resurrection . . . awakened to live a life devoted to the way of Christ . . . an awakening born of forgiveness, and not condemnation. So yea — I’m woke, won’t you join me?

From my Chiaroscuro collection . . .

I Fell Asleep

I fell asleep at Gethsemane and I dreamed about my life
Poured out in empty portions again and again
Into an idol sea of amusement. 

In this garden I am dreaming of my heroic better self
Overcoming the fatal flaw of self-deception
That I might rise above every calculation of fear. 

In a curl beneath an olive tree at a safe distance from the night watch
I lay imagining the details of my life arranging themselves
Into proportionally meaningful shapes. 

With my head on this stone I begin to remember out of my slumber
The deep sorrow that brought me here
The passion of God and all the tears He has cried since creation. 

I fell asleep at Gethsemane
Awaken me Lord
That I might be with you a while

Everybody Knows Everything

It wouldn’t likely take much for me to convince you that social media has become a cultural mine field of bare-knuckle tribal street fighting and pseudo-intellectual posturing. A place so hostile that a humble, honestly logical opinion isn’t welcome – because invariably some partisan will come along posthaste to set you straight, armed with something freshly googled up to denounce your heresies. This is because in the age of information everybody knows everything – just ask them, they’ll tell you! Everyone’s a constitutional lawyer now! Everyone’s an epidemiologist, a climatologist, and a psychotherapist . . . because the next best thing to being an expert yourself, is knowing how to google up the experts who already agree with you.

Not only does this conspicuously lack intellectual honesty – it’s perversely reductive. Such a mindless parroting of information, as if we were merely disembodied avatars of tribal ideals – will only ever be able to foster a shallow and disingenuous discourse. How could it not? This is the tipping point of banality and superficiality, an entire culture feigning erudition and intellectual refinement as if they were nothing more than fashion accessories – while we’re all being herded into our contrived intersectional identities, until fear, anger and resentment consumes all.

And given the ubiquity of information, spreading out like buffet of data – it isn’t so much about the validity of each individual factoid, but it’s in how the narrative is assembled. A narrative that invariably seeks to semantically redefine language, so that the prevailing cultural agenda can be insinuated as self-evident. This is precisely how summary judgements of differing opinions, without even the least bit of honest examination, can be blithely made – because it’s about the group-think talking points . . . and not actually about the content of the ideas.  This is because the underpinnings of ideas are seldom internalized as a coherent whole . . . instead we choose to rely on the shallow sentimentality of sound bites and memes to speak our truth.

Undoubtedly, critical thinking is conspicuously absent in the circular logic at work in this type of confirmation bias that now inhabits much of popular discourse – but this, for me, would only be a rhetorical critique. What is far more evident to me is the hollow expectation of the individual to disappear into the drift and sway of faddish cultural shifts – having absolutely nothing to ground them, whatsoever. For where there is no transcendent anchor to hold us fast, no overarching meditation to captivate our hearts and minds – all that remains is the transient vacuity of our own self-involved opinions.

Therefore, the fully formed person isn’t preoccupied with masquerading as a pseudo-expert in the world of Google make-believe – the fully formed person makes their meditation in the humble desire to “know him and the power of his resurrection, and share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” ~ Philippians 3:10. So that they may say “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”~ Psalm 19:14. In this way, the confessions of our faith are in contrast to the vain posturing of those pretending they know everything . . . as our meditations lead us to one humble confession “Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

. . . so let us walk a more humble path.

Rushing Into the Vacuum

The human mind is incapable of comprehending the infinite, but it isn’t the sheer magnitude of it that makes it so imponderable – it is the absolute otherness of it. Even an astrophysicist will tell you that the infinite can only be conceptualized theoretically within the contextualizing constraints of the finite – because the absolute nature of the literally infinite is far too problematic, fraught with the inescapable conundrum of cascading paradoxes. And in a similar way, the concept of absolute nothing can only be imagined theoretically, because pondering the absence of existence, presupposes an absolute comprehension of what exists, so as to distinguish between existence and non-existence. Therefore the finite mind can only theorize . . . nothing.

This is but one of a thousand examples of why we should have a more humble appreciation for how we exist – but humble isn’t really what we do well, is it? It seems to be more our speed to assume our understanding of things is sufficient enough. So, as a culture, we tend to jettison whatever we feel doesn’t need to exist – without the least bit of concern for what will be rushing into the vacuum created. Which is how an ostensibly secular post-Christian culture comes, by default, to find itself extricated from an immutably transcendent understanding of its own existence — but like the unavoidable sensation of feeling a phantom limb . . . it is still haunted by the absence.

But this social imaginary isn’t so much a modern phenomenon as it is a modern iteration of an 18th century Enlightenment philosophy. Both David Hume and Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed that the perfecting of human nature could be accomplished quite apart from the existence of a transcendent source (God). And because each believed social constraints were merely artificial impositions on what they understood to be the authentic self – they concluded that morality, truth, and telos (purpose) were existential in nature. Which is to say, each of us sorts out our own morality, truth, and telos . . . making it up as we go along. Sound familiar?

But long before these European philosophers with the self-serving sophistry of their solipsistic explanations, we find this perverse pattern of doing what is right in our own eyes at work in scripture – because the choice of displacing God, thereby presuming ourselves as the arbiters of morality, truth, and telos, finds its ultimate origin in the Garden of Eden. We may assume we’ve become more sophisticated and enlightened in how we make that argument – but the argument is ultimately the same . . . we want to set aside the sovereignty of the transcendent, and replace it with our own fiefdom of self-involved concerns and self-aggrandizing pursuits.

Ontologically, I believe this to be the inevitable tension between the infinite nature of existence, with the absolute nothingness of non-existence. For all things exist in an infinite God (Colossians 1:17) and there is no existence outside of Him. St Augustine tells us, in describing man’s fallen state, that we’re all haunted by the non-existence from which God spoke us all out of – haunted by a desire to deconstruct the image of God we were created to bear . . . preferring instead the vanity of our own nothingness, to the transcendence of God. O may God save us all from our own vain imaginings (Romans 1:21) that will only lead us to futility and self-destruction.

“I think we’ve been here once before”

The Way Sleep Finds Me

A “can do attitude” is the natural byproduct of what is commonly known as the protestant work ethic – an ethic that assumes that where there are idol hands, the devil must be at work. And whereas, a well-intended virtue is behind the inspiration of such an ethos, it invariably fosters the knee-jerk reaction of “don’t just stand there –do something!” A reaction, more often than not, fraught with unintended consequences. I liken this unto the commonly employed vacuous bromide “Make a difference!” An ambiguous admonition so completely devoid of moral discernment that it could be reasonably argued that Adolf Hitler “made a difference” . . . so maybe “doing something” isn’t always the best policy.

My point isn’t to promote a laissez faire sensibility, but rather to suggest that a slowing of our reflexive impulse to take action might allow us a moment’s discernment to determine what the actual problem might be, so that an actual solution might be determined. And trust me when I tell you – I’ve lived long enough to know that, more often than not, it is the clamoring voices calling for immediate action, who inevitably are the ones, almost without exception, who jump to the wrong conclusion . . . and then impose their solution on the rest of us. So it’s best to remember – wisdom is never in a hurry.

The wise are always capable of distinguishing between what can be changed and what cannot . . . and never confuses the two. Wisdom knows that we can’t change (fix) one another – we can only become an inviting expression of being changed. It also knows what can be held, and what must be let go. And it knows that the most meaningful lessons learned, are the ones we’re not even trying to learn. In this way, wisdom is far more identifiable by what it doesn’t do or say. Like the wisdom of sleep – you can’t find it by looking for it.

The problem with trying to fall asleep – is that “trying to fall” is oxymoronic . . . and if you’re trying to sleep – you’re doing it wrong. It’s taken me a long time to learn the art of sleep – learning to power down my conscious mind so that my subconscious mind can begin the process of curating my dreams. The trick is in letting go of each thing as if placing each one into God’s hands – offering my grateful prayers as the whispering dark lowers my body into the stillness, for a few small repairs. This is the way sleep finds me – in a state of contented surrender . . . I give myself to it, unconditionally.

This is also the way love finds me – one by one I hand over to God everything I seek to control, knowing each to be an impediment. Because in the same way that the mind can come up with many foolish reasons for withholding sleep – the mind comes up with reasons for holding God, and those he places in our lives, at arm’s length. But the love of God bids me come without hesitation into his presence, so that the necessary repairs of my heart can be made. So that I might know myself as his beloved and be filled with the overwhelming desire to see his Kingdom come . . . where love is all!

. . . and love never fails

Claiming To Be Wise

Very often knowledge tempts us to believe we understand more than we actually do . . . and we’re able to recognize this because wisdom allows us to be humble and intellectually honest enough to realize this limitation. This is what distinguishes wisdom from knowledge. Because knowledge, regardless of type or volume, is only capable of shaping our preexisting understanding within our given context of perception. Whereas, wisdom is able to foster discernment and insight – providing the context for our perception to take shape. I guess this is why those who are wise in their own eyes seem so clueless.

So it doesn’t matter how intelligent you are, your presuppositions will invariably be self-affirming – because what you know and how you know it doesn’t occur in a vacuum, it occurs within the construct of what you’ve already deemed to be a true perspective. And this is precisely how we allow our own understanding to convince us that we are being wise. But being truly wise is like being humble – in the moment you make the assumption that you are, is the exact moment when you’re the farthest from it. For wisdom is not proud, it makes no claims of special knowledge.

History has long been familiar with the Gnosticism of special knowledge, especially in times of cultural decline, when a vacuum of moral ambiguity has been created, only to be filled with various explanations of who is to blame and how we got here. We see this at work today, it’s what’s driving every conspiracy theory and has been metastasized in the insufferable sanctimony of the Woke crowd. And like every other gnostic before them,  each one imagines itself the sole arbiter of the true perspective on what’s really going on, and what needs to be done . . . and each one has absolutely no desire to have an intellectually honest discussion about it – because time for talk is over.

Therefore, the meditative and contemplative approach of the wise is pushed aside as being inconsequential to the solution . . . if not seen as complicit with the problem. For the new Gnostics serve a moral imperative, a self-serving narrative born of their own understanding that justifies everything they say and do . . . and it must never be questioned or scrutinized. Is this not the very definition of “leaning on your own understanding” that Proverbs 3:5 juxtaposes with trusting in the Lord? Which is to say – that our own understanding will be all we are left with, when we abandon all trust in the Lord.

Yes, there’s a particular type of arrogance associated with claiming to be wise – “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools” ~ Romans 1:21, 22. Place your trust in the Lord, this is the wisdom of scripture and the humble confession of faith. It is the refuge for those who have the courage to seek first God’s Kingdom (Matthew 6:33), and is the foolishness of God that confounds the wisdom of this world. (1 Corinthians 1:18-31). For there can be no wisdom apart from God.

But everything you see’s not the way it seems
Tears can sing and joy shed tears
You can take the wisdom of this world
And give it to the ones who think it all ends here.

Beautiful Feet

I have some good news and some bad news – which do you want to hear first? If truth be told, you have no interest in hearing the bad news at all . . . because no news is better than bad news. But when offered the pairing of the good with the bad, as if it were a riddle to solve. We either brace for the impact of the bad news, hoping that the good news will be able to pull us back onto our feet, afterwards – or we want to front load the good news, hoping it will be enough to shield us against the wallop the bad, invariably delivers. And this, on many levels, is how we usually experience life – hoping to fend off the relentlessness of the bad with the impermanence of the good.

It is the innate pessimism of the fall – to hope for the best, but to always expect the worst . . . as if this were our default setting. The non-theist describes this as our survival instinct, convinced that we are basically at odds with our own existence, a meaningless and indifferent existence, intent on undoing us at every turn. But this is antithetical to the confession of the Christian faith, which believes that darkness is overcome by light – like a seed buried in the ground makes its way through the soil into the light. And it’s a perilous journey that can’t be avoided.

Moses stands barefoot before a burning bush and hears some good news and some bad news. The good news – after four hundred years of enslavement, God is finally going to set his people free. The bad news – Moses has to go before Pharaoh and tell him to let his people go. Having lived in the palace, Moses knows full-well how impossible this task will be – but here is the unmistakable presence of God, telling him to go and deliver a message he knows will be rejected. In this way, the good news of Israel’s redemption will need to be carried passed the hard-heartedness of Pharaoh, and through the ten plagues, before this exodus can finally occur.

Isaiah 52:7 declares “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” And Paul is riffing on this passage in Romans 10:14-17 when describing those who are sent with the gospel – the good news of God’s Kingdom come, the coming kingdom Jesus was declaring everywhere he went . . . a good news message that took him to the cross, through the tomb, until on resurrection morning we might know the full meaning of how this good news changes everything.

So when I read of the women in Luke 7:38 who cried at the feet of Jesus, wiping away her tears with her hair – I begin to realize just how beautiful are those feet. When I considered the distance that Jesus came and the perilous path he endured culminating in the cross – to bring us the good news of the gospel . . . that he would actually be the very embodiment of that good news – I am completely undone. So that now, whatever bad news comes my way – I have more than enough good news to overcome it . . . and so do you.

So let us go to Jesus . . .