A Disposable World

Consumerism has long been understood as having the notorious reputation for obscuring the line between what we want with what we need — ever seducing us with a shiny object or a siren song to imagine ourselves made whole . . . by various superficial means. But there is something even more insidious in the way that consumerism frames our reality, as if we somehow had a self-existent significance. Because while we’re busy sorting out our wants from our needs, we have already unwittingly accepted the premise, that our wants and needs are of paramount concern to how we exist – placing on the back burner the very pressing concern of why we exist in the first place.

I have long pondered the words of St Augustine, who observed that ever since the fall of man, man has been haunted by the non-existence from which God spoke him out of — which is another way of saying that our own existence feels alien to us apart from God. And where there is an unease with existence, an ambiguity of purpose inevitably begins to create a vacuum that the consumerist ethos will be more than happy to fill. But in the same way that salt water is not only incapable of satisfying thirst, and can only increase it – the consumerist illusion of self-existence can only serve to widen the crater of our disaffection.

So not only are we haunted by the nihilism of our own fallen nature, but we also live with the consumerist impulse to fill that void with impermanent solutions incapable of ever satisfying our deepest needs. This invariably causes us to experience our world as disposable – because when the value of everything is measured against the transience of what it might mean to me . . . then everything gets tossed eventually. This is the type of pragmatism that animates the atheist mindset — for if the universe doesn’t have an innately transcendent value, then everything in it gets assessed in terms of survival pragmatism . . . and the self-serving illusions such a pragmatism invariably portends.

So I’m not surprised when an atheist believes that we all live in a universe that is at odds with us, making survival priority number one. But I’m a little surprised when I hear Christians speaking of this world as if it were a sinking ship, thereby making of Jesus nothing more than a lifeboat means to an afterlife solution to their survival . . . as it sounds disturbingly similar to the atheist’s rationale. To believe that creation was plan A, but now God has somehow moved on to plan B — is to believe in a disposable world . . . a world that God is simply tossing into the trash bin like a burnt waffle. But is this really the right way to understand our salvation?

If we have made ourselves the point of salvation – then we’ve missed the point almost entirely! And we’ve likely missed it because we’ve accepted a self-involved consumerist notion of meaning and significance – placing ourselves at the center of existence. Christ death, burial and resurrection is, first and foremost, a glorification of God – for it places God righty at the center of all things. Because if we are to ever be reconciled to our own existence – it will not be on our own terms . . . it will be found in the loving mercies of God who reconciles us unto himself. For this is the very heartbeat of the gospel.

“All these impermanent things . . .”

Throw Rocks Or Wash Feet

It has been my experience that most people are not interested in entertaining a conversation about the philosophical moral underpinnings of their own view of why human life should be considered valuable – because they’d much rather shoot from the hip when expressing their moral opinions. Such an approach invariably fosters an existential mix of emotional pragmatism with an extemporaneously applied conviction. Which is to say, scrutinizing their own moral views for consistency, is secondary to being able to pass judgement on those who disagree with them. Because in a conflict of moral opinions, securing the moral high ground in order to exact judgement with accusatory fervor, is preferable to being the target of such moral outrage . . . even if you can’t explain the presuppositions of your own morality.

This is our default relationship to morality – an inescapable paradigm of judge, or be judged. Which is why commonly accepted morality is constantly morphing to follow an ever changing cultural ethos – where morality is determined in a power struggle between the loudest influential voices of the day.  But this is not a modern phenomenon. Nietzsche had long dismissed morality as being nothing more than a contest between various groups, hoping to leverage the authority of morality to manipulate culture into submission. And it was this kind of power play that the Pharisees had in mind when they brought a woman, they had caught in adultery, before Jesus (John 8:3-11) to see if he’d pass judgement as was culturally expected.

There must have been quite a stir within the crowd, everyone eager to hear Jesus’ verdict – those with empty hands, secretly hoping not to participate in a public stoning . . . and those who had gathered up quite a few rocks, just waiting for Jesus to give them the go ahead. And surprisingly Jesus does not disappoint either group – he gives the go ahead to throw rocks with the stipulation that only those without sin could do so . . . and with that everyone knew that there wasn’t going to be a stoning that day. But more importantly, he had exposed the insidious nature of the “judge, or be judged” moral paradigm that was essential in creating the Pharisees’ mystique of authority, they relied upon to control the people.

In Matthew 7:1-5 Jesus warns us that the morality of judging one another can only ever become a devolving cycle of perpetually finding fault with one another. But when asked which commandment is the greatest, Jesus instead sums up the entire law (morality) “And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”~ Matthew 22: 37-39. Notice that the operative word here is love, making of love the core principle of morality.

And if you’re wondering who is your neighbor, and what does loving them look like: Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan – a story about serving the needs of a stranger, a stranger who might even hate you (Jews didn’t care for Samaritans). Therefore the morality of loving must take on the shape of serving the other, regardless of who they might be. To underscore this very point Jesus chooses to wash the feet of his disciples . . . even Judas Iscariot’s (John 13:1-7). He is washing their feet fully anticipating going to the cross, where he will give himself over to the ultimate act of self-emptying service – so we’re tempted to wonder why spend time on such a lesser service as washing feet. But Jesus explains: “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done to you.” ~ John 13: 12-15. So every day we must choose whether we will throw rocks or wash feet . . . choose wisely which morality you want to live by.

“Let your mercy flow through us . . . may they know your mercy”

Falling To Earth

You don’t have to be an expert talking head, or a seasoned political pundit, to recognize that the world is a troubled place. It is more than evident that our culture has been exponentially unraveling for a while now . . . with no discernable end in sight. Caught between the self-involved narcissism of the perpetually offended, and the militant tribalism of the pseudo-virtuous – one would think that all could be made right in the world if we would simply dispatch this notorious THEM, that everyone else seems so concerned about. Because there are few things more primal than blaming others for what we are unwilling to face up to, about ourselves . . . about the way we contribute to the divide.

No doubt you’ve experienced contentious people who insist on being adversarial at every turn – as if they had covered themselves in gasoline, daring you to strike the match. Because for people like this it’s in the combustion of conflict where they find their validation and significance – in this way their anger makes them feel as if they’re connected to something larger than themselves . . . some higher purpose. So how do we cross the divide with people who seem so intent on sustaining the divide? Or maybe the better question is – have I been the one who’s been sustaining that the divide?

Every day I have to make a choice, whether I’m going to be life giving or life depleting to those I encounter . . . and many days I fail that test. What makes this choice so critical – is that each choice has a multiplying effect. Either I am creating moments of grace that spreads generously from person to person, as their day unfolds. Or I am forging a chain that each person I encounter will invariably add their own link to, until the weight of it is a burden far too heavy for any of us to carry. For it is the very nature of human interaction that we will either lighten one another’s load, or we will laden each other with the heavy baggage of our own discontent.

I have been pondering these things as I’ve been meditate on these words of Jesus “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:23, 24) This is a curious pairing of ideas that seems to be saying: In the same way that the glory of a seed resides in how it falls to earth and dies, thereby multiplying the life that it was given – the hour that the Son of Man is glorified, is when he dies on the cross, is buried, and rises again, thereby multiplying his resurrection for us all.

And if the pinnacle glorifying moment of Christ’s incarnation is to be likened unto a seed that multiplies life by dying – what do you imagine our moment of glory in this life should look like? The way of Jesus is a humble path, and the glory of that path is found in redemptive sacrifice. Therefore let us die daily, so that we might be life giving to those God has placed in our lives – so that his glory may be known. Is that not the glory of what it means to live in Christ?

Yes, it will be the humble who will know the glory of self-emptying love

The Chains We Revere

You can take it as axiomatic, that wherever you find hope in short supply, you will find fear has already begun to forge the chains of bondage. Stockholm syndrome comes to mind – because since this 1973 taking of hostages, we’ve come to recognize a discernable psychological pathology, of how those put in such extreme, life and death circumstances, will almost involuntarily develop an unusual attachment to their captors. It is an example of how fear’s natural inclination is to cower in response to the threats of an imposed will — assuming that compliance is the safest alternative. Because in such circumstances, if hope is nothing more than an idle wishing for a different outcome – then hope is lost.

But even in the 18th Century, Voltaire observed – “It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere” His thesis seems to be, in classic Enlightenment terms, that it’s merely a matter of intellectual deficiency that makes people amicable to their chains – as if making a different choice, was a simple matter of getting your mind right. But given that Voltaire, a rather flamboyant atheist of his time, fundamentally believed that human existence to be in a perpetual state of survival hostility, set against the backdrop of an indifferent universe — one would think he could appreciate how people without a transcendent hope would choose to make peace with any overwhelming threat of imposed will . . . that in fact, he too had chosen to accept the chains of his own making.

In the book of Judges we find a reoccurring pattern: Israel straying from God, being oppressed, and then calling out to God for rescue. This is the pattern of the book until we get to chapter 13, with the birth of Samson, where Israel is being oppressed by the Philistines . . . but has chosen not to cry out to God. So by the time we get to chapter 15 where Samson takes refuge from the Philistines with the men of Judah . . . and then the Philistines show up. And here’s what the men of Judah said to Samson: “Do you not know that the Philistines are rulers over us? What then is this that you have done to us? . . . We have come down to bind you that we may give you into the hands of the Philistines.” (verses 11 & 12)

It is obvious from this text that the men of Judah had already made peace with their chains, and they had no real interest in the freedom of God’s redemption that Samson represented. Like their forefathers before them, who frequently entertained the idea of returning to their slavery in Egypt, while wandering in the desert – the certainty of their oppression somehow seemed preferable to them, than any reckless notion of waiting for God to provide. This is why I say – when hope is absent, fear always rushes into the vacuum . . . so that with hopeless resolve we end up negotiating the terms of our surrender to whatever power seeks to enslave us.

A culture that no longer finds its hope in God will always be susceptible to the fearmongering manipulation of forces seeking to subjugate it into compliance. And it doesn’t matter whether those forces are political or religious — or even in a more personal way, take on the shape of addiction and anxiety. Without the transcendent hope that can only be found in God . . . such a culture will remain in the chains of its own making. So I say, stand fast in your faith, knowing that your hope is sure and can withstand the shifting sands of circumstance. Therefore give no foothold to fear in your heart . . . and just let those chains fall knowing that when Jesus sets you free — you are free indeed! (John 8:36)

. . . and be free — up in the bright sky

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.