Between Knowing and Doing (1 of 6)

Have you ever found yourself asking “How could they choose to do such a thing, don’t they know better?” The innate assumption here, is that knowledge informs our volition and that volition ignites our actions – thereby suggesting that modifying our behavior begins with choosing to know the right things. Which seems like a simple enough linear explanation, until you realize – how could you ever hope to recognize what was right, in order to make that choice? In other words – what knowing would inform that choice? Which is why I think this is precisely where we misunderstand how volition works – it isn’t catalyzed by what we know . . . but rather, by what we desire.

It likely doesn’t surprise you to find out that what you desire most would turn out to be the engine of your will – because it makes absolute sense. But it does beg the question – are our desires merely capricious, promiscuously susceptible to the passions of any given moment? Or do our desires reflect who we imagine ourselves to be, in a world we imagine we understand? I would argue that the way we define ourselves is the cultivated soil best suited for germinating our desires. So conversely, it could be said, that what you desire most, becomes a window in on how you’ve come to define yourself.

We see this most clearly played out in the life of someone who struggles with a conspicuous addiction – as they have obviously allowed what they desire most to define everything else about their lives. We can see who they’ve chosen to be because their actions have exposed their desire. But does that mean we should understand our actions as a binary indicator of our desires? Or is it more likely that we all live lives of conflicted desires – exposing the fact that we are unclear as to exactly who we think we are? Does not the Apostle Paul seem to be rehearsing out loud this very conflict in Romans 7:18-25? . . . a palpable conflict struggled with daily.

I am both omnivores in my diet, and heterosexual in my sexuality, but I hardly ever think of myself as such, as a way of self-identifying – because those desires are largely inconsequential to how I define myself. As a matter of proportion — if I allow these desires to become disproportionate, then they begin to skew my understanding of myself, distorting my will, and contaminating every choice I make. We do best to remember that we were created to desire God above all else — but as St Augustine correctly observes, our fallen state has disordered our relationship to desire to the point where every other desire we have actively seeks to displace what only God can satisfy. Which is why we can so often experience our will as promiscuously set a drift.

Some might suggest that this is a simple matter of mortifying the flesh, as if having conflicted desires were nothing more than a lack of willpower – but this seems to ignore that our volition can only act upon desire. But thankfully, Paul reminds us of who we are in Christ — “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” ~ Philippians 2:13. So we are not only empowered by God to do what pleases him most, but our will is being empowered, as well. For he is ever at work in us, drawing us to himself – ontologically, he is recalibrating us to the default settings of Eden . . . to be at peace with him. To be sure, this doesn’t make our experience of conflicted desire go away – but like the North Star, it clearly points us to the desire that best defines us as the beloved of God. . . where all other desires are being brought into submission to authentically want most what God is changing within us.

. . . then let your confession be — take my life.

The Lie of Self-Existence

In describing the relationship between the cognitive process and the emotional state, Jonathan Haidt, in his book “The Righteous Mind”, uses the metaphor of an elephant and its rider. The rider (our intellect) might be able to get the elephant (our passions) to lean in one direction or another, at times – but just as often the elephant is likely to take its rider on a completely unplanned excursion. And even though the rider might like to think of himself as being in charge — the sheer girth, force, and volatility of the elephant, would suggest otherwise.

This is a truth, of which, advertisers and politicians have long subscribed – they don’t really need to convince your intellect, in order to win you over . . . they just need to feed your elephant what it already wants to eat. It is a diet involving two basic food groups – what we fear and what we desire . . . as these are primal passions that we respond to pre-cognitively — on a gut level. This is how the politician can take you from “everyone panic — it’s a crisis!” to “. . . and I have the solution”. And how the advertiser can take you from “I didn’t even know I needed it . . .” to “. . . I can’t live without it”. And this was how Satan took Adam and Eve from being comfortably contingent upon God, to wanting to become their own god. (Genesis 3:1-5)

This is not to suggest that the serpent is somehow responsible for the choice that Adam and Eve made – it was always their choice. And if we examine this choice at its most basic premise, it is ontological – as it fundamentally challenges the very nature of existence. If you believe that God exists, and that everything exists in him, then you know your own existence to be inextricably contingent upon God’s existence. But once you begin to entertain the idea that the nature of existence is a concept up for grabs – then it’s not that hard to imagine yourself as being your own god.

2bfa9e242cc5a4824a2de96dff43696acb530cec1431cfbb38614e089dc8008a_1This is how we accept the lie of self-existence – not as an intellectual conclusion, but rather, as a pronouncement of will, having no basis in reality, whatsoever. It is a contrived choice, created entirely out of fear and desire. We fear an existence that we can’t control – so we desire to control it. In this way, every sin of man is an ontological disavowing of his own existence. Even the rational mind of the non-theist ends up placing its faith in the theories of science to assuage the fear of being contingent upon a meaningless universe – inventing both the predicament and its imagined solution.

So inescapably, the confessions we make about existence will always dictate how we experience our existence – therefore, if your confession is at odds with reality, your experience of reality will be at odds. And even though your elephant rider may fully appreciate the logic of this fact — depending on the diet of your elephant, it won’t make a bit of difference. This is why it is the confession of our Christian faith that we fear God, and nothing else, and we seek to make him our preeminent desire – so that every other desire can be rightly placed into proportion with what it means to exist in him.

. . . and eventually you realize you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

All Other Ground . . .

In Juvenal’s 1st century critique of culture, the Roman poet suggests that one need only offer the people bread and circuses to keep them appeased – observing that a people so superficial and banal need only be feed and entertained . . . and they will easily be controlled. Nineteen centuries later, you might be tempted to think this may have been true of a largely uninformed uneducated ancient culture, but not us – until it occurs to you that we live in the age of information, awash in opportunities to be informed and educated . . . yet, our culture appears to be no less superficial or banal.

Does this not dispel the modern presupposition that a more educated culture inevitably becomes a better culture? Such a premise presupposes that any culture can be reeducated to have a more evolved understanding and engagement of the world – regardless of the native foundational ethos of that culture. Which is to say, the preexisting sub-structure of the culture would somehow be inconsequential to what gets built on top of it. No doubt, you can already see where the flaw is in this premise.

When you start out believing that the human race is not much more than highly processing thinking things, requiring only a bit of reprograming and a reboot – is it any wonder that you would end up placing so much faith in the power of our cognitive formation? But what if cognition played a much smaller role in what it meant for us to be human? What do you imagine such a foundational shift in self-perception, would look like? Remember, one must always know what constitutes the foundation, before they can ever hope to build anything of lasting value upon it.

QuicksandIn Luke 6:46-49 Jesus starts off by basically asking “You’re calling me Lord, but then you act as if I’m not Lord?” then Jesus, the carpenter, uses a building metaphor to make his ontological point. Here’s the point: We can’t ever hope to understand the words of Jesus — unless we are willing to make knowing Jesus our foundational desire . . . these two things are inseparable. For the words of Jesus parsed as if they were theoretical propositions intended for our intellectual evaluation – is a house that will not stand! Jesus is Lord! If this is not your ontological cornerstone – then not only will you fail to understand his words, but will also fail to understand the true significance of your own existence.

Ultimately, we are creatures of desire, who by design, are meant to desire God above all else. This is the very sub-structure of reality . . . and everything else is a fiction of our own vain imaginations. All other desires are meant to be calibrated by this preeminent desire – that in knowing God we might know the fullness of life, a deeper immersion into what it means to be alive.  But in the absence of this preeminent desire – every other desire rushes into that void, becoming reckless desire, endlessly seeking to be sated . . . which is what makes all other ground the sinking sand of banality.

Thought this was a nice rendition of this old hymn . . .

Knowing Your Desire (4 of 5)

The heart wants what it wants – or else it does not care” there is a beguiling simplicity to this Emily Dickinson quote. At first blush the understanding of it seems conspicuously apparent, but as the mind begins to turn it over, it seems less likely to be about the capricious nature of our emotions, and may actually be suggesting that our emotional state has a much more predictable under current – by design a current meant to take us somewhere . . . somewhere only our deepest longings can identify.

When we are hungry, or thirsty, or sleep deprived, we don’t see these so much as emotions in and of themselves, but rather as desires that drive emotion. These are examples of physical want, which when left unaddressed become the singular focus of your heart and mind. You don’t have to think about it – the desire becomes so overwhelming and self-evident, it’s desire on autopilot. What we learn from these primal desires is that desire is meant to be reconciled . . . and not merely to remain as an open ended emotional state.

But what of those unsettled desires that we’re unsure of even how to name? Because we all have a resident longing we’ve learned to compensate for, either through addiction or distraction. A restless desire, preoccupying the subconscious mind, a steady under current pulling us along — never quite satisfied, ever seeking, ever reaching . . . insatiably. It is that primal longing to be truly known and truly loved – with a kind of knowing that is capable of penetrating our multitudinous layers of subterfuge, with an unflinching love that can not be dissuaded.

mass-desireBy faith, I identify the object of this desire, as God – but because such an explanation is often couched in the antiseptic cognition of modernity, it gets conveyed as a form of propositional knowledge, lacking the visceral engagement of our desire. So we turn to sentimentality in order to compensate for our lack of visceral experience, which allows all of our other competing desires driven by sentiment to create an amalgam out of God—a god who values our happiness above all else.

But in the psalms, David seems held transfixed, describing his desire for God in terms that closely mirror physical want – hungering and thirsting after God, losing sleep in his deep longing for God’s presence. And Jesus describes himself as the bread of life (John 6:35) and living water (John 7:38) – inviting us to partake of him . . . and not merely the idea of him. But what if these are more than metaphors? What if the good news of the gospel is far more than a proposition about God to which we give mental assent? What if engaging God wasn’t filtered by our vain intellect, or our foolish sentimentality, but rather was found in the communion of his presence? Then desiring him above all else would be more like a thinning of the walls dividing heaven and earth . . . so that our knowing of him might be intimate — so that the whole of our desire might at last find true satisfaction.

This is from my Chiaroscuro Collection

It’s Always You                        

Out of the whispering dark of night
Into the fragrant light of morning
I feel my heart grow light
But still the ache, the ache of longing
I long for you
It’s always you

Wade into the shallow of the day
The shifting tide of afternoon
A borrowed light to guide my way
Enough to trace a silhouette of you
An image of you
It’s always you

The healing song of evening
Seducing the mystery of the dark
Translates the eloquence of breathing
A simple refrain ignites the spark
That starts with you
It’s always you

Every day measured in this way
Everything held captive to this thought
As if woven deep into my DNA
The culminating threads of all I want
Are found in you
It’s always you