Soaked Heads

The Church does not lack for information. We are not hungry souls emerging from the Dark Ages–yearning with the appetite for knowledge and education to feed our eager minds and hearts. Nah, we’re drowning in it. We’ve gorged ourselves on so much information, know-how, DIY’s, hacks, lectures, TED talks, and memes that we’re in serious need of a good vomit so we can evacuate the mind for real instruction.

In our enthusiasm with our ability to create and distribute huge amounts of information, we have assembled an array of isolated data so separated from each other that they have lost all meaning within the whole. Now we are merely an army of specialists who have no sense of where our fields of interest intersects with anything else. From here I will refer you to Clausewitz:

Thus it has come about that our theoretical and critical literature, instead of giving plain, straightforward arguments in which the author at least always knows what he is saying and the reader what he is reading, is crammed with jargon, ending at obscure crossroads where the author loses its readers. Sometimes these books are even worse: they are just hollow shells. The author himself no longer knows just what he is thinking and soothes himself with obscure ideas which would not satisfy him if expressed in plain speech.

I think perhaps we have moved to the opposite extreme: In Clausewitz’s day the literature tended to be gaseous and bombastic. No modern today would have the concentration to endure them. But we live in a reduction of ideas. Given the copious volume of information facing us, we must restrict it into bite-size chunks that we can easily digest. Now, either we repeat religious maxims–pithy statements–or preponderous theological constructs, which leave the listener more confused, as essential ideas become broken more and more into smaller, isolated incidents. We subsist off trite memes which only scratch at the surface of meaning and do not plunge into its depths. They act as a feather brushing across the mind and heart, inspiring a sense of knowledge, but without any actual effect. There is no intimate interaction in the mind; no wrestling, no struggle or compromise, no resolution. There is nothing to bring about a lasting change. It creates the impression of change because the listener has glimpsed something true. But he has not known it. The difference is far and wide.

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Here’s a pretty picture to break up the text!

 

Education  is not information. Education and learning can only be accomplished in the context of relationship. It is probably the most inefficient way of developing a person’s understanding. Knowledge is only as useful as far as one is able and willing to communicate and relate it to others. The Church hasn’t lost influence through being wrong, but because it has lost its effectual voice. We must understand our times on every level, and be prepared to understand men and women when we meet them. We cannot steep our heads in scripture and spiritual influences and expect that we will be effective in a world we do not know.

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Cultivation

In Genesis 1:28 we’re asked to go and cultivate a garden, “…Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth…”. It implies a wealth of further meaning. It suggests service, patience, attention, and a perspective for the future. Love is all of that and we can clearly see the love of that One who is full of patience and grace, and whose vision far outstrips our own. That One could demand satisfaction right now, in full. We would be in such poor state to do that. We cannot love God with perfection. And he does not demand that of us. Instead, he inters into time and place, approaching,  calling out, and into an attending relationship with us, teaching, filling us up, showing us who we really are and who he really is.

Contrast the process of love–long suffering, cultivation, care, sacrifice, dedication and faithfulness–with the perspective and dogma of sin: sin doesn’t have a long-term plan. It wants something, right now. Sin doesn’t have a goal beyond the self. It doesn’t want to cultivate, to care for, it doesn’t want to hope for the fruit of that relationship. It demands the fruit without faithfulness. But there is no fruit without love.

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Subversion by Grace

fullsizeoutput_12When we begin at once we leave slim margins for anything which does not lend itself to the task or purpose immediately at hand. It dispenses with the superfluous, the inadequate through sheer necessity of action.

At every step analysis takes place to determine the effectiveness of the last. How well it worked, whether or not it was worth the expenditure, and how well the next step will be able to build upon the last. These are all the mechanics of analysis. However, there comes a point during each step where analysis becomes itself a hindrance to the next step through its inhibition of action.

The truth for which I have difficulty taking responsibility is there will never be a complete picture. Complete pictures don’t exist. There has never, is not, and will never be a fully adequate analysis that takes everything into account or realizes the whole situation. In my effort to solve problems and pursue sound steps and make really good decisions I become confused with gathering all the data. Without good data one cannot come to a good decision, no? Sometimes, yes, but that kind of data cannot be found. Even if it were, my human error must color every piece I touch. I will necessarily disfigure everything I consider. The true error is thinking that data is to be worshipped.

And this is where fact meets an existential truth that explodes what it encounters. Despite even our best efforts, our most carefully laid plans and even our costliest precautions, we can still make blundering mistakes. For all our competency we may still be ghastly failures. And it may be due to nothing at all but our inability to see the picture how it truly is.

And that’s usually what I fail to appreciate until it becomes true. It’s one I find difficult to incorporate into my frame of mind, my action, my life’s ever edited blueprint. I don’t like it.

Yet I must eventually arrive or be arrested by something different: The picture was never meant for us to see. If we knew every aspect of any given situation we would then become God. Only he carries the capability, the will, the life to see the full picture, to hold the facts and know their worth and understand them wholly. This is true not only of those austere and distant questions of war and peace, cultures and civilizations. It is true for every human shortcoming, conflict, confusion and unknown, from the smallest misunderstanding to the most awful grief.

But if this is an indisputable fact of life, why then is it so difficult to understand? Why is it impossible to accept? The human response is one of control. I must control those unseen shadows of the picture that my human analysis cannot take into grasp. It is necessary if I am to have peace and be sure of what I attempt. Human error manifests itself continually as the attempted control of situations and the unseen. Intrigue, plots, manipulation, gossip; can all be seen as the out playing of this striving. The occult, the establishment of religion, the hyper-state, the unscrupulous pursuit of scientific data and the elevation of fact over truth; are the larger, sociological pursuits of the same. In earlier millennia we turned to magic and religion to wrest control. We’ve since moved on and dressed the same magic with modest attire of rationality and science. It is the occult of the verifiable, quantifiable, and we worship it as our God and Maker. But every attempt at control is just as inadequate as the former and the next.

It’s here in my fear and doubt I conduct the same idolatry. how could I possibly trust God with my future? That would be foolish and irresponsible. No, it is far better, quicker for sure, to step in where God doesn’t understand, where God doesn’t care, where his ideas fullsizeoutput_e
for my future don’t mesh with mine. He has bigger problems to contend with and only I am as invested and dedicated to my future happiness and goals as is necessary to achieve them. It goes beyond just not needing God. It goes to where God is cumbersome and a burden, and not a friend. That is a terrible place to find myself.

Then enter truth in its unwelcome, inconvenient, and opposing nature–contradicting, confounding, even absurd in its answer to my protests toward God. It nonetheless brings the surgeons’ scalpel to every idea, proposition, and thought that enters and leaves the mind. God’s truth, as it penetrates the inner chambers of the mind, the very womb of thought, is not like a contrary argument or a divergent position which wins. It is wholly other. It doesn’t oppose ideas; it disarms them. It does not attack; it defuses. It triumphs in distinction and prominence not through power or domination but through humble, quiet subversion by grace and presence. It confounds fact with truth; the confounding of the verifiable with the unverifiable of the otherworldly.

Abandonment

“It is never because a person is convinced intellectually that he crosses over into the existential”

“We may well resign ourselves to it. The Church does not exist, either at the level of freedom, or at that of the proclamation of the Gospel message, or at the level of intellectual responsibility…True, the Church is in Christ. That I deeply believe. But nothing of her truth, properly so called, is making its appearance in the world today. We have to make a choice. Either there is no God, and Jesus is a human model, in which case I see no reason to bother with the Church; or else we have come up against the stone wall of the silence of God, and our prayer is lost in the void of his decision not to be there any longer…All the assembling of biblical passages to prove to me that this is not possible does not alter one whit the easily observed mediocrity of the Church.”

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It doesn’t take special insight to sense Jacque Ellul’s pain and frustration eking into the page of his work Hope in the Time of Abandonment. Without making a properly lengthy introduction to the book, his favorite by his admission, I will say it is a true gem and one any Christian should consider. At least any Christian who has taken a few askant looks around the room to see if anyone else is uncomfortable with this pained dissonance that we call Christendom. Few Church leaders are as pessimistic of the state of things. Again it does not require a study of any depth by experts to see the Church is desperately mediocre. But Ellul does so expertly and with passion. He does not ignore strong scientific and philosophical evidence, but his emotions are not atrophied. He is a believer and he also feels too. Where the Spirit does not move we are left to contrive and construct, heap upon heap. The Church has heaped a massive assemblage of religious artifacts and techniques. We are in so much danger of blindness. If we look the situation squarely on, we either give up in despair or we do something radically different. Every heart knows and senses the Absence.

However, I have not heard anyone give a greater explanation for the Hope within. Neither have I found a stronger encouragement and challenge to the Church. We are called to so much more, and we cannot allow ourselves to be fooled by “the master of ceremonies, the real conductor of the orchestra, the archangel of mediocrity and confusion.”

 

Reality and Epiphany

IMG_1824So often we experience a lived reality and perceive what is true from a distance. We do not know intimately what we know (or think) to be true. Yet sometimes reality (what we live) and truth (what is really real) coincide like two spheres and there we have epiphany–where we can actually experience truth in pure form.

These don’t last but we can recall and remember, as we’re told to do time and time again.  And we can bank on His grace to help us through the times when reality closes in sharply and all we can see is what is happening.

The Spirit moves. And it’s scary and comforting and peaceful. We may well wake up in the night in sheer anguish, And that’s ok, because we can remember.

Human Fanfare

Why do we thrive on drama? Why does the element of uncertainty and excitement, whether it is real or imagined, capture our interest? I believe our humanity keeps us from living truly logical lives, whether we want it or not. I think we want to believe that all we do is totally rational and derived from scientific rigor, that we do nothing out of the human passions that make us who we are and shape the world the way it is. But that is not so. And that is not bad. Many things we do is done not from logic reasoning, by weighing the pros and cons, but because we want to, because we love to. Something done not out of logic, but of the love of something, is more telling, more meaningful, to us as the human race.  That’s why I’m going to use the words logic and drama, because I think those words capture what I want to describe. They’re both human, and they’re not mutually exclusive. We tend to divide life between them, attributing certain events to one or the other.  Logic is what brought about great engineering marvels such as bridges and dams. But it was human drama that precipitated the purpose behind the structures themselves. Why was the Firth of Forth bridged? Somebody wanted to get to the other side. So the bridge envisages not only the enormous logical achievement, but the human drama that brought about such an achievement. In any event, the maths that enabled the construction of the bridge are themselves imbued with the same drama. 

What would life be without drama? Why would men and women marry? Why would they have children? Why would they bury their dead with fanfare? Why would they celebrate occasions of birth, of marriage? If they were completely logical, they would realize that we’re all dead in the long run, so either there’s no point in going over the top, or we might as well party on. But I’m not talking about selfish, shortsighted, drunken abasement. But these are not purely logical notions, but deeply dramatic. The word, like romantic, carries associations of foolishness, quaint notions built not out of reality but wishful dreaming. The implication is that it is the logical, the reality, that one must look to for purpose and lasting meaning. That ultimately may be true, but where would the fun be in that? You may call me dramatic, but these wishful dreams are what make life worth living.

For example, I attended the wedding of a friend less than a day ago. It was, like most weddings, traditional. There was a cake, the bride wore a dress, the groom a tuxedo. Both were surrounded by ceremonial attendants. Each thing in itself meant nothing. The flower girls were really extraneous to the affair. Theories on the original intent of the bride’s bouquet—which make it a purely logical item—mean nothing to us today. An historian, maybe, but who cares? Modern weddings may be a collection of ancient and religious ritual, but to those present it makes no difference. The couple could have become legally married by a state and religious functionary, witnessed by a few close friends, and been done with it. The method has no impact to the meaning in the long or short run, so there’s no quasi-religious or superstitious element involved. But it was deliberately made a dramatic occasion with music, food and drink and costly decorations. The couple was married in the presence of friends and family, who spanned several generations. And they came to wish them the best in life, to see them off to success in a world which can be, in so many ways, a cruel world. But it is a world that can be filled with so many unmerited gifts. The whole affair was almost completely unnecessary, but that was not the point. The point wasn’t logic, it was drama. Those flower girls may have been extraneous, but they were positively adorable.