Country Roads Take Me Home – a pictorial essay (repost)

Country Roads Take Me Home – a pictorial essay

Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue ridge mountains, Shenandoah river
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze

(Daniel and I canoeing the Cheat River while on a recent vacation back to St. George West Virginia.)

If John Denver is ever fully forgotten from within the context of the American musical lexicon – the last bit of him that will pass away from memory are the lyrics from his seemingly immortal county music ballad Take me home country roads.

I say immortal, because it is said that outside of a theological understanding of life after death that you’d hear taught on a Sunday morning, the next best hope for the attainment of immortality is that an artist might create something that would seemingly contain a part of their soul – and that that thing might potentially continue to exist and relate that soul and essence long after he or she is long gone.  One might point out that many moons have come and gone since that fateful day that Denver forgot how to throw the switch to change fuel tanks on his experimental aircraft – but regardless of how he died; he does live on in his music. And if he is ever forgotten, I would think that it will still be quite a long time in coming, as – at least for me – for those words have more then just a special meaning; they represent a special place. When country roads take me home, they do in fact take me to a place in West Virginia.  They take me home to a little out of the way place called St. George.

St. George is a tiny mountain community that is nestled deep inside the mountains, and is seemingly a place that time forgot. It has the distinction of being the oldest settlement in Tucker county and was actually once the county seat, until a gang of vigilantes broke into the court house and took the country records and the court house bell to the nearby town of Parsons in 1893. I use the word seemingly – because there is much about this place that hides what is and what once was; what has been seemingly touched by heaven – and yet, perhaps even in a way, also touched by hell. You have to stop and talk awhile with the people or be from there yourself to get a feeling for the depth of history that this little out of the way place holds.


(Vittie Lipscomb; A grandfather and three of his Grandchildren)

My childhood memory is full of trips to this sleepy little place, and I can remember so well, pulling up to Grandpa and Grandma’s house. I remember that I always slept on the top floor of their house in a room chock full of books and generations of National Geographic magazines. It all seemed so idyllic and I can scarcely say that I honestly don’t know if I ever fully appreciated the wonder and sweetness of that pure mountain air as a child. With great clarity I remember walking down Center Street, past the other quaint little houses, down to Lipscomb’s Grocery, which was run by my grandfather’s brother, Elmer. We would buy candy and I would survey the racks of Wolverine boots that Elmer kept in stock and sold to the hunters that would buy their goods from him. I remember grandpa speaking of an albino deer that had escaped many a pursuant hunter and I remember him taking us all up into the woods – and suddenly finding it there, standing in a field, where my grandfather knew just where to look – standing like a majestic, mythological creature from a different time and place. It was there – and suddenly as quickly as we had seen it in all of it’s wonder and awe inspiring glory – it was gone.

(My Grandfather Vittie Lipscomb (on on the right) and all his brothers and sisters, gathered next to his brother Elmer’s Country Store in St. George)

(The home my grandfather grew up in – now a hunting lodge)

(My Great Grandfather Father and Great Grandmother, Daniel and Rosa Lipscomb)

Gone is a word that seems to capture the essence of so much and of what represents St. George and the surrounding mountain areas to me.

Country roads, take me home
To the place, I be-long
West Virginia, mountain momma
Take me home, country roads

My dad tells me that his dad used to joke that cows from West Virginia have two legs shorter then the others, incurred from perpetually grazing on the side of a mountain. In looking at the fields of grass going up and down the steep mountains of the land – this does not seem like all that unlikely of a proposition.  The mountains and the terrain of the region are incredibly mountainous; but not so mountainous as to ever have escaped the loggers’ axe. Two inventions propelled the logging industry into the reaches of the West Virginia wilderness, the steam powered band saw and the Shay Locomotive. The band saw should be a self-explanatory term; but the Shay is worthy of at least a few descriptive adornments – if not for anything other then it’s uniqueness in locomotive history. Most locomotives that grace modern childhood imaginations or Western movie scenes are the traditional wheel/pulley/stroke configuration. These steam-billowing behemoths could race across the expanses of the Great Plain’s desolation and in doing so, invariably pulled the two initially disparate coasts of America closer and closer – long before the dawn of modern space age travel and communication made that possible both transportive and communication-wise. But these types of locomotives, while good for speed, were not as much adept at hill or mountain climbing.  Their strength could peter out on the larger hills and mountainous terrains endemic to the West Virginia landscape; hence the foundational basis for the age old children’s rhyme “the little engine that could.” Most traditionally driven steam locomotives that would seek to assert themselves against West Virginian mountains quickly switched from I think I can, I think I can – to I sure can’t. All this changed with the advent of the Shay. The Shay gladly ceded the right to quick interstate travel for its title as official mountain climber of the railroad. It did this because of an ingenious mechanism wherein the steam pistons of the train were connected to rotating worm gears that then turned the main wheels of the train. This allowed for a great deal of torque to be applied to the wheels, over and above that which was typically produced via the traditional method of locomotive propulsion design. And while they were no speed demons by any notion –  and in fact possessive of a range of unique liabilities, such as a propensity for wreaking all types for rail deformations upon the tracks they strode, they climbed the steepest of grades with relative ease – compared to their conventionally-driven cousins, who’s drive wheels would often slip so much that railroad folklore is replete with stories of the rails beneath them being reduced to glowing molten sludge by the great steel wheels endlessly spinning under huge loads when confronted with the immense inclinations of the mountain rails. Owing to the rotational reduction of these worm gear drives, the Shayes had a lower steam cylinder/engine to drive wheel/drive train ratio – to borrow from a gear head/4×4 enthusiasts vocabulary – and so just as lower geared trucks can be found puling freight in and out of the mountains of West Virginia today, these lower geared locomotives were used to conduct the gritty business of logging the dense ravines and mountains in what became a logging free-for-all by so-called Timber Barons; wealthy industrialists with the money and the know-how to turn the stunning West Virgian landscape into windfall corporate profits. The Shay locomotive, and the steam-driven band saw, mixed with a lot of ingenuity, greed, and a lack of virtually any government oversight – stripped West Virginia absolutely bare of her old growth forests.

The largest tree, documented to have been cut down, was a white oak thought to be over a thousand years old, which was hewn down from the town of Lead Mine in 1913.  It had a diameter of 13 feet 16 feet from the base, much like the fabled red woods of California. One can only wonder of the amount of glee such a sight must have generated when first seen by eager loggers – and yet the loss of such a magnificent element of creation; the true value cannot be calculated. There are stories of hunters in those days who would venture into the woods, only to encounter timber so thick, that a deer could not pass between the trees. Such dense growth of such impenetrable nature often extended for miles, and many a hunter would wander in circles trying to find a path back out, eventually dying of starvation- trapped in a maze of impassible old growth forest. Such a daunting peril is virtually unimaginable today. Many of the small towns in and around St. George like Lead Mine, Parsons, and Elkins, show how these timber barons came in and did their business and left veritable ghost towns behind them.  Every valley and every mountain can been examined to see the remnants of an old rail bed, and everywhere you look – you can see trees, but if you know your history, you may know that life is old there, older then the hills – but the trees aren’t – they were stripped bare and the entire region thoroughly denuded.


However beautiful the land and the trees of West Virginia are – it is yet a pale resemblance to that which was found by the early settlers. All that can be seen is only the growth of trees that have grown since the logging industry burned itself out and there was no more money to be made because there were simply no more trees to be cut down. Wherever you fall on the political spectrum in terms of environmental protectionism, it is a wrenching testimony of the power of greed and unregulated industry taking advantage of not just a people, but also a land in a way that can never be restored nor any recompense comprehended.

It does not do justice to try to describe in mere words the glory of The West Virginia wilderness that fell to the loggers’ axe. The postmodernist theologian Leonard Sweet makes mention of the part of West Virginia that he calls home, The Canaan Valley area – now the inhabitation of skiers and mountain bikers and the like in a number of his books. The name is pronounced kah-nane, rather then the biblical pronunciation of kay-nan. But regardless of the linguistic twist; it was named after the biblical land; because when it was found – it was seen as noting less then a beautiful and bountiful land of no less then biblical proportions. This land too; all of its majesty and old growth forest – was cut down as well.

But it is not just man that has left an indelible mark upon the people and the places of West Virginia.

All my memries, gather round her
Miners lady, stranger to blue water
Dark and dusty, painted on the sky
Misty taste of moonshine, teardrop in my eye

I remember riding the bus home from school and hearing the radio newscaster speaking of catastrophic flooding in parts of West Virginia, that fateful day November 4th, 1985. For some reason I remember the entire walk from the bus to my parents front door; finding my mom sitting at the table with a look of anxiety upon her face and the words, ‘son, your dad and I are worried about your Grandparents in West Virginia’, upon her lips.

When word finally came through to us, the depth of the gravity of what had happened was truly overwhelming. Within days – we were piling into the car and pensively on our way there; profoundly aware that there was no tangible way to prepare ourselves for what we knew we were about to witness.

My grandfather had been warned to get out – but he was stubborn, and refused to believe the Cheat River could rise as high as they said that it might. In addition to his ruminations on bovines, my grandfather had also made note to us that the Cheat river was known to lull a lot of people into unassuming assumptions regarding it’s potential nature in diverse regards such as depth and swiftness, and in the manner of these same qualities – it had lived up to it’s name and cheated many people out of their lives. I can only assume that my Grandfather did not take his own advice when told to leave and held to his own treasured assumptions about the river which he had known all his life. These assumptions came to an abrupt end, when he was awoken by the panicked yelps of his hunting dog outside – who was standing up to it’s snout in water, on top of its dog house. The river followed my grandfather through the front door, following the untethering of his trusted companion. It literally followed them up the steps to the second floor and then literally up the ladder into their attic. He told us later of the strange sound that the huge freezers he kept downstairs sounded like: the banging and the awful, ominous, tumbling sounds as they floated up and hit the ceiling and then began to dump their contents of frozen deer meat out, as they flipped over and open. An echoing, cascading thunder that echoed through the house – one that was at the same time both unnerving and unmistakable- though never heard before and never heard again. It was the sound of a feeding river; ravenously devouring everything it touched; the hundreds of jars of my grandmother’s carefully canned vegetables; the fruits of the countless hunting expeditions of my grandfather – everything they both ate – everything they had collected over a lifetime -both borrowed and owned.

It is sort of an unwritten and unspoken, yet acknowledged thing – that if our own house ever catches fire, and we can only save one thing- save our own well-being and health; that it would be the crochet that my great grandmother made that hangs in our own house now, but also hung in theirs. It was on the second floor, and was hung very high near to the ceiling. When the vile, brown waters receded – it was shown to have reached all the way to only a few inches from the bottom of the frame. It was probably the only item they that they owned that remained untouched by the flood waters.

(Picture of my Great Grandmother’s Crochet.)

We have no idea how old their house was; but when it’s ruins were surveyed, we pulled newspapers – which served as an elemental form of insulation from the harsh West Virginia winters, long before the advent of fiberglass – from between its broken, pried apart walls. Many of them bore advertisements of Dr. So and So’s liver pills- the kind that you used to see on Wendy’s dining tables, no doubt from the late 1800’s.   My grandparents no doubt owed their lives to the quality of the turn of the century construction of their abode; for a soon as they had made their way into the cramped reaches of the attic; they felt the house groan and shudder – and looking out through the attic window – and saw the distant landscape shifting over the horizon of the white crested muddy torrent – the grinding and bone jarring shaking the ensued confirming to them that the age old stone foundation of the house had given way – and like an untethered boat – their house was washing downstream, slowly being torn apart by the raging waters. If my memory serves me correctly – their house washed down stream about 50 yards, until it lodged on a huge stump; it’s structural integrity virtually destroyed, as the entire front of the house was pulled out like a can or box top. 10 or 15 more yards, and the house no doubt would have completely disintegrated into the waters, taking with it all those National Geographics, my grandpa, my grandma, their three dogs and their cat; all of whom were rescued in one boat by those who knew that they were still in the house. Grandma would not leave without her cat – and grandpa would not leave without his dogs. Together they were all rescued – and none were left behind.

A photographer later snapped a picture of Vittie and Thelma Lipscomb standing on the stones that once led up their porch. They were still wearing the clothes that they had on when they were pulled out the attic. In the far distance one can see their house – an entire side of it pulled away, the rooms within, open and exposed; furniture caked with reeking mud. Everywhere there is mud, mud, mud – and destruction. For some time their weary gazes populated newspapers far and wide and became a testament to the pain inflicted upon a people accustomed to hardship and adversity; this time cast upon it in yet a new itineration thereof.

(My Grandparents, their house – with the entire front almost pried off – resting in the background.)

They calculated that 18 feet of water had come tearing through the town of St. George and a host of other like-wise little towns along the Cheat’s path; but this is only a guess; as it is documented to have been 21 feet just down the river in Parsons; where the flood stage is something like 11 to 13 feet. It destroyed the old bridge that I remember so well – and left only the broken stone abutments as mute testimony that it had ever been there. If you look up St. George on the Internet using any of the modern satellite imaging tools; when looking down at St. George, you can still see the small gray pillars next to the new bridge where the old one once stood. The irony is that they themselves had been built using the foundation stones of the old courthouse, the bell to which and legal papers within had been stolen in decades prior. Now the wild hand of Mother Nature had come at a gunpoint of her own and stolen the bridge itself and so much more along with it. The newer bridge next to it had withstood the force of the waters, but it was itself violated in a unique way; as when the waters receded – they revealed a no doubt two-legs-longer-then-the-other-two West Virginia heifer, wedged tightly between it’s steel beams; whose disproportionate legs hung 18 something feet up in the air. I often wondered if man or time honored methodologies of natural decomposing rummaged it from its lofty allocation. This image, along with that of my grandparents, garnered print ink far and wide.


The new bridge after the flood.

(Picture of old bridge abutments; the stones of which were taken from the old courthouse.)
(Further remains of the old bridge to St. George. In the distance are the offices of a rafting company Blackwater Outdoor Adventures; the takeout area and a customer are seen in the distance. If you are in this area you should check them out.)
(The view of the bridge remnants as seen from the BOA’s takeout. )
Country roads, take me home
To the place, I be-long
West virginia, mountain momma
Take me home, country roads

The Amish came and in their own time-honored tradition built homes for those who had lost everything; and my Grandparents where recipients of their outpoured generosity and sweat. But the single story house that replaced what the bulldozer eventually claimed was just a shell of what had preceded it in size, nature and beauty. Grandma and Grandpa’s house was long gone –and like the forest, they too were only in the memory and the photographs of those few who knew of them and those fewer who actually remembered.

Walking down Center St. in St. George – I surveyed the homes, ones that were once so quaint and meticulously well-attended. Now weed saturated lots reside in many of their steads. Other homes that either survived or were rebuilt are seemingly infrequently well-attended to. Parts of St. George are still well-taken care of; but all of those along Center St,  seemingly still bear the muddy touch of those waters, as they must have washed away with so much, so many things, but also the trust that such a thing could never happen, and the lingering fear, that regardless of the word spread by purported experts: that the flood was one that had to be thought of from within the context of a “once in a thousand years flood” – there seems to be a visibly manifest fear – that it happened once – and could therefore could happen again. The town has never been rebuilt to the same essence– it has never been restored to its beautiful, idyllic glory. The St. George of my youth was cut down by a flood that could not have been imagined – the true cost of which, much like the loss of the old growth forest in and around it, may never be calculated.

Much of what remains is like in kind to so much else; it lives in pictures, in memories, in a different place then the ground my eager feet jumped out onto after the long drive from and out of the city, when we left it to go to West Virginia to see Grandma and Grandpa. On some level – I knew that Grandma and Grandpa would pass on to their respective rewards; but I never thought that anything would steal that treasure trove of National Geographics from him, once hinted at possibly being an inheritance. Somewhere, probably buried in a field – lays the moldering remains of the innards of the mantle clock that my mom wanted; it’s antique wood no doubt long returned to the earth from which it came. I remember walking around the tangled, broken mess that was left of St. George when we drove up to try to help Grandma and Grandpa as they sought to reestablish some resemblance of a sustainable existence, having been – for the moment – consigned to cabins at a nearby YMCA camp. I walked through the fields along the river that had only a few months prior been ripe with corn; and were now, were ripe with the remnants of lives; property, cars, homes –and everything that the water had uprooted and taken with it. Washing machines – small children’s’ toys; I wondered what things were hidden from view that people were missing more then those things easily repurchased at a local store. For many years, there were ongoing stories of watches, jewelry and even an occasional hoard of coins that were from time to time discovered amongst the wreckage. I have no doubt that that river still holds secrets, that perhaps with some coming spring’s rains – it might someday choose to reveal the unexpected to the long since detached from the events of that day, unsuspecting passerby.

If only I had known that so much, so much more would pass away – I would have savored every movement. I know I would have pushed aside my ADDHD propensities and I would have undistractedly acknowledged the full experience of every detail of West Virginia as it once was to me. But you never know – you never truly know, either by the graceful hand of God, or a cruel trick of fate; you truly never know what you really have, not just until it is gone – but sometimes when all of that of which it is, is all so swiftly passing from between your fingers – into memory and mere photographs; being washed down by a sometimes cheating river of life – into forgetfulness – either to be discovered and remembered by someone, or – as is much more likely the case – to be locked away from remembrance forever, buried under the mud of time and progress and a world distracted by the here and now of its own needs and priorities, which so much seems so much like the same indifferent-to-the-future attitudes of those who squandered on their own accounts what they had, what they remembered – what they had to give, long – long before I ever forgot to try to remember that which came to be so precious to me.

I hear her voice, in the mornin hours she calls to me
The radio reminds me of my home far a-way
And drivin down the road I get a feeling
That I should have been home yesterday, yesterday
(St. George Academy standing in quiet repose.)

Along Center Rd, just down from where my Grandparent’s house once stood, there is an old school house, standing among the gravel and the weeds that surround it. We stopped there to see it and to read the historical marker that bore witness to both its age and a snapshot of the history behind it.

It was built in 1885– no doubt by a relative connected back through the ol’ family tree, a certain fellow by the name of William H. Lipscomb.  Interestingly enough, the old school house had survived the flood; and it’s survival was credited to the fact that a construction crew was in the process of moving it closer to the road. It is theorized that being jacked up as it was – as one does with large buildings when they are moved about – that the waters passed beneath the structure and spared it a fate shared by almost all the buildings surrounding it. Whether it was by grace, or by fate, or a construction workers inadvertent inclinations – the wrath of the flood passed by it and left it intact. A look through the shimmering glass gave a view of a vast treasure trove of historical knickknacks and documentations, all ordered, numbered and carefully presented as though awaiting a steady stream of museum visitors – ones that never materialized to darken it’s door. During a conversation with Keith Lipscomb, the son of my grandfather’s brother, Elmer Lipscomb – who once owned the old store – who now himself served as St. George’s Postmaster – we mentioned that we had stopped by the old school house. His eyes lit up, as we had failed to have the foresight that the town’s Postmaster no doubt knew everybody who was anybody – and therefore a somebody who might have a key.

He did.

(Relaxing with our relatives; Keith and Sheila Lipscomb.)

A few moments later, we were taking the short drive over there, on our way to get a key. With the turn of the lock – the old school house opened its doors to us, and we walked in with the dust of centuries seemingly undisturbed beneath our feet.

(The steps going upstairs)
(The upstairs)

I speak figuratively- as it was all very clean and tidy. But it certainly felt like we were going back in time. The faces of a thousand pictures peering back as us, back from times long past, places long changed, people long gone on. I opened up one book, saved from a centennial celebration that took place in the 70’s  – and there, sure enough, was a hand drawn advertisement for Lipscombs’ grocery.

(An advertisement for Lipscomb’s Grocery from a booklet printed during St. George’s bicentennial celebration – found among the many documents in the old school house.)

There were pictures of the old Courthouse, long before it had been broken into and relieved of the county seat. I saw a picture of the old bridge, who’s stones I would reach out and touch the next day, while canoeing with my brother through those deceptive and jealous waters of the Cheat. Soon we were joined by another group of people  who had never been in the old school house either, and were eager to take advantage of the now opened door. The soft conversations of our family and the others looking over the contents of the old schoolhouse were gently and unexpectedly punctuated by the old school bell tolling. My youngest brother, Daniel, had evidently found the rope, and had given it a few sharp pulls – and its voice soon began to echo throughout sleepy St. George. I wondered how long it had been since it had spoken. I wondered how long it had been closed up, and unopened to curious visitors like ourselves. In the old days, a ringing bell heralded either a celebration or imminent danger. I looked out over St. George, as the old school house bell softly peeled throughout the town –  and thought to my self, St. George are you listening? Is anyone listening?

(The Courthouse in Parsons – in process of being restored. It is here that the county seat wound up after being absconded at gunpoint from St. George’s courthouse.)

Along our circuitous route, we eventually stopped at Fairview Cemetery; a meticulously cared for collection of graves nestled far, far up in the mountains.

Herein lay both one of my Great Grandmothers & Great Grandfathers, Daniel S. and Rosa C. Lipscomb.

(My great grandparents)

My Great Grandmother died in 1986, Daniel Stearns, in 1944, while my grandfather was far away in the war. He was never told of his father’s death, and only learned of it after returning home. That Uncle Sam was remiss in reporting to a son his father’s death in even a remotely timely fashion – remained a sore spot for my grandfather for the remainder of his life.

A few feet away lies the headstone of my Great, Great, Grandfather and Great, Great Grandmother, Lina A., and Stephen M. Wiles. I remember seeing my Great Grandmother, but my mom remembers my Great, Great Grandmother holding me.

(My great, great grandparents)

Only a few miles away, along a mountainous gravel road called Hile Run, can be found another remote cemetery where a too-many-greats-to-recall Grandfather, Levi Hile and his wife rest. Before we came home, we spent sometime winding around the roads that circle St.. George. Later – we learned that we were mere miles from the grave site of Ambrose Lipscomb, a great to the umpteenth power grandfather of mine who had served in the Revolutionary War. There are too many Lipscombs slumbering in these mountains to count. Generations of the family tree are planted in the ground up here; in more ways then one.

In rest, here is also found the ominously conjoined gravestones of Kenneth Hebb and his daughter Melissa Ann

Ken Hebb bought the old country store from Elmer Lipscomb, who rests with his wife only a few yards a way – which is now a small Church of God storefront; bearing little resemblance to the small country store that I remember it as.

(Elmer Lipscomb’s Country store as it is today, Church of God storefront)

Mr. Hebb suffered a heart attack while driving with one of his daughters, on the way to the hospital to see another one of his daughters – who was in the midst of childbirth. In the same day, a daughter brought forth life; and a father and his youngest daughter passed into eternity. There was a coal truck involved; everything else is just details that can be summed up in their shared day of passing from this life and the words that grace the back of her gravestone next to her father; inscribed next to the image of a phone with it’s receiver off the hook; Jesus Called.

A little bit of hell – a little bit of heaven. As my brother and I paddled down the Cheat, we’d from time to time step out and explore a river bank. Along the way, here and there, lay the occasional, proverbial tire and some odd end of something or other. One we chanced upon what looked like a thoroughly rusted and battered water tank of some kind. I wondered if it was something that had been casual discarded by some goofball, as is the case with so much other river detritus. But it could not be ruled out as some kind of secretly held reminder, coughed up by the river from where it had been hidden after being taken by those muddy waters that fateful day. Had it been inside somebody’s home? And was this all that was left of it and everything else owned by the person who had once perhaps purchased it – a rusting, barely recognizable remnant of a past that only the river could testify of, were she to ever speak – 90 percent buried in river rock? If I remember correctly – they never found my grandfather’s scout after it was washed away. Logic would dictate via the laws of physics that the entirely of a fairly sturdy 4×4 would not entirely necessarily dematerialize or melt away under the affluence of water alone. Was his truck merely found somewhere down stream and expediently crushed at a recycling plant somewhere with no regard to documentation of VIN numbers or anything; or – does it lie somewhere, buried under the tons of rock that were surely shifting about en mass – just where does Grandpa’s trusty scout lie? I stood before the twisted, dented wreckage of something from somewhere and pondered what other things lay beneath the rock. It was a beautiful day – and in almost all parts of the river, we could get out and move about, were we desirable of such activities. The quietness of softly gurgling waters belied their capacity for wanton destruction. Such beauty– always had; and always will – save the building of massive dams such as TVA has done to the Tennessee River – serve in the continued capacity to provide a deceptive mask: their capacity to deliver unbridled hell. But perhaps the river cannot be faulted entirely; as perhaps she merely does in fact speak to us, not of her deeds and capabilities – but more so not just her nature, but that she flows from a land, the essence of which must surely serve as her defining lifeblood. For she is both beautiful and deadly, life giving and life taking; truly a little bit of heaven- and a little bit of hell. Under the encroachment of such accusations, she, and perhaps the land itself, would not shirk such admonishments – but might merely point out that such is common to not just to them, but to the larger business of life itself – that everywhere there is history and that history is both a story of hope and despair, overcoming and subjugation, long life and futures cheated. I can sing the song of the river and I can love soil of the land – not just because I am rooted in her history and those who have both loved and contended with her; but because I am also deeply connected with the hopes and despairs, love and pain, tragedies and successes of those who have been connected to life here, both with me and before me in this little out of the way place.

(Canoeing the cheat with my parents)
Country roads, take me home
To the place, I be-long
West virginia, mountain momma
Take me home, country roads

You have to be from a place to know the full depth of a place. You have to be human to be able to plumb the expanse of that place’s history and its stories. When I return to St. George, it is more then just a pilgrimage; the roads that lead there take me home – not just to a place that can be called home, but also to a place that I understand. When I am there – I am deeply connected, and though I spend the largest portion of my time in a veritable concrete jungle, when I am there – I feel a part of the place. I both understand, and feel understood. And in such manner – I can tell people that I am a damn Yankee , born in Deaconess Hospital, in the proper confines of the big, dirty steel town of Cleveland Ohio; and when I am there, I know her stories too; the smell of the open market, the sound of a thousand buses and pedestrian’s shuffling feet – but another place also calls my name; and I both answer and speak with her – in a native language and fluency that all who are touched by her both know, speak, and respond in.

Everyone should know where they are from. Those bereft of such knowledge are among all men most destitute in ways that cannot be soothed by any rich man’s assets nor any skillful handyman’s product.

In History of Tucker County by Homer Floyd Fansler, published in 1962 and later supplemented by History of Tucker County by Cleta M. Long – which was published in 1996 (both denizens of my library shelf), Fansler includes a poem written by the first principle of St. George Academy, A. W. Frederick – who oversaw the old school between the years 1885 to 1886. Fansler notes that Fredrick left the school to go to what he thought were greener pastures; but his own aspirations did not work out; and he spent his later years thinking of his years in St. George.  While Teaching in Myrtle Creek, Oregon, he penned The Saint George Academy and sent it to his former students. It is clear in parts – yet enigmatic in others; with both clear and unknownable elements and thematic components: potential references, as noted by Fansler, possibly to other teachers and events that Frederick experienced when he taught at and administrated the old Academy. Here, Frederick is conversing in history; conversing a shared and private language, in ways unintelligible to those removed from his own shared-with-his-friends experiences, much as we are often in relation to own own.   He too was connected back to a place – that all roads seemed to lead back to – and regardless of how far his life and teaching vocation would take him – home would always be in a little place called St. George.

The Saint George Academy
By A.W. Frederick

We remember, we remember that old building, now askew;
There we figured out our future, we were young and it was new;
But it matters very little what it was or how it looks,
For outstanding and momentous was our battle with the books.
In long years of school endeavor never was a better found;
All were helping each the other – each for self, but all hands round.
In that old hall academic right was regnant, kindness won,
Culture lured by high ideals smiled on duty fondly done.

There it was we reared our castles earthward up with skyward reach,
Felt the strength of human weakness, civic gospel learned to preach;
There we sought and found expression, found ourselves as things of worth –
Found the many things of value that enoble this old earth.
As the teachers are the school is, and the school the teachers make
Or mold through cooperation; so a brief survey we take:
One so stately, soulful winsome gave the scions her heart,
Buds to bloom and bless the children, taught them choose the better part.

One was called away by sorrow, she bereft a father dear;
And her helping hand withdrawn ceased to bring us help and cheer.
One a Hercules in effort, true as Lee to duty stood,
Yet as gentle as a Zephyr breathed around him deathless good.
Like the hand with ring of magic, one threw lights upon the screen,
Glad if others were transfigured and himself remained unseen.
We, the teachers have depicted, one and all would fain recall,
Were it not some films are wanting, pictures turned against the wall.

In our union and communion there is purpose, there is plan;
As with clustering constellations so with spirit ties of man.
There is no death! The stars go down to rise upon some fairer shore,
And bright in Heaven’s jeweled crown they shine on forevermore; –
So it is – inspiring doctrines of the Christian faith we learned;
Who of us have mystic knowledge, know beyond for which we learned?
We remember, we remember, the Academy when new,
There we figured out our future, sought to find a key and clue.

May we never forget the roads that lead us back to where we belong; and if we grow deaf – may its call be the last sound we grow mute to; it’s memories the last of that which shall pass from our memory; the emotion of it’s joy and pain the last thing that we are able to still feel and know.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._George,_West_Virginia
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheat_River
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackwater_Falls_State_Park
http://www.patc.net/history/archive/virg_fst.html
http://www.leonardsweet.com/advances/mountain/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shay_locomotive
http://www.wvculture.org/goldenseal/fall05/parsons.html
http://www.raftinfo.com/cheat.php
http://community.webshots.com/user/brian_peterman

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Essay: Adventures in Aspieland; Coming to Terms with my “bad wiring”

 

(Originally Posted October 6 2006)

 

Essay: Adventures in Aspieland; Coming to Terms with my “bad wiring”

It is probably an overused statement – ‘The Lord Works in Mysterious Ways’- one that is sure to invoke the rolling of eyeballs by the more practical folk amongst us; but regardless of whether it is a catch-all for both the unexpected and the fortuitous – it doth remain ever the same: He does. Psalm 139:14 says that we are wonderfully and fearfully made; but for some of us who are set apart from the “neuro-typical” we are, in addition to these things, ‘quirkily’ made as well. Recently, I had a moment of realization, after practically stumbling across it in an inadvertent Google search; the source of why I have, all my life, tried to “fit in” but have seemingly never quite completely succeeded. I appear to have what is called Aspergers Syndrome. But I am getting ahead of myself…

It all began a period of time ago. I will not say whether it was a long time ago or a short while; as I will protect the identities of the guilty and the innocent; but there was a certain young lady who had caught my attention. After pestering her with text messages and long drawn out e-mails that are an embarrassment to even mention; I had the opportunity to actually sit down with her in relative privacy and make my case for why I wanted to ask her out. I had implied it in text messages and e-mails – but had heretofore failed to step up to the plate and make a bold statement vocally. The internet and it’s various and wondrous forms of communication have forever changed the way that singles find each other, flirt, communicate, relate and potentially fall in love – but there will never be any combination of ones and zeros that will ever replace the sound of your own vocal cords vibrating out the message: I like you and I want to go out with you. And so – unexpected as it was in the moment – I had my chance, and I aspired to make full use of it.

Any reader of this blog can no doubt recall the magic moment in a given romantic comedy when the guys “makes the play” and finally – perhaps after failing to do it over and over again – finally gets it right. We all remember when Bill Murray finally gets it right in Groundhog Day, Billy Crystal in When Harry Met Sally, and no one can forget Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump telling Jenni – “I know what love is.” And so I was there, talking to my friend – in what should have been a magic moment; but if it were a movie, suddenly, unexpectedly – it was as if all the writers had walked off the set. It was not that I had no lines to remember; I had no lines to say…they were not written – I had nothing to speak. In other words, in that supposed to be that certain aspired for magical moment…I flopped. Later in the day – I stood looking in the mirror, wondering to myself – is there something wrong with me? Why could I not emotionally articulate myself? It was an incredibly awkward moment – and it takes great honesty to even write about it or confess it. At 34 years old – I seemingly still did not know how to talk to a girl; at least in the way that a guy should learn to talk to girl. I prayed about it- and added it to the list of things I felt like the Lord needed to speak to me about.

This He would – in the most mysterious of ways.

For the benefit of those who don’t know me, or have not known me since I was a kid – I..m a normal appearing guy. I’m a highly functional adult, with most of the things that would figure into a picture of a successful individual; perhaps even an overachiever. I helped start and still own a successful web development firm that has been in operation for 8 years. I have two college degrees. I have held the same job in a local hospital’s lab; a stressful, demanding job that requires nerve and intelligence. I have watched fellow coworkers be hired, make mistakes and get burned out or worse yet, fired. I make decent money – and have been successful in real estate investing. I drive a newer model Cadillac – of which I own more then the bank does. I am decent looking – and I am working on getting off the few extra pounds that spending long hours cranking out programming code in front of a computer screen can earn you. I have a close-knit group of friends that miss me when I am working too much and who let me know it. I think I am pretty normal – but that has not always been the case.

As all these self-doubts began to further unfold – I went back and dug out my old mental evaluations that had been done on me as a child. I had not read them in years. Truth told – I don’t know if I had ever really read them. I knew they existed. I had seen them. My mom seemed on rare occasions to occasionally reference them; usually when I had exceedingly frustrated her with a single-minded, determined focus to get something done – despite all things to the contrary – she would say, I have a paper that says your like this; you’ll stop at nothing to get what you really want!.. But this time, I sat down at my desk and gently opened up the yellowing parchments from twenty five plus years ago and read what the child psychiatrists had written about me two something decades ago. It was unnerving – reading them. They described a tortured child who would beat his head against the wall, claw at his face and tear his hair out at what seemed an immense frustration with the world and how to relate to it; interviews, sessions with the Doctor that had to be canceled and rescheduled because I was so out of control; a birthday party, where as more and more people arrived, I became more and more excited until I reached a moment of what seemed like a neurological spasm – and ran up the stairs of the house and then down them – and then out into the brightness of day waving my arms in a spasm of energy impossible to contain any longer. There was the doctor that took me off Ritalin because my other doctor that had put me on it was “a navy doctor and they all take antidepressant and all their kids are on Ritalin” – or so he said – and after which, how I had done the unthinkable: failed kindergarten – until I was put back on it and rescued from the mental oblivion of ADHD that left me a lonely, misunderstood kid.

Denial. For the record, that is a six letter word; but it rather should be a four letter one – there were at least a lot of four letter words that came to mind when I was reminded by someone of my ‘learning disability’ as I got older. Such a joy it was – when the day finally came – that they finally let me go to classes all day long by myself; freed finally and forever from the ‘special ed’ classes that I was forced to go to. Such joy it was for my parents, also, when they called us all in – and told us that because of my diagnosis and faithful adherence to all the steps and processes offered by the state for my despised disability; that the federal government would pay my way through college anywhere I wanted to go for any degree; and if I graduated from college and could not get a job – they’d pay for another degree. Denial. I am not learning disabled. I am not ADHDHDADH-Whatever. I am not taking that money. I am not taking that label. I am NORMAL. Normal is a formal term – I have thus learned of late – more appropriately articulated as one who is ‘neuro-typical’ – or “NT” for short: possessive of a normal neurological state. This I have always wanted to be but seemingly have never quite been able to achieve.

Somewhere along the way – I finally stopped pulling my hair out. First literally and – then a decade or so later – figuratively. My first year of college I found what I know can only be described as my first real acceptance into a structured societal group; until that point, I had been a perpetual outcast – only accepted among other societal discards from the various yet standard, culturally-corralled stereotypes – not themselves totally neurotypical; assemblages I encountered throughout my early adolescence: geeks, nerds; the socially withdrawn; these were my cohorts – my understanding friends.

But eventually, I made it into a group – and many numbered among them as “normal” people; that first group of people wherewith I first experienced the concept of “social integration;” I still know a number of them, though it has been 14 years since they became my friends. Time came and passed and did the inevitable; social groupings reformed, old ones dissolved and many of the people within them went their different ways. I found another group to be a part of as the last formal vestiges of the previous passed into organizational entropy.

I experienced growth in other ways also. In high school I joined Junior Achievement and over three years slowly, painfully, gained the ability to make a presentation, to interact with groups of people, and to not just fit in – but to lead. Much later, by way of the goal of surrounding myself with successful people – I would surround myself with entrepreneurs, and they would rub off on me – and with the coming of the Internet, with its myriad of ever evolving possibilities; a good friend of mine and I saw opportunity – and took a giant step. Eight years of sales presentations and business meetings later – I hardly remember the abstract fear and tantalizing terror that such a prospect had in my previous years evoked from within the very center of my soul. I have come so far: I have a social fabric of friends and business and leadership skills – so far as to perhaps be able to fail to remember my fragile foundations. Yellowed pieces of paper and the tales that they told reminded me of my past. Long before it became a popular diagnosis – the over-reactive, falsely-assuming doctor had already been made cognizant of its fast approaching wave of popularity – I was a severely ADHD child. Whatever I was now – I had overcome great challenges to be where I was.

I stood, looking in the mirror after my ‘this is why I like you’ debacle – and I thought – could this have anything to do with all of that? I have had moments of realization; realizations of denial. I have sat in front of a computer screen and taken all day to crank out code that should have taken 30 minutes. Read a few pages of that book, cleaned my office for once, shaved, organized my financial papers, responded to e-mails – did everything but what I wanted to really get done. I’m still ADD; I’d think to myself; you never really outgrow it – you just learn to deal with it and focus, that is what they all say. You do learn to focus – constantly. I made the mistake of describing the ability to be easily distracted as a gift to someone by mistake; that if I grew bored in a conversation or situation – perhaps one of those dreaded company CQI in-services – I could almost instantly take myself somewhere completely different mentally – somewhere far, far way. I have expressed in confidence to a handful of people my disappointment with my past choices regarding not taking full advantage of my college grant; opting rather to let my hard-headed denial shape my college/career path. I have asked a friend I grew up with who is now a doctor about halfway through his psychiatry residency; dude – should I be on Stratera?

They say that time heals all hurts. I think that it eases a lot of hardheadedness as well. It brings certain realities into focus that you would have preferred to have left blurred and denied. I believe that the Lord God has an interest in our physical lives; not just our spiritual. I believe that the Lord God desires healing for those things wherein we hurt; even if the hurt has been denied for untold years and unspoken reasons. I believe in a God that can take brokenness and speak wholeness to it; and in the process uncover treasure where once there was only pain.

Without boring you with all of the exegetical theology behind such a notion – one, that in today’s modern evangelical culture may come off as being outmoded or unorthodox – it is my belief that God works this way more often then He works through other ways and means: He accomplishes the revelation of His Wholeness though Brokenness; He reveals the fullness of his Joy through Despair. We are not always quick in noticing His paths to these purposes. Perhaps we, at times in our lives, never notice them at all – though they abound everywhere. Sometimes, though we do…perhaps when asking to see the obvious.

Not too long ago I was surfing the Internet. I drove a 94 thunderbird until it had 286 thousand miles and had lost all resemblance of ever having had a paint job. The two most amazing concepts I came across when I bought my Cadillac were what it’s like to have a car with a paint job, and what it feels like to drive one with shocks that work to boot. It was not that I could not afford shocks. I was just too cheap to buy them – and since a rough ride did not really bother me that much, I never thought twice to replace them – I just drove slower over rail road tracks, and went elsewhere mentally when fussed at by my mom or somebody at having to ride a bit rougher somewhere; no big deal for me and the ever faithful thunderchicken. But I’ll put them on the Deville – when it needs them, through, I thought to myself while my pastor-friend Craig Ervin was stretching himself back in the caddy’s cashmere leather seats and saying “wow, what a smooth ride – nice”, as he then further elaborated that if I ever pulled up in the thunderchicken again – as I had so many countless times before – he would refuse to get in. He would only ride in ‘Pearl’ as he thus christened her, for the pearl paint job she sports. The name for my car stuck. So did the idea that I’ll get those shocks no matter who much they cost – when Pearl needs them.

So, in a nutshell, that’s how it happened. I was looking up “2000 Deville air shocks” just out of curiosity in regards to how expensive they would be when they would be replaced. Google is such an interesting creature by its very nature; the results that it returns are usually more interesting then the very thing you’re looking up; this is a notion shared by the ADD and the neurotypical alike. On the second page, about half way down in the results that Google served up to me, were words – that in a way I cannot explain – jumped out at me.

Asperger’s syndrome – MayoClinic.com
Asperger’s syndrome is a developmental disorder that affects a child’s ability to communicate and socialize with others. Early specialized interventions can …
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/aspergers-syndrome/DS00551 – 23k – Cached – Similar pages

Can -what? I Thought. I clicked on the link. I looked up Asperger’s on Google directly and spent several hours filtering throughout the recesses of the Internet; everywhere from webmd.com to those who blamed it on mercury in childhood vaccines. There was a lot to be found out about it. Turns out that Asperger’s has a 30 percent co-morbidity with ADDHD (30 percent of all ADDHD children are also positive for Apserger’s Syndrome). Some experts say that Asperger’s and ADDHD are actually the same thing, just manifesting different symptoms in different ways. Others say that they are separate medical disorders. Regardless – there is not a brain scan or blood test that can be performed for either; and Asperger’s is classified as spectrum Autism Disorder or High Functioning Autism, whereas ADDHD falls more along the lines of being classified as a learning disorder. Great. I’m Autistic. Hello – I’m Matthew, a.k.a. Rain Man. Pardon me while I go get the phone book and start memorizing it. There are lists of the classic symptoms of the syndrome; and after a time of denial; I realized that I was matched up with a considerable number of them, some somewhat – others very much so; enough that there was a great likelihood that to some degree I was that lucky 30 percent of ADDHD’rs to also have Asperger’s – or be an “Aspie” – as I continued to learn the online community of them refer to themselves as. How could this have been missed – if this is the case? I thought to myself. Turns out that there is a tremendous amount of research going on into autism (and these autism “spectrum disorders” as they are referred to) and there is so much that has only recently been learned and as much remains to still be discovered. I am 34 years old and was 7, when my diagnosis was made 25+ years ago, Asperger’s was hardly known about; if I was not full-blown – or even visibly full-blown to the right people in terms of my treatment – then I probably easily slipped through the diagnostic cracks. No one with Asperger’s presents all the classic symptoms. Most are very functional people. Some are outright geniuses – Andy Warhol, Einstein, Thomas Edison – their biographers have gone back with the Asperger’s criteria in hand and found that in all likelihood they and a large number of movers and shakers in the past were strong candidates for it.

Of course the world is full of unrepentant hypochondriacs who constantly pour over the web and create detailed lists of all the illness that they have. I wonder if the advent of the Internet created any perceivable bump in the numbers of patients treated for hypochondria amongst the practitioners of mental health. There is for sure a period of mild hypochondria that many people entering the medical profession experience during their training and education; while learning the ins and outs of various diseases – a cough registers somewhere the fear that it could be the beginning vestiges of some awful, encroaching disease. You grow out of that; well, most of us do. Once, more then a decade ago when I had first started working in the lab initially as a phlebotomist, I had the distinct misfortune of being stuck by a needle while drawing blood from a combative patient who was later, after the routine screening workup because of my exposure, found to be HIV positive. I tested negative – but only after waking up in the middle of the night, broke out in a sweat, after having put too many blankets over myself on a cold winter’s night – thinking to myself; oh, dear God, this is a symptom of AIDS overwhelming my body’s defenses; I’m seroconverting…

No – I never did. I never tested positive for HIV. But it made for some really nerve-wracking trips to have myself checked out. The issue is this- a bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. A lot of knowledge can be downright frightening. You simply guard yourself against the terrors of such machinations by establishing within your mind that the laws of probability state that if you stop what you are doing, fly to Vegas, and blow every red cent you and your credit cards can cough up on slot machines: chances are you will be one thing: busted butt broke. And likewise if you start coughing; you don’t have interstitial lung disease, your not coming down with AIDS just because you woke up sweating one night (even if you were stuck with a bloody needle) and you’ re not Asperger’s positive just because you have all the symptoms… This is a hypochondriac moment- I thought to myself. The most I’ve ever come to it since that sweaty night after the AIDS needle stick thing. And then I remembered my prayer that I had offered up regarding my befuddlement at just trying to express how I felt about someone to them. What I felt was real wasn’t it? Was it just nervousness – or was it something more? Apies have difficulties expressing themselves sometimes because they feel love differently; more logically and cerebrally then emotionally. I remembered a friend teasing me as a child that I would grow up to be a mad scientist. The time I challenged a neighborhood friend to a game of monopoly – if I won, he had to be my friend – if I lost, I would never bug him to be my friend again – I lost. Aspies cannot read body language that everybody else communicates and reads subconsciously; the hidden language – was I deaf and mute to it? If the laws of probability in regards to me having Asperger’s and hitting it big in Vegas were the same – would I be on my way there right now? Maybe – with some of my money, not all of it – potentially.

The ongoing natural tendency to use big words in speaking when simple ones would sound much better; Aspies tend to use vocabularies way beyond their years. I failed kindergarten and 6th grade, but they told my mom that when I was failing the 6th grade I was on an 11th grade reading level. That’s just because I read a lot, right? If the laws of probability in regards to me having Asperger’s and hitting it big in Vegas were the same – would I be on my way there right now? Vegas? Probably. That when I told my mom about this- she told me that I had autistic-like mannerisms; facial ticks; and that I was forever walking on my tip toes. Check, check, check – Vegas? I’m already packed.

No one can offer conclusive evidence that I don’t have Aspergers. But there seems to be an overwhelming body of evidence that I was strongly in its grip as a child- and may well yet be still, even as I walk throughout adult life. But unlike interstitial Lung disease or AIDS, Asperger’s is not something that I would dread ever being told I probably have; at least now that I am educated in regards to it’s nature and effects. To those who have it and to those who work with those who do, as they grow up and face the diverse challenges that ADDHD’rs, Aspies, and others alike – and neurotypicals unalike face as well – it’s not really a curse – it’s a blessing. Of course it’s much more likely that rather then winning any popularity contests, you might rather be the object of the scorn of your peers; you might have to work harder at expressing yourself, perhaps in different ways to those you might get a crush on; and you might not always be able to trust your gut instincts when it comes to certain things – but if you are an aspie – somewhere, potentially hidden away from obvious view; in a place you might have never explored – there is a gift. In the brains of neurotypical individuals; if the wiring therein were thought of in terms of a house’s wiring – then everywhere you plug something into a wall socket you’d get the normative 110 volts. So you could plug in and play the radio that resides in the clock that wakes you up in the morning – or your Yamaha 300w foundation shaking stereo system that wakes up the neighbors three doors down. Point is – big or small endeavors; your still running 110 volts; and there is allot that you can do with that. In an Aspie’s brain, however, you’d find – to your surprise – that certain plugs are seemingly miss-wired. A test with a voltmeter would reveal one wall socket to be 12 volts; only enough to power a boom box or a flashlight; others would reveal themselves to be wired for 220 volts; enough juice to power a concert’s sound stage – or to power searchlights bright enough to not just light up a room but an entire downtown block. That’s the gift of Asperger’s – the adventure to be found in discovering that you have bad wiring in the power distribution of your brains capability provisioning. Some things are tough for you – and you can still do what you need to do albeit with extra effort. Other things – when you search and find them – will be found to be things that you are positively awesomely good at; better then anybody else could ever be, outside of tremendous effort – which for you comes effortlessly in comparison.

An Apple advertising campaign in recent memory began with the words here’s to the crazy ones – but aside from a maker of computers expressly offering its hardware/software to creative professionals – who often have already come to terms with the reality that they are a bit touched – most of the rest of society is constantly expressing itself in terms of a desire to be normal. The truth is that most of the creative and innovative movers and shakers in our world fall far from that description; and the rise of computers, technology and the internet has served to make all the more evident and acceptable what some have always known; geeks really do rule the world. What I found most interesting in what exploration I have done is that there is a tremendous amount of research going on in regards to the link between creativity and intelligence and non-neurotypicallity. Do a Google search on the words ‘Ashkenazi’ and ‘over-clocking’ and your find scholarly papers exploring the persecution of the Ashkenazi Jews and speculation in regards to if their constant fight for survival has contributed to an increased degree of intelligence from the normal population and also the prevalence of select physiological disorders and neurological diseases and can also be found. Anybody that ever put together computers before the advent of cheap custom built computers like Dell and HP; can remember putting together their own ‘Frankensteins’ and the potential ability through the selection of dip switches or by other various methods to speed up the megahertz of a given computers clock cycle or speed. Sometimes the results was a faster rendering of a photoshop file – sometimes the result was a fried computer from the effects of the increased heat and strain upon the computers neuro-like electronic infrastructure. Is it a gift to be over-clocked as long as you’ve got the fans blowing and can dissipate the heat or other oddities that come from such a non-typical setup?

This much is known – sometimes normal is quite boring. Sometimes having a bit of bad wiring is not all that bad of a thing. The universe is constantly demonstrating itself to be a far more complex state of affairs then ever previous thought. Michael Behe popularized the notion of irreducible complexity, in his book Darwin’s Black Box; arguing that in almost every layer that science decodes, there is yet another layer of complexity elusively awaiting discovery. What if personalities and intelligence are of the same nature – there were mediating elements at work far beyond not just our perception but also our control. There are scores of movies – the Island of Dr. Moreau for example – that tell haunting tales of one man..s quest to improve something, the result of which proves to come back circumspectly to both haunt him and eventually destroy him. In The Island of Dr. Moreau, Dr. Moreau finds a way to mix the dna of humans and creatures, trying to build a smarter, better, more genetically advanced person – and what he creates, rather, are legions of monsters some brutal others fragile – but all perpetually self-tormented. In the video game and the fictional/futuresque sci-fi movie it spawned, Resident Evil, a monolithic Microsoft-like purveyor of health enhancing pharmaceuticals invents a virus that does more then just rejuvenate aged skin – it brings the dead back to life and a typical zombiefest struggle for the future of humanity ensues as the virus gets out and the infected, reanimated dead escape from the underground laboratory called the hive where the horror born of hope was created.

So do we risk such a thing tinkering with the inner workings of the mind? Was the horror of the Holocaust not the logical outworkings of the then popular theory of Eugenics? Whereas such demons were before unleashed in the realm of politics, in the pursuit of a master German race – will we ourselves unleash that same dark genie from his dusty bottle once again -this time rubbing upon it in the name of science?

At the time of this writing – a demon-driven gunman recently walked into a quaint Amish schoolhouse and massacred innocent girls, thrusting the quite, unassuming Pennsylvanian Dutch into the unwelcomed limelight of the national news media. The Amish celebrate community through uniformity -whereas most of America celebrate community through individuality. We go great lengths to be different and included and they go great lengths to be the uniformly same and consider that to be the bedrock of their culture of faith.

Somewhere between the Amish and The Island of Dr. Moreau, I think, there has to be a balance. We should not tinker or seek to purposefully reproduce problems in the intricate machineries and fine wiring of our “fearfully and wonderfully made” mortal coils; neither should we reject and gloss over that which is there – I believe – sovereignly by the hand of God. This is where I have to swerve, unapologetically, to God’s planned design and His sovereign will for our lives. Brokenness for brokenness’s sake is non-instrumental and entropic both in it’s immediacy and in it..s ends; whereas – for the Christian and the heathen alike – brokenness by the will of God will almost always achieve a purpose, and even sometimes a blessing; more so to those who trust in God – but not exclusively to believers either. Nihilism is the wreckage of relativism upon the rocks of the absolute; nothing ‘just happens’- all is ordained and foreknown in the eyes of the one who both created and loves us. We ourselves may produce entropy-inducing chaos by our own hands – but the transcendence and immanency of God cannot allow Him to do any such thing with any such results. He is the God not just of order, but of disorder. Brokenness and despair are His secret servants; and they reveal His majesty and accomplish His work in their own secret, often to our own eyes, bewildering ways.

In 2nd Corinthians 12:9-10 Paul writes

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

In 1st Corinthians 1:26-31, he further states

For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, [are called]: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, [yea], and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.

And so I resolve that whatever old or newly discovered weakness I may or may not have; I know that there is strength to be found either spiritually or naturally or in both dimensions from it. And whereas I was conceived somewhere in Cleveland Ohio and not on an island in the lab of a mad scientist; neither am I a zombie – thought long nights of programming and lack of sleep can seem to induce the appearance – if I ever do find out I’m somehow I’m really either, I’ll stick to sushi over brains and try to still be a halfway sharp dresser. To God be all the Glory regardless of the situation.

And as a footnote – my love life – yes, Aspies love too and those who love them, love them and cherish them for who they are and the way they are too. I am greatly loved and I love. And I am dating/pursuing and – usually – find my words and emotional self-expression just fine; unlike the episode that launched me into the before-mentioned time of self-reconsideration. I would never want to be too good at wooing somebody anyway – but as they say; “hate the game not the player” – right? Perhaps it was God pulling away my vain words to reveal my own unrevealed, heretofore unknown brokenness; somewhat healed but still present, as an answer to a prayer that I prayed to know all of Him – both in my wholeness and in my brokenness.

Sola Dei Gloria

Some Tests you can give yourself:
http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/9.12/aqtest.html
http://glennrowe.net/BaronCohen/MaleFemale.asp

Advocacy/Networking Groups:
http://www.aspiesforfreedom.com
http://www.aspies.blogspot.com
http://www.aspieland.com
http://www.wrongplanet.net/

Clinical Research/Information Orientated Sites:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asperger_syndrome
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/aspergerssyndrome.html
http://www.autism.org/asperger.htm
http://www.webmd.com/hw/mental_health/zq1009.asp
http://www.autismresearchcentre.com

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(Repost) Pipe Dreaming – Memorial Auditorium Pipe Organ Recital This July 2nd, a musicological essay.

June 25, 2007

Pipe Dreaming – Memorial Auditorium Pipe Organ Recital This July 2nd, a musicological essay.

 

 

I scored today. No – not in the traditional sense of the phrase; as in regards to drugs or sex or something of that ilk; I got something of value for pocket change: “I Scored.”

The item, of which I speak, is actually of not all that great a value – at least to most people. I swung by a flea market after church and found and subsequently purchased a decent Sony Tape deck of newer vintage for just a few dollars. Now you have to ask yourself – why in this day and age of mpg downloads and Ipods – where CD’s themselves are threatening to go the way of the Dodo bird – would Matthew be excited to procure a tape deck? The answer is easy – and it actually involves the previously referenced music media technologies.

Now while I am an actual owner of a 5th generation video Ipod, and I have, as many others have, taken the time to rip my entire CD collection into it – there remains a vast collective of music and related media that spans all the layers of technological strata as it has been layered down in the span of my lifetime. It is true that many of the kids of today’s age have never not known either the Internet or a lack of CD’s – I remember the advent of both. I remember the first time I witnessed “internet communication” and I remember the first CD that I had ever bought, when they first came out. I am ashamed to say it – but I overcame my packrat ways and recently consigned to the trash can my first boom box cd player that I had ever bought – the very one that I actually played that first CD upon. It had broken and was virtually useless for the past few years – but it was my first. I have stacks of – of all things – 8 tracks, many of which we listened to endlessly on family vacations. I have vinyl records that have never been released on CD. And most of all- I have hundreds and hundreds of tapes. Now the truth is – these are not prerecorded tapes of which I speak. Rather they are recordings that I made of songs off the air – the scope of which span almost from my earliest teenage years to the day I started burning songs on to CD’s and later Ipods. All this comes back to why I made that certain purchase from a vendor at the local flea market for a marginally broken in hi-fi cassette player/recorder. I intend to begin to pick tapes from the overflowing boxes that I have of cassettes – and start the slow and gradual process of burning them to mp3s, which I will archive and start to file away on my ipod. This is the burden of all those who are audiophiles, and who have lived long enough to have musical tastes acquired from almost every format that represented Hi-Fi capacity at some point in their lives. I have a friend who has recordings from wire recorders –which predate magnetic tape, such as Reel to Reels and then later cassette tapes. I had a Reel to Reel – but it was always more of a plaything- the real music archiving took place on the practical format of the cassette tape. A high-end metal tape with Dolby Noise reduction made up for the inadequacy of the format in comparison to the higher standard of reproduction that the wider reel-to-reel tape afforded.

I opened up the new Sony – as I am accustomed to doing; and made a visual inspection of it’s innards, making sure that the belts were intact and it’s myriad of gears and switches were well oiled. They were. What was surprising was the amount of oxide built up on the heads of the unit. I literally dirtied 5 q-tips soaked in alcohol in the cleaning process. I have to wonder if some stereological inept doof thought his tape deck was trashed – and unloaded it in equal fashion – oblivious to the fact that a couple of passes with a cleaning tape (or alcohol and q-tips as I use) would have restored it to near pristine condition. Nevertheless – I have a decent hi-fi tape deck now that I can pretty much confine to the dedicated task of transferring tapes to mp3’s. Now to do that will take years. I may never even get half of it done – but I’d like to get some of it done. And the parts of my cassette music that I’d like to have on my ipod the most – well that is part of what inspired this essay…

After I put my new acquisition back together and finished cleaning and testing it – I set it down, and opened up a box of tapes, to look back over the volumous amount of work that would need to be done, should I ever actually complete such a task. Doing a tape is a lot more complicated then doing or ripping a CD. You pretty much just point and click with a CD. The music is already digitized – your just transferring it from one digital format to another. In case of Cassettes, or even vinyl or yes- 8 tracks – they are all analog; and they have to be both captured in real time and then edited into appropriate time-based chunks.

I was thumbing through my endless reams of cassette tapes, and I remembered what I had long forgotten. A large section of my “cassette library” is dreams. Specifically – they are “Pipe Dreams.” For a period of about 2 years I religiously taped a program that still comes on NPR on Sundays – Michael Barones Pipe Dreams – a radio show that exclusively plays and explores both the music and the history of pipe organs.

Now I have always loved Organ music – and that is certainly not an assumption that most people would make about me; but it is certainly true. Now in addition to having a love for the Pipe Organ, I am also a Creationist in terms of my faith and how the world came into being – but I find it interesting when evolutionary biologists speaks of evolutionary or “residual” DNA: the idea that genetic material is passed on from one generation to another. A geneticist predisposed to evolutionary biological principles would point out that both my grandfather and my mother played the organ and the piano – and that somewhere in my residually passed down DNA structures, there dances if not the makings of a great third-generation pianist/organist, at least the underpinnings of the makings of a ferverent love thereof. There has to be some explanation – or does there? I have friends who literally hate pipe organs. A good friend of mine grew up Seventh Day Adventist – and his church featured a huge organ – one that I have heard play. When I was ogling it one day; it was actually on his wedding day- in that same church – he informed me that he used to have nightmares about the organ – that he dreamed, as a child that one day the pipes would do more then just shakes the floors and walls – but that they would burst from their confines and devour him.

I don’t know if – outside the confines of Stephen Kings ever unfettered imagination – there ever has existed a pipe organ that feasted on little boys – but I know that such creations feasted on other instruments; rather – perhaps, it might be said more adequately, exalted themselves rightfully over all other instruments. It is for this express reason that the pipe organ is rightfully referred to as being “The King of Instruments”.

I have a certain appreciation for music – and I aspire to someday soon dedicate myself to the task of learning to play the piano. And while I know that it is cheesy to say it – I like just about all kinds of music; but I am especially fond of techno. I have music that reaches back into the very dawn of electronic music, before it diversified into trance, and house, and whatnot. I have a feeling that most of what we call techno is merely the unconscious reincarnation of the organ, unknowingly reasserting itself back into vibrant circulation/life in the creative energies of techno artists. It is generally true that a vast amount of electronic techno music could be interpretively be played on a pipe organ – and call me stark raving mad – I almost want to learn to play the king of instruments just so that I can take the newest itineration of musicology and superimpose it upon the expansive and endlessly interpretive capacities of one of these bellowing and whistling behemoths. Call me crazy- but I can hear it in my head. I can hear Pet Shop Boys and Paul Van Dyke transposed upon the racks of some medieval beast brought back to life through the meticulous care of an organ restorationist.
I wish that I could give you a sampling of some of the tracks that I have of clearly stunning organ recitals – played with masterful expertise upon some of the most complicated musical instruments ever created. The cadence and the variance gives a depth and expanse to the composers imagination that knows no boundaries.

I had forgotten how much I loved organ music and how many well-worn tapes I have in my possession of recorded NPR Pipe Dreams broadcasts from so many years ago. The irony of my purchase and my fumbling though the many to be hopefully digitized broadcasts of Organ Music recitals – is that when I walked upstairs and picked up the paper I read that the individuals in charge of the organ restoration at the Memorial Auditorium, here in Chattanooga, are celebrating the return of the organ to suitable service. They have spent almost 20 years and 1 million dollars in it’s restoration, and they are hosting an organ recital – the first in two decades – next week.

It is going to be this next Monday, July 2nd at 7pm.

I think I’m going to be there.

Pipe Dreams and all

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Into The Wild – Personal Reflections of the Forthcoming Movie

June 24, 2007

Into The Wild – Personal Reflections of the Forthcoming Movie

The mountains are calling and I must go. – John Muir

Sometime ago I remember heckling a friend of mine regarding his passion for hiking. This was in part because I was on some level encouraging him to get into something that potentially might be a bit more physically intensive; as I was, at the time, myself making the effort to spend more time on my mountain bike – not just to get out in the woods more, but to also lose the spare tire that an endless amounts of time, sitting in the dull glow of a computer monitor can earn you.

Well – that friend has hence moved to Florida; and I’m not sure how much hiking he gets done down there – but I myself have been spending more time thinking about how much I’d like to be exploring a trail somewhere either on my trusty Trek or merely accompanied with nothing more then a set of good hiking boots.

I got out of the city a few days ago – when my brother asked me if I wanted to go look at canoes. I thought that the water might be running on the upper Ocoee, and even if it wasn’t – the fresh air and a good book on hiking trails to potentially be picked from among the offerings at the gift shop at the whitewater center might be a good acquisition to make.

Standing down by the river, I momentarily envisioned myself tossing my Trio 700w smartphone and my video-enabled ipod into the raging waters in some kind of metaphorical declaration of independence. I decided against the endeavor, as all that fully-charged lithium ion might just shock the living daylights out of some hapless, passing canoeist; and that probably would not be good – let alone the invariable environmental affects that it would probably cause; and such a Ludditesque protestationary statement would surely just leave me disconnected from more then technological society but practicality itself, anyway.

Practicality.

Now that is a big word and a concept that we should all consider from time to time. I have a cousin who spends most of his money on WWII guns and semi-automatics; which he just loves to take out and shoot. To me – anything that would not leave a deer at least partially intact; really is not practical to hunt with, and if you are not using something to at least potentially hunt with, then that’s just not practical. And since I don’t really have a passion for hunting – that that is impractical to the second degree.

But just because I get my meat from a frozen locker at Bi-Lo does not mean that I am terribly disconnected from the concept. Rather – it’s a concept that I am reevaluating and considering – if in being so practical – if I am actually disconnected from practicality itself.

Some of my fondest memories of growing up are getting in the family car and escaping the city for the mountains of West Virginia; getting away to see Grandma and Grandpa in their secluded hideaway, the tiny mountain town of St. George. Once – when we were up there in the Winter; my dad and my grandfather’s brother had to send out a search party to find his whereabouts; the age of cell phones had not quite dawned, and grandpa was ominously late from an excursion to check his traps up on the mountain. And that was where he was – stuck – caught in a ditch in the snowy back ends of his property much to his chagrined thankfulness at being found by my dad. The closest I’ll get stuck while in the business of the procurement of food is getting ‘hemmed up’ in the Wal-Mart parking lot. I don’t really have to be resourceful or take risks to eat; but for generations of my family in those mountains – that was their way of life.

I have a different way of life. I spend my days working with clients and programming their websites and earning a small but honest compensation that most of the time manages to pay for all the overpriced software that is required to do it right, and my nights, punching buttons on lab instruments or sitting at microscope scanning endless fields of monotonous cellular morphology. But I was reminded of something this past weekend when I got out of the city for a few hours.

I remembered a time when I was unencumbered with a job; and rather then counting off the months that I can pay off my Cadillac, I was wondering if there would be enough rain and sunny warm days in the summer remaining that my grandfathers grass would grow to the extent that I could cut it enough of it’s expanse to earn the allotted wage associated with each sweat-inducing mow – to buy a watch for 40 dollars that long ago broke and was discarded. I remember a time when I was not all that popular – in my childhood; the friends I made then; I still have them – and was not burdened by the time constraints imposed by the perpetual maintenance of the relational drama incurred by scores of friends; because I only had a few friends, and most if not all of them were largely social outcasts themselves, so they needed little maintenance time on my behalf as they were used to being by themselves anyway. Most of my time was spent exploring and being “down by the creek;” the land in and around Mouse Creek that lay a few minutes walk away from the home where I grew up. I knew every square inch of that place, and had explored every part of it from where it came out from the town to where it goes far down to what is now the soccer fields and was then the waste water treatment plant. I knew where all the older neighborhood boys stashed their porn magazines; and sometimes succumbed to the practice of restashing it for them; in what I halfheartedly saw as an act of looking out over them and bettering them spiritually by relieving them of their carnal fodder; rather stashing it upon the waters of the creek to be carried down and gradually dissolved into the ever churning waters of the creek and it’s black and brown muck. I even threw a couple down in the sewer’s manholes – they stuck up like grotesquely stunted light lighthouses from the green oceans of grasses, their heavy lids could easily be moved aside to uncap and reveal the dark tunnel that plummeted down into their inky, noxious depths; though I pondered that the depths of each could potentially hold only a given quantity of such reallocated contraband within their limited and constrained space down there at their slimy, not so cavernous bottoms; as I once envisioned an embarrassed city worker pulling up reams of playboys from a constricted drain somewhere to his laughing colleagues. So I discontinued the practice; because they were not suitably destroyed in any irretrievable way down there anyway; only waiting to be possible rediscovered by somebody else; the largest portion of their subterranean floor generally being dry and generally being devoid of the putrescence one might readily assume to be present. But the smell – yes, that was there, to remind you of the nature of the officious oracle and what it served as a conduit for. Once I made the mistake of telling my two younger brothers that I had stashed a number of reams of pruriecent printage down one. They took off and scurried down there faster then I could chase them and toss the volumes of Hustler and like ilk into the waters of the creek, where I should have tossed them to begin with. But that is where I tossed them from that point on. I don’t remember finding many more. Perhaps someone got tired of their stashes being reallocated and found better hiding places – but I was much more interested in finding box turtles then looking at…well; I was tempted to say it – but won’t. I did not need to learn the ins and outs of sexual knowledge from a trashy porno mag – the natural & biological details that served to somewhat satiate my existent curiosity were found in my mother’s nursing textbooks. I slept in the shadow of a veritable oracle of sexual knowledge; deeper and more profound then any 2 bit porno mag could ever aspire to communicate to a pubescent young man such as I.

It seems unjust to spend so much time speaking of sewer manhole’s, unruly brothers, and porno mags in regards to my time down by the creek. There was the time my mother came home, and went downstairs to do laundry and found her utility sink full of swimming box turtles. Or the time that I waded out into the middle of a natural pond, the mud oozing between my feet – just because I could. To this day, I do not understand how I did that and so much else – with all my fingers and toes intact; with so many snapping turtles endemic to the region. I love that place. If I close my mind – I can walk every square inch of it; it is locked away, where no one can take it from me. It is my childhood haunt. My realm, my territory – my dominion.

Somewhere along the way, I learned to be more at home in a classroom, and then later – in front of a keyboard; more so there then laying in the grass breathing in the smell of the mud, the grass, and water that ever tricked across and through them both. Some where along the way, I rationalized that all of that was just a way of dealing with and rationalizing my isolation. That when I was down there I did not have to be practical, I did not have to relate; the creek did not come to me, I came to it. I did not have to wait for it to call me – it called me when I got out from school. It called me when I got out of church. It even called me when I got my homework done and there was nothing of any pressing and urgent nature to be done. Sometimes it was very bold and called me when there were important things to be done. At least my parents knew where I was, generally – or at least the vicinity thereof: somewhere down by the creek; probably by myself exploring.. Somewhere along the line, I ignored its beckon. Somewhere along the line I abandoned my single speed bike for a college backpack and began cracking Biology & Chemistry textbooks. I told myself – that all of that was escapism and that I needed to be practical and spend more time around friends and less around bugs, muck and creek water.

A year or so ago – I snagged my brothers neglected Trek 960 mountain bike and carted it over to Scott’s Bikes. I dropped a few hundred dollars on a full restoration and a collection of equipment that I gradually bought over time; such as the headlamp that I bought the next day – after going through the last leg of the Chattanooga River walk, back to my car, in near impenetrable darkness. Had there been a bum asleep along my trajectory there would have been trouble for us both. I realize that something has been coming back to me in the time that I have spent on my bike. It is not as much my youthful vigor and girlish figure – though I am farther ahead in that endeavor then when I first knocked the dust off of the long neglected 960. I have not quite got my six-pack back – but what I have gotten back – in some determinable measure – is my hearing. I can hear what I had become deaf to. The creek is calling me again. And not just the creek; for among the whispers of voices – I hear the woods – I hear a thousand miles of bike and footpath that I have not yet seen or set tire nor foot tread upon. But I am not going to throw my trio or my ipod in the creek – and this 17 inch Macbook pro would certainly be a gaudy addition to any creek bed itself; but I am reconnecting. I am going back – to being practical.

It is my opinion that not all men are created equal – at least in their hearing of a call to the wild. Those of us who love nature and have romanced her and been under her sway, can acknowledge the potential of an overpowerment of our senses and sensibilities by her enticement. An argument can be made that one can worship the creation – and not the creator; and whereas such a statement might usually be thought to be referring to a reference to the female side of the species, it must be understood to reference the whole of creation. The scripture says that the whole of creation gives testimony to God. Certainly, some from among us find the trappings of that worship something that we can spend a lifetime singing about. Some – it involves giving a lifetime – and a few; it cuts their lifetimes short.

There is always a certain pleasure in reading a book in its publishing infancy – long before it becomes popular or is made into a movie. I remember sorting through an airport bookstore café for a book to read on a forthcoming flight to Jamaica on the first mission trip I ever went on. As the plane took off – I was already 20 or 30 pages into Tom Clancy’s initial creative offering – The Hunt for Red October – and I remember telling my dad, when I arrived back in the States, as I handed him the soon to be increasingly dog-eared first paperback edition to him, “this would make a great movie.”

I thought these same words as I put John Krakaur’s book – Into The Wild into it’s well-deserved place in my ever-expanding library. Into The Wild is the story of Christopher McCandless and his journey from successful college student to traveling vagrant, and the destiny he met in the farthest reaches of the Alaskan Wilderness where his desiccated remains were eventually discovered. It’s a story of more then just removal from society – but one about the call: the call that I know that I am hearing – and the one the Christopher heard. McCandless did not have a smartphone and and Ipod to shuck and in doing so declare his technological independence. Rather he had a drivers license, credit cards and petty cash. When they traced his journey to it’s initial beginning – they found where he had cut them up and burned them. Into The Wild is a cautionary tale of the call of the wild. And while I think that it might be more honorable to die from a nasty bike crash then computer induced obesity; I am trying to be practical in the applications of both my computer and my mountain bike. But while this computer is humming – I hear the wilderness calling…

I will answer.

(I have included a link below to the trailer for the movie, soon to be released, that is written and directed by Sean Penn, which is largely based on both the book and the research that John Krakaur did on Christopher McCandless and his journey into the wild.)

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Essay: Emergent Church and Karl Barth Staw Man Argument – Authority vs. Inerrancy

Essay: The Emergent Church and The Karl Barth Staw Man Argument – Authority vs. Inerrancy

I will try to be short and sweet with this – but it runs contrary to my nature…

This blog is an essay written in response to a blog post regarding Karl Barth and the Emmergent Church with reference to the issue of the inerrancy vs. authority of Scripture. (http://www.sliceoflaodicea.com/archives/2006/09/rob_bell_and_ka.php) If that sound remotely intresting – please read on.

The Source of the Emergent Movement: A reaction to an Abuse of Cultural Disengagement; the darkening prism of gnostic dualism and the Straw Man Argument of Karl Barth as proponent of a Meaningless Scripture: hijacking Barths concern of Inerrancy distracting from Authority

 

I am of the conviction that the issue with the so called “Emergent Church” is not as much it’s lack of doctrinal base – but rather that it has a certain etiology to it: that it is the result of something else – and that something else, I believe, is Evangelicalism/fundamentalism’s rejection of culture.

Racism is inherently problematic – but one of the worst things about it is that is spawns racism itself: the disorder breeds more of itself – often correspondingly so: the abused become the abusers -this is no doubt both true and adequately manifest, those who work in social services can attest, in a variety of other social evils. When an abuse is exercised – it often results in a corresponding, sometimes equal, yet other times appositionally relational abuse. Patriarchal abuse resulted in feminism, alcohol abuse resulted in prohibition – but I digress… The conservative church has long abused the issue of culture. We – to this day – fight the same fight our early church fathers fought against Gnostic Dualism – that somehow spirit is all good and physical is all bad; when in reality both are potentially fallen – and only one hope exists equally for either: Jesus Christ and His necessarily attendant Cross. The greatest crime of Gnostic Dualism is that it serves as a spectral dampener – it is a faulty prism that selectively blocks out certain colors of the soteriological light that passes through it – so that what is shown through it is not the fullness of light- but rather shades of darkness; which is what truth is when it is separated from its own wholeness. I earnestly believe that the Cross speaks to not just our spirits but also to our physicality’s as well. Both the earth and the spirit realm rejoice at the heralding of our Savior. Job says that in his flesh he shall see God. I believe that the fullness of salvation speaks to the fullness of our compositional state.

That much of the church seems to avoid the issue of culture is an abuse – a Gnostic Dualist assertion that it is best left unconsidered. Carl F.H. Henry reminded us of this in his 1947classic The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism.I believe that out of this lack of consideration – there has arisen those who practice an equally opposite idolatry: rather then an idolatry of the spirit, they practice an idolatry of the physical:whereas the conservative church – or what ever you want to call us (I count myself among their number) – ignores culture/physicality, they preach culture and physicality and snub theology/doctrine/orthodoxy. The whole postmodern movement may well be the result of a modernist abuse.

J. Gresham Machen highlights these issues in his critiques of fundamentalism; which thought he was fundamental in his doctrine- he disliked the fundamentalist label. For those interested in the full list of his contentions, you can read the answers.com profile of him, which lists them; overblown pietism and a suspicion of culture are named among them. Machen, I might point out – as hinted above – strongly felt prohibition was unbiblical and a result of a reaction to abuses and not coexistent with sound biblical doctrine, which he unabashedly preached relentlessly to an early grave.

Having stated thus – allow me to further say that I believe that an attempt to tie Barth with the Emergent churches lack of conviction in regards to scriptural inerrancy is a Straw Man Argument. By this I mean that it is a failed comparison that is either purposefully or inadvertently made for express means of merely then tearing it down to say : see there? I tore that bad idea all to pieces!

To prove this point allow me to digress momentarily…

 
No Modern Leap of Faith and Barth’s concept of an Awesome God: Relying on any aspect of Physicality to trust in God over faith in Christ and the Authority of the Scripture

As I was sitting in a coffee shop earlier this evening, I looked up from my programming endeavors and saw a young lady with a laptop, upon the cover of which was affixed a sticker that said Faith is not faith without the leap. This pretty much sums up my personal belief. Many people sharply criticize the philosophical/theological father of the idea behind the statement: Soren Kierkegaard – but they do that to their own detriment because they often fail to take into account the situation in which Kierkegaard spoke and use it a frame of reference for his ideas. Kierkegaard spoke against a Danish culture – wherein to be Danish was to be a Christian and he scandalized the idea in repeated polemics that emphasized the individuality of faith, and that you could not just accept it – but rather you had to take a leap of faith and make a radical commitment to something that you could not prove but had to nonetheless accept and live out regardless of its apparent foolishness.

Today – we Evangelicals suffer from this same disease. We think that we are Christians because we are Americans. We think that our faith is just something that we are naturally born into or merely choose to just believe in. The fact that we must be scandalized by it – or that it involves an act of faith and a disavowal of our own capabilities – a full surrender to something that requests everything of us and then says it will give it back to us – that we must die to find life- is an idea that is increasingly far removed from our minds.

We do not make the leap of faith – rather we just step over onto something else. We rather enjoy that certain cushion. It is this cushion that Barth spoke out against – and like Kierkegaard, he too must be viewed from within the context of his own situation: the background of liberal Protestant theology that viewed scripture and spiritually as merely a cultural endeavor that could pretty much be thoroughly understood and combined with humanity. Anyone that says that Barth scandalizes the idea of the scripture being important has never read his The Epistle To The Romans, in which he states that he was shaken early in his pastorial years by Romans and forced from mere cultural Christian practice into radical belief. Barth continually emphasized that gulf that exists between the awesomeness of God and the frailty of man. His emphasis on this vast awesomeness is largely lost in modern evangelism emphasis on a God that is carrying us down the beach of life of life (yes, the footprints in the sand poem – there were two sets of footprints then one – why?). Barth’s God is a God that is beyond your ability to conceive of him in His fullness – that every cognitive exercise by which we might understand and perceive God is ultimately futile in communicating the fullness and awesomeness of God. It is in this frame of reference – that his rebellion against his liberal colleagues that he must be heard. Barth wrote a book entitled Nein! (No!) against a fellow theologian Emile Brunner which castigated any notion of Natural Theology; that anything in this world was even remotely capable of portraying or proving any aspect of the full awesomeness of God. Our modern faith teaches that there is no real faith jump involved, natural or spiritual. Barth insisted that you had to take the jump and surrender to a power far beyond any of your abilities to fully comprehend or understand; and that in the end- everything fell short of showing, revealing and demonstrating an engaging God; only through the scripture have we any hope of a revelation of God – only through the revelation of the Scripture through the Holy Ghost do can we see God revealed. As Paul said – we only know in part what we someday shall know in full. Arguments made that Barth attacked scriptural reliance will ring hollow when you read and hear of Barth’s harsh words for any revelation that seeks to assert itself otherwise.

 
The awesomeness of God – that he is beyond any physical construct within temporal media, and that nor can he be fully and adequately described by it – as well as the necessity for making a faith declaration in the Authority of the Word and its revealed Christ is the true and real foundation for the bone he picked with those who espoused scriptural inerrancy. Barth strongly felt that anything that detracted from a focus on the authority of the Scripture was a distraction (see quote about windows below). In this way he was radically for the authority of the scripture. Today when one talks of Barthinianism – or Barthinistic Theology they use the word Crisis Theology or Dialectic Theology equally and interchangeable – because Barthinian, Crisis, and Dialectic theologies all mean the same thing: the summation of what Barth thought happens: that when you are exposed to the authority of the Word of God, you are either offended or changed – that there can be no indifferent reaction: you must be changed or offended. Barth believed more then anything in the power of living word of God to unforgivingly either radically change or offend the lives of all those who were exposed to it, it was what happened to him when he read Romans as a pastor- hence his being termed a crisis or dialectal theologian: a theologian of offense – the offense of man confronted by the awesomeness of a God beyond any ability to fully comprehend or understand Him.

Inerrancy over Authority? Does Inerrancy Save Your Soul? Nope.

This is why Barth took a dim view of the passion of Biblical inerrancy – scripture in the end was not depended upon science, statistics or culture -it it might speak authoritatively to them as issues, but it’s true weight had everything to do with the innate, inescapable authority of it; that to focus on anything else -was a persuasive but ultimately risky distraction. It has to be said – that somewhere, there is no doubt, a copy of Plato’s Republic, carefully reposed in a museum – the curator of which, being a master of his own field, can with no assurity state it to be inerrant, that all historical and archeological evidence points to the fact that the book has passed through the centuries since it was written completely unadulterated and unchanged. I have no idea if anybody anywhere has ever proven or disproven the inerrancy of Plato’s Republic or any other such work, philosophical, cultural, historic or otherwise. This is of no regard to me in the least. Whether it or anything else ever written at any time is inerrant or not – Plato’s Republic cannot save me from myself or my soul from Hell. It has absolutely nothing to do with my salvation; because inerrant or not -it has not a shred of authority. And it is the authority of the Gospel and the authority of the Gospel alone upon which I can and must hang my soteriological hat. Inerrancy is a scientific term and it detracts from the authority of the same. I can care less if the bible is 100 percent, 99.9 percent or 98.2 percent correctly transcribed through out the centuries. What is important is that within its pages is an authoritative record, one that speaks of a God that stepped out of unimaginable Glory to take on a frail human form that was in turn completely humiliated and broken for me as a price for my sins – and that He did it all gladly to reconcile me, the creature, with Himself, the Creator – that is what I want to hear preached over and over and over again! A bloody Cross – a God who died for me! Not numbers and statistics – and meaningless arguments that never saved a soul. Only the authority of scripture saves! Not the inerrancy!

Inerrancy, an unsatisfactory substitute from the necessary leap of faith, and other useless window-dressings for authority

When we come to faith in Christ through the revelation of His atonement for us, granted us through the mercies of the Holy Spirit’s revelation of the fact upon our minds; we cannot tip our hats toward unbelief or skepticism by placing any cushion outside of the knowledge and belief in the authority of the Word of God which tells us of it. But we are continually trying to do so, and much of the Word of God is composed of ongoing rebukes against doing such tempting things. You cannot make yourself more holy by abstaining from a physicality that you perceive as inherently bad. If you are offended by somebody eating meat – you are not a more mature Christian because of it – you are a weaker brother, rather; because while you are walking in Christ, your vegetarianism is a hindrance to the fullness of your spiritual walk with Christ; you are offended at the liberty that comes with the fullness of Christ. Others embrace ecumenicalism – and find security, not in vegetables, but in titles and formalism. Others find security in legalisms and place them in positions that would no doubt draw Paul’s heaviest firepower against them and their eventual drift towards a Galatianizied Gospel. We cannot offer a sacrifice of – well this is why I believe this to the idol of skepticism and doubt. It deserves no other response other then I believe in the authority of scripture, anything and everything else is merely window-dressing to this central point. We must preach Christ and Christ crucified – revealed to us through an authoritative scripture, one wherein regardless of any perceived issue, we are confronted with it and must either be offended by or changed by it. The awe that is cast upon our hearts, spirits and minds has nothing to do with anything else then that it is real, authoritative, and powerful beyond any mere scientific means to qualify, quantify or explain it. Ultimately – I have no need of any excuse or cushion. You should not either – neither should you expend precious spiritual, emotional, and intellectual energy crafting one. You need no crutch to hold up your faith – and if you have a crutch, then I beg of you to cast it into the flames lest you be found in the end to have relied upon it and not a faith in Christ alone.

In closing this essay I will quote what Wikipedia says about Barth – they pretty much sum up all that I have said about him in regards to the scripture authority vs. scripture inerrancy issue.

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“Barth’s dedication to the sole authority and power of the Word of God was illustrated for us while we were in Basel. Barth was engaged in a dispute over the stained glass windows in the Basel Münster. The windows had been removed during World War II for fear they would be destroyed by bombs, and Barth was resisting the attempt to restore them to the church. His contention was that the church did not need portrayals of the gospel story given by stained glass windows. The gospel came to the church only through the Word proclaimed. the incident was typical of Barth’s sole dedication to the Word. ” Elizabeth Achtemeier

“In the confrontation between humanity and God, which was Barth’s fundamental concern, the word of God and God’s revelation in Jesus are the only means God has for Self-revelation; Barth argued that people must listen in an attitude of awe, trust, and obedience.

Such critics regard proclaiming a rigorous Christian theology without basing that theology on a supporting text that is considered to be historically accurate as a separation of theological truth from historical truth; for his part, Barth would have argued that making claims about biblical inerrancy the foundation of theology is to take a foundation other than Jesus Christ, and that our understanding of Scripture’s accuracy and worth can only properly emerge from consideration of what it means for it to be a true witness to the incarnate Word, Jesus. “

Wikipedia information about Karl Barth
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P.S. If anyone here is reading this from the blog post that inspired it (found at http://www.sliceoflaodicea.com/archives/2006/09/rob_bell_and_ka.php) I think that a much more interesting discussion on Barth would be his stance on Justification: that it was Christ who was both elected and rejected on behalf of God. The ins and outs of this position and how it is often misconstrued to make him sound like a universalist would be interesting reading to me. Hey – Ken thanks for inspiring me to write this even if it was expressed in hopefully gracious disagreement with you, keep blogging!

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A Theology of Despair

A Theology of Despair

Despair – a Prolegomena

“   Wednesday, May 31, 2006 1:00 pm

 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” – Hebrews 13:8

 What may come to us as a shock, does not shock the One who made us. We have some hard news to share with you today. Our hearts are aching as we have learned that the young woman we have been taking care of over the past five weeks has not been our dear Laura, but instead a fellow Taylor student of hers, Whitney Clark.  

 

And so was another great shock made known to the world, yet another blow in the ongoing tragedy that had unexpectedly unfolded yet another painful revelation: a terrible accident, five students from Taylor College killed when their bus was hit by a semi five weeks prior; confusion and then a subsequent race to save lives at the bloody scene; virtually identical friends: one dead, the other alive – their identities unknowingly switched to both caregivers and friends…until now.

How often we live our fanciful Christian lives full of joy and hope, mirroring the joy that we have in Christ to a hurt and doubtful world… until tragedy strikes, and a chasm of despair opens up before our feet that at first we seem so prone to deny, get frustrated with and blame on everything from the devil to bad luck. The story of Whitney Cerak and Laura VanRyn and how their identities were switched; how 1,200 people came and mourned at the funeral of a girl who lay still alive – battered beyond readily apprehendable recognition in a nearby hospital, attended to by a family and staff who thought they were nursing their now dead daughter back from the brink of death – it’s a vapid, dank apprehension of things best left unthought: the very stuff of nightmares – the dispensations of utter despair. And yet these things can and do happen; each and every day albeit with less entangled circumstances and shock, yet with equateable grief, horror and sadness to those who lose a loved one in circumstances less press-worthy.

How are do we react to such a thing? Natalie Grant in her song Held, sings

Two months is too little.
They let him go.
They had no sudden healing.
To think that providence would
Take a child from his mother while she prays
Is appalling.

All to often the Christian lifestyle is portrayed and offered as one of ongoing joy and hope; ironically all the while while being based on a cannon composed of books – a significant portion of which the writers within are crying out in agonized palmistry and prophetic lamentations; Oh dear God where are you in this dark, present hour? An uncomfortable reality for many made for TV preachers is that an integral part of Christianity is not just a theology of hope, but also one of despair: that while we may blind our selves to the potential brokeness of life and a fallen world; it yet still exists, and sometimes in the form of disease, tragedy or sin – it reaches out with it’s wrenching abrupt, painful grasp and takes hold of our lives – usually unexpectedly and without any warning. And whereas an inauthentic stab at building shiny happy doctrines may in it’s immediacy – a span of time of sufficient length to preach a self-help sermon, broadcast a teeming television broadcast, or compose a double-spaced, fourteen point typeset 100 page best seller – seem to avert a disconnect with reality, an authentic theological system must not just come to terms with the reality of despair but must recognize, absorb and integrate it systematically throughout the whole of it’s scope of thought and practice. Many churches in an organized fashion seek relevance with culture and man through form and fashion; forgetting the foundations that persist when art and presentation are swept away in pain and desolation.

 

Despair – It’s Diverse Manefestations, 1: Theological

The scintillating,  German-born American theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich (1886-1965) – often demonized by conservatives for his potentially distractory emphasis on the existential over the centrality of the Cross; examines the issue of relevance with life in regards to theology, stating in the opening paragraphs of the first volume of his tripartite Systematic Theology entitled the same; that theology is a fabric that is woven between the dimensions of God and and that of man; and that the challenge for both the believer and the exhorter is to entertain the idea of a garment that is neither ruffled nor torn at either edge; compromised on neither of it’s sides. Liberal traditions traditionally compromise and/or oversimplify on the side of God; while conservatives (fundamentalists, in his words) do likewise, yet on the side of man – the state of having neither compromise nor oversimplification on either side; however, seemingly impossible – because of the vast difference between the two in a sundry of natures – yet this goal ever being the ongoing task at hand, for both common men and exegetes; for generations, past, present and future.

Theology, as a function of the church, must serve the needs of the church. A theological system is supposed to satisfy two basic needs: the statement of the truth of the Christian message and the interpretation of this truth for every new generation. Theology moves back and forth between two poles, the eternal truth of it’s foundation and the temporal situation in which the eternal truth must be received. Not many  theological systems have been able to balance these two demands perfectly.  Most of them either sacrifice elements of the truth or are not able to speak to the situation. Some of them combine both shortcomings. (Paul Tillich, Introduction to Systematic Theology, Vol. 1)

It is worth noting, that a frequent adage purveyed amongst fundamentalists faithful is the notion that “it is better to compromise on the side of man, then that of God” and surely these same words have graced more then a few sermons on the subject; assuredly with rousing response. And while this may be great material for energetic, rousing preaching – it must further be further noted that a “safer” preference towards oversimplification and compromise on the side of man is a dangerous and indeed severely flawed machination: the idea, for instance, that the granting of liberties where they were never given is far worse then the forbidding of those that were – this is both an absurd and a blasphemous notion; and remains such as long as the believer in question, weighing the giving balances in given positions, holds their religion and it’s attending faith in it to be something that is a construct not of their own making. Otherwise, were it not so – were Christianity a revelation of man unto man; and were he (man) the founder and finisher of the work of that faith, such a compromise on his own side (or pole, as Tillich references it) could and would be a justifiable endeavor availably dispensable at anyone’s discretion – but he is not. Christ and Christ alone is the author and the finisher of both the religion of Christianity and it’s necessary and congruent faith – not man. And what brazen mason would  boldly challenge the master architect after his arrival to a job site, saying – I took it upon myself to change your design and implement my own; I have placed more foundation under this part of the building and less on that. It may be true that the outward working of a rebellion against the faithfully and fearfully worked out balance of faith, one compromising seemingly on the side of God, might potentially have distinctly dire and disastrous consequences  – a compromise on the side of man; yields equally ruinous results; albeit ones more discreet and easily overlooked, but likewise ill-inducing, far reaching and just as excellence-depriving as the former. Indeed – a degree of Tillich’s writings can be seen as a venting of frustration with conservative Christianity’s oversimplifications/compromises on the side of man; with seemingly little or passing reference to the likewise tendency of Christian liberalism; of which he is regarded as somewhat of a foremost spokesperson/apologist theologian/philosopher towards, at least to some – a friend of mine once referred to him as “the Schuller of theologians”.

Today, this same tug of war between the divine and mortal goes on in the logical out workings of modern theology; perhaps articulated in different ways; same band – different tune; yet the song ever remains the same. The same concepts ever in the tug of war between excellence in implementation and compromise in apologetics: liberty, free will, hope and despair. Of all of these that we have at the core of our theology, the issue of despair is the one which we are ever seemingly trying to evade and deny; compromise or oversimplify, and despite the best of our intentions or excogitations, ever remains a bothersome reality we can generally afford to ignore – until once again – as it always does, it presents itself once more for it’s inevitable, loathsome perusal.

Who told us we’d be rescued?
What has changed and why should we be saved from nightmares?
We’re asking why this happens
To us who have died to live?
It’s unfair.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries a tremendous amount of theological extrapolation and exploration found it’s expression in the German tongue; a great deal of which could be traced back to the Great Grandfather of Christian Liberals, F.D.E. Schleiermacher (1768-1834); who with On Religion, Letters to It’s Cultured Despisers set himself as the theological pace car for generations of thought to come. Adolph Von Harnack, Bultman, Barth – in his early years of theological formation – and even Tillich himself, find themselves situated in Schleiermacher’s long shadow. And for all the great thought and brilliant expositions that found their way onto paper through the writings of a long line of influential Christian theologians – one small detail, one small tear in the fabric of theology between God and man; one that began with Schleiermacher – made it’s long, dark, path deep into the ideas of many of his disciples: the idea that the resurrection of Christ had to have been a purely spiritual operation – that it could not have really actually happened in the physical – began, grew, and through the detailed exposition and enforcement of supposedly logical thought and philosophical apprehensions, became entrenched, enforced and openly accepted. Those who adopted it; where never short in brilliance; but they were indeed short in sight: to recognize that theirs was the very compromise/oversimplification that Tillich would, later, in his own writings, warn about: the idea that the resurrection could never have really happened, and was only a spiritually manifest event; it was played off as the end result of careful historical analysis and as Bultman’s catch phrase became, ‘demythologization’: but it was not such at all. It was – despair. A despair that the very God of the universe could never do such a thing; that it was possible – they would in their self-imposed anguish, the very idea, ever vehemently deny. The social satirist G.K. Chesterston speaks to them in the chapter Escape From Paganism, from The Everlasting Man.

“What the denouncer of dogma really means is not that dogma is bad; but rather that dogma is too good to be true. That is,  he means that dogma is too liberal to be likely. Dogma gives man too  much freedom when it permits him to fall. Dogma given even God too much freedom when it permits him to die. That is what the intelligent skeptics ought to say; and it is not in the least my intention to deny that there  is something to be said for it.”

And the irony to be beheld is that while the ‘liberal’ theologians languished in their despair that the resurrection ever really took place – those ‘conservative’ theologians on the other side of the ideological isle – always quick to point an accusatory finger across the way – themselves indulged themselves in yet another form of likewise denied despair; one, rather then having an excogitory, philosophical flavor, had a decidedly Manichaen inclination. We, I speak thus being one myself, have always found difficulty in the apprehension of integration with this present world, our own compromise/oversimplification being that we so quickly paint it as utterly alien and best to be avoided; deciding that our ‘salt’ is best shaken in internal exploits and not so much into the highways and byways of a lost and dying world. In no single subject is this more easily seen – a veritable Rorschach test of sorts – then with the issue of wine and alcohol. The reader will forgive me, being that you may unpredictably fall into either Prohibitionary, abstentionist or moderationist camps on the issue, that I will carefully avoid a full force theological exposition on the issue, as more then a passing emphasis on the issue would preclude the centrality of the present discussion. Suffice to say 1900 hundred hears of Christian history are seeped in the production and moderate ingestion of said beverage. Only for the past 100 years has the idea of drinking alcohol as evil been made exponentially popular, especially in the southern fundamentalist church. There is no doubt that consternation towards such thought is unavoidable and irrevocable in the minds of  some readers – but at the end of the day, such an idea is itself, yet another form of despair. Whereas the liberals engage their despair in the doubt of a physical resurrection, conservatives engage theirs despair of select physicalities; such as that of alcohol as a creation of God given to man to gladden both His heart and the heart of Man for his enjoyment and through likewise mental mediums; arguing for a case of logical wisdoms that seem true and easily acceptable, and yet in the full light of scripture are exposed as yet more foolishness passed off as wisdom. Fundamentalists – though they be so in theological label – they jump social when the topic of wine or beer is brought to the table.  The scripture teaches a resurrection that took place both in the spirit and the physical; regardless of how foolish such may sound to the intellectual elite, and it teaches responsibility and wisdom of all aspects of creation and not outright avoidance; regardless of how emphatic or convincing likewise luminaries through cultural secessionism and avoidance would propose. It was G.K. Chesterton who said “Idolatry is committed, not merely by setting up false gods, but also by setting up false devils; by making men afraid of war or alcohol, or economic law, when they should be afraid of spiritual corruption and cowardice.”ILN 9/11/09

The despair towards the resurrection of the Lord Christ Jesus by the Liberal Theologians of the past and present centuries and the despair of the notion of the resurrection speaking to the pleasures of the world around us by the Manichean-leaning fundamentalists of modern and past eras can be fitly framed as theological/philosophical forms of despair; despair worked out and manifest in the exogitory outworking of ideas, doctrine and philosophy. This is a form of despair, and it is crucial, for the growing believer, in reaching towards a point of deeper maturity, to address and have it spoken to by that same thing that is the source of it’s very denial.

This is what it means to be held.
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive.
This is what it is to be loved.
And to know that the promise was
When everything fell we’d be held.

Part of the Manichean/gnostic dualist doctrinal inheritance that the church still struggles with, is that there is some kind of huge disparity between the flesh and the spirit: that the bulk of the scripture somehow only speaks to one dimension and the other is best forgotten or eliminated all together. An even passing perusal of the old testament gives ample evidence of a God that ordained, oversaw and worked into the very framework of worship under the old covenant  an elaborate and comprehensive schedule of festivities feasts and celebrations. In these He is found to expereince delight at seeing His people enjoy them; but only when they were done within the frame of reference of relationship: relationship with Him as the source of the blessings and joy. It was when they were conducted outside of a distinct connection back to Himself that he became wrathful and stated that He hated them. Can a God that is only interested in our spirit have such an inherent interest also in our own going partying? Indeed the early church Manichean/Gnostic Dualist wrote off the Old Testament as the ravings of a different God from that of the New; one who was an angry, evil, fallen God himself. In their dividing of flesh and spirit they continued the endeavor, finding fair game God himself; and where they pursued false means and methods in the former, they found likewise in the later. The God of the Old and New testaments is the same, at the risk of sounding  Sabellian – the same substance, yet framed within a different revelatory light; likewise – are the dimensions of spirit and flesh; same yet different; apart yet indivisible – of different natures yet of the same individual.

A large part of the history of Christian theology is framed within this very struggle; that of a despair against the physical aspects of the human compositional state: that matter is somehow inherently evil whereas it’s supposed natural opposite, the spirit, is proposed to be diametrically good. This is a despair of Creation – and today, we frame it in yet another way; in the before mentioned notions of philosophical and/or theological despair; which is a latter, logical outworking/consequence – in ways directly, and in others indirect – of the former intimated despair: that of a despair of creation. Theological despair manifests itself in others ways, as well, not just in the seeming lofty creation of doctrines and wherein such despair as that of Manicheanism/gnostic dualism a.k.a the creational despair of the conservatives/fundamentalists and the resurrectional despair of that of the progressive/liberal camps – it strikes not just in the creation of doctrinal notions, but also in the implementation of them.

Many an aspiring student of Tillich, the before mentioned oft bedeviled theologian of the conservatives – finds out it was more then just his existential tendencies and seeming marginalization of the Cross, that gives him such a distinction in the minds of many, but also that the man who brought so much illumination to the theological studies of his day, also had a dark side in the implementation of his own theology. Tillich, it is said, feared his own death. When his widow, Hannah, went to unlock his desk after his death, she found there amongst his published and unpublished theological memoirs, years and years of love letters – to other women. It should not have come to that much of a surprise, as it is also reputed that the Tillichs’ had ‘perfected’ the notion of the ‘open marriage’ long before it became popular in today’s marital culture. How could a man who loved the Word of God so much – that he spent most of his life learning, writing, and teaching about it – have lived a life so seemingly divorced from it? Early in his life, his first wife left him for his best friend – and had a child by the same. Tillich – like so many of his fellow Germans, fought in the trenches in WWI, and then watched his beloved native nation come under the rule and reign of the Nazi party, all the while while the vast majority of the church he grew up in, studied under, and worked in, supported Der Fuhrer, along with all of the eventually attending inhumanities. Did a failed marriage along with watching his nation slip into political and theological madness and then oblivion rock his own world and dislodge him from the anchors of stability and confidence? Tillich the theologian – is so much like many bible characters we read of  – Tillich the man, was in fact – a man of struggles and despair. On his death bed, he called for his copy of the Greek Septuagint; which he kissed as he lay dying. His love for the Word of God persisted into his last moments – but the life he lived; rarely ever going to church, having lovers on the side, and embracing an existential focus over a Christologic center in his soteriology – dims his great light in contrast to others of the faith who left brighter beacons for us to illuminate our own theologic paths. Is there something worthwhile and deeply challenging in what Tillich left behind – in the mind of this writer – certainly. But is it more then just a great theological legacy and insight that one can glean truth from – there is also the legacy of Tillich’s despair; one that serves warning to the potential we all have of not sticking to the straight and narrow admonitions of the Word, because so many of those we trudge along with in the faith to do likewise.

Chorus:
This is what it means to be held.
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive.
This is what it is to be loved.
And to know that the promise was
When everything fell we’d be held.

 

Despair – It’s Diverse Manefestations, 2: Emotive

If it were not enough to struggle with the doctrinal heavy lifting of dealing and understanding the despair of creation, and then it’s direct descendent theologic-philosophic despair, and then just simply the process of righteous living; these things seemingly the domain and playground of the theologian and philosophers, there is also the manifestation of despair that strikes both the lofty excogitator and the lowly commoner: that of emotional despair. You can close a book of theology and philosophy or doctrine and chose with walk in ignorance of despairs both direct and implied, but it is impossible to walk through life unscathed from the despair that saturates the human emotional condition. Here all men wake up to find themselves on common ground with all other men who breath and look up to see a sky both alternatingly full of light and then darkness.

In her myspace.com blog, Hollie, a.k.a. fifthrowfocus, writes in telling and poetic prose, in a submission entitled Thoughts Heretofore Unspoken;

I say:

 

I have a flawed body, a damaged heart, and an average mind.

I have been called beautiful by women, but never by a man.

I have not felt pretty or graceful or poised since I was a child.

 

I am human; I know imperfection.

 

I have experienced many heartbreaks, tragedy, and pain.

I have seen my dreams dashed and my wishes unfulfilled.

I have revised my goals to diminish further disappointment.

 

I am human; I know failure.

 

I have compromised my standards and accepted inferior substitutes.

I have satisfied legitimate needs with illegitimate desires.

I have pawned my emotional integrity for physical intimacy.

 

I am human; I know misery.

 

I have seen friends find the love and happiness I crave.

I have watched others find success in careers I admire.

I have witnessed promotion by less qualified peers.

 

I am human; I know envy.

 

I have been hurt, rejected, and betrayed.

I have caused hurt, rejection, and betrayal.

I have loved deeply and lost much.

 

I am human; I know pain.

 

I have stayed up all night to avoid going to bed lonely.

I have woken with puffy eyes from crying myself to sleep.

I have sought comfort in food and drugs and alcohol.

 

I am human; I know despair.

 

I have tried in vain to escape my problems.

I have conquered few of my bad habits.

I have battled depression nearly all my life.

 

I am human; I know defeat.

 

I have isolated myself from family and friends.

I have questioned the need for my existence.

I have rejected beginnings and contemplated ends.

 

I am human; I know hurt.

 

  

He says:

 

I have loved you since before time began.

I have known you since before you were born.

I have given you every breath you have drawn.

 

I am your Father; I know you because you are mine.

 

I have guided your steps since you learned to walk.

I have watched over you every day of your life.

I have protected you through every circumstance.

 

I am your Father; I protect you because you are mine.

 

I have seen you fall and fail and lose and love

I have watched you cry and scream and doubt

I have known your fears and hopes and dreams

 

I am your Father; I comfort you because you are mine.

 

I have given you hope when you thought you had none.

I have wiped away your lifetime slate of mistakes.

I have accepted you despite all your flaws and scars.

 

I am your Father: I claim you because you are mine.

 

I have poured out my love unconditionally.

I have given you new life abundantly.

I have never left you nor forsaken you.

 

I am your Father: I love you because you are mine.

 

 

It seems such a grand idea that the world could indeed potentially be a utopian synergy of like-minded forces; but the opposite is by far the truth. We wake up to a day full of light that is defined by the forthcoming night; where there is light, there will soon be darkness, and this will once again give way once again to light. In a given space of time, one will hear of a member of one’s extended family giving birth: bringing life into the world – and then also hear of another loved one’s passing. The opportunity of a new life beginning is made valuable, open and full of potential, by the comparison and contrast of one that utilized the fullness of life and it’s opportunity or – in the case of a life cut short – was denied the fullness thereof. Immutable mutual definement; where something is always most adequately described not just by it’s own qualities, but also by those of it’s natural opposite. We are all faced with emotional despair; and while we can run from the specter of sudden appearing; regardless of how far we fly or push it out from our minds; the awful potential for it’s sudden unexpected emergence is always a specter waiting in the wings – and that it did not, we give gracious thanks, hopefully, for another birthday, another christmas, another healthy cancer-free year. We know joy – because we have so often, it seems, known the opposite of it.

Life has the potential to deal crippling blows regardless of how much faith we have, or how perfect we have made our own sinless endeavors to be in our own mind. Pastors get cancer and die, church busses crash in flames, little children drown on church sponsored trips. Like the kid who treats his car with the greatest of care because he worked hard to get it by bussing tables every night vs. the spoiled brat that destroys everything he pulls out of the driveway almost immediately after being given it carte-blanche from a parent ever dispensing their delinquent progeny yet another vehicle. We have had a lack – and the fullness of joy is all the more apparent for it. In reading Thoughts Heretofore Unspoken, one person might say – wow that dame has issues; others might say – these issues are indeed mine own. The cultural christianity that is proffered by the teeming modern masses to themselves is just that: a cultural endeavor. Authentic Christianity – while interacting and responding with wisdom and salt with culture is not just something played out culturally; but it is something that irrevocably is pressed upon the mind and heart. God I am worthless and hopeless outside of you. I have no hope in and of myself; my only hope for identity, purpose, and salvation in physical and spiritual dimensions comes through your only begotten son and his shed blood on calvary. I have no hope for anything otherwise. If, as a Christian, you have not had these thoughts, perhaps it is time to reconsider having them…

 

This hand is bitterness.
We want to taste it, let the hatred NUMB our sorrow.
The wise hands opens slowly to lilies of the valley and tomorrow.

 

 

Despair – It’s Diverse Manefestations, 3: Spiritual Frustration unto Salvation; Coming to the End of Oneself to Find Christ

In grieving – there are established points through which a person faced with a tragedy moves through: denial, anger, blame,  and then acceptance. Whereas these points of movement may seem adequate to describe the mind’s way of dealing and properly digesting and moving past unsavory events; there is a likewise process that takes place in the spiritual growth of an individual: denial, acceptance, repentance.

In becoming an authentic Christian there are also established points through which a person comes in their apprehension of their proper state in the physical and spiritual universe. Denial, anger, blame and then acceptance. I am good enough on my own, I don’t need God or any crutch-like religious poppycock, it’s not my fault I made these mistakes; I’m a disadvantaged person – it’s the fault of my parents; no, wait, my financial status; no, wait, my race. And then, when we exhaust all the possibilities – we finally surrender. We give up. We both accept and surrender to Christ.

In most – if not all – belief systems, outside of Christianity, there is very naturalist-inclined outlook on life. Whatever befalls you or what ever you face; you pretty much have all that you have ever had in terms of how to deal with it. If you are an addict; then you have to pull the desire and ability to over come your addiction from within yourself and from within the construct of your own power/abilities. If you get rich or lose your wealth, then you have just had a run in with potentially obtuse darwinian realities and your either just lucky and/or smarter and faster then those around you – or – in the bug vs. windshield world, your just the bug today and/or your just stupid, slow and weak; and that is why the bully of life ate your lunch and left you bleeding on the social playground. This is not Christianity. Christianity says that the sooner you stop looking at fate or yourself for you your solutions – and the quicker you begin to rely on something outside yourself: Christ; the better off you are. A despair of natural and self potential and a hope placed elsewhere is the quickest route potential physical/spiritual success. You have to lose your life to gain it. You have to not just stop searching for a lucky break or the potential to be anything great within yourself but actually give up the notions altogether. To find hope and joy in Christ – you have to embrace hopelessness and despair regarding your own self. Cultural Christianity is nothing more then a mindless exercises of feel good practices that are like the movie sets in any given movie; they look real from the street, but if you knock on the door, you’ll find it’s just painted plywood framed by a prop. You can’t really live inside it, at least any longer then the feel good movie your trying to script for yourself will last. You can’t always the goings on – a wind will come, and it will push your one dimensional self-centered playground to the ground.

When a believer has moved passed the shallowness of self-inhered faith and found a foundation in Christ; then when the unthinkable comes, there is a transcendent reality that is beyond the scope of any of your capacity or talent. You don’t matter – neither does anything greater then you – because there is an eminent transcendence that is beyond yet even that which has come to your door step. In moment of greatest pain – when everyone else is disintegrating in hopelessness there is a hope for the Christian that is beyond not just despair but beyond belief. We just don’t think that God is in control – we know. The hope of naturalism or self-capacity is transcended by the reality that no matter what; God is in control and He is sufficient to meet our needs. Let pain, disappointment and calamity come if they must; we welcome them – the worthlessness of the world will be washed away, and God’s children will shine in the darkness with a light that will be seen as a hope to those who have chosen other remedies which in turned failed them. In the finality of their eventual despair, the lost can yet still find transcendent hope in the realization of the futility of their own capacities and the recognition there is a transcendent hope that they too can have.

(Chorus)
This is what it means to be held.
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive.
This is what it is to be loved.
And to know that the promise was
When everything fell we’d be held.

 

 

Despair – It’s Diverse Manefestations, 4: Sustenancive; Pockets Full of Lint and other travails of Lack

As if it were not enough to have to deal with the various permutations of despair in regards to ideas and faith, and then those of emotive  natures, there is a third type of despair which is born not of ideas, nor of feeling but from that of sustenance; generally speaking – specifically – of a fear of a lack or inadequacy in regards to it; a despair of sustenance. Anyone who has stood in front of a news paper vending machine and read alluring headlines of what is going on in the world, only to pull out pocket lint rather then the appropriate coinage – has experienced a despair of monetary sustenance; not having enough of what is felt, perceived or actually needed – and in the case of a lack of monetary sustenance, a lack of moolah. Almost everyone has experienced a despair of financial sustenance. Most people have experienced a despair of spiritual or emotional sustenance as well, and everyone – going all the way back to when they first cried for milk as newborns – has experienced a despair of nutritional sustenance. A situation wherein we are confronted with the lack of something that we want or need: in various scenarios and situations – it happens to  us all. We are born and literally thrust into a world where we cannot fend for ourselves, and unlike the horse or giraffe, that in the moments after their birth can find the skill and ability to stand up and move on their own, we are literally born into a despair of motile sustenance: we are not even able to provide ourselves the ability to move on our own – we are completely dependent upon a caring mother to provide for us in every dimension of our sustenance.

This present generation continues to deal with the aftermath of what is oft referred to as the “Sexual Revolution;” that time in American history when people of all ages shed their inhibitions in exchange for an open form of sexuality based on what feels right vs. social/religious conventions. More often then not – this ‘what feels right’ idea found more traction in the notion of “what I want” more then anything else. Sex is an intersection of the spirit, emotion and physical; and was created as thus by the creator – and for this reason protected and sealed for use only within marriage by two people under a covenant to be only with one another. By nature of life, not everyone finds themselves within the comfort of such a blessing; and those that eventually do – they must deal with the span of time in their life that precedes it. This time ‘outside of covenant’ is one wherein one is subject to a despair that involves all of these same dimensional interactions with another individual. The desire for sex transcends and operates in both the spirit, the emotion and the body, but fulfilling the needs of one dimension through a giving into temptation does not necessarily fulfill the remainder – outside of it’s established place in creation, marriage, the wonder becomes a terror, and will more often then not – if not always – wreak havoc and destruction upon them.

The despair of sexual sustenance is but one manefestion of a despair that involves a need or a want. Long before we wake up hormonally at the age of puberty, we wake up to despair of nutritional sustenance that first time we grow hungry and cry and get irritable by nature of the instinct given by God and manifest in our infancy so that our mother would in fact know of our despair though we were incapable of extrapolating any excogitory lamentations toward the fact. I am born with this despair and fear, uncertainty and distress are my first reactions to it in hopes that in this travail – I might find hope.

We need money – so we get a job. We need a better job – so we go to college. We  need to study better – so we invest in paper, pens, and computers. I am going to need more money… yet right now.

The path to spiritual maturity is marked by many things. More books then this eager young author will ever be able to read, and most of them better written then anything this same fledgling scribbler will ever be able to write about are available for perusal at the local Barns & Noble about them. One of the most important things, though, is an acknowledgment that we can, do, and will despair either theologically & philosophically, emotionally, or sustenance-wise; and having acknowledged this despair – as all the world eventually does – we also acknowledge, embrace and proclaim that which is defined by, but also that which transcends the same: Christ. The despair that we encounter serves only to remind us of the fullness that we can find in Christ; not just financially; though we may possibly remain poor in wealth, not just health-wise; thought we are all dying since the day we were born,

Bridge:
If hope is born of suffering.
If this is only the beginning.
Can we not wait for one hour watching for our Savior?

 

Despair – Towards a Solution, 1; Apprehending the Transcendence of Christ and The Lack of a Thing Defining the Fullness Thereof: Relationally Quantitative Dynamics Referenced

Ideological/Theological, Emotive Despair, and Sustenancive Despair; the bumper sticker on the truck in front of me earlier today said Fear Nothing – but how often do we really do that? And those that claim to – do they really? And those who do – are they really all that brave? Is not the lack of fear, a fear of the same? It is a short-lived fool the man who does not fear the fear of at least something; gravity, microbial agents, financial issues; laid up in a hospital bed, infected with AIDS, and bankrupt: you have to fear somethings – unfortunately both the world and believers often misplace their fear, and the results themselves can be a fearful thing. In Romans 8:15 we are told that we are not given over to a spirit of fear unto bondage; but rather a spirit of adoption wherein we cry Abba Father – ‘Daddy, Daddy’.

Colossians 1:26-27 states [Even] the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what [is] the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. In understanding that it is Christ in us and manifest in us that overcomes despair; we tap into an understanding of a reality that speaks to the very core of the understandings of ourselves and speaks through both ourselves and our lives. In realizing – through despair – that we have an awareness of finitude and resultant frustration we realize that there is a fullness of something because we have experience and understood the corresponding lack thereof: the lack thereof defines the fullness of a thing. Regrettably, and with great consequence – many christians give into the temptation to experience the power of sexuality outside of marriage – abandoning the abstentionist stance in lieu of one wherein boundaries and limitations are explained and reasoned away. In the end the glory of the institution of marriage; it itself best explained as a sexual contract between two people ordained before God – is radically diminished. In this present time; marriage is just a legal and a social formality: the bride and groom already live together, and have already had sex – the only difference is a piece of paper legit before men for tax purposes or the allevement of guilty conscience if they have not already been seared beyond recognition.

This same principle of exclusion elaborating the fullness thereof is seen in the abstinence from alcohol of the priests, and the same in the Nazzarite Vow as well as John the Baptist and a host of other biblical characters. The notion that abstinence towards holiness was grounded in a culturally-successionary removal from something vs. a defined metaphorical time period removal, is the centerpiece of the prohibitionist stance against alcohol. Alcohol was not abstained from because it was evil – but rather because of what it represented to man as a gift from God; one that was given to bring joy to the heart of both man (Psalm 104:14-15) and God (Judges 9:13). It represented rest and a time of relaxation: it is present in times of blessing (Isaiah 25:6,Psalms 104:14-15), and taken away in times of rebellion (Isaiah 24:4-12). When we are connected to the fullness of Christ, through wisdom and responsibility, the despair of the physical is transformed into joy. But this comes not through the Law – but only through Christ. The practicing of the law, the priests, John the Baptist were never able – until Christ – to see this fullness and were commanded to walk in the metaphorical lack of rest; they walked in a lack – specifically – of wine. Before Christ, when the priests entered the Holy of Holies, they entered with ropes tied around their legs as to be drug out – were they killed instantly in the presence of God. Neither could they – when performing the duties of the law – have anything to do with something that represented rest metaphorically as their work was never done in the law; but the promised Messiah; the very embodiment of the rest and grace of God was soon to take on flesh and walk amongst men. It is no small thing; that the very first miracle of Christ was creating the very thing that all practitioners of what He was the very incarnation of (The Word) – had been expressly forbidden to do. There had been an abstinence. There had been a lack of grace. There had been the despair of an unattainable law – and suddenly there was Jesus Christ. The introduction of Christ radically scandalized the epistemological paradigms of all modes of human compositional existence: the physical, the intellectual, and the spiritual – all are subject to despair – and all were transcended in a massive and profound ontological shift from the realized-to-be-finite self into a realized-to-be-infinite God; this all by His taking on of humanity and His death on the Cross. No longer did it mean that to be human meant to be lorded over by death and despair – creation beheld its redeemer.

The abstinence of the priests, the lack of grace, the unattainability of the law and the inherent despair of the human condition: they are soteriological markers – diminishments – that serve to point to the fullness of Christ. His reality transcends every aspect or our apprehension of human existence and gives it depth and meaning, therefore we can be truly relevant to a lost and a dying world who become aware through despair that they lack something and are in need of something more. Those of who have fully surrendered themselves into Christ and His ongoing transformational and renewing power through Christ begin to taste the transcendence of everything. They discover not just their own lack – but that God is, not just the God of sustenance, but also the God of the lack thereof: he is the supreme God of all, and to not be a God in the face of anything, would make that thing superior to his transcended eminence. We experience our own finitude and discover that while God is a God of sustenance, He yet speaks, transcendently and authoritatively, to even our own lack; and we can experience a fullness even when – in the eyes of a lost world – we appear to have nothing. In the midst of even our greatest trial; when despair comes against us with the greatest force we have ever felt – we can realize in that moment too, that Christ is yet Lord of the same no more and no less. His transcendence is total; and what may have been a mental notion – becomes something that is set forth and lived out – lived out to produce Glory for God.

 

(Chorus)
This is what it means to be held.
How it feels when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive.
This is what it is to be loved.

Despair – Towards a Solution, 2; The Transcendence of Christ: The Adoption of the Finite by the Infinite: when the Wholly Other is  engaged with the Completely Present, and the Spheres of Our Compositional State in relation to it

Transcendence.
It may be the last, hardest concept for any christian old or young to really understand; if there is such a thing as a last concept to be learned. We can understand a God that can transcend this or that – but can we understand a God that transcends everything completely? Tillich pushed this notion beyond most peoples comfort zone when he proposed the idea of “The God above the God of Theism” – an idea indirectly espoused by Barth’s radical divine “otherness” notion; that the fullness and totality of God, both in is revelation and actuality was something beyond the capacity to be revealed or to be demonstrated as actual. It is imperative that we formulate doctrines and both teach and when necessary defend them – any system that proposes the lack of such need will be revealed in time to be useless against the trudge of time and the machinations of the enemy.

 

A Divine Transcendence, Part One: A Relationally Transcendent God: Fellowshipping in His Divine Wholeness, and Not That of Our Own

But for all our endeavors; the idea must be held in tension with it’s natural opposite: we can never be fully related to God, although we know him as a father; we can never walk with Him on his level – although we are seated at His right hand. God is beyond our formulations, revelations and constructs of Him. This is the harder of the ideas to swallow, for both purposeful and inadvertent dyed-in-the-wool religionists – even after the idea is accepted and walked out: that Christ is indeed also beyond our hopes and our fears. He is utterly and completely transcendent of both. If this tension is broken – then we either embrace a God who is just like ourselves – falling perhaps into a New Age notion that we are all God ourselves, amongst our own kind – or (in the opposite direction), we surrender the faith to a deity that is functionally meaningless, subjectively hollow, objectively intangible, inanely abstract, and will invariable begin practicing far-from-our-own-existential-context-removed religious rituals,  which are themselves far too remote and alien to ourselves to be of any value to us.  All but the most obstinate will see the pointlessness – and depart for something they can ‘hold on to’ – which is almost always a path towards spiritual destruction. When the golden calves we built for ourselves are realized to never really be capable of speaking to us – we will just build other idols that we think will.

But if we understand that if God is both completely here with us – and yet also completely beyond our situation – we hold a ‘tension’ between Total Relationship and Total Transcendence. It is also within this ‘tension’ that we find a kind of fellowship – within which we can participate in His wholeness; especially when our own wholeness (in a given situation) is seemingly lost…lost because we came to understand the tenuousity, fragility, and ultimate invalidity of our own ‘wholeness’ at a given time in our lives prior, perhaps at a church altar, while praying, or in a moment of spiritual clarity – and we subsequently gave our lives to God: abdicating in that act any presumption of our own innate strength, and therefore chose to fully predicate any further understanding of ‘self-wholeness’ or ‘personal/spiritual existential strength’ upon Him  – when we made a decision  – for Him.

It might be said that it is wonderful and beautiful to feel helpless before God.

Feeling helpless is the first step in understanding the how in the process of fully fellowshipping in the Strength of Christ – rather then blithely walking in our own (perhaps) inadvertently presumed own.

He is always completely here in every situation. In the face of the paradox of how God is both completely here and yet also completely beyond (within this ‘Tension’ of a ‘Relational Transcendence’) despair evaporates…and it becomes a paradox itself; a puzzle that we all must not just all walk though but also one that defines and points to the solution; if we gather up the will to exert faith in the face of doubt.

 

A Divine Transcendence, Part Two: A Subjective & Objectively Transcendent God; Going Beyond the Three Spheres of our Existence, The Ideological, The Natural & The Spiritual

Naturalistic philosophers offered nothing more then chance and survival of the fittest as their ideal world view – existential philosophers followed and stated that the despair of such situations was a common foundation to actualize and authenticate the idea of “the self”. The naturalist expressed a despair of the natural, entropic-leaning state of physicality, the existentialist expressed a despair of ideology and thought. Once physicality and ideology are transcended with despair, a third despair is brought into light; one that is unique to the human experience – that of spiritual despair and it is into the spiritual arena that the light of Christ shines a soteriological ray of light, one that shines and cuts through the darkness of the spiritual, the ideological and even that natural – and pushes aside the darkness and despair seeped into them from the left over drippings of the machineries of self-awareness. A whole and complete christologic ontology is the next step for The despair of Existentialism – and it can only be understood in it’s full transcendence of the despair of the Spiritual, the Ideological and the Natural. Indeed the first step of the sinner about to make a decision is to confess that they themselves in their own existence have no hope in and of themselves; the despair must be embraced and then it must be transcended to authenticate the soteriological work of Christ upon the soul. Outside of this affirmation and acknowledgment – salvation is not affected. The issue that we face is that we do not hold the idea of a relationally transcended paradox in it’s appropriate tension across all three spheres of our compositional state: the natural, the ideological, and that of spirit. To pursue anything else other then this paradox is to pursue error. We allow allow the fires of faith to die down and the despair to seep back in. We lose sight that God is bigger then our physical situation, or bigger then our mental constructs, or even bigger then any religious practice however well doctrinally constructed can paint Him as. He is beyond all three spheres and it is in this very ‘beyondness’ that we are seen to demonstrate the authenticity of our own imparted ‘otherworldliness’. This state is not achieved by denial and social secessionism or cute mental tricks or elaborate religious legalisms that put themselves into play in lieu of the beformentioned “soteriological ray of light” to pierce the despair of the before mentioned spheres of the natural, ideological and spiritual. The transcendence is a pure work of faith, begun and finished in us by Christ and Christ alone. Full compositional-state transcendence comes only through a full faith in the full transcendence of Christ. This full transcendence comes when we resolve to persue and hold to the idea of The Adoption of the Finite by the Infinite; when the Wholly Other is  engaged with the Completely Present. This is the only solution for despair in all of it’s dispensations; any other solution is eventually revealed as finite and cannot fully remedy an infinite problem. Man is a finite creature created to be in fellowship with the infinite creator: the curse of Genesis is exactly this: the revelation of the finitude of man and the futility of his existence outside of his separation from an infinite God. I believe that it was Karl Barth who wrote that man was never supposed to know and understand his own finitude; our joy and hope and existence was always supposed to come through our relationship with the infinite: our God. This is why we preach Christ and Christ crucified; that man must be reconciled to God through Christ and Christ alone; and his acceptance and belief in his own finiteness outside of God must be grasped and integrated in the whole of his compositional state: his physicality (his substance and culture), his ideology (his theology and philosophy, and his spirituality (his emotions and awareness of his divorce from the infinite); all these things must be understood and embraced through faith, and through the faith and the resultant paradox of relational transcendence: that we have a full relationship with a fully transcendent God we are daily transformed into new Creatures in Christ. In the end – it is the only solution; anything else will eventually lead back down the path that led to the brink of the revelation; back down the path of despair.

As stated before, Many churches, politicians, organizations and individuals will inevitably in an organized fashion seek relevance with culture and man through form and fashion;  and they will forget the foundations that persist when art and presentation are swept away in pain and desolation. That which we are so quick to run from is the very thing that defines and points us back to where we belong. Tillich, who struggles with doubt and despairs himself, says it clearly and succinctly in the closing words of his book, The Courage to Be, “ the courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt.”

When we are stripped of all assurance and surrounded with despair – the God that is revealed as trancendendent to the situation is the God we may have never met but had always been looking for and knew to be there all along fully and all along transcendently.

(Chorus, continued)
And to know that the promise was
When everything fell we’d be held.
This is what it is to be held
And to know, that the promise was when everything fell, we’d be held

It may come as a natural question to those who plow through what I have written here – just exactly why Tillich seems to dominate the discourse of thought throughout these paragraphs when the issue at hand is proposed to be despair and a theology thereof. Tillich embodies both as a person and a thinker the true and proper state of many issues in life: things that are only true together, which on their face are seemingly opposite. In his personal life; Tillich failed to live up to a degree of what I and many Christians would consider an ideal level of personal holiness; and yet so many of his writings revolve around these same struggles and despairs, and one cannot adequately look upon his proposed theological derivations and methods without understanding who Tillich was as a man. In his theological endeavors as a theologian he was full of tensive contradictions also; being both a Theologian of Culture and a Theologian of the Church. Tillich was flawed as being what most of us would consider being a ‘good’ Christian; and it is my suspicion that it was an awareness and a despair in this falling short that made him aware of a necessity of excellence in his academic endeavors; he sought to address the despairs of theological constructions – he understood the failings of the liberal church to address the issues of Holiness and righteousness before God: realities in his own life of which he was no doubt painfully aware – and the conservative/fundamentalist failure to address the issues of society and culture; which he also watched in the church’s failure to stand against Imperialism/Nazism in his own native Germany in WWI/WWII and the failures of his contemporaries such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer who both failed and often died as a result of it. Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church echoes modern failings in an interview with Christianity Today entitled Men are From Mars Hill,

Traditional churches have either leaned toward being fundamentalist and separated from culture, which has led to legalism and irrelevance; or they have leaned toward being liberally synchronized with culture, which leads to compromise and irrelevance. Either way, many traditional churches are irrelevant, whether they lean to the Left or the Right theologically and politically. Most contemporary churches are not very theological beyond a few evangelical basics, because they are guided more by pragmatism and programming than theology. (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/127/52.0.html)

Despair – Further Towards a Solution, 3; Dialectic Truths and a Theonomy of Despair: Relationally Qualitative Dynamics Referenced

But what does conservative vs. liberal and traditional vs. contemporary church ideas/methods have to do with the issue of despair? In previous paragraphs this present writer stated that the lack of a thing often defines the fullness thereof. In terms of relational definement this is a quantitative relation. There also exists a qualitative relational definement: when something is placed out of context or relation of another thing, that it may actually it’s lose it’s proper definition. In previous paragraphs this was referenced as Immutable Mutual Definement; where something is always most adequately described not just by it’s own qualities, but also by those of it’s natural opposite. When this oppositional relation involves opposites held in tension between each other, the relation is referred to as being a “Dialectical” one: or opposites held in tensive truth; only true when held together in a mutual frame of reference. (It should be noted that ‘Dialectical’ can mean/has meant many different things in the history of philosophy, and its use here, as a tool, is as described). Tillich argued with with respected freind, Karl Barth, the father of “dialectical theology,” that his theology, in practice, was not actually dialectical at all; that in light of his understanding of God as completely separate and infinite, Barthinian theology always left a vacuum in God’s relation to man. Barth had become known as a ‘Dialectical Theologian’ because he advocated the necessary understanding that there was a ‘crisis’ created when man was radically confronted with the revelation of God. Barth had made the radical distinction that the fullness and totality of God’s revelation of Himself was completely encapsulated within the revelation of Christ. All of the ‘feelings’ and ‘reasonings’ of Liberalist Theology were wholly inadequate and it mattered little what you could see or know, from your own mind (Philosophic Idealism), or the world around you (Natural Theology) – and then Barth further confronted Conservatives by saying that scripture itself was only the record of this revelation of Christ, and therefore the endless discussions of so-called ‘Textual Criticism’ of the scriptures (where theologians investigate the scriptures from historical sourcepoints, and argue about how and why it may or may not have been changed or come from) was essentially a huge waste of time.  It was said that his book Der Römerbrief (1919; The Epistle to the Romans), was a “bomb” set off in the “playground” of theologians – in that he send both liberals and conservatives, literally running for cover. Barth was radical and uncompromising: if you did not understand Christ – your religions was worthless, and everything and anything other then Christ was in no way a proper foundation for Faith, even the scripture itself, to him, was a revelation of The Revelation – a word about The Word. To this day, liberals, conservatives; evangelicals and those who think themselves as a something else – all have to wrestle with Barth. He is not a mountain to go around – if you are to do honest theological work – you must take your time, and you must go through him.

In Barth’s own time – Tillich did just that when he argued that a whole and complete theological understanding was not just dialectical in name but also in actual nature: that God was both Remote and infinite – yet at the same time Fatherly and accessibly finite in terms of metaphorical relatory terminologies, both qualative and quantitive – employed by Himself to relate himself to us. A proper understanding of the framework of what “church” is supposed to be must fall along dialectical lines culturally also – not just tensive theologic ones; but also politically or structurally as well: it must have oppositionally related truths held in tension in its identity and function: it must be both conservative and liberal, traditional and contemporary. The business and practice of “Church” must embody a tensive dialectical state, if it is to preach and demonstrate a tensively dialectical God.  Anything less potentially disassociates it from the the truth of a fullness of itself, as it truly is, truly in the world: self-contained (not needing politics or personalities, only The Word/Scripture), oppositional on the surface; yet integrated and defining in the full context of its different states and notions, and full of people who both believe and worship differently in ‘minors’ – but agree on ‘majors’.  Conflate and over-simplify – and it all becomes a lie. If I embrace a God that is only a judge and a remote arbitrator – I embrace a lie. If I embrace a God that is all about love and acceptance – I embrace a lie as well, as God is both… and truly cannot be fully understood without an integrated conceptualization.  In the life of the church, ‘all theology and no culture’ is likewise a lie – and ‘all relevance and no truth’ is a likewise pursuit of error and fallacy.

Life must be lived – if it is to be lived thoughtfully in terms of authenticity – dialectically as well. All joy is a lie. All despair is a lie as well. If one understands the Christian faith from a biblical standpoint, the same dialectic reality bears out over and over – Fall and Redemption, Rejection and Acceptance, Sin and Salvation, Brokeness and Healing, Libety and Responsiblity – Pain and Joy.

Unfortunately, much of the church both historically and in modern terms, embraces a subtle sophistry, which claims sophistication and authenticity – but in it’s pursuance of singularities, is actually void of truth and in the end sophomoric both philosophically and more importantly – in the light of eternity – spiritually. A proper theology of despair must be framed within a theology of Dualisms. We are both created by the hand of God and yet live our lives as fallen creatures in a fallen world. We are both separated and rejoined with God – we have great despair and and at the same time great joy. Outside of the other – neither of these things carry the full weight of their authentic portent. Tillich saw the church of his day and it’s tendency to disregard the humanity and reality of the human condition and described it as an act or tendency toward what he defined as “Heteronomy.” Tillich watched as those both inside the church and outside react to the built in ambivalence to such and described the consequential reaction as “Autonomy;” or as Mark Klein Taylor in Paul Tillich, Theologian of the Boundaries describes it “a culture’s celebration of itself, of it’s own structures and dynamics, against all imposed, alienating laws.” Standing amid the ruins of European civilization at the end of WWII, Tillich believed it was the champions of Heteronomy and their natural reactionary opposites – those espousing Autonomy – who were largely to blame for the chaos and destruction wrought as it was upon mankind. Whereas Barth, a fellow German Theological luminary, felt it was the total and unquestionable transcendence of God that had been compromised – Tillich believed it was both this, and the reaction of man asserting his rebellion against theologies both wrong and right. Having been a German Army Chaplain in the trenches of WWI and then watching his books burned in the opening days of WWII; having fled his own country to save his own life – he was painfully aware of realities we ourselves may well have become so sleepily unaware of. Tillich felt that history would merely repeat itself endlessly if Faith continued to divorce itself either willfully or inadvertently from culture; as man would always respond to the same with likewise reciprocity; the very humanity it (the church) would seek to serve – in pursuance of singular realities, it would always oppresses it and harvest an equally tragic consequence. An absolutely critical understanding is that how the church deals with despair – has implication far beyond the individual – but also into the community of the same; into the nation – into the very history of the humanity it may or may not adequately try to address. Tillich spent much of the remainder of his life trying to speak both a Theologian of the scripture and a Theologian of the culture. He strove to try to describe what he termed as “Theonomy:” the integration of the really of infinite faith with finite humanity. Where Barth saw a huge chasm – Tillich saw a vibrant tapestry. He strove to find and write a method wherein both could be true – because we was aware that apart from one another each were lies.

All the fine inner workings of an authentic dialectic theonomy will never be fully written down or adequately described. It will never be completely described or finished; because the interaction of the finite and the infinite is by nature of the exchange an infinite one: there will never be a finished and complete understanding of the full paradox that exists between God and Man. In detailing a Theology of Despair – one consequently uncovers a theonomy of the same: a Theonomy of Despair; we have to incorporate into our theologic and philosophic engagements a proper understanding of the full possibilities of this life- the joyous ones and the tragic; those with both physical and spiritual implications and realities. Christianity should never try to explain away the pain of life – because it risks doing away with the fullness of Joy as well. It should never try to eliminate the emptiness that we feel when we encounter our own humanity – because we will lose sight of the fullness of the divine in it’s relation to us. When we experience the greatest pain and loss – we have a choice to rebel and be autonomous whether it is within the framework of theologic concepts authentic or not – or we have a choice to experience the fullness of God speaking to depths of our despair the heights of divine ecstasy; that we matter to God, that He took on the flesh of these same hands, was mocked, degraded, torn apart, and pierced for you and me. That he died on a cross so that we might live.

 

Despair – Further Towards a Solution, 4; A Scandalous Grace, The ‘Cheap’ and The ‘Furious’

In preceding paragraphs the present writer has exhausted considerable time and verbosity in earnest attempts to clearly define the relational dynamics of things that are seemingly opposite in nature, but both true – and truest when they are together. Numerous examples have herein been given, but the best example in the Christian lexicon of ideas and in the discussion of Despair has heretofore been left out – purposefully – as it warrants an exacting and thorough discussion and analysis lest its full glory and wonder be left with a partial portent: God’s Grace. If we are to attempt to distill the two seemingly opposite natures of God’s Grace – though such an attempt would be limited in it’s value, due to the full complexity and wonder of the term; this essay is, in the end, only a scratch upon the surface of it’s fullness and depth – then these would no doubt be the “expense” and the “Furiousness” of it.

Many Christians and Theological writers live relatively obscure and boring lives – never being confronted with controversy and challenge in terms of anything larger then their own day to day existence’s. One unsuch man – who’s fame grows with each passing generation, made difficult decisions that in the end cost him his very life; walked naked to the gallows and hung by the Nazis in the closing days of WWII: Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was ‘rescued’  by fellow German Theologian Reinhold Neihbur; and joined many of his other theological brethren, Barth, Tillich and others – but felt like he could not abandon those he was called to serve. He returned to Germany, was arrested and eventually hanged. Bonhoeffer understood that regarding certain things there was a distinct cost. His understanding of the grace of God was that it involved a cost as well. Whereas Tillich and Barth looked upon the calamitous despair of the war and came to conclusions, some detailed in previous paragraphs, Bonhoeffer added to these a separate  – yet joined consideration; that though distinct in it reasoning – is without a doubt also one of the core reasons for it’s (the war) occurrence as well: the church had failed to account for the cost of grace and was dispensing it freely and without regard. Without consideration for the necessary ramifications thereof; it had become “cheap” – essentially useless; and a church empowered by cheap grace had in fact become a cheap church – devoid of power and authority. The consequence of this reality had come to have far, far reaching implications.

“Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession. … Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” (The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Throughout this essay, this present writer has explored the various permutations of despair and offered distinct realities in regards to it’s presence in a theological epistemology. No ‘expense has been spared’ in terms of theological or philosophical extrapolation – at least within the fledgling capacity of this present scribbler. Regardless of the inclusion of high-flung theological or philosophical concepts, or the purposeful exclusion of them – were I to radically reedit and excise them; be this presentation complex or simple – this one thing must be central and must be the common crux and focal point of any discussions regarding any issue regarding life in the world or the spirit: we simply must fixate ourselves upon the goal of apprehending an authentic understanding of – in the end – one thing; God’s matchless grace.

Brennan Manning writes

“Justification by grace through faith” is the theologian’s learned phrase for what Chesterton once called ‘the furious love of God.’ He is not moody or capricious; He knows no seasons of change. He has a single relentless stance toward us: He loves us. He is the only God man has ever heard of who loves sinners. False gods – the gods of human manufacturing – despise sinners, but the Father of Jesus loves all, no matter what they do. But of course this is almost too incredible for us to accept. Nevertheless, the central affirmation of the Reformation stands: through no merit of ours, but by His mercy, we have been restored to a right relationship with God through the life, death, and resurrection of His beloved Son. This is the Good New, the gospel of grace.” (The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning, Multnomah, page 22.)

All other religions of the world and secular thought structures eventually fail in attempting to speak to either the Spiritual or the Physical. They fail because they do not have within their toolsets the most powerful of things in within the scope of the entire Universe both known and unknown: God’s undeserved Grace.

Grace is something priceless that comes with a price. It is something that is unconditional but that comes with necessities. It is freely given – but it is not universal. It is everywhere and yet rare. It gives you everything – and asks for everything in return. It is scandalous and costly – and can be understood best when it is approached from the angle of a knowledge of just how much we don’t deserve it, how much it costs, and how wonderfully scandalous and unconditional it really is.

Tillich, in The Shaking of the Foundations speaks of despair and reality that while Grace is undeserved and yet while connected to and defined by our theology; it is -in it’s foundation, something infinite – something beyond our finite abilities: constructions, definitions, ideas – to grasp it; that it is an Adoption of the Finite by the Infinite: the Wholly Other engaged with the Completely Present: there is nothing we can do to deserve it; you are accepted in the depths of your despair regardless of anything and everything.

We always remain in the power of that from which we are estranged. That fact brings us to the ultimate depth of sin: separated and yet bound, estranged and yet belonging, destroyed and yet preserved, the state which is called despair. Despair means that there is no escape. Despair is “the sickness unto death.” But the terrible thing about the sickness of despair is that we cannot be released, not even through open or hidden suicide. For we all know that we are bound eternally and inescapably to the Ground of our being. The abyss of separation is not always visible. But it has become more visible to our generation than to the preceding generations, because of our feeling of meaninglessness, emptiness, doubt, and cynicism — all expressions of despair, of our separation from the roots and the meaning of our life. Sin in its most profound sense, sin, as despair, abounds amongst us.

“Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound”, says Paul in the same letter in which he describes the unimaginable power of separation and self-destruction within society and the individual soul. He does not say these words because sentimental interests demand a happy ending for everything tragic. He says them because they describe the most overwhelming and determining experience of his life. In the picture of Jesus as the Christ, which appeared to him at the moment of his greatest separation from other men, from himself and God, he found himself accepted in spite of his being rejected. And when he found that he was accepted, he was able to accept himself and to be reconciled to others. The moment in which grace struck him and overwhelmed him, he was reunited with that to which he belonged, and from which he was estranged in utter strangeness.

Do we know what it means to be struck by grace? It does not mean that we suddenly believe that God exists, or that Jesus is the Saviour, or that the Bible contains the truth. To believe that something is, is almost contrary to the meaning of grace. Furthermore, grace does not mean simply that we are making progress in our moral self-control, in our fight against special faults, and in our relationships to men and to society. Moral progress may be a fruit of grace; but it is not grace itself, and it can even prevent us from receiving grace. For there is too often a graceless acceptance of Christian doctrines and a graceless battle against the structures of evil in our personalities. Such a graceless relation to God may lead us by necessity either to arrogance or to despair. It would be better to refuse God and the Christ and the Bible than to accept them without grace. For if we accept without grace, we do so in the state of separation, and can only succeed in deepening the separation. We cannot transform our lives, unless we allow them to be transformed by that stroke of grace. It happens; or it does not happen. And certainly it does not happen if we try to force it upon ourselves, just as it shall not happen so long as we think, in our self-complacency, that we have no need of it. Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged. It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!” If that happens to us, we experience grace After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of this experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition, nothing but acceptance. (Excerpt from Chapter 19, The Shaking of the Foundations by Paul Tillich)

To fully understand Grace we must understand what an inauthentic “cheap” grace is in Bonhoefferian terms, yet also understand the unconditional freely given “furious”  love and grace as it is illustrated by G.K. Chesterton – complete with the truth of absolute, undeserved acceptance in Tillichian terms. Here again, are two completely true things – that seem very much to be opposites; dialectical truths – that if we ignore one we break the other, and vice versa.  This understand of the price of costly Grace and the “furious” “acceptance” of the same is not a unity but a tension, no compromise on either side; but opposites held in tension: a true and proper understanding of grace cannot be held without understanding that it both costs you everything and nothing at the same time. To fall on either pole is to compromise. Those who preach merely a “love” Gospel without repentance and without a centrality of the Cross or it’s atonement for sin – preach a lie. Those who teach only a harsh, legalistic version of the same issues preach a lie as well.

Without the notion of a costly, yet free and undeserved Grace – Grace can never authentically speak to despair. And if it cannot speak to despair – it cannot speak to life itself. This tension between the cost – and the free dispersion of it upon the most undeserving of it finds it’s anchor not in a logical argument or craftful prose. It is made real and triumphantly transcendent by nothing but the very blood of God flowing down a tree at a place called Golgotha.

 

Despair – Solutio, Summa Summarum, 5: A Trancendent,Triumphal Despair to Ever Walk in: “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body;” The Intersection of The Despair and Hope of Both Spirit and Physicality: The Cross – “that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us”

2nd Corinthians 4:6-12 says

For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to [give] the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. [We are] troubled on every side, yet not distressed; [we are] perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you.

Ecclesiastes 1:9-10 says

The thing that hath been, it [is that] which shall be; and that which is done [is] that which shall be done: and [there is] no new [thing] under the sun. Is there [any] thing whereof it may be said, See, this [is] new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.

…indeed there is nothing new under the sun – and the ancient heretical notion of Manichaen Gnostic Dualism; that there is oppositional tension between the flesh and the spirit and the flesh rather then a unifying one: that authentic holiness is better defined by the removal and isolationism and social secessionism – is alive and well today as well. “…But life in you” – speaks against this; that we celebrate the death of Christ on the cross speaking to our lives both spritually and physically: a Dialectic Tension that serves us though Immutable Mutual Definement. Manichaen Gnostic Dualism is a false understanding that is itself a heteronomy that the church often engages in and in seeing the despair of humanity from a point of despair results in that same humanity rebelling and reacting in it’s own in a likewise autonomy – there is a subsequent physical divorce that results from the spiritual divorce. Yet in truth, and in the end – the spiritual and the physical are not as far apart in the eyes of God as they are in our own. Both are corrupted – and both are spoken to through the Intersection of Dispair and Hope, Sin and Salvation, The Infinite with the Finite: The Cross. Through Christ – we have hope in the despair of humanity that works joy in the same. Through Christ we have life in the death of our flesh that works a resurrection in the same as well.

“That the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body;” in placing hope in tension with the despair of life we achieve what endless tomes by the greatest of theological and philosophical minds ultimately fail to do: we live in the intersection of the finite with the infinite, with the reality of the truth of God and the humanity of culture, and experience the closest interaction with authentic divine transcendence we as fallen Creatures can, while trapped in this mortal plane, we can both see and understand,  experience and appropriate; something, possibly, that angels in heaven never do – see and experience God’s majesty and power perfected in weakness.

And he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest on me (2 Corinthians 12:9, King James version).

It is my sincere prayer for you, dear friend, that in the time that shall come, when you are encompassed by pain and despair,  that even yet in this present earthen vessel, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of you. That though you be troubled on every side,  that you would be yet not distressed; that though you be perplexed, you would not be in despair; that though you be Persecuted, you would not feel forsaken; be cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.

…That you would never forget the Despair of God that bought and brought you enternal Joy…

For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you.

Amen

“ Wednesday, June 7, 2006 1:00 pm

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you…. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold.. may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. – 1 Peter 1:3-7

This will be our last post from this website and we want to thank you for your prayers and the support you’ve shown throughout this entire situation. We continue to lean on the Lord for our strength and will need your prayers throughout these coming days, weeks, and months. We know and trust that God will take care of us – he is always faithful and will remain so as his Word tells us.

Our final encouragement to all is this: Do not hang on to the things of this world too tightly. Life here is but a vapor and there is an eternity ahead. Consider what God calls us to do – “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where theives break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where theives do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Let us continue to reach out to those around us who need prayer, love, and encouragment. As you remember the Van Ryn and Cerak families, let us encourage you to look to your neighbors as well. God calls us to love.

Within the next 24 hours we will be getting rid of this blog. How the Cerak’s choose to update on Whitney’s progress is up to them.

Thanks again.

Posted by the Van Ryn family.”

(http://lauravanryn.blogspot.com)

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Essay: Calvinian Contestations – 10 theses/responses to “Redefining Arminianism”

October 19, 2006

Essay: Calvinian Contestations – 10 theses/responses to “Redefining Arminianism”

The following essay is a response to an article entitled “Redefining Arminianism” and the corresponding discussion that ensued. The essay/discussion can be found at http://www.challies.com/archives/002139.php
Picture a Calvinist with his “Tulip,” pulling the petals off of it – “He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not….”
Well, seriously and respectfully – what a great discussion! I think that these things should be talked about much more then they are at present in the body of Christ. While I celebrate the so called “Emergent”  emphasis on culture and relativity – I greatly mourn it’s ongoing disregard for having any sense of a Systematic Theology. I appreciate the general attitude of civility that seems to be throughout the before mentioned article; as it seems that some of these discussions degrade to the Calvinists throwing their nose up and crying “heretics!” and stomping off; the only resultant effects being that people involved are wounded and lose hope in the greater glory of the Kingdom – which they should rightfully share with all brothers who affirm Christ and other non-negotiables but should be able to talk with responsibility when regarding ultimately adiaphorous issues. It is my contention that if there was more discussion regarding Systematic Theology in it’s nuances – there would be less disorder in the church in it’s larger proposed constructs; however – because we have ignored fundamentals; we have built systems that are fundamentally broken. There is a lot of brokenness in the church today – and turning a blind eye to it is not the solution; neither is the solution that we are indivisibly perfect in all our preconceptions either. Before we can judge other systems; we have to turn that same eye unto ourselves. But unfortunately –  because we lack a systematic concern in our own theologies; there is a consequential brokenness in regards to certain doctrines and they no longer become “middle things” neither good nor bad – but rather detrimental to the whole health of the body. There are tons of heretics out in the theological world, but I think that it is a term that should be used very carefully and wisely. Mainly because a concern for Orthodoxy/Orthopraxy should inhere within our own selves. We should not be concerned about the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall down the road until we have made it a practice to ever be tearfully on our knees confessing our own brokenness and need for an ongoing reformation in our own church; ever attended to by a desire to be firm and not blown every which way by every whim of Doctrine – but to also live in the dual reality that we ourselves may be living in a time such as Luther; that because of Pride we have established ourselves in mindsets that resist corrections in things done with good intentions but with bad theological results; ones that may be as heretical as anything else perverted elsewhere. It does seem to me that Calvinists seem eager to throw the “Heresy Moniker” at Arminians rather quickly, and you don’t hear Arminians using that word as much to describe their fellow brothers in Christ.  I affirm the ultimate sovereignty of God in His nature, His dynamics, and His interactions with the created – as I hope this response illustrates and will, hopefully, demonstrate that Calvinism demonizes what are in fact weaknesses within it’s own fabric of thought. I hope that I have done this respectfully and with some measure of integrity in regards to an underlying Systematic Theology that is both biblical in nature and not complete alienated from a responsible, biblically-aligned and informed philosophy of thought. I fear a theology based wholly on philosophy (liberalism) – I also fear a theology completely divorced from it (Arch-fundamentalism).

I wanted to throw some things out here, since there are a lot of very astute theological minds in the present mix no doubt more learned then my own; I would greatly enjoy reading the responses/contestations that they generate:

1) There is a danger in perpetually ‘thinking in mono’; there are theological realities that are best described as “tensively dialectic;” opposites that are only true together – throughout the world of theology. The idea that grace is both free and given without any deserving of it (re:Tillich; The Shaking of the Foundations) but not cheap and comes at the cost of repentance/change (re:bonhofferian ‘cheap grace’ notion) and that there is both Justice and Grace manifest in God at the same time are just two of these. I see the whole present discussion of this as involving this truth in many ways. If you isolate a truth from it’s tensively dialectic opposite then you put yourself into error. So called “name it and claim it” prosperity teachers do this as well, and take the truth of “by His stripes we are healed” and separate it from the sovereignty of God. Both are true – God both heals today and is resolutely and unassailably sovereign in the act.

2) The danger of ‘an idolatry of frameworks;’ Calvinists are very quick to retort that their system is all about the sovereignty of God: and this I agree with – it is paramount truth. The problem arises that we create a framework by which we can teach/relate/understand a given truth by creating ‘other truths’ which then positionally subvert the very truths that they propose to elevate. An example of this is Dispensationalism which was created by Scofield as a way of teaching scriptural history and then it was adopted by Darby as a way of teaching truth – and then Warfield took it a step farther with Cessationism. The framework that we create to understand truth can potentially “create truth” itself; and this is functional idolatry. My Aunt – who only had a 6th grade education – once sang Amazing Grace in flawless Korean, as was testified by a Korean lady in the church that day. Did Lucifer himself give my aunt utterance? My mom once attended an AG women’s conference where a blind woman received her sight – did the devil heal her? I don’t think so. Piper would agree with a non-cessationist position; though perhaps not the logic I have outlined here. (listen to his Lloyd Jones lecture in Men of Whom The World Was not Worthy series) (for the record I am an eschatological dispensationalist, not a pheumatologic one)

3) It is a hasty generalization/fallacy to say that God giving free will to the creature diminishes/inherently precludes His own glory/sovereignty; In the closing chapters of his book Knowledge of the Holy Tozer tries to mediate between the two camps of thought in what I find to be a greatly overlooked statement that sums up the way that I feel about the issue; that the sovereignty of God is not diminished in the granting of choice,  but rather the absolute transcendence of it is affirmed in God giving the creature choice. A Calvinist will regard the notion of God giving choice as diminishing sovereignty. The sovereignty espoused by Tozer sets itself higher then that of the standard of the calvinist which could be tarnished by choice. Tozer proposes a transcendent sovereignty that transcends everything and is not afraid nor diminished by choice, rather it is affirmed by the risk that it involves. “A God less sovereign could not afford to give His creature choice.” (paraphrased, I do not have my copy in front of me at the moment) I personally believe that the Calvinian notion of sovereignty-diminished-by-choice has it’s roots in an Anthromorphological Molestation of the Divine: your sovereignty might be diminished but it’s not your sovereignty that we are talking about – it’s God’s and you cannot justifiably quantify/qualify that within the same frame of reference as you can your own; to do this offends the sovereignty of God epistemologically and ontologically. This – to me – is the biggest straw man accusation that is thrown against the Arminian position. Theologically speaking – the sovereignty of the God of Arminianism is untouched by anything. A calvinist qualifies the transcendence of the sovereignty by setting up a situation where it could be compromised. This is itself both an unscriptural and an impossible notion; God is supreme in the universe and cannot be compromised or diminished in any way in any situation. Period. If you create a situation where it is – then that situation exists only in your imagination. The sovereignty of the God of Calvinism is vulnerable to choice; that of the Arminian, impervious to the danger of choice and everything else in the universe. In the classic words of J.B. Phillips – my calvinist brothers in Christ – “your God is too small”.

4) Our ultimate created purpose is to produce Glory/pleasure to God; This is a logical outworking of point number three – that God grants His created creatures free will; because He desires our love freely and that it is in that reciprocal choice to choose Him – out of choice and not slavery – that true honor/glory is rendered unto Him. A slave would have no choice to serve – but we serve a God who is Love out of Love and not slavery. I am told that those familiar with exorcisms and/or who have actually performed them will note that one of things that a possessed individual will often speak when under the influence of a demonic agent is that “God created us this way – because without evil there is no good” Good may be contrasted with evil relationally; but the sovereignty of God is transcendent above ethical/moral positioning (Kierkegaard’s teleological suspension of the ethical) as we might understand them to be. Evil is a result of an abruption from God and it is not the cleaved, oppositional result of “good” diametrically switched – God is not “good,” He is God. Demons and Satan are evil because they rebelled through choice; they were not purposely created to make God appear to be Good. This again sets itself against the sovereignty of God, making it subject in it’s apprehended state to apprehended opposites. This may be true in our mortal apprehensions (evil so that the righteous can be seen) – but they are mortal apprehensions and we have to evoke what one might consider a Van Till presupposition to understand that regardless of anything, the nature of God defines itself outside of anything else. A demon does not exist so that an angel can be an angel. Angels had a choice to rebel and they did and there is no hope for them soteriologically. We rebelled through choice and through choice God gives us a choice to chose again. I grew up in an Assemblies of God church and never did I hear anything else then it was by the sheer grace and power of the Holy Spirit that we even knew we needed God; we are too fallen to even know we are fallen until God reveals that reality to us. That we have the ability to choose comes purely from God. Calvinists make a lot of hay that Arminians supposedly go back to choice and get stuck there; but the truth is that there is an added dimension behind the choice – and that is the Glory and Pleasure rendered unto God through a choice to render oneself to God. It is my firm belief that when every soul stands before the throne and is judged, then God in His justice will replay each and every time that He gave full knowledge of the separation between He and His own creature to the cognition of the judged and made through unwarranted, undeserved grace that same creature aware of the opportunity to reject/accept the presented choice. God will not damn you to Hell; you will have knowingly damned yourself to Hell; and if you are, when you begin to feel the flames of hell, no one in the universe will know more, in that moment, then you – all the expenses and grace of heaven that where freely dispensed and poured out upon you in an unmerited attempt to keep you from that which you are now entering – you will have been shown and made fully aware of what you had long forgotten about before the Great White Throne. An informed Arminian (at least mine, in my background) position is that when you present the Gospel, you are merely being faithful in the articulation; it is the Holy Spirit that does all the work; you do not save a single soul from Hell – God initiates the opportunity, empowers the choice, and completes the work. Unlike the angels that God created, you have captured the heart of God  and He is bereaved that you are separated from Him; and just as you have somehow in the depths of the heart of God wooed Him by virtue of something that cannot be understood or explained, He is calling out to you and pursuing a relationship with you. No one who is damned to Hell will not at least at one point have felt what G.K.Chesterton called “the furious love of God.” When you respond to the Holy Spirit and choose to follow and lose yourself and your own identity in the depths of a God that loves you with a passion that you cannot fully understand or comprehend outside of the enablement of the Holy Spirit -you stoke the passions of that same God and produce Glory and Honor unto Him. The angels that stand before God and say Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God, who was, and is and is to come, do so because they know that He is these things – and that outside of a relationship with Him there is no hope for any angelic nor mortal being. Satan and all is rebellion will ultimately be futile. Glory is produced when you decide.

5) Fallacy of Evil Created to Define Good (included in part 4)

6) The Barthian Soteriological Double Predestination in Christ doctrine. I only saw this briefly mentioned in the discussions – but I thought I’d bring it up as I think that it merits consideration. Barth is sometimes falsely accused of being a universalistic by way of the notion that Christ was both elected and rejected of God in our stead; and that it is for this reason that He alone is the only name under heaven by which anyone can be saved. Barth is not saying that everyone is saved by Christ – he is only laying out a soteriologic method giving substance to Christ as being more then just a substitute for man figuratively but saying that He is this also literally. That he was both elected and then rejected when He took our sin upon Him; therefore it is Christ that stands before us having accepted our rejection from God in our stead – but that we must be identified with Him in that process (a confession of faith) as to mark ourselves with His blood upon our lives.

7) Fallacy of conjoined Mortal/Divine Time In a nutshell; Einstein’s theory of relativity; a part of which is the notion that “time” is not an abstract purely mental notion, but an actual quantifiable/alterable part of the physics/(or as we would say; creation) has been proven by flying atomic clocks around the earth for hours and the theory that time would stop at the speed of light was proven as the latency between the clocks flown around at hundreds of miles an hour for days and those presychronized and left on the ground was exactly the miniscule amount proportional to the time they were flying and the closeness to the speed of light at which they were traveling. Basically – they experienced a slowdown relative to the percentage of the speed of light at which they were traveling for the duration they were moving. Though it was in nanoseconds, the reality that time could be changed; for the Christian, serves as a testament that time itself is a part of creation: that when God created you he created your time as well. Understanding that Time is a part of creation and is seen outside of Divine time perhaps might make it a bit easier to see how God can already see and foreknow what that choice that you have made might be. You can play with that all you want in your mind; but at the end of the day your time was created along with you and God sees it’s totality just like he sees you in your totality.

8) Ultimately Vain Attempts to comprehend mysteries and the “otherness” nature and dynamics of God In part 3 of this discussion I use the term a “anthromorphological molestation of the Divine” to describe the act of asserting a mortally-based framework of understanding to force the attributes of God into a mortal-based dynamic; to where God has to be like us and act like us; subordinate and vulnerable to the dynamics of our own understanding. While we all will agree this is inherently heretical; not all are willing to acknowledge that some of us gainfully employ and even indirectly assert and defend the notion in the promulgation of our doctrinal formulations. This is not some kind of a neologism that I have pulled out of my blogging hat – rather it was Kant who first made the contestation – perhaps in a larger scope but – with the same understanding, nonetheless. It was he that proposed that there are dynamics that function outside our capacity for comprehension which served as the basis for Kant’s notion of the phenomenal/noumenal states of reality. It has been said of Kant that he destroyed Knowledge to make room for faith; but today we do the opposite of that – we create knowledge with the presupposition that it will assert the validity of faith and/or our theological concepts. This subverts that barrier that Kant espoused that lies before that which we can absolutely comprehend (the phenomenal and what absolutely is, regardless of whether we can comprehend it or not (the noumenal).

Barth’s notion of the “otherness of God” echoed Otto’s assertion of the Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans (the fascinating, fearful mystery of God). You may or may not like Barth in the totality of his theology; but his “Wholly Other” notion is one that must inform all of the process of our theological doctrine building. John Franke, in Barth for Armchair Theologians writes of Barth’s Otherness affirmation in eloquent and telling words.

Barth’s dialectical approach to speaking about God meant that standard assumptions concerning theology in both liberal and conservative traditions, had to be rethought and reconstructed.  Hence, Barth tended to be wary of straightfoward propositional statements about God, revelation, and truth which would suggest that we as human creatures are in a position to speak knowingly about things that are of neccessity, because of the Creator-creature distinction, known only to God in spite of revelation.  Propositions are too static for speech about God.  Yet he also wanted to affirm, indeed felt compelled to affirm, that God had indeed been revealed and made known in Jesus Christ.  Hence it was neccessary to do two things: first, to recognize and acknowledge the inadequacy of human langauge with respect to God; and second, given the necessity and responsibility of human beings to bear witness to their Creator, to rethink and redeploy patters of theological speech that were dynamic and more reflective of a God who cannot be pinned down, contained, or put in a box” (Pg. 48) Barth for Armchair Theologians.  John Franke

Barth’s theology in this regards represented an ongoing struggle to reassert what he felt had been completely lost in the liberal German theological world that he was immersed in. His book Epistle to the Romans marked his break with the tradition and set him on a collision course with both liberal  and conservative traditions of thought; put forthrightly  – any tradition that sought to impose anthromorphologically-centric apprehensions of Divine dynamics.

9) An abuse created in reaction to an abuse is still an abuse Lest I be held as a staunch and indefatigable defender of Barthinian theology – let me assert this. I agree with Tillich that Barth’s radical otherness tended to put God into an ivory tower and impose a harsh separation of Creator and Creature. Tillich responded to his German counterpart by insisting that Culture and Faith are not mutually exclusive, placing Tillich in what is referred to as the school of “Mediating Theology.” Tillich was – however – very insistent that we could not base our understanding of ourselves upon anything inherent to our own capacity to comprehend. Tillich felt like God was balanced between the physical and natural worlds of apprehension; but it was man who was torn between the dynamics as a result of his own brokenness (though I cannot affirm nor deny that Tillich would have used the term Adamic Sin – as I would here) Tillich did side back with Barth in articulating that “the Ground of our Being” could not be based upon anything in this world –  but only on a God outside of this universe. Tillich’s theology does -however – serve as a reaction against the Barthinain isolation of God – but itself, in the response, is guilty of overemphasizing the opposite.  It is an theological abuse that is born out of a reaction to another, in this case oppositional abuse. Other examples of this include the reaction of feminism to abusive patriarchalism, prohibition against the alcohol abuse, and counter racism in reaction to racism. People who work in social services will testify to the pervasive reality of the abused who grow up to abuse their own family; this is a cultural reality that echoes the nature of theological formations as well. The Pelagianism that Augustine reacted against was a legitimate target; but the Calvinism of today that Asserts that Christ did not call nor present himself to the entirety of the Lost of Humanity is an abuse that grieves the heart of God just as much as what it was a reaction to.

In part 1 of this response, I outlined the conceptualization of Tensive Dialectics; ideas that have to be held in tension with one another lest we fall into error on either side; it is again – the failure to hold truths in tension – and rather think only in singularities devoid of their natural-to-our-mortal-minds polar opposites that give us doctrinal problems of false apprehensions. Sovereignty and Liberty may not be able to live within your mortal constructs but it is heretical for you to force divine dynamics to follow the same pathways of your own mind. In God, there are many polar things that operate just fine (as Tillich also pointed out) but that, in your comprehension, tear you apart. In creating a theological response to an abuse that is more often then not a result of a failure to take these realities into consideration; you may, out of you own efforts to “fix the beast” – in failing in the same manner – create a monster of even greater heretical portent.

10) The Inescapeability of God’s Purpose and Design – The Sovereignty of the Order of God. A second and just as tensively-dialectically neglectful notion (point 1) is one that also damningly involves the Anthromorphological Molestation of the Divine (point 3): the assumption that free will somehow controls and manipulates God. Again, as Tozer himself said, the God of Calvinism is a weaker less sovereign God then that of the Christian that holds to a theological view that states that God is both sovereign enough and strong enough to give His created creature free choice without his own strength, plans, and sovereignty being impinged or diminished.  The idea that such that would hold true for us would also hold true for God: the subsequent understanding of God as being governed by like in kind to our own reality principles; subjecting the infinite to the limitatons finite – is spiritual insanity. If anything – the story of salvation is the story of the adoption of the finite by the infinite; the manifestation and affirmation of the ultimate transcendence of the Divine. It was God who first chose to humiliate himself that the Creature might be justified. We somehow then feel that we therefore have the right to humiliate God in our own theological undertakings and understandings. This is a gross and profound mistake. Whereas God is both our father and desires and – in the Christian’s life – enjoys the maintenance of a relationship between the one He first loved and called (us); for us to break the Soteriological (tensively dialectic) linkage between a loving father and an awesome “wholly other” God by falsely assuming that because He manifests himself as a father metaphor, we can also force the whole of the rest of His divine dynamics also into our own metaphors, risks breaking the image of God altogether that we have been given and simply creating a substitute God of our own invention in it’s stead. And this is exactly what we do when we think that our own free will decisions somehow create God’s destiny and force His hand. Whether you reject God or accept him – you are still subject to His plan and he does not abandon you to some sort of structural entropy in relation to His celestial plan. You will be used as a vessel fit for destruction or a vessel fit for celestial destiny and regardless of which – God will be Glorified either in your salvation or in your destruction. (being ADD, as I am, I’m a vessel fit for distraction) But seriously – Pharaoh chose and was used of God in that choice. God does not create evil intentions; He is merely sovereign over evil principalities and the logical outworking of that sovereignty is that – to their perpetual frustrations – they merely serve His own eventual purpose and not their own. They are free – but they are not absolute; and this is a key concept. We are free creatures- but we are not absolute creatures; we are finite. It was Barth that posited that we were never supposed to know of our finiteness. We were always supposed to be in complete communion with an infinite God and always find the whole of our identity and substance in Him. It is a result of our divorce from God that we,  as revealed unto us through the Holy Spirit, come to realize the limitedness of our own created state outside of our creator.

Concluding Thoughts – Pelagianism is a heresy in it’s own right; and it is unfair to characterize all Arminians of having or possessing all the errors inherent to Pelagianism; just as it is unfair to characterize all Calvinists as being stuck up & judgmental snobs who think they are better then everybody else. I disagree with some of the “framework truths” of Calvinism, such as Limited Atonement because they are attempts to build truths to explain and defend other truths such as the foreknowledge and sovereignty of God – and they replace truths that are sometimes opposite of what we want to hear in order to make sense of the mysteries of God. This is the Theologians Conundrum: to present truth that may not always be readily understandable or explainable in such a way as to not add to the truth or molest other existing scriptural truths. A tremendous amount of doctrinal foolishness and division goes on in the Body of Christ for the express reason that this point is ignored by somebody, somewhere, somehow.

May we all be reminded of Paul’s words that “we see through a Glass darkly;” and my cessationist friends; for what it’s worth; “that which is perfect” is not The Cannon – it will be you – standing before God the Father, made blameless and fully justified through Christ in your exalted body – for all eternity. There will be no more mysteries. All will be known. All will be understood. For all eternity.

 

“knocking rust off swords; and off mine own as well”

 
Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination. Artistic paternity is as wholesome as physical paternity. Moreover, it is worthy of remark that when a poet really was morbid it was commonly because he had some weak spot of rationality on his brain. Poe, for instance, really was morbid; not because he was poetical, but because he was specially analytical. Even chess was too poetical for him; he disliked chess because it was full of knights and castles, like a poem. He avowedly preferred the black discs of draughts, because they were more like the mere black dots on a diagram. Perhaps the strongest case of all is this: that only one great English poet went mad, Cowper. And he was definitely driven mad by logic, by the ugly and alien logic of predestination. Poetry was not the disease, but the medicine; poetry partly kept him in health. He could sometimes forget the red and thirsty hell to which his hideous necessitarianism dragged him among the wide waters and the white flat lilies of the Ouse. He was damned by John Calvin; he was almost saved by John Gilpin. Everywhere we see that men do not go mad by dreaming. Critics are much madder than poets.

– G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Chapter 2, The Maniac (http://www.dur.ac.uk/martin.ward/gkc/books/orthodoxy/ch2.html)

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Essay: When Lambs Bite – Consecration, Responsiblity, and Grace; Reflections on Discouragment

October 16th 2006

 

 

Essay: When Lambs Bite – Consecration, Responsiblity, and Grace; Reflections on Discouragment

Revision History:
10/10/2006 – Original Post
10/14/2006 – Expanded and Edited
10/16/2006 – Minor Edits to ‘Protect the Innocent and the Guilty’
8/13/2012 – uploaded to mblipscomb.wordpress

I know that what I post here tends to be on the long side – but I will try to be a bit shorter today for the benefit of those of us who tend to be focus deficient; among whose number I am myself to be ironically counted.

Several days ago I was surfing around the connected links on two sites that I frequent, thirstytheologian.com, and challies.com. I cannot remember ‘how many clicks deep’ or in what direction that I was going at the time – but I came across a fellow who was saying goodbye to a fellow blogger who was checking himself out of the blogging world, and he was noting his fellow bloggers “departing” with much sadness and regret. So out of curiosity I clicked through to the fellows site and found these words under http://metalutheran.blogspot.com/:
I’ve been blogging for a long time. Since any other detail I could put in my profile would either offend somebody or be used as a launch-pad for personal insults, that’s all you get to know.
Judging from the titles to links that went back to his site, many of them were of great interest to me; I clicked on a couple – and these words popped up on the screen:
It’s been fun, but public blogging has come back to bite a few seminarians. I don’t need that
Blog post after blog post had been deleted and been replaced with a telling message; two years worth; whatever metalutheran had posted – nothing remained of them but these words he had replaced all of them with.

I leaned back in my chair – and stared at the words on the screen. I remembered back to a time not too long ago when I collection of websites, Antithesis, Christian counterculture, & discerning reader, sites  that I had thoroughly enjoyed, put together by a fellow by the name of Rob Schlapfer, suddenly went black, with only the words “antithesis is shut down – perhaps for good. I’ve just lost hope.” left on the screen.

At the time, I mourned the loss – as a few others did as well – and I remember looking around and finding an apology offered by Rob to his book selling business’s customers. Apparently there had been some controversy with the online bookstore that he had managed and a great deal of controversy regarding the essays that he had posted on other sites that he had put together. The anger from his customers, his own anger back at them and perhaps his own anger at the way he had responded to his own business difficulties; plus his harassment and subsequent pariah-like status for his changing doctrinal views and subsequent contestations – had pushed him passed a brink that was met with a few mouse clicks, an apology and all his sites suddenly going offline. I read his apology and remembered the times, being in business for 8 years; doing websites for churches and ministries, that we had ourselves been treated horribly by ministries and churches and even the time that one went out of their way with the express purpose of trying to destroy our fledgling web design business by making attempts at dissuading other ministries to not use us. The stand for righteousness and the reason that we separated ourselves from them are too old and complicated and unrelated to this present discussion – but we’d do it that way again each and every time if we had to go through with it again. But the price we paid…the anger we felt when the sun seemingly shone on the reprobates and it just poured like cats and dogs upon us.  All the times we had the right attitude – and all the times that we ourselves fell short.

Not all such incidents involved sexual immorality by a minister and an incurred, resultant attack upon the confrontation thereof – sometimes it just involved merely getting paid in one’s business for very hard work rendered. “But we’re a ministry” are words that echo in your head as you look at the lines of red ever growing in your Quick Books ledger.

Being in a business with a partner can be both a challenging and rewarding endeavor; and my experience with Clinton Robertson, who I am privileged to consider a good friend and co-founder, co-principle, and co-conspirator in BT Intermedia inc, has in no small measure lived up to this expectation. It is interesting to think of all the times that things have worked out one way or another – at times seemingly organically, and others, carefully planned out – that our leadership roles have woven a legacy of tales that may or may not ever be told beyond our own ruminations. Sometimes he’s the dad, and I’m the mom – and sometimes it’s the reversal of that: “I wanna talk to Clinton about this…” – and then there is the good cop/bad cop routine that plays itself out, sometimes almost always never planned or anticipated, and at times reversed, but always with interesting results: the time that a certain Word of Faith/Prosperity Gospel oriented ministry client met with Clinton – I was late from coming from another meeting, and they met with him instead of me – and Clinton told them “we are going to need you to pay this for this and that for that; please understand that we have done this and this and this and that and that and that, already, and at no charge.”

They promptly left the office in a considerable huff; not the first – and neither the last to do so. And these people teach a prosperity gospel; though they were seemingly insulted at paying a servant for reasonable work performed. It is regrettably possible that such a person, potentially blinded by pride, could come to potentially live under a curse; never seeing that they may in fact never experience the fullness of what they preach because they themselves behave in ways that give them the appearance of being first-rate hypocrites in the manner of their own message. God bless and keep them everyone, though – may the ministry of their tight-fisted little hands never cease to prosper; after all, there is no law against being frugal in business; and it is generally smart to look for the lowest bidder in a business transaction; but when we pray for God to manage our blessing, do we make the same request for such? There is something to be said about the reciprocity of blessings given and received – and it is my opinion that that effect takes place just as much in the tip you leave your waitress Friday afternoon as it does with that which you place in the Sunday morning offering plate. Spiritual dynamics have earthly implications; the divorce between the spiritual and physical may be recognized in the minds of gnostic dualists; but that does not mean that it is so in God’s absolute reality….but I digress.

A friend once sat in the waiting room of our offices, waiting for the conclusion of a meeting so we could go and catch lunch, and they, unexpected to us, overheard the profanity-laden conversation of a certain client as we wrapped up the details of a new project with them, shook hands and then signed the contract. They laughed, we talked  – and every other word they expressed themselves with was “f-“this and “gd-“that; to where my friend emerged from the room upon the clients departure almost ashen-faced from the one-way barrage of obscenities that we had inadvertently subjected them to. “Why in the world work with that person?” they asked wide-eyed and visibly bewildered; looking at the walls as though in expectancy of seeing peeling paint. “‘Cause the money’s green, the business is clean, and they aint mean.” I think I remember laughing when I said that – they may have just thought I was being silly. They may have thought I was seriously transgressing the very foundations of my faith to interact with such a profound heathen. I don’t remember if we talked that much about that given incident. What I do remember, in the eight years that we have worked with ‘both that sacred and the secular,’ is that we have been treated like angels by the secular – and profanely by the “sacred.” This is no lie. Rob, my friend, I feel your pain. These Lambs – they bite. Sometimes – they bit very hard.

It’s a dirty, little secret; one that resides beneath the wonderful, gold veneer of Christianity – that a given number of God’s people are chronically pietistically-overblown, overly-judgmental, hateful, bitter, vengeful, graceless people. And there are more words that I could add in there – but I think that you get the gist. So many people are born into the kingdom of God and are both brought in through the efforts of fellow saints (yes, through the work of the Holy Spirit <— gratuitous statement for confirmatory clarification of Orthodoxy) and then they are pushed out through the actions and behaviors of the same. As someone who has a deep and ever growing love for theology and biblical learning, I have a growing concern of those who think doctrine is not really that important – but for as much as I am concerned with systematic theology – I am also concerned not just with Orthodoxy – but also Orthopraxy; Orthodoxy meaning ‘right belief’ and Orthopraxy ‘right action.’  So much of what we see in the church today is a reaction to what I consider an abruption of Orthodoxy/Orthopraxis – there is a gross separation that ought not be; we preach Christ and Christ crucified and yet we live and act and treat others like the devil. But if we also take that long reluctant look in the mirror; can we not see that what bothers us about other people, in our own eyes, in ourselves, with our own – if we give our eyes honest enough vision to see it? I know that I sure can…perhaps it is why I am so keen to see it around me and in my business interactions; this sin you see – it is my own…

I feel that if I took an unvarnished look at my own life and my behavioral tendencies – I have a very theologically-scrappy kind of personality. I am both theologically promiscuous and contentious. And I always love a good fight – seemingly about things that people don’t always want to fight about. I have been terrible in the way I have treated people. I have had to repent and apologize many times. And I hope that through the matchless grace of Christ and the daily renewing of my mind that my taunting ways have been tempered; but I know that at the core of my spiritual personality there is still a theological rottweiler pulling at it’s chains; angry, scarred from past fights, thick-skinned, and spoiling for a fight. I’m different in this way – and I think it’s a part of what I am in the body of Christ. In the business of the world there are diplomats and then there are Marines; and you would not send a Harvard educated diplomat to take out a ‘hard target’ just like you would not send the Marines to the embassy of a rouge state when still perusing honest diplomatic channels.
Once, I was told by a friend that a friend in my posse had been attending a church that has serious aberrations in its orthodoxy – so many that it is not considered Christian by the vast majority of bible-believing organizations; and they further informed me that this had been going on for a while – and now they were thinking of joining the other church. I felt my blood boiling;  this precious friend was being drawn away from our church into a place that I consider to not be a Christian church; one that has a very long chapter dedicated to it in my well-worn copy of Dr. Walter Martin’s Kingdom of the Cults. “What have you been doing about this!?” Does the pastor know about this? Have you told him?” I stood up  – and remember putting my hands in the air and shaking my fists and saying “I can’t believe I’m hearing this…”  I left in great anger and frustration – and after making a few calls and making sure that those in the leadership positions of the church did in fact know what was going on in it’s entirety – I subsequently went on several long drives in my car, most of which ended with me parked somewhere, near tears or crying openly, fuming at the seeming wasted efforts of “diplomats,” in moments, convinced to rebel against the advice of close friends involved to not go in “guns a’ blazing,” and to unload any theological howitzers upon my friend. If there ever was such a time for drastic intervention beyond the careful and concerted prayers that had already been lifted up by of those “diplomacy-oriented” friends of mine – then it was long passed by the time I had found out about it. I still pray for my friend – and I hope that they grow in the knowledge that they have of Christ and the Scripture and that they continue to have an authentic & vibrant relationship with Him and that they eventually come to know that there are so many soteriological travesties in the church that they attend that it’s not a christian church at all: that truth will win out and that regardless of how wonderful the people are there –  that they will realize the ‘church’ they are in is a cult and it’s members are frightfully and demonically deceived by a man who, essentially, fabricated an entire belief structure out of thin air. Possibly there will be a time and a place that someone else will, in God’s timing, place a surgical air strike at just the right place and just the right time – strategic enough to wake my friend up in the right way, with the right grace and the right force to open their eyes. But that is for the Holy Ghost to do – even if someone plays a part as an intercessor or interlocutor. And if you really understand that Kingdom -then you know that it is the intercessor that really does the hard and dirty work – the work that comes long before, and will have been potentially going on for a long time. I pray for that to happen – either by the hands of another “Marine” or another “diplomat” but regardless of how it happens – or by what means of exercise – I have faith that it will. I, nor any of my friends have failed in the eyes of God. I have to believe this, though it is hard to. I trust that this is part of the process for my friend – and in God’s time, truth will prevail within my friend’s heart, spirit and mind. But I came to see that through prayer, and a lot of friends holding me back – begging me not to go on the attack. I did not think nor desire to think any such thing when they first told me.

But I am not always good at keeping myself reserved.

Once, upon hearing that a very old friend of mine was starting the proceedings necessary for a divorce from his wife – in what had become an unhappy marriage, for reasons that I will not go into or elaborate upon here –  I mercilessly tore into him for an hour; and pummeled him with reasons that he had absolutely no authority to do such a thing, that it was wrong, that is was a sin, that he was giving into a generational curse, and that I absolutely refused to acknowledge that it could in any way be the right thing to do in the present circumstance. I repetitively demanded that he tell me that he was going to cease and desist from ending his marriage. I was furious and unloaded salvo after salvo; I endlessly and angrily berated him, I could not believe he was doing what he was doing and that he was going to go through with it. I wanted to grab him by the ears and shake him until he rattled.

I later apologized and had to ask for forgiveness from him. He had been my friend for 28 years – and I did not want the way I had reacted to the disappointment in his divorce to drive a wedge between us. I was wrong; I had manhandled my best friend, when he needed my support – the most I offered only anger, frustration and condemnation. I was wrong in the way I had treated him; and he never once raised his voice or argued with me. In the days before my repentance, I was reminded how I had been treated badly by others in things both my fault and not. I considered that I too – probably had much more had the tendency to be this same way to others, probably much more often then those who had wronged me and treated me badly. I was myself the frustrated, angry condemning christian I was so ironically frustrated and angry with. I took a long hard look in the mirror before I called my friend and asked to meet with him; realizing that perhaps he had sinned, but perhaps I had sinned greater. I took the dog back to it’s cage and tried to once again chain it back up; wondering to myself why I can be so bullheaded and combative at times. Repentance – once again – seemed to have to start with me in my own life before I had any right to speak of such to anyone else.

Rob – I know what it means to be wrong in something and have to repent for it; but that does not make what God has created in me to be wrong or unusable in the Body of Christ. I seek to walk in humility, yet strength: I seek consecration, wisdom and resolute persistence in what God calls me to do. I know I will fail – perhaps catastrophically – but it is the job of the Holy Spirit to use whatever gifts reside in this broken vessel. God created me this way. I should never be ashamed of who and what I am in Christ; even if it is ugly and perhaps disagreeable and unwelcomed at times to other people. It just means that I have to practice extra diligence and extra care and know that in doing what God has called me to do; to speak His truth; I will make people mad and it will be an unpopular action at times. But I should not offend without purpose – if I can help it; though my personality both spiritually and emotionally may at times get the best of me. So for as much as I am eager to fight – I must temper it with peace, grace, understanding, and, quite simply, sometimes just walking away when I could really unload on somebody.

But that does not mean that I don’t spend time fingering the trigger on my howitzer, or polishing “the big red button;” or toying with the notion of untethering the rottweiler within (there are times for everything; even a time to open the cage and unlock it’s chains) – I just know that just like I’m a fighter,  there are others of different yet ultimately congruent and likewise, if not more necessary-to-the-function-of-the-body personalities within the church – there are times for me to do what I do best; to fight, argue and contest; and there are times for other to do what they do best, as well, and most of the time – I play nice, because most of the time – that is what the situation calls for.

The truth is that I am rarely, if even ever, really called “to fight” or to use weapons-grade ideological ordinance, though I might even fancy myself at times capable of such – other times not so much. In my own walk with Christ – I have seen that such militancy was in fact placed within my heart and my personality not as much to be “a theological marine” but for a larger purpose in my life; to push me into a passion for God and His truth – and to fuel me into a place where all of me might be consumed and He remains alone my soul’s desire. I now know more then I have ever known before about the calling upon my life that I have always known was there – but knew so little about.  In some day to soon come I will go back to college and begin the long haul to seminary and beyond. I feel that I am not supposed to pastor; but I have – though it still seems strangely manic-like to say it – a desire to become a bible teacher in a seminary and by the sheer grace of God – a theologian. I cannot think of any pursuit within this world more desirable then to spend ones life and pursuit mediating upon, exploring the depths, and speaking and writing of the majesty of God, Christ and scripture.

But this brings me back around to the stories of people that I have seen on the internet – seemingly beaten out of visibility by the actions of the church and/or fellow believers. If I am called to be a leader in the church, and to stake out, defend – and call into question the theology of the church, not forever as a Socratic layman but eventually from and with the authority of a trained and comprehensively educated theologian; I am well aware that what I am in fact doing – going, by the grace, purpose, and instruction of God – is walking into an ever expanding and rambunctious herd of sheep that will seldom, if ever, really listen to anything I try to tell them, but will rather spend the majority of their time biting the living daylights out of my ever loving hide. The militancy and strength that God has placed within me – the desire to praise truth and refute lies – may find the form of complicated theological arguments vociferously articulated with great passion in an Orthodoxy sense – but in the Orthopraxy sense it will have less to do using my spiritual personality to eagerly and with glee hurl ordinance against the enemy in and against his offenses against the church, but rather to rely upon that other nature that a marine must also possess; to not just fight but also survive the firefight therein. And  – most of that fire will never come from the enemy; it will come from fellow believers. It will come from lambs biting me in the most unthinkable places at the most unexpected of times; constantly and for as long as I may walk amidst the flock. Maybe – I will be a pastor someday. When you study theological figures throughout history you find that many of them would much rather have been studying and writing when they reluctantly took a pulpit somewhere they were practically begged into. Perhaps that is why we even know of them – because they were so emptied out of themselves that all they wanted to do was meditate and write of the Word; that to them the foolishness of preaching was just that. If I am called to ever preach for a given time; may my desires be focused on the Word and God and not on delivering some foolish, probably impalatable-coming-from-me sermon. If I get my priorities right – it would seem natural that if I am in God’s will – I am consecrated – and that if I take that responsibility and give it as much grace as I can, then all the proceeding complications will have no choice but to be both tempered in their pain and short-lived in their duration. If I can get those simple things right – the more complex things that are really merely logical outworkings of the same may be less daunting then I would think them to be.

I know that I can cry in frustration, and can fight when I should not and can’t when I really should. I know that I constantly have to guard against being inappropriately offensive to someone, and have to look and think twice at almost all I say and do because I can be painfully oblivious to saying or doing something hurtful to some precious saint, because, though I am often unexpectedly wounded – I do have – by nature of my spiritual personality – thick skin. This is why – amongst many things – that I think, as I have said before, that I believe that God has called me into teaching, and into what may at times be a confrontational ministry.  But I do not think that being appropriately thick-skinned is a detriment to any ministry – especially pastors – rather, I think that it is an absolute necessity. I would go as far to say that each and everyone planning to pastor, teach, do whatever – you have to prepare yourself for that absolute onslaught of tooth, nail and fist that will sucker punch you at every opportunity, and at every step of the way – and not a bit from anything that could be called itself inherently demonic, rather all from those same gathered around you that you have, in effect – by the nature of your very calling – been called to bleed for – and this, you must know and be retold until you grasp it and gain skin thick enough to withstand it and press on in the Grace and provision of Christ – you shall – at these same hands.

I have read where Rob Schlapfer posted what appeared to be a heartfelt and sincere public apology for the things he apparently said. And I wondered about all the times I had been treated awfully by Christians in business and wondered if it was not by the sheer grace of God that I had never totally ‘gone off’ on somebody, including those times that I had in personal relations. I felt like the reviews that Rob had posted and the essays that he and others had put together were some of the best stuff on the Internet. It is my prayer for Rob – that where ever he is – that he finds the healing that he needs and that as part of that healing, that he be given tough skin; so that he may hope, may further fight and not lose hope again. I hope someday to find him once again out here.

Rob – is there anyone else putting together the community of writings on alcohol, prayer, sexuality and other things like you were once doing; the graceful presentations of which were done through at least halfway decent graphic design? Rob – where is all that stuff? Will you ever put it back up? I’ve been writing a book for the past two years on prohibition and alcohol in the church – and I was in part encouraged to begin writing it when I read your stuff online. Rob – where are “The Assertions” that anyone may ever find them?

—————————
assertion six – http://www.antithesis.com

today’s christian culture
denies the inherent
goodness of creation

Christians no longer affirm the basic goodness of God’s Creation. We are often discouraged or forbidden, particularly if we are in “leadership,” from enjoying things God has placed in this world for our pleasure
things that satisfy our tastes (like wine, foods)
our bodies (like marital intimacy and sexuality)
our eyes (the visual arts, fashion design)
our minds (the study of philosophy, history, literature)
using them appropriately, as the Bible instructs us.

Having embraced a kind of “Gnostic-dualism,” Christians today have forgotten that the Holy Spirit comes, in sanctifying power, to war against what we are as sinners —the bad fruit of our moral rebellion against God. He does not come to war against what we are as human beings, created in the image of God.

Today’s Christian Culture, in forbidding or discouraging the appropriate use of things God has given us to enjoy freely, is guilty of legislating a morality that is largely rooted in cultural taboos.

This type of legalism is not Christian —
to forbid eating certain foods, drinking alcoholic beverages, enjoying marital sexuality, listening to “secular” music, reading literature and philosophy, engaging in other supposedly unspiritual activities —
although it claims to be so.

The Bible alone must rule the conscience of any Christian.
To legislate where God has granted freedom is damnable.
(Matt. 23:1ff., v. 33; Gal 1:6ff.; 1 Tim 4:1ff.)
——————-
Rob, I copied this and pasted it into a section entitled “Voices” that I created in my book on Alcohol because I wanted people who might ever read what I had written to hear your ‘voice’  as well. If my book ever got published – would this link work again by then? Would others be able to read the rest of what you wrote or will they only hear parts of you through others? I go back and read this when I get discouraged in writing because it speaks truth and gives me hope. Rob – I pray  for a restoration of your own, that you may pour out and make available to others more of the same.

It is my prayer for  “Josh S.” – aka Metalutheran of http://metalutheran.blogspot.com fame – that if he is currently residing under a cloud of frustration and anger at ongoing diatribes against him, and/or he is living in fear of some seminary professor of his going through his writings to find something by which he may browbeat him, that he would be delivered also of this, and would be set free of these things, and delivered from such abominable mental chains; that he too might have thick skin. God chastise and rebuke any Seminary Professor hell-bent on beating up students for fun and sport; if you are of such – repent! – you are a reproach upon the Kingdom! I now feel deprived that I have never read anything that he has written; though I gather from what others have posted they were almost always greatly insightful and beneficial. Josh – is the Kingdom diminished without your work? Who are these seminary professors that you now fear? Are they in your denomination or the seminary you attend? Are these the men/organizations/entities that you desire yourself to be molded in the same form of and fashion as – by same hands? Who are these people that have harassed and taunted you to withdraw your writings? Has the Lord given you the gift of the scribe to only have two years of your work and life’s blood poured out – only to be wiped up and discarded? Perhaps you sense this is for but a time – I pray you also sense when it is time to once again – fight. Are there people out there who have been touched by your writings – perhaps even writing books that quote you as well? Do you think that unlikely or impossible? Have you too lost hope? Be Restored, brother!

Interacting with Christians in the business world can be very painful – interacting with the same, theologically, can be even more so; and whereas business is usually conducted at least with some resemblance of gentlemen-like conduct; the work and practice of theology is much more a blood sport at times.

I believe that anyone who is called of Christ to stand and speak truth to the church will be hated, despised, and ridiculed just as they ridiculed Christ. I pray that Rob and Josh and any others out there would be strong, would walk outside of fear, and pursue the enemy relentlessly and never count the cost to academia, profession, or denominational nomenclatures. Without fear or favor – may those of us who are called, never look back once we place our hands to the plow; and those who have been broken by the beatings of fellow brothers – I pray that you too are restored, and that you would find your rightful place back on the battlefield; your hand back upon the plow.

I believe that one of the essential parts of leadership in the body of Christ is be able to know when we should be militant and fight, and when to be graceful and pacifist as it were. When we should fight on – and when we should accept defeat; knowing that even in our defeats, if we are trusting in God and not our own capabilities – that even our mortally perceived failures are in reality spiritual victories. It is important to note that being thick skinned or militant – brave and enduring or whatever – means nothing outside of wisdom; and that wisdom in Christ is the real source for all hope, bravery and strength. These things we must always seek from the foot of the Cross – to seek them anywhere else, even for a moment, is to set ourselves up for spectacular failures and disappointments – or worse yet, successes in things that we were never called to succeed at: and this brings us to another important point that I wish to make in regards to wisdom and how it is manifest: responsibility. So you have the ability to write, and you have a thorough working knowledge of the internet or other means of communication, and you have unlimited time, and/or money, and/or energy to go do something. This is not a license to succeed nor to fail; it is not a license to do anything. Anything and everything that you do must be done with the greatest of care to do so through the grace and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Doing anything on your own and outside of God’s calling and purpose – especially if it turns into something painful because God’s lambs are suddenly biting you, will become completely unendurable. If you are somehow able to endure it – it will only be because you will have gone insane.  The key to effective ministry in challenging situations is to first know that you are doing what God has called you to do, and then to do that first with Responsibility, second with Grace and lastly and hopefully, naturally resultant, in Persistence and Endurance. If you do something outside of God’s will you could be destroyed; or survive and succeed – and worse yet – if you are a gifted writer you could write irresponsibly and start aberrant new theological groups that could take off and run to your eventual horror. Miller – who founded much of Seventh-Day Adventism  – later recanted his Sabbath teachings, stating that he was biblically uneducated at the time; but it was too late. Thousands then, and millions now walk in an error that he gave birth to; first with great passion, later with great regret. Augustine did not believe in miracles in the early part of his ministry; but in his later years he witnessed them and tried to persuade his follows of the reality of such; to which they responded that they liked his previous theological stance and would stick with it regardless of his current one, and to this day if – for example – you told a friend of The Church of Christ denominational persuasion that you had witnessed a miracle, if gracious, they’d tell you you were mistaken; if rude – they’d just tell you that you were crazy.  Pastors and writers – guard every word that you speak and every word that you write. Soren Kierkegaard died thinking that people would remember him more for his trousers then his works, after he was mercilessly belittled and ridiculed by the Danish weekly tabloid The Corsair. He died in 1855 feeling largely inaffective and was unknown for generations outside of Denmark – and then in the 1930’s, Walter Lowrie discovered Kierkegaard and both he and David Swenson presented his thought to the English speaking world and  – some odd 80 years after his death – the old melancholy dane has had ramifications throughout almost every aspect and practice of modern western thought; though in his own short lifetime his most often celebrated work , Concluding Unscientific Postscript,  only sold 50 copies, in his own language, to his own fellow Danes. Never underestimate what God can do with what you have done when you practice consecration, responsibility and grace. He died thinking he was a failure. You may die the same. But it is ultimately up to God’s sovereignty to determine how you life and your legacy is fitted in both your present time and the proceeding generations that may yet still unfold, long after you are gone on to your reward.

Rob & Josh – who are you to assume that you know more about the appraised value of what you have done out here in cyberspace? Is it rude of me to remind you that you are merely a vessel through which God’s sovereign purpose is accomplished? It is wrong of you to relinquish hope or to respond with a fear-based despondency when the affectivity of what you have done is called into question by those who themselves perhaps forget about the sovereignty of God? As writers we write what we can, we pray to be submitted to God’s will, and we practice responsibility and grace and whether or not we are successes or failures is not dependent upon our own capacity for accomplishment. We merely practice faithfulness and surrender the work of our hands to the work of the Holy Spirit and entrust that He alone is capable of rendering any fruition from our endeavors. What a peace to surrender the liability of our own success or security to a sovereign God. What a sustenance to know that He can use our own brokenness and trivial abilities to do His own greatest work.  What a refuge it is to be in the grip of a God who was himself ridiculed, rejected and marginalized when He took on our form and walked amongst us.  The Buddhist does not have these things – nor the Muslim, nor an agnostic/atheist nor whatever. You have something more then anyone else has in the smorgasbord of spirituality the world has to offer. You have an incarnate, crucified, risen, sovereign Christ.

I have a dear and precious friend, who tells me that he feels like he is called to exclusively speak and to write and probably not to pastor anymore. I respect what he says; and hope that the pain of ministry has not darkened his own vision for preaching to a congregation, because I have many friends who often speak of how much they miss and what his time as their pastor meant to them; sometimes in tears. I hope my friend someday pastors again. I hope that he starts writing his own books and not just ones for others. I hope that he too someday is begged back into a pulpit, somewhere, and once again engages himself in the foolishness of extemporaneous & exegetical preaching. Perhaps then others too will hear what he has said – and generations future will then also read what he has written. So many who have so much purpose in the body are beaten down and discouraged by the enemy through the hands of those in the church. They need to be told that that what they did added to the lives of those around them, even amidst the greatest of difficulties and sacrifice, lest they only see the difficulties and the hardships they have endured. They need to be told – lest they retract themselves from view.

Penultimately allow me to add this; as it would seem amiss for me to not include it amongst the things that I have said here. Writing is where it is at. It was a moment of great spiritual clarity when I was given a rebuke by a friend, when – in the presence of a group of my friends – she, in loving but firm words, spoke to me and said that my writings where not “idle scribblings” as I had made mention of them as being, in a preceding statement, just prior to her stern interjection. “They are not idle scribblings; you have a gift – don’t trivialize what God is doing through you.” I always considered my verbosity and long essays to friends as just a personality defect and something to be tolerated by my friends; a ‘benefit’ of being my friend. The idea that I simply love to write and at times feel driven to put my thoughts on to paper is not just a silliness – it is something that God has placed sovereignty within me; and in a gracious but open rebuke, coming from an advanced seminarian, against my self-depreciating comment – I was jolted into a realization that maybe – just maybe – by the grace of God – this nuisance really could be a gift of God – my writing might just be the elusive ministry that I know I have been called to but was heretofore never able to find. I have mediated on this and prayed about it, and it is my heartfelt desire to write and write what I feel God is saying as though no one in the world is reading what I am writing; but to also fully entrust the worth, and the accomplishment of any success to the sovereign Holy Spirit, and to do all of thus with the quiet suspicion, ever more confirmed as I watch and see all the nuances of our modern popular culture, that I know these following things to be true: That, as I have said, I have always felt a calling to service but have never felt a call to preach. I have done missions but do not feel called to be a missionary. I have absorbed myself in theological studies in an anticipation of a still-planned going-back-to-college endeavor to seminary and maybe even theological writing/teaching as a last career in life goal; if by the grace and continued calling of God it happens. But I feel like I will never be a pastor or sit behind a podium – though most if not all pursue such paths to such same ends. Over the last few years I have fallen back in love with writing and have come strangely to feel that I can respectably have the notion to genuinely change the world and whereas I once thought that possible by starting a web design firm – I now am moreso convinced that the wherewithal to much more likely accomplish such a monumental task is not with computer code writing, but in story telling & verse. I have ideas for stories to write that burn inside to find themselves onto paper, eagerly awaiting the completion of present writing projects and while listing to Pastor John Piper’s biographical study entitled Men of Whom the World was not Worthy I was refreshed in my remembrance of the men who moved to obscenely remote parts of the world, lost child after child and wife after wife, and then died of unspeakable diseases – to leave everlasting marks in the Kingdom that persist and endure to this very day, ever expanding from their sacrificial starts. I was meditating on them and thinking of my own miniscule missionary exploits and God told me like a thunderbolt that the way to reach this world was not by dying for a tribe on a remote island but by answering to the call to create artistry -and if you are to die – die pouring out your lifesource into your craft – it is the way that this last generation shall be reached – not by paddle boat, but by song, by story – by the Word; the Word from whence all came and all shall be returned unto the same by same means. And if you be a writer – you are therefore a modern missionary of the Kingdom; a prophet of old and a pastor in like kind of that of your own youth, now in this modern age, in your own right in the same position, now with verse as your podium from which to preach – and by the grace of God be encouraged to pour your self out into your craft, for it is the only way to change the world today. Not by missional endeavors, not by shepherding a flock – but creating the message that will speak life and beauty to that- that which will be reconciled to the same.

suma sumarium – one who is called and anointed by the grace of God to speak artistry and writing to this modern generation holds more power, in our modern culture, then prophets, pastors, and missionaries to effect radical present and future: an artist in the employ of Christ is all these things to the world today. In this generation, an artist is the greatest of and most powerful of callings…
and…

regardless of the power and nature of your calling; be you an artist or an administrator, be you a marine or a diplomat, be you loved or be you a pariah – you have to practice responsibility and grace and above all consecration; and when you are hurt – as you always will be – if you return to these foundations, you will find healing for you pain, so that you can be restored and not live in despair; avoiding the trap of worshiping and wallowing in your own pain, embarrassment and wounding – but rather walking in humility and brokenness that – through Christ – equals a strength that the strongest best-trained marine could never assault.  If you hide yourself, you will miss the touch of a reciprocal blessing; you will not pour yourself out and not ask for anything in return without asking for a return full measure returned upfront. You are called to pour out and give out generously and freely. He who knows what you give in secret will reward you in full openly.
and…

God may use you to speak to the last people you’d ever expect to speak to – perhaps those heathens that nobody else would ever want to interact with  – those that everybody else consider to be intractably unreachable. You never know the fruit of your endeavors when the Holy Spirit is allowed to be both sovereign and responsible in your life and with your abilities. Don’t hide yourself any longer then God hides you Himself!

This I do believe.

The business of ministry has been painful and often devoid of hope for those I have both known and those I have only read of on my screen in blogs and online essays. I speak words of encouragement to all who would read this, especially those who have been beat up and disaffected; and I speak especially to those to whom I believe your gift: writing, composition and artistry, is the most crucial to winning this present world to Christ; to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, you shall endure more attack from both the enemy of the church and from the church itself. But it is you, my brothers and sisters in Christ – in which Christ, I believe, has placed within you the greatest potential for anointing and effective ministry in this present. Do not be faint of heart. Persist, Endure: be restored, be strong, be full of hope. It is said that you either have tough skin and a soft heart in ministry or you will wind up with soft skin and a tough heart. My prayer – for all my brothers in Christ; those that I both know and those whom I have never met – is that you would have the courage to consecrate yourself in all the manners of you ministry – be that writing, preaching, missional-related or serving the body in any capacity; practice responsibility in these gifts; for they are given to you without repentance: you have the power to both create and destroy with them – whatever those things might be – and to temper all with the grace that we see modeled in Christ. And I believe and hope that you shall in this Orthodoxy  see achieved an Orthopraxy by which – when those same lambs, that you love and have greatly sacrificed for, bite you – it will be a little less painful and all the more joyful then you ever thought possible.
Be Restored – Be Strong – Be Full of Hope.

(Much love to those both spoken and unspoken here – )

Grace to you,

8,003 words – oh, well, at least I tried

 

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The Performer and The Musician – Adventures in Existential Debasement

August 18th 2007

Essay: The Performer and The Musician – Adventures in Existential Debasement

The Performer and the Musician; Adventures in Existential Debasement – an Excursion into Three Types of Existential Debasement vs. Authenticity: Personal Identity, Religious Identity, and Societal, with Concluding References to both Soteriological and Societal applications, solution-wise, and a proposed Bonhoefferian rapprochement.

– Or –

I should have learned to play the guitar; I should have learned to play them drums…

_______________________________________________
rap·proche·ment      [rap-rohsh-mahn; Fr. ra-prawsh-mahn]
–noun
an establishment or reestablishment of harmonious relations: a rapprochement reached between warring factions.

[Origin: 1800–10; < F, equiv. to rapproche(r) to bring near, bring together (r(e)- re- + approcher; see approach) + -ment -ment]

—Synonyms reconciliation, understanding, accommodation.
Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

_______________________________________________

mu·si·cian      [myoo-zish-uhn]
–noun
1.a person who makes music a profession, esp. as a performer of music.
2.any person, whether professional or not, skilled in music.

[Origin: 1350–1400; ME musicien < MF. See music, -ian]

—Related forms
mu·si·cian·ly, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

_______________________________________________

ex·is·ten·tial      [eg-zi-sten-shuhl, ek-si-]
–adjective
1.pertaining to existence.
2.of, pertaining to, or characteristic of existentialism: an existential hero.

[Origin: 1685–95; < LL existenti–lis relating to existing. See existence, -al1]

—Related forms
ex·is·ten·tial·ly, adverb
Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

_______________________________________________

per·form      [per-fawrm]
–verb (used with object)
1.to carry out; execute; do: to perform miracles.
2.to go through or execute in the proper, customary, or established manner: to perform the marriage ceremony.
3.to carry into effect; fulfill: Perform what you promise.
4.to act (a play, part, etc.), as on the stage, in movies, or on television.
5.to render (music), as by playing or singing.
6. to accomplish (any action involving skill or ability), as before an audience: to perform a juggling act.
7. to complete.
–verb (used without object)
8. to fulfill a command, promise, or undertaking.
9. to execute or do something.
10. to act in a play: to perform in the role of Romeo.
11. to perform music.
12. to go through any performance.
13. (of loans, investments, etc.) to yield a profit; earn income.

[Origin: 1250–1300; ME parformen < AF parformer, alter. (by assoc. with forme form) of MF, OF parfournir to accomplish. See per-, furnish]

—Related forms
per·form·a·ble, adjective
per·form·er, noun

—Synonyms 1. Perform, discharge, execute, transact mean to carry to completion a prescribed course of action. Perform is the general word, often applied to ordinary activity as a more formal expression than do, but usually implying regular, methodical, or prolonged application or work: to perform an exacting task. Discharge implies carrying out an obligation, often a formal or legal one: to discharge one’s duties as a citizen. Execute means either to carry out an order or to carry through a plan or program: to execute a maneuver. Transact, meaning to conduct or manage, has commercial connotations: to transact business. 3. accomplish, achieve, effect.
Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

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de·base      [di-beys]
–verb (used with object), -based, -bas·ing.
1. to reduce in quality or value; adulterate: They debased the value of the dollar.
2. to lower in rank, dignity, or significance: He wouldn’t debase himself by doing manual labor.

[Origin: 1555–65; de- + base2; cf. abase]

—Related forms
de·bas·ed·ness      [di-bey-sid-nis, -beyst-] Pronunciation Key – Show IPA Pronunciation, noun
de·base·ment, noun
de·bas·er, noun
de·bas·ing·ly, adverb

—Synonyms 1. lower, vitiate, corrupt; contaminate, pollute, defile. 2. degrade, abase, demean, reduce.
Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.

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A couple of weeks ago, I was sitting in an undisclosed coffee shop listening to a band that will go unspecified; not at all unlike any number of capable, performing groups composed of youthful college students, trying to catch their big break with their guitar or drum sticks in hand; kinds that one can find going on about their business at any given location, almost any given time, anywhere in a hustling, bustling city such as the one I am given to inhabit: Chattanooga.

I was sitting there, doing what I usually do in coffee shops, eagerly wearing the keys out on my Macbook pro; and enjoying the music – when the thought occurred to me that it was in fact a halfway decent show that they were putting on. Their performance lasted a couple of hours, and I enjoyed it – as did a number of others, as gauged by their enthusiastic response. But what left an impression on me and set my thoughts in motion – and in part gave birth to this present essay – was not the quality, nor the execution of their music; but rather it was something that transpired, after the performance – after the music was said and done. To me it was an interesting introspection into the macrocosm that is music, at least as we know it today. It was a provocative ray of light that I saw; one which I will endeavor to illuminate across this present page, one which cast the shadow aside and gave clear delineation between two things that are so often assumed to be the same, and yet are so profoundly different: two things that we see all the time – but perhaps, at times, have little appreciation for the difference between: the Performer – and the Musician.

The show had ended and the guys in the band were busy loading their keyboards and guitars up into whatever vehicle had no doubt ferried them to their present locale. I was lost in thought about some arcane detail of an essay that I had been working on, when suddenly – I realized that one of these guys from the band was standing near me and that he was rather angry, as he was in the process of venting his frustration to the guy next to him. Now I profess to be a people watcher – but an audio voyeur, not so much. But the loudness of their conversation was such that the only way I could have completely turned it out would have been to pull my headphones out of my pocket; as I often do in such situations – and wedge them into my ears. But when I realized the apparent source of his contention; it provided me ample excuse to sit there and hear it; at least for a moment or so. To be honest – it rankled me a bit; so much so – that I eventually did put in my headphones – as I did not wish to hear any more of his conversation.

At issue, was the fact that all of the ladies – and I am sure their number included any “groupies” that had come out that night – were going out to do something unique and cloistered in nature; that is to say – it was a ladies night out and no guys were allowed to tag along. The frustration that this dear chap was expressing, was that he had just realized that he was – to be blunt – probably not going to ‘get any’ that night, and this was considerably disconcerting to him. He rambled on in language both vague and assertive as to his ruminations regarding what he had expected and what he now, begrudgingly, had to look forward to for the remainder of the evening; or rather perhaps – what he was certain to miss.

For those unfamiliar with the whole college band scene, allow me to cut rather close to the bone and state things as they simply are, for the record; that is to say, as they actually are, not as they sometimes appear to be. Most guys are in the band – not just so that they can potentially strike a lucrative record deal some day; but rather for reasons pertaining to the presence of a specific female varietal who’s habitat and sexual nature revolve around guys on a stage and the playing of some form of musical instrument in the process. It is a well documented fact: that a guy – regardless of how ugly he is; if he can play at least a given measure of music, given enough alcohol and time – can almost be assured an eventual sexual engagement by at least one present female. This phenomenon is also expressed within the contexts and dynamics of sports players, with great emphasis and frequency in regards to professional basketball players. In speaking with friends who have had contact with such enterprises; I am told that actual stratifications exist between the amorous females that come with such – the details and operations of which are beyond the scope of the present discussion.

But whether you’re a professional basket ballplayer or a rock star, bedding down a wiling groupie for the night – the same dynamic exists on a much smaller but just as explicit scale for the wanna-be rock star down at the local coffee shop/bar/wherever. They likewise have realized that they can get far more then just attention from girls – they can vacate their responsibilities as gentlemen and exert the full force of their blind and mindless lust upon willing drones, most of whom are perpetually eager to have sex with them – just because they can play an instrument and gyrate on a stage.

This young man provided ample evidence that he was wise to this reality and was using every opportunity aided and abetted by his band’s performance to get some nookie. And somehow – this night – here in this coffee shop, this time tested, always reliable way of getting laid had completely vaporized before his eyes. The laws of physics had changed. Gravity no longer worked – the sun had chosen not to shine; girls did not want to drunkenly follow some sweaty musician somewhere to have mindless sex. The world had ceased to work in its regularly predictive way – and he was mad.

At first I was mad too. I mean, this guy had perceivably played his heart out with a tip jar within reach of me. And I had come to the realization that he was not really playing for me, nor for my buck in his jar. He was rather waiting for something else to transpire; perhaps in the back of his car. Then for a moment – I thought to myself; in what manner do I have any right to be angry with this young man? How implausible is it that such a performance would go on within the true liberty of being an actual performance for my own auditory benefit and not their own later subsequent, adulterous / fornicative sexual mores. How deluded and self-deceived I had been. Suddenly – I felt anger towards myself; not that I had more fun writing essays rather then performing music; and had somehow been cheated out of the subsequent benefits incurred thereof – but that I had deceived myself. I had mistaken a performer for a musician.

Within the context of our own lives – we are all guilty, not just of this misallocation of identity in terms of our perception of another individual, but also of our own Existential Identification. Many of us have seen ourselves as musicians or masters of our own respective domains – when in fact we were not artists, or musician, teachers or scholars. We have all – at one time or another – walked in existential self-deceit and assumed an identity contrary to who and what we really are. And who and what we really are is always defined by our practice – not just by our purpose.

Some years ago I heard a sermon by a pastor entitled “The Woman and The Wife” which talked about the difference that a true wife makes in a relationship vs. a woman in a relationship unbound by the covenant of marriage. The principles and ideas entailed thereof and therein – I would not be remiss in assuming that my readers would both know and appreciate. Suffice to say, a man and a woman cohabiting together; say what they may, and try what they will, can never function truly as husband and wife; regardless of their own considerations of themselves as such by virtue of their own volition or that on the part of others.

Sometime later, I would also know a pastor who was guilty of allowing his lust to violate and obscure his responsibility as a Shepherd to his flock; he rather became a wolf seeking to devour and molest that which he was sworn to protect. No amount of theologizing or rationalization can repair the abuse incurred by such an act. Often – such an occurrence is considered “an affair” – and it never, ever is: it is always an abuse.

Each an every night, some young man mounts the light-strewn stage and belts out a few tunes for a couple of hours, somewhere, hoping for a performance of a different ilk elsewhere. He may be good – he may be the best; but if he is doing it so, so he can get laid after the show – he is no more a musician then the pope is Protestant. In separating his identity by virtue of his intent, he radically changes it. He is no longer a musical practitioner of any excellence in stature and capability: he is merely a wannabe; a two-bit fornicator; or worse yet adulterer; wrapped up in a deceptive self-identity that makes him in actuality far from that which he may think of himself as, even what others may think of him as being. Regardless of what he thinks about his ultimate agenda, and regardless of his ability to comprehend the Existential Debasement that he is guilty of – it is not a trivial thing. It is an abuse, not just of his talent, and his own trade; but ultimately it is he who is the farthest from what he intends to be. He abuses himself. He is no longer a musician – he is merely a performer, meaninglessly executing a ways and means for something that ultimately obliterates who and what he presents himself to be. As is the nature of such disorders, wherein we understand the abused become abusers, the oppressed become the oppressors, herein likewise – though perhaps in an inversive fashion – the deceiver becomes the deceived.

Throughout the modern cultural mindset, more and more couples are, with ever increasing frequency, choosing to cohabit before they marry. The arguments are vast and persuasive. So are the stark statistics of long-term successful marriages resultant from such an arraignment. Couples who financially or sexually play husband and wife before they become such, build a foundation based in self-deception; and when the very name of the game is authenticity and self-transparency, the selfishness of taking a person, emotionally, financially, and sexually – when you are supposed to be learning to sacrifice and learning to fall in love with the idea of giving; rather then prematurely taking such dimensions of a person – because the foundations is broken, it is virtually impossible to switch to something that is authentic when everything prior was a lie. Marriage is made upon an attitude of giving, sacrifice and compromise; playing with such always incurs the opposite: taking, selfishness, and steadfast unyielding stubbornness: the consistent enemies of marriage. This too is an abuse. The rationalizations all seem to stick; that you are sharing mutual sexual, financial, and emotional fulfillment; but without the practice and discipline of waiting, saving, and giving – everything you mean well in regards to – it merely becomes more hurt, regardless of ultimate intent. They too become mere performers, as they lose any capability of learning the true music of love. Never having learned the true chords and rhyme of verse, they become sad performers of a broken record of selfishness and self-deceit – that in the end, virtually no one can listen to forever.

The Performer and the Musician, the Woman and the Wife, the Pastor and the Wolf; need their be any further explanation of the brokenness and self-deceit that must be in place to enable a person sworn to protect a parishioner, to reach a place where they could willfully and unashamedly seek to seduce one of their own sheep and consume them in the fires of their own ravenous sexual desire? However grievous and pronounced – grotesque and horrific; it did not happen over night. It most likely did not result from one lie. It began as a lie that nobody noticed; not even themselves. The first debasement of their identity no doubt was as innocuous as that of the Performer  – who mistook himself or herself for a Musician. It no doubt took much less compromise then those who would play at being a family – without the mark and the promise of a marriage covenant between them – could employ. For a pastor to go from Shepherd to Wolf, from Protector to Abuser; the process began with a small deception in Purpose and Identity and grew slowly, but exponentially from there.

The next time you do something; ask yourself what your reward is. If you purpose in your heart to serve and to give and expect nothing in return – save the natural potential fruits of the dedicated practice of such; then you are likely to be authentic to your own Identity. And in being faithful in your Identity – you connect the dots between your Identity and your Purpose; and a life lived in an authenticity of such, is something that the value of and the need of – can never truly be calculated by those around you who are blessed to have you as what you are to them and as what you do to them as well. There is no replacement for such; and it is not a stretch to say that it is the very glue that holds both the Universe and any true hope contained therein together.  And this we can also say with some degree of certainty; that for the believer – that true hope is Christ.

When we survey the Cross and what it means to the believer; there are many things that come to mind. The pain, the sacrifice; the humiliation of a manifest deity upon something that that same God Himself created: a tree. But however great the cost that can be calculated thereof; it was always His Purpose; and it is why it will always be His Identity. We are all called to pick up our own crosses and carry them just as Christ did; and we do this in part, so that we can be faithful in the practice therein – not just in an amorphorously religious essence, but in an actual, existential sense – that is to say; who and what we are, as we really are, match who and what we say we are to others – understanding that without such Existential Authenticity; who and what we are – and what we believe – becomes a lie. And when we set ourselves as testimonies to the reality of a birthed, crucified and risen deity – the factuality of such is hard enough to grasp; it need not to be facilitated into disbelief by a lack of existential faithfulness on the part of those who make claim to it’s inheritance. It is this understanding that drives a wedge between merely being a culturally-mediated Christian, replete with all the attendant religious behaviors and pietistic personifications; and being a true follower of Christ. When there is spiritual authenticity, there is existential authenticity; form does more then just follow the function; Identity and Purpose are aligned with Intent and Action. A large measure of vain religion and the full content of hypocrisy live in the space between: where these two are either together  – or broken and bent apart in whatever manifest measure. This Existential Abruption of Identity and Purpose may start off small – but the ramifications are the same on a diversity of corresponding scales; and whereas one may deem it acceptable to live in such dissonance in degrees; an acceptance of such, always serves as a precedence for a further separation of the two.

But the ramifications of Existential Debasement go far beyond just the religious appropriations that such a concept might take on, as that as when distinctly viewed through a soteriological light. The dynamic of Existential Authenticity pervades all societal strata; indeed it is the bedrock of all good business: be a man of your word – and even the qualifying dynamic of trustworthiness in family, friendship, and societal agencies – such as the military or Government service: give what you say you will give, be what you say your are, do what you say you will do.

This secular appropriation of spiritual realties is what Cornelius Van Til referred to as Borrowed Capital; presuppositions that inhere from within a Judeo-Christian worldview’s mindset; ideas that regardless of how detached in application, can always be found to be rooted back into something much more older and more sacred then readily apparent. For years, religious fundamentalists, both Christian and otherwise, have harkened a veritable doomsday, proclaiming the perpetual misallocation and disavowals of such by a culture they view as thoroughly and persistency detached from the influence of the Sacred. Gnostic Dualist machinations and the attendant fantasies of these ideas always find a connection back to legalisms, both church-wise and politically; through their condescension of the physical – though not always without arguable warrant – which flies in the face of the voice of Scripture. The problem has never been the world or our flesh itself; the problems have always been Adamic Sin and the Fallenness of the heart of man thereof; these things are directly to blame – though in application they are manifest through such strata as culture or addictions. As if it were not enough – that those who should know better so often are found to chase spiritual rabbits and blame their problems on Democrats and Alcohol; Gambling and Movies – there has been an increasing rise of the so called “Village Atheist:” who’s genesis and increasing influence may in part be from Society reacting in terms to a Reactionary Force Dynamic – to counter abuses or counter Reactionary Forces. I am not alone in thinking that Atheists and the spiritually disconnected have always been around. What is arguable, though, is that a misapplied Religious Fundamentalism has given rise to an equally misapplied if not potentially misanthropic Secular Fundamentalism. I say misanthropic, as there are an increasing number of voices out there that consistently and without ceasing berate the need for the spiritual, and rather call for the complete abolition of any spiritual influence by Christianity or any other faith – either organized or disorganized.  The coffee shop I and my laptop frequent is also the home of another writer working on a book which claims to propose a Moderationist or Centrist approach to politics; yet when pressed as to the nature of his solution(s) whereas first, most would say – first, kill all the lawyers – he say’s disband all the churches. He unapologetically finds absolutely no use for any sense of organized religion. His approach, while it may posit itself as being a “Center of the road”, unradicalized approach; actually is a contradiction in terms – as it is merely – at least in this regard – is yet another cleverly disguised apologetic for Secular Fundamentalism. This view, in varying applications, is being heard more and more – as more and more ideologues are trying to make a case for a disavowal of all things spiritual. Such a strident attack on the very nature of a biblically informed view of the compositional state of man – both all Spirit and all Flesh – can only be seen as an attack on the very nature of humanity; for it follows that if man is both all spirit and all flesh, the culture that is manifest by his presence in the world can also be understood to naturally and correctly contain both a spiritual and a physical component in regards to the wholeness of it’s composition. I say misapplied because I stubbornly defend the proposition that true Fundamentalism is a radically different creature from the commonly held assumption of what the term fundamentalist means in terms of a contextual conversations: to be known as a Christian fundamentalist often means (1) one who denies the validity of Textural Criticism, (2) the potential for Metaphor within the Scriptural dialogue, (3) a tongue in cheek hat tip towards disbelief via an embracement of Natural Theology, (4) a distaste for an Existentialist Philosophical interpretation,  and (5) a pervasive tendency towards Gnostic Dualism in regards to cultural understandings.

I hold to the idea that there is an Existential Abruption that exists between the content of what it means to be a Fundament in the modern theological conversation and what others do under the banner of Fundamentalism. The embodied content of the commonly held idea of what it means to be a Fundamentalist is actually the opposite of what a Fundamentalist really is.  For as described above – 1 – everyone acknowledges that A), we do not have any of the originals of the Word of God/Sacred Texts as given, and B, there are factually documented changes, very minor, but still present errors in the text, and C, there is always an appreciable difference in the interpretation of the language between Hebrew/Greek and the Reader’s native tongue. It should be everybody’s lifetime goal to at least learn some Greek and Hebrew so that whatever chasm between the languages exists; they might enjoy some degree of appreciation in terms of the dynamics and nuances of the language. It is for this reason that any student submitting himself or herself for prospective admission to the office of Pastor/Minister will almost always be subject to the daunting challenge of a Hebrew or Greek Class, so that they might be separated by only two degrees, with the removal of the degree of linguistical translation, rather then the three. A further lifetime could be dedicated, and often is, in not just achieving absolute fluency in Hebrew and Greek, but also studying the errors and changes that are known to be present, those both known to be minor – and those proposed by some to be major. The process of Textual Criticism is the process of dealing with these ‘degrees’ and the result process that comes about in the process of seeking some degree f resolution in regards the separation incurred in the implications of the them. To say that you truly ‘love the Word’ is to naturally give oneself to a predisposition for it; it becomes only natural that you would genuinely seek to cast down the wall of having to go through a translator to hear God’s Word in your own language – and that you would eagerly seek the counsel of generations of truth loving, Word theologians, scholars, and pastors and the combines fruits of the labors that lay before us. Those who disavow Textural Criticism do not embrace the Word – they embrace an illusory posit of it thereof, and in effect create their own false idol. Many Christians get tied up in a certain translation of the Scripture – such as adherents to the “King James Only Crowd” – and in doing so reject the further work of biblical scholars achieved since then. They may think that they are demonstrating adherence to the Word by rejecting the further work of Modern Biblical scholars; but they are in effect actually merely worshiping merely a stage thereof that was at the time on the way therein.  Many Evangelicals stumble on Barth’s assertion that the Word becomes The Word when it impacts the human heart. If we allow the scriptures that we have to be seen through the degrees of separation that exist – then we understand this reality to be true; we may hold copies with changes/errors within them that modern scholarship learns more and more about with each passing decade; but it is when that content is written upon the heart of man by God that their influence, affluence and authority are not just proven – but become actual. Textural Criticism is not to be demonized: it is a valid process by which the degrees of separation from the original inspired writings (A), the errors/changes however minor are addressed (B), and the Language Separation (C) can be in parts overcome. Far too many Christians write the entire scope of Textural Criticism off as being unnecessary because ‘the errors that are there are so small and limited as to be of no consequence.” But the only thing to be of no consequence is a blind love and adherence that is resultant from blind exuberance in the fact that such errors/omissions/changes are in fact rare. Their rarity does not constitute a lack of need of their further study thereof. The body of faith can only be advanced by fearless and thorough scholarly work on such matters. After all – we place our faith in Christ and his effectual work in our lives – not on the accuracy of a medieval scribe or a modern day theologian. In Christ I trust – all others are to be studied and reproved if need be in both the physical content of their work – and their ideas.

As also noted, I (2) affirm that not everything is literal within the scripture; and that this is a fundamentalist assertion as well. The conservative principle of Sola Scriptura affirms that Scripture interprets scripture, and as put forth by Brevard S. Childs of Yale, the only genuinely adequate theological method is that of a Canonical Approach. I could chase rabbits here, but will endeavor to not separate myself in further degrees from my own assertions within this essay; but suffice to say – the scripture says that the smoke from Sodom and Gomorrah ‘goeth up for ever and ever’ and yet we know that there is not a hole in the ground over there that is not still smoking since the time of the Ancient World. The scripture says it – but it is expressed in terms of a metaphorical understanding of everlasting punishment. Interestingly enough, the verse that the church has always used as the theological underpinnings for Eternal Punishment also uses this same language. An argument can be made and has been made, that while there may be people burning in hell right now, they may be eventually destroyed when Death and Hell are cast in to the pit. A truly fundamentalist position can accept – via scripture interpreting scripture – that the eternality of ‘ the smoke of their suffering’ may be metaphorical and the condemned may in fact burn for a thousand years – but they potentially won’t burn for eternity. Fundamentalists – in application – would never accept this, but Fundamentalism in actuality – in terms of the Identity and Purpose of the ideological moniker that it is, must allow for the potential of it.

As also noted I (3) do not believe that there is any argument within the physical world that can serve as a foundation for faith, other then that which comes from “the hearing of the Word” – they may be tools, but never foundations. Natural Theology’s adherence and subsistence upon Reason exposes it to the brokenness and potential error of human reasoning and logic; which I should not have equal need for explanation for either. Fundamentalists must deny this both in their own Identity but also in their practice – which they never do. This is not meant as a rebuff of what has been termed the Wesleyan Quadrilateral by the theologian Albert Outler: that doctrinal formulation properly comes from 1- Scripture, 2 – Tradition, 3 -Reason, and 4 – Experience. Reason is a useful tool – but ultimately the only true Foundation is the Word; all the other three are essentially enabling tools that are available for use, but ultimately cannot be counted on for any weight in regards to the self-authentication and the authority of the Scripture.

As noted I (4) find no reason for the disavowal of a need for an Existentialist Viewpoint within the Christian Standpoint and, contrary to what many assert; feel that it brings strength rather then weakness into ones’ epistemology. Many Fundamentalists deny the fundamental truth that we are persons and individuals framed within a mind and a body. The Gnostic Dualist influences (5) make us think so much in terms of our spirit – that we deny our flesh; not just in the brokenness of fallenessess thereof, but also the full range and apprehensions therein. Some Evangelicals and almost all who see themselves as Fundamentalists have a distaste for Existentialism because they find no need for any system of philosophy that gives any consideration of what it matters be and feel like a person ‘in the world’ and being ‘an individual’ within it’s context. Someone who is so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good would certainly have absolutely no use for Existentialist Philosophy by way of their Gnostic Dualism run amok.

A true Fundamentalist sees that the scripture speaks to man both in his flesh and in his spirit; and that the Cross speaks across the compositional state of man – that genuine Christianity is both Spiritual and Earthy. But the division between what is and what is perceived or understood is something that is played out in other dynamics also.  The division between political parties has leapfrogged- or perhaps become merely more visible in it’s own unique way; as there is indeed a huge chasm between those who want the Sacred to rule the day – and those who want the Profane to, and both live in worlds as far removed from reality as the other. Too many Evangelical Christians fail to see that being salt and light to the world around them is a soteriological assertion inherent to the validity of their own faith.

In addition to the Existential Debasement of Personal Identity; as illustrated by the Performer and The Musician, and The Existential Debasement of Religious Identity; as typified by the ‘Religious Fundamentalist who wasn’t’ – there exists a third type of Existential Debasement: The existential debasement of the cultural identity of the role of the Sacred and the Profane.

The dynamics of this debasement have already been touched on and referenced throughout this essay; but it bears it’s own discussion, as it is both pervasive and expanding within our culture. History will bear out the destructive consequence of a radically enforced separation of Spirituality and the Secular in life throughout the ages. It has been attempted – but never been successfully achieved – at least in a long-term fashion. Mankind is intrinsically and undeniable spiritual. The history of all times bears constant testimony of the absolute futility of seeing man as a purely secular creature. The scriptural notion of Man as all flesh and all spirit is perpetually born out in historical regards. Whereas certain schools of thought directly or indirectly put forth a Gnostic Dualist Condescension of the physical in select regards (Religious conservatives banning Alcohol and many other societal conventions, and Certain Neo-orthodox Theologians such as Tillich & Bultman affirming the central need for Christ and his death and resurrection – but denying that it was soteriologically executed, not just in the spirit – but in the physical dimension also) and increasingly militant Secular Fundamentalists deny the need for any involvement in spirituality either organized or purely organic – both are not just blatantly blasphemous but also patently ridiculous. The full abruption and disavowal of the responsible mutual enjoinment of the Sacred and the Profane represents the full progression of Existential Debasement manifest on the Macro Societal level – whereas the illustration of the Pastor who became a wolf – the micro personal. But it follows logically that if the collective individuals within a society are Existentially Debased, personally – that it will follow that the society that they inhabit and ultimately create will follow in like regard and nature – it will also be Existentially Debased. Not understanding our own personal existential dynamics – we follow after illusory and broken ideas of what a whole and natural society looks like – and such a debasement ends on the macro societal level with what it began with on a micro personal level: a small but increasing misappropriation of the Sacred and the Profane.

I use the word profane; because it was the choice of words that Dietrich Bonhoeffer used in the 1930’s- when he was building his own theology in such matters. Bonhoeffer was executed by the Nazis in Flossenbürg on April 9, 1945, in the closing days of WWII for his involvement in the attempted assassination of Hitler. In addition to his work on Ethics and their role within the Christian Worldview – Bonhoeffer was a tireless exponent of the seeming opposite of what we have today. Bonhoeffer felt that there need not be the vast chasm between the Sacred and The Profane; the Church and the World, our spirits and our existential identities. Bonhoeffer perhaps echoed faintly the ideas of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin; in that the world had evolved to a higher point in terms of it’s own advancement – and Modernism was not the end of the sacred; rather it was the embodiment of what has been termed a Post Christian era; or the end of so called Pietical affluence. Bonhoeffer was cut down in his prime by the fascist gallows before he could finish his work. We have scattered, smuggled-out-of-prison unique thoughts on the subject; but are bereft of a completed and coherent assembly of them. What further ideas that never made to paper that could be smuggled out, left this world with Bonhoeffer.

That framework may someday be written; but I have a suspicion that had Bonhoeffer lived, he may have written or perhaps framed his argument under these guidelines discussed herein; an authenticity of Existential States; and a unity in both the Physical and Spiritual as the hallmark of both true Spiritual and Secular maturity.

However he might have structured it – it is a subject that more theologians, philosophers pastors and ministers should steadfastly consider and reflect on. There are issues that are literally beat to death within the theological landscape and they are often issues that rally the troops. A good argument can be made that those things that the church would benefit the most from – are those things that we least speak of or wrestle with. God grant us men who would take up this challenge; I have nothing less then full faith that such a task could never be completed within this generation or any other – but the very foundation and course of Christianity as we know it would both be affirmed and directed in all the ways that we say it should be – but it seemingly really never is.  The irony of it all is, that if such a task, were successful, it would in fact affirm the affinity within Christianity for the Physical/Profane to coexist necessarily with the Sacred; it’s identity would truly be aligned with it’s purpose: that we need the world and the world needs us – that God knew not just how to create the world; but to save it, and we are, after all – better together, rather then separate and purely and mindlessly cotensive. Perusing a Theology of Inhabitation and not just isolation and escapism would surely be a step forward in genuinely manifesting the kingdom of God within our lives, in our faith, and in our witness to a lost and dying, existentially debased and deceived world.

Both brokenness and Healing begin with the church. We should not look on with dismay if the world around us exhibits exacerbated existential debasement; when we ourselves walk in Existential Dissonance. We first discounted the world – before they ever discounted us. We should not take it as a shocking revelation that having failed to be the Salt we are commanded to be in Scripture that we have been trampled under the feet of men respect-wise (Matthew 5:13) and thought not even worthy of the dung pile influence-wise (Luke 14:34). If we make efforts to understand our faith as not just speaking to our Spirits but also all the itinerations of our physicality and Culture – and in doing so affirm a connection between our identity and our Intent – from Foundation to Roof – then we can begin to become authentic salt and light to a world that was born disillusioned with itself, long before it rejected our token concern and non-scriptural inventions.

Bonhoeffer’s vision of the Sacred and the Profane is a Society that is not Religious – but is more then just informed – it is one that has reached the crux of it’s evolution and advancement – having reached passed the relative vulgarities and false hopes of both false religion with it’s frequently abused pietism as well as false secularism with it’s denial of both the need for salvation and existential wholeness that must come from a dimension larger then – yet inescapably connected back to itself.

There are those who will argue that this is all both meaningless if not dangerous speculation; but is must be asserted that with power comes responsibility, and with truth comes danger. We cannot insulate ourselves from danger and error at the same time. To walk in truth – is to accept the valid possibility of both error and danger theologically. Indeed the before mentioned French Priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, wandered deeply into metaphysical, new-age thought; and a devout follower of his works is actually referenced in the book Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Contemporary Americans, written by the late Malachi Martin – with the clear allusion that a fascination with de Chardin’s theology opened up a door that facilitated the eventual demonic possession of one of the individuals who’s case study and subsequent exorcism is related in truly frightening detail and frankness. Recently I was in the office of a U.T.C Religion Professor and my eyes scanned his library, which spanned the full expanse of his wall. I noticed that it contained a ‘demonology/occult’ section; the spines of the books contained therein had lurid, provocative titles splashed across them. I casually noted to the Professor that his library did not seem to have a copy of Hostage to the Devil; and he arose from his chair and with a cautious look, slowly pulled it out from behind the trim of the bookcase. I noted to him that he seemingly had hidden it; and he responded that he indeed had; and he gently tucked it back away and out of sight, saying with half a smile – “and that’s where it belongs”.

And so yes – it is important – that in this daunting task we practice great jurisprudence and exacting caution – lest – as has happened so much in our past, theological history; we react by creating more problems which are worse then those we sought to remedy, and therein risk become a footnote or entire chapter in a book on heresy or on even more unspeakable things.  It would have been interesting to see if Bonhoeffer would have brought greater balance to his criticism of the need for an actual religious presence manifest in a Pietistic methodology; and seen his own theological assertions as being less “post Christian” then as they are often interpreted as being; had he had time to not just give propositions, but to also work them cohesively into a systematic theology that also offered counterbalances and corrections to perceived potential abuses within itself.

There are those who will argue that this is merely Liberalism reinvented – that these methodologies are themselves also tired, failed, and irresponsible. Such an outlook seems very attractive to one who embraces a literalist eschatological framework- or that this whole world is just getting worse and worse and that the Rapture is going to save all of God’s good people from the Devil’s bad. For the record – I am and remain a pre-millennial, Pre-Trib; an eschatological dispensationalist – that’s theologian-speak for a belief in a Rapture event and soon coming Triumphant Return of Christ. But believe as I may, and for as much as I do believe in it, and even hope for and look for it – it does not absolve me from responsibilities to both myself and those around me. It gives me no excuse to cease as caretaker of anything. Both Nature and Technology are based on what is sometimes terms Dialectical Tension; or ideas or forces that are opposite of each other – as is the Sacred and the Profane – opposite ideas that isolated are lies, but are things that become true only when held together. If it rained all the time – or if the sun was always shining; most life would cease to exist. Spiritual Life is the same; it likewise contains an infinitely good God, and an infernally evil Devil.

We are called to both wait and hope for the triumphant return of Christ and yet to be caretakers of Babylon (Jeremiah 29:4-11), and ensuring that we keep a hand in both (Ecclesiastes 7:15-18) goes along way to assuring some resemblance of Existential Authenticity. And if we can be as we are and what we were created to be – both to ourselves and together as a society; then that is a step in a positive direction; so that – if we are a musician – we remain musicians and not merely performers, and if commit to being husbands and wives, we follow through the  process that leads to the convocations of ourselves as such, and if we become pastors and teachers – we have the audacity to be what we are and do what say we will do; understanding that or own existential faithfulness will in some tangible way make progress on a larger scale in many ways the world around us – first in part, and then potentially in whole. And that – could make all the difference.

Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon; Build ye houses, and dwell [in them]; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the LORD for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace. For thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Let not your prophets and your diviners, that [be] in the midst of you, deceive you, neither hearken to your dreams which ye cause to be dreamed. For they prophesy falsely unto you in my name: I have not sent them, saith the LORD. For thus saith the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. (Jeremiah 29:4-11)

In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness. Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise – why destroy yourself? Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool— why die before your time? It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes. (Ecclesiastes 7:15-18)

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