A Thought

The death of metaphysics, the end of an objective “out-there-ness” that we could analyze the “right-here-ness” with, has left us with the realization that all we have are stories, ideologies, and myths.  And even that is its own story, ideology, and myth.  “The knife that Nietzsche slew God with is the same one that he slit his own wrist upon.”  But that’s not my thought…

My thought is this: if relativism is created in the wake of the death of certainty–isn’t fundamentalism also?  Could it be that fundamentalism is the shadow side of relativism?  Doesn’t a person simply feel even more entitled to live into their own story knowing that no one can tell them otherwise?  And isn’t communitarian-ism (the idea of particular communities deciding what is right for them) the democratic form of fundamentalism?

I’m just realizing that there are always consequences for what we buy into…or don’t…

We do not live in a vacuum, as it were.

And I’m still wrestling with Sartre’s “I cannot simply go on a moral holiday.”

Everything effects everything…

This is the Real Magic

Brent said, “Hey–you’re always interpreting your dreams.  Here’s an idea–why not try something else. Why not interpret your everyday life as though IT were a dream, instead.  Say to yourself, ‘A plane’s flying overhead now–what does this mean?’ Say to yourself, ‘It’s raining so much lately–what does this mean?’ Say to yourself, ‘Today I though I had rediscoverd my long lost sister–but it turned out it was some one else instead. What does this mean?’ I think that makes life an easier thing.  I really do.” 

“…We were trained to believe our world wasn’t magic–simply because it was ours.  Why were we taught that magic was something that happened someplace else to other people?  Why couldn’t they have just told us, ‘Kids, this is as good as it gets. So soak it all up while you can’?”    

Taken from ‘Life After God’ by Douglas Coupland

To live more and better

” Today we are in a new phase of humanity. We all are returning to our common house, the Earth: the people, the societies, the cultures and religions. Exchanging experiences and values, we enrich ourselves and we complete ourselves mutually (…)

(…) We go to laugh, to cry and to learn. To learn especially how to marry Heaven and Earth, namely, how to combine daily life with the surprising, the opaque immanence of the days with the radiant transcendence of the spirit, life at full freedom with death symbolized as to join the ancestors, the discrete happiness of this world with the great promise of eternity. And finally we will have discovered thousands of reasons to live more and better, all together, like a great family, in the same beautiful, generous and Common Village, the planet Earth. “

Leonardo Boff–Casamento entre o céu e a terra. Salamandra, Rio de Janeiro, 2001.pg09

Bono Wants Your Soul…

Bono wants to know where your soul is this year.

I come to lowly church halls and lofty cathedrals for what purpose? I search the Scriptures to what end? To check my head? My heart? No, my soul. For me these meditations are like a plumb line dropped by a master builder — to see if the walls are straight or crooked. I check my emotional life with music, my intellectual life with writing, but religion is where I soul-search.

The preacher said, “What good does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” Hearing this, every one of the pilgrims gathered in the room asked, “Is it me, Lord?” In America, in Europe, people are asking, “Is it us?”

Well, yes. It is us.–READ MORE HERE.

The Impossible Now–Part Four

This is the final installment of an introductory position paper I’m calling “The Impossible Now” or “Towards a Theology of the Impossible.”  There are three previous parts.  You can find them here, here, and here.  In this final installment I talk about “the religious question.”  Cheers!

…The im/possible is refusing, as it always does, to be pinned down and become a part of someone’s strategic planning. It will always retreat from our view, from our expectation, from our massaging of what is possible, and back into the realm of the unexpected and truly unimaginable….

The Event of the im/possible cannot be prepared for and at the same time cannot be depended on. These are horrible words to hear for strategic planning! How then do we live with such (non)knowledge? If authenticity, imagination and experiment are the tools that we shape the relative future with, what are the tools we use to embrace the wildcard future—the im/possible? What can we possibly do or say or prepare in reference to something that lies so completely out of our ability to do or say or prepare for? It is for this place, this absurd, unexpected, undeterminable place that a different set of internal reservoirs are needed. Religion, good religion, seeks to address this sort of question.

Having done all to encounter the present in a meaningful way, we are still often left with seemingly meaningless events that continually take us by surprise, disturbing our best laid plans. This realization is, at its highest, a religious experience. It doesn’t require belief in a Personal Origin, or First Cause. But it does require something of us. That much is certain. The “what” is actually rather well-known. The attributes I’m going to mention are in many ways universals. They’re what philosopher’s might call “un-deconstructables,” in that they are ideals—almost always un-fully-realized urges that keep us reaching toward them. The most famous of Jesus’ early followers, the apostle Paul, said it best, in my opinion, “…in the end, these three things remain: faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these is love.”

This simple three word formula provides the basis for the intersection between the im/possible and the real. Faith isn’t so much a mental adherence to theoretical propositions about the nature of truth, but rather living today in the light of the future as it should be. Faith sees the idealized Peaceful Tomorrow, the future where swords have been beaten into plowshares, and tanks made into tractors, and determines to live peaceably today, even while the world is filled with wars and rumors of wars. Faith is an active, aggressive leap forward toward the Good, the Just, and the Best in spite of evidence contrary. Faith is an investment in particularity and locality, refusing to be theoretical and (merely) universal. Faith is always personal, though hardly private.

Hope isn’t the spindly sickly stuff of fantasy; it’s longing contentment. Hope sees the possibility of renewal and resurrection where others see lifelessness or death. Hope believes in commonality, compassion and a desire for connection with the Other where fear informs us that only Strangers and Monsters await on the other side of the unknown.

And love…Love is the greatest of these. Even faith and hope must give way before love. What can be said of love? Those who have known both Love and God have said that God is Love. If God can be spoken of and said to be anything at all, God is spoken of as and said to be Love. The substance of the divine is bound up in love. Concrete love. Active love. Visible, tangible, touchable love. Love, which covers a multitude of sins. Love which walks the extra mile. Love which gives up the second coat. Love which willingly lays down its life for another, for the Other. Love, of whom we may sing a thousand songs.

Our deep need to account for the unaccounted for, forces us to build up, to work on, a different skill set entirely. The things that are simply cannot prepare us for the things that are not. For those sorts of im/possible occurrences we must draw on the deep fountains that lurk at the corner of our being, not quite yet realized, still in formation, and dependent on some previously unforeseen happening to unleash their potential in our lives. In some strange way, these too, carry the stamp of Artistry. Art, in all of its forms, somehow allows to us to look upon, and hint at, those things which we cannot view in a straightforward way. Artistry gives birth to the Encounter of im/possibility which we are able to meet with arms open, acting out of faith, hope, and love.

+ Some Quotes +

A trinity of quotes today. 

One from a scientist. One from a philosopher. And the final from a priest. Somehow they speak to the foundation I sense I’m standing on. It is, to be sure, a weak foundation.  I’m not looking for a strong or obscenely certain one.  The weakness of the foundation is as weak as Love itself–something that calls to us, that draws us, urging us to be fall forward, to take the leap, propelling us ahead, but without force. In the end my affirmation is a simple one, to quote Gianni Vattimo when asked if he still “believed”, he answered “I believe so.”  I believe that I believe. 

You have a choice… I don’t think anyone can prove that God exists or that God doesn’t exist–we’re in an area far to deep for mere proof…a big fundamental question like belief in God (or disbelief) is not settled by a single argument. It’s too complicated for that. What one has to do is consider lots of different issues and see whether or not the answers one gets add up to a total picture that makes sense–but also gives meaning, beauty, depth, joy and hope.  In other words do you like the panting that you’ve just created or not?–Polkinghorne, pg 36

 

Who do I love when I love my God?  I love this question because it assumes that anybody worth their salt loves God. If you do not love God what good are you?  You are too caught up in the meanness of self-love and self-gratification to be worth a tinker’s damn. Your soul soars only with a spike in the Dow Jones Industrial average; your heart leaps only at the prospect of a new tax break. The devil take you.  Religion is for lovers, for men and women of passion, for real people with real passion for something other than utilitarian gains, people who believe on something, who hope like mad in something, who love something with a love that surpasses understanding…but again, we must ask then “Who do I love when I love my God?”(Caputo, pg 2)

 

Dear friend, being beloved is the origin and fulfillment of the life of the spirit.  I say this because as soon as we catch a glimpse of this truth, we are put on a journey in search of the fullness of that truth and we will not rest until we rest in that truth.  From the moment we claim the truth of being beloved we are faced with the call to become who we are.  Becoming the Beloved is the spiritual journey we have to make. (Nouwen, pg 41)

The Impossible Now–Part Three

…we build Emergency Rooms…

Of course this doesn’t stop the im/possible from occurring again. Wildcard futures, the unexpected and unpredicted, keep on happening; but just not in the same way. If we can count on them, they are no longer miraculous; they would have crystallized into just another part of the natural world. The im/possible, in order to remain impossible, will always recede back into the swirling primordial waters of the edge of chaos where it awaits upsetting the apple cart another time, in a different way than before. Going back to the Exodus narrative we see this played out in several places. The absurd provision of manna, a sort of cake-like heavenly food (whose name literally means “what is it” and emphasizes the confusion such im/possible events leave us with) is a seminal occurrence in Hebrew literature. However, the manna’s presence ends as the Israelites cross over into Canaan. Most interpret this to mean that God’s miraculous provision was no longer needed in the light of the bounty of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey, and so God withdrew the needless gift. But in another reading, the manna actually disappears just when they need it and can count on it the most. It’s been forty years that they’ve relied on manna from God-knows-where. In some ways the generation that grew up with manna pudding and manna tar-tar has no concept of how to hunt or gather, let alone cook, anything else. Their conquest of the land will take another entire generation—who doesn’t need a regular stock of food and supplies for such an undertaking, especially one such as this that they have learned to depend on? In a sense, the rug is being pulled out from under the Hebrews’ feet. The im/possible is refusing, as it always does, to be pinned down and become a part of someone’s strategic planning. It will always retreat from our view, from our expectation, from our massaging of what is possible, and back into the realm of the unexpected and truly unimaginable.

The Impossible Now–Part Two

…There’s another kind of future, one we’re even less equipped to face….

Truthfully, the kind of event I’m envisioning can’t be prepared for. We cannot even begin to imagine or plan ahead for this kind of future—the wildcard future. It’s always out of nowhere. Nobody sees it coming. As post-structuralist philosopher Jaques Derrida said, it is the im/possible—the impossible that becomes possible by colliding with our immediate reality. The im/possible is truly unimaginable. And of course, the unimaginable happens all the time. We hear it in the sobs of the newly widowed, “I never thought anything like this could happen.” We observe it on the shocked faces of political pundits as outsider-unaccounted-for’s win primaries and then even presidential races. We feel it from time… to time…to time. In fact we encounter the im/possible so often in life that it’s a surprise that we’re surprised. Of course the examples I’ve used are basic, even bottom of the barrel; they’re somehow incredible familiar events. Truthfully, the reason why they’re familiar to us at all, why we relate to sentiment of the grieving widow or the shocked commentator is because we expect the unexpected. Culturally, we’ve built them in to our routine. Think about emergency rooms. What a strange place. It’s an institution built entirely on the premise that we will be taken off guard. Emergency rooms are a societal contingency plan. They’re an admission of our own lack of control. But even this apprehendible-unanticipatible is not the im/possible I speak of – not really. What I mean is an event outside of the built-in contingency plans; circumstances that overturn the apple cart altogether.

It’s difficult to get concrete with that term, “the im/possible.” Partially this is true because as soon as the unexplained and the unexpected enter our universe, we begin to explain and expect it. The impossible becomes…possible. That’s why I notate it with a little slash separating the word, because it is simultaneously possible and impossible.  Take a Biblical example, something outlandish – the crossing of the Red Sea for instance. In the book of Exodus, as their Egyptian taskmasters and previous owners are in hot pursuit, the children of Israel get stuck between a rock and a hard place. The armies of Egypt are behind them, and a body of seemingly un-crossable water is ahead. What happens next is remarkable. The im/possible occurs. There’s a divine intervention. The wave’s part and dry land appears. The ex-slaves pass through the clearing just in time and the story ends with pursuant horse and rider being swept away by the collapsing wall of water. Miraculous. My point isn’t the “fact” of the event; whether it happened that way or not. Actually my point is the absurdity of it all. These things don’t happen every day. It couldn’t have been expected or anticipated. And while the cries of the desperate would have certainly bordered on polite requests for rescue, no one could have imagined that the Sea itself would have been parted. Within the context of story itself it is a brilliant example of the impossible intersecting reality. What’s more is that the event is not only unexpected but is also unexplainable, at least within the text. The author of Exodus doesn’t attempt to give detailed scientific or historical precedent for the event but allows it to remain teetering on the edge of chaotic disturbance.

Several years ago the History Channel aired a series called “Mysteries of The Bible.” It featured various scholars, historians, archeologists and other experts in the field, each of whom took their best shot at rationalizing a handful of biblical stories such as the one above. I’ll never forget the slough of explanations for the crossing of the Red Sea. There were several of them. One focused on wind power and hurricane strength to clear water, rather instantaneously, from sea floors. Another proposed a case of mistaken identities; the body of water mentioned in the book of Exodus couldn’t have rationally been such a huge expanse as the Red Sea we know of, so it must have been a smaller one, such as the Sea of Reeds. The Sea of Reeds, being rather shallow, could have conceivably dried, in due season, in one place or another, allowing for a mass exodus such as the one described in the Bible. On and on the explaining went, until any logical person watching the show would have been sufficiently convinced that the real crossing of the Red Sea was slightly (or vastly) different than presented in the Biblical rendition, but was therefore entirely possible, conceivable, and explainable. In other words, the im/possible just became possible. As soon as the unimaginable future enters into our reality we immediately reconstruct our thinking to account for it. We rationalize how we could have been prepared (had we only thought far enough ahead or enough outside the box). As this happens an event ceases to be impossible and starts to acclimate into our version of reality. Experts figure out the science behind the magic. Historians matriculate the timeline of crucial events. Theologians and philosophers craft carefully articulated statements of description and prescription. Going back to a previous example, we build Emergency Rooms.

The Impossible Now–Part One

Not all that long ago I wrote an article about approaching life and faith with a sense of artistry. Art isn’t limited to painters and poets—that would be boring! Using a wide lens view, art is really just a practice where ordinary people apply authenticity, imagination and experiment to every corner of our lives. We need each of these elements as we encounter the present moment. Authenticity enables us to say it like it is—just as we feel right now. It’s the honest admission that we don’t have all the answers; we’re all cracked pots. It’s the acknowledgement of our own mundane messes. Imagination is the ability to rethink those obstacles, those immediate realities. Imagination looks at a dilapidated shanty and pronounces it to be a cottage or a bungalow. Imagination reshapes the landscape of the “here and now” with the “could be” and “what if.” Imagination is the engine that drives all great transformations. Finally, experiment is the leap of faith to attempt, to risk, to try—regardless of possible failure. An air of adventure clouds around an experimental person. Experiment lifts our honesty and our fantasy and places them on the solid ground of reality, if only for a moment. These qualities transform plumbers and politicians, mothers and millet grinders, car salesmen and cow herders into true artists.

Futures studies – an interdisciplinary field covering science, business, sociology, and psychology – tells us that there are actually a variety of types of futures. For the most part we’re used to dealing with what we might call “the relative future.” If we change our diet and exercise routine today, something will be different tomorrow as a result. The relative future is the future that is literally relative to what we are doing right now in the present. It’s the dent that we make on tomorrow, and the children of tomorrow, by the choices we make in this moment. In general we don’t consider the relative future enough. We still feel too much like little boats getting tossed around by the hurricane of fate, Sovereignty, or inevitability. Generally speaking, while our culture talks a lot about “freedom of choice” and the power of that freedom, most people doubt that they’re really going to make an impact. Consider the staggeringly small percentage of the population that actually determines a political election. The number one reason people give for not voting is because they don’t believe their vote will make a difference. It’s the same reason why people don’t make adequate retirement plans or start saving income when they’re young or even planning for next week’s agenda. Culturally we have an underdeveloped view of the relative future. It seems too unrealistic; too unrealized; too far away. Organizations and individuals must begin to take the future seriously in the immediate moment and use the qualities of the artist as the road map forward. Authenticity, imagination, and experiment are how we prepare for the future in the present. I believe these tools will be incredibly important tools for navigating the complexity of the 21st century. But I also believe they are inadequate.  There’s another kind of future, one we’re even less equipped to face.

Flame and (im)possibility

This morning I’ve lit a candle in my office, symbolizing “the Prayer” and the “Divine Presence”.  I keep looking at it, watching it flicker back and forth and dance to and from itself.  It occurs to me that the flame is never stationary–it never stays still, it’s never in the same place it just was.  In a sense it is constantly dying and being reborn, some place else.  I think that is somehow like God.  But just as I get my hands around never being able to get my hands around God, I notice something else about this candle.  There actually is a stationary center–the wick.  And it’s odd because that is the very core of the flame but also absent of the fire.  In other words, the place the fire is, it is not.  The absence at the center is the flame.  This is also like God I think. 

Deep faith requires, I think, radical uncertainty.  “Lord I believe, help me in my unbelief” (Mark 5).  True hope, as Paul says, is “hope against hope”.  And real love, not false or easy likability, is unreasonable and absolutely against common sense.  It is patient and kind (when it shouldn’t be).  It keeps no record of wrong and isn’t easily angered (when it should).  Faith, hope, and love…these are the tools that are, as Derrida might say, of the (im)possible.  They are (im)possible instruments through which we embrace the (im)possible God. 

This is where the flame and the flicker are taking me this morning…

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