The devil and a bit of truth

The devil and his friend were walking down the road when they noticed a passer by pick something up off the ground.  The friend wondered aloud as to what the person had found.  Satan replied that they had picked up a piece of Truth.  His friend was chagrin, “You can’t just let people go around finding Truth, can you?  I mean, what kind of world would this be….?” 

The devil laughed out loud and calmly reassured his friend, “Oh don’t worry, they’ll just turn it into a belief…I’ve seen this a million times before!”  Somehow Satan’s friend didn’t look convinced to which the devil addressed his final comment, “Just ask Jesus.  He’s came into the world and embodied Truth and look what happened to him…his disciples just ended up founding Christianity!”

Relieved, the friend mused, “Yeah, I guess you’re right…nothing to be worried about I suppose.”

The Truth Shop

There’s a story that I’ve become fond of recently:

A man was wandering through the famous Portobello Street in London taking in all the bizarre shops and sights when, hardly believing his eyes, he saw a sign over a door front that read: “Truth Shop“.  Needless to say he decided it was best to investigate. 

The saleswoman was extremely polite. She asked what type of truth the man would like to purchase, partial or whole?  The man didn’t think twice about the choice.  No more defenses. No more rationalizations or justifications. No more deceptions.  Only the plain, unadulterated, and absolute truth.  She waived the man to the other side of the store. 

The salesman on that side of the store pointed to the price tag.  “The going rate of absolute truth is very high sir,” he said.  “Well, what is it?”  the man asked, determined to get the whole truth no matter what the cost.  “Your certainty sir. Your certainty.” 

And so the man went away sad. The cost of Truth was to great.  He needed to hold on to the security of his certainties more than he needed the truth he sought.

Much Ado about nothing…

Truth is a slippery thing these days. 

Let’s take science for instance.  Say you wanted to observe and reasonably understand with a level of predictability the collision of two air molecules.  Air molecules are fairly simply, they’re relatively uncomplicated; the event of the collision will occur within a fourteen millionth of a second which means there’s shouldn’t be a mass of data spread out across time.  It looks straightforward enough.  The only problem is that in order to observe and predict this single collision taking place in a fourteen millionth of a second scientists tell us that we would need to take into account an electron (the smallest particle of matter) on the other side of the known universe (as far from HERE as you can go)!  All of this to say that detailed behavior is absolutely unpredictable without absolutely universal understanding.  To neglect even a single electron is to radically misinterpret the information. 

The rather backwards admission that we don’t have universal understanding on any given subject confronts the assertion that we have a leg to stand on with even the smallest of claims.  If I can’t know everything (which seems rather strange to say out loud but DOES form a basic assumption in Western science, philosophy, and certainly religion) then can I really know anything? 

I can feel the fundamental hackles rising. 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing the reality of Reality here…I’m just sniffing around on the subject of our ability to know it.  Not long ago I might have agreed with that to a point but then countered something along the lines of God’s ability to overwhelm our natural inabilities.  What is impossible with man (Absolute understanding) is possible with God.  And because God wishes people to know him he is perfectly willing to break all the laws of quantum physics in order to serve up a detailed knowledge of Godself to us.  Well, that’s how the logic goes–perhaps. 

That argument is believable up to a point.  But it starts to break when we think about our relationship with the toute autres–the wholly Other.  If something is completely outside of the constructs of what we have known or understood it will quite simply pass over us.  If something that was purely unknown to us entered our space we wouldn’t even recognize it.  Our senses wouldn’t have categories for it. Our sight would fail us. The wholly Other would be lost on is, like the ships of the Spaniards on the early South American tribes–invisible. 

This means that when a “new” idea bursts like a flash of lightening from heaven onto us–it’s rarely new.  In some way, no matter how brilliantly or orginally conceived, revelation–especially the revelation of the wholly Other–is dependent on what we’ve already known or understood.  Perhaps another way of saying all this more to the point is that even something like revelation is dependent on our existing categories and concepts.  It’s still perilously linked into us, our dispositions, affinities and affirmations.  That makes it, in my finite mind, still suspect.  If everything that I process or that proceeds through me is stamped with my interpretations and since I do not have “universal understanding” I’m still in the same boat of not knowing anything about…anything…for certain at least…

So where does this leave us? 

If I can’t gage anything with certainty or absolutism am I doomed to a purposeless Nihilistic existence?  Isn’t it exactly as my friend Kevin said, “the trouble with stripping away one’s core belief structure is it can leave you spinning free into an abyss of endless possibility. no right or wrong, no up or down, and no real direction at all. you’re faced with the realization that there may actually be no greater purpose to this life“? 

This is what the exestentialists called “the anguish of freedom”.  Perplexity. Despondency.  Hopelessness.  All these are feelings that flow into this place where nothing seems absolute–where absolute reason has fled out the door and we’re left with no solid ground to stand on–save only sinking sand.  Where is our Rock to build upon?  Faced with a plurality of reality is there any Real to set up shop at? 

Camping out is what True believers are always apt to do.  Jesus, “the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life”, has to gently remind willful Peter to come down off the mountain, to not set up booths on the Mountain of Transfiguration, and to keep step as Truth moved on.  Moses is allowed to see God but only his rear–where God has just previously been.  The Name of God (YHWH) is less than a name and more of a Divine kiss off, roughly translated as “Never You Mind”…”I am that I am.” An earlier patriarch, Abraham, isn’t even given that much. The name he affirms God with is simply rendered as “Most High God”…or the god above the other ones.  For Abraham, while there were certainly other god’s, this one–this Most High God–was the one for him.  And there’s the jumping off point for me.

If I could take a bit of connected rabbit trail….

…let’s talk about love. I fell in love with my wife NOT out of fate…not because I thought that was my destiny…  not because she was the ONLY woman in the world…  In other words, I didn’t hedge my bets.    With love you really can’t be certain.  There aren’t absolutes.  You could wish there were.  You could wish that suffering or death or rejection or betrayal were not elements in love. And what one of us chooses love anticipating rejection or betrayal?  In fact while we don’t have any Certain Assurance or Absolute Reason for choosing our loves we do probably have good reasons… We look at the beauty standing in front of us and say to ourselves, “This One may not be the only one, may not even be the eternal one, but they are the one for me in this moment here and now.”  This is the choice of Love. 

That’s how I see Abraham’s name for God, “Most High God” relating.  It’s a statement of Love.  He’s not discounting the reality of the other gods.  He’s well aware that there are other games in town–but this One–this is the Most high…above all the others…towering over them…the others don’t hold a candle to Most high God. 

In the end this is how we navigate the world. 

Outwardly we approach the Loving Unknown with a degree of artistry. We encounter life with experiment, imagination and authenticity.  We engage the relative future (the future that is related to the present decisions that we make) with the knowledge that we have choice and responsiblity.  Who we are is detirmined (in this case) by the actions we have and will undertake. Make today count. Try. Dare. Risk. 

There are also though encounters of the “Im/possible”.  The unexplained and unprepared for, which then enters our reality and overturns our applecarts.  We couldn’t have even conceived of such an event and it exceeds all of our natural reserves.  It, by its very nature, subverts the paradigms we operated within.  The tables get turned over and the money changers of our ordered way of doing things are reversed.  How do we approach those events?  With the inward resolve of what one ancient philosopher called “the things that remain: faith, hope and love (with the greatest being love)”.  That is how we embrace the wild card future…faith, hope and love…

That’s how we then live…we live with certainty, certainly knowing our uncertain state. 

If in the end our reasons, our certainties, and our absolutes are eroded to deconstructables floating on the refuse heap we are left with the need for far more FAITH than we ever imagined.  If things, including science and philosophy and religion, are all interpretations that we can’t ever be completely sure of or imagine that we have the irrefutable answer to, then we have to take one step at a time walking down a darkened hall. 


Experiments in Truth

More people than I can number or name entrust me with their confession of (non)faith.  Oh, it’s not exactly that they’re faithless.  Actually they tend to be far more faith filled than the religions they are shedding.  They are scared and uncertain, tired or bored, confused or distressed; they don’t readily see the final “vision”; in other words they are the epitome of those who “walk not by sight”…  And, they are done.  They are true believers who have been burned, hurt, torn apart by a thousand inconsistencies.  I love these people.  They are my people. 

Some of my friends, such as I’ve described above, project an image of not caring.  They say, in word and deed, that they don’t care about relgion, spirituality, or faith.  Ironically, they are usually those who care and have cared the most.  It is precisely because they care strongly that they are dissapointed.  We expect much out of that we idealize.  Isn’t that what causes such deep rage as we hear KKK members spout orthodox prayers and pleas towards God?  Isn’t that why its so disgusting when we here of a Catholic priest become predator?  Isn’t that why we feel so disturbed when faiths digress into violent fundamentalism sponsoring Crusades or Jihads?  We expect more.  We expect more from “the friends of God”.  And we should.

Here’s the thing…

Beauty hints at things that lie beyond the edges of our vision.  Something in us, crying out for fair play, demands justice–in ourselves and in the world around.  And, even though we find ourselves isolated and lonely, we long for relationships, for intimacy, for love.  This, truth, beauty, justice, love, is the Divine, is God.  They are not only attributes, they are the Person.  So, the very things we long for, the things are not right with the world of religion and faith, that we wish would change, are the very things that must change if they are to be real and true.  The dissapointment in the lack of those aspects is actually the outcrying for God’s Presence, and perhaps the evidence of the Presence itself. 

In other words…we aren’t alone. 

Our hunger bears witness to the existence of Bread. 

But that’s all jargon, isn’t it?

Beyond that…this is what I’m convinced of.  The person of Jesus described God in a way that is still intoxicating to me. I’m pretty sure he, and his radical way of living that he proclaimed, was on to something.  Life spent in the way of Jesus  changes things…at least I imagine it would.  It’s an experiment I wouldn’t mind testing out.  Ghandi called them “experiments in truth”.  What would life look like if… How would my relationships, the neighborhood, this area, this country, be different if I…

If I what? 

If I took Jesus seriously, if I tried the life he described. 

And then even bigger than that…what if I tried this with others?  Fellow scientists testing our hypothesis. Success or failure. Right or wrong.  Comparing notes. Taking a journey together. 

I read a book about writing recently. The author said an intruiging thing. He commented that writing isn’t something you can theorize about…it’s only something you can do.  You become a better writer by writing. You learn certain skills only by performing them.  I can’t help but think this is the nature of discipleship, of apprenticeship. 

Sadly religion, and as it’s my own faith tradion–Christianity, has detached the positional “beliefs” from the practice.  We believe in justice. We believe in mercy. We believe in love. But we practice dishonesty and greed and war.  Seperate the practice of life in the way of Jesus from Jesus and what do you get?  Dissapointment.  Detachment.  Nothing worth believing in. 

And I think that may just be the point of all this…as my friends confess their (non)faith to me, I’d love to make an invitation.  I’d like to invite them to do something counter cultural…at least it runs counter to the culture of religion most of us have grown up with…. Let’s experiment with truth.  Instead of believing into a new way of living, let’s live into a new way of believing. 

How’s that sound?

A feeling…

Longing for some other language, for some geometry or glossolalia or primal scream, sweeps over me. I have every intention of falling on my knees and speaking L O U D L Y! 

There is a sense, as if I want to scream, “I’ve FOUND IT!!!” But of course what I really mean is that I have lost it.  Any sense of form or container feels like it’s been shattered.  The Beauty cannot be held–and that is why it is a painful and slippery Beautiful.  A song written, hardly authored by me but more or less through me, that I forget instantly and hear traces of melody in all other songs ever written–but never again THAT hymn, THAT anthem, THAT one that I remember.

And so there it is. I have found and misplaced and commit to remembering again that miraculous agonizing praise song to the One, the Mystery, the Singularity, the Beauty, the Anguish of Freedom, the spilling out and the flooding back again, the Hidden, the Other, the Ineffable…and I can’t think of too many words, they spill and splatter like tears on a page.  I sit, transfixed by the Artist and am content to write these words–they will be my kneeling, screaming, crying out in the tongues of men and of angels. And they are only for You.

Entering Mystery

Songs for me, and particularly the personal writing of songs, are a prophetic thing.  I rarely know why I write what I do–they more or less flow out in built in rivers of word and melody.  To be honest, I’ve never felt like I had much control over them; they are their own creatures and I get the opportunity to give birth to something I did not create and then watch it flower into fullness as a spectator and wonderer.  Maybe that sounds strange, it probably does, however it has left me feeling addicted to the process of creation.  I love writing music, mostly because the songs end up helping me understand something of myself.  Lately I’ve come to imagine that I am never so in touch with existing as a created being as when I myself am creating. It is in those moments that I feel fully present, not running off in this direction or that, not distracted by future worries or past grievances. And, I said, there is something prophetic about them. Sometimes, months later I’ll find myself saying, “Aha! That’s what this song was about.”  Interestingly, it will be an event that wasn’t even developed at the time of write, but fits fully and completely.

That having all been said, a song I wrote in the not too distant past has begun to give definition to this blip of my life.  I thought I’d share it with you:

“Entering Mystery, Your Truth and Your Beauty
To have found You and look for You is the paradox of Love
There must be more than this. There must be more than this.

How can you run the race without running? How can you press on without pressing in?
How can my soul be still until I have exhausted myself on You?

There must be more than this.”

complexity/ambiguity DO NOT equate relativism

Whenever people first learn basic concepts of post-modernism I imagine that they have the same type of reactions I’ve had…initial gut reaction against…desperately annoyed at the “relativistic” ooey gooey hippy all roads lead to right-ville sort of attitude…and then they go to the same extremes as I’ve done also–all roads really DO lead to right-ville…everything is equal–they’re all just perspectives and interpretations anyway etc…

But somewhere after the knee jerk reaction or the total and elementary embrace there comes a more nuanced understanding of post modern reality…

I can’t think of any better commentator on this than Pete Rollins–the author of an amazing book called “How (Not) To Speak of God”…he’s a philosopher, theologian, and emerging Christ follower from Ireland.

Anyhow…here’s a quote that was just recently on his blog…you can get the full article here.  But I think it brings a real degree of clarity for those of us who are wondering how to live in the tension of NOT wanting to pander to arrogant absolutism or decadent relativism:

…we must remember that the celebration of doubt, ambiguity and complexity in life (virtues I have spent a great deal of time defending) do not in any way lead to some kind of ‘all narratives are equally valid’ position. While we may wish to avoid the absolute claims of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ with regards to different expressions of faith, that does not mean that we are unable use the best evidence available to ascertain whether a certain expression of faith is ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’, ‘damaging’ or ‘healing’, ‘beneficial’ or ‘detrimental’. Take the example of the scientific method. By applying this scientists avoid the closed idea of a true description of phenomenon in favour of a theory that provides the best description. These theories can range from fragile (e.g. String theory) to almost irrefutable (e.g. gravity), but they are never totally closed. In the same way we can, for example, argue that the faith expressed in documentaries such as ‘Jesus Camp’ and ‘Audience of One’ are deeply unhealthy, not through reference to religious dogma, but through reference to critical reflection.