The Parable of the Three Birds

© Vincent J. Marquis, 2021

(I offer this little story as a change of pace from the usual fare in this blog.)

Once upon a time, Mrs. Eagle, Mrs. Vulture, and Mrs. Crow met around a grizzly bear’s carcass.  The bear had simply died of old age.  Mrs. Eagle ate her fill and set aside some large portions at her feet to take back to her nest for her young.  Then Mrs. Vulture did the same, and finally Mrs. Crow had her turn.  At last, all were satisfied.

Mrs. Crow was a very curious bird, and, setting down a choice piece meant for her nestlings, she turned to ask the eagle, “I mean no disrespect, Mrs. Eagle, but why are you still sitting there observing me and not returning to your nest to feed your eaglets?”

“There is no rush,” replied Mrs. Eagle.  “My mate is there with them and will remain till I get back.  They are in no danger.  Only humans sometimes bother us by climbing our cliffs or trees to steal our eggs.  Some of them like to hunt us for our feathers from time to time as well.  I can never understand why they do this, though, as they do not eat either our eggs or us, nor can they use feathers to fly.  But we really don’t have many dealings with those earth-bound creatures on two legs.  We keep our distance from them as much as possible and try to attract their attention as little as possible.  But they are a curious people and there are always a few who try to interfere with our lives.”

The lively black bird with the twinkling eyes looked at the eagle, thinking to herself, ‘How large and powerful and majestic she is.  I would like to be that big and powerful.  And how high she flies – so high she can see almost the whole world in a sweep.’  Then she turned to Mrs. Vulture and asked, “And you, Mrs. Vulture, do you not have nestlings to return to feed, yet you have remained while I have eaten.”

Mrs. Vulture was not the most astute of the three, so her answers were simple.  She replied, “I always watch where the eagles are, as they always point to food.  My eyesight is almost as good as Mrs. Eagle’s, and my sense of smell is even better.  But she is the better flyer and she sees farther.  I am not a hunter, so I can only wait for a kill someone else makes before I can eat.”

Mrs. Crow was the smallest but the smartest, although she would never say so aloud with Mrs. Eagle, at least.  But Mrs, Eagle was very observant.  She saw much but said little, and waited to consider before she spoke.  She addressed Mrs. Crow.  “Mrs. Crow, I have often seen you and many of your tribe around carcasses.  And I have observed that you are not above stealing the eggs and young of other tribes.  Yet I find you here alone today.  Where is your tribe?  Are you not the scout sent to find the food today?”

The black bird with the twinkling eye hopped onto a convenient branch so she could look Mrs. Eagle more equally in the eye.  “You are very observant, Mrs. Eagle, and are reputed to be wise.  My tribe is not far, and I have only to call them.  But you and Mrs. Vulture are still here, and courtesy says we must wait our proper turn.  Am I mistaken, Mrs. Vulture, in saying that there are also usually others of your tribe who come when you find a carcass?”

Mrs. Vulture answered, “No you are not mistaken.  That is so, but as we are much larger than you, we do not call the whole tribe when we find food.  Each of us must eat much more than would fill your belly, so if there are too many of us, there is not enough for anyone.  So we watch one another, and those who can see and smell a kill go down to it, or follow the one who finds it.  And those who are not there and cannot see or smell or follow must find their own food somewhere else.”

“Very interesting,” observed the crow.  “But do you not also hunt sometimes?  You have the size and strength to do so.”

“We are not a fierce tribe like the eagles,” said the vulture, “but we follow animals we sense are injured or sick and likely to die soon.  If we become a large group circling and waiting, some of us who are more daring may go down and begin to feed even before the creature dies.  I suppose that might be considered hunting of a sort.”

Mrs. Eagle scanned the vicinity and, grasping the portions for her nestlings in her beak, she leapt into the air with a great beating of her wings.  She began to ascend, searching for the updraft she knew was there.  A dead grizzly bear was not her family’s usual bill of fare, but the fishing had not been good of late, so she took what she could get.  She noticed more vultures circling down towards the carcass.  She would tell her mate where it was, and if he came the other birds would move off till he had eaten his fill.  Being the King and Queen of bird-kind had its perks, after all.

Mrs. Crow decided it was time to feed her young and let the rest of her murder in on her find.  If she delayed any longer she risked a severe reprimand from the murder elders.  She also saw the careful approach of more vultures, but crows and vultures rarely quarrelled.  They could share a large carcass, as long as the crows respected the claims of the larger birds.  She remarked to Mrs. Vulture, “You are about to have company from others of your tribe.  You did well to come early.  I am calling in my friends as well.  I will stand watch for them while they feed, since I have already fed myself.”  She took her portions for her nestlings and departed.

Which tribe are you?

Faith and Hope:  Assurance and Conviction, 5

… when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” – Yeshua in the Good News of Luke, The New Testament.

…the battlefronts … are myriad, and … terribly complicated … all tangled up in the historical allegiances and cultural traditions and political interests … the plight of the unborn.  Problems of poverty and housing.  Issues of nationalism and militarism.  Of war and peace.  Of racism.  Of sexism.  Of ageism.  Of consumerism.  Of environmentalism … But I would encourage us all to struggle with these issues in the light of the principle of a consistent life ethic …. We seek out ways the most expressive of the love of God and love of neighbor.

Richard J. Foster, Streams of Living Water.  (Harper SanFrancisco, 1998), p. 175

In 2021, we still face the issues Richard Foster listed in Streams of Living Water in 1998, plus a few more.  The pandemic has graphically illustrated that human civilizations have largely melded and we face a massive global crisis that encompasses all societies and all economies.  Life on Planet earth itself is facing a turning point.

Never have we needed faith, hope, and love (charity as it used to be called) more, and it seems too often that it has rarely been in shorter supply.  Unless we relearn to look in different places and with different eyes than “the usual suspects”.

Masses wonder what there is to really to trust in now.  Will science fulfill the oft-recited litany of broken and ever-amended promises we have been told  keep trusting in?  Will reason and good-will prevail over renewed nationalism and militarism, solve the widening chasm of wealth-distribution and the spiralling crisis of affordable housing?  Will rebooting our economies by a new wave of consumerism be somehow married to the almost point-of-no-return environmental crisis to magically solve both at the same time? 

Everyone with a modicum of observational acumen and common-sense knows the whole system is broken and in need of a radical (as in down to the root) reset.  But fear is threatening to drive out hope and faith – as it so often has.

This brings us to Yeshua/Jesus’ enigmatic question, “When the Son of Man returns, will he find faith on the earth?”  Despite everything laid at the charge of his followers and the churches, Jesus is still a much admired figure.  Some see him as the ultimate “good person”, a well-meaning idealist who talked about seeing the world and one another with a different heart and set of eyes rooted in the way the Creator intended us to be.  If you take away the Creator, was he just platitudinously saying that we can just boil it all down, Beatles-and-Hippy-style, to “All you need is love?”  If so, poor well-meaning but naive Jesus went the way of all deluded idealists.  He ran into the stone-wall of the “Establishment”, who decided such fanatics must be removed before they stir up too much trouble.

That is how the Jesus story is often told these days, at least in the public realm when his name crops up despite all attempts to keep it out.

If that is who he was and what he was all about, it’s incredible that such a simple, harmless, loving fellow just preaching love and acceptance could be so misunderstood.  How could such a meek and gentle soul end up being crucified?  After all, he was just naive in believing that he could recruit a band of counter-cultural rebels and begin to infiltrate the culture of force and oppression and exploitation to change it gradually from the roots up.  Couldn’t the authorities have just let his whole ridiculous “Kingdom of God” movement peter out on its own, as such things always do over time?  Why so drastic a solution as killing him, and then, a few years later, going after those hapless and harmless disciples of his?

As Shakespeare said, “Aye, there’s the rub.”  The problem with this prevalent, popular, secularized version of the Jesus story is that bears little to no resemblance to any of the actual and plentiful historical evidence.  It is a complete, whole-wool fabrication created to bamboozle the historically uneducated into dismissing Yeshua/Jesus, and his movement (of which the Christian churches are the outcome, warts and all) as at best now irrelevant, and, at worst, a conspiracy to manipulate, coerce, and control the gullible.

Trust-faith is always a personal affair, a decision made by individuals based on particular reasons that make a convincing case to the decider.  Such is conviction.  Assurance is a strong confidence that our conviction and trust is well-founded, having weighed the evidence from different perspectives, including the possibility that we may just be wrong in our conclusion, but that that is quite unlikely.  Hope is what flows from this combination for hope looks to the future with new eyes, new understanding, new possibilities and vistas founded on trust-faith, and the conviction and assurance that ground it and give it depth.

Although humans still live in distinct cultures with strong elements of what used to be much more differentiated civilizations, we are moving into an amalgamation and blending such that we can begin to speak of a global culture and civilization. 

Not everyone is pleased with this.  How do we bring so many belief systems together?  How do we overcome suspicion and fear of what “they” are inserting into “our” culture and way of life?  How do we learn to deal with so many disparate concepts of what we are here for?  How do learn to live together in an increasingly interwoven world and society?  How do we overcome the prejudice of racism and all other sorts of animosity flowing from so many sources?  How do we learn not to think, speak, and act from an “us vs. them” mindset?

We return to the central questions of “Who am I?  Where am I?  What’s wrong with the world and with us?  How do we set the wrong right?”  (See also Middleton and Walsh, The Transforming Vision, from which these four essential questions are lifted and slightly modified.)

Can all the proposed answers to these questions be equal?  Is everyone’s preferred way of expressing their own identity based on their answers equally valid?  Is there any best faith-trust answer to the questions.  As to “what’s wrong” we have a pretty good idea about a lot of that.  Foster’s list with a few additions is about as good a list as any.

Does trust in a Creator have any place in finding our way through and out of our crisis?

It is useless to propose another long-drawn-out debate or some sort of symposium on whether God/the Creator and or some sort of supernatural realm exists.  Intellectual argument has not satisfactorily settles this issue in that last “X” number of millennia, and it will not now either.  Many of the best intellects in history have tried their hand at devising an airtight proof for or against the existence of God.

And the secondary discussion that has occupied so much academic (and even personal) energy is: “If a Creator were to exist, would that be a Person or a sort of anonymous Supreme Being/Power/Energy that originated it all but does not manifest any active presence since then?”

To any reader who has followed this blog at all, you know by now that my position is that there is a Creator and that the Creator is a real Person.

Doesn’t millennia of human experience and testimony, apart from speculative intellectual activity, have anything of value to tell us?  Doesn’t personal testimony weigh at all in what is perhaps the most critical issue of our, and every age of human history?

It is not critical only for humans either.  For we now know beyond a doubt that human powers of creation and destruction are decisively changing the face and climate and the very life-sustaining fabric of Planet Earth, the only planet we absolutely know engenders and sustains life of even the most delicate kind.  If we and so much of our planet’s life are to continue to survive, let along thrive, it is critical that we, the human agents, unify to stop and reverse our terrible rape of the great gift we have been given by the Creator.

And to do that, we need to come together in trust-faith, conviction, assurance, and hope.

TO BE CONTINUED 

Faith and Hope:  Assurance and Conviction, 4

Reason, Observation, and Experience—the Holy Trinity of Science.

-Robert G. Ingersoll

Science has made us gods even before we are worthy of being men.

-Jean Rostand

Life does not consist mainly—or even largely—of facts and happenings.

It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever blowing through one’s mind.

-Mark Twain

Citations in Metaphors Be with You by Dr. Mardy Grothe.  (HaperCollins, 2016), pp. 352, 398.

Science serves humanity well in its proper place. 

But as a Supreme Deity, it becomes a monster because it is made in its creator’s image.  Humans created Science which, despite the best of intentions of its secular apostles, has become a religious ideology based on Ingersoll’s Holy Trinity of Reason, Observation, and Experience.  Science moves under its own impetus to reveal all and do all that can be done as proof of humanity’s mastery over reality, over the Cosmos.

Which brings us to Rostand’s piercing insight. 

Science unleashed from its proper moorings recalls the ancient tale of the Garden of Eden.  The tempter, Satan, the Adversary and personification of rebellion against the Creator, slithered up to Eve, the Mother of all living, and said, “Did Adonai (Hebrew meaning “my Lord” instead of saying God’s holy personal name) really say you are not to eat of any tree in the garden?”  The Adversary knew full well that the humans could eat of every tree in the garden except one.  The whole point was to turn their minds away from all that they had to the one thing they were told not to seek.

Eve was hooked and she answered with an expanded interpretation of what God had actually said, “We may eat from the fruit of the trees of the garden, but from the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden God said, ‘You are neither to eat from it nor touch it, or you will die.”

In the original statement, Adonai had said to Eve’s spouse, “Red” (which is what the name Adam indicates), “You may freely eat from every tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  You are not to eat from it because on the day that you eat from it, it will become certain that you will die.”  Not instant death, like a fast-acting poison, but slow deterioration till the body, which was made to live forever in its primal state, gradually breaks down from the destructive effects of continued rebellion and rejection of how the Creator meant things to work.

Incidentally, Adam was there the whole time and overheard the whole transaction.  Like many males of the species, he chose to cop out and passively stand by, letting his woman take the risk and blame if it all went south—the whole time having privately thought about doing the very same thing himself.

Interpreters of this story have found all sorts of reasons to reject it outright or change it into something less straightforward than what it says.  It has been allegorized since well before the time of Yeshua (Jesus), and ever since by theologians.  More recently, and with very shaky foundation, it has been considered a reworking of old Babylonian tales.  Its great antiquity cannot be doubted, even if its historicity may be and has been relegated to mythology by modern scholarship. 

Myths are now understood to have some root in history and experience.  They are attempts to make sense of aspects of human experience and species memory that lie far back in both our origins and our consciousness or, as Freud put it, our “unconscious mind”.  Carl Jung described such things as “archetypes” – the visualized, articulated symbols of primary, elemental parts of who and what we are.

There is great mystery in our self-awareness.  It is inseparable from our knowledge of the very real existence of both good and evil, right and wrong, justice and injustice, selfishness and selflessness—all side by side in each of us, all vying for pre-eminence in our thinking, feeling, and acting.  A famous Biblical verse refers to it this way, “We are fearfully and wonderfully made”.  We are woven together inextricably as a mysterious being which intuitively knows itself both as a self and as a creature of the Creator, whom we cannot escape no matter where we flee and how hard we try.  (To get the full picture, read Psalm 139 in the Hebrew Scriptures, usually called the “Old Testament” by Christians.)

It is a curious thing to observe the contortions human intellect performs in avoiding the Creator in order to come up with plausible reasons for the universal human sense of basic moral truths and ideas about justice and good and evil.  All sorts of evolutionary scenarios are proposed, and none answer in anything like a truly fulfilling fashion.  It is a matter of faith that somehow some great sociologist or evolutionary psychologist or anthropologist will finally close that circle and lay to rest the old “Created in God’s image” fable.

For the simplest, cleanest, most obvious solution is that there is a Supreme Being, a Creator, and a Personal One at that, who has left His/Her signature in and on everything that He/She fashioned.  The problem of God will not go away, no matter how hard we strive to block it and reject it (or rather, Him/Her).

But that question cannot be resolved by Science (the secular atheistic ideology, as explained above) or science (the methodology of discovery and investigation of the Cosmos).  Science as methodology is a tool open to anyone regardless of their ideology or theology.  Science as an ideological position is really a religion without the Creator.  The god within is Humanity as the supreme arbiter.

Faith is the decision to trust.  As with Eve and Adam, our personified primal ancestors, we always have the choice to trust in the Creator who has signed His/Her work everywhere, or in human ability to refashion the Cosmos, the reality of existence as we find it, according to our evolving wisdom and understanding.

It cannot be denied that religions of all kinds—monotheist, polytheist, Deist, pantheist, animist, and whatever other variations of these there may be—have served too often as agents of the unscrupulous and powerful, justifications for oppression, coercion, control, and even genocide.  Godless ideologies have done no better.  As we have seen, they are but reworkings of the religious imperative which is native to humanity.

We cannot help ourselves.  We must strive to understand, to know, to delve into the secrets of existence, and even of our own drive to seek, to search, to know.  It is a compulsion we see at work from Day One of an infant’s life outside the womb, and it is increasingly clear that this drive is present even very early in foetal development prior to birth.

This makes nonsense of the old fable of the “recapitulation” of evolution in the womb  as we behold the marvel of a child being woven in that most secret, sacred place within a mother.

Anyone gazing at the absolute awesomeness of the Cosmos, from its tiniest bits in the microcosm to its most stupendous manifestations in the macrocosm, knows intuitively that it is not an accident.  Our willful blindness to all this is human hubris lusting to throw off the boundaries set upon us as creatures, no matter how amazing and remarkable we may be among all creatures.

Ockham’s Razor has long been seen as a stroke of logical genius in philosophy.  It says that  the simplest explanation for any problem, mystery, or conundrum that accounts for the most known facts and disposes of most of the objections is not only the best explanation, but in all likelihood the true one.  Ockham’s formulation remains the most elegant and most serviceable ever devised for understanding almost anything, inasmuch as human logic can understand.

Mark Twain was not a Theist.  He classified himself as a realist when he said, “Life does not consist mainly—or even largely—of facts and happenings.  It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever blowing through one’s mind.”  He was describing the inner life, how we experience it.  And all of us seek to make sense, to bring order to the “storm of thoughts…blowing through one’s mind.”

In the heat of doing, we may not immediately be processing, but in the moments, in the intervals, in the “in-betweens”, we turn to the innate impulse to understand, to know the “who, what, why, how” of it all.  If we have driven away the Maker and all desire to know and relate to Him/Her, we drift to whatever else will take His/Her place.  In thought-storm we inevitably seek a port.

We hunger for truth, we must trust in something.  Like Ophelia in Shakespeare’s masterpiece Hamlet, we “protest too much” – about our autonomy, our independence, our absolute right to determine for ourselves just who and what we are, even if that means changing that from one day to the next.  And underneath it all we are hollow, empty, adrift in an accidental Cosmos which has no essential reason for being there at all.

Which is how we arrive at our post-modern world and society.

TO BE CONTINUED

Faith and Hope:  Assurance and Conviction, 3

 We are so constituted that we believe the most incredible things; and, once they are engraved upon the memory, woe to him who would endeavor to erase them.

Johann Wofgang von Goethe

Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.

William James

(Photo credit Alamy – The Goddess Reason enthroned by the French Revolutionaries in Paris)

Everyone lives by faith, by trust.  We cannot avoid it.  To live without trust in anything or anyone is despair.  That is why the early secular existentialists conceded that, without God in the picture, humans must still choose something to trust in, to have faith in, in order to give their personal existence enough meaning to keep on living.  (See William James above.)

That is why Nietzsche, the icon of modern philosophy, resolved that, having killed God, we must have the will to assume the godhead ourselves and raise the human race to the pinnacle of wherever evolution may take us.  If we cannot do that, we do not deserve anything more than the fate of the dinosaurs.[1]

As Goethe observed “we are so constituted that we believe…”  Because we have no choice in the matter of believing in something, when nothing reasonable and probable (at least to our way of thinking) presents itself, we will, inevitably, choose “the most incredible things.”  The more outrageous something is at first blush, the harder we have to work to convince ourselves to believe it.  Paradoxically, once we have done that hard work, “once they are engraved upon the memory, woe to him who would endeavour to erase them”.

Hence the unshakeable conviction in the most bizarre ideas of what the USA was about to apocalyptically become of the wannabe saviours of the Great Republic in January 2021.  Hence the ineradicable fables of Holocaust deniers, or of those who say the Lunar landings were all staged, and on and on.  Evidence to the contrary be damned – no matter how mountainous!  “My mind is made up; don’t confuse me with the facts!”

There is more than a small element of fable and fantasy added when the truth-brigades from the other side of the spectrum lump in all those who hold to trust in the Creator and the Christian Story with the outer-limit fringe.  This lumping in even goes as far as saying that, because so many of the conspiracy-addicts seem to come out of fervent religious sects, it must be due to the essentially lunatic nature of religious (and especially Christian) faith in the first place.

Circa 200 CE, the ancient Christian theologian and apologist Tertullian once told the Roman opponents of Christianity: “It is by all means to be believed, because  it is absurd.”  This oft-quoted pithy paradox is almost always taken out of context and fired at Christians as evidence of the absurdity of their faith.  Tertullian was actually side-wise referencing the Apostle Paul’s declaration to some early Greek disciples about how God’s apparent foolishness puts all human-based wisdom and expectations of how reality works to shame.  (See Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapters 1 and 2 in the New Testament.) 

Tertullian’s point was that relying on forms of wisdom which exclude the Creator as the final source of truth maroon the seeker in the empty desert of forever chasing new propositions, forever seeking another savant with the next level of understanding, and forever discovering yet another dead-end road with no food for the empty heart and soul.  A very fair-minded man, Tertullian criticized Christian deviants as vehemently as he took apart the nonsense the secularists of his day spouted against Jesus and his followers.

In the 21st Century West it is a given that science and faith are incompatible and are even at war with each other, at least in public discourse (or lack thereof).  Science purports to be the search for truth and understanding rigorously pursued according to certain “objective” criteria.  The only reason this has been turned into a “war” with faith is that it is not admitted that science requires great faith and that all faith has a foundation that is not primarily “scientific”.  That is the paradox at the core of science. 

Setting up the rules to exclude certain categories of knowledge, experience, and findings a priori proclaims a rigged game which allows the rule-makers to declare the forbidden forms of evidence and conclusions based upon them “out of bounds”.  It is a case of the pot calling the kettle “black” (in a non-racial sense).  True that the Christian Church(es) used to treat secularists in a similar way – as the famous case of Galileo illustrates as we are repeatedly reminded.  But we now find the scientific establishment meting out the same treatment to thinkers and scholars who dare deviate from its established doctrines, especially when it comes to the kind of explanation for any phenomenon science cannot account for.

The assumption in such cases is strictly one of faith according to the dogma of science that someday reason and “science” (a sort of super-entity now possessing a kind of supernatural ability to someday explain what is cannot presently explain) will reveal and explain all.  This smacks far more of theology than of evidence-based conclusions.  “Science” in this way has attained a religious status, a sort of personified stand-in for the ultimate power of human rationality and ingenuity.  We are well on our way to a trinity here.  Science sits on the throne, or perhaps it is Reason.  Like the Father and the Son in Christian doctrine, but supposedly emptied of the mystique and the mystical.

Yet they have betrayed themselves.  The doctrines are there, the dogma is in place, the first two powers or forces of this Secularized Trinity sit on their thrones.  We are just lacking the parallel to the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity.  Where to look?  If the Holy Spirit in the Christian Trinity is the personal power of God in action, then the Holy Spirit of Science is the personal power of the Human Mind.

And there we have it – the religion of science made in the image of the dethroned, defrocked, demoted ideology, theology, and worldview of its great rival which has apparently been defeated once and for all!  Father Science depends on the incarnation of the Son Reason, which operates in power through the Holy Spirit Human Mind!  An astonishing and unwitting reversal and doubtless unintentional imitation! 

“Imitation is the highest form of flattery,” as the saying goes.

But perhaps there is something far more subtle and deep at work here than mere coincidence, or even unacknowledged imitation.  Perhaps it is rooted in the very fabric of reality itself, the signature of the Creator manifesting itself even in the creature’s attempt to wipe the knowledge of the Creator from human consciousness. 

Ultimately, the creature cannot deny its own nature, especially the human creature which, it has been said since time beyond memory, is made in the image of the Creator for the express purpose of personifying and signifying the will and presence of the Creator in the very warp and woof of His/Her manifest handiwork.  For the signature of the Creator is in every part of the creation, in every being, in every star, in every atom.

The efforts of the human species to deny, efface, and erase this Presence in order to take the Creator’s place and be unaccountable except to itself cannot wipe out that intended purpose no matter what we do – including creating the ultimate “non-religious” paradigm.  When we boil it down to its essence and uncover its deepest inner workings, it betrays itself as one more manifestation of who and what we really are and it only points us back to the One who made us to be in relation to Him/Her.

TO BE CONTINUED


[1] Incidentally, dinosaurs still exist.  They have been right in our faces since humans appeared on earth.  The current iteration just doesn’t reach the same size as their ancient predecessors, and are in far less variety.  We call them reptiles.  Some of them, like crocodiles and alligators and turtles and monitor lizards, are virtually unchanged from their remote ancestors.  This picture does not fit the narrative our modern scientific faith propounds.

Faith and Hope: Assurance and Conviction, 2 – The Great Divide

“I’m telling you the truth: if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed [a very small seed], you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Yeshua/Jesus, in Luke 17:20, The Kingdom New Testament, a Contemporary Translation

(Preface: Please note that the following is not a discussion about institutionalized, formal, organized religion, but about the universality of religious thinking.)

At its most basic level, faith is trust.  Faith is deciding to trust that something is true because you trust the source of the information, or the results of the observations and experiments that provide the evidence for whatever you are accepting as truth.

In the first part of this series, we observed that everyone, no matter their stance regarding God and religion, lives by faith.  The popular mind, propagandized by secular persuasion about science not being a faith-based enterprise, has largely relegated faith to the realm of spirituality and personal relationships while not admitting or understanding science’s utter dependence on trusting that the road to truth is via the empirical scientific method .

Scientists and scholars of all stripes, from antiquity to the present, have always operated as much by faith as any fervent religious believer.  The honest and forthright ones know it and acknowledge it.  Science and engineering are as much faith-based as spiritual and relational activities are.  They believe that their faith is in “the facts” derived by the more or less application of the scientific method.  But it is really far more in the trust that “the method” will provide the necessary facts, the evidence that there trust is not misplaced, even when the facts are not actually there – at least not just yet.

The etymological meaning of “religion” is “the thing or system which ties or holds things together” – Latin religio: re = once more, legio= to bind, to tie – ergo, to rebind, to tie together.  Some people hold things together by reaching out to God or gods or a supernatural side of things.  They put their trust in the existence of such a side of reality, a side which is normally invisible and insensible – not normally evident to our physical senses.  Some people decide that without such sensory evidence they can only put their trust in what they can perceive via their senses, without recourse to any form of supernatural existence.  There is an assumption that there cannot be any “real” evidence for an incorporeal side to reality.  In both cases, these are equally “religious” decisions and positions which direct the living of life.  They are both fundamental positions about the nature of reality and what can be trusted.  In short, they are equally faith-based positions.  And, despite the declarations of the dominant Western paradigm that the spiritual side cannot be trusted any more to determine truth, the proponents of that worldview are every bit as religious and faith-motivated as the believers in a God and a “super”-natural element of reality.  (“Super” just means above and beyond – again from Latin.)

It is the old story of who gets to decide the meaning of words and inject, indeed impose, their meaning and worldview on the culture and the popular mind.  The secular Enlightenment campaign which began in the mid-18th Century with the agenda to take control of the West’s social and cultural narrative has thoroughly taken over almost all of the West’s knowledge and education establishment, and thus has been diligently redefining the meaning of words to even further push “religious” faith to the fringes.  There the gullible theists can be ignored and even ridiculed with impunity – and sometimes even sanctioned when they offend the new sensibilities too greatly.

But, whether labelled as religious or not, everything we do in life is based on faith, on trust, on conviction that we know enough truth to be assured that we are taking the right path to find meaning and make some sense of a reality which just keeps exponentially expanding in complexity.  We operate on faith in even the most mundane activities.  We just don’t think about it.  If I’m a God-believer, I trust that He/She will continue to will the universe (and me) to exist and keep operating in an orderly way.  If I’m a thorough atheist, I still trust that whatever forces and serendipitous circumstances produced this fantastic and totally improbable outcome of marvelous existence that we experience will keep on rolling along for another 50 billion years or so.  In both cases, experience says these are reasonable, even scientific conclusions.

The great malaise of our time is rooted at least to some degree in the oft-professed conviction that everybody can invent their own reality and that all choices are equal in value.  Why then are we not all equally happily creating and living in our own private Gardens of Eden?  Why is there so much outside interference in arriving in our personally constructed versions of Paradise?

The answer is shockingly simple and obvious, but most unwelcome and barely mentionable in our present intellectual, spiritual, and social whirlpool of “You can’t tell me my version of truth is not as good as yours.”  Science fiction and fantasy and quantum multiverse theory aside, there are not infinite realities out there.  As far as we can know and experience, there is but the one within which we live and move and have our being.  I can fantasize all I want tonight, and even dream wild dreams, but tomorrow I will wake (God-willing) to continue in the same life and reality I know today.

I betray my own “religion” – not just my public “religion” (as in the Latin sense of what helps tie things together for me), but my personal religion – in the simple everyday things and attitudes I manifest as I do normal things more than in any of the high-falutin’ philosophies, ideologies, or theologies I may spout.  Atheists and agnostics and sceptics are as equally faith-driven as any disciple of Yeshua, Moses, Muhammad, or Buddha.  Paradoxically, we all live our faith both publicly and privately.  What I say and do in public is one side of my life and may or may not be consistent with my private faith.  Frequently, we are prone to profess some things for public consumption while privately holding divergent and even quite contradictory views in our heart of hearts.  Will the real Mr./Mrs./Ms. Smith please stand up?  How can I tell what I really believe?

Jesus gave some pithy principles for discerning the mountains of bovine excrement we are being fed and feeding ourselves in the great denigration of “Religion” and faith: “Nobody can serve two masters.  Otherwise, they will either hate the first and love the second, or be devoted to the first and despise the second.   You can’t serve both God and wealth.” (Gospel of Matthew, 6:24)  Bob Dylan once wrote and sang it as, “You’re gonna serve somebody.”  Jesus added, “By their fruits you will know/recognize them” – i.e., what people do says a lot more about who they are and what they really trust in than their affirmations and declarations, both in public and in private.

Our malaise is the disconnect created by the evidence that “it just ain’t so” that we can and must discover our own special version of truth.  We are told over and over that we can “actualize” and discover our true selves and thus reach our full potential to “be all that we can be” and arrive, ipso-facto, in our own personal “kingdom of god” (with me as that god/goddess) here and now.  We are all entitled to everything.  It is a matter of faith. 

It is also all patently impossible.  “Wishing just don’t make it so.”  Instead, we have created a Frankenstein monster which is beginning to destroy its creators.

The need for faith has never been greater, but the proposition that we can choose any sort of goal and ambition to aim at and any vehicle to achieve them has never been so flagrantly false.  All choices are not equal, all belief systems are not valid – at least not in terms of outcome or synchrony with the way things really are.  You are entitled to choose just about any road, but you are not entitled to force everyone else to accept such choices as beneficial to the general commonwealth, or even consistent with the evidence of history and science.  Just because I have the ability and may want to make fantastic choices that fly in the face of being “normal” and “healthy” in any common sense does not entitle me to impose such choices on everyone else as having to accept those choices as normal and healthy.

In most cases your private world is not my business.  But when it begins to exert harm around you which brings suffering and destruction to others, it is no longer merely private.

Your faith matters.  What you choose to trust in matters.  The thing you put at the top of that pyramid of values and beliefs is in fact your god.  If that is your success, status, prestige, power, wealth, and pleasure, you are your own god.  This comes out even more forcefully when you insist on redefining even human and general nature to conform to your personal system of faith and belief.  That is indeed a claim to divine power.

Will this sustain you when you stand at, or lie on your last bed, on the edge of the great divide? At that moment, just about everyone starkly realizes that the personally formed god you have believed in, the personal version of faith you have trusted, is about to die as it meets the One Who Is in the Great Beyond. 

The West is in moral, spiritual, and a deepening social and cultural crisis.  As the world’s global cultural engine over the last two hundred years, it has dragged the whole world into the maelstrom of its Mr. Toad Wild Ride which shows no end in sight.

Te morituri salutant!” said the gladiators as they stood before the Emperor in the arenas of ancient Rome.  At the end of the battle will the One Emperor’s thumb be up or down?

TO BE CONTINUED 

Faith and Hope, Assurance and Conviction, 1

Apologies to readers for the following deluge of alternate definitions of the same term before we get into the meat of this exploration of what we variously understand by “faith”.

Hebrews 11:1 – The New Testament

“Estin de pistis elpizomenon hupostasis, pragmatōn elegchos ou bleposmenōn.”

(Original Greek transliterated to Latin alphabet)

Variously translated:

Now faith is the evidence of things hoped for, the substance of things not seen.  (KJV – King James Version)

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  (New American Standard Bible)

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  (New International Version)

What then is faith?  It is what gives assurance to our hopes; it is what gives us conviction about things we can’t see.  (Kingdom New Testament)

Trusting is being confident of what we hope for, convinced about things we do not see.  

(The Complete Jewish Bible)

Avoir la foi, c’est être sûr de ce que  l’on espère, c’est être convaincu de la réalité de ce que l’on ne voit pas.  (La Bible en français courant)

 Tener fe es tener la plena seguridad de recibir lo que se espera; es estar convencidos de la realidad de cosas que no venemos.  (Spanish – El Nuevo Testamento, Versión Popular)

 Faith, n. Reliance, trust, in; belief founded on authority… belief in religious doctrines, esp. such as affects character & conduct, spiritual apprehension of divine truth apart from proof…

(The Concise Oxford Dictionary, 1964)

Here in the West in the 21st Century of the Common Era it is fashionable and comfortable to set people with religious faith (most especially Christians) aside as deluded and probably unreasonable and fanatical.  As “evidence” and “substance” of this statement, let the Western reader consider the way religious subjects are either avoided altogether in the public forum, or appear there only as news reports of yet more demonstrations of the negative effects of religious fanaticism. 

This seems most prevalent in the way Christianity and its most dedicated adherents are frequently portrayed in comparison to those of other religious persuasions.

For example, a popular new show from one of the major Internet entertainment producers is exclusively concerned with rather outrageous sects of Christianity.  While not aimed overtly at discrediting all churches or Christian belief, it provides virtually no information about “normal” Christian faith or its core story and normal practice. What will the titillated viewer conclude by implication?  It takes no great insight to see the insinuation about all serious Christians filtering into the subconscious worldview of followers of such stuff, however accurate it may be about what it reports.

A generation or two ago, it might have been correct to say that there was still enough residual knowledge and understanding of what is still the West’s most adhered to religious segment (Christianity) that educational, documentary, and entertainment producers did not owe their consumers any broader contextual framework when publishing their material, as long as they avoided defamation.  Even then, the entertainment industry could take refuge behind artistic licence as to why their “art” might not reflect objective facts.  However, the new show referred to above presents itself as documentary, highlighting abnormal and extreme forms of religious behaviour practiced by groups identifying themselves as Christian. 

Whether what is presented is true or not is not the issue.  It is about the choice of what to expose.  Christianity is an easy target.  One has great difficulty thinking the same sort of “objective report” would be ventured on deviant segments of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, or Judaism, although perhaps there in light of the latent and sometimes still blatant anti-Semitism of large segments of the population.  Tolerance and political correctness have their preferred vectors too.  The dormant abortion debate is conspicuously absent in Canadian (and most Western) society in this respect, even in private conversation at this juncture.

One of the most pernicious myths propagated in our current educational and popular culture equates Christianity in particular with being the source of virtually every form of injustice and inequality which civil rights advocates and civil liberties innovators drum and drub into the public forum and drag into tribunals to seek inclusion under the Constitution.  In Canadian education curricula and materials produced to support them, the Church and churches and Christian leaders and states-persons who participated actively and effectively in many of the early phases of our history, and even in modern movements for equality and fairness, are rapidly shunted to the side lest we look and see too closely the critical roles and influence they had in so much of what has become Canada as we know it.  If we have to spend time speaking about them and their impact, the motivation and vision of such people is secularized and sanitized to fit the post-modern narrative.

But Christians and other religiously inspired activists and workers are not the only ones operating on the basis of faith, “conviction of things not seen”, and “assurance of things hoped for”.  In truth, everyone who sets out to achieve something in life operates from the very same set of starting points.  It is only, and quintessentially, human.  It is innate to homo sapiens sapiens to believe there is something greater than just “I, me, me, my” as John Lennon lyrically put it in 1968.

Theists, atheists, agnostics, polytheists, Deists, monists, pantheists – it matters not.  We are bred to believe, not just to exist.  We are made and formed to trust that there is meaning behind the blind-seeming, ineluctable powers and forces enveloping us in the time-space continuum, or the quantum-chance continuum if you prefer.

The early secular existentialists despairingly conceded that, if there is no inherent meaning behind existence, the individual has to choose one in order not to just die in despair.  Sadly, their distortion of Kierkegaard’s original Christian existentialism in which the seeker must choose to trust God did not alleviate the creeping despair that was already deeply infecting the soul of the West.  The assault of the Enlightenment on history and culture, seeking its liberation from all taint of religious infection, strongly abetted by Darwinism, ran amok into the pseudo-science of Social Darwinism in all its dark permutations.  It still holds us in its thrall.  It has still not freed its servants from the bedrock of human nature to seek and find a reason to believe in something/someone greater.

The bravest and most honest thinker and philosopher of the Enlightenment’s trajectory was and remains Friedrich Nietzsche.  Nietzsche has been considered a mad genius by some, but his own crystal clear and brutally honest analysis of the ultimate meaning of the Enlightenment’s century-long assault on God, Christianity, and all the working of that faith in the West’s fabric was that humans must still have a greater reason and purpose than mere existence.

“God is dead and we have killed him,” he proclaimed.  But we still need a central purpose and meaning greater than and beyond ourselves.  We have chosen evolution as the core story, but evolution in and of itself cannot fill the void at the core of our being.  We must have the strength of will to admit this and choose to make our own meaning, because the ultimate end of the evolution-story is extinction.  Humans are made to rise above these limitations – at least for a time until the final laws of physics and chemistry close everything down.  Someone, a select breed of superior individuals, must lead humanity into the next phase of evolution and step into the void left by God.  It takes the “Will to Power” to do this, and the Man of Destiny will show the way.

And so we arrive at the Superman and the Super-race, and eugenics, and Hitlerism and Fascism and the great Socialist Utopia and the horrors of the World Wars and the Personality Cults of the Man of Steel (Stalin), of Mao, of Pol Pot, of the Kim Dynasty in North Korea, of our own current quest for the perfect child and the quiet elimination of inferior breeding results via abortion and euthanasia and the practices first put into mass effect in Nazi Germany. 

We now find ourselves watching and even condoning these crimes against humanity reasserting themselves in our own quieter, more scientific and apparently compassionate-based re-adoption of Nietzschean notions.  “A little bit here, a little bit there,” quiet amendments to law and constitution in small steps, and once more we find the acceptance of those ideas of “life not worthy of life” and “life not worth the living” – not just individuals choosing this for themselves, but panels of professional compassion-arbiters making the recommendations and even the decisions for the lesser sorts and their less enlightened families and loved ones.

All this is no less faith-based and ideological and even religious than the now-eclipsed Christian consensus it has pushed aside.  The new slaughter of the innocents is of a magnitude King Herod or even Genghis Khan could never have fathomed.  Hitler and Stalin would appreciate the slick subtlety of it all.

Jesus once said, “Man (humanity) cannot live on bread [physical sustenance] alone, but [we also need] by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God.”  And when we are, when we have chosen to be, deaf to God and even deny the Creator’s very being, we speak our own deified, and too-frequently demonic, wisdom to take the Deity’s place.  This comes at the cost of all the good and worthy things we once learned and, however imperfectly, put at the core of who and what we were in the West.

TO BE CONTINUED

Optics, 2

(This is a repost from 2018 on Blogger.com.)

In things to be seen at once, much variety makes confusion, another vice of beauty. In things that are not seen at once, and have no respect one to another, great variety is commendable, provided this variety transgress not the rules of optics and geometry.

Christopher Wren
Read more at https://www.brainyquote.com/topics/optics-quotes

In the West of the 21st C, we have reached the conclusion that if there is a God, He/She/It is not to be feared.  Somehow, although the Divinity and Messiahship of Jesus are no longer taken seriously, his life and message of love has erased the whole idea of a God/Creator/Supreme being who also needs to be feared.  Somehow, the claims about Himself and His life made by the man Jesus who died willingly on a Roman cross for ‘sin’ have been transmuted into the mere miserable and almost futile martyrdom of a pure and good soul.  

What Jesus said about coming so that ‘sin might be forgiven’ and reconciliation made between God and man has been spun as ‘God, if He/She/It exists, forgives sin no matter what, regardless of whether I make any effort to relate to Him, control any of my selfish, self-serving urges, or do nothing about putting others’ needs before my own.’  Any negative spin on anyone’s choices implying accountability for what we do is intolerant and intolerable.

There is indeed some powerful ‘optical irony’ in this.  Here on earth, possibly the most frequently recited prayer in the world, and certainly in the West, tells us to pray, “Thy (God’s, our Heavenly Father’s) will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” 

However, for the most part most of us most of the time live and act and think as if we don’t give a rat’s a– for God’s will being done on earth, let alone in Heaven.  Deep down we really think that this God whom we implore will never care a whit whether we do or don’t attempt to ‘do His will’.  

After all, who really knows what that means?  Surely in my unique individuality, need and quest to find myself and release my complete uniqueness there is no universal criteria for understanding what ‘doing God’s will’ might actually consist of.  God, as all-loving (the one characteristic almost universally ascribed to the Deity), must be incapable of rejecting or condemning anything we do.  And His perfect love must eliminate any requirement on my part to reciprocate.  Therefore, ‘doing God’s will’ simply means ‘doing my will’ after all.

But what was the origin of this quasi-universal prayer?  What did the phrase “On earth as it is in heaven” designate and imply to Jesus and those who first heard him respond to their request, “Teach us to pray.”  (Matthew 6:9ff, and Luke 11:1ff)

The first thing is the context.  Jesus lived the prayer he taught; he modelled it in action, not just tossing out a philosophically nice and pious idea.  He told them to live as if they meant what they said, to live just the way he had shown them.  He never said or intimated that it didn’t matter what they did because of God’s all-tolerating and all-inclusive love (‘agape’ is the actual Greek word in the New Testament).

“On earth as it is in heaven.”  In Jesus’ heart and mind, in his ‘worldview’, if it may be permitted to use this anachronistic term here, earth and heaven are not separate realms, kind of like a ‘before and after’, life and the ‘after-life’.  God is present and active in both.  He has a will for both – but there is really no separation.  His will is definitely being done ‘in Heaven’, wherever and whatever that may look like.  Heaven, in its simplest terms, is just the place of being always in God’s presence, 24/7 (although the concept of time is not really relevant to it), 100%.  Not only being in God’s presence, but wanting to be in His presence, enjoying being in God’s presence – 24/7, 100%.

I suspect that most of us right now would be pretty uncomfortable in a powerful manifestation of God’s presence.  The evidence of history (unless you a priori rule out the possibility that there is a God who can and does act in history, and so disqualify a priori any sources that describe how He has acted in history, and therefore still can if He were to so chose) is that when God or even a messenger from God shows up, just about everyone is overwhelmed.  In the words of some who testify to such experiences, they tend to grovel or tremble or try to hide or fall on the knees or faces in awe and fear – yes fear!  As Isaiah said when he ‘saw the LORD’ – “Woe to me, for I am a man of unclean lips.”  Paraphrased, he was saying “I am dirty with sin through and through.”

Sin, that awkward, unspeakable subject which psychologists tell us is ‘not helpful’ because it ends up in a ‘guilt complex’.  Let’s be kinder and gentler and say ‘failures and weaknesses,’ which bypass the notion of moral responsibility.

If the Isaiah type vision is a little too ‘heavenly’ to handle and therefore more like a myth or legend (as such occurrences as miracles are usually classified), in the next section we will come solidly down to earth with a very earthy fellow called Peter.

Optics, 4

I love Peter; I can relate to him in so many ways.  Continually putting his foot in his mouth, but sometimes just nailing it so well.  Full of bravado but then wimping out in the clutch – except when he was incredibly brave and heroic, as he was at times, including as he ended his days in Rome.  So much like us in so many ways. 

When he first gets to know Jesus, he takes Him out fishing (at Jesus’ request, mind you).  Natural enough for a fisherman to do with a new friend. 

Jesus tells Peter to put his net back in the lake (the Sea of Galilee) after he had fished all night and caught nothing.  The right time for fishing is past; it’s mid-day and the fish are not biting, don’t you see?  “But since you insist, Jesus, well OK,” Peter says, mentally qualifying (‘If it will get you off my back.’) 

As a practiced Avoider (which I can also relate to as a fellow one), Peter doesn’t like confrontation if he can avoid it.  The net is rapidly filled to bursting with nice big fish.  The catch is so huge that Peter has to call his partners James and John to come and fill their boat too.  He is amazed and overjoyed.  Then it dawns on Peter; this guy Jesus in his boat is not just a cool new rabbi who has come to Capernaum recently and seems to have a knack for healing people, somehow.  Just what is an up-and-coming rabbi doing in Capernaum anyway?  Shouldn’t he be down in Jerusalem to recruit religious types and make waves?  Peter turns to look at Him now, standing there in his boat, all wet and smelling of fish from helping haul in the fish He had told him he would catch after all. 

Forgive me if I read details into this story that aren’t there in any of the Gospels, but think about it.  Jesus is a carpenter, a tradesman like Peter, a man accustomed to hard physical work.  Later scholarly and airy Gnostic speculation about Jesus’ mysterious ‘gap years’ between ages twelve and thirty aside, He is not an abstract philosopher or ivory-tower teacher with soft hands and flabby muscles who just spouts out stuff and expects others to say, “Wow, you are so smart, Jesus!”  The first disciples didn’t need to speculate about or describe those years because Jesus’ previous life was not a mystery at all.  The real mystery was how they had not seen Him for who He really was before.  He seemed so, well, normal – except in His degree of wisdom, service, spiritual devotion, caring and integrity.

He is a man acquainted with life in all its nitty-gritty messiness.  He grew up in a large family in a small community, with all that that means in relationships and local gossip and petty rivalries.  He apprenticed with Joseph, his earthly father and learned a solid trade, as all rabbis of that age did.  He built things.  He observed the world and people.  He understood and absorbed the Scripture warp and woof.

He knew about grief and loss.  His grandparents had died.  His father had died recently (at least that is the consensus of commentators).  There would have been others He cared for who had passed as well.  He felt the wrongness of death deep in His bones, and the brokenness of man and the Cosmos in the core of His being.

His family didn’t understand Him.  His brothers made fun of Him and mocked Him (see John 6).  Can you imagine growing up with a perfect older brother as your role model and having to live up to that?  You would resent it to.  Mom and Dad always reminding you, “Why can’t you just be more like your older brother?”  It would have been hard for His sisters too, because what young man would want to marry into that family, having to measure up to that standard?

Even His mother will later try to come and talk Him into going home and acting more reasonably, no doubt for the sake of family peace.  Jesus had made them pariahs in Nazareth and the region.

But at the moment of our story Peter, there in that boat, senses something amazing and incredible about this man whose reputation is rapidly growing.  Trades people get around, and perhaps they had met or seen one another when Jesus might have come to work on some project or other in Capernaum and perhaps on Sabbath in the synagogue.  Have you ever wondered why Jesus made His early base at Capernaum?  He already knew people there.  According to tradition, the family of Zebedee was related to His mother.

However, this day is like they had never met before, even if they had.  Peter the Avoider has been unmasked and feels spiritually exposed and doesn’t want to face this guy who sees right through him.

Suddenly Peter has one of his wonderful moments of crystal clarity.  (We all have a few of those in our lives.)  This man Jesus standing there so close to him is a truly holy man, a truly godly man.  He has never really seen Him before.  He is not like those showy wannabe holy people who dress up in fancy-fringed prayer duds and pray aloud and loudly in public to put on a show and try to tell people how to live and point out all the sins they commit.  (Check out Jesus’ excoriating criticism of this type in Matthew 23.)  This guy, Jesus, is none of that; He simply is holy and godly and doesn’t have to say anything about it.

The other side of Peter’s moment of crystal clarity in the boat is a realization that for all that Jesus is, he, Simon bar-Jonah, is not.  He is not holy; he is not godly.  But he is in the presence of someone who inspires awe in him, someone unique, unlike anyone he has ever met or likely ever will meet again.  He senses, unable to express it, that somehow God is present in the boat with him.

Trembling with fear, undone, Peter goes to his knees.  His eyes are full of tears, and all he can say in a shaky voice is, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”  Like me, like us, Peter would rather avoid having to face his true self.  He can’t run away, so he asks this terrifyingly real guy in front of him to go away and leave him alone.  Change is too hard!

“I am a sinful man” will only years later change to “Your will be done on earth as in heaven.”  What Simon-Peter knows intuitively at this irrevocable turning point in his life is that he cannot stand under the piercing gaze of this strange man named Yeshua (Jesus is the Anglicized Greek [Iesous] version – remember?), let alone stand in God’s presence.  (He doesn’t know yet that it’s the same thing.)  This man can see right into his soul, read his heart.  No hiding.  Simon knows that Jesus sees all his unclean, lustful thoughts, unkind words, angry responses, resentments and jealousies.  If this Jesus would just go away, maybe over time he could just slip back into his usually pretty comfortable life.

Instead, Jesus puts his strong, calloused, carpenter’s hand, a strong

hard-working man’s hand like Peter’s, on Peter’s shoulder.  He gives him a manly shoulder squeeze, and smiles with warm affection for this big, bluff, genuine fellow whose heart He sees right into.  “Don’t be afraid, Simon,” He says.  (Simon is Peter’s actual given name; Jesus has not yet called him ‘Peter’.)  “Follow me, and I will make you a fisher of men.”  I see Jesus smiling broadly at Simon, using gentle humour to allay his fear.

So here is our generations’ paramount Optical Illusion: that all that other stuff we are constantly bombarded with and that we talked about earlier is what really matters and what life is really about. 

Optical Reality: as the Apostle Paul, who also knew a thing or two about what we have been calling optics, put it (in my very liberal paraphrase and expansion), “But I now consider all those old things that used to matter s–t compared to the awesomeness of knowing Jesus our Lord [and doing His/God’s will here on earth while I’m still alive to do it].”  (Philippians 3:8)  The actual Greek word Paul used has been politely translated for the sake of our delicate optical and auditory piety, but we now understand that it was actually a street-language term for excrement.  Sorry if this offends your sensibilities, but evidently Paul did not care a (s)crap about the optics of the thing!  Or about the ‘spin’ his hearers and readers would put on it!  You realize that the Apostles’ letters (“epistles” is our fancy Biblical name for them) were read aloud to the whole church in those days.  How shocking would it be if you heard that ‘s-word’ read aloud in your church some Sunday?

That, Biblically speaking, is the final word on our post-modern obsession with the popular pursuit of all the stuff encompassed by what we have been calling 21st C cultural ‘optics’.

May peace be unto you as you shed the optical illusions of our time.  May the joy of being set free by the clear vision of Truth fill your souls.

Optics, 1

“Optics – the scientific study of sight and the behaviour of light”  

The Canadian Compact Oxford Dictionary, 2002. 

(This is a repost from a 2018 post in Blogger.com)

(Photo: Author’s original)

In daily parlance, Optics refers to the way things look or appear, the way we look or appear to others.  Politicians, celebrities, organizations and even ordinary individuals are obsessed with their image, with the optics of how others perceive them.  Our mass and social media are obsessed with the latest ‘look’ decided on by the super-models, superstars, heroes and anti-heroes of the moment.  We tweet and post our latest selfie and mini-mega moments in the belief that the world needs to know how we look today, how great our kids are doing, how well our newest adventure is turning out moment by moment.

Elementary school students suffer acute anxiety about whether their peers will accept them based on their clothes, their ‘stuff’, and any number of ‘coolness markers.’  By High School, the whole domain of social and self image can be an obsession invading every aspect of teen life: having the right brand of cell-phone, tablet, watch and other gadgetry, the right pants, tops, sweaters, hair-styles, tattoos, FB friends, and twitter followers.  The risk of failure in the optics competition is shame, social mockery, and ‘loserism’.   Being a ‘loser’ breeds depression and low self-esteem like an epidemic.  Never has the toll of childhood and adolescent anxiety, depression and loneliness been so high.

We are probably the vainest culture that has ever existed.  All our public figures are primarily concerned with their images in order to gain or maintain or increase their following and popularity.  They and their parties employ professional ‘handlers’, ‘spin-doctors’, and image-makers to make sure they always ‘appear to best advantage’ as they announce anything and everything in just the right setting with just the right wording and approving audience.  In any contest of optics versus substance we know always know which will win out.

Since the Nixon-Kennedy Presidential Campaign of 1960 initiated the TV debate phenom as an essential part of any self-respecting election, it has been clear that how the candidate appears to the viewer and how (s)he sounds is at least as important as the substance of what (s)he says.  

Tired and worn out regimes can plausibly rebound to win despite all their scandals and miscues if they can successfully ‘rebrand themselves’ in the eyes and ears of the public, and simultaneously make the ‘other guy’ look ‘out-of-date’ and even retrograde (‘non-progressive’ ) or anti- the latest trendy cause, even when the truth is otherwise. 

We have bred a society with little long-term memory or taste for the real discipline of actually learning anything in depth, let alone practicing self-discipline and self-control in order to achieve a truly worthy long-term goal.  Tellingly, the few exceptions appear to be professional athletes and entertainment heroes – exceptions who actually prove the rule!  Their achievements make them role models to those seeking similar goals of wealth and fame. 

The Biblical Book of Ecclesiastes says that “There is nothing new under the sun”.  Rulers and regimes come and go, but the roots of human nature are the same as they have ever been for as far back as we have any evidence in history.  Ancient kings (and the occasional queen) and emperors worried how they looked and what their legacy would look like.  In Shelley’s poem ‘Ozymandias’ a forgotten pharaoh invites the future gazer upon his stupendous statue to “Look upon me and despair.”  We might take the unintended advice of this gigantic, faceless and now historically forgotten titan of the past.  You may be a titan today, but you will be forgotten tomorrow along with almost all the other deluded self-obsessed optics-spinners who have ever lived.  In the end, substance wins over appearance and witty sound-bites in the historical sweepstakes.

 ‘Pharaoh X’ meant that anyone in the future should despair of ever equalling his greatness, opticized by his monumental statue.  The irony is that the things our society most admires and aspires to – wealth, beauty and glamour, fame (or notoriety, its reverse), power – become exactly what Solomon said – vanity – when we near our end.  Solomon, who certainly could speak from personal experience, said, “It’s all vanity and chasing after the wind.”

Solomon certainly concerned himself with the optics of his reign and engaged in supreme power-image-making – vast treasuries, huge chariot depots and impressive garrison cities, his own magnificent palace, the “House of Cedar” in Jerusalem, the incredibly opulent and gilded Temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem, his accumulation of a harem of one thousand beautiful women (many of them hostages to keep the powerful of the region in line), meant to impress all the kingdoms round-about with his power and influence.  His father David had beaten all the neighbours into submission, and to keep them there Solomon exacted onerous tribute in gold and kind.

Today, Solomon is one of the minute minority of people who have ever lived whom history has not forgotten.  Almost all of us alive today will not qualify for this minority, including most of the popular trend-setters and image-makers of this age, despite the delusion we all have about our own importance. 

For all his worldly ‘success’, as Solomon neared the moment of facing his Maker, he came to the conclusion that everything he had built, accumulated, tried, learned and distilled as wisdom in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes was empty.  A thousand wives – how much sex does it take to satisfy?  In his euphemistically charming metaphor, eventually “the almond tree no longer flowers.” 

Gold, silver, jewels, and precious things beyond counting and measuring – how much is enough?  When is the addiction to wealth and power filled up?  In his own comparison – “the eye is never filled with seeing or the ear with hearing; the ocean is never filled no matter how much water flows into it.”

He had tried and looked into ‘everything that is done under the sun’.  He wrote Proverbs and Ecclesiastes as advice to his son, if we believe the introductions to these works.  He had many sons but it is reasonable to think he meant Rehoboam who succeeded him.  That son quickly forgot everything his father might have told him.  But that is another story.

Shedding all the glitzy glamour and optics of absolute imperial power, Solomon boiled it all down as follows.  I summarize and paraphrase brutally here: “Fear God and prepare to give an answer for the deeds done in the body.  Be satisfied each day with the simple things being fulfilled – enough food, adequate clothing and shelter, a happy home.  Be happy with the spouse of your youth.  Work hard and honour the God who gave you life.  Be moderate in all your habits – neither giving way to greed or jealousy of those who have more, nor bitterness at what you do not have.  If you live as if today is your last day and rejoice that you have this day, you will not fear the day when God calls you back to Himself.  If you live as if only what you want matters and do not take care of others or have concern for their well-being, you will live in fear of losing what you have and in so doing commit injustice.  Then you should indeed fear the day of your death when you must answer to God for ‘the deeds done in the body.”

The Third Way, 60 – Walking the Walk

“…. humanists, having no god, must put something at the center, and it is inevitably society, government, or the state …. the Judeo-Christian consensus … has weakened and all but disappeared, [along] with the lack of vision even from a pragmatic perspective, let alone principle ….”

Francis A. Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto, in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, Volume 5, a Christian View of the West.  (Crossway Books, Wheaton Illinois, 1982), p. 482

            Francis Schaeffer was an American Presbyterian minister, philosopher, evangelist and apologist who, for thirty-five years after World War 2, lived and worked in Europe, based in Switzerland.  He and his wife Edith founded L’Abri Fellowship in Chesières, Switzerland 1955.  Schaeffer died in 1984, but his thought and work has continued to exercise a profound influence on the thousands who met him and listened to and studied under him, as well as the millions who have read his books.  Few Christian thinkers through the last two millennia have created such a well-articulated and carefully thought-out and practiced view of both humanity and the cosmos.

In the summer of 1979 at Swiss L’Abri (there are other locations) my partner and I met and talked with the Schaeffers for a time almost daily as we worked at their chalet and in their garden.  His works and thought continue to exercise a profound influence on me.  Like all men, he was faulted, but he never betrayed his primary commitments to Yeshua, to Edith, to his family.  He strove to live what he taught, and to a large extent succeeded.

Schaeffer was not apolitical, but he was not partisan political either.  Politics is an inevitable concomitant of living in society, and, with few exceptions, humans cannot avoid living in society.  Even such exceptions almost always find society (other humans they attract) coming to them even as they attempt to escape it.  The story of Anthony of Egypt (250-356 CE) graphically illustrates this. 

Anthony sought to live as a hermit in the Egyptian desert in order to escape the corruption and distractions of the big city (Alexandria, Egypt) and to live a “pure life” dedicated to knowing God.  People heard about this radical holy man and began to come to him.  After twenty years of trying to be a hermit, he rather found himself a “Father” to a growing community of hundreds of God-seekers.  Despite himself he founded a community that focused on union with God first.  In 311, at the height of a terrible persecution, he was sent by his Lord back to the city to bring warning and to preach repentance to a corrupt and tumultuous populace and administration which threatened to kill him for his trouble. He hoped to be gifted with martyrdom, but was not.  Instead he brought conviction and hope to the suffering Christians and confusion to the Emperor’s agents.  There is much more to Anthony’s story, but the reader can find the details elsewhere.

With respect to the Christian aspiration to a Third Way, the most common mistake is in identifying a particular set of ideological posits and positions as where peacemakers and searchers after justice and true equity must commit themselves.  Taking up a party cause and socio-economic ideology has never led to the real objective of the Christ’s Third Way, which is the birthing of “the Kingdom of Heaven” on earth.

Schaeffer advocated civil disobedience, even at the risk of persecution and imprisonment.  He stood in a long line of Christian disciples from Peter and John the Apostles telling the Judean Sanhedrin “Judge for yourselves if we should obey God or you” (my paraphrase) when they had been arrested and told not to mention the name of Yeshua or teach anything about him among the people.  That line travels through time across twenty centuries down to Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Nazi Germany and the tens of thousands of anonymous martyrs in the Soviet Bloc and even China and North Korea right now.  Nor must we forget the quiet efforts to bring hope and freedom to love and speak truth of Christians in Islamic societies where they have a death sentence fatwa hanging over their heads which anyone can carry out and be immune to punishment.  More thousands have been put to death there.

But the Third Way is not primarily about civil disobedience to unjust governments.  It is about pointing to and working towards a different way of doing life in the here and now, a way that puts a premium on compassion and empathy and real, practical efforts to stand with the victims of injustice and oppression and neglect and denial of the most basic elements of human dignity.  It is about being Christ’s “body” even in the middle of whatever version of “this age/cosmos” prevails at the moment wherever the scorn for the Creator and the callous treatment of those made in His/Her image is reducing God’s human children to mere animals or tools to be used to enhance the power, wealth, prestige and personal glory of whichever set of haters and oppressors holds power at the moment.

It is about showing another way among the community of those who name the name of Yeshua/Jesus as Lord, about practicing the principles of His Kingdom among themselves and trying to bring some of that influence into expression in the larger society and culture.

Because that has been the calling and mission of the disciples of Yeshua/Jesus since he commissioned his ekklesia – the assembly of the people called to follow him and live as God’s children in the midst of what Jesus called “a wicked generation” – the koinonia, the community of love and compassion He meant for His disciples to become and be, has never been, was never meant to be, a closed, secret society.  It was never meant to be merely another human-created institution interested in gaining political and economic power and compelling everyone to go along with its agenda.

That agenda is quite simple – bringing the Kingdom of God into real manifestation here on earth.  But, as ever with flawed humans being the agents, great transgressions were committed and brought (and bring) great discredit to all Yeshua’s followers.  Those who hear the talk about all the wonderful ideals of the coming Kingdom are justified in holding Christians accountable for acting just like the usual human authorities. 

Historically, it is no surprise that the failures and excesses of the official leaders of Christianity here in the West, where they gained great political, social, and economic power, should have led to the present situation.  The loss of the power and influence of the Church (churches) is lamented by many Christians, but too often as a sort of political and social deprivation rather than as it should be – a repentance for having fallen into the perpetual temptation to take the road to compulsory control using the levers of position and coercion.  The reduction of the Church’s power and influence and its being shunted to the periphery would be better seen as an opportunity to do a reset and a return to first love, a true repentance, rather than as a trumpet call to take up political weapons to try to restore something that would better have been left aside in the first place.

Much more has been better said on all this by many down through the centuries and the last two millennia.  For two thousand years, the Lord’s Prayer has warned us and continues to warn us about taking the wrong path.  Its priorities are explicit and crystal clear: “Creator’s Kingdom, come!  Creator’s will, be done!  On earth as in heavenly realms.”  The original is as much an imperative as a plea.  It is a command, a mandate. 

But the practical side is also crystalline: “Give us today our daily bread” – a request that we receive what we need (not want, lust after, crave to get) materially in the here and now.  This is for two purposes – first so that we can carry on with the business  of bringing God’s Kingdom into this age for as long as we are here, and second so that we can meet the needs of others who do not have enough and so show them the real love of their Creator.

This amazing masterpiece of prayer, which is the format for all prayer and relationship with our Maker, ends with “And do not lead us into (“lead” is not the best translation of the Greek word –more like do not let us fall into) temptation, but deliver us from evil (again, the Greek is better rendered as the evil one).”

It is an indivisible unity which we too often treat as separate pieces, compartmentalized to suit our own purposes.  The greatest temptation for each of us, for leaders, and for the ekklesia as a body is to take up the apparently easiest and most direct path to “bringing in the Kingdom”.  The temptation, the allure, is to outpolitick the politicos and cleverly dominate the social molders of “this age” who hold the reins (and reigns) of power and control.  It is the song of Odysseus’s Sirens luring us onto the rocks of shipwreck.

We will give the last word in this series to Yeshua.  Shimon (Peter), the prospective leader off the ekklesia after Jesus, took out a sword and used it in an attempt to stop the arresters who had come to take Jesus to be crucified.  Yeshua sharply reprimanded him, “Enough of that!  If you live by the sword, you die by the sword!”

Shalom!

The Third Way, 59 – Reprise 3 – Finding the Door

“From the point of view of Christian faith, personality is not something given, which only needs development, but it is a relation.  Personality is rooted in relation to God.  It is the “self” of man which is called into existence by the divine “Thou”.  Its centre is responsibility, understood as the response of man to God’s call.  Its true realisation, and therefore the true humanity, is existence in divine love becoming concrete in love towards our neighbour.”

Emil Brunner, Christianity and Civilisation, II, Specific Problems.  (London: Nisbet & Co. Ltd, 1949), p. 54.

(Photo Credit – Unsplash)

Everything comes back to the the basic worldview questions and how we answer them:

            – Who am I?

            – Where am I?

            – What’s wrong?

            – What’s the remedy?

(This version comes from Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton in The Transforming Vision.) 

We could easily add several more essential questions to this list – “Why am I here?  Why is anything here?  How did I/it get here?  Is there anything after death?”, etc.  Walsh and Middleton’s formulation has the beauty and simplicity of subsuming all the other possible issues as corollaries of their four.

Over and over again in this blog and in the “Third Way” series, we have brought out Brunner’s statement that “personality is rooted in relation[ship] to God…. the response of [hu]man[ity] to God’s call.” 

We are still persons if we refuse the call to relationship to the Creator, but we can never be the sort of person we are meant to be, we can never fully discover and become what being human truly is and is meant to be.

We live in an age and culture which insists on the complete equality of all responses, all conceptions of being and exploring being—especially of being human.  But we know in our gut that all forms of exploring and being human are not equal.  We are equal as being designed and created as humans and in experiencing our humanity.  But while much of our human experience is “the same” no two of us experience even the “sameness” in an identical way. 

You cannot live my life for me or I for you.  I was not born to your parents (unless you are my full sibling) nor you to my mine.  Even growing up in the same family does not extinguish the differences in how we experience our humanity, how we process even our common experiences.  Genetic makeup and environmental factors preclude all such “equality”.  Some are endowed with more or less intelligence, height, physical strength, beauty, and on and on.  Much of our western education system has degenerated into a Neo-Marxist dreamland of somehow eliminating the natural gifting and limitations we all have to deal with so that no child experiences the trauma of “losing”, of being left out, of being traumatized by discovering that others are smarter, stronger, faster, more popular, etc. – or, on the opposite end, of experiencing the thrill of success, the joy of excelling, of winning something as a reward for their effort and ability.

It is a complete denial of what nature, left to its evolutionary side, shows us—that we supposedly survive as individuals and a species by being the “fittest” – (viz. strongest, fastest, healthiest, most intelligent, most agile, most clever and cunning, etc.).  Having spent forty years as an educator, one learns that no matter how compassionate and accommodating one is, you cannot enable the one child to outdo the other in an area where the other simply has the innate aptitude to excel, at least when the one so naturally gifted sets him-/herself to excel.

This drive to create the “great leveling” actually denies the humanity of all those who supposedly will benefit from it.  For, as Brunner said, our humanity is fundamentally rooted in relationship with our Creator first and with one another second.  But the two cannot be separated, even if the “one another” part of our humanity appears and is presumed to be most important – to the very exclusion of the Creator from the equation.

Without the Creator we relegate ourselves to animality – to being accidental evolutionary outcomes.  With and in relationship to the Creator, personhood and personality are the very essence of being and becoming fully human.  They are not accidents; they are gifts.  They are not a survival strategy but the essence of purpose and the expression of the Creator’s being in and through His/Her creative handiwork and artistry.

We see God’s signature everywhere and in everything – every singularly different galaxy, star, solar system, and planet on the cosmic scale, and every microbe, mouse, and living thing on the micro-scale.  While we seem to randomly come into existence through the agency of our parents, there is nothing random about it, for it is all made to live and move and have being within the incredible design and living action of the One who gives it , and us, life and movement and being.

The Third Way in its perfection is the way modelled, lived, taught, and passed on by its ultimate incarnation, Yeshua/Jesus.  It is the way of redemption, of reconciliation, of repentance (as in turning around, turning back to the One who made us for communion with Him), and integration into His family, His Kingdom, and relationship with Him.

The struggle we face in this age, for as long as it continues, is finding the way to bring it as much into our lives and the life of our communities and nations as we possibly can, even in the face of the hostility of the system which rejects it because it contradicts so much of how we humans want things to work to validate our claim to primacy and even demi-deity. 

The Third Way is not a way of right or left, Conservative or Liberal, Socialist or Capitalist.  As Jesus put it, paradoxically, he came to bring both peace and a sword.  Too often those claiming to speak and act for him have resorted primarily to the sword.  The peace mission of the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed and Sent One, is universal, as so much of the story declares.  When Simon-Peter took out a sword and struck one of those arresting Jesus to have him crucified, Yeshua rebuked him, “Enough of that!  Put away your sword!  Those who live by the sword die by the sword!”

Yeshua taught that his rule was opposite to all the coercion and manipulative control by fear and cajoling and threat of violence implicit in how our systems work.  But until He returns to rule in person, those claiming to follow and emulate him are in the thick of the dilemma of being called out of “the world” (the old system of power-politics and power-games for selfish gain) but still living in it and having to navigate not being “of” the system.

So it is not a game of right versus left, but of justice versus injustice, personal wealth and well-being versus commonwealth, restraining evil and stopping evildoers while offering them restoration and reconciliation.  It is not a question of personal privilege and absolute personal rights, but of personal and mutual responsibility and respect for one another as equally entitled to just treatment and fair opportunity, just as we have been gifted by the Creator.  And where our sin (failing) has robbed any of this mutuality and equity, it is a question of finding the path to removing the injustice and restoring what has been stolen.

It is delusion to create a false sort of equity which says that the tall and strong must be penalized to compensate the short and feeble.  It is a question of learning how to serve one another so that my gifts serve you and yours serve me in those areas where I cannot do what you can do.  It can never be about denying your individuality, gifts, abilities, and personality, and your enjoyment of them and their special strengths in order to “level everything for everyone” in the name of a false “equal opportunity”.  At 5 ft. 4inches, you cannot justly give me an equal opportunity to play in the NBA. You may legislate it, but it is not just.

There are real equalities of opportunity – such as the equal opportunity to choose good or evil, to choose service to others rather than self-promotion over everyone else. We all equally have a choice to seek and be found by the Creator and so discover our true purpose in Him/Her, or to seek all the personal advantage I can right now and discover how empty it all was when my hearts and breath stops and I cross over to meet my Maker. 

Even my very opportunities flow from my personality and bodily gifts – as in my unique personhood as gifted by the One.  When I focus fanatically on discovering “my true self” and “self-discovery and self-actualization” as the whole story, I paradoxically lose myself in the maze of endless byways and blind alleys.  As Yeshua put it, “The one who goes seeking his/her life [in the selfish quest of self-deification] will lose it, but the one who loses his/ her life for my sake will truly find it.”

The Third Way is the Way of Yeshua, and not the way “Christianity” – as in “the Church” as a system or an institution.  The way of Yeshua may well be partly found in such places, but has also been lost there.

It is not a call to found a new nation in any “normal” sense.  It is not a call to political revolution as in setting out to tear down Fascist, Communist, Capitalist, and/or Liberal Democratic states.  It is another path which operates like “leaven in the lump”.  It is like the unseen essence of life found in a seed which only appears when it is planted and watered and nurtured.

What it looks like is a subject with no definable boundaries in our “normal” way of talking about human societies.  It is also impossible to fully know in “this present age” even though those who find the Door into it begin to experience it as they travel its road. For the Door is a Person, not a place or a thing. And the path is a relationship, not a set of doctrines, dogmas, or commandments. At best, such things can be signposts, but they must not be mistaken for HIM.

Peace be with you in your seeking and finding.