Leaving Home

A sadness swells up in my heart as I lie here on the little balcony overlooking the kitchen in our house on 617 Russell Ave Suffield CT, the last night we can call this ‘our’ house. There are so many memories in this building and on these grounds. I stood over the embers of our last bonfire here not long ago, alone, watching the dark silhouette of the fields out back glitter with fireflies. The house is strangely echoey and empty, hollow in a physical sense but solid in an overflow of substance. It is beautifully stained with prayer, ripe with the fragrance of past laughter, filled with the remnants of meaningful conversation, sweet with the aftertaste of love lived out: joy and peace have sunken into the bones of this place.

It occurs to me now that I have never found the name of this place before. Strange that only in leaving would I wonder what its name is. I suppose that this place is truly deserving of the title ‘home.’ There will be other places that will earn the title home, but I think that this is the first to truly fill the role and earn the title, and because of that it will always hold a special place in my heart.

It is sad to leave a space that has become so full — I will miss dearly this house and land I call home. It seems unnatural and awkward to say goodbye to a place that has been so invested in with love and toil, and my heart stings at the goodbye I say tonight, as the rain falls softly outside. I will miss the quiet and solace of this place, and it is hard to think about such a drastic parting. I will miss the sparkling firefly fields of summer, the silent coldly beautiful snow covered fields, the vibrant flame filled treeline of fall, the earthy corn and tobacco fields of spring.

I look forward with great expectation and anticipation to investing in a new home, to moving into the city, to flooding my life with relationships new and old, to eating good food, and lounging on the porch at night with a whiskey and a cigarette. But tonight is a night of parting, of sadness, of emotion, of mourning, of farewell. I am so glad to have made this place my home, and so sad to have to leave it. May God bless this house and this land, and fill it in time with even more wonderful things. Goodnight, sweet, sweet home. Goodbye.

Leaving Malta

Another journal entry from Malta

As I sit here on the water looking out at Valletta on my last day in Malta, many half thoughts and loose ends of ideas and unfinished emotions float through my conciousness. I wonder how conscious I actually am, though. It’s strange as I think about Mary talking about how she doesn’t have enough time to think and process. I always think that I ought to spend more time thinking, but when I actually sit down and start thinking, I don’t really seem to think. I just sit. Without much going through my mind. Vague shallow thoughts sparked by my surroundings wander aimlessly around in my head. What do I really have to process? Why would I dwell on the past or dream of the future? It seems the only thing that concerns me is the next few decisions I will need to make in the near future — only those absolutely necessary decisions. It’s almost like I’ve forgotten how to reflect on the past.

Reflections from Malta

A journal entry from Malta

Today, Sunday, I spent the day sitting on a sun bathed balcony. Last night I spent many hours with Emmi and Annina, sitting around the table drinking La Towere Trebbiano and Shiraz, talking about life. We talked about language, English and Finnish, about our families, where we come from, music. Emmi told stories about the songs that were playing from my Current Listening playlist on Spotify — Every time a song would start she would paint a scene for Annina and me about what she was visualizing. It felt so good to sit around, relax, drink, and talk with these two lovely girls. I was warm with wine and my heart felt the warmth of human friendship. We laughed, made jokes, smiled.

This afternoon we sat out on the balcony together. It was wonderfully sunny with a slight breeze with hints of salt water, city stench, and cooking food from the Pastizzerias around the corner. As I sipped my tea I leaned back and closed my eyes, lit a cigarette, and let the sun soak into my face and heart. The sounds of people bustling in the street below, the cars driving down the nearby strand, the faint hum of the generator at the nearby construction site all wafted up to our third story balcony.

Now the sun is going down, casting slight shadows from the balcony railing across my notebook. I’m drinking a Skoll and smoking another cigarette, listening to people laughing at the bar down the street. My thoughts meander slowly back across my life as I sit here, the sun almost below the buildings across the street. Has it really been 10 years since I started playing piano? The chords E / Am / E / Am / E / Am are playing quietly on the guitar somewhere deep in my heart. I am filled with longing, a strange mixture of contentment, emptiness, happiness, sorrow, lonliness, and fellowship. What am I looking for? What have I found? Where am I going? What have I done? What is there still to do? Am I really *here* right now? The church bells a few streets over are playing a chorus, a requiem for the sun.

There is much to worry about in life, many decisions to be made in the months and years ahead; I wonder where this journey will take me… But for the moment, I am enjoying the road. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the feelings, the thoughts: this is God’s beautiful gift of life and breath and sight. I am a wanderer at heart, a sojourner in this world who has no home, but has every home. I embrace this paradox we call life, and I will attempt to enjoy all the roads I travel and the love all the people I meet.

Money – Introduction

I have a good job, I have no debt, I’m single and have low living expenses — I’m fabulously materially fortunate. In upper middle class American Christianity, they might call me ‘blessed.’ I dropped this word in a conversation with a friend a few days ago, how I feel so ‘blessed,’ about my circumstances, and he very gently questioned my use of that word. He went on to mention that he feels like I am in a very, very dangerous position in my life right now because of the opportunities I have for material wealth (read: I have the potential to be making a lot of money in 5-10 years). My initial reaction was something along the lines of ‘I suppose… but ‘very dangerous’ seems a little bit overblown, but idk…’ However, as I talked it over with him and as I’ve thought and thought about it over the past few days, I think I’m starting to see the gravity of my situation. I really am in a terribly dangerous position.

Our American Christian culture is very nonchalant about material possession and wealth. We don’t take money very seriously. Not nearly as seriously as things like homosexuality, anger, language in movies and music, violence in video games, pornography. The more that I think about it, the more this seems completely, utterly, terribly wrong. And more than just wrong, but flat out dangerous for our souls. Why is it that in many churches you will be frowned upon, sometimes severely, for your beliefs and practices regarding any of the things I mention above; and yet no one ever asks seriously ‘so brother, how are you doing with your money?’ In all of our rich American churches, why is money such a taboo topic? We have all sorts of accountability culture related to sexual sins, but where are the rules and accountability over money? Jesus said that it’s extremely difficult for a rich man to get into God’s Kingdom. Why don’t I take that seriously? Why don’t I struggle with that?

I’ve been catching little flashes of insight into a large, formless question that has been growing inside of me ever since I gained significant disposable income 8 months ago. The thread of this very large question runs through most of the things I’ve been thinking about lately, but I didn’t realize this until my friend gave me an idea with which to really frame this discussion: having money changes you. And as I ponder this, I see more clearly that no matter how you look at it, having money deeply affects your paradigm of thought. It really does change you. It’s changed me. Why do we call people like myself who get good jobs and people who make lots of money blessed? Why do we turn all of Jesus’ words on the subject completely on their head? I mean, if you think about it, Jesus never called someone with a lot of material possessions blessed. And he rather frequently called poor people blessed. In fact, in most of the places where money or material wealth comes up, Jesus says that it’s extraordinarily dangerous.

“Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled.
Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.”
“But woe unto you that are rich! For ye have received your consolation.
Woe unto you that are full! For ye shall hunger.
Woe unto you that laugh now! For ye shall mourn and weep.”

“Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”

“Sell that ye have, and give alms: provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, therer ill your heart be also.”

The parable of Lazarus and the rich man.

Jesus to the rich young ruler: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.”

“Verily I say unto you, that a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”

“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and money.”

These are just a few passages I pulled out from skimming quickly over the gospels for a few minutes. That’s some pretty heavy stuff. I’m not making any judgements here, I’m just asking why I haven’t been asking myself serious questions about money up until now. And I’m wondering how is it that we say to people who are materially wealthy ‘you’re so blessed!’ when Jesus said ‘woe unto you!’ and ‘you shall hardly enter the kingdom of heaven’ to those same people? This must be one of the biggest influences and things that we deal with every day in our wealthy American lives, and somehow we manage to blow over it by saying “Oh yeah, and as far as money goes, just tithe 10% (or 20%+ if you’re spiritual) and you’ll be fine.” Why is it that after 8 months I’ve heard only one person say anything near to what Jesus generally says about these things? People congratulate me and call me blessed when they hear about my circumstances, and now I’m starting to wonder if Jesus would say something quite opposite to what I’ve heard thus far. “Be careful for your soul Caleb. You are straying into very dangerous teritory and risk losing your soul. You cannot pursue money and me.” And that’s a haunting thought.

On Life and Metaphors

I’ve been thinking a lot about metaphors lately. The amount of metaphors we use to make sense of the world around us is astounding when you sit down and think about it, and their pervasiveness makes it easy to stop seeing that we use them so heavily. A metaphor is a box that we put reality into. And the boxes we fit reality into inform–and more importantly for the purposes of this post limit–that understanding. You may have noticed that I just used a metaphor to explain metaphors: proof of their pervasive nature in itself.

Let’s take a step back for a moment and define the word ‘metaphor.’ When I use the word, I simply mean taking some fact or object and likening it to another fact or object. Taking one reality and comparing it to a different reality. Don’t get me wrong, metaphors are great and necessary things; we couldn’t make sense of the world without them. I only want to observe that when metaphors become our reality, we miss out. On potentially a lot. Western culture has a tendency to become attached to very specific theoretical constructs, to the exclusion of all others, something which we can observe in our approach to words as well. Words have been the cause of much strife, particularly here in the west. We get so hung up on the words we use to describe reality that we sometimes forget that there is, in fact, a reality behind the words. The idea that a different set of words could point to the same reality or expose a different aspect of it is cast aside, and we cling arrogantly to our own specific definitions. This is because the words in and of themselves have become our reality.

I bring up words because I think that our underlying approach to both words and metaphors is the same, and I want to tie the ideas together. I’m sure the nominalists reading this (*cough*Gunn*cough*) are shaking their heads in sad condescension at this point, but so be it. To come back to our definition of terms, a metaphor is an abstraction that we use to help us better understand reality. In like manner, words are abstractions that help us to better understand reality. We use both to communicate with other people our understanding of the way the world works.

And here is where I become disconcerted. Do we ever stop to question the limits of our metaphors? Our culture hands us the metaphors through which we understand the way the world is even as it teaches us words and idioms, and it never stops to tell us that we are, in fact, using abstractions. And that’s where the danger lies. When we don’t realize we’re using tools to understand reality, we take the tools for the reality they are meant to help us grasp, severely detracting from our ability to lay hold of and experience life and truth. Our reality becomes a collection of empty metaphors and words that pass devoid of substance through our minds. This plague, I think, is at the root of what we call legalism: a clinging to lifeless words, refusing to see the deeper, broader truth that lies behind them.

Now of course we could easily wander ourselves into a land of wishy-washy nonsense here, saying that ‘words have no meaning’ and ‘metaphors are harmful,’ and ‘we don’t need words to communicate.’ As I have already observed, these are wonderful and necessary things. They have their rightful place as tools of communication and tools for framing and understanding reality. We couldn’t very well get along without them. So don’t think I’m saying that words and metaphors have no meaning and that we should cast them aside as worthless hinderances. Because they have much meaning. The right words can have tremendous power and significance, and a good metaphor can open our understanding like nothing else. However, as is the case with all tools with great potential for good, they also have great potential for abuse. Every tool should be studied carefully so that both its proper applications and its shortcomings are understood. So it is with rhetoric, so it is with hammers, so it is with guns, so it is with computers.

We all know the benefits and glories of good words and apt metaphors. But I think that we never pause to seriously consider their limitations. And that’s what I want to consider. We need to think about the way they shape our lives, experiences, and our perceptions of reality. We need to think about what they are good for, and in turn what they are not good for. The main thing to keep in mind is that the purpose of these constructs is to communicate the unnameable realities and experiences and existences around us. It is to bring us a to deeper connection with the people and the world around us. But there is a very fine and extremely important distinction we have to make here: the words and metaphors in themselves are not those realities and experiences and existences. They are meant to guide us to those things, but they are not those things.

One of the pitfalls of glossing over this distinction is emptiness. When we fail to lay hold of the things that our words and metaphors are meant to help us lay hold of, we fail to use them towards their proper end. It is very easy to fall into just saying the words. Just having the metaphors. Just knowing the constructs and the theory. Just holding ideas. If we are not intentional about seeking out the truth that lies behind the words, the fullness and nuance of the reality that lies behind the metaphor, we will fall into that emptiness. The bad sort of emptiness–the one that leads down the icy road of forgetfulness, fear, and a two dimensional life devoid of depth. Fear is our natural reaction to words that appear to contradict our ideas. And with that fear, withdrawl and closing off. Have you ever felt that twitch of deep-seated uneasiness when someone you know starts questioning something you never thought to question? When they start using uncomfortable words? I know I have. And that is the cold fear of hell.

I am, of course, leading up to a final thought, and I’m sure you guessed the direction I’ve been heading in. I think that a lot of our metaphors for God need to be questioned. When we talk about God as a person, we’re using a metaphor. When we talk about God having hands and feet, eyes and ears, we are personifying God. But God is not some person with hands and feet, eyes and ears, sitting up in the clouds somewhere. Those words are just constructs to help us to wrap our minds around someone so much more than we can ever comprehend. What does God ‘speaking’ actually mean? That’s a metaphor that we use to talk about how God communicates with us (and one that in our day I feel has become misleading to many). But how does he, actually? Justification is a metaphor taken from the Roman Legal mindset. The kingdom of God is a metaphor that relates how God operates to worldly things. The very words ‘Lord’ and ‘King’ are one word metaphors. There are so very many things that we fall into thinking about literally, never pausing to give thought to the fact that there could be so much more to understand, grasp, and experience behind what has become a wall of words blocking us from life. A wall that was never meant to be a wall, but a sign.

There have been some men alongside Jesus, particularly some from the monastic tradition, whose sight pierced through to the very core of life and reality. They said things that were jarring and yet blindingly true. They had insight into the deep things of God, and they had vision that could pierce through men and women they had never met before. They were so full of life and so empty at the same time. So confusing and foolish and yet so wise. And that’s what I want. What they have. And that is my quest, right now. You should think about joining me.

Eulogy To A Sunrise With A Friend

So, the other day I was browsing through my bookshelf looking for an empty binder, when I happened across a dusty old black hardback notebook. Immediately, I recognized it as the book in which I wrote some essays and short stories during my stay in Idaho for Hill Abbey almost 3 years ago now. I found this short story that I wrote that–if I may say so myself–I find to be quite delightful, but had completely forgot about. I take the liberty of posting it now.

There’s something about sunrises. Sunsets can be beautiful, they can be overwhelmingly so. But there’s always a tinge of sadness, of fading glory, of longing in them. Sunrises, however, are joyous. They breathe life and light and fill the heart with happiness. Sometimes life brings me down, and I become engrossed in sunsets and melancholy moonlit nights, and I forget the simple joy of the sunrise. There’s no better medicine for the heart full of heartache than a beautiful sunrise.

The air was still: there wasn’t a bit of wind. The snow was powdery and the sky frostbitten. We both sat there as the first rays of light began to peer over the horizon. A little cloud of tobacco smoke lingered around us, evidenced by the streaks of light cutting through it. Bird song was in the air, but only faintly and in the distance. We had hiked in the early morning dark to the top of the ridge, and we were now both sitting in the snow, each wrapped in a blanket and blowing frozen water vapor and smoke into the still dark air. John was looking thoughtfully off into the distance. I followed his gaze as I sipped my flask of ouzo. “You know,” he said, “I haven’t watched the sun rise in much too long a time. I’d forgotten how beautiful it was.”

I nodded silent assent as I watched a bird of prey in the distance circle over some trees. After a long while thinking I replied “It’s so easy to sit here and forget everything. Smoking, drinking, watching the sun rise… everything seems like it happened last night. It seems so distance.”

“Yeah, like a dream almost.”

Another lull in the conversation. The sun was now almost half visible on the horizon, and the valley below us was being flooded with light, the white sunbeams clearing out the cobwebs of shadows as if someone had opened the door to a dusty old cellar, bathing it in light. I brooded over the past year and glanced over at John to see that he was doing the same. Our eyes met. I sighed. “I guess sometimes there’s a place for putting the past behind you and just enjoying the present moment.”

John laughed and said “Somehow it’s easy to do when you’re watching a sunrise, smoking and drinking ouzo. Especially with you here. I don’t think it gets much better than this.”

I tried to blow a smoke ring but watched it instantly dissipate in the slight breeze that was slowly developing. “It’s weird how everything can seem alright even if it’s not when you’re with a friend. I guess Solomon was right.”

“Don’t discount the influence of the sunrise,” said John. “I think it totally has an effect on the soul.”

The sun was just now lifting itself completely off the horizon and into the air, glowing, beaming, shedding golden white shafts everywhere. I took another swig from my flask. “A sunrise with a friend…” I said quietly, taking a long puff of smoke and afterwards blowing it out slowly. “Good medicine. There’s always hope in the morning, isn’t there. Always hope…” I trailed off thoughtfully. John nodded in agreement as he stared down into the valley below.

Fate and Free Will

I just read Boethius’ classic, the Consolation of Philosophy. And, truth be told, I found it very consoling. Boethius named it aptly (if he did in fact name it, I don’t know, but whoever named it named it aptly).

It made me do a lot of thinking. The first few chapters of Book one had me doing fist pumps and exclaiming expletives of happiness, so as you can tell from my reaction, I absolutely loved it. He starts off with this sad somewhat self-sorry poem about his woes (he’s in prison soon to be executed when he wrote this book), while the muses of poetry surround his bed. Then he notices Philosophy hovering over his head, and when she sees the muses of Poetry, she starts to severely reprimand them (she calls them sluts, no joke) and kicks them out of the room. Then she sits down next to a rather shocked Boethius and begins a conversation which is detailed by the rest of the book.

During the course of this conversation many interesting and ponderous things are said. The one which I want touch upon here is what the discussion revolves around for the last part of the book: fate and free will. You can call it predestination if you want, but I like the alliteration I have going on here.

I have never thought very rigorously about this subject, though I’m loathe to admit it, and this book has tested the limits of my reasoning and understanding on the matter. To me, the important thing is that people are responsible for their actions. No one can deny that. And if he does, he is an idiot that acts inconsistently with his beliefs every day of his life… or if he never takes responsibility for his actions, well, he’s at least double the idiot. You can’t live in the real world and claim to have no responsibility for your actions. That’s just absurd. So, as long as one agrees to accept responsibility for his actions, I’ve never been one to care much about what you believe about fate and free-will.

Personally, I have always claimed to stand on the side of free will, but only to emphasize the responsibility of man for his life and actions. I tend to dislike the notion of ‘predestination’–and when I say predestination I mean fatalism or lack of free-will–simply because I think it tends to make people feel less responsible for their lives. Then, about a year ago, I watched a lecture by Rob Bell (Thanks Aften!) who used an analogy that opened up my mind quite a bit. He talked for a while about time, and then took a dry-erase marker and held it up, saying, we see our lives as a line like this marker. But what if God could take our life and turn it this way… so that it looks like a circle. Or maybe this way, so it looks like a rectangle. This metaphor somehow helped me to visualize the idea that God is outside of time, and what that means (Gunn, check your cries of mocking condescension for just one moment). This leads us to Boethius.

But if God can see our whole life and know our every action with certainty, argues Boethius, doesn’t that logically mean the same thing as a lack of choice and free will? Philosophy, however, replies that because I see Gunn walking and thus can say that I know that he is walking, does my knowing impose necessity and lack of free will upon Gunn? No, of course not. Why would it be any different for God, then, to observe our whole lives in his eternal present without imposing necessity on our actions? If you claim that foreknowledge equals a lack of free will, you are making a logical fallacy, because knowing does not impose necessity.

(As a rabbit trail of sorts, God created time. So God wasn’t before time, because ‘before’ is a word used in reference to time. God just is. That’s why his name is “I am.” God is simple, completely unchanging, existential eternity. Because we are creatures of time, we are perpetual–that is we never cease to exist–but we are not eternal, because we are subject to time and change. Thus, in our quest for God and eternal life, i.e. true happiness, we strive towards precisely those qualities).

This insight of Boethius’s was rather a revelatory thought for me. I realized that in my fuzzy thinking, I had always sort of assumed that foreknowledge somehow seems to equal predestination, or lack of will, but this is nonsense, as Boethius lays out much more clearly than I just summarized. From what I understand, C.S. Lewis argues something along the same lines (I think perhaps he drew his arguments from Boethius, if I recall correctly), though I can’t attest to that first-hand.

All this leads me to have an even stronger distaste for the notion of ‘predestination,’ whatever that means. To be fair, the word is poorly diluted and can mean a multiplicity of different things, all of which I probably wouldn’t disagree so heartily with. I do feel like Calvin must be misinterpreted by the Calvinists upon this point, and so my next goal is to delve into the institutes and figure out what Calvin actually has to say about these matters.

Fearing Hell

“It is a wise person who deeply fears falling into hell. Only because the terrors of hell are so little known to them do human beings have no desire for the teachings of the Buddha.”

This quote from one of the many books I am currently reading, “The Three Pillars of Zen,” really caught me sharply. It’s contained in a letter of the Zen master Bassui to an abbess. There’s a lot of hidden truth to this statement. I might replace the teachings of the Buddha with the teachings of Jesus Christ (I don’t claim to know the teachings of the Buddha, so I won’t deign to speak for him), but the underlying message remains the same. Do I fear hell?

If I answer truthfully, I must say that I really don’t fear hell all that much. Not nearly as much as I should. A footnote to the above quote will perhaps makes its meaning more clear: “What is implied in this and the following sentence is that the plane of existence or state of conciousness called hell is excruciatingly painful, and that it is the dread of falling into such a miserable life which gives rise to a deep yearning for Self-realization. For it is enlightenment that takes the terror out of hell.”

For those of you who have followed my blog for a long time, you’ll perhaps know that my beliefs about hell are not average, at least by the standards of our contemporary Christian culture. I feel they are in line with the tradition of Christian thought through Church History, especially in the tradition of mysticism. So, before we start fearing it, perhaps we ought to contemplate what hell is in the first place.

Hell, to me, is not a place of burning fire and brimstone into which sinners are cast after the general resurrection and the day of judgement. It is not a section of the new world partitioned off in which people who never believed or heard the name of Christ are tortured eternally. While I understand that such a view of hell can be wrested from the Scriptures with a little imagination, I do not think it is an idea supported by an accurate interpretation of the whole of Scripture.

What is hell, then, if not a place? A mindset. A state of heart. And the quote that I gave above illustrates this subtle but much more terrifying conception of hell. If we put hell off to some time in the future after we die, some place to which we go to, then it really doesn’t have all that much influence over our day to day lives. I mean, if that is the case, we can have no conception of what hell will be like. We can guess and speculate, but who knows really? After about a year of being burned by eternal fire, don’t you think you’d perhaps become a little bit numb to it? At any rate, no one can say unless he’s been there.

If hell is a mindset and not a place, the question “Are you going to hell when you die?” needs to be rethought. “Are you in hell right now?” seems more appropriate with this in mind. This brings much more urgency to the discussion. If hell is indeed a mindset, what would a life lived in this mindset look like? It would be one full of selfishness, fear, hatred, bitterness, anger, coldness, darkness; a life controlled by the iron fetters of passionate emotion or dictated by a heartless, cold intellect; obsession with the transitory things of this life like sexual pleasure, money, food, drugs, alcohol; a life characterized by laziness, sloth, lack of discipline, impotence, and waste; a life where everything revolves around oneself and is seen as an object to serve ones personal will and pleasure.

How enslaved are you to any one of those things? I know that I live in probably several of them, to some degree or another, every day. Why do I not fear the vice-grip of these mundane daily things that will slowly close tighter and tighter if I let them? All these things slowly wipe away the image of the Creator that I was made to be like. Maybe that’s what’s so scary about Hell. The further you go, the less you understand the path you walk and where it leads. The more blind and deaf you become to truth as you willingly forge the chains that bind you as a slave to sin. You fall further into delusion, as our friend Bassui would put it.

Dear Brother

Let everything you do be done in love. The greatest commandment is love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your breath, with all your understanding, and the second is likewise, love your neighbour as yourself. First and foremost your life ought to be entirely devoted to God our heavenly Father. Thus, the first priority of life is to seek love and understand God. This requires a good bit of a journey. After this, you ought to love those who walk the halls of your life, those who live around you.

It is important to put God before people. There is overlap between loving God and loving people, but proper love for people is only born out of time spent searching for God. But God is not easy to find, especially amidst the flurry of our busy day-to-day lives, for God is only found in stillness. He can only be touched through our spirit, for he is spirit, and those who worship him in truth must access him through the spirit. He is not in thoughts, in doctrines, in ideas, in music, in books, in words, for these are just shells with which we try to catch up the whole ocean. An impossible task. It takes a lot of determination, grit, and discipline to search for God. But our King has told us that this is the first and greatest commandment. Never lose sight of that. No matter what is going on around you, no matter how much noise fills your life, this is always the thing to be set and determined upon. It is a journey that each of us must make on our own, because when all is said and done, I am responsible for me and you are responsible for you. There are many who have gone before, many who will come behind, and many who are on the same pilgrimage, but we must all walk the journey with our own two feet.

This brings us to the second commandment that we need to live by. People are sacred, and every man that you meet ought to be seen in truth, understanding, and love. You must be shrewd in your dealings with men, but let love be your guiding light. Many, perhaps most, men are slaves to one degree or another. As you have said, some are slaves to sex. It consumes them and begins to permeate their reality, and everything becomes seen in relation to sex. Other men are slaves to money, some to power, some to knowledge, some to fear, and some to other transitory things of the world. But as I said, let your guiding light be love. Pity all who are slaves to such cruel masters and seek to show them their bondage, for many are unaware of their slavery. Know what men think of you but never concern yourself with it and let your love for God and men make you generous, compassionate, and patient. Live purely before God no matter what men may think of you. If they take your righteousness for foolishness, or if they are offended at your purity, do not worry yourself and be glad, for so did many do to the prophets of our Father and the apostles of our Lord.

Hang your life on these two commandments. Meditate on them day and night. Let the words of our Lord and the words of the law be the path on which you walk, straight and true. Don’t be discouraged if you feel lost, stupid, and far from God and his light. There is darkness along the path we tread. Don’t worry if you feel inadequate, out-of-touch, and blindly wandering, for God’s mercy is boundless. Take heart, brother, for our Lord shall come again in glory. He will come to judge all men, and he will judge their very thoughts and intentions. Purify yourself and seek him if you believe this. May God make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. Amen.

On the Uselessness of Words

I would like to ponder the uselessness of words. If you’ve had any personal conversations with me in the past year or so, you’ve probably heard me say a lot of really ambiguous things. Things like “there is no good or bad,” or perhaps “you have to step outside of your mind,” or maybe “You oughtn’t to pray conversationally with God.” Aren’t these self-contradicting, nonsensical, illogical?

Have you ever decided to try and explain to someone how you feel? You aren’t quite sure yourself, but you try anyways. So, you explain and the listener listens. After hearing you out, the listener says, “Oh, yeah, I think I know what you’re talking about.” He then goes on to explain what he thinks you’re feeling. Except, when he explains it, you realize that he didn’t get it. He didn’t get the state of being that you were trying to communicate. But you don’t have the energy or the words to correct him or try to re-explain yourself in different words.

Then again, sometimes someone explains a mood that I thought only I felt so eloquently I get an overwhelming sense of camaraderie (Unfortunately, these people are nearly always long dead, so I can’t go seek them out and become their disciple).

I’m starting to realize that words are just tools. Words have no significance of themselves. They’re essentially signposts pointing to deeper realities. I’m starting to see a lot of word worship around me. People like to latch onto words and use them thoughtlessly. Because when you don’t realize that words are only pointers, you slowly start to warp and skew your world. Your reality shrinks to the size of a few measly words.

I chuckle over some of the ways this misunderstanding of words can manifest itself. Whenever you join a new group of people, and this is especially apparent in but not limited to groups of Christian people, you’ll find that there are certain buzzwords that they use. When I hear Reformed kids throwing around words like ‘elect’ and ‘sovereignty’, when I hear protestants into the Orthodox Church discussing the ‘essence and energies’ theory, when I hear Baptist believers talking about ‘evangelism’ and ‘missions’ and ‘the gospel.’ And the buzzwords change from church to church, region to region. And Oh how they make me chuckle. It’s just so… *cute*.

I’m not saying words are bad. But the idea of words is to communicate reality. And when words reach buzzword status, they no longer have meaning. They’re no longer pointing to a deeper reality, because they have lost their context. They become words void of meaning floating around in useless mind-space. So some of the things I’ve been saying of late have indeed been in some sense nonsensical. I like to think of it as trying to break out of word-molds. But mostly it’s just that I’ve been seeing realities that people don’t talk much about and that I don’t have good words to describe. So I guess my descriptions are kind of bumbling at this point.

Let me ask you this. What words do you use frequently when you’re talking God-talk? Do you know? If you know, do they really have meaning to you anymore? If you’re not careful, you’ll never see the deep, palpable realities that words are supposed to point to because you’re so pre-occupied with describing them. Our minds can get so full of words. And most of the time, they’re words someone used to try and communicate a reality to us that we never experienced. We just heard the words, said “Oh that makes sense,” and adopted them into our God-talk. Is your mind full of words? Words without realities behind them?

I’ll close with a quote from Chuang Tzu, taken from Thomas Merton’s English interpretations of this profound Taoist philosopher.

“O, they make their point!
Yet their arguments fall faster and feebler
Than dead leaves in autumn and winter.
Their talk flows out like piss,
Never to be recovered.
They stand at last, blocked, bound, and gagged,
Choked up like old drain pipes.
The mind fails. It shall not see light again.”