Wednesday, May 25, 2005

pedestal or pendulum

'annie' left this comment on another Jesusblog long ago:

we all know who God is.
you are just like those highway signs with the word JESUS on them.

get a life.

spirit flows naturally. no need to help it along if it's authentic. religious people would more effectively 'get the word out' by living their life as they believe 'He/She' would want them to.

show by example, not by mouth. i believe God (or Jesus) wouldn't have wanted their name splashed onto bill-boards along the highways or bandied about on computers, or even on

how utterly gross.

well, i don't know. i mean do we all actually know who God is? i've made it my life's work to try to get to know this God person, but there are days where the best i can manage is a benevolent idea or a being that is at the centre of the 'intelligent design' theory. on those days i'm not sure what kind of an example i am. do people really want the real deal, or is it just going to get awkwardly honest?

it's not that i ever doubt God's existence- i just sometimes fade in and out of the ability to relate to someone who is everywhere and capable of knowing and doing everything, but chooses to remain invisible to my physical eyes and silent to my physical ears. there are days when i have to cling to the promises of God like a drowning man fearful of being swept away by the waves of life that continue to relentlessly cascade, splashing over the blessed assurances again and again, making them too slippery for him to stand upon.

on those days, the 'WWJD' bracelet doesn't quite cut it... everybody can tell when i'm pretending- i'm just not a very good actor and i don't play poker for fear of losing everything with the first attempt at a bluff. however, i believe that Jesus had those days too, and we read that during those times he would withdraw from public view to sweat and to pray. the horror comes when i am discovered by another in my moment of spiritual desolation. i'm not very good company when i'm trying to do some personal open-heart surgery, and the well-meaning words and verses of other saints simply serve to heighten my feelings of growing distance and aloneness. like struggling with some form of stomach 'bug', i find myself unable to remember what being healthy felt like and antagonized by the warm smiles of the unafflicted. the philantherapy of others does little to bring me along on such heavy days.

what does bring me along is permission.

permission to acknowledge that there is a tunnel and it is real and it is all around me and i am allowed to stumble through its darkness in order to step back into the light on the other side. it is immensely liberating to be free to be human, failing to have any answers at all other than 'Jesus saves... i hope.'

people place other people on pedestals sometimes, requiring them to be ridiculously infallible and then withdrawing the faith when the pedestal people turn out to be human too. although i don't believe that annie was implying it in her comment, i know that far too often some confuse authenticity with flawlessness, integrity with perfection. what makes this even more tragic is when the pedestal people allow themselves to aspire to this. instead of authenticity, pedestal people live lives of perpetual, well-maintained denial, rising to greater heights where they are to view and be viewed by those who place them there.

problem is, or course, that the taller the platform, the greater the distance to the ground and hence the greater the possibility of vertigo.

i think that i prefer a swing to a standard.

sure, with a swing there are lows which seperate the highs in the same way that valleys define mountains, but there is no need to be able to balance on a swing... there is always something to hold onto. although the seat of the swing has its own gravity caused by the centrifugal force of its pendulumic semi-orbit around the top bar, this gravity changes depending on the position that i hold on the arc and is therefore one more trippy physical thing to master which is not an issue on a high platform. however, holding onto the ropes ensures that once the instant of weightlessness passes i will remain in the arc, in partial orbit around my life's centre whether i am looking at it or not.

there is also the assurance, when playing on a swing, that even at the lowest low the rider is safe... and is still the same distance from the bar as he or she was in that instant of thrilling weightlessness when it felt as though human flight were actually possible.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

us and them

from where i sit it's all the same
why can't i just be free?
because no matter what you say
you'll never make me see
as you speak your voice rises
so great is your commitment to rescue me from the 'other side'
sure my eyes are open
so to your reason they are blind

but let me try
try to make you understand
it's nothing personal- it's just the way i am
i've seen too much consistent inconsistency
too many things are said by those lacking credibility

a surrogate shepherd performs a three-point scream
mopping sweat from his brow he tells of a dream
how darkness and terror invaded his head causing some thrashing about on the bed
apparitions wielding financial prophecy tormented his temples chanting 'bankruptcy'
and so to the faithful he beckons today
that if they truly would follow they must join him in his crusade

nothing is heard
nothing is felt
only thoughts of the lunch buffet
and of loosening the bible belt

please- don't get on the defensive
i didn't mean to wound your pride
i just wanted you to see my side
there there sit back and take it easy
if it will make you feel better you can say a little prayer for me

so now we're in it, one on one
and it's your turn once again
('the other side' written in mr jazwal's math class)

then agrippa said to paul,
'do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a christian?'
paul replied,
'short time or long- i pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what i am, except for these chains...'
(acts 26.28-9)

Icarus said:
"I always hold that the only way to make progress on a certain topic is to pull away any BS and start from the very foundation. I don't know how successful my post was, as everyone seems to be firmly planted in their respective corners, but at least it generated some interesting dialogue."

it went down this way: an open-ended dialogue began with a letter questioning christians' adherence to the bible's claims of spiritual authority and divine authorship which generated a fair bit of interest (comparatively speaking) in the blogosphere. it resulted in some good discussion and debate which was facilitated responsibly by its insightful author/devil's advocate, depending on your position on the issue. at the end of its run, its author made the comment cited above concerning the fruitfulness of the post.

the fact that icarus questioned the success of his 'a letter to christians' post surprised me. i guess your view of a successful dialogue depends on your reason for initiating the discussion in the first place. you see, debates usually prove little apart from who the least incapabable candidate for election might be. debates polarize the mob and serve to strengthen the already held positions of the constituents, but do little to convince. if the post was intended to draw people from one side of the spiritual issue on the cyber-roundtable to the other, then its authorship was misguided.

as misguided, i might add, as two thousand years worth of passionate evangelical monologues intended to fetch the fallen from the flame. in the constituency of the soul, the life-changing dialogue takes place between creator and created, not between the created quibblers. although reason is one of the empowering faculties of humankind, it is not the only one and it certainly struggles in realms where the facts just aren't all there to be examined through scientific, logical or otherwise empirical methods. yet apologists work very diligently at convincing atheists and agnostics that the espoused doctrines are true when, in some cases, these are too mystical to be 'proven' apart from the personal proof that is established through the experiencial living of a life according to said doctrines.

i think that this is similar to trying to explain how thinking in one language works to someone who thinks in a different one. thought patterns and structures that seem natural (but are, in fact, learned from a time prior to earliest memory) for an anglophone are foreign to the francophone who is attempting to learn english as an addition to their existing means of relating to the world. at first it requires a lot of discipline and interpretation, but it eventually becomes something that people refer to as 'second nature.' however, it takes an incredible amount of time, practice and often immersion to cause one to move beyond their 'mother tongue' and truly embrace a new language and the effect it has on how that person thinks and processes information.

yet, the atheist tries to convince the christian that the language of 'simple faith' is shallow and intellectually inferior, while the christian tries to convince the atheist that the language of 'pure reason' is limited to the physical realm in its scope and experience. can anyone ever be bilingual, speaking both languages fluently? i believe so, but it takes more than one lengthy blog or one passionate late-night conversation at tim horton's to get there.

(note: this doesn't mean that i am against sharing diagrams depicting large chasms which are bridged by crosses, or setting up s.b.a.'s or 'praying the prayer' or whatever... although i DO draw the line at leaving bogus tracts that look like money on the table as a tip for the server upon leaving a restaurant- that's just wrong. i'm just saying that, in my life's experience, the people that i know are most impacted when i put my gospel gun in the rifle rack and just hang out with the understanding that if they ever want to go there i'm game. i won't dodge the opportunity to share Jesus' love with somebody, i just don't think anybody really likes being considered a project by someone who has the audacity to label them as 'lost.')

i think that the 'progress' in this case was to have so many different voices present in a dialogue that should matter to all of us, but sadly doesn't take place nearly often enough because people have trouble with basic ethnocentricity issues. we see those who hold differing views on things that are important to us as somehow on 'the other side' when, in fact, we are all on the same side... we're on the 'mortal life on fallen planet earth' side.

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Friday, May 06, 2005

travel guide

at the end of a lengthy and heartfelt open letter to christians contesting the integrity of authorship and revealed divine wordship of the bible (which has resulted in an engaging dialogue with well over thirty-five interactive comments at the time of this posting) Icarus said something which triggered an idea for me:

These are just some philosophical problems I have with the idea of revealed religion that I need to have answered adequately before I even begin to examine the actual contents of the Bible. If you can please answer these questions for me, then we can move on to the questions I have about the actual contents and merits of what the book says

here's an idea: what if the Bible could be compared to a map or travel guide that leads us to a relationship with God?

a travel guide is not going to magically take you to another place, nor is reading it the same as travelling abroad. it is a guide which attempts to open up the destination point for the reader. it gives the reader some hints as to how to get the most out of their journey- how to effectively make the journey, through rich memories drawn from experience, part of life from then on. a Bible is not going to magically transport one into the presence of God, and reading it is not a replacement for a relationship with God. reading it is a means by which people can approach God and enter into a relationship with God that affects the rest of their life and beyond.

the thing about the travel guide analogy is that there are many travel guides published for popular areas. cosmic connections are, these days, a popular area and there are many 'holy writings' published.

okay, fine. when someone whom we do not know writes a book about brazil- this is going to be our destination for the purpose of this analogy- we do not (among people i know, anyway) check with interpol or some other international organization to determine whether the profile of the author is truthful- whether the author of the guide has, in fact, been more than a casual observer of the country of brazil. we defer our responsibility in this area to the publishers of the guide, presuming that they have a screening process that ensures the integrity of the books they publish- we even ask people who are familiar with travel in general which resources are the most informative and reliable.

and let's face it: there are some travel guides out there that have a lot of the general milieu summarized, but are replete with inconsistencies, poorly worded directions and badly cartographed maps. they claim to be user-friendly guides, but are, in fact, frustratingly user-hostile.

so what do we do when we want to go to brazil? first, we ask everyone we know if they've been there. if we find someone who has, we ask them about brazil and about their personal experiences with brazil, recognizing that talking about or reading about brazil is very different from actually going there. we watch t.v. shows. we go do websites (speaking of credibility issues... woah- don't get me started) and with our friend's help (or the help of a good travel agent- one who makes it their business to know how to get someone to brazil)we set up our connections... or we think about the conversation for days and end up setting up the connection all by ourselves via the net. then, having decided upon the direction and timeframe of our trek, we start reading the guides in preparation for the trip.

but the real lifechange comes when we actually arrive there, having done everything we could to prepare ourselves, only to discover that no amount of preparation could approximate what it actually feels like to be there.i think that experiencing God is like this.the trick(?) is to find someone who is experiencing God (in the analogy-the friend who has been to brazil) and open the dialogue face to face.

so then icarus made this comment, knowing full well that i wouldn't be able to just sit there are read it without continuing on deeper into the foul nether regions of analogyland... (darn guy!) and from this point i began speaking more directly to icarus (hence all the 'you' stuff) in second person. however, i'm just too lazy to change all of that stuff here... sorry.

Interesting analogy with the Brazil trip. But the problem comes in when you go through all those motions, hop on the plane and then after a 10 hour flight you realize "Hey, there is no Brazil."

being that the blog is called 'the flights of icarus goodman' i find the whole idea of a ten hour (or nineteen year) flight only to discover there is, in fact, no brazil a tragedy of classical proportion.

but it's a little off.

you never got there, man. you never actually set foot in brazil. if i recall correctly something you wrote awhile back, you went 'through all those motions' and even hopped on the plane- but then during the ten-hour flight you grew restless and started to read other travel guides.

these new guides were ones that you hadn't read before leaving- ones that pushed hard to convince you that there was no brazil, illustrated with charicatures of buffoons who are such bad travellers that it wouldn't really matter where they were going for readers young and old to be resolute in their desire to avoid at all costs any destination these travellers might promote. problem was, these travellers looked familiar and at times you had even felt like one of them (which didn't sit so well, even at the time) and so the doubts and the restlessness grew.

eventually, you had had enough and, having fashioned wings of wax during the flight, stepped out of the plane somewhere over the ocean. with the wind in your ears and a plane moving off in the distance, your focus- upon being free of the plane and its destination- was now upon the wonder and joy of flight, recognizing that to fly too close to the sun might melt your wings and to fly too close to the water might restrict both your vision and your freedom to experiment with flight itself. (ie jonathan livingstone seagull by richard bach)

at least, that's how it sounded to me

while at university i lived next door to a 'new-age' bookstore, from which i procured a bunch of fun books: lao tzu's "tao of life"; swami prabhavananda's "bhagavad-gita"; "the gospel according to zen- beyond the death of God"; baigent, leigh and lincoln's "the holy blood and the holy grail" (a resource for don brown's davinci thing) and others. add to these the stuff i've read since (figured i'd quit with the cheesey name-dropping) and you have many voices carrying on a dialogue which shapes and reshapes your perspective, sometimes daily.

there was a passage of scripture that resonated within the caverns of my mind that i was so eager to fill up, and essentially bathed the place with light enabling me to see the faces that were engaged in the dialogue even now:

'see to it that no one holds you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.'
(col 2.8)

the word 'hollow' is probably the most important word in that verse other than the name of Christ. what it says to me is that pure intellectual reasoning will inspire and develop the mind, but might be comparable to misering (?) in that eventually mortal life in the physical realm is done and everyone is once again leveled.

the whole 'you can't take it with you' thing.

now that's fine because life was full of ideas and experiences that make us undeniably rich in many ways, and if this is the proverbial 'it' and all that we've experienced is reduced to what we had the chance to pass on to others- if that is our immortality- then great. but if there is, in fact, something more than spiritual sea below us to which we eventually come to land, then we have spent the whole of our physical existence on the hollow- chasing, as solomon said, after wind.
check out the complete dialogue and the original post at

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