Thursday, February 23, 2006

on the tee

it seems like a trend is developing. about this time last year (perhaps a month later or so, but whatever) my friend icarus issued an open letter to christians, challenging them to articulate why they believe what they believe. recently, kinkazzo sent me an email (exerpted below) asking many of the same questions.

now is it the weather or is it me? i don't know. maybe it's simply that these are the questions that inevitably come up once some time has passed and some dialogue on the things of life has tanspired between spiritual beings having a physical experience. perhaps its just that everyone is getting restless, having been golfing at those virtual golf places all winter. enquiring minds want to know...

Why are you a pastor, why are you a "believer"? How can you possibly hold to a "religion" knowing that our concept of God is invalid? Why does a rational being accept by faith some belief like yours? Why do we pray if God cannot intervene?

well, rather than simply copy and paste last year's testimonial (, i decided to try to put this whole faith experience into new words a year later... here's the 'e-pistle' i sent to my friend in response...
so i thought about it a bit and i guess that there are two questions that come to mind:

why do i respond? how do i respond?

the first one's easy: because you asked and because i am learning things about myself by talking to you... there is also that amazing growth thing that happens when one is required to somehow articulate the things he or she believes in the face of strong reasons not to...

however, the second one is a little trickier for me. firstly, there's that whole business of trying to sort out where another person is going ie: whether this note is simply a psalm of lament--- a proclamation more than a prayer per se... spoken about God rather than to him, although loudly enough for him to hear--- full of rhetorical questions intended to express ideas rather than gather them, or is this note and the questions contained therein a quest for understanding as experienced between two friends?

Why are you a pastor, why are you a "believer"? How can you possibly hold to a "religion" knowing that our concept of God is invalid? Why does a rational being accept by faith some belief like yours? Why do we pray if God cannot intervene?

i agree. it would be foolish to hold to a religion, knowing that the concept of God is invalid. i'm just not in any way convinced that this is the case with God. my concept of God, (my theos logos, if you will) may be flawed, but these flaws do not do anything except keep me humble- they don't humble God at all, any more than some strange belief on the part of another concerning who i am actually makes me that belief. a misconception is a misconception and, if nothing else, this example underscores for me the importance of ensuring that my talks on sunday mornings are backed up really well by scripture, commentary, exegesis and other Christian teachings so as to not be relegated to simple theological gossip.

in my view, the validity in the 'concept of God' is in the fact that it is life-affecting (i would like to say 'life-changing' but the reality is that i was born and raised as a follower of Jesus Christ and the things that changed the direction of my life forever or just awhile were not so much the holy moments as the unholy ones... but that's a whole nother blog.)

but why pray? c.s. lewis' response has always worked for me:
prayer doesn't change God, it changes me.

the problem with using that soundbyte in this context is that if this were a proper response to your earlier question about prayer then it would also hold that prayer is "a hopeless exercise. Maybe a gestalt? At time replaced by the therapist's couch? A cheaper way of finding mental comfort?" (these are kinkazzo's words from later in the email) nope, there's got to be more to it for me than a pat answer or some church-childhood leftovers or i wouldn't bother.

is it enough to say that i pray because i know i'm not in charge? perhaps prayer is an ongoing exercise in surrendering my existencial stranglehold on things too big for my little hands anyway. i recently wrote a song that headed in this direction. although no music can heal me and no poem can make me whole (kinkazzo's words again), for me poetry and music are means by which i get in conscious touch with that which is taking place in my subconscious mind (the unconscious mind stuff is a little easier for me to lock in on because i remember dreams vividly... occasionally i can even interpret them in terms of the messages that they invite me to answer or respond to in metadialogue.)

i'm the one who walks upon the wire
i'm the one who works without a net
i'm the one who dances through the fire
i'm the one with nothing to forget

i'm the one who keeps the pie-plates spinning
i'm the one who knew it all along
i'm the one who gambles with his winnings
i'm the one who is yet to be proven wrong

the eye in the sky advises you to find another route home
avoid the twisted metal and broken glass
a crowd has gathered
debris is scattered for miles along the way
one by one people, shudder as they pass

i'm the one who insults in order to flatter
i'm the one who knows how to beat the odds
i'm the one who believes in mind over matter
i'm the one who has no time for your little gods

the eye in the sky advises you to find another route home
avoid the twisted metal and broken glass
a crowd has gathered
debris is scattered for miles along the way
one by one people, shudder as they pass

the eye in the sky advises you to find another route home
how long you'll have to wait is hard to say
the crews are working into the night
to clear away the wreckage
of a car that hit itself going the other way

i think that prayer is, for me, more than a mental discipline like meditation or the like. it is one way that i keep balanced- both big enough to do some things and small enough to let go of others. it is an expression of my belief that relational dialogue is possible between creator and created- a belief that is realized in the interaction.

i do not believe that it is impossible for God to intervene in circumstances, although there are times when i sure wish that i could somehow see the redemptive element of something painful or tragic. however, rather than abandon faith in looking for reasons (or perhaps looking for reasons to abandon faith), i am slowly learning that there are things towhich i am not entitled to understanding, no matter how important i think i am. prayer is the cord i use to lash myself to the mast of faith amidst the worst of storms- it supercedes my sloppy logic and my ever-humbled intellect by providing understanding and peace when there wouldn't be any without it.

however, what God does with things like the crusades and the holocaust (Kinkazzo had been to germany recently and had been profoundly moved by visits to the 'camps') i have no idea... they tell me who or what humankind is at its worst, when humankind is furthest from the heart of God, who seems to be about the weak and the weary rather than the privileged. that people use God's name to increase their privilege or work out their own power and dominance issues on others just reminds me of how small we are. this doesn't change who God is.

but why does God not intervene? is it because he can't or won't?

good questions, but when i ask them, the asking is usually coming from the place that shouts 'foul' rather than that which seeks relationship (and maybe rightly so- for questions such as this question God's justice and who seeks relationship with cosmic injustice? what would be the point of that beyond some good ol-fashioned codependency?). perhaps one needs to be in a certain place to even be permitted to ask such questions- the psalmist speaks of a contrite heart being the thing that God will not deny. when i ask them, questions like these presume to somehow have an understanding of justice that is greater than that of the author of justice. how could that be? is that contrition or pride? subjected to time and space, can i truly comprehend being outside of them, or must i, at best, only imagine them? upon what do i build my imaginings of the unknown but upon the fabric of the known? being spiritually blind, the best i can do is imagine spiritual sight in physical terms- how is this anything but metaphor and how does metaphor work its way into reason?

and then i wonder why God doesn't email his reply immediately.

perhaps God waits patiently while i sort through all the attitude and the intellectual clutter in order to get to the only question that ultimately matters to every soul in the end: how do i recognize and realize my role in all things? insofar as i am involved in this life, what is the chief end of this man? i don't need to be wealthy or experienced or anything else if i can just be real and know that who i am becoming is progressively closer to who i am meant to be.

sure- my road to this realization involves the answering of these questions... or even my place is to question. that's pretty comfortable. i have a friend who prides himself on asking questions that nobody (not even he) can satisfactorily answer. it allows him to remain in charge doesn't it? a constant to which everything else is to relate. as long as i keep bringing up the holocaust or the crusades or tsunami producing plate-tectonics as evidence of God's injustice or questionable nature, i don't have to actually take responsibility for anything because it is clear to me that God does not take responsibility for the things that are, by his silence or lack of intervention, his sins of omission. easy to blame God in order to sleep at night.

so many of our questions can be procrastinations- like checking the direction of the wind, considering various drivers, waiting expectantly for the crowd gathered to be silenced and so on rather than actually approaching the golfball on the tee.
Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."
Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"
Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

(john 20.27-29)

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Monday, February 06, 2006

starting point?

a friend of mine who used to play in our band is a new-age pantheist. i don't think he'd mind being categorized, as in his view we are all God and simply struggling through varying stages of self-realization and memory. it shouldn't matter to a real part of god if other parts of god have the wrong picture of what it is... it is not the worship of the other parts of itself that a god desires.

so he was talking to me one time about zen moments where one is simultaneously enlightened and confused, and it put me in mind of the richard bach novel illusions. the book relates the adventures of a reluctant messiah. in the story, the main character (richard) is a travelling barnstormer who meets another (albeit suspiciously perfect) barnstormer named don. don never has to change his oil or polish his engine- he's got it all together. richard decides to disciple under don, a new guru.

as will happen within a fallen world of action, reaction and causality, richard's plane needs some repairs one day, and the two find themselves in a hardware store for parts. richard is moving down an aisle when he hears the most beautiful soulspoken music of his life coming from another part of the store. he follows the sonic fragrance to its source, finding don playing a toy guitar in a makeshift toy aisle (how many really good toys are there going to be in a hardware store?).

'i didn't know you could play guitar...'
'what kind of messiah would i be if i couldn't do something simple like play guitar? the only difference between you and me is that my belief in my ability to play guitar is greater than your belief in yours. some people have to practice for ten years before they actually believe that they can play...' (okay, really sloppy paraphrase, but that's the gist of it)

and so on. well, if godhood and guitar prowess are related in any way, then i think that the realization of my friend's own personal godhood is still a long way off. he recently moved to korea and doesn't have to practice as hard or even change his strings. he sends us photographs from time to time, but never song ideas.

my friend kinkazzo spoke recently in an email of his restlessness and a desire to unite with the universal mind. he outlined a story of how he had once launched an online cosmic consciousness group that caught on and grew so quickly that they were even to the point of discussing the prospect of holding a convention. yet amidst all of this excitement, and the realization of a lifelong dream, my friend found himself in a funk and told the whole lot of them to piss off so he could shrink back once again into relative obscurity.

i think that it must be really hard to be a god.

it's frustrating to author something that ultimately means nothing. chasing after the wind or whatever. certainly in kinkatso's case, the experience is heavily reminiscent in its conclusions of the teacher in ecclesiastes: it still speaks of an unfulfilled desire to be a necessary part of something bigger than big, realer than real, and above all, satisfying. although he had created something 'ex nehilo', it was not from love but from restlessness that the new incarnation arose. the thrill was all in the chase.

I had something going there, just as I always wanted. But I couldn't follow through, I lost my appetite: that's the way I am. I lose interest quickly, and my dynamism disappears... This is surely due to my disquieting mind, my irregular personality and my pressive character. Right.
But why?
What am I looking for?
Why couldn't I keep it going and create a REAL movement? It would have been sooooo good: just the way I liked -- people talking in-depth; people looking at important issues; people being spiritual and superconscious.
Damn it: I really wanted to CREATE A STAR!
A "conveyor" for my Fire.
A channelling for my Inspiration, my Creativeness -- (all capitalised!)
Egocentric? Sure, but what a goal!
And I ruined everything with my instability...

you can't create something real from something unstable. you can't create something that is perfect, balanced and needing nothing to survive from a personal need to create something that is blah blah blah. it's strength is tied inextricably to its author but realized in the quality of the materials used. it's like trying to create free energy with a mechano set and a bunsen burner... some things cannot be created, only discovered.

a laugh for the man in the eyes of the world trying to make things work
tried to create a new jerusalem and ended up with new york...

(bruce cockburn)

look at humankind. our greatest strengths seem to reflect that perfect ideal personified that we have named God. (i love how God dodged that one from the beginning, knowing that if we were to be given a specific name to address him as, we would just use it wrongly anyway... so he let us identify him in the most meaningful way we could) our greatest weaknesses, by choice, seem to be in direct contrast to those strengths.

however, i just can't subscribe to nietzsche's 'beyond good and evil' thing- that subscribing to a morality which jives with universal law on things like 'goodness' and 'justice' is somehow subjecting oneself to being repressed; and that God's choice to permit free will is evidence of his weakness as a deity: a flaw indicative of the fallacy of God- i choose to push against that one. free will is our greatest gift- superceding even Jesus in God's grace. i mean, Jesus was the remedy for the bad stewardship of our free will which resulted in a severed relationship between love personified and goodness actualized: between the creator of all things and his crowned of creation. the ability to choose came first.

but as long as we choose to be gods we will be frustrated.
we create, but it's never out of the raw material of love alone.

do you think that all creation came from nothing but the word of the intelligent designer in need of an outlet one day? although the creation story begins with the spirit of God hovering over the face of the deep, as it were, how figuratively or literally are we to take this? i love the idea that everything good (including time) was concentrated to a specific location having no dimensions and a specific moment having no duration- a starting point only- and that the voice of God is what the ancients a thousand years from now, schooled in antiquities and curios, will call 'the big bang.'

over the next few days, kinkazzo and i continued the dialogue further. originally i was going to just copy and paste the whole thing in the comment box of this blog, but then i thought 'gee, maybe that's rude...' so instead i've just linked his blog on the side.

(tangentary questions: in this information-processing epoch, to what degree is any dialogue between two consenting adults a private matter? especially among bloggers where so much intellectual property is released into the public domain? i don't know the answers to these questions, except that i believe the more we can interact with each other's ideas, either directly or indirectly, the more opportunity we have to grow as people. i still struggle with what that means pertaining to 'obscenity,' censorship, and ideas that contribute to the moral and spiritual unravelling of our planet, however. my parenthetical point is that, like effects without cause or yang without ying, i can't seem to isolate and articulate ideas from the dialogue without at least partially citing the ideas in italics which led to them... hope that's cool, k-man!)

anyway, he cited eregina:

God is eternally partially self-ignorant. If he knew all of himself, he could define himself. If he could define himself, he would be finite.

but is the lack of definition an inability or a refusal?

i mean, i recognize the logic that binds the infinity of God to the unknown and incalculable, but what if God exists beyond logic as he exists beyond time and beyond evil? what if that which God does further affirms his capacity to be all things and do all things, whereas what he does not do just continues to be that which he has simply not done, neither defining nor deifying him?

"I AM who I AM"- nothing logically comparable- no appropriate simile or metaphor when it comes to his power or his holiness. then the questions return to that old human stomping ground: what does God do? what has he done? what is he responsible for? or, my personal favourite: what is he NOT responsible for?

But all he knows of himself is what he has created. What is created is his knowledge or represents the expressed, revealed and therefore finite aspects of his actions and his knowledge

what is potential is his mystery: mysterious in him and to him. i don't think that God is a mystery to himself. it is like that guitar story- until don had played guitar, all that richard could possibly say was that don had never played guitar- no, not even that... all he could say was that, to his knowledge, don had never played guitar. were don to share, would it be necessary for him to qualify his ability by saying 'yes, of course i knew how to play before playing' of might it be enough for the playing of guitar to be within the realm of don's capability, but not, as yet, something that he had done? does 'if can do' logically imply 'then has done' or are there in fact things that God can do that he hasn't done and, seated outside of time, will never do? there must be. i mean, there are things that i am capable of doing that i've never done- how much moreso God?

i agree that our causative, hierarchical thinking is problematic at best, mainly due to its subjectivity. through this lens we quantify, qualify and classify, attempting to catch a glimpse of some meaning. that's probably the problem. we attempt to examine and explain the rest of the world (let's not even bother with theology, let's just scientifically and experiencially comment on our existence alone, like descartes) from this tiny and subjective point of context rather than to seek to comment on this piece of turf upon which stand against the backdrop of everything around us.

God is caused by what it causes; is made necessary by what it necessitates; we cannot comprehend. I cannot comprehend, and I can't accept it.

i cannot comprehend but i am okay with accepting it. i find the whole fallacy of entitlement to be a bit of a red herring anyway- to conclude that we are entitled to answers that allign with our reason is a bit presumptuous, i think. if i as a man believe that i can somehow comprehend the mind of God without being God, then surely it must follow (although probably not very logically, as my brain doesn't work that way most days...) that i would be able to comprehend the mind of a woman without being one? i mean, there is probably much less difference between the thinking and purposes of a man and a woman than there is between a man and a relationally able, conscious creator of all good things both seen and unseen. yet what an incredible mystery my wife can be somedays...

dare we presume to be capable of drawing finite parameters around one who is, by virtue of basic doctrines like omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, perfection and holiness, absolute and without parameters apart from those which attempt to address his very nature? that might be a bit much for a creation to accomplish, using only created materials and means to measure and summarize the immeasurable. might that be like trying to use a ruler to measure the mass of a beam of light- the tool selected to do the job being not only insufficient, but in fact irrelevent? rather than a box to keep him in, perhaps our understanding of God would be better served by trying to sort out the things that are at the centre of who God is: the things that characterize that location having no dimensions, that instant having no duration. it is from there and then that love and life did begin.

so play the game of existence to the end of the beginning

time to go practice...

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