Provocation #15

Jesus says, “Forgive, and you will also be forgiven”. That is to say, forgiveness is forgiveness. Your forgiveness of another is your own forgiveness; the forgiveness you give is the forgiveness you receive. If you wholeheartedly forgive your enemy, you may dare hope for your own forgiveness, for it is one and the same. God forgives you neither more nor less than as you forgive your trespassers.

It is an illusion to imagine that you have forgiveness while you are slack in forgiving others. No, there is not a more exact agreement between the sky above and its reflection in the sea below, than there is between forgiveness and forgiving. Is it not pure conceit to believe in your own forgiveness when you will not forgive others? For how in truth can you believe in forgiveness if your own life is a refutation of the existence of forgiveness?! Yes, to accuse another person before God is to accuse yourself, like-for-like.

People so gladly deceive themselves, so gladly imagine that they can have, as it were, a private relationship with God. But if you complain of your enemies to God, he makes short work of it and opens a case against you, because before God you too are a guilty person. To complain against another is to complain against yourself. You think that God should take your side, that God and you together should turn against your enemy, against him who did you wrong. But this is a complete misunderstanding. God looks without discrimination upon all. Go ahead. If you intend to have God judge someone else, then you have made God your judge as well. God is, like-for-like, simultaneously your judge. If, however, you refuse to accuse someone before God he will be merciful towards you.

Provocations are taken from Provocations: The Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard

Provocation #14

Christianity claims to be the eternal, essential truth that has come into existence in time. It proclaims itself as the paradox and thus requires the inwardness of faith – that which is an offense to the Jews, foolishness to the Greeks, and an absurdity to the understanding. It cannot be expressed more strongly: Objectivity and faith are at complete odds with each other. What does objective faith mean? Doesn’t it amount to nothing more than a sum of tenets?

Christianity is nothing of the kind. On the contrary, it is inwardness, an inwardness of existence that places a person decisively, more decisively than any judge can place the accused, between time and eternity, between heaven and hell in the time of salvation. But objective faith? It is as if Christianity was a little system of sorts, although presumably not as good as the Hegelian system. It is as if Christ – it is not my fault that I say it – had been a professor and as if the apostles had formed a little professional society of thinkers. The passion of inwardness and objective deliberation are at complete odds with each other. There is no way of getting around it. To become objective, to become preoccupied with the “what” of Christianity, instead of with the “how” of being Christian, is nothing but a retrogression.

Provocations are taken from Provocations: The Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard

Provocation #13

Christianity is not to be confused with objective or scientific truth. When Christ came into the world it was difficult to become a Christian, and for this reason one did not become preoccupied with trying to understand it. Now we have almost reached the parody that to become a Christian is nothing at all, but it is a difficult and very involved task to understand it. Everything is reversed. Christianity is transformed into a kind of worldview, a way of thinking about life, and the task of faith consists in understanding and articulating it. But faith essentially relates itself to existence, and becoming a Christian is what is important. Believing in Christ and wanting to “understand” his way by articulating it and elaborating on it is actually a cowardly evasion that wants to shirk the task. To become a Christian is the ultimate, to want to “understand” Christianity, as if it were some doctrine, is open to suspicion.

Provocations are taken from Provocations: The Spiritual Writings of Kierkegaard

From Myth and mind by Harvey Birenbaum

If myth is the creation of a special reality, then in the last analysis it is the linear mode of expression that is distinctly mythic.  The nonlinear may violate common sense, but it does so the better to approximate real experience…  What could be more mythical than the concept of objectivity, the peculiar assumption that we can get absolute and direct knowledge of the world through the human mind or through any instrument that the mind conceives — that we can see, in other words, with the eyes of a god?

Since all these forms of common myth have a kind of reality similar to that of traditional myth, they assert a like kind of ambiguous truth.  To our great experience, we force them too into linear molds and argue endlessly over their absolute worth or worthlessness.  Seeing them as myths, however, allowing them to float free — poised between truth and falsehood, revelation and deception, consciousness and unconsciousness, we can see richer value in them.  As versions of reality, they can be true without having to be the truth, and they can be “true” to varying degrees, in varying ways.  They can function, like all myths, as vehicles for our energy and channels of experience.  They can confront the world, revealing something of its nature and something of our own in a flow of involvement.

We need to gauge our myths to be as sensitive to reality as they can.  If they become to precise, however, they become rigid with error.  In a world of experience, which is composed from perspectives, in which the human situation must (happily) be particularized as your version and mine, in which we will always have second thoughts, third, and fourth, only partial truths can be true, only creative portraits can capture the original truly.

The Age of Healing

The Age of Plunder is nearly at an end.
The Age of Healing is ready to be born.

And whether it arrives or not depends upon two people: you and me.

The Age of Plunder was the natural successor to the so-called Age of Reason: the Age in which humankind decided that it knew better than God. For 200 years now the greedy and ruthless have been plundering the planet but their time will soon be up. The whole thing is going to come crashing down.

It could not have gone on much longer anyway – because soon there will be nothing left to plunder. The forests have almost gone from the Earth, the fish of the sea are all but exhausted, the air surrounding us and the waters of the Earth will soon be able to take no more poisonous wastes and, most serious of all, the soil is going. For we soil organisms this could be terminal. As long as the oil reserves last agribusiness will be able to produce the agrichemicals needed to keep some sort of production of vitiated food going from the eroded soil, but the oil deposits – that Pandora’s Box of evil things – will soon be exhausted and then the final account, long deferred, will come up for payment. The bailiffs who present it will have strange names, like Famine, Pestilence and War.

But, thank God, maybe the old Earth will not have to wait for this to happen. The whole great edifice of international trade and finance – the whole mighty plunder-machine – is quite likely to burst like a balloon that has grown too big. The whole thing is becoming unsustainable: it has grown too huge to manage.

Owing to the incorrigible tendency towards cannibalism by the huge industrial corporations – the tendency of the bigger ones to swallow up the smaller ones – these molochs are becoming too large for humans to control or the planet to support. Ten years ago no economist would have predicted the complete collapse of the mighty Soviet machine that had engulfed half the Earth. International capitalism will follow.

It is in the nature of a limited company that it can have no responsibility either to the environment around it or to the people who work for it. It is no use blaming the directors – if they do anything that might reduce profits for the shareholders they will quickly be replaced. And the shareholders not only have no liability for debts incurred by the company – but they take no responsibility for the world of nature around them. If the directors can secure bigger profits by dumping poisons into the nearest river – they have to do this. If they do not, they will very quickly be replaced. If they can make more profit by halving the work force – they will have to do so or again they will be replaced. If both shareholders and directors suffer from that most uncapitalist thing – a conscience – to the extent that it interferes with profits – that company will be swallowed up by another giant that has no such inconvenient scruples.

One of the most dramatic effects of the Age of Plunder has been to drive most of the world’s population into vast conurbations. These huge assemblies of uprooted people, called cities, are not only ugly but also dangerous. The billions who live in them can only be kept alive by an enormous system of transport which brings water, food, power, fuel and all the necessities of life, often great distances. Any breakdown in the supply of all this would be disastrous. And the great plundering molochs of companies which run it all get fewer and fewer, and bigger and bigger, and more and more people find themselves out of work, not needed, redundant and disempowered.

And meanwhile the tiny scattering of people left on the land, which is the only source of true wealth, have been forced by their paucity of numbers to resort to more and more destructive methods of producing the huge amount of food needed to sustain these billions. They have been forced to ignore the laws of husbandry, which could have retained the fertility of the soil as long as the world lasted, and farm instead with chemicals and huge machines. The soil is becoming poisoned and eroded. The only beneficiaries of this have been the huge chemical companies but they will destroy themselves in the end because they are killing the goose that laid the golden eggs.

If we open our eyes, we will realize that all this is bound to come crashing down in the end. Then, in the ashes of the Age of Plunder, a new age could arise. The real New Age: the Age of Healing!

We will set about it, just you and me, to heal the ravaged Earth. If we do not – if we fail – then there will not be an Age of Healing: there will be an Age of Chaos and it will not be nice.

And we do not have to wait for the end of the Age of Plunder to start the work. We must start now.

And how can we – just the two of us, you and me, who are so few and disempowered – start this great work by ourselves?

Firstly, say to yourself, and I promise I will do the same, the following resolution:
“I am only one. I can only do what one can do. But what one can do I will do!”
Then consider what you can do.
Refuse to work for the plunderers. Refuse to buy their shoddy goods. Give up the ambition of living like a Texan millionaire. Boycott the Lottery, not because you think you won’t win it, but because you don’t want to win it!

Refuse to shop in the plunderer’s “supermarkets”.

Work, always, for a decentralist economy. Support local traders and producers – try to get what you need from as near your home as you can.

Take part in your local politics – boycott the politics of the huge scale, the remote and far-away. The current non-violent defiance of the law by people protesting against the export of live animals from Britain is a fine example of citizen-power.

Work for an economy in which land and property are fairly shared out among the people so that “everybody has enough and nobody has too much”.

We must withhold our work, our custom, and our investment from plundering industry. This may cause us “financial hardship” : then we must endure “financial hardship” .

Road transport is the most destructive thing of all. If you live in a city, you do not need a car. (When you go to the country you can hire one – it’s much cheaper than owning.) If you live in the country, you may need one – use it as little as possible.

Boycott most goods brought from far away. Take some trouble to find locally produced goods and buy them. Heavy road transport is enormously polluting.

Oppose new road building. Building new roads never relieves traffic congestion – it simply generates more traffic. The only way of solving the traffic problem is to have less traffic.

If you possibly can, do not work for huge organizations. If we withhold our labour from them, they will wither away. (Do not be afraid that this will lose “jobs”. It will create more jobs – a multitude of small firms create more “jobs” than a few big ones).

Support local cultural activities. Boycott mass “culture” coming from countries far away.

Encourage, support, and initiate, local credit and finance organizations.

Buy, if you cannot grow, organically produced food. Thus you will help destroy the polluting chemical industry – and you will be healthier. Boycott, absolutely consistently, all products that have involved cruelty to animals.

Support the local and the small-scale.
I will do the same as I ask you to do.
The tiny amount you and I can do is hardly likely to bring the huge worldwide moloch of plundering industry down? Well, if you and I don’t do it, it will not be done, and the Age of Plunder will terminate in the Age of Chaos. We have to do it – just the two of us – just you and me. There is no “them” – there is nobody else. Just you and me. On our infirm shoulders we must take up this heavy burden now – the task of restoring the health, the wholeness, the beauty and the integrity of our planet. We must start the Age of Healing now! Tomorrow will be too late.

John Seymour from: The Age of Healing published in Resurgence

Why the long face?

Things have been quiet here for a while. This is partly because I have been pretty busy trading chunks of my life for money, and partly because it is a struggle to know what to put in words.

Honestly, this last month or two have been a little more gray than vibrant, like someone adjusted the saturation down just slightly. The garden is there, but I am not passionate about it. It does not really need my passion at the moment, so it works out.

Much of my mental energies have been spent on side-work, and making sure I have a good handle on all the stuff happening in and around the world. The picture I get is blurry, dark, and grainy. It looks like there will be more suffering and pain, more injustice, more wealth and power for the wicked, more depravity for the depraved, more hunger for the hungry. But before you think that those things are what bother me most, let me tell you what does. It grieves me that I don’t know if I can be Christ in dark times. I am hesitant to help, I worry about money, and am disconnected from those around me. Knowing that a rough spot lies ahead forces me to acknowledge my spiritual weakness. I am not sure I can overcome my selfishness when faced with the needs of others.

I have been reading about the saints. Everywhere in the history of the Church is written the stories of those who have lived in poverty in order to provide for others. These are our examples of Christ in the world, those worthy to be followed. But when I think about myself, doing these things, I think “what about my family?”. I make excuses.

Now, I know the answer, but it is hard and somewhat sobering. I give everything away. But not immediately to people I know, but in my mind, heart, soul, to God. If God needs these things he has trusted to my care to be used elsewhere, I need to be ready to allow that transfer. It is more than just acknowledging that everything I have comes from Him, it is actually practicing the act of giving it up, giving it away. In my head, I imagine that I am faced with an obvious need for a car, and I practice giving my car away. The same for all that I have: computers, house, job, money. I let go. But this is the sobering part. I can’t do it. The individual “things” are hard but possible, but the whole? Every thing? I can imagine a disaster where everything is destroyed, and that would not be so hard. But to be faced with the choice, and giving everything freely?

So this is what troubles me. I am attached, afraid of being attached, and convicted about being attached.

But it is not all gloomy. I know that I am where God wants me to be. He may test me, but I really do trust him. I may fear that he will redeem all that he has entrusted to me, but I also have that whisper in my soul that comforts me with promises of love.

This is a spiritual exercise, a practice on the road to Calvary. I won’t know if I am fit enough until I hit that part of the road. Lord have mercy.

Heavy reading, idle hands

Along with the gardening this summer I have been doing quite a bit of reading in areas that I don’t normally read. It started off in the spring with “An Underground History of American Education”, and has lead into various other alternative voices and perspectives of history, education, and economics. I never really enjoyed reading history or politics, so this was a new direction. The difficult part, and part of the reason that I do not write much about it, is that it is disturbing to dig into the history of our systems and difficult keep an upbeat perspective. Now we can look back on the ideas and thoughts that were prevalent a century ago and see how wrong or misguided they were, but our world today is still run using systems that were based on those ideas that we find so disturbing now.

One of the impressions that I am getting is the brokenness (sinfulness?) of systems. At the beginning of the development of a system (at least in modern history), whether it is political, financial, or educational, there is generally some good intent or altruistic motives. Over time, that good intent, which was attached to some individual or individuals, is supplanted by institutional goals that do not necessarily reflect the intent of the individuals who are now running the system. The system has a life of it’s own, but those that are the agents of the system do not steer according to the original passion, so the system drifts, and is easily diverted by those that would use the system for their own purposes. In some cases we now have monolithic systems of which we don’t even understand the original intent, but which are kept in place because those that control the system benefit through it regardless of how beneficial or effective the system is.

I am even tempted to say that systems are infernal tools for maximizing the effectiveness of vice. It only takes small suggestions in key places to turn a system towards malevolent intent. One proud and selfish leader can cause misery for millions, but is soon overthrown. A few dozen chairmen, or board members with minor bouts of selfish ambition, greed, or cowardice can cause generations of misery for hundreds of millions, if not more.

What better places for demons to play? We wonder why we do not see more overt demonic activity in the world today, but there is no need here. It is through the subtle manipulations of organizations that we are possessed. Everywhere we look we see huge systems for controlling the population, from education to economics to opinions and beliefs. Overt demonic activity is still powerful in some places where the predominant beliefs lead to a fear of spirits, but here we have TV, consumerism, nationalism, and the pursuit of leisure. We would call an old-school demon possession a trick, a fake, or a “condition”, not a thing to be feared.

See what I mean about staying upbeat? So my current question is: “what do I do with this?” I am still working on that, but one of the directions is to remain focused on the life around me. I have a sphere of influence, and within that I will be Christ. While it is helpful to understand the underpinnings of our society, it can also serve as a distraction from the real goal of pleasing God, and being love. But I still say RESIST!

I am still at the beginning or in the middle of some big ones that may not be finished until well into fall. It is good for me, even just the challenge to remain focused, and to question my inputs.

Grateful

‘Tis the season to be thinking about thankfulness. I have been, along with a few other things that might not seem immediately related.

Leading into the Thanksgiving week I started reading The Paradox of Choice: Why more is less by Barry Schwartz, a slightly academic romp into why more options make us less satisfied. He goes into the psychology of making decisions, and what happens when we are presented with more options. Some of the ways that he gives to alleviate the stress of too many options are interesting in the context of our “give me options” culture: practice gratefulness, be content with “good enough”, embrace constraints on choice (more on that in a minute), make decisions permanent, and choose when to choose.

Those can be boiled down to this: gratitude, contentment, relationship, decisiveness, discernment, but I suppose the terms used above might be easier understood. These are all attributes of character. The most interesting of these is the “embrace constraints on choice” item. He elaborates on this, indicating that our pursuit of individual autonomy increases our options, whereas our acceptance of the constrains that relationship and community put on us reduces our options. Examples of this would be both marriage and church. When we accept marriage for what it is, we reduce our options for mates, housing, habits, food, sex, and sometimes clothing and style. The same is true of Church. The key word here is acceptance. If you don’t accept the terms of the marital contract, yet take the vows, you might not be very satisfied with the imposed reduction in options. The end result is that those who have accepted these relational and community constraints on choice are happier. The same with the list of character attributes listed above. The more grateful, content, relational, decisive, and discerning you are, the happier you are as well. I would add that happiness is not really the goal, but character is, and a stronger character leads to a better outlook on life.

Also in the book is a section about gratefulness, both positive and negative. Positive gratefulness would be thankfulness for what you do have: shelter, food, clothing, loving family. Negative gratefulness would be thankfulness for what you do not have: HIV, missing limbs, debt, the draft, a contentious wife. The positive is easy, but we still do not do it very often. The negative is not much more difficult, but in the end leads to a multitude of items on our positive list (relatively good health, the limbs I was born with, accounts in the black, the choice for peace, and a loving, industrious, beautiful wife).

Some of these ideas reassure me that we are heading in the right direction. We have constrained our options willingly, decided to be content with what God has provided, chosen to make commitments permanent, and realized that sometimes we can choose not to choose. As I think about what we are thankful for, I also started to realize that there are many things that I could complain about, but feel none of the anxiety that leads that direction. I am content. Not just with what we have, but also with the state in which we have it, used, patched, rough, ugly, lame, worn, old, second-hand, and unfinished. Part of my thankfulness is for things that do not demand status or prestige.

While I have mentioned a few aspects of the book, it goes into other aspects of the problem of increased options. I would recommend it, despite it’s academic nature.

Links:
TED video where Barry Schwartz talks about the paradox of choice
Google Books info on Paradox of Choice

Corp. Inc. Co. Ltd.

The Corporation is a book and a movie that takes a look at the idea of the corporation and how it has changed through history. We rented it from the library, but you can watch it on YouTube.

I am not recommending it, no more than I would “recommend” that a person who wants to raise animals should learn about animal biology. That is to say, it is more of a requirement. “Smart Consumer” is a term that is gaining in popularity, and this should be on the course list for the Freshman level. But it is not just required for those who don’t mind seeing themselves as consumers (smart or otherwise), but also those have a nagging feeling that there is something amiss, but can’t quite put their finger on what it is.

Be warned, it is not a cursory look, and the entire film is 23 chapters and well over 2 hours long, but it is worth the time.

Symbolism

I ran across this the other day, and although I would not say that I adhere to everything he says, much of it has the ring of truth. I have included the summary points below, but I would recommend reading the entire article.

How we confuse symbols and things

  • We seek “marriage” as though that quasi-legal institution were the same thing as a worthwhile human relationship.
  • We seek “education” as though knowledge could be injected into us like a vaccine without any investment on our part. Failing at this, we then trust the statements of people who possess white, rectangular sporting event trophies called “diplomas.”
  • We seek “religion” as though any worthwhile answers to fundamental spiritual questions could be delivered in encapsulated form, outside the direct experience of nature.
  • We trust the findings of “science” as though science’s principal value could be meaningfully delivered to people who don’t understand science (it cannot).
  • We trust the wisdom of “government” as though, without direct participation by all of us, government could be anything but a dumping ground for aging juvenile delinquents.

What do you think?