Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Playing Make-Believe

I remember the day I decided I wanted to sing. I had become enamored with the idea of writing songs and singing them for people. I remember envisioning my name on a CD... or, rather, cassette tape... full of my own music. I only told one person. It was my sister, Amy. I told her in confidence, and she, being probably 4 or 5 didn't quite understand what that meant. As my biggest fan (back then, and, I suspect, still today), she promptly made it her mission to announce to everyone what my life goals were.

I remember being terrified as she told Dad what I was planning to do. Right in front of me, she proudly declared, in her trademark squeaky voice, "Matthew is going to be a singer when he grows up!" It wasn't so much that I was ashamed of my dream; it was more that I was afraid it might never happen. And if Dad even so much as smiled the wrong way at this news, my hope for one day writing and recording my own music could be exposed as a vain, unachieveable whim. Just a dream that passes in the night.

Last weekend, my good friend Amanda came down from LA to record some backing vocals on the album I've been working on with Thomas Gray for the past several months. Tonight, I was able to closely listen to the new mix, with her smooth additions, for the first time. After hearing how much her haunting harmonies changed the mood of "Don't Let Go," I had to remind myself to breathe. Something changed in me as I heard that song for what felt like the first time, though I first wrote it over five years ago.

You see, up until now I feel like I've been playing make-believe. In Reno, I recorded an album with one of my best friends Rob Woods. We didn't get as far as we had hoped, but we got several decent tracks out of the process. But something in me has kept them silent. With the exception of posting a couple of the better ones on my myspace page, I have done little to expose those songs to the light of day. It's as though I have always believed that my dream would pass, that it was vain and fleeting and a waste of time pursuing with any seriousness, and the best I could ever hope for was to go with the flow when it carried me into occassional periods of exploring the art of songwriting and recording.

People, good friends and strangers alike, consistently tell me they believe I have something to offer in my songs. I always struggle with how to accept those encouraging words, because I always feel like it's just make-believe, that these people are unwitting guests at some tea party where everyone is supposed to be polite and courteous and be sure that we each feel valued and special. But tonight when I heard those words, that melody layered with Amanda's gentle, sombre tones, I realized that something has happened that I didn't expect. Somehow, somewhere along the way, my dream has begun to materialize.

What once were the far-off wishes of a 7 year old boy have now become the reality of a man who never envisioned something this good ever happening. What once were the solitary, silent hopes of a teenager scribbling phrases in a 3 ring notebook have now become the combined effort of friends I've made along the way, people who truly believe in these songs - so much so that some of them have devoted several months of their own time, energy, and talent to create something I never could have done on my own. Friends from college who spent hours teaching me guitar or writing with me; Rob, who stayed up with me countless nights into the early hours of the morning in order to get my songs out of my head and onto a disc; Amanda, who shared microphones with me on a worship team in Reno, taking time off of work and school to travel to San Diego to lend her talents to this project; Thomas, who has carefully overseen the recording, mixing, producing, and playing of nearly every instrument that wasn't my guitar on these songs; the litany of friends and family, near and far, who constantly remind me that they appreciate my songs and hope to hear more... There is (not-so)suddenly a community of people surrounding me who have spurred these dreams into something of substance and promise.

I don't know quite what it is that I'm getting at here. I think that tonight I've had a very unexpected realization that sometimes, a dream is put in us for a reason. Sometimes, no matter how much trouble we have believing it could come to be, we find ourselves in circumstances that enable us to live out that dream. Sometimes you have a little sister who thinks you can do anything, and friends who want to help you along the way. Sometimes... ok, I'll stop short of saying 'dreams really do come true' and spare us all the Disney moment...

But I think you get the picture. How grateful I am tonight.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The song playing in my head over the past 48 hours has been Sheryl Crow’s “It Don’t Hurt.” She’s all tongue-in-cheek singing about some lover (this was a pre-Lance song) who’s gone, but:

It don’t hurt like it did
I can sing my song again

Even though Sheryl gets to the end of the song and doesn’t really believe what she’s singing (“It don’t hurt like it did/ It hurts worse, who do I kid?”), she’s still singing it. And so am I.

You know that physical signal you get right before you throw up? The one in the back of your throat and in those glands just behind & below each ear, and the way your mouth all of sudden produces this ginormous amount of saliva? I get another signal that’s very similar. It’s like an emotional gag reflex. My stomach feels like it twists 45 degrees counter-clockwise and I feel the sudden urge to clench onto something very tightly (my misshapen keyboard wrist rest, which is made of a wonderfully malleable gel-like substance, can attest to this).

When I get that signal lately, the very first thing I do, after squeezing the wrist rest, of course, is to take a deep breath and then start singing to myself:

It don’t hurt like it did
I can sing my song again

For me, this does something. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a songwriter who’s felt completely blocked and crippled, an puddle of fears and emotions slowly draining into some forgotten spillway, but the possibility of “singing my song again” is one of the few things that holds weight and light in the world anymore. And I’m just choosing to believe that if I say “it don’t hurt” enough, and keep on singing my song, somehow it will come to be.

The Genesis story of creation is based on the idea that something can be spoken into existence, that the only thing preventing something from being is that no one has said it exists. I’m not waxing theological here, and obviously I’m don’t mean that if I just say “Let there be sweet ride to roll upon the earth” then a 2007 Lamborghini Murciélago LP640 is going to suddenly appear before me, but there is something built into the way this universe works that puts a certain amount of power (with which comes - you guessed it, responsibility) in our hands to believe that something is, or at the very least, can be, even when it currently isn’t. I think somewhere, someone called it faith.

No one sees God without faith. I think this is the same as saying the more one chooses to believe in God, despite the lack of sensory evidence, the more reason one has to believe in God. I think the same goes for what we believe about who we are and how we fit in this world. The more I choose to believe that I’m displaced, forgotten, and unvalued, the more reason I have to believe those things are true. My hope is that it works conversely: the more I choose to believe I have a place, something to give, and friends to share this life with, the more reason I will have to believe those things are true.

So, despite the intermittent onslaught of the emotional gag reflex, it don’t hurt.

My last day on earth

What if this were the last thing I ever wrote? What if I finish this page and tonight, as I ride home from work, my bike is struck by an inattentive vehicle, sending me to some life after this one? Would I want my last piece of communication to be the sorrowful, solemn piece I'm inclined to write on this quiet Monday morning?

I dont think so.

Life feels long, especially when youre in the middle, when youre waiting for something, something that never seems to arrive. But it isn't long. Its just a breath. One breath of God, and the earth has spun around the sun 70 times, and my body has gone from new to old, and everything that mattered so much in July of 2006 is long gone.

Everything comes down to making a conscious decision about whatever is bothering you. You just have to say it, and then do it, even if you don't feel it, even if you don't believe it.

"I'm going to commit to the life of faith, the way of Christ. I'm just going to do it, to live that way, even though it often feels absurd and isolated."

"I'm going to live in San Diego, to be a member of this urban community. I'm just going to do it, to live that way, even though I often wish I were somewhere else."

"I'm going to be the friend I wish I had to the people close to me. I'm just going to do it, to live that way, even though I often feel unnecessary and undervalued by them."

"I'm going to believe that I have something to offer, and I'm going to offer it. I'm just going to do it, to live that way, even though I often feel no one else believes in me."

No more self-pity, no more tears. Just resolution, determination. Creation of the life I wish I had. That's something I'm comfortable with writing, should this be my last day on earth.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The significance of tense

I've been rummaging through my memory and revisiting my days at King College, mostly because the advent of my website has put me back in touch with several former schoolmates. Those memories are rife with emotion of all sorts, and it's brought me back to a song I wrote in my sophomore year entitled "I Will Be Free."

Locked in the cages
Paying the wages
Of my sin
Sin that confounds me
Its all around me
And I begin

To pull at the chains that bind my hands and feet
To immovable walls of defeat
Does anyone have the key?

To see the garden
I need a pardon
Deep inside my soul is crying out
I will be free

Turning the pages
Written by sages
Of the past
They tell a story
Of a home up in glory
And so I ask,

Tell me, when will my soul gain its liberty
From the fetters that restrain me?
Will this soul ever be free?

Sin may have bound me
But Jesus found me
And broke its chains
Now Im begging grace
Please come replace
All that remains

You paid the wages
You unlocked the cages of my sin

Doubts abating
Chains are fading
Very soon my weary soul will say
Now I am free

I know, I know, it's a far cry from the person who a few weeks back posted a blog that started out "I don't give a crap about heaven." (Which, admittedly, may have been a, hmm... minor misjudgement on my part - but I still stand behind my reasons for saying it.)

It has been a revealing thing to think about this song and how much it meant to me in those days - and whether it still bears any significance. The entire ideology behind it - waiting for heaven when 'I will be free' because here I'm only 'locked in the cages' of sin - is a worldview that I just no longer believe works. But that is where I was. And if someone had come up to me and said "Forget about heaven - life is here, life is now - live it!", I probably would have kicked him in the shins and ran away crying like a baby.

Because the truth is that sometimes life really is a bitch. I've been reading some of my friends' blogs and my heart just goes out them in thier frustration and pain, because we all know what it's like to experience those things. And you know, sometimes it's just easier to offer a comforting platitude; to say, 'At least in heaven there is no pain,' or, 'Someday Jesus will wipe those tears away.' Sometimes that really is all that keeps a person going.

But there has to be more. I've been having a conversation with a dear friend lately about sin and suffering, and this is one thing that was said to me:

Sinning no more isn't possible on this earth. We'll never live a sinless day... or else we wouldn't need Him. But maybe the point is... keep coming back to Him and going out again with the intention to sin no more. It's a continuous cycle.

Maybe my friend is right. Maybe that is the point. Maybe in this life we are perpetually bound by the notion of our fallen state, a cursed humanity. Maybe freedom will only ultimately come in heaven, in an afterlife, and until then we are to be satisfied with a "continuous cycle" of good intentions, failure, forgiveness, renewal of good intentions, failure... and so it goes.

Or maybe that's not the point at all. I love and respect my friend, but how long can anyone continue in that cycle before something breaks? Before you go crazy from your own inability to measure up? Before you sigh and resign to a listless life of pretense and self-loathing? Before you give up?

What if giving up were really the best thing for you? Suppose with me for just a moment... What if the idea of sin, and our need to be saved from it, was misguided, unfounded? What if sin were not the ultimate enemy, but only a byproduct of something else gone wrong? What if it weren't the bad things we've done that we need to be saved from?

What if the real issue is not morality, but identity?

Perhaps the church has over-emphasized sin and our need to be free from it. Not to say that sin isn't real and something to be reckoned with, but if we all just stopped sinning, would it matter? Would it make a difference? Or would we still be lost, resigned to that listless life of cycles? Wouldn't we still need something more?

I believe that is why Jesus said, "Come unto me, all you who are weary - I will give you rest." If you're weary of living for something you can't accomplish, stop trying to accomplish it! Give up! It could be that what you're chasing after, you were never meant to have - even if you attain it, it might not even be the thing that will satisfy you! There is a more satisfying pursuit, and that is the pursuit of identity: where did I come from? That is the question we need answered - who am I? What am I made of? If I'm just a chip off the old block, what is the block like?

"Come unto me..." Not "continue in your cycle," but "come." Give up on your pursuit of morality and instead find out who you are. Come to ME for that answer.

So, God, if it's not about what I do, but about who I am - then who am I? Where did I come from?

And Jesus says, 'You came from me! You are made of me! You have the same stuff inside you, the spark of the divine, the image of God! Seek, ask, knock! Seek me with your whole heart, and you will find me!'

That is a pursuit worth making. And it's not a cycle - you only get deeper, because we're talking about God. He continues to invite you further and further into the mystery.

I love this verse, absolutely love it: "Seek first the kingdom of God [where you came from] and his righteousness [what you are meant to do] and ALL THESE THINGS will be added unto you" (emphasis and brackets, obviously, mine). I don't think when Jesus said here "the kingdom of God" that he was talking about heaven. And I don't think that when he says "righteousness" he is talking about our modern concept of Western morality.

I think the kingdom of God is right here, right now. I think righteousness is doing justice, loving mercy, walking humbly with your God. I didn't always think that - I used to sing of how I will be free from sin in heaven. I was partly right: I was destined for freedom - I just didn't know my captor. I didn't know myself. And I didn't know where I came from. But now I know these things, and I no longer have to sing in the future tense.

Yes, I believe a day is coming when I will have an even greater understanding of freedom; when the side effects of sin and death are truly abolished; when seeing God face to face will no longer be "the hope of glory." I understand why an orphan takes comfort in the fact that her parents are in heaven; I know why the African slaves sang of a chariot coming to carry them home; I know why I wrote 'I will be free.'

But then... the kingdom of God is here, it is now. Not I will be free...

I am free.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Why there is meaning

Here is why there has to be meaning: I get depressed. That is why I know there must be meaning to life.

Sometimes the old lessons I’ve learned slip away, and one day I wake up to find myself hurting down deep because there’s something I want and can’t have, or something I have that I don’t really want – and none of it is what I need.

Desire (wanting), ownership (having), & sustenance (needing) – you can almost categorize the whole of life into these three concepts.

I am priority-driven. When something is important to me (whether it be something I want, have, or need), it becomes the focus of my thought & action. It becomes the object of my pursuit.

I know there is meaning because when I pursue, for instance, a person, sometimes I get that person. I uncover that relationship, but it is not meaningful. Not enough, at least, to prevent me from becoming depressed and self-focused. Sometimes I don’t get that person, and that leaves me depressed as well.

But sometimes, once in a while, I am able to step outside of the situation, mentally and emotionally, and see that what matters is not wanting or having, or sometimes even needing – it is giving.

Giving. It is the only way out of that hole of personal sorrow. So there is meaning to life, because giving is not natural, it is not built into the psyche and soul. It is supernatural, extra-natural, outside-of-natural. Giving forgoes the natural responses I have, the depression, and wakes me up.

I think there must be a Giver out there.

In the mundane task of living
When you’re pouring out and giving
And you’re waking up and trying
And you’re laying down and dying

That’s a little stone, that’s a little mortar
That’s a little seed, it’s a little water
In the hearts of the sons and daughters
This kingdom’s coming…

-Sara Groves

Monday, February 20, 2006

What it feels like

It is the warm sensation of vodka slipping down your throat, only it’s in my belly and my head, just behind my eyes. It is the still frame of a party in a dark room, the dance floor illumined in flashes and beams of reflected light. It is the silence of a movie theatre, just before the compelling moment on screen sweeps your sensibility away with violent sound from every corner.

That is what these days feel like, when every hour seems to bring me closer to a fuller understanding of what is in store – complete inebriation, the pulsing bass thundering beneath my feet, the catch in my throat at the unfolding of suspense and romance.

The crest of the wave.

More and more each day, every conversation, every chapter I read informs my vision. Matt Hammet said, “The church needs more skeptics.” Those willing to seek truth, to investigate, to scrub the stained glass until the centuries of grimy tradition and convention are gone, until the light shines through revealing the big story going on.

I don’t see far enough to know where this path leads. I have a lot of questions. I’m playing follow the leader. But it feels like God. It feels like those scattered moments from my childhood when there were no voices, only wind, only earth underneath and a hundred questions blown away like umbrella seeds, twirling away and behind them the sky with its constancy. That’s what God feels like – everything is still there, but behind it all he is the backdrop.

There is an erratic ebb & flow to despair & hope. A capricious cycle that unfolds without our input. I believe in something beyond this corporal dimension that maneuvers our ships, helps to navigate through it all, and there is a goodness there, a quality of comfort. Something done well despite the chaotic nature of our existence. I trust in that, and will continue to do so as the warm sensation in my belly spreads to the tips of my fingers and outward, into word and song and touch. I might not always be right – I might not even be close. But I am small enough that it won’t matter, and big enough to chase hard after what does. God grace me as I seek it.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Being OK with Belief

Reconsidering inherited suppositions is tricky business. A supposition is an assumption, a foundational belief that generally goes unquestioned. It is something one supposes is true. Most of us form supposition by experience. In my life, I have never once started to float away from the face of the earth, so I suppose that the force of gravity is eternally in effect. I’ve never questioned that belief.

If we all had exactly the same experiences, wouldn’t it follow logically that we would all come to the same conclusions as well? That we would believe the same things? This idea drives utopian and communist philosophies. It also fails miserably, because it does not recognize the variable factors of interpretation or temperament. Take 100 newborn babies, place them in the exact same situation with the same influences and same schedules and same wallpaper in their same-sized rooms and you still will not have 100 identical worldviews or ideologies. That’s because people interpret their experiences differently, based on things like temperament, or personality, or proclivities that are innate to them. Some things aren’t learned.

How do you reason with belief, when belief is nothing if not illogical? Oh, belief may be based on the most thorough observation, it may be rooted in cold, hard fact, it may have been engendered by the most obvious of circumstances, but when it comes down to it, belief is completely personal. I may be giving a lecture about an apple sitting on the table in front of me. What I see is a red, ripe, clean piece of fruit. To the students on the other side of the apple, however, my words may sound like nonsense, because the half that they see was eaten yesterday, and is now brown and dried-out, with a fly picking at what’s left. Both I and my students fully believe we are correct in our suppositions, which are based on our experience & interpretation. When it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter what is; what matters is what each of us believes about what is.

Some tell me I am assigning significance to my ideas of mystery and God. That there is no meaning, and I am simply creating meaning by calling it significant. I agree. And I’m OK with that.

There is no meaning except that which we create. I am fully aware that at the very crux of the issue, all I have for certain is my faith. There may be no God. But I choose to believe there is. In that sense, it is the belief itself that matters, even more than the object of belief.

I do believe God is both the mystery and the meaning. I do believe that the meaning God gives to life is universal, that every person can find significance in his life from God. And I do believe God gives each of us a purpose, a role to play in the story of human history, and a chance to make things better. I believe, and that is what makes the difference. My belief is illogical – based on the best observations I can make – but irrational nonetheless. So is yours.

You might think you are in a good place because you cling to God. Or because you trust scientific answers. Or because you were abducted by aliens and they told you that we are the result of intergalactic experiments. But my claim is that it’s not God, or science, or aliens that matter – it is your belief in them.

Despite that absurd claim (which is nothing more than a belief, mind you), I fully advocate talking about our beliefs, hearing those of other people, debating their validity, reasoning through the issues, and stepping back to see the biggest picture possible. Had I, just for a brief moment, circled the apple a mere 15 or 20 degrees, I probably would have seen that the other side did not look red, ripe, and delicious. It may have caused me to further investigate the claims of my students that I was wrong. I may have even joined them on the opposite side, seen from their perspective, realized there was more than meets the eye, been awakened to the possibility of mystery. It may have humbled me. In turn, it would have given me the opportunity to bring my students to my side of the apple, where they too would draw new conclusions.

I fully advocate looking for the biggest picture possible.

If there is the possibility something could be true, investigate it. If there is the possibility life is random, a complex collision of mere particles, that nothing lies behind the veil, go pull it back and see. If there is the possibility that God is as real as you and I, that he dwells in another dimension but our story is his to write, consider it. If there is the slightest chance that President Bush is an insufferable liar driven by personal vendettas with little regard for the consequences of his decisions on the poor, the environment, or the future of American foreign relations - check it out. (Hey, it’s my blog.)

White-knuckling your piece of the puzzle will only give you a sweaty, soggy, crumpled piece of cardboard. Do your best to see how it fits into the bigger picture.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Another song

I've been writing a lot of songs lately! It's been awhile, but I'm starting to enjoy the craft again. This one just talks about what I'm going for, what I'm aiming at. It's the first upbeat tune in awhile - guess that's a good thing!

Song for a new day
When we wake in new ways
The sunrise, a surprise
Oh, it's burning in our eyes
Sing when they see us
They cannot believe us
Voices together
We all hope for something better
The kingdom is come...

And it's love
And it's love
And it's love
And it's love

Song for the kingdom
For justice, we need some
Peace in the war zone
Oh, we need it in our homes
Sing out, unashamed
Stand up, unafraid
It's our voice, it's our song
This is where the world belongs
The kingdom is come...


Song for the pieces,
The puzzle, we need this
Song to remind us
All those moments are behind us...

What Matters

Something matters when you give it significance.



Monday, January 23, 2006

"Lay It Down" - new song lyrics

I've been writing this song for a few weeks. I had the first two stanzas written, and they really spoke to how I feel about war and hostile attitudes and then cynicism and complaining about the state of things. I feel like neither of these approaches solve much, and do not address the real needs of our hearts. I was stuck for some time on how to end it, until attending church on Sunday morning. I realized that I feel the same way about the modern church that I feel about war and our unending capacity to whine: so often our methods miss the point. It takes a bit of idealism, but I'm told that hope does not disappoint - and I believe that's the truth. The last stanza revealed itself as I sat on the sand at Solana Beach Sunday afternoon.

Soldier, put down your rifle
Lay it on down
Soldier, there's a life at stake today
Right here in the middle of the battle
Lay it on down
Soldier, I say there's a better way

If you come, drop your arms

Well, I swear I mean you no harm
So turn around
Let's go down to where the sidelines are

Cynic, put down your pencil
Lay it on down
Cynic, we're running out of time
Page on page of endless drivel
Lay it on down
Cynic, there's a better chance to find

An empty page, a brand new start
Well it's really not very hard
So turn around
Let's go down to where the margins are

Preacher, put down your Bible
Lay it on down
Preacher, what we need is more than words
We know what the Good Book tells us
Lay it on down
Preacher, can you show me how it works?

If you have a hope to give
Well, I need to see it lived
So turn around
Let's go down to where the lepers are

Monday, January 09, 2006


To be found, though, does not end the pursuit. By saying I don't know, I am inviting, I am daring the mystery. This blog is intended to reconsider inherited suppositions. I have a feeling it's only the first of many. And I am confident that with each stone unturned, another waits on the horizon.

Blogger's Log: Stardate 1.9.06

A folk singer named Jan Krist sat down and asked herself:

What do I know?
What do I really know?
I know:
1) Mercy will find you.
2) Unforgivness will bind you.
3) Children grow, and it's hard to let them go.

I'm not a parent; I can't really speak for her third conclusion (though I know my own mother has struggled seeing myself and my siblings grow and leave). As for the other two absolutes, I feel I can attest to their accuracy. It is a strange but welcome relief that mercy, or the giver of it, finds us. Not forsaken; we hid. Not lost; we sequestered ourselves. Not forgotten; we were found.

Ms. Krist's purpose, obviously, is not to enumerate the precious few truths she can speak with surety, but rather to hint at the mystery not included in her list. I was re-reading some previous entries here, and realized I mentioned the mysteries of life more than once. For several months, I've been pursuing answers and reasoning through my doubt and suspicions, looking for something concrete: What do I know? What do I really know?

Little did I know. Little did I know how essential it is not to know. The necessity of mystery, it's pivotal role in providing hope, inspiration, motivation to continue on through the bleakest of droughts. I think (because we are all now aware of my sci-fi obsession) of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, captain of the fictional Enterprise starship. Episode after episode, season after season, Picard and his crew piloted through galaxies harboring the unknown. No amount of knowledge they could amass was sufficient; there could not plot enough maps, could not encounter enough new species. Every stone unturned left open wide the door for the next adventure, the next unanswered question.

I've been so obsessed with answering the inconsistencies of my faith that for a long time, I've found little reason to hope, little chance to dream, little motivation to overturn the next stone. Little pleasure from the pursuit.

Thank God, literally, for number one on Jan's list. When all the fun was gone, all the mystery deconstructed, I hid among pieces of disassembled framework that once composed my worldview, my "metanarrative," as the postmoderns might call it. I hid away, because I had stared into that abyss and seen the bottom; the pit was shallow and devoid of meaning. But in that moment of actualization of my greatest fears, mercy found me. I wasn't even crying out because who was there to cry to? But mercy, separating me from what I surely deserve, found me amid all the rubble of dead and dying dreams. It lifted my eyes, illumined my periphery, where sat ensconced in the darkness, an unturned stone. And the mystery returned, painfully pulsing like fresh blood through long-closed veins, spurring movement, inspiring hope, rekindling the pleasure of pursuit.

God is the mystery; he is the chase. Be wary of anyone who peddles a well-defined portait of divinity, a deconstructed diety. Be suspicious of any who lobby for their agenda in the name of religion, or who claim God's sanctions on thier morality. It's not that there is no religion, or that there is no morality; it's that those things are, very emphatically, not the point. Were a human's highest calling to be "correct" or to fit a moral mold, there would be very little use for choice, opportunity, decision, time, pain, pleasure, communication, relationship, emotion, touch, taste, sight, birth, growth, death, sex, language, hope, despair - the entire nature of the human experience would be something altogether different. The originator of these great mysterious human capacities has in mind something far more significant even than every good Christian's highest hope of heaven. I don't know what it is (hence, mystery). I don't know when we find it (or when it finds us). I don't know, I don't know, I don't know.

(I don't know.)

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The B-I-B-L-E

The following is an excerpt from an email I sent to a friend that details some of my current thought regarding Christianity's sacred book.

Basically, I’ve been taking a long, hard look at my faith and I’ve decided that it’s an inherited faith, full of suppositions given to me by the environment in which I grew up, based on an extremely narrow view and a giant bias. The “answers” to hard questions I’d been given, and have been giving, are really the shoddiest sort of justification for the Christian faith that I think could be constructed. I no longer believe the Bible is an actual manuscript dictated by God and preserved through all the generations in its pure form – the whole “inerrant, inspired Word of God” creed. I actually think it was really naïve of me to believe that – there is so much evidence showcasing the biases with which different authors wrote, plenty of documented translation errors, the councils of people who took a popular vote on which books and letters (among hundreds) would become canon, and studies showing how much of the Bible is folklore and myth – how even the creation story is probably a Hebraic retelling of the Babylonian ‘Enuma Elish’ tale detailing the origins of the world.

That’s not to say that I no longer put stock in the Bible. I had a professor in college who taught that the Bible is “true to its genre,” meaning that the Psalms are valuable for their aesthetic, poetical insight, the law defines the values of the culture in that time, the epistles chronicle the birth and growth of a fledgling faith in Roman society, etc. I believe the Bible is the human narrative of God’s story. To me, that means the authors wrote about what mattered to them, their interpretation of God’s work in their lives, and those stories are framed by their own beliefs and biases. Just as we have shelves and shelves of Christian books today in which authors derive meaning from history and experience, but do it through the use of their own faculties and base it on a deep-rooted belief system, I believe that the stories that were passed down and retold and rewritten through the generations inevitably harbor their authors’ slant.

I don’t think that taking this perspective has to diminish the wonder and awesomeness of God. I base it on how I experience God today. God is not a dam-builder who, as a rule, constantly dictates where a stream will flow. He is certainly involved and interested in the movement of things on this planet, and I feel cares a great deal about what goes on in individual lives. But though I’ve known God to influence (even to points of pain & brokenness), I do not know a God who uses irrevocable curses or controls the hearts of people like a puppeteer. I simply do not think it is in his character to mandate a book that perfectly represents his nature to us. The Bible tells many of the innumerable facets of God’s character, but it still asks that we seek, in order to find. The pleasure of God is to be pursued willingly by us, and to see us earnestly striving to exhibit the holiness of his nature in our lives. In a world where everything is boiled down to numbers, where reduction rules, God is the last great mystery. We need that in our lives – mystery makes it meaningful.

The Big Squeeze (part 2)

It’s funny how as children we are often possessed by very physical fears. Even though their manifestations may not be real, things like the boogeyman and monsters under the bed are, in the minds of children, fully animate, physically embodied manifestations. As we grow out of those, they are replaced by the metaphysical and emotional fears that often dictate our actions. Fear of failure, or of never finding love – these things are not incarnated by slimy blobs or little green men, but they have no less of an effect on our psyches and habits.

My fear of a doctor squishing the life out of my manhood was the physical manifestation of youth. Today it is far better explained as the intangible anxiety over my status as a working adult. You’re born, you work, you die.

Among the greatest of my fears is that almost inescapable malaise that plagues those of us who succumb to the deadness of corporate America. We encounter hardship in career and finances and somehow find ourselves stuck in a job that was never even a remote part of our dream, but is still a necessity. Something to pay the bills. My fear is that I will continue to fall deeper into the “American dream” mindset where career becomes the pursuit of every waking moment, or at least the means to an end that somehow justifies the slaying of soul in the process. Passions that meant everything in the idealism of youth are slowly bled to death.

And that is the goal of corporate America, of government, of institution and advertisers, of authority and the establishment. “The man,” as it were. Streamline processes, file documents, avoid legal entanglements, and above all, NEVER factor in emotion. Like a doctor who won’t allow a penis to grow at its own rate, “the MAN” squeezes our figurative testicles until we lose the will to fight anymore, until we’re, in a sense, emasculated, genderless (passionless) drones who work because it is the only perceived choice, who spend money because there’s nothing else to do with it, and who are, essentially, dead men walking.

This post brought to you courtesy of Wachovia Corporation, on whose timeclock it was written. The author has devoted over three years of his life as a dutiful servant of said company. Upon requesting a recommendation from his managers (who are reportedly very pleased with his service and will do “anything” they can to help him in his future endeavors), they subversively reiterated company policy that states “managers are prohibited from providing references to outside employers.” What’s three years of work history worth to you?