Archives For Faith

This past Sunday Don Vanderslice of Mosaic Austin visited us at Vox and shared this classic quote from a commencement speech that great American novelist David Foster Wallace gave before his suicide.  DFW had uncovered the lies, and, I have to hope, found the truth.  Think about what you’ll worship this week.

Because here’s something else that’s true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of God or spiritual-type thing to worship — be it J.C. or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles — is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already — it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.

Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing. And the world will not discourage you from operating on your default-settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the “rat race” — the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.

Life is Tough.

Chris —  August 12, 2011

One time I moved across the country for something that didn’t pan out.  Another time I threw myself into developing a community that never knew how to welcome me.  Those were dark days.

A friend’s husband just passed and left her with a baby.  Another friend is suffering multiple miscarriages.  Another friend was denied an interview for a job they deserve.

Some friends of mine back in Denver spend every day with homeless teenagers. Everyday with heroine addicts and drug dealers and occassionally, murderers.  Two families I know are waiting for years to adopt while the kids they love are stranded thousands of miles away.

The kids I met at Emmanuel orphanage in Delhi are sleeping three to a bed in 110º.  If things go well, they might get some chicken this week.

One guy I know is losing the battle to control both his mind and body.   Another just got dumped…again.  Another buried both parents the year he graduated high school.

Life is really tough.

To be honest with you, mine feels pretty rough right now. But not as tough as many I know.

Although I am often depressed and even despair, it hasn’t shaken a few basic hopes.  They are:

1.  This world is not all.  Even when science explains how everything works, it will never answer “why?”  The very fact that there is an unanswerable why question is all the proof I need to know that this world is not all.

2.  We humans refuse to except a reality with no justice.  Hindus count on Karma. Atheist fight against oppresive religion. Christians are holding out for a new heaven and new earth, and if necessary, a hell.

3.  If there is more to this world, and there is justice, then there is a point to my story.  To our stories.  This is all going somewhere.

But none of this changes the fact that, in the meantime, life if tough.

So today, be kind to those you see.  Chances are, they’re going through a lot.

And if you hope in Christ remember that

” In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Why I Blog

Chris —  August 5, 2011

Faith is the navigation between experience and assertation.  Experience is what your senses and your science tell you is true, like the fact that it’s 108º in Austin today or that the speed of light is 186,282 miles per second.  Assertation is the statements that we use to explain our experience, like “all men are created equal” or “the longevity of the Rolling Stones proves that they are the best rock and roll band of all time.”

Faith is the path that we take to get from today to tomorrow, responding to our senses and living out our assertations.  For a scientist, their chief assertation is that the universe has an order, and that order can be discovered.  The scientist’s faith is in the scientific method.  For the buddhist, the assertation is that this world is to be overcome, and faith is in meditation and other processes that separate one from the world.  For the Christian, the assertation is that this world is unfinished, and faith is living in a way that respects how things are but trusts in how things should be.

Jesus taught of the Kingdom that is now but not yet.  The reality is that the world is full of disease and heartbreak and earthquakes and amputees.  The reality is that God is good.  He is in charge and there is healing and wholeness and peace.

Both are true.

Now.  But not yet.

This blog meanders from theology to science fiction to relationships to politics.  But at the core it is a blog about faith. My assertion is that there is something eternal about everything.  The “present” is something recently experienced, like a date or a bike ride or my love for the 2005 revival of Doctor Who.  The eternity is the deep truth, the old magic, behind all of these things. Exploring present eternity just means having faith that there is something to all of this.

Thanks for reading, for commenting and exploring with me.

I recently bought a book off of Amazon that was so marked up I almost couldn’t read it.

My friend and fellow MAGL cohorter Margaret Yu suggested I check out Peter Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak.  Palmer is a Quaker, which is really the closest thing that Protestantism has to a mystically tradition.  Mystic’s are concerned about the inner journey, and are often having a much different conversation than fundamentalists are.

The previous owner of the book marked almost every page in pencil with a clear and effeminate script.  For the statements she agreed with there were little checkmarks.  For those she disagreed with, she cross them out and write a diatribe, including scripture references to prove the author wrong.  Time and again, she would argue with a word, phrase, or her misrepresentation of Palmer’s point.

My definition of a fundamentalist, whether it be Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Marxist, Atheist or Anarchist, is a person who is so rigidly committed to a set of beliefs and practices, that they are unable to accept, converse with or perhaps even live near someone who doesn’t agree with them.  For a fundamentalist, life is a constant witch hunt.

Reading a book is really no different than having a conversation. You engage the other person by listening to what they have to say.  The goal of reading a book should be to gain some sort of insight in to how another person sees the world, which may at some point help you navigate it yourself.

The previous owner of my book was incapable of listening to what Palmer has to say.  For her, you can only listen to a person who agrees with how you see the world.  Because of this, she’ll never see beyond herself, will understand very little of how the world works, and will never grow into a better person.

A fundamentalist can’t read a book because they don’t want to learn.  They just want to be affirmed in how they already see the world.  Learning doesn’t meant that one cannot hold to a lifestyle or worldview.  It means that one values another’s ability to think, their life experiences and imago dei enough to put their desires on hold and listen.

This is too bad.  Because there’s a lot you can learn from a book. Or a person.

According to one Oxford professor, the Ancient Christian Codices are fakes.  So much for being the greatest archeological discovery of all time.  As fun as it is for us Bible/Archeology geeks to imagine the implications of such discoveries, the fact is, we’re better off without them.

You remember in Raiders of the Lost Ark when he pulls out the picture Bible and explains to the government officials why the power of the Ark of the Covenant?  For a moment, you might think that Indiana Jones is a man of faith.  After all, the believes in the power of this artifact of ancient Yahwehism, but the movie shows us otherwise.  Jones is an adventurer, who we find out, also believes in the pagan powers of Indian witch doctors, the Knights Templar, and (regrettably) bulbous alien crystal skulls.  Jones has good reason to believe in this panoply of supernatural artifacts: he’s seen them, touched them, and used them to defeat his enemies.

This stands in stark contrast to Abraham and his descendants, whose life was based on faith in what he had not seen.  Long after retirement age, he moved his entourage across the continent, because a voice told him he should.  He believed he and his wife would have a son in their mid-nineties.  He believed that even if God called him to sacrifice his son, the child would raise from the dead.  Again and again in the scriptures, it is said of Abraham that “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

The problem with an “Indiana Jones” style of faith is that it reduces God to one more ancient magical artifact, no different that bulbous crystal alien skulls.  Having something tangible to grip on to eliminates the need for faith.  This type of faith is limited by ones own ability, or that or the witch doctor or magic talisman.  It is also a tool, to be manipulated by one’s will.

God, on the other hand, is no tool. You cannot manipulate him or force him to do your will.  Where Indy sought power, Abraham was just along for the ride.

It’s kind of sad that the codices were fake.  It would be cool to have ancient extrabiblical proof of the teaching of the resurrection.  However, the fact is that one more piece of proof is just another tool to put our faith in, instead of God.  In the mean time, we’ll have to settle for what we already had (the Christ Hymn of Philippians 2:5-11, among other things) and the promise of Jesus “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”