About Me

Phoenix, AZ, United States

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

Summer is officially upon us and I hear monsoon season is just around the corner. Phoenicians are trained from an early age to respond to complaints about the summer heat here, they respond "its a dry heat" but come late July it gets hot and humid which is pretty miserable and makes you question what is so dry about it. I have just arrived to the school library to do some "research" which basically involves reading philosophy books and articles. I've been working on some stuff on Free will and Divine Foreknowledge and have been posting about it in my other blog (Getting Metaphysical).

I feel melancholic this morning and I feel it deeply.

I have for the most part wasted my summer. I have looked for jobs with no luck, been house shopping, doing some research, but mostly I have gotten lazy and this is really bothering me now. I can only hope to make the most of what days I have left.

I have been thinking about what it means to "make the most of every opportunity" as the apostle Paul admonishes us to do in his letter to the Ephesians. This command is followed by, "knowing that the days are evil" which seems to give us a good context within which we are to understand the first part of the passage. It reminds me that we are in a spiritual war between good and evil, and that what it means to make the most of every opportunity should be defined in light of this fact. But I find that it is (at least in one sense) quite difficult to live as though there is such a weighty conflict happening all around us. There is something about being a middle class American in the 21st century that seems to make any such reality a mere after-thought. Sure things are not perfect here, and we have had our tragedies and will continue to, but for the most part I find myself feeling pretty safe in this world. On my drive here I was listening to the radio program which was interrupted briefly to give a traffic report. There was trendy, upbeat music in the background and the narrator had apparently had plenty of coffee this morning. He proudly and optimistically reported closures and accidents at this and that intersection and whimsically reported a fatality on one of the major highways, and without a hint of remorse his segment was gone with zooming sound effects and all. And I know that it isn't the correct context to express remorse since people just want to hear about what impediments might possibly be in their way to work and the best alternate routes so I am not criticizing him or the program itself. Still it got me thinking that I have the propensity to abstract tragedy even though in reality is it all around and so I wonder why this is the case. Maybe I am deaf and blind...

Here I am, a somewhat average, American twenty-something striving as always to maintain and improve my "quality of life". Wanting to remain as comfortable as possible and often dabbling in decadence when "comfortable" grows into boredom. I want nice clothes, richly exotic and aesthetically pleasing food and drink, devices to entertain me and so on.... vanity, vanity a mere chasing after the wind... What about the wars going on? Well sure, there is the stuff going on in Libya, and in Afghanistan and in parts of Africa, the drug wars in Mexico... but again I can abstract it. I can remain blind and deaf towards it. You know it took me a long time to get beyond a very superficial reading of scripture, of course, I still have my moments and quite frequently at that but I've had some improvement. In any event, when I began altering my approach it was pretty incredible. I have been reading Confessions by St. Augustine who had a similar experience during his coming to the Lord: he had been reading scripture one way (as a literalist) all his life and it was his being taught to approach it a bit more thoughtfully that played a significant role in his leaving the Manichees. I say all this to say that I often find myself reading the events in this life superficially, living not by faith, but by sight. I take things at face value and so life seems pretty serene. Sure there are wars and rumors of wars, but I see them on my t.v. set and can turn them off whenever I please. I can go days without reading the news or listening to the radio if I so please. The problem is that when all is said and done, I keep going back to this deep entrenched belief that I have that appearance = reality.

You see, I keep missing the stuff that is beneath the ostensible. I should be asking, why the heck are there wars in Libya in the first place? Why is there conflict at all? And I should be realizing that there is a spiritual war that underwrites the physical ones. This spiritual war isn't fundamentally between north and south, democracy and communism, democrats vs. republicans, or even Christianity vs. Islam but between belief and unbelief, light and darkness, good and evil. And it is happening within myself such that "the good I want to do, I don't do, and that which I hate I keep doing". I only see this at moments when I am willing to go beyond the way things appear but such times are few and far between.

In Genesis, Eve was said to be enticed by the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When I was a kid I used to think that the fruit (in my mind a shiny, red apple) itself did something to Adam and Eve, like it had magical juice or something to "open" her eyes. Of course, the fruit itself isn't the significant part, it is the act of disobedience and perhaps behind the disobedience is an ignorance that is culpable. Anyway, it is written:
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. - Genesis 3:6
Among other things, I think she (and Adam) ought to have known that wisdom isn't gained by consuming some shiny object. The nature of knowledge isn't such. Perhaps in the Matrix, you can sort of download info. but knowledge in the real world is a very different thing. And they heard the Tempter's promise which was likely very seductive and then turned to this pretty little shiny thing and then the first couple fell. Again among other things, they failed to look beyond the surface to what could have been quite obvious (had they been thoughtful in the least), namely, that physical sustenance is distinct in kind from spiritual sustenance and that knowledge doesn't come apart from the fear of the Lord, nor does it come directly from eating something aesthetically pleasing.

So here I am separated from my parents (Adam and Eve), by thousands of miles and thousands of years, but the same old struggle. The reason I feel so comfortable and safe is because I look around and see that things seem for the most part A-Ok. At the moment my eyes see a fine variety of desert trees swaying softly in the wind, they tower over the verdant fields shimmering from the morning dew. The summer sun glitters beneath me in a shallow pool as the waves dance lazily along and birds flirt with one another carelessly as bright yellow flowers open their buds to drink in the day. Idyllic, still, all is well. And I live in prosperity, a modern day Rome full of splendor and arguably the most powerful military that ever was. Modern medicine continues to promise us cures and to help our bodies look younger and live forever. Sure we're in the middle of an economic crisis, but it is hard to tell. Restaurants and shopping malls are bustling, and as Independence day stands just around the corner, people will be firing up the grill, swimming, drinking, eating to excess and being merry as if nothing is happening...

"People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all." Luke 17:27
But all of this is appearance, it is illusory, because it isn't the whole story. I live as though if only my temporal needs were met, I would be fine and this due to the fact that I take things at face value and am mollified by what is pleasing to the eye after all, I am my father's son.

"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28
I once wrote about how vague the saying "Carpe diem" is. It just isn't super informative because I don't know what it means to "seize the day". It all seems to depend on what you're after. If I want to be a circus juggler, then seizing the day will mean doing everything I can to improve my juggling, joining the circus and the like. If I want to avoid the circus (maybe I have an irrational fear of bearded ladies) then it will look quite different. Paul I think is exhorting us to sieze the day with respect to the invisible war between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, it is the only way I can begin to make sense of the life he led.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Finding myself in Numbers

Often I find myself struggling with my place in life. While most all of my friends seem to move along at a "normal" pace, I feel as though I am always thirty minutes late to the show... ok maybe its more like a decade late. Of course this is a struggle for me because at the end of the day I seem to fear man rather than fearing God. I have bought into the lie that life is about having a certain amount of money in the bank (just enough not to worry = an endless supply), a respectable job (a tenured track position at a University), an advanced degree (3 letters following my name please), and the number of proverbial pats on the back I can get (as many as possible). I ought to consider it all rubbish and long to share in his sufferings, but mud pies, mud pies, that is what wets my appetite. I don't really see these things for what they are and this is the problem. In part, I believe that my picture-"perfect" future could not even begin to bring me joy but rather would be only distraction and then in part, like a dog returning to its vomit, I keep accepting the same old b.s. that there are greener pastures just on the other side of the fence.

The other day, a friend of mine asked me what I thought the point of the book of Numbers was and I didn't have a ready answer; since that time I have been thinking some about it. The book opens with the Israelites in their second year of the Exodus from Egypt. It is God bringing his people from the old way (of captivity) to the new way of life, but of course there is a large chasm between the two and this is the sojourn. At the beginning of Numbers, we find the Israelites are at the foot of Mt. Sinai and in we know from having read Leviticus that they have received all the guidelines and laws from God about how they should live. Numbers traces their pilgrimage from Mt. Sinai to the land flowing with milk and honey which should have only been an 11 day or so trek but in actuality takes nearly 40 years. Constantly throughout the book they fall short of seeking the Lord and following his ways and thus they do everything but trust in him. It is titled "Numbers" because God requires I think, two censuses: one at the beginning of the epoch and another towards the end and we see that rather than being fruitful and multiplying, they have decreased substantially in number by the second count of heads; this is because so many have perished in the desert. Still, God is steadfast and is faithful to complete the work that He has started. Eventually as a people, they get to the land, even though an entire generation has passed away (save two faithful men). This book seems to be about the journey of one's faith and what it looks like to go from being an enemy of God to realizing eternal life and particularly about all that stuff in between which looks ugly and is so often frustrating to the point of wanting to throw in the towel. That is, as we live out what is an admixture of faith and unbelief, it feels at times like we are just running circles. Numbers is a narrative about God in his awesome mercy breaking our stiff necks so that we may turn our eyes from evil and fix them upon the author and finisher of our faith.

Monday, June 6, 2011


I almost changed my blog template, but at the last minute couldn't get myself to do it. I'm not sure why. I mean I haven't posted anything in ages and almost as seldom have I written anything that wasn't assigned. I hope to change that though; I really would like to begin blogging again even semi regularly, but no promises. So anyway, regarding the template, I find myself attached to the picture of the empty road that bends into the unknown; I am of course still on this journey and it continues to provide me with plenty of surprises...

Today I was reading the book of Isaiah and I came across some interesting passages that I thought I wanted to remember which is what has prompted me to blog. The first of such scriptures is found in chapter 42, beginning in verse 16 it reads,
"I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth..."
What powerful imagery.

Often I respond obstinately when I have to learn something new (at least when the new direction implies my old way was insufficient). And what about a blind person who has had their sight restored? How radical that change must be. I once watched a documentary about one such case where a blind person upon having their sight restored (she was not blind from birth), had to, in a real way "relearn" to function with her revived modality. Such persons tend to find their walking, moving and balance being affected and they find their newly realized sight to be cognitively overwhelming; talk about an acid trip.

I too have been relearning to see again, a process I anticipate perpetuating for a very long time. And it has been difficult to say the least. I have in effect left the faith of my youth because there was nothing in it worth keeping. Thus for the last two years or so I have been walking through all new terrain, with new instruments that feel clumsy in my hands and new guides (who's voices I don't always recognize). I have been trying to catch new wine but often finding remnants of my old wineskin that are just not fit for the job. Following a downpour, I show up to the Father with a dribbling old decantur and a few droplets of liquid. In light of such shortcomings, I find myself tempted to run back to what was once so familiar and comfortable to me, and I grumble about how things were 'once upon a time' better and wonder why I was ever led out, led out of Egypt. Was I led out in the desert to die? I often wonder...

It is likely that most folks will be able relate to something of this sort, since change is all around us. Often we have to readjust to our surroundings, to new methods and the like and I don't know what your journey is about or what changes have entered your neighborhood. I don't think that all such change is inherently good (nor is it itself bad) and so perhaps your discomfort is some indication that you should return home because the way you're headed is a dead end; but I don't know your story. I do know that on better days I have been convinced that my new found journey is the better way (even though it seems often so straight and narrow) and that there really is nothing left for me in the past but a great deal of immaturity and selfishness. On worse days I feel not up to the task, as if I was called to it by mistake, as if I do not quite belong. But I guess that is the point. I am in fact an impostor, left to myself. I feel humbled at the moment which has been happening quite often lately and I realize at least for the moment, that I have been brought to the desert not to perish but to be tested and humbled just as those who have gone before me (Deuteronomy 8:16).

I hope and pray for patience during the tumult native to this stage of the journey both in my life as well as in my dealings with others who may also be learning how to see for the first time.