Tuesday, October 25, 2011

dark night of the soul.

why do you believe in God?

within one instant I had to face the questions I never had cause to worry about before, because I never really believed in God – only the idea, the idea of something greater than myself but nothing more than a shallow notion that I was willing to cast aside whenever the time presented itself. the time came. I cast it aside and was shocked to discover that all my worth was nascent within the kernel of belief that I flippantly gave no more than half of a thought from time to time. It was all connected: the community I craved the love I sought the justification I lacked was in that which I felt was easy to live without; yet it was all called away in an instant and I discovered that perhaps it was more than a passing phase or a means to an end, but now it was lost and perhaps I didn’t want it back anyways because I didn’t really believe because how could this happen why could this happen why why why I won’t believe your lies because I am more than that, this means more than that; bring me more pain because in it I find my identity and my self-worth: I am justified. what is community but a false Idea that is but temporary and what is keeping it from being called away in an instant just like everything else?

I left home and moved downtown on my own in a condition ready to bring more pain upon myself because now I would be completely separated from the life I once had, which now became associated with nothing other than that which I had lost – or never really had. Somehow I still continued to go to a fellowship group on campus, because I probably still wanted to keep up appearances or perhaps I wished to seek out others on which I could give my burden in return for the power I could possess over them through the pity I could so easily invoke. It was disgusting, but I preserved my identity and my justification.

Though these people I met, this community I found, was different than the last. I felt accepted like I had never felt before: which was what I really sought above all else, I would soon discover. The power-play no longer had any purpose to serve because I wasn’t necessary, I was a part of something greater than self and external to me. I developed a kinship and bond with two in particular, among others, with whom I shared all from the beginning and they shared in return. This was a relationship with another human being I never thought possible. It seemed to transcend mere conventions and appearances and was all about the inward state and trying to make sense of life. I craved this kind of understanding with a hearty passion, and from them I learned much. I learned not so much from what they said as much as who they were: I looked to them as role models.

here there is an interesting twist, do you see? I shifted my focus away from myself onto those around me and now it became them in which I sought my salvation. I fashioned an idol out of the worth I wished to derive from my relations to others: why is this so bad? I am no longer being selfish and self-involved right? Isn’t that how things are supposed to be? Yet, why do I still feel so alone and isolated? towards the end of a few truly blissful months in which I felt happier than I had ever been in my life, I felt the doubts return that had so plagued me just a season earlier. this time, however, I did not have God to blame because I knew that he was no longer at fault: I believed that he was truly responsible for the joy I now felt and that it could not have come from any other. This left only one other culprit: myself me I. I was the one responsible. I was unhappy once more and now this time only I was to blame. The intensity of isolation increased because I could not blame God any longer, nor others because they are others, this inner struggle could have no other author. I now had an added sense of guilt on top of everything else because I was to blame I was to blame I was to blame do you understand? no one else was at fault.

When the new year arrived, my support fell out from under me once again. Only this time it was different, however, because I had something more substantial to lose. I had experienced true happiness for once in my life and now I had that snatched away and I could not understand why why why why please give me an answer Do you know how it feels to be unhappy and know that only you are to blame? I had lost all hope. The despair was intensified because now I could compare this sorrow to a happier time in my life not a few months earlier. What had happened? What had changed?

I did not love these people. They were no real community to me because I sought in them the same justification I sought in them through the power by which I could usurp their pity from them: a false sincerity. I could see myself as an actor, a liar and O how well I could play the part. I could see the grave intentions I had and believed I could see the same false character in everyone else and so doubted truth and love, because what is love without truth? where is our bond? All was lost and the element of loss was something new to me because I don’t believe I ever had so much to lose before. I saw that I had squandered much of my childhood, or perhaps never really lived it too occupied with that which didn’t matter, drowning myself in my own apathy and indifference. I never really lived my childhood and I was never affected by it before now. What is my life? there was only a past I never lived and a future I was too dead to experience What am I doing? What have I done? why do you believe in God

I saw the idols I had created lose their hope along with me. Everyone around me was unhappy, and the only reason I could see for it was that perhaps we had be living in an illusion that was only bound disappear before us soon enough. Were we just poor quixotic souls fighting enemies that weren’t really there? Was it all a dream from which we had now waked? I do not want to wake: if I am dreaming let me sleep Yet life demanded everything from me, from us, and we had to give it over because we were powerless to stop it. This time it was not God’s fault, but our own. We had replaced God with the idol of our comfort and security and sought our worth in it; we were ready to sacrifice all to the idol and then when God came to ask the same of us, we hesitated. It is that hesitation which held us back with trembling idle hands as chains that bound us to the earth. wretched man that I am, who will save me from this body of death

You ask me: why do you believe in God? The only answer I can give you is my experience. I think we live under the misconception that we claim to only believe that which we can empirically observe, yet reject all truth based on subjectivity: as though that has nothing to do with experience. I have learned more from my relations to others and from the notebooks and diaries of authors than any book or theology. Though I do not doubt their importance, it is different to witness the truth of life in person. I am changed and those I love have changed as well: I see God in them, and thus I believe. When community is understood properly, we have the ability to see God for ourselves. Those who wish to deny that this is true, I would argue have not experienced what it means to love fully and more importantly what it means to lose everything only to gain everything in its place. I have lived it and for whatever it is worth I tell you that I believe in God because I have seen its proof with my very eyes. I still have unanswered questions, but I have also learned that no matter how often I study, they are answers I will only find in living my life. I will live the questions and in such a way find my answers. I have no doubts, for what reason have I to doubt?

This is only the understanding I have reached on this day in my life and I know it may be subject to revision or perhaps all will be taken from me in an instant again. How will I respond? I tell you I have no fear, come what may: I believe.

This blog at best serves to glorify myself and my problems and for that I apologize and regret that you have read it and that I have published it. I write it out only so that I may have something to look back upon as I return to living these questions and problems and history.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

understanding don quixote.

“the mockery that underlies the career of Don Quixote is what we must endeavor to discover” – Miguel de Unamuno

Upon finishing Don Quixote, I find myself questioning what it is that I have learned through my long adventure side by side with our hero and his squire Sancho Pança. It occurs to me that one doesn’t really understand what the novel is attempting to accomplish until one has finished it and seen Quixote on his death-bed ‘repenting of his madness’. It is here that he receives an awakening that brings him to his senses, yet instead of joy at his recovery, we feel the deepest pang of sorrow and cruelty at the poor wretch he is upon the realization that his whole life has been a jest and a mockery. We find that even the ones responsible for his cure are the very ones at the end of his life trying to convince him to continue in his madness and ride out once more; however, their regretful pleas arrive too late to the Don’s fragile state. Not even the encouragement of his companion Sancho can convince him otherwise and thus he meets his death reflecting upon the absurd comedy his life has been.

“At length he waked and with a loud voice, ‘Blessed be the Almighty’, cried he, ‘for this great benefit he has vouchsafed to do me! Infinite are his mercies; they are greater, and more in number than the sins of men.’ The niece hearkening very attentively to these words of her uncle, and finding more Sense in them than there was in his usual talk, at least since he had fallen ill; ‘What do you say, sir, has anything extraordinary happened?’ ‘Mercies’, answered he, ‘that Heaven has this moment vouchsafed to show me, in spite of all my iniquities. My judgment is returned clear and undisturbed, and that cloud of ignorance is now removed, which the continual reading of those damnable Books of Knight-Errantry had cast over my Understanding. I now perceive their nonsense and impertinence, and am only sorry the discovery happens so late, when I want time to make amends by those studies that should enlighten my soul, and prepare me for futurity’” –Don Quixote

Perhaps I should begin by discovering what it is that Don Quixote learned at the end of his life. He claims to have had a revelation from Heaven exposing his madness to himself, but is it as simple as that? It requires one to examine why the revelation had to happen to him when it did, or why it even happened at all.

Don Quixote del la Mancha, after filling his head to the point of madness with books of Chivalry and Knight-Errantry, set out on his quest for eternal glory and fame; he procured for himself his trusty steed Rozinante, a sickly mare that barely traveled faster that a trot; he also found himself a squire in Sancho Pança and a mistress in the fair Dulcinea del Toboso (whom he had never actually met, only heard of her beauty through the praise of others). He promised Sancho that once his fame was achieved, he would allow him to govern some island or kingdom of his own as reward for being the squire of so gallant a Knight-Errant. It is then that the adventures begin and the foolishness of Quixote manifests itself before the eye of the public. Once he had left his home, his niece and family friends immediately set about procuring ways of getting him to come home and have his right senses returned to him. Yet, Don Quixote’s particular brand of madness makes this difficult for them to make any successful attempt at getting him to return. All things to Don Quixote are able to be explained as serving his purpose in his perspective. When things appear to him different than they should seem, he blames his misfortune on enchantment or sorcery, for that was how it happened in his books of Knight-Errantry. Thus, every fortune and misfortune is explained and given its particular purpose towards Don Quixote’s end. Until at long last, the grand design of Don Quixote’s friends succeeds and a hired man in armor challenges the Don to a fight, under the condition that if he loses he must return home for one year and not practice any Knight-Errantry nor partake in any adventures of any kind. They found this to be a well-crafted plan because they knew that Quixote, being a man of honor, would follow through on the conditions and with that they hoped to rid his mind of madness and return his senses to him. The challenge is made and the knights ride at each other when – Quixote falls from his horse. He lost. This puts Don Quixote in such a despair that some of his sense returns and he begins to curse his misfortune and the continual upturning of all his plans hitherto. The walk home was one of great suffering because he and Sancho were robbed and beaten more than once before they reached their homes. This time, however, they did not have their shining star of glory to provide them comfort and consolation in the midst of their pain; since he had lost, all became dark and oppressive to Quixote. His return to his senses was one of pain and great suffering. He was forced to admit and his whole life’s purpose and goal was meaningless and all a mockery. What has the Don learned?

My brief and wholly incomplete summary of the events that led to his final exclamation on his death-bed repenting of his madness, is meant to give an idea of the overall idea of the novel as I see it. Are we to triumph at the return of Don Quixote’s senses? It is probably clear that I am one who shall never find joy that Don Quixote had his senses restored. With this restoration, his life lost all of its meaning and we are left with just another poor, ordinary man. What man was discovered in this process? Which man was the real man? This is my question.

Miguel de Unamuno, a philosopher I love, has much to say on the subject of Don Quixote and what he represents for modern Spain and modernity in general. Don Quixote brings us to ourselves, but not in the way the novel represents, Unamuno argues. His return to his senses is seen as a self denial to Unamuno:

“The philosophy in the soul of my people appears to me as the expression of an inward tragedy analogous to the tragedy of Don Quixote, as the expression of a conflict between what the world is as scientific reason shows it to be, and what we wish that it might be, as our religious faith affirms it to be…no, Don Quixote does not resign himself either to the world, or to science or logic, or to art or esthetics, or to morality or ethics.” –Miguel de Unamuno ‘Tragic Sense of Life’

The final exclamation of Don Quixote is when the Don gives up his desire and struggle for life and resigns to his rationality. For what else is it that he gives up if not his belief in something greater than himself? No, the persuading and mischievousness of his niece and company, set out to rid him from this belief because it is not grounded in the senses or upon reason. In the world of rationality, is it any wonder why a man like Don Quixote, a man of strong conviction and belief, should be made out to be a madman? His adventures harmed no one (other than themselves, especially poor Sancho) and at most occasionally caused passers-by some inconvenience by his antics. He was no criminal, only a strong believer in what he felt to be the noblest of causes, Chivalry.

Even though virtually none of his adventures worked out, that does not make him any less of a believer in his cause. His life was ordered, meaningful and with purpose. No misfortune could hold him back for long because he was a doer and he was living what he believed in. The ones who restored him to his senses did not have such a conviction. They want him to return to his senses and.. then what? Simply be like them? Was it because they were jealous of his determination? Why? I do not understand. It seems that they wanted this restoration simply because that was what was normal and appropriate behavior; they wanted him to be just as confused and lost in life as they were, is that so?

This, I feel, is why the ending of the novel is so powerful because all those who restored him to his senses immediately were filled with regret at this poor hopeless man that they knew they had turned him into. They had stripped his life of its meaning and you find them at the end pleading with him to take up his madness again. How strange! What is it the others discovered in this? It appears that they discovered their own meaninglessness as well in this conversion. Here they saw before them a casualty of Reason (capital R), their guiding star, and they were forced to question their own motives. All parties present at the Don’s death found themselves guilty and responsible for their actions. Quixote saw his madness as a sin and the others saw their deprivation of the Don to be a sin. Thus the novel concludes with everyone brought before themselves in the most difficult self-recognition possible: the acknowledgement of their own sin. Yet, what was Quixote’s real sin? In his madness, he believed, like in the epics of Homer and Virgil that God was present in his actions and Providence was guiding him and bestowing fortune and misfortune to him according to God’s will. Perhaps he was not aware of himself as an acting agent with his own responsibilities before God, but at the same time I feel that he was. He was not believing all this blindly or just on the surface: he believed it all with every fiber of his being. To deny this conviction would be akin to death for Don Quixote, which proved to be true in the end. So I do not see the sin at least in proportion to the sin recognized by the others, and perhaps I have not lived enough to understand the sin yet, which is very possible. Now, it seems to be that the others were very much in the wrong and stripped the innocent Don Quixote of his purpose for living. It is no surprise that his final loss was followed almost immediately by his death, for how could he live on after all he believed his whole life was proven to be a sham?

In Nietzsche’s On The Genealogy of Morality, he describes human beings as fundamentally meaning-seeking creatures and one of the biggest problems we encounter in our lives is the issue of suffering. How is one to account for the suffering in the world? If it has no intrinsic meaning that we can discover, then what is the point of our participating in anything in the world if we face misfortune and loss without any reason? Nietzsche concludes that humans would rather “will nothingness, than not will”. By this, he is making a claim, I argue, about our ontology that we necessarily create for ourselves a meaning for our sufferings, even if there may be no real evidence for them. What else is Don Quixote’s folly? He has given a purpose for his life that provides a meaning for his suffering and his joys alike. One is reminded of Kierkegaard’s portrayal of the Tax-Collector in Fear and Trembling. He finds joy in all things, even in the ugly; fortune and happiness even in the misfortunate and the sorrowful. No matter what befell Don Quixote and Sancho Pança in their adventures, Providence was always guiding them and that was his belief.

To believe, or not to believe? That is the question. Unamuno pushes that we must become quixotically ridiculous to others and more importantly ourselves. This does not mean that there is no room for true Belief however. Yet, why is it that if a true Don Quixote were to appear to us today we would immediately dismiss him as a madman (even we Christians) and go about our business. Have we no strength to believe as Don Quixote? Have we not the courage to live and do as Don Quixote? Perhaps we have lost our admiration for that which is greater than ourselves and have settled for something much less; we have lost the desire for the great and the wonderful and resigned it all for the ordinary and the plain. Are we so weak and cowardly?

Monday, January 17, 2011

on self-examination

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? You are a human being. Though you are a person that has been born into this world with specific personality traits, etc., you are not really who you are, not yet at least. There is a sort of pre-condition to your being in the world: we are all sinners and therefore naturally imperfect. Yes, this is the great equalizer. There was a temptation to sin in the garden, our venerable mother and father failed the test and we are presently inheritors of that consequence. Once they sinned they were humiliated and longed to hide from God and from each other in their shame. This shame we also inherit at our birth. This is the precondition of our existence, such that when we live in the world we have problems from the very start; shame, guilt, sorrow, anxiety, etc – sin – sin is our point of departure into existence. This is the wall that we will continually hit our head against throughout our lives, repeatedly, over and over again. We (those who actually even notice the problem) can’t help but feel that we cannot escape this condition we are in. We are tempted to resign: “What’s the use?”, you may say to yourself in despair, clutching for meaning and purpose when all that you do just never seems to work out and you feel trapped within your own fragile frame searching for a way to escape. Only, the world cannot provide that escape for you, can it? No, all of your attempts have failed. You just want to be happy and content, but even this is denied you. The sorrow of it all is that it is you who has denied yourself, and you are aware of this but cannot do anything about it; the wall is always there mocking you and your pitiful attempts to break through its thick skin. You have failed yourself in the sense that what prevented your attempts was your own weakness or inability. What is it you do next then, dear sufferer? Where have you left to go when the problem is you and you cannot escape yourself?

Inclosing reserve [det Indesluttede] is an existential term Kierkegaard uses throughout his works for this poor spiritual condition of suffering over one’s existence. You in your awareness of your personal weaknesses and imperfections turn inward and magnify them. In fact, it is these negative facts about yourself that are brought to the forefront at all occasions. Perhaps you stutter when you get nervous around others, or you make a stupid comment or remark without thinking and thus introduce imagined spiteful glances upon yourself, and any time this happens you immediately recognize this fault and for hours and even days or weeks afterwards, screaming at yourself for your stupidity (all inwardly, let’s remember). Nothing can be done to change what happened and so you torment yourself mockingly for what you did and swear that it will never happen again as long as you shall live, but what should happen next…you do it again, perhaps that very night! In your inner anguish, you no longer seek the company of others and you reserve yourself away from everything else; you become reserved for the main purpose of examining yourself all the more closely without distraction.

Perhaps you are a Christian. Yes, of course you are: you’ve been attending church every Sunday of your life, haven’t you? You might even be looked upon as an authority in your church; people look up to you and you even fancy them saying about you: “Now that is how a Christian should act”. – Yet, only you know the truth. You’ve been so long in your reserve that you’ve even perfected a way to make your external appearance an acceptable character to others. So you use that character you’ve created to the best of your abilities, because as long as the outer is properly displayed no one would even bother with the inner. So much you thought to yourself, and you would even in your reserve work and perfect upon your character that it has given you a sort of spiteful pleasure in making your mask so cunningly normal and acceptable. You still are examining yourself on a regular basis; constantly aware of what your faults are and that you are hopeless to change them. You meet a person, a fellow Christian, and perhaps she seems to understand you. “This is a problem”, you say to yourself when you watch her reactions to what you say and you do: she doesn’t believe you. This is just more torment for you, so you go back over every minute detail of everything you have said or done in her presence, yet you cannot find a satisfactory answer as to how she knows. You performed flawlessly, yet it does not change the fact that she is the one who has seen right through you. “What am I to do about this?” you say to yourself in frustration. You resolve to reserve yourself again, for it is not safe out there anymore. Only you soon see that she will not let you alone; you see that she still comes to you provoking emotions unlike you’ve ever felt from anyone else before, at least not truthfully; she still comes to you with questions that you don’t want to answer, because to answer would ruin the whole act: to answer would leave you utterly exposed. So you lie to her, she doesn’t believe you; you run away, she finds you; you push her away, yet she still comes as before. “How can I make this end?”, you think as you submit to giving her just a little, “I say as much just to appease her enough so she will let me alone once and for all”. So she comes. You tell her a little of your personal issues and history, only surface details, for you are a good actor after all so you can make that enough, can’t you?…only she wants more. “How can she expect so much from me!”, you say to yourself in frustration. Let’s say that this time your fuse runs to its end. You lay it all out there in the open, you tell her everything; you tell her everything out of pure spite, for you want her to feel your pain in full and you want her to suffer what you have suffered. You hold nothing back as you lay scorn upon scorn: “Do you know what it feels like to live with this every day?”, you’ll scream at her, “…to live with the unbearable torture of your own self being the problem, the root of all your problems? I can do nothing to change it! Have you ever punished yourself for something that wasn’t even your fault, yet you had convinced yourself that it was you who had failed and that it could not be otherwise? You torment yourself simply out of contempt for yourself because you feel that it is what you deserve. I have a demon over my shoulder mocking me every second ‘you don’t believe in God or love, you are only lying to yourself.’ Do you know what it is like to have this darkness breathing down your neck, poking at your every weakness and magnifying it to an unbearable size that you cannot help but collapse under its weight? Do you? Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? You say all this and more to her, holding nothing back. You expect the worst and prepare to return to your hole and close yourself all over again – but something different happens this time. She smiles at you, a sweet smile of innocence; she smiles at you in love. Love, do you understand?

This is the beauty of Christian love. The task is to love your neighbor as yourself, without distinction, even in their sin and imperfection. Our reserved individual is suffering from pride, or self-love in the wrong way. You may ask how that is so, but is it not pride after all that would place such importance on one’s weaknesses? The pride results from one not being able to feel pride in their weaknesses; the despair results from not being able to feel prideful about oneself. This is an interesting dialectical twist, isn’t it? What once was considered weakness has been turned into pride. Isn’t that the goal of the clever masks we create for ourselves? We are able to create an external self that can replace what we perceive our weaknesses to be with attributes that we can in turn be proud of. So, attention is now drawn to the consequences of the mask and defenses we put up around others. We are essentially being inauthentic selves and denying who we really are for this lesser copy. We are afraid of people finding out who we really are so we hide away, does this sound familiar? Yes, do not be fooled, we have come no further than the garden. That is our precondition so if one is still hiding behind the mask he has not fully become who he really is yet, his eternal self. Therefore, one cannot love nor experience real love, Christian love, yet because he has not recognized himself eternally. Christian love is an eternal love, an infinite love. In order to give this love to others, one must possess it himself, but in order to possess it himself he must be in the right condition to receive it from God, because all love comes from God who himself is love. So you see how our natural self-love must turn into self-love in the right way. Yet, as is clear from the start, Love can only come from God. We are all sinners, let us never forget this, so we can only receive love from God’s hand and not on our own. Only once we have received this love from God can we give it to others; and we can give it freely to all, as we shall do, because the love comes from an eternal source. It is in love that the infinite and the finite meet and through love one is able to be one with his spirit and rest transparently in his Creator.

This love requires transparency. You cannot hide before God and all is made open before him. This is terrifying because we naturally are shameful and anxious about being so completely exposed. So we fear God’s presence and try to get as far away as possible, only this is not possible and at one time or another we are put before God. Inclosing reserve is an example of this hiding, only here you are even hiding before others. Yet, we are called to bear one another’s burdens and this is an act of love for one another. The young girl saved the man because instead of turning from him, she accepted his outpourings in love and was willing to bear his burdens so he did not have to carry it any longer. This is love, unselfish love: Christian Love. An important aspect of this love is its eternal nature. Love, being eternal, is a becoming. In this sense, one is never complete because the source is eternal: one gains more and more each day. This removes any semblance of presumption because we are all a becoming in this Love. None of us is higher than the other. Look at the gravestones! Their lives have ended and yet after their final moments all the worldly distinctions their lives were dedicated to establishing fade away into eternity in an instant; all that is left to show of their time on earth is a stone with a name: just like their brothers. This is not meant to discourage, but to prove that worldly distinction is meaningless when compared with eternity; we have a task and our time is short to complete it. Yet, it is not a race but a becoming, don’t you see? It is not about who wins but about how you came to win at all. Love is how we accomplish the task and the task requires selflessness, so everything becomes about the other and helping one another along in their faith. You may be further along than your brother, your job is to help and love him so that he may receive the joy that you also have. Only remember that you only have that joy because of your relation to God, which is what this all turns on. Those without this relation are missing out on the most important thing of all – salvation in eternity. This is only accomplishable through love.

We are also dealing with a love that looks past the finite externalities of man and looks instead at the eternal within. See, Christianity is not concerned with the external, because the external is not your true self, it is the inner. In your inwardness is where Christianity rests. Our love for our neighbor should be a love that is unconditional and not determinant on what they do so much, because they are sinners, as we all are. It is our expectation of others that leads us to pass judgment and thus we create barriers for ourselves that prevent us from loving one another in truth. Our neighbor is human, as you also are, and therefore subject to be a disappointment to our expectations. But, is the failed expectation just the other not being who you would like them to be? What is it that disappoints you – is it not their relation to how they affect you? The barrier to you loving them in truth is you yourself in your self-love. No! Christianity demands selflessness and requires that you love your neighbor as yourself, without distinction, even in their sin and imperfection. The sin in others should not be a barrier for you, because to judge others because of their sin is to claim that you who judges is without sin; thus, you become a hypocrite. You have not right to judge another. We are all guilty before God and before all. Yes, we are guilty before one another as brothers, bearing each other’s burdens and helping one another along on their walk in faith. Dostoevsky speaks of this love: a love that loves all without distinction; a love that loves the sin in man, because that is ‘divine love’ and the ‘summit of all love on earth’. Is this not a beautiful representation of what it means to love one another? We are to cast off all prejudices and become guilty before all, no one greater than the other. Jesus says that we are to hater our mother and father, brother and sister, etc., and this represents our absolute duty to God. We are to love our neighbor without distinction, and yet we have barriers to this love as well. We construct hierarchies of love and we love each only according to their due. This is how we often love our neighbors. We love them according to how they affect us. But Christianity presents a challenge that offends reason as it demands that we love the unlovable. Loving those whom we have placed higher up on our hierarchies is no task. No! The task is to love those whom we rank low on our list or who do not rank at all. Jesus even says that we should love our enemies. Does this not offend your reason as it doesn’t make sense at all? But, ask yourself why it doesn’t make sense to you. Is it not because there is no advantage in loving the unlovable? With our highly ranked persons, we receive things and love from them in return, but with these others we do not receive anything; we are forced to love selflessly and this affronts our nature as we would rather not give our love to someone who may not even give it in return. Do not forget though that your love is not a love that will run out if you give it away to someone who doesn’t return it; your love is endless if it has its root in the eternal. To love and love without expectation of reward or reciprocation is the task.

Perhaps we should examine ourselves and our love for others as to whether we are loving one another in truth. I have the ability to say all this here to you, but to act it out in truth is an entirely different matter altogether. Christian Love has thus become something far more difficult than we think of it daily. This offense is necessary to our growth in faith, because the struggle is our becoming that is testament to our learning what it means to live the Christian life. What you are fighting is that wall we fought against earlier, only now we have a better understanding of what it is we are up against and we now have the eternal on our side. Without this inner struggle we would have no inner peace; if you are not struggling, then you are not growing.

Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. –I John 3:18

Monday, January 3, 2011

your crystal palace is falling

'...for we are all divorced from life, we are all cripples, every one of us, more or less. We are so divorced from it that we feel at once a sort of loathing for real life, and so cannot bear to be reminded of it. Why, we have come almost to looking upon real life as an effort, almost as hard work, and we are all privately agreed that it is better in books. And why do we fuss and fume sometimes? Why are we perverse and ask for something else? We don't know what ourselves. It would be the worse for us if our petulant prayers were answered. Come, try, give any one of us a little more independence, untie our hands, widen the spheres of our activity, relax the control and we ... yes, I assure you ... we should be begging to be under control again at once. I know that you will very likely be angry with me for that, and will begin shouting and stamping. Speak for yourself, you will say, and for your miseries in your underground holes, and don't dare to say all of us - excuse me, gentlemen, I am not justifying myself with that 'all of us'. As for what concerns me in particular I have only in my life carried to an extreme what you have not dared to carry half-way, and what's more, you have taken your cowardice for good sense, and have found comfort in deceiving yourselves. So that perhaps, after all, there is more life in me than in you. Look into it more carefully! Why, we don't even know what living means now, what it is, and what is it called? Leave us alone without books and we shall be lost and in confusion at once. We shall not know what to join on to, what to cling to, what to love and what to hate, what to respect and what to despise. We are oppressed at being humans, humans with our own real bodies and blood; we are ashamed of it, we think it a disgrace, and we keep trying to be some sort of fairy-tale universal beings. We are stillborn, and for generations past have been begotten, not by living fathers, and that suits us better and better. We are developing a taste for it. Soon we shall contrive to be born somehow from an idea. But enough; I don't want to write anymore from Underground.

-underground man

Sunday, January 2, 2011


Things don't seem to be as easy
As they used to be
It's getting harder every day
To think of better things to say
About what's going on around you
And what's happening inside you
When it's time to change you won't know how
It won't matter years from now

No matter what you think or do or say
Everything turns grey

This is it, the darkest hour
Isn't it depressing how our
Minds create an atmosphere
That won't happen here
Unless we make some new demands
To grasp the future in our hands
You know I wish I could but it's too late
For senseless minds that love to hate

No matter what they think or do or say
Everything turns grey

agent orange - "everything turns grey"

This is a song I’ve always enjoyed. I rediscovered it recently and remembered just how much I love this song. I was impressed by this lyric, especially such a lyric coming from a punk band in the early-80s. One is struck immediately by the cynicism of his words as he tells of a world that is falling into a state of confusion where everything is turning grey each moment and nothing seems to matter. The second verse leads you into a possible solution, but no ‘it is too late’, he says, ‘for senseless minds that love to hate’; and once again everything turns grey. These are scathing words aimed at the indifference and busyness of the present age. The lyric proclaims a lamentation of the way things stand, and laments further that the problem can be fixed if only it wasn’t already too late.

Is it too late? This is the question, isn’t it? Welcome to the present age. The immense cacophony of noise that floods through the media per second is absolutely overwhelming; every advertisement, every form of media is aimed at you: not the you that you are, but the you they have created for you to be; everything is directed at you, telling you who to be and who not to be; yet, there is no standard or cohesion among the mass and so every voice is a contradiction demanding something of you – this is the present age. Where are the individuals? I see only the masses. One is encouraged not to be who they are in truth, but to be their other self, their public self. The noise directed at you is there to help you construct your mask and costume; the media will even be so nice as to tell you what does not work as well as what does – even tell you when you have gone out of style and must put on the new costume. So seductive they are! No one is free of their clutches: no one.

I’m sitting here critiquing them, but am I not a product of my age? Have I not been raised in the post-modern tradition of science over belief, of speculation over choice? Am I not wearing the clothing they have chosen for me? Yes, call me a hypocrite if you will – I will not deny it. Yet, more and more I feel as though I am being awakened. Christianity is perfect for this awakening; it is designed specifically for that purpose. In Christianity, only there can you be who you really are. The mask is ripped from your face as you are thrown and humbled before God, in full consciousness of your sin and guilt before Him. Yes, here is your safe haven – if only you could escape there. But you cannot do that because you are forced to live in the world; you are forced to live in the midst of the noise and confusion and still attempt to live the Christian life. Who has the strength for this? the courage? Yet, this is the task.

The 20th century has left us in an awkward position, philosophically speaking. With the immortal proclamation that ‘God is dead’ at the turn of the century, it sent us all scrambling for meaning. Post-modernity brought us face-to-face with the absurd, in the negative sense, and we cowered in fear before it. We saw the horrors that man is capable of and we failed in all attempts to govern ourselves and our lives. So either one lived in defiance towards the absurd (Camus, Sartre, etc) or one withdrew completely (Beckett, etc). So here we are now. We have inherited this tradition of meaningless and unfortunately it has become so deeply rooted in ourselves and in what we hear that we are ever skeptical of that which proposes to give life an eternal meaning. Yes, we great scientists have speculated and doubted ourselves into oblivion and now we live in fear of commitment to anything, especially if the commitment is to one thing. No, we are much too busy to commit to only one thing; we have so many options available, why choose only one when you can have all? This is the mentality. The noise comes from everywhere, it is inescapable. With such a wealth of information it’s any wonder there is boredom or apathy in the world, for surely one could never be bored when so many options are available. Yet, this is not the case. This is because every part of our lives is filled with empty nothingness, and this is what we cannot escape. All of that noise is meaninglessness. Everything has become so meaningful, so equally important that nothing is important and all has become meaningless. Is it any wonder why so many are depressed, why we have to medicate all our teenagers for their endless number of problems? The mid-life crisis have become a common staple especially in our present age. People are finding out all too late that their lives have been devoid of meaning for so long, and now they set out to correct their mistakes in attempt to re-live those moments they wasted in indecisiveness and disconsolation – yet, if only it wasn’t too late. Everything has turned grey.

So what is the role of the Christian in all of this? Where are we even to begin? I hesitate to find a safe-footing to make that first step; yet, this is the task. We are to be lights in a world of darkness, unstained by the world, to love your neighbor as yourself without distinction and even in their sin – and ‘blessed is he who is not offended by Me.’ Because this is your reward, isn’t it? You defiantly reject their materialism and noise for mild comfort and silence. Your non-conformity is received as offense. Christianity looks at the individual, you in particular and rejects the mass; for God only has interest in you. It is for you not them that Christ came to save you. You are not a Christian through the mass, you are a Christian through your own personal relation to God and through no one else. The best anyone else can do for your salvation is guide you, because the choice is yours alone – either to have faith or to be offended; either to love God or to hate Him (for there is no going in-between in these matters). With this choice, you are rejecting the many for the singular, for “one cannot serve two masters”, only the one who has created you. This singularity of choice, the world does not accept. This is not how the public thinks, for if this was how they thought, the public would not exist since the public is concerned with the many. Christianity demands authenticity from you: this is only achieved through God’s grace. To be authentic is to separate yourself from the rest of the world; to quit banging your head against the wall of the present age where everything is meaningless; to be yourself, your eternal self before God in total guilt-consciousness of one’s sin. Though everything may be ‘turning grey’ around you, you have the Father of Lights on your side who will not change due to any shadow or variation. This is the Christian’s hope in life. The Christian can and must live in the world because we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves and it is only through this love that we can be saved from the noise around us and be in that eternal peace and silence of being before God. Only in love, that is living as a Christian in the world (for as a Christian we shall love the neighbor as ourselves), are we free from the slavery of the world; only then are we our true selves and no longer the mask or the costume.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

what we learn from remembering one dead

Perhaps there is only worldly equality in death. - Isn’t it so? Once we have passed on, the distinctions that place one above another fade away into eternity and we are all equal at last. Walk amongst the gravestones and look at how each is given their own plot, no one bigger than the other. You may notice that one has a larger headstone or is perhaps placed near a tree or on a hill, but these only serve as mockeries because they illuminate the meaningless of worldly distinction. It is in the graveyard that one is able to see the true equality of humankind; one is able to see that in spirit, we are all equal before God. How foolish we are to place such weight on how we are perceived in the world! What are all the riches and statuses one gains in the world but larger headstones on the graves of those dead and gone? And what is poverty if we are all in the end buried six feet beneath the earth, no one different from the other?

Perhaps we can only love unselfishly in regards to remembering one who is dead. - How do you remember one who is dead? In that relationship, one must love unselfishly because you love without any hope of return. You are not loving their physical self, but their psychical self; their spirit. There is no physical self to distract one from loving unconditionally and unselfishly. How freeing it is! No conditions are placed on the love because it is given from one freely without any expectation of return. If you have forgotten the dead or ceased in loving them, it is not that they changed or became more selfish, as is often the case in worldly relationships; no, there is no changing when one is dead – only you have changed! There are no excuses here. You are held accountable for your love as it must be given freely and unselfishly. The dead demand nothing of you, yet we are to love them as our neighbor. Simply because they are dead does not mean they have ceased to exist. This sickness is not unto death, Jesus tells us (John 11:4), instead in death we have life. The physical may have passed away, but the psychical still remains. Do not forget that our task is to love the eternal in man, which is precisely that which does not pass in death. If you have forgotten one who is dead, only you are responsible, not he, for he demands nothing of you. How easy it is to cease loving when we feel we are not demanded to do so, yet this is precisely the problem. Love should flow naturally from a pure heart, given from God who himself is love. The task is to be written on one’s heart (I cannot find the verse at the moment – sorry! Jesus says it.. somewhere..) in such a way that one loves without expectation of reward, because no worldly reward compares to the reward of eternity. This one can learn from remembering one who is dead.

So, how does this affect our relationships with the living? If our task is to love our neighbor as ourselves, all men, without distinction, even in their sin and imperfection; it follows that we are to love equally and unselfishly. This we can learn from remembering one who has passed. Worldly distinctions serve as barriers to us loving one another in truth, but when the love is given freely and unselfishly, there are no barriers because the worldly is not what is being loved: one is loving the eternal in man, his spirit. I am simply reiterating here what I said in my previous entry and thus I will not talk at length about it, but I feel it is a very important issue and is one that I struggle with very often. I think that a lesson is to be learned from loving one who has passed on. May God provide us with the patience, courage and strength to love our neighbor with unselfishness and without worldly distinctions; may He calm our impatience and make us quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger (James 1:19) so that we are able to love one another deeply and in truth.

therefore, if you will test whether or not you love faithfully, note sometime how you relate yourself to one who is dead. ­-Kierkegaard in Works of Love

Thursday, December 2, 2010

dear mother, heart of my heart

Mother listened and shook her head: “My dear, it’s your illness that makes you talk like that.” “Mama, my joy,” he said, “it’s not possible for there to be no masters and servants, but let me also be the servant of my servant of my servants, the same as they are to me. And I shall also tell you, dear mother, that each of us is guilty in everything before everyone, and I most of all.” At that mother even smiled, she wept and smiled: “How can it be,” she said, “that you are the most guilty before everyone? There are murderers and robbers, and how have you managed to sin so that you should accuse yourself most of all?” “Dear mother, heart of my heart,” he said (he had begun saying such unexpected, endearing words), “heart of my heart, my joyful one, you must know that verily each of us is guilty before everyone, for everyone and everything. I do not know how to explain it to you, but I feel it so strongly that it pains me… “You take too many sins upon yourself,” mother would weep. “Dear mother, my joy, I am weeping from gladness, not from grief; I want to be guilty before them, only I cannot explain it to you, for I do not even know how to love them. Let me be sinful before everyone, but so that everyone will forgive me, and that is paradise. Am I not in paradise now?” –Fyodor Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov

above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins – I Peter 4:8

for to be able to love a man in spite of his weaknesses and errors and imperfections is not perfect love; it is rather to be able to find him lovable in spite of and together with his weakness and errors and imperfections - Søren Kierkegaard in ‘Works of Love’

This is probably the most difficult aspect of the task and yet this is also perhaps the highest expression of love one could give to another. The task of Christian love is to love your neighbor as yourself, all men, without distinction, even in their sin and imperfection. We’ve already seen how difficult this task has turned out to be for the existing individual and now it has become even harder, at least for myself. We are all sinners. We are, everyone of us, totally equal before God. No one is better than anyone else in the world, because before God we all become nothing and worldly distinctions fade away. This is a truth that we do not readily accept because it is just so contrary to how we naturally think. We have barriers that we have built in ourselves that we must tear down before we are able to love in truth.

We have a self-love (a self-love in the wrong way) that is an impediment to us understanding our fundamental equality as human beings; it is a self-love that wants to assert our worth above others; it is a self-love that thinks we deserve credit for our actions before God. This is a misunderstanding of the God-relationship. It is not a mutual benefit relationship: we deserve nothing, yet God provides. The temptation is to think of the God-relationship in worldly terms and this is a misunderstanding. Christianity calls for the individual to become nothing before God, because that is his true self; all else is an evasion, a lie. This is a terrifying thought because it demands transparency and complete openness. Before God, your worldly distinctions, your mask that you have worked so long to create and to perpetuate before others: these distinctions have no merit before God, because we are all equal before Him. Your status in the world all that you have is meaningless because as God has given He can take away from you. He can demand all from you in an instant: how would you respond? Your self-love responds in anger because you feel that you deserve better or that God was unjust or unfair in the lot that you have been given in life. But the truth is that you are worthy of nothing, yet God provides. A man sins against you. In your self-love you judge that person for their sin. A man is trapped by a sin and this is revealed to you. In your self-love you judge his imperfection. But who are you judging? Is it not yourself that you are judging? Who are you to decry the sins of others when you yourself are in sin? You are doing nothing but compounding sin upon sin and falling further away. The God-relationship is not the only place that suffers. In your relationships to others, if your view towards them is one clouded by self-love, then you are not loving in truth. Others become ways for you to build yourself up or to gain some advantage from the relationship. You are attempting to place yourself above others but we are all equal before God. Who is it that you are really loving? Is it not yourself then? Relationships to others are only understood in relation to how you are affected by them. They become wholly conditional and dry up as soon as the well of esteem and prestige from others dries up. Your commitment is to a source that is finite and subject to change. Others will always in one way or another disappoint you; they will fail to follow through for you; they will fail to build you up in the way you would like them to: and therefore you live in despair. Your stock is placed in a conditional ‘love’ that is subject to change at any moment, for God can demand all from you in an instant.

The masks we create for ourselves also prevent us from loving one another in truth. The demand is openness and transparency before God, yet we don’t want to give up these masks because with it on we do not feel the threat of eternity. We pride ourselves in our ability to fool those around us, even thinking God is fooled, but we are only fooling ourselves. One becomes inauthentic. You are only evading your true self and making excuses so you don’t have to take responsibility for yourself. You fool yourself thinking you can hide, but there is no where you can run to. An account for your actions will be demanded from you: will you deny yourself? Because isn’t that the defense, to deny that you are the choices and experiences that have created you? The task then becomes to resist the urge to flee from yourself and to face the truth, no matter the difficulty. You cannot run forever and eventually an account will be demanded of you: are you using your time and life experience wisely? The mask leads us to believe that we have hidden ourselves from everyone else, like Adam in the Garden. But God’s interest is in the individual and He can pick you out from your hiding and before Him there is no mask clever enough that can cover you. We create personas for ourselves and create parts to play so that we can be who we think others want us to be. In the world, you are judged by how great of an actor you are before men; if no one suspects anything, then you have won. Before God it is reversed: being an actor puts you further from God, where acknowledging yourself as a sinner and imperfect brings you closer. There is no love for the other when the mask is involved. The mask pervades through all relationships and prevents authenticity. You are just suffering from more self-love. You don’t give enough of yourself away, only just the amount so that the mask still stays intact; however, you think you fooled the other into thinking the mask has fallen. Yes, that is how good you are at keeping the mask in place. You know the limits and just how to exploit them. When you think others think you are being open and true, you think you have won; yet, before God there is only the truth. One is terrified of this thought, one may even think that God is being unjust, but it is we who are mistaken in this thought. You have nothing to lose (because you have and are nothing) and only the world to gain through the God-relationship, because He has overcome the world.

So we see how self-love, in its many forms, is a barrier to loving others in truth. Dostoevsky writes that we are to become guilty before all and take the sins of others upon ourselves out of love and compassion. Isn’t this a beautiful thought? We are all sinners and we are all equal before God. In love, let us share the burden of sin amongst one another so that we become as equals and are able, in strength, to bear the burden of sin as a body of believers in Christ. Worldly distinctions call us away from this equality, but in distinction there is no true love. True love is only in equality before God, who is Himself love.

Our love for others must not be a conditional love: it must be unconditional. The barrier of self-love teaches us that we love others to our advantage, but this is a conditional love and it is subject to change or variation. Love in truth, however, is unconditional because it is resting in an eternal source. Loving another in their sin and imperfection does not occur if the love is dependent on external characteristics of the individual, because we are all sinners and humans, so there will be disappointment if our source of love is solely in the conditional, for no one will be able to live up to our expectations. In conditional love, we are only loving the mask. Instead, love them in spirit for their inwardness, see beyond the mask and play-acting, love them for who they are in truth. This is Christian love. It is our mutual brokenness that bonds us together as we become guilty before all and bear one another’s burdens. We are all equal before God and there is no mask.

This is not easy, for we naturally base our love on the appearance of the mask. We are unwilling to look beyond it, nor is the other so readily willing to remove the mask before you, and this is the condition in which we find ourselves. Loving becomes a difficult enterprise that demands much of us if we are unwilling to completely remove the mask be who we are in truth before God and others. Only Christian love loves the neighbor in truth, because it is an eternal love not rooted in the conditional, but the unconditional. One can only take part in this joy once he has the blessings of eternity within himself first. Only through experiencing the eternal love and forgiveness of God’s love in our own lives are we able to love one another in truth. This is the as yourself of the task. But this is self-love in the right way, in the way God intends. The self-love comes from becoming nothing before God and others and becoming guilty for all and before all. All other self-love is pride and vanity; self-love in truth is acknowledging the other and the mutual condition of sinfulness between you as equals before God. This is where the beauty of friendship is so important, at least in my opinion. Friendship is not false superficiality, true friendship is mutual openness before one another and expressing love unconditionally no matter the sins or faults that we may perceive in the other. You have no right to judge for you are no better than the other. The mutual brokenness is humbling but also a source of great comfort. You understand that you are not alone in the world, that there are others that face the same problems as you, even though it may be in a different form. The other is also one before whom you must be held accountable. You can only bear the burdens of others if you and the other are willing to remove the mask before one another, because true love does not love the mask, it loves the spirit. You have a partner is your walk with Christ; you learn from one another, especially the mistakes of one another; you learn that the burden of life is much easier to bear when you have an other that shares it with you.

if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring them back, remember this: whoever turns the sinner away from error will save them from death and cover a multitude of sins – James 5:20

We are all no different. We are all sinners. I say all these words to you, but I admit I fail at this in practice, for I am a sinner after all. I have been slowly learning the importance of being open and transparent before myself, God and others. I have been noticing my defense mechanisms and my natural inclination to hide behind the mask. Luckily, God has provided (and is providing) with a wealth of friends before whom I can remove the mask at long last and be accepted for who I am. I am the sum of my choices and life-experiences. This very existentialist idea has truth behind it. Us not accepting these aspects of ourselves is an evasion; we become inauthentic. Authenticity demands responsibility and acceptance of who we are in truth before God, for God has given us this life and provided us these experiences for a purpose. every good and perfect gift is from above. Our denial of ourselves essentially means we deny that God gives good and perfect gifts, which is a misunderstanding. Do not hide from yourself any longer (and as I speak to you, I speak to myself first of all) become who you are in truth, remove the mask, and humble yourself before God and others. Only in this is love and equality among men possible.